Saturday, December 31, 2011

Cups and Their Emptiness, or Lack Thereof

It's time for me to come up with a ridiculously pretentious title, and so I have.

It's winter in the Midwest, yet outside it's in the 40's and the sun is shining quite brightly. Except for a handful of days here and there, and a couple snowfalls that melted before noon, it's been remarkably mild.

What, you ask, does this have anything to do with cups, empty or full?

Well, unfortunately, one cannot see mild weather without hearing someone insisting it is either A.) Proof of global warming and the eventual death of polar bears, because no warm-blooded animal can adapt to warmer temperatures, B.) Proof that the apocalypse will be happening quite soon, or C.) Aliens are meddling with the sun because they are bored.

I find it rather sad, actually, that when the weather is fine and cheerful, people can only think of the negatives. They look out the window and can only think that we will soon die terrible, horrible deaths, or at least be thrust into a post-apocalyptic world in which zombies try to eat their brains every few days. Of course zombies are unpleasant, but we need to remember the government has implemented anti-zombie precautions. No, really.

The thing is, global warming prophets, who claim to be oh so scientific and logical, are just as ridiculous as the numerous people who claim to have figured out just when Christ will return. They are right, and no amount of evidence to the contrary will prove otherwise. Though, to be fair, it will take a lot longer for there to be concrete proof against global warming than the proof that Christ did not, in fact, return on May 21, 2011. Still, the absolute faith in their own minds and their focus on the negatives is similar.

I'm going to try something this coming year. Whenever I feel like complaining, or feel some sort of depression about the future, I will immediately sit down and begin listing all the things I like about life and even that particular day. I will not see dark omens of doom in things.

Unless, of course, a zombie goes shambling down the road.

Then it will be time to break out the holy water and the shovels.

As for the aliens...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to all...

...and please, keep your sanity safe at all times.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins

It should be fairly obvious to anyone who knows me why this book caught my eye. It should, in fact, be fairly obvious to anyone who has glanced at this blog for more than two seconds why this book caught my eye. I am, clearly, irrevocably, a geek. And plotting to take over the world.

AHEM. Moving on.

This book is a study in high school social life, slice of life journalism for various people who simply put, do not really fit anywhere. Ms. Robbins follows the lives of seven people in their schools as they struggle to find themselves and their place in this world. *cue musical number*

Wedged between stories of these people’s lives and struggles are insights into the psychology and sociology of groups. Citing a number of experts who have spent their lives studying group dynamics, we find that many times exclusion is not a deliberately cruel, malicious act, but sometimes the mind’s instincts to maintain status quo going into overdrive.

I admit, I could really relate to a lot of the stories, especially of Danielle, the loner. Though personality-wise I am really nothing like her, I share the common problem of “no thanks I won’t talk to anyone I’ll just sit here in the corner kthxbai”. Another small incident that struck me was when Eli, the nerd, tried to have a conversation. People kept talking over him, and then later wondered why he never joined in. (HERP DA DERP I WONDER WHY)

As you can see, many of these stories really struck a chord with me. Ms. Robbins discussed how many times schools accidentally or purposely contribute to the clique atmosphere among students, such as a teacher getting popular students out of class so they could sit in hers (sounds familiar), or teachers who label students before actually getting to know them; or, worse, teachers who ignore bullying when it happens to a student they don’t particularly like (sounds very familiar).

In the end, however, this is not a negative book discussing the horrible things happening in our schools, but a book celebrating the growth that comes from diversity and the greater insight people can get by being on the fringe of the in-crowd.

Also this.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Talk Radio; or, It's Just a Show, I Should Really Just Relax

So, to no one’s surprise, I do listen to talk radio from time to time. In fact, I went through a short phase last year where Rush Limbaugh was the highlight of the day. I’d sit in my car and listen while eating lunch right before work. But the more I listen to talk radio, the more I see a basic problem in it.

It accomplishes basically nothing.

Now, I’m sure there are plenty of fellow conservatives who will howl and rage over this. But allow me to explain before the howling and raging begins.

Talk radio, like all other radio, is geared toward a certain sector of the population. You don’t expect grandma to be listening to the rock station, unless she’s the most bad-ass grandma that ever lived. Or my mother. It’s not likely that the gruff construction worker swearing at whatever inanimate objects have offended him will have classical music playing in the background. And the chances of Sean Hannity playing in a liberal household is a little less than nil, unless they’re the regulars who call in to argue about the Point of the Day.

