Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen and the Buffy Legacy

October 13, 2014 § 1 Comment

Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a brilliant, groundbreaking show. The majority of the women in the show are unashamedly fierce, but there are also many who aren’t – just like REAL women! And the same goes for the men; some of them are stubborn and painfully arrogant, some of them are smart, shy and quiet (hiiii Oz), and some of them have hidden depths that only TRUE FANS appreciate. (Okay, I may still be a bit hung up on Spike. But who isn’t?!) There were vampires, werewolves, demons, ventriloquist dummies, goddesses, Keys, witches and proms. Don’t you miss it?

Harmony - will you ever learn? (she didn't)

Harmony – will you ever learn? (she didn’t)

Long before Willow turned dark, before Buffy died (the first time), and before Anya started threatening to hit things with frying pans, the Hellmouth opened beneath Sunnydale High School. A sixteen-year-old blonde chick showed up and started hacking away at the demons that began to manifest in and around the high school. The rest, as they say, is…well; it’s seasons two through seven.

Many attempts have been made to resurrect BTVS. Comics, novels, fanfic, Angel – you name it, the creators and the show’s fans have attempted it. Although I enjoyed them (and, uh, may have participated in the fanfic), I don’t really think any of these forays has truly captured the spirit of those glorious early days.

Readers of The Novelettes, I hold in my hands the legacy to BTVS. It is Michelle Knudsen’s Evil Librarian.

From Buzzfeed - #Sunnydale problems

From Buzzfeed – #Sunnydale problems

Cyn and Annie, best friends since who-knows-when, share everything. Under the rules of best-friendship, Annie has been subjected to Cyn’s mooning over Ryan Hadley for years. Really, it’s lucky that Annie hasn’t ever really had a crush of the same magnitude, because Cyn does enough swooning for the both of them.

As technical director of the school’s production of Sweeney Todd, Cyn isn’t really all that interested in the goings-on of the school library. And neither is Annie, really – until Mr. Gabriel arrives. The new school librarian is young, disturbingly handsome and just a little bit too charismatic for Cyn’s liking, but Annie has fallen head over heels for him. Mr. Gabriel seems to be taken with Annie too, which would be repulsive enough all by itself – but when Cyn walks in on the librarian covered in the blood of another teacher, she knows for certain: Annie’s life is in danger.

“An evil librarian is taking over the school. He appears to be making my best friend his special evil library monitor.”

All over the school, students are exhibiting disturbing signs of some kind of brainwashing. Only Cyn, and the object of her affections, Ryan, seem to notice that the zombie-like entrancements are connected with Mr. Gabriel. All of a sudden, Cyn and Ryan find themselves in the middle of a demon war – with their high school as the battlegrounds.

“Because, you know, evil demon librarians, not so much known for the honesty policy.”

Seriously, though, Cyn’s got other things on her mind than stopping the denizens from hell ripping her school to shreds. She’s only got three weeks until Sweeney Todd’s opening night, and there’s so much to do! Normally, she’d need a lot of time to analyse the progress between she and Ryan, but she’s had to put all that energy into saving Annie from becoming a demon bride.

But she loves Annie. So much so that she’d go to Hell and back to save her. Which is lucky, since that’s exactly what she’s going to have to do.

My favourite cover art of the year.

My favourite cover art of the year.

Since reading Fangirl, I’ve been more interested than normal in well-developed romances, particularly those that are a sidebar to the main plot. Ryan and Cyn’s story is just the right balance of awkwardness, humour and sweet determination to get it right. Just like Cath in Fangirl, Cyn’s relationship with Ryan develops and grows along with Cyn. That is the sign of a romantic subplot done right!

Although Evil Librarian is being touted as Knudsen’s YA debut, I really believe that adults are going to get just as much out of this novel – if not more – than teenage readers. At twenty-four, high school might be over for me, but BTVS dialogue is still present in my everyday life (whether my friends know it or not). I think that as an adult, you might have the capacity to find this book funny in a way that teenagers won’t yet be able to.

“He looks at me again and the flames vanish and the knife is gone and his voice goes light and breezy and all coffee-shop conversational, as if he wasn’t just one second ago impaling me with fiery eyes and discussing the dark fate of my best friend and the souls of all my classmates.”

Evil Librarian feels original and familiar all at once. It’s funny, dramatic, kind of gross and very sweet. Without ever copying anything from Joss Whedon, Knudsen manages to capture everything that I loved about Buffy and bring it to an original setting in a new universe. It’s selflessness and scathing sarcasm in the face of the actual bloodthirsty monsters. It’s flippant quips when your world it is coming crashing down around your ears. It’s the ferocity of adolescence, channeled into all-encompassing friendship; the kind of friendship you’d die for.

