Monday, August 22, 2016

Book Review: Bloodwalker by L.X. Cain

Author's Note: The author provided a free ARC of the ebook in exchange for an honest review.



Rurik, scarred and freakishly strong from being struck by lightning twice, works security at the Zorka circus. Normally that involves just keeping general order, but lately he has noticed children disappearing. After saving a boy from a murderous clown, he begins an investigation into the child's disappearances. However, even though the circus is supposed to be a family, Rurik finds that the subtle divisions and tensions make his job much harder.

Meanwhile, Sylvie, a bloodwalker of the Skomori clan, has come to the circus to be married by the Zorka ringmaster's wife. While there, she discovers a horrible secret, and must decide if she should risk being cast out of her clan to warn others.

This was a very compelling read. One thing I've complained about in the past was that it was hard to distinguish the different voices of the characters. But Cain does an excellent job of giving her characters unique narrative voices. Rurik is terse but often sensitive. He is treated as a monster due to his scars, and he knows he has a tentative link to the circus as his father can no longer work and he is there only because the ringmaster of the circus favors him. Despite his outwardly "monstrous" appearance he is a deeply compassionate character; often flawed and sometimes reckless, but his main motivation is to prevent the death of any other children.

Sylvie was a very relatable character. She seemed to be an anxious kind of person, which I can definitely sympathize with, and in her character arc she must overcome her natural hesitation and timidity to act. I found it difficult to read the chapters in which her new husband abuses her because they were very well written. I loved that the book depicted her escaping from an abusive relationship and coming to understand that her husband was in the wrong, not her.

The supporting characters were colorful and well-written as well, and I enjoyed that otherwise unsympathetic characters were complex.

Finally, the twist at the end was very creepy. I started working out who the actual "villain" was about halfway through; I think it's a fairly obvious twist. But that was only half the fun. The entire revelation was incredibly bizarre and very unique.

I did find Rurik's immediate feelings and jealousy for Sylvie a bit odd, but their connection was based on mutual human sympathy rather than the lust often depicted in fantasy books. I found their eventual relationship to be believable and sweet.

I also enjoyed the little blurbs from the Bloodwalker book at the beginning of each chapter. Bloodwalkers are, basically, those who prepare bodies for burial in a traditional way. I was unable to find out if these were real Romanian practices; when I tried to Google it I got a lot of sites about Orthodox funerary practices. I'll keep looking. Anyways, it helped build a picture of the Bloodwalker culture, and it was easy to understand why Sylvie cared deeply about her job as Bloodwalker even though her society was flawed.

Overall, it's an excellent and strange book-part mystery, part horror, and lots of fun all around.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Movie Review: Jurassic World




I expected this movie to suck. I expected it to suck horribly. I have sequel skepticism. I went in for the dinosaurs and nothing else.

But...it actually wasn't that bad. The idea of the theme park finally coming together, with all the tourism it involves, was a good idea. What better way to do a dinosaur movie than to give the dinosaurs a huge buffet? There was a rather disappointing scene where our first sweeping view with sweeping music was...a bunch of tourists. Last time we had that music, we saw dinosaurs.

In fact, overall the movie was cheesetastic, but that didn't make it bad. We had a token character that was obviously a shout out to the nerdy "original" fans. You had the infamous "Raptor Whispering" scene, which was in fact silly, but also kind of adorable. The characters were decent, standard movie characters, except for Hoskins, who practically carried a literal villain card to show to everyone. His arc, wanting to use the raptors as "super soldiers", is a shout out to the narmtastic original script, which called for raptors to be carrying guns. Which would have been amazing, but also even more ridiculous.

So, was it a great movie? No. But it was good. And fun. And it had a T-Rex! Everyone loves T-Rex.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Movie Review: Sinister

For some reason I thought I had made a blog post making fun of Sinister and how it was basically a Slender Man rip off. I thought of it at the time, so it's possible my thoughts were so loud I thought I actually posted them. Who knows?

Anyways, I was in fact wrong about that assessment. Sinister did manage to be its own thing. Unfortunately, it was just...underwhelming.

A very important aspect of horror is the build up and the suspense. Timing is everything, and the movie does that well. It unfolds slowly, and becomes more frightening the more you know. That was done well. The innocuous sounding titles of the videos the character watched became scarier the more you saw what they really meant. As such, the movie built anticipation.