The majority of listeners to talk radio (and by now you can tell I equate talk radio with conservative radio, as you rarely if ever hear a truly liberal radio show on the average station) are conservative, and agree with nearly everything said. They are not learning anything. In my opinion it is refreshing to hear someone agree with one’s viewpoint, but it doesn’t actually teach us anything. Every so often a liberal or moderate will listen enough and change their opinions. But that’s a once in a blue moon occurrence.

Which brings me to my other point. There are in fact those who do call in mainly to argue with the host. Sometimes they are very annoying and mainly screech at the host and accuse them of racism/classism/sexism/speciesism/plotting to take over the world. ANYWAYS. But sometimes there will be a caller who is polite but opinionated, willing to debate talking points and hear out the other side. And this is where the problem begins.

With the exception of Jim Fisher, most of the hosts tend to interrupt the caller the moment they start to present a different viewpoint, talk over them, explain why they’re wrong, and then the call ends. And the caller never got to really say their piece. This is not just annoying to the caller, it is annoying to those listening. Try understanding what the caller is saying, to see if the host is right in their opinion. It’s almost impossible. This might be a form of entertainment for some people, but if someone wants a debate, there should be an actual debate, not a shouting match.

One of the most frequent lines heard is the host saying “Answer the question!” and when the caller starts answering the host interrupts with why they’re wrong, then insists they “answer the question”. What.

It's like that Saturday Night Live parody of Hardball, in which "Chris Matthews" insists a guest answer a question.

"You didn't ask a question."

"Answer it!"

This doesn’t accomplish anything. It keeps the listeners entertained, but how does it actually solve problems or spread a differing viewpoint? It doesn’t. Just as the screechy stringy-haired hippie is the stereotype of the liberals, the obnoxious interrupting hard-ass is the general view of the conservative party. Playing up to this stereotype and claiming those who don’t are wimpy or obviously aren’t as passionate about the issues as the host is Insane Troll Logic. How can one get their words out to the world if they’re essentially screaming the entire time? Look at what children respond to best. Yes, they respond to firmness, but not to shouting or insults. Firm but impersonal reprimands are best. This translates to adulthood as well. And this is why talk radio, in the end, is entertainment and little more.

On the other hand, there are radio shows that do not fit this type. Dr. Laura may seem screechy from time to time, but she gets at her worst when confronting someone who clearly knows they are doing wrong but desperately wants someone, anyone, to justify it. Dennis Miller is a moderate independent (closest to libertarians, actually), but he has a laidback style and sense of humor that endears him to nearly everyone who isn’t a complete spaz. Jim Fisher, as I stated before, gets occasionally grouchy with callers, but generally has a good give-and-take with those who want to debate. Any of these are good examples of how to really get one’s opinion out in a rather chaotic world.

Cliché it may be, but also very true: You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Review: The Pageant of Georgian England by Elizabeth Burton

I was bored, having a Jane Austen/Regency craving, and at the library. I have, of course, read Jane Austen’s novels several times over, and find Georgette Heyer to be infinitely boring. (Really, after a while the characters start running together. Independent female lead who is quite witty meets rakish but otherwise good natured male lead. Throw in some hot headed young heiress and her lover. Add a few quirky family members. Hilarity Ensues.) So, I started looking through the books about England. And it was in the travel section, of all places, I found this book. I figured I would give it a try, if nothing else. I was pleasantly surprised.

Keeping in mind the book was written in the 60’s, and most likely some of the information has been found to be inaccurate at this point, I still found the book both informative and entertaining. Burton has a light-hearted style that keeps the book from becoming merely “a history book”. And certainly one can’t imagine her droning on in a monotone on the subject. In fact, the book reads less like a lecture and more like a conversation. She makes snarky comments about the scandals of the nobility, which gave me the idea of Regency Reality TV, Just Add Hot Tub. Sometimes she’ll be discussing one person, and mention that they’ve met this other famous person in a rather nonsequitur aside. This is common in regular conversation, especially if the person talking is easily distracted. She has copious footnotes that give brief explanations without overwhelming the text. All this did was leave me wanting to learn more.

Another strength of this book is that it focuses more on minutiae, little details. The first chapter is a general overview of the Georgian period but the rest details various aspects of day to day life: the various types of housing, decorations, medicine, etc. Most appropriately it ends with gardening, the crowning glory of the English. I found this chapter most interesting, especially with regards to landscaping and improving, which was a big topic in my favorite Austen novel, Mansfield Park. The paragraphs on Repton also put Henry Crawford and Mr. Rushworth in a clearer context. If I understand Ms. Burton aright, Repton would have found both to be rather silly (mostly Rushworth).