Want a copy of Evil Librarian? If you’re in Brisbane, grab one from Pulp Fiction, now at Adelaide Street.

PS – I have a Gentleman T-shirt. I don’t actually wear it in public because it’s kind of scary. But here you go:

Hush, hush.

Hush, hush.

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The Pack – Jason Starr

October 2, 2013 § 1 Comment

Now, before I tell you what I thought of this book, we need to get something out of the way. Jason Starr is not – I repeat, not – a feminist author. The Pack is a novel indisputably aimed at men. In fact, I find it very unlikely that the author ever intended for a female reader to pick his book up.

The Pack, Jason Starr

The Pack, Jason Starr

Simon Burns has been fired from his job (for reasons that are never truly made clear), and he’s disgruntled about it. Enormously unimpressed. One might even go so far as to say he’s downright irritated! But Starr presents this as passionate fury that drives Simon to unintentionally murder his former boss.
Then there’s Michael, the leader of The Pack itself. He’s direct, to the point of irreverent bluntness. As in, he tells his pack members, “you will have steak”, and this is considered his invitation to an exclusive night of manly bonding. The other two members of The Pack, Charlie and Ramon, lap up Michael’s domineering instructions, but Simon resists the temptation to be bound to the pack rules.   Before being bitten, Simon is turned into a “temporary wolf”.  After a wild night out at Michael’s family brewery, he wakes up in a different city, naked, disoriented and really freaked out. Turns out, the concoction that begins the transformation from human to wolf was…wait for it…in the beer. How manly is that?
Simon begins to notice physical changes. Suddenly, he’s full of boundless energy, has an insatiable sexual appetite and has gone from having a near-vegetarian diet to an exclusively carnivorous one. His wife doesn’t understand what’s happened and frankly, neither does Simon. He feels better in so many ways, but he doesn’t understand why. Unbeknownst to him (but quite apparent to the reader), he has begun the painful transition from human to lycanthrope.

I won’t lie to you, readers. Starr’s women are utterly pathetic. When Simon loses his high-flying advertising job, his wife proposes that he become a stay-at-home dad. She’s happy to be the sole breadwinner of the household, she tells him, with gritted teeth and a vein pulsing in her forehead. Well, that’s how it seemed to me. So Alison’s making all the money and being very modern-woman, but she hates it. She resents Simon for being their son’s primary parent, and she punishes him via constant passive-aggression. At one point, they find their marriage has taken a major turn for the better. Unconvinced that her husband is really and truly making an effort to improve, Alison decides there’s only one explanation for his actions – he must be cheating. Sure, that makes sense, right? Your husband starts actually doing what you’ve been bugging him to do, so he must be cheating? Right…
Simon and Alison seem to oscillate between two states – icy conflict, always initiated by Alison (Simon always tells her he’s sorry, and she’s right, and she still doesn’t relent), or animalistic sex. And there’s a lot of that, by the way.

The awesome cover art from my edition of The Pack.

The awesome cover art from my edition of The Pack.

The other significant female character in the novel is Olivia. Chosen as Michael’s “mate”, she spends the entire novel in a state of arousal. Of course, she has no capacity to resist Michael’s wolfish (ha) charms. I can’t really think of a scene in which she appears where she is not angling for sex. It’s pretty cringe-worthy. Olivia’s best friend, Diane, is the only female character in the book with anything resembling a backbone, but by the beginning of The Craving, the sequel to The Pack, she’s retreated to her parents’ home, a quivering mess of paranoia.

Okay, so obviously I found some elements of The Pack a bit silly. I feel like I need to stop right here and say that I actually really liked this book. Now, before the feminists start preparing to lynch me, let me say this: I picked up The Pack with the expectation that it would be a testosterone-fuelled foray into urban lycanthropy (which, clearly, it was). Therefore, I was not disappointed (in fact, I was gleefully smug) when it lived up to this expectation. Of course I don’t support the pathetic way that Jason Starr depicted every single one of his female characters. However, if I’d expected to see a strong woman kicking butt, I would have simply read another book.

Lookin' suave, Mr Starr.

Lookin’ suave, Mr Starr.

The Pack is a fast-paced thriller that takes unexpected twists and turns. The fact that the men in this book are werewolves is almost secondary to the main plot, which is finding out what happened to Simon’s boss. I imagine that this is the author’s background in crime fiction coming into play, and I actually found it a very enjoyable part of this book. In the interest of transparency, I did think that there was too much of a focus on Simon and Alison’s marital problems. Almost the first half of the book was dedicated to their constant bickering, which only ever seemed to be resolved with sex. It gets old pretty quick, and I have a limited tolerance for romance at the best of times. However, there was an undercurrent of suspicion and danger that compelled me to finish the book, even despite being a bit irritated by it. The second half of the novel flew by without me even noticing, and suddenly, I had finished it and needed its sequel!