Unfortunately, the second important aspect, the pay off, was a let down. For one thing, I still don't think the monster, Bughuul, was that scary looking. It looked like a guy in a raggedy shirt making an attempt to look like the Joker. I thought he looked a bit goofy.

The other problem was the children themselves. Their "stalking" the main character through the house wasn't scary. It was hilarious. It looked like exactly what it was-kids being silly and trying to prank someone. It was the supernatural equivalent of knock and run.

Plus, some of the logic just doesn't hold up. Why film everything (except because Slender Man vlogs were, in fact, popular at the time the movie was made)? Why go through this elaborate set up where the children must kill their families (under mind control) before Bughuul takes them/eats their souls/whatever? Also, Bughuul finally taking the main character's daughter was a let down. When you have a threatening monster, you expect them to act threatening. So when the monster doesn't drag the child into the screen, and instead picks her up and gently carries her in, it looks rather narmy.

The final problem was the characters themselves. I just couldn't care about them. The main character is, simply put, a selfish jerk. In order to write true crime, he thinks he has to move his family around to these different murder sites. Why? How many true crime authors actually do that? He does this knowing the impact that moving the kids around will have, as well as the way locals will treat his family. The other characters were two dimensional. What do I know about the mom? She's...umm...British. The kids? The son has night terrors that aren't related to anything, and the daughter is an artist who draws the creepiest stick figures and unicorns ever, even before she starts using blood for her art. That's it. I couldn't find it in my heart to care what happened to these people.

So, the movie succeeded at build up, and failed at pretty much everything else. What could have been genuinely scary was just...well...boring.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Stranger Things review: Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers

So, everyone's been talking about a new thing. A new, strange thing. (gedditgeddit) So I decided to jump on the rapidly passing bandwagon to see what it was all about.

As I've said elsewhere, timing is one of the most important aspects of horror. And Chapter 1 does it well. The very first scene, a man fleeing from something, hits every note perfectly. The camera pans between the man and the long, dark hallway over and over. You're waiting for something to appear, and the anticipation is built up just enough.

So now, we have one plot going. We know there's a monster of some kind out there. So when we get introduced to our characters, we know they're going to be affected in some way.

Here is where we get the other draw of Stranger Things. In a way, it's a love letter to 80s horror, a combination of Stephen King and The Goonies. The four main characters are four boys that love to play D&D and are accosted by the rather stereotypical bullies at school. So far, the boys don't have very strong characteristics that set them apart from the usual "80s nerd" type.

When Will is taken (per the title), his mother goes to the sheriff, who is kind of like a permanently drunk Ron Swanson if he decided to become a cop. However, all they find is Will's bicycle out in the woods. Later, the family gets a strange phone call with breathing and distortion. This whole time, you have investigators in hazmat suits wandering through the building from the beginning, looking for the monster (and finding an oozing pod thing); and also looking for a "her".

Who is "her"? A little girl in a hospital gown and a buzzed head arrives at a diner. The owner catches her trying to steal, and gives her some food while trying to get answers out of her. But she barely talks and refers to herself as "11". When "Child Protective Services" arrives, she pulls a Carrie and runs away.

So the first episode not only sets up a scary plot, it also sets us up with five zillion questions that probably won't be properly answered for a long time.

Friday, August 12, 2016

This Is What Happens If You Can't Handle Disagreements

I normally stay out of sticky, uncomfortable topics. The world is crazy enough, and I feel like I make my corner of the Internet happy with my stupid Doctor Who reviews and nonsensical babbling. However, as a reader, and as someone who would like to return to a library career, I have some strong disagreements with Book Riot.

They recently posted an article about how librarians should read diversely to expand their knowledge. I have no problem with this idea. It's a good idea to grow your knowledge in your chosen career. It is also a good idea to call attention to authors who may not be noticed otherwise. I agree that racism does in fact still exist; I can cite numerous examples of that.

However, the problem I have with this article, with the original tweet (which, can I just mention how Twitter with its 140 character limit is not a good place to discuss deep controversial issues? Why do people keep doing this?), and the subsequent moderator replies on the original article, is the condescending tone it takes.