It was a fun read overall, and I’m thinking of reading the other books in her series. She has written about the Elizabethan and Stuart eras. But that won’t be till I’m done with my other five hundred books.

Also, Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day

Has anyone noticed Will is a fop?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: Cowboys and Aliens

I am not a typical female. When Dale and I go on a date, I do not want to go see some sappy movie in which female lead and male lead dance around each other for 2 hours until they declare their love in a heartwarming/amusing way, and then the bells ring and everyone smiles. Most of the time those movies bore me to tears. This is a good thing, though. Dale and I can enjoy the same movies. So, naturally, we went to see "Cowboys and Aliens", because that's a good romantic movie for our fifth anniversary, right?

After sitting through five hours of previews (I exaggerate, but really Rave Motion Pictures, how many previews do you need to show before starting the movie??), Dale and I realized we had run out of Coke right before the movie started (that was Dale's fault). So Dale missed the beginning but there wasn't much to miss, since our poor woobie protagonist was just as confused as we were.

The movie follows the hero's journey of Jake, last name difficult to spell, who has a typical Western movie name. He wakes up in the middle of the desert, bloodied and wounded, with some weird metal device attached to his wrist. As this is the Old West, there was no cry of "OMGALIEN", but much about "OMGDEMON". After dealing with some guys who decide he must be an escaped convict (dealing with = killing them and taking their horse and their dog), he wanders into a nearby town (which I believe is called Absolution) and makes friends with the preacher, a.k.a. The Wise Old Mentor Figure. There are some serious gaps in his memory, which he realizes when the sheriff decides to arrest him as a convict who robbed the stagecoach of the erstwhile army colonel Harrison Ford (becoming gruffer by the year-because, according to Mayor Thodos, he is old and he hurts). Between being arrested, dealing with Colonel McGruffMan's whiny son, and having some strange girl come up and rattle off cryptic things at him, he has his hands full.

Then the "demons" show up and start abducting people via grappling hooks.

So all must team together to stop these "demons", and learn about themselves and have their character arcs.

Honestly, it was a great movie. It was a little cheesy, which is what one would expect from a movie called "Cowboys and Aliens", but it wasn't nearly as cheesy as I expected, and it actually had a decent plot. The aliens were all right, but creepier when they weren't shown. They looked like the lovechildren of Battle Toads and District 9 aliens. Some of it made me wonder (so why do the aliens have to use grappling hooks?) and some of it made me laugh (the alien's eyes bugging out like a frog's...OH THE LULZ), but it was good fun overall.


They call them demons, but really...

Go see that movie. And avoid scary hair guy. (Clearly he works for the Shadows.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Marble Hornets review

Yesterday on Facebook I had a mild spaz fit. It was because I discovered a certain YouTube series was going to have a third season. Unfortunately, said YouTube series actually being good, not many people have heard of it. Therefore, I am going to spaz about it on my blog as well.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a guy on SomethingAwful named Victor Surge. This mad genius was given the task of creating “paranormal images”, and he came up with a being that gave even hardcore horror fans nightmares. This is that being:

Yeah. The creepy faceless thing in the back. Surreal, to say the least. Well, this little image has become an Internet phenomenon, spawning countless Alternate Reality Games and a number of interconnected blogs. However, I am here to talk about just one little video series. You see, an amateur filmmaker and his friends were inspired by Victor Surge’s little abomination, and decided to make a YouTube series. “Marble Hornets”.

The basic premise is simple at first. The protagonist Jay had helped out his friend Alex on making a pretentious student film. However, Alex quit abruptly before many months were gone, a nervous wreck, and was intending to burn every bit of the material. Jay coerces convinces Alex to give him the tapes-there are far more tapes than needed for a few months of filming. Jay, however, forgets about it…until he spots a certain image on SomethingAwful...

Jay decides to go through the tapes, and post anything of interest on YouTube. It doesn’t take him long to find something. Something terrifying. And Jay soon finds himself caught up in the same thing that drove Alex to the brink with an enigmatic YouTube user named totheark posting downright terrifying responses to his entries.