After The Pack, I went on a bit of a werewolf jaunt. I’m currently halfway through Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf, and even considering a reread of Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl. Admittedly, when I sat down with The Craving, The Pack’s sequel, I couldn’t take much more of the gender issues, so I put it aside for now. I might still come back to it, but it won’t be for a while.

So what do you guys think? Will you be picking up a copy of The Pack? You can do so here, or as ever, request an order from Pulp Fiction Booksellers in Brisbane if you’re in town.

Got a craving for more werewolves? Check out my review of Red Moon by Benjamin Percy – my favourite werewolf book!

Top 5 Book to Film Adaptations

August 29, 2013 § 1 Comment

I don’t know about you guys, but when I find out that one of my favourite books is being adapted to film, I immediately start micro-stressing. Will they cast the characters the way I see them in my head? Will they change important plot points? Will this book, that I have privately enjoyed for so long, now be the domain of a vapid fan-base, like Twilight was?

Film is a completely different medium to the novel, and it communicates with viewers in a wholly different way. Because of this, there is no way that a film can exactly replicate the experience of reading a beloved novel. We all know this. Sometimes, though, an astute filmmaker will somehow manage to capture the essence of the original book. That special, intangible element, unique to each and every novel, has survived the gruelling transition from page to screen, and the film becomes a special one because of it. These are five adaptations that we think did their base novels justice.

Ever felt like this?

Ever felt like this?

The Lovely Bones (Kalystia)

There is something very special about this novel. In reading The Lovely Bones, the reader is transported from the hellish nightmare of Susie Salmon’s rape and murder, to heaven, where Susie watches over her grieving family. I have cherished The Lovely Bones since I first read it in high school. I know the novel inside out (some sections word for word, even), so I was sceptical about a film adaptation.

But it was perfect.

Saorise Ronan embodied Susie’s frozen innocence and indescribable grief at being abducted from life. The colour palette of the film was stunning. The plot was faithful to the novel, even to the smallest details. The atmosphere of the novel was translated perfectly into the film, which was at once surreal and gritty. It was a wonderful adaptation.

Saorise Ronan as Susie Salmon - like the fish.

Saorise Ronan as Susie Salmon – like the fish.

The Mortal Instruments (Kalystia)

I admit I’m not the biggest fan of The Mortal Instruments series. I enjoyed them, but lost interest by the fourth one. The continuation of the series screams “money-making” to me… That said, I saw the film last Friday, and I think that the realm of Downworlders and Shadowhunters has been brought to life on the big screen. The Institute is lavish and exquisitely rendered, and the opening scene in Pandemonium was exactly as I’d pictured it. I thought Lilly Collins was well-cast as Clary, and Lena Headey was great as Jocelyn. Yeah, okay, Magnus Bane was a little wooden in his delivery, and Jace was very different to the way I’d pictured him in the novel, but Isabelle’s whip made up for it all. I recommend seeing this if you like urban fantasy.

City of Bones

The Mortal Instruments – City of Bones

The Prestige (Kalystia)

I can’t really explain why The Prestige was such a brilliant adaptation without giving away a major spoiler. What I can say, though, is that Christopher Nolan took the (somewhat boring) base text and reworked part of its narrative structure. The end result is a magnificent thriller which builds to a tense finale, and one of the best twist-endings you’ll ever see. The Prestige is a testament to Nolan’s storytelling prowess. The fact that he could tell the same story as the novel and achieve such a phenomenally different end result just goes to show that he is deserving of all the praise that is heaped upon him! Incidentally, The Prestige is one of the very few movies which is undeniably better than its printed counterpart.

Robert Angier

Hugh Jackman in a top hat? It’s bound to be one of my favourites.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (The Swedish original – itsnotnatalie)

What can I say other than I loved, loved, LOVED this movie?! I immensely enjoyed the book (and its sequels) and this fantastic adaptation expertly transfers all the grittiness, frustration and energy of Larsson’s work from page to screen. Usually, I am firmly in the book is better camp, but I think here the movie has a slight edge – Noomi Rapace IS Lisbeth and is utter perfection in the role.

Noomey Rapace

Noomey Rapace as the iconic Lisbeth Salander

I Capture The Castle (itsnotnatalie)

I think with such a book there was always the possibility the adaptation would veer too far into the twee. Thankfully, it does not. The fantastic cast manage to convey the humour, sweetness and quaintness of the book set in the 30s without skimping on the realness and touch of darkness. Bill Nighy and Romola Garai are simply superb. A movie (and a book) I come back to time and again.

I'm ashamed I used a rage comic.