I can't find these seemingly horrific responses to the original tweet. Most likely they were taken down, because if you disagree with anyone today, you get attacked, as demonstrated in this article.

For example, they take one argument, that many librarians don't have much time to actually read, and make an immediate assumption that the librarians in question are deliberately limiting themselves. I can attest that this is not always the case. When I was working in the library, I didn't have much time to read. One, we're not allowed to read on the job. Obviously. Two, I was taking classes. This meant much of my reading time was required college reading. Three, sometimes, after a busy day where I had to interact with a lot of people, I just needed to re-read Jane Austen. Or watch Doctor Who. Libraries are a magnet for introverts, and we need to give our minds a rest.

I completely agree that librarians need to make a concentrated effort to know more about the collection, especially those in charge of collections; but assuming that anyone who doesn't must be secretly racist is ridiculous. (More on that in a minute.)

As I said, I can't speak to the other arguments made. I didn't see the original tweets, and they are gone, so for all I know these are exaggerated versions that the article author made up for the article. (No, I'm not saying that is what happened. But I have no proof one way or the other, and some of these arguments sound nothing like any librarian I've met.)

Now, let's talk about how Book Riot handles comments. On this article, we have someone thoughtfully pointing out that making people feel like they must read something is not conducive to joyful reading. Through the entire exchange, the moderator keeps going back to the phrase, "if you don't want to read something because it's written by a brown person, then you're racist". Nowhere does the commenter ever say this; she simply says that people may have other reasons for not reading an author. Yet the moderator ignores then and goes back to her phrase. (I've seen this moderator reuse the same phrases over and over again in other arguments; I think she forgot that repeating yourself is not an argument, but a refusal to engage with the other person.)

This entire problem comes from the new idea that if someone thinks something is offensive, then it is offensive. No wiggle room, no gray area, no possibility that the other person might have their own biases.

In this exchange, the moderator could have gone into further detail on why it would be helpful to the commenter to read more diversely, or even give specific recommendations in various genres (as she says that there are diverse authors in every genre). But, she chose not to. She chose to respond in a condescending fashion, as the article did, implying that anyone who doesn't automatically agree or has a slightly different opinion is horrible and they must be put in their place.

We can no longer have deep discussions about issues, because ad hominem attacks come out immediately. Because people don't want to think about how they frame their arguments. Because we're supposed to mindlessly agree with any solution to a societal problem. I could blame Internet culture, but I think the Internet simply exposed and enhanced the tendency to be this way.

Race is a ticklish and often divisive issue, especially now. However, we aren't going to make any more progress with the issue if we use a hammer for every interaction about it. And for an article that encourages librarians to make a difference in their communities through reading and education to use that hammer is pure hypocrisy. The ideas behind this article were great. The way they were put forward has left a bad taste in my mouth.

Update, 2 hours later: The comments I was just speaking of have been deleted. I knew I should have taken screencaps of all of them. Unfortunately, I chose not to, thinking that the commenter was not saying anything abusive or against the rules, and therefore would be allowed to remain. I was wrong. The comments were deleted because the moderator disagreed with them. And this was her response to criticism:



I'm done with Book Riot. If they cannot handle disagreements or make logical arguments beyond repeating phrases and silencing anyone who disagrees, then I can't continue reading their articles with a good conscience. This doesn't encourage open-mindedness; it just encourages mindless agreement.

Now I just sit back and wait for people to call me racist.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

NuWho Reviews: The Crimson Horror, Nightmare in Silver, The Name of the Doctor

The Crimson Horror

TROUBLE AT THE MILL!



Madame Vastra and her crew are investigating strange deaths in which the victims' skin turns red. To their surprise, they discover that their eyes do indeed show the last thing they saw-and the last thing one of them saw was the Doctor.

TO THE PLOT!

Mrs. Gillyflower has a weird little cult thing going on, showing off her scarred daughter as proof that society is terrible (because Mr. Gillyflower abused the girl). Also, she's predicting the end of the world. Big deal, lady! The Earth has an apocalypse every week or so in this universe! Ada, the scarred, blind girl, has a pet, a monster chained up within the Sweetville mill. Jenny discovers that it is the Doctor, suffering from the Crimson Horror. Once he's restored via a super magic wizard chamber, he gives us some backstory. But not before kissing Jenny in gratitude, who doesn't swing that way and slaps him.