Despite being low budget, this series is actually much better than some mainstream horror films. The makers are masters of psychological horror.  Not only do the videos seem low quality, as they would if you were realistically fleeing an eldritch abomination; in certain entries, absolutely nothing happens, yet they manage to key up the tension so much you are sitting on the edge of your seat, just knowing something is going to happen. And when something does happen, it is terrifying. There is little blood, little violence, very little swearing, and no need for nude chicks to go running about shrieking. It combines elements of Hitchcock, Lovecraft, and House of Leaves to great effect. And it delivers Mind Screw after Mind Screw. It helps that it is something of an Alternate Reality Game. People have been able to figure out, by certain landmarks in the videos, where the videos are actually set; Jay interacts with the viewers via a Twitter account (going so far as to give hints through Twitter); and of course being a user on SomethingAwful and using something we ourselves have seen to set the stage. It helps the horror, because it makes it seem real. Does that eldritch abomination stay exclusively in Alabama? Does it? DOES IT????

To this day, we still have little to no answers to such questions as “Who is this totheark and why does he not understand grammar?” “Can Masky do more than tackle everything?” and “What does that wacky abomination the Operator want, anyways?”

Obviously, with so little answers, they really need another season just to clear things up.

So I’m quite happy that I have more to look forward to, and since we have another entry coming up on Wednesday, I suggest you start watching. NOW.

Here is the first entry:

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Davenport Junior Theater's A Midsummer Night's Dream

What to say about this amazing play? First off, the Davenport Junior Theater is an amateur acting group for kids ages 3-18, available to anyone in the Quad Cities. And these kids…they have talent, I tell you.

I loved their way of “freshening up” the play. It was campy in an 80’s way, complete with the music and the styles. But oh, the fairies…they looked like the love-children of Rainbow Brite and David Bowie. It worked fabulously, because it added this surreal element to the fairies.

The four love-lorn couples were played well, and I was happy to see they cast a rather tall girl as Helena (she was even taller than Demetrius). Demetrius of course was dressed much more respectably than Lysander, who looked like a typical punk. Theseus and Hippolyta were not so memorable, but I do recall Theseus “facepalming” at one point. The amateur actors, Bottom and Co., were hilarious. They looked like your typical nerd/geeks from 80’s movies, one girl had taped glasses, all of them wore their pants far too high, and Peter Quince was played with the lisping “nerd accent”. Bottom stole the show though. The actress was over the top, loud, and in your face, which was perfect for the part.

And now the fairies. I’ve always been more interested in the fairies than the other parts of the play, which probably says something about me, though I’m not sure what. But this was played perfectly. Oberon could have stepped straight from an 80’s movie, with his torn jeans, transparent shirt, and spiked hair. He did a great job, veering between calm to manic very quickly, and generally acting like someone who is definitely used to getting their way. Titania wore a jean jacket (and also had some of that manic behavior going on), the fairies all had MAD poofy hair (like I said, Brite-Bowie children), and Puck…Puck was ADORABLE with his green hair and his “wanna-be-Oberon” clothes.

The boy who played Puck couldn’t have been more than 8, but he nailed his lines so well. He and Oberon had an excellent dynamic going on, constantly one-upping each other throughout the play. Once the boy messed up by exiting on the wrong side, but he snuck back over and it seemed so natural (especially from Oberon’s reaction) that I thought at first it was scripted. One of the best part, however, was near the beginning. When Titana’s fairies discover he is THE Robin Goodfellow, they scream like fangirls and gather round him, giggling at his every joke, sighing, and generally acting like groupies. Well done, script writer!

However, THE best part was Pyramus and be precise, their death scenes. Those two are Large Hams to the extreme, and even the other actors were laughing their butts off.

As I said, the play was well done, the actors did an excellent job. A few of them spoke a bit slow, but Shakespeare is not an easy thing to memorize and spout back as if it was natural.

For anyone in the Quad Cities, there are a couple days left to go see this play. Do it! It will be well worth it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Review: House of Leaves

This is part of the reason I haven't updated. Do you realize how much effort it takes to read this book? But it's so worth it.

House of Leaves

Storywise, the book is a compilation of writings by an old man named Zampano, all collected by the narrator after the Zampano's death. The old man was writing a hefty analysis of a documentary about a house that supposedly can change size and shape, amongst many odd things. Through this analysis we see the story of the family that made the documentary, and the sidenotes by the narrator show us his own deterioration due to his obsession with the House (and probably show us what happened to Zampano).

I liked it overall rather well, more than I expected. It rambles in places, and sometimes things went over my head, but I believe that is the point: we are reading a in-depth analysis of a film. Ostensibly this is meant to be fictional nonfiction. It is only the tale of the family, and the narrator's sidenotes, that really bring it down to the reader's level.

