The Cuckoo's Calling
I actually like this better than the British cover,
which has the bog-standard dude in a longcoat.
I am a huge devotee of Rowling, but I gave The Casual Vacancy a pass after I heard from multiple people that it was mostly bleak and filled with all sorts of unpleasantness. So I was extremely relieved when I had a great time with "Robert Galbraith's" "debut" (this is the detective novel Rowling mentioned in passing ages ago, but recently published under a pseudonym). The book really doesn't reinvent the detective novel; the protagonist is world-weary and lovably gruff, the mystery is an apparent suicide conundrum; a lot of it feels terribly familiar. But I can't help but care about her characters. In the space of a conversation, she can create a portrait of a personality that is either deliciously contemptible, genuinely endearing, sharp and sassy. The main characters have real problems presented with excellent pacing. I am looking forward to more of these.
The Last of Us
Fascinating how much the font says in this cover. Screams:
"Take me seriously, also think of The Road by McCarthy."
Naughty Dog is one of very few game companies whose titles go on my must-buy list. Uncharted 2 put them there, but with Last of Us, they've proven they can tame a far more serious breed of story and make you cry when they want to. The solemn tone hits you from the cover, and it's almost overbearing. I played the single-player game in small doses, in the company of friends over the course of several weeks, and I think I experienced in the optimal fashion. Any more than that, and I think the bleakness would be overbearing, or the game's own gravitas would come across as pretentious. But that's a very rare problem in triple A titles, and frankly, it's a refreshing one to encounter when paired with Naughty Dog's game design craftsmanship. It's a complex title, but there are no under-utilized systems. Everything from crafting to stealth to gunplay to upgrading skills and weapons feels tight and still very organic. It is lean. The story is engaging and brutal from beginning to end and while I am open to DLC, I honestly hope this doesn't become a franchise.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Short of Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman is probably my strongest literary influence, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane is very much a Neil Gaiman novel. There are some touching moments, a handful of awful ones, and a fantasy wrapper to capture it all, but I was ultimately kind of underwhelmed by the brief little book, which felt similar to other stuff Gaiman has written before. When weighed against The Graveyard Book, or even Coraline, the Hempstock women didn't do much for me. He's drawing on the familiar Mother, Maid and Crone trinity of magic women, but the story also doesn't really contribute anything new to their lore. The villainess was fascinating, but she is ultimately undercut by an abrupt switch to another more amorphous threat at the end. And ultimately, each character felt like abstracted versions of real people, especially when immediately contrasted against Rowling's characters.
I blew through both the available trades in the space of an afternoon and now I want more. There is so much imagination at work in Brian Vaughn's writing, and Fiona Staple's art brings it to life in a vivid, gorgeous way. If the devil offered me the opportunity to have her illustrate my work, he'd be a soul richer and I one poorer. This is the "next big thing" I didn't know I was waiting for. To my fellow comic nerds, the hype you've heard is well-earned. To use the laziest form of explanation in the critic's arsenal, Saga feels like the middle ground between Star Wars and Firefly but with more inventive magic and a lot more sex thrown in. Vaughn and Staple have said they are not interested in adapting the franchise to TV or film because they want to use it as a vehicle to explore what they can do in comics. Part of me wishes they would consider adapting, just so I can have more Saga to love, but I also tremendously respect their decision to keep the creative ball firmly in their own courts. People love to cite Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad as the heralds of this golden age of television, but I don't know man...From my perspective comics are where it is happening hard right now.
As I descend back into novel writing mode, I'm not sure when I will do another one of these. I am starting on Breaking Bad finally, so you can expect to have my 2 cents on that at some point. I'll probably get around to GTAV too after the hype train has left the station and everybody is officially over it. Until then readers!