He and Clara joined the mill; the Crimson Horror was a way of preserving people for a post-apocalyptic YA novel. It didn't work on the Doctor, but Ada became attached to him. Now that he's free, they rescue Clara (confusing everyone, since last time they saw her she was dead), and Madame Vastra discovers what is causing the "Crimson Horror". Mrs. Gillyflower is harvesting venom from a red leech. She plans on spreading the poison over the world (via a steampunk rocket, because everyone loves steampunk rockets). Only her "perfect" people, preserved in houses, will survive.

Mr. Sweet of Sweetville is a red leech that has attached himself to Mrs. Gillyflower, because Doctor Who loves having bugs attached to people. The Doctor also reveals that Ada wasn't blinded by her abusive father; she was blinded by her mother's experiments on her. The crazy woman tries to take her daughter hostage, but Madame Vastra and Jenny already nicked the vat of poison, and Strax is an angry potato with a gun. He misses, but Mrs. Gillyflower falls to her death. Ada smashes the leech with her cane, as everyone except the Doctor would do.

Behold our villain. Tiny, and infinitely smooshable.

Clara returns home, only to find the kids she babysits have discovered pictures of her past selves. When Clara gets confused, and says she was in Yorkshire, not London...the game is up. They use this to blackmail her into letting them take a time travel trip. She didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition!

I loved the focus on the Paternoster gang in this episode. From what I understand, this was supposed to be testing the waters for a spin-off, but nothing came of it. Alas. Strax apparently gets sugar rushes from eating sherbet. He also obtains a GPS named Thomas Thomas. Those waifish street urchins were all the rage back then.

It was also straight up creepy: it's basically a Victorian temperance/morality campaign dropped into the middle of a penny dreadful, and it works so well. Mrs. Gillyflower is appropriately horrible, and Ada was a very engaging character.

Also, the Doctor remembers spending too much time trying to get a "gobby Australian" to Heath Row.

Look, the joke payoff finally made it!


Nightmare in Silver

Last time on Doctor Who, Clara's delightful charges were blackmailing her for eventually will have scattered herself throughout space and time. Children are jerks. So the Doctor takes them all to a famous theme park.


NO NOT THAT ONE

But it doesn't matter, because the theme park is under...military occupation. That's gotta be a fun assignment, right? Anyways, the Doctor uses his psychic paper to convince the captain that he is an ambassador from the emperor. They get a tour from the theme park operator, meet a dwarf named Porridge who sometimes teaches Charms, discover that the Cybermen were TOTALLY AND COMPLETE DEFEATED A THOUSAND YEARS AGO AND THESE CYBERMEN CANNOT BE ACTIVATED AT ALL, FOR REALZ YOU GUYZ

Oh, let's just cut to the chase. The Doctor finds Cybermites, which are kind of like tiny Cybermats, which are adorable. The Cybermen reactivate, because we all saw that coming a mile away, and the theme park operator Webley, along with the kids, are partially upgraded. Cybermen do only partial upgrades now? What a bunch of slackers. At least they've gotten an Iron Man aesthetic going on. They're Marvel fans! Good on them. The military is no help; they're actually on punishment duty, because they're basically the worst of the worst. Why are they even allowed in the military then...?

Apparently the Cybermen were defeated by blowing up an entire galaxy. Blowing things up is the go-to solution.

There's a reason he's nicknamed "John Nukem Sheridan".

The Doctor puts Clara in charge of the army and asks her to make sure they don't blow anything up.

I...have something to say about a later episode in which Clara is in a similar situation, but let's just wait till we get there, shall we?

The Doctor gets himself partially upgraded too. He is now Locutus of Borg the Cyberplanner, Mr. Clever. Yes, an upgraded Doctor still has his ego and sense of humor fully intact.

RESISTANCE IS FEZZES. Wait, what? YOU HEARD ME.

So the Doctor and Mr. Clever play a chess game, and yes everyone made Pixar chess game jokes. Luckily the Cybermen are still bizarrely vulnerable to gold. You'd think they would have fixed that by now?