Unfortunately it was the narrator's sidenotes that lessened the impact for me. At times his notes seemed to address the story; but more often than not they were neurotic ramblings about his, erm, "activities", which rather took away from the psychological horror aspect of the book, for me, at least. If I read it again I will probably focus more on the "nonfiction" part.

I would definitely recommend the book, but only if one is willing to spend a lot of time. Apart from some things going over the head, it can also be confusing, with text going every which way at certain times, and having to flip back and forth to read relevant footnotes. It's definitely a book you would spend time sitting and thinking through as opposed to a quick read. Still, if you have the time, go for it.

Just don't read it at night. :-)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review of Pirates of the Caribbean 4

I’m happy to say this movie lived up to my expectations. Of course, my expectations weren’t very great. I was going for some amusing Captain Jack Sparrow-ness, a few sword fights, and oh hey, they have Blackbeard, that should be fun.

Johnny Depp was his usual irreverent self (especially to the prince, of all people), and had several amusing tricks as well. After several strange things at the beginning, including a Python-style court scene, an impostor, a magical disappearing Keith Richards, Captain Jack finds himself gang-pressed into service on the Queen Anne’s Revenge. He finds out his old flame just might be Blackbeard’s daughter, and also Blackbeard has a remote control sword for the ship. Somehow he also is magical, though he doesn’t disappear. This is never explained, though one assumes he’s been doing Sith occult rituals since his beard was on fire. (This is never explained either).

By this time we find out there are several people looking for the Fountain of Youth. You have the Spanish, who sail along at a calm but quick pace; Barbossa, working as a privateer for the crown, with Gibbs, and still unable to shake the piratey mannerisms; and of course Blackbeard, who has heard a prophecy that a one-legged man will kill him in so many weeks.

Oh, lookey there. Barbossa lost his leg in a fight against…Queen…Anne’s…Revenge. Good job, Blackbeard, you caused your own problem!

Oh, and there’s a stipulation for the Fountain: it essentially involves taking one’s life force for your own. So, in other words, it’s a Sith evil fountain. Jack’s old girlfriend (whose name honestly escapes me; she was there to act sexy and complain about people being mean to dear old Daddy) wants to save Daddy Blackbeard; Jack obviously wants immortality; Blackbeard wants to not die; and everyone else is just along for the ride, including the totally random missionary who was tied to a mast for…well, I think it had something to do with protection from storms, but as that makes no sense one assumes Blackbeard was on some manner of drugs when he came up with that.

So, they sail away, Blackbeard does some evil stuff, they need a mermaid’s tear so they try to catch mermaids (which are more like traditional mermaid-sirens…ON SPEED), and the only reason one gets caught is because she saves the missionary and sings to him. She is apparently not as ax-crazy as the others. So everyone flounders around Florida, missionary and mermaid fall in love (quick question: why complain about lifting the lid of the glass mermaid holder box? I mean you want a live mermaid, right? Blackbeard, lay off the drugs, it’s affecting your mind), Blackbeard proves he’s not really concerned about daughter-dearest but she’s too dumb to see, because she has Daddy Issues (see: Cleolinda parody of Phantom of the Opera), and Barbossa keeps alcohol in his fake leg. Yes.

I’m going to get spoilerific here, because there are amusing comments I want to make. (highlight text to see) After they get all the MacGuffins required for the Sith ritual, they make it a magic cave, in which they open up an interdimensional portal or some such thing, and they find the Fountain. So while two factions fight and argue over who gets the Fountain and whatnot, and Barbossa manages to stabbity Blackbeard, suddenly the Spanish appear! They have guns, they’ll take the Fount—

Wait, are they destroying it?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Spanish destroy the “pagan waters”. I’m fairly certain they cut out the line where the Spanish admiral says “YOU ARE NOT READY FOR IMMORTALITY” in cryptic tones. Luckily there’s a bit still pouring out (so where’s the Fountain’s source? Who knows?) so Jack grabs up the magic goblets taken from poor dead Ponce de Leon, prepares the goblets, and…Blackbeard wants his lovely dearest daughter to save him oh pretty please? Because fathers always ask their daughters to sacrifice their lives for them. What a Greek drama we’ve got going on.

Luckily Jack switches the cups, Blackbeard dies in a singularly horrific fashion, and his daughter…complains about Jack being mean to Daddy Dearest. *cue exaggerated sighing*

So, it ends mostly well. Barbossa has the Queen Anne’s Revenge, complete with remote control sword, Gibbs and Jack have taken the whole fleet of shrunken, bottled ships from the Revenge, including the Black Pearl, and What’s-Her-Face is stuck on a desert island, because she just won’t stop it with her Daddy Issues.