…I think this is a pretty accurate description of my lfie.

A Rather Special Bookstore and a Particularly Excellent Book

August 7, 2013 § 8 Comments

Pulp Fiction - without doubt, my favourite book store.

Pulp Fiction – without doubt, my favourite book store.

In the heart of the city of Brisbane, there’s a small, hole-in-the-wall book store. Tucked away into a corridor of a busy train station, it has a fairly unassuming shop front which lures the dedicated reader in with a window full of eclectic posters and new releases. As you enter the quiet store, the floorboards will creak conspicuously. You’ll look around sheepishly, but the only other customer in the store is immersed in reading the blurb of the book they’re holding. They have not registered your entrance. There seems to be be yellow post-it notes hanging off the shelves just about everywhere you look, and you realise that the store is crowded with shelves and book stands. There’s probably a delivery box on the floor, and the smell of freshly printed books is everywhere. You’ll wander among the shelves and realise that there is a theme emerging amidst the selection of books in stock. There’s fantasy of every class, science fiction of every possibility, the most innovative of steampunk and unimaginable dystopian scenarios. There are lovely editions of the world’s best authors in each of these genres, and there are small, pulpy-looking copies of intriguing urban fantasy novels by authors you’ve never heard of. There are new releases so recent that you only just heard about them yesterday, and there are covers of novels that you’ve probably never seen before in Brisbane. And then there are those little yellow notes which adorn a surprising number of books. These are staff recommendations, and as you read them, you find yourself considering books and authors that you’ve never thought about reading before. You absently pull a book off the shelf as you wander to read another staff recommendation, which also sounds excellent, so you take that one off the shelves too. Slowly, you accumulate a pile of books. It never occurred to you not to buy to them.

Pulp Fiction is the reason not to pirate books. A small, genuine book store with palpable character and impressively knowledgeable staff, I never leave without buying a book I’m excited to read. Check them out here, and stop by when you’re in the city next. Just don’t go with an empty wallet.

The Shambling Guide to New York City

How amazing is this cover art?

It was on a trip to Pulp Fiction that I picked up a copy of Mur Lafferty’s novel, The Shambling Guide to New York City. I won’t lie – I chose it based mostly on the cover art. It called to me from the shelves – a pop-art drawing of a slightly hippie looking girl with a satchel bag and a notebook wandering the city streets while all manner of demons passed her by? Had to have it.

The Shambling Guide is Mur Lafferty’s official debut novel. It’s best described as humourous urban fantasy, with just a dash of well-placed romance. Travel book editor Zoe moves home to NYC after a disastrous affair with her old boss. She loves the city, and begins to find her feet again after the shock of finding out her ex was married the whole time. Desperate for a job, Zoe follows up an ad for a travel editor of an alternative publishing house. After forcing her way into an interview, Zoe’s determination deflates when she finds that the publishing house she’s about to start working for is run by a vampire and staffed by zombies, a Welsh death goddess, a water sprite and a frustratingly attractive incubus. These supernatural beings, who refer to themselves collectively as coterie, introduce Zoe to the other world that exists all around her. Zoe adjusts relatively well, and tries her best to learn what she can about the lives of the coterie. Everything’s looking up for her – that is, until a Frankenstein monster made with the head of an old flame is constructed with the intention of antagonising her.

Would pepper spray stop a zombie? A vampire? Those hedgehog-eating demon guys? And if those existed, what else was out there? Werewolves? She had forgotten to check the moon phase on the calendar. Ghosts? She’d have to keep an eye on any cemetery she passed. Banshees? Now everything about Britney Spears made sense.

Funny, smart and creative, The Shambling Guide to New York City is an excellent take on the “underworld in the city” theme that can so often be a downer. Zoe is someone I’d like to be friends with (and kind of feel like I am, now that I’m finished), and I want to visit the New York of the coterie. Zombies that get smarter with the quality of brains they consume, ravens that live on Wall Street and can exchange your currency for hell notes and demon cab drivers that may or may not take your fare in fingers are all residents of the shambling side of the city – who wouldn’t want to visit?

Anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I have a tendency to sway toward the analytical when it comes to reading. I tend to pull out the subliminal-subconscious-subverted subtext of every book that crosses my path, and I find it kind of hard to not do this. This book, though, was pure fun. The Shambling Guide to New York City was also the first book in a long time that I’ve considered unputdownable. Every spare second I could find, my nose was wedged between its pages, devouring Zoe’s story like a zombie starved of brains. I’d been having a rough week, and this book was just the pick me up I needed. Five brains out of five for Mur’s The Shambling Guide to New York City. I impatiently await its sequel, The Ghost Train to New Orleans!

The Ghost Train to New Orleans

This cannot come quickly enough.

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