Meanwhile, Clara takes away the bomb detonator, and the Cybermen kill the captain before she can use voice command. The army struggles, but unfortunately the Cybermen's foray into the Star Trek universe allowed them to have tea with the Borg, and now they're actually effective. Their collective consciousness allows them to upgrade and adapt very quickly. So the Doctor saves the straggling army by using his own ego against him. I bet you I can win in three moves! Mr. Clever promptly diverts his entire army to figuring out a chess game. This gives the Doctor enough time to activate a pulse which gets rid of Mr. Clever.

I love the power glove. It's so bad.

They fetch the TARDIS, and Porridge, who is actually the emperor, voice activates the bomb and teleports everyone away to his ship. He then proposes to Clara, who finds the idea of ruling a galaxy to be a bit overwhelming.

So this was awesome. We always wondered what would happen if the Doctor were ever upgraded, and here it is. With all the logic of the Cybermen he is...even more ridiculous than before. And I loved every minute of it.


The Name of the Doctor

We open on a very confusing montage of Claras. Clara on Gallifrey, redirecting the First Doctor to the TARDIS. Clara trying to chase down Bessie. (As we all would.) Seeing the Second Doctor on an adventure with the Eighth Doctor (a reference to the first Eight Doctor novel, in which he met his previous incarnations?) Clara watching the Seventh Doctor climb over a railing for literally no reason at all.

Meanwhile, Strax is hanging out in Glasgow, because he loves the Scottish. This makes complete sense. Madame Vastra arranges for a psychic meeting-everyone has to be unconscious for this, so Clara gets a letter covered in a soporific substance, which isn't creepy at all, Madame Vastra.

ALSO RIVER IS THERE, RIVER I THOUGHT WE WOULD NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN

"Don't mind me, I'm just being better than all of you right now."


The point of this meeting? Something is trying to alter the Doctor's reality, and to stop it, he has to go to Trenzalore. Before they can get much further, Jenny remembers that she forgot to shut the front door...and is nearly killed by the Great Intelligence, and his HORRIBLE HORRIBLE THINGS HE CALLS WHISPERMEN, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU YOG-SOTHOTH, GET BACK TO YER NEW ENGLAND PLOTS

WHYYYYYYYYYYY

Clara pulls herself out of the meeting, and finds that the Doctor is playing Blindman's Bluff with the kids. Except they left to see a movie, and he's been wandering the house blindfolded for a while. When Clara tells him what's going on, our poor 11 actually starts crying. See, Trenzalore is where his grave will be-he will die there in battle. It's also the grave for the TARDIS, and when they go there, the Doctor has to shut her off so they can land.

There, they find the future TARDIS, whose dimensional field is breaking down, and she has become enormous. She has actually merged with the ground, and her memories show up as gravestones. River, still in psychic connection with Clara, follows her and the Doctor into the tunnels under the fields.

There, at the entrance to the tomb, is the Great Intelligence, with the Paternoster gang held hostage by his Whispermen, WHO ARE STILL HORRIBLE MIGHT I REMIND YOU. He demands that the Doctor open the grave, which can only be done by saying his name. He refuses, but River does.

The Doctor's corpse is essentially his impact on the time-space continuum, which is really cool.

Everyone gets to become shiny in science fiction.

The Great Intelligence enters it and begins changing everything about the Doctor's life. Jenny disappears, since it was the Doctor who saved her; Strax reverts to being a typical Sontaran, and has to be killed by Vastra. The stars start going out. Is this like the stars being right? I'm not sure if Yog-Sothoth is even focusing on that right now.

That's when Clara realizes what her various incarnations mean. She has to enter the Doctor's timeline too, and fight the Great Intelligence every step of the way. She does so, and we get a call-back to the montage at the beginning.

Everything is restored. The Doctor reveals he was aware of River the whole time, and finally gets a chance to say goodbye properly. Then he jumps into his timeline after Clara to bring her back out.

And there they find another Doctor in amongst the ones we already know. He is in shadow, and the Doctor is terrified of him. But Clara already knows-this one isn't called the Doctor. He did something so horrible that he dropped that title...