Unfortunately the voodoo doll of Jack washes ashore. Whoops.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Books Reviews (3 of 'em!)

Since I've been so lazy lately. Also, I'll be posting my review of the new POTC soon.

The Grey King by Susan Cooper

The Grey King (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))

It's like this. Will has become strangely, terribly ill, and is sent off to visit some relatives in Wales to recover. (Why people think sending someone off elsewhere to recover from illness best recovered from in bed is beyond me. But it gets the ball rolling.) Due to his illness he can remember little about his goal about defeating TEH EVULZ. Once he gets in Wales and takes a walk up a strangely ominous mountain, he remembers-mainly thanks to an odd white dog and his equally odd albino owner Bran, a boy who was informed of Will's arrival by-you guessed it-Merriman. Working together, they must find a golden harp to awaken the sleepers. Unfortunately, that mountain they're on? That's where the Grey King, one of the lords of darkness, resides. YAY.

Once again a good book, and this time delving further into the myths of Britain. (And if, in the finding the harp scene, you can't guess who that middle lord is, or why he's so delighted to see Bran, then you clearly have
read nothing).

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Silver on the Tree (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))

The book opens up with the Drew children arriving in Wales, where they quickly meet up with Bran and Will. Things are coming to a head soon, and while the Drew children work with Merriman, Will and Bran must find the last Thing of Power (this is my criticism...who calls it a "Thing" of power? Then again I can think of no better word.) They journey into an enchanted land caught in time, and then it's a race to a mystical tree to take the blossoms at midsummer before the Dark can.

A nice, bittersweet ending to the series.

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (The Starcatchers)

Did I ever review "Peter and the Shadow Thieves"? I can't remember. So here's the next one in the series. It starts out issue. Lord Ombra is Not Quite Dead, and is ordered by his superior...shadow...things to go find Peter, because they need him for some task they refuse to disclose to the reader. Meanwhile, Lord Aster is on his way to Paris for a Starcatcher meeting, and Molly Aster and George Darling go digging to find out who it was that warned the Starcatchers of the falling of the starstuff, and why they didn't do it this time.

Turns out the person who warned them was a guy named Mr. Pan...

While the Asters and George chase Ombra (complete with Peter and lost boys) to Rundoon, a warlike tribe from another island attacks Mollusk island, and the chief's daughter teams up with the few uncaptured pirates to stop them.

And it goes very very fast because it's difficult to put the book down.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review: Greenwitch

Greenwitch (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))
She is green. And witchlike.

Okay, yeah I read this in a day. It's a rather short book, but it feels almost like a midway point, a meeting place, and I feel like it's going to pick back up again. The main strength of this book lies in Cooper's ability to seamlessly weave the old and varying folklore of England into the story.

After the theft of the grail, Merriman Lyon invites the Drew children back to Trewissick in Cornwall, England, to a house he has rented for their spring break. He has also invited some old acquaintances...a man named Bill Stanton, his wife, and his nephew...Will, who is becoming increasingly Old One-like (is that a term? It is now.)

They all come together for the making of the Greenwitch, a tradition in Trewissick. While the boys try to find a way to keep the "intruder" from meddling with Merry's plans for them (not knowing Will is there to protect them as well), Jane Drew is invited to see the making of the Greenwitch. Before they throw it into the sea, people are allowed to make a wish, and Jane finds herself wishing the melancholy looking witch could be happy.

Meanwhile, a strange man who is Obviously Evil lures Barney and Simon to his gypsy caravan to use Barney's apparent clairvoyance (using the aforementioned grail) and they must find out how exactly to get both the grail and the lost manuscript before Mr. Obviously Evil. It doesn't take long, luckily, as they have only a week, and the book goes quickly. But it ends with the good guys having a distinct advantage, which will probably be promptly overthrown in the next book, otherwise there wouldn't be two more books following.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Reviews: Over Sea, Under Stone, The Dark is Rising

The first two in "The Dark is Rising" sequence by Susan Cooper. And oh what a beginning for a book series!

"Over Sea, Under Stone"

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising Sequence)
Above: A grail-shaped beacon.

While on vacation (or holiday, if you want to be British about the thing) in Cornwall, the three Drew children find a very old map that contains clues to a hidden treasure-a grail (said, of course, in that mangy Scots accent). Spurred on by their great-uncle Merriman Lyon they begin following the clues, while villains dog their every step (a dog does this as well, but with little motivation beyond “food” and “walkies”).

I’m not sure why I didn’t read this when I was a kid. But I wish I had. Something in Susan Cooper’s writing seems half-dream, half-reality, even when describing normal, everyday events. The story sucks you right in and doesn’t let you go till the very end. She builds up the plot slowly until the tension breaks like a rubber band. There’s no need to conceal the villains. Their very closeness, but no one able to do anything about them, is what causes the tension. (see TV Trope: Did You Just Have Tea With Cthulu?)

Forget that it’s shelved in the kids’ section. This is an excellent book, and a quick read.

"The Dark is Rising"

The Dark Is Rising (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))
Picture above: the dark actually rising.

The second in this series, it begins with Will starting to notice very odd things happening around him...only to wake up the next day to find he isn't...exactly normal. (Or mortal, for that matter). He is one of the Old Ones, integral to defeating the rising darkness (because the dark is rising-did we mention that?) and must find the six signs that will stop aforementioned evil. Luckily he has the help guessed it! Merriman Lyon, who shows him how to wander through time and use his abilities. (Presumably Lyon and Dr. Who have tea together while discussing future books by J.K. Rowling. But I digress.) It's all very epic, but hard to describe. Needless to say, it is awesome, and very very difficult to put down.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review: Manga Shakespeare

Graphic novels and manga. Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em. And some people are just terrified by ‘em. (Try explaining the plot of Inuyasha to a Baptist. It…doesn’t go over so well.)
I’ve heard varying opinions of graphic novels. Some people think it’s nothing more than a comic book, while others believe it will induce kids to read the classics, especially if those classics are translated into graphic novel form.

I’m not a fan of graphic novels in general. Once upon a time I collected Inuyasha manga books like they were crack, but I got over the addiction and plan on selling them on eBay. Interest faded, and I moved on to other addictions. *coughJaneAustencough*

But recently, a couple graphic novels that came through circulation at work caught my eye. Manga Shakespeare, is what they are called. The library acquired Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night's Dream. The art was what really drew my attention, partly because I never imagined Benedick to have a small ponytail, but then again, usually Kenneth Branagh comes to my mind when I imagine Benedick. (And then I imagine Benedick fighting pixies…oh dear…)

Manga Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing
See? Ponytail.

So I grabbed up the both of them, checked them out, and took them home, and was much the happier for it. Obviously the dialogue was shortened for graphic novel form, which means much of Shakespeare’s rhythm and rhyme (image number 3: Shakespeare in a rap battle) is lost; but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the manga stayed true to the dialogue they kept. No fear of driving off the teens with those crazy “thees” and “thous” made the adapters translate to modern English. Instead, they used their art to convey the meaning of the words, and it works quite well, such as in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, when Egeus is depicted as rudely interrupting Theseus’ and Hippolyta’s amorous moment. (Theseus is rather annoyed).

Onto the individual reviews, then. Much Ado About Nothing was all right. It caught the give and take between Beatrice and Benedick quite well, and the added manga bells and whistles made it all the more humorous. And of course, to add to the silliness, all the men that aren’t fathers have smooth faces and shiny hair (Don Pedro sports Legolas hair, which is just kind of funny). I think the reason I didn’t enjoy this as much was because of Don John, but that’s the reason I didn’t enjoy the play that much. It’s Don John. He sulks in a corner, and if he’s played by Keanu Reeves he talks in a monotonic American accent. He has no motivation beyond “For The Evulz”. He’s just…there. And it makes everything else seem pointless. (Or maybe that’s the point-Much Ado About Nothing, subtitle “Thanks to Don John’s Chaos Addiction”) A Midsummer Night’s Dream was much more satisfying (and, I felt, better executed overall).

I found the setting of this one interesting. It is Athens, of course, but they drew a curious mixture of the futuristic and the ancient Greek (which works, seeing as how it’s set in ancient Greece but Shakespeare mentions Queen Elizabeth in the course of the play: time travel, maybe?). The city looks modern, and Theseus has one of those clever little monitors that people can call you on. The characters wear traditional Greek clothes, but with the modern thrown in. Demetrius, for example, is depicted as a consummate business lackey. His toga covers a dress shirt and tie, and it is very bizarre, and also used to contrast to Lysander, who wears a T-shirt (and a toga-it’s all about the togas, you know).