HE IS JOHN HURT AND HE NEEDS ALL OF THE HUGS



I loved this for the explanation about Clara and the Great Intelligence, and for the introduction to the War Doctor. The Whispermen were incredibly creepy. No eyes! Too many sharp teeth! What is wrong with Steven Moffat? Everything, that is what. Also, the Great Intelligence name drops the Valeyard, just to tease the fans some more with the plot line that will never be.

"Sure is a nice series you have there Moffat. Be a shame if something...happened to it."

Also, Strax doesn't understand hair, so he assumes that River's hair just means that she has a very large head.

Strax is best Sontaran.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Book Review: The Gauguin Connection by Estelle Ryan

Genevieve Lenard has set herself up with a comfortable, routine, predictable life. As someone with high functioning autism, but who is also an expert at body language, she stays in the safety of her viewing room at an insurance company to observe people via video, catching scam artists for her boss, Phillip. However, when Phillip's friend Manny comes to him with a murder case connected to his own workplace, the EDA, Phillip offers Genevieve as the outside investigator Manny needs. What begins as a fascinating research project for Genevieve develops into a global conspiracy, and her routine life is disrupted by people on both sides of the law.

I found Genevieve a fascinating and sympathetic character. Her "quirks", as other characters call them, are both a blessing and a curse. Her research skills are phenomenal, but she can get so lost in the research she forgets about, well, everything-eating and sleeping included. She shuts down when overwhelmed, but her laser focus on certain subjects can hold it off. I feel like the author could have made her more consistent at times. For example, her allowing the "thief" Colin Frey to continue hanging around, based on being intrigued and some implicit attraction, didn't seem particularly in character for her; nor did her venturing into an extremely dangerous, stressful situation at the end. I also felt like her Mozart coping mechanism read more like a gimmick at times. Other than that, I really loved her character. As someone who can get really into research (although not as far as forgetting to eat or sleep!), I understood her desire to tell them about ALL THE DETAILS. Some may find her rather technical and pedantic explanations annoying; but I loved them.

I had trouble liking Manny, mainly because of how incredibly dismissive he could be of her. He constantly puts down her social skills and complains when she is too blunt; yet he acts exactly the same way. I didn't like that Genevieve kept justifying his behavior as stress. Stress shouldn't be a justification for regularly insulting and denigrating someone you work with in a professional capacity.

I found both Colin and his friend Vinnie to be rather supercilious. In fact, Colin, Vinnie, Phillip, and Manny all act like they know what's best for Genevieve, and she just tends to go along with it, although she had one great part where she got fed up with their behavior. (It didn't stick.) Colin and Vinnie both keep calling her by a nickname despite her insistence on calling her Genevieve. Sure, she is fine with it later, but until she was fine with it calling someone by a different name is insulting. Manny, too, regularly calls her "missy", and even though it becomes an endearing insult, again, he uses it as a means of control earlier. The overprotective behavior by all men involved, with the implications that both Colin and Vinnie were behaving this way due to attraction, was a bit irritating.

I also felt like the mystery's solution was, well, obvious. The reader, along with Genevieve, can quickly make connections and figure everything out. That might be partly due to being in Genevieve's head, but at times things seemed so obvious that the other characters' surprise and amazement at Genevieve's intelligence felt a bit ridiculous. For comparison, the Sherlock Holmes mysteries could be solved by the reader, but it was less obvious; and if you don't get it, at the end you're facepalming along with Watson because it was so easy after all.

One other part that bothered me was the villain's throw away line about "people like you shouldn't be allowed out in public" when Genevieve experiences a shut down. It felt like a shoe-horned anvil, just to drive home that this villain is really villainous and you shouldn't insult autistic people! We're already voluntarily reading a book in which the protagonist is autistic and lives a full life. We don't need to have that anvil dropped.

I realize I just spent a few paragraphs complaining about things, but really, I liked this book. Those bits and pieces annoyed me, but overall the character interaction was great, especially Genevieve watching with exasperation as the boys argue with one another. I also enjoyed how her world slowly opened up as she learned how complex all these people are. The characters truly become sympathetic to me, despite being annoyed with them. In this, the author did an amazing job, since that is the same path Genevieve takes-coming to appreciate these people, warts and all. I will definitely be getting the next book at some point, because I'd like to see where Genevieve's character goes.