However, the funniest parts are reserved for Puck and Oberon (who has a strange set of ram horns on his head). When Puck cries “I go, see how I go, swift as an arrow from the Tartar’s bow”, Oberon has physically picked him up and given him a supernatural toss. And when the four lovers are all quarrelling together, the pair are seated in a movie theater, Puck eating popcorn and Oberon facepalming over the ridiculousness of the situation.

And let’s not get started about poor Bottom.

The art in this one, too, was better, but it flowed with the feeling of the story.

So…will graphic novels teach kids to enjoy reading? Will they destroy books? Will the twenty-something nerds that come in the café stop talking obsessively about Pokemon?

The world may never know.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: Wicked Plants

Let me tell you all about this charming little book I found while making my rounds at the library. It comes in an attractive green color and elegantly decorated in black and gold designs.

It’s called Wicked Plants: The Weed That Killed Lincoln’s Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities, a title worthy of Lemony Snicket.

This was a fascinating, if slightly terrifying read. The plants listed in this book make The Happening look like a Pixar movie. You have the usual suspects, such as Nightshade, Hemlock, and Strychnine. But mixed in are more unusual choices, such as the Habanero pepper, Kudzu (but it does make such lovely shapes), and blue-green algae. The author, Amy Stewart, takes a gleeful tone as she discusses these plants, describing effects that are positively cringe-worthy.

She also seems to take glee in pointing out the every day vegetables we eat that are related to these poisonous plants, and can be poisonous themselves if eaten at the wrong times (i.e. potatoes, those lovely delicious nightshades we all know and love).

My only criticism is the subtle change of tone the author takes when she reaches the tobacco plant. She verges on preaching, and this part reads more like a PSA about the dangers of tobacco rather than a faintly amused listing of a terrible plant’s properties. It was jarring.

The book overall is a useful sort of encyclopedia for anyone who wants to have plants and doesn’t want to get rashes, seizures, or dead pets in the mix, for someone writing a murder mystery, or for Stephen King.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I am back!

I'll start posting more regularly. I finished the first draft of the book, so now I have all that out of my head for the time being, I can actually focus on other things.

Although, honestly, I'm not sure what to write. I'm mainly doing this because my mother bothered me about updating my blog this morning.


I guess the most interesting thing I have to say is the interview on the classic rock station this morning, 97X. They had a guy from Lake Erie talking about those darned mysterious lights that appear over the lake at times. He was surprised and pleased to discover he was not the only one to see these lights. I refer him to the 001.'s in the library nonfiction section, if he is still in doubt as to whether or not other people have seen UFO's. (Although he may find some fun stuff about interdimensional UFO's, in which case I refer him to Cubs Guy here, who is convinced he is on a cloned Earth in another dimension and held here by aliens who are watching, always watching, and there's a demon who used sorcery to blind him and he can't eat the food because it's made from sorcery and...)

By the way, the hosts picked up on the fact this guy was stoned. And they were gleefully acting skeptical and the poor guy didn't even notice. Alas, alas.

Supposedly 97X put up a link to this guy's YouTube channel, where we'll either have vaguely fuzzy videos of a Random Thing (much like that vague video of the Headless HuntIMEAN the Pale Horse of the Apocalypse) or last year's news clips about The Lights of Doom.

Let's see...Ah, people in Detroit burned a Confederate flag. Something about Kid Rock flying one, or something. But this is Yankeeland after all, so we're not all that surprised.

Now that I'm done with this, I'm going to go play on for a while.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Julian Assange-Master of Irony

Julian's really cracking me up now. In this article, it appears he has pulled out all of the usual arguments against being arrested, stopping short of "Don't arrest me I'm pathetic". Let us discuss all of Julian's ways of trying to resist arrest, which would normally have cops tasing you and possibly kicking down your door anywhere else.

Firstly, Assange's lawyer (the Mouth of Julian?) believes a prosecutor "acted against the laws of confidentiality, telling one of our tabloid newspapers that Julian was suspected of rape." I can see the conversation now.

Hurtig: You told newspapers that Julian was suspected of rape! That badly violates laws of confidentiality!
*everyone stares during a long, awkward pause*
Hurtig: Ermm...I mean, laws regarding...umm...Oh, look at the time!

So after accidentally heaping coals of irony upon their own heads, yet another lawyer complains that the prosecutor should have let Julian give his own story in full before issuing an arrest warrant. Apart from the fact that apparently Julian wasn't answering his phone for days, not even for poor lil' Hurtig, most police don't really require you to explain exactly where you were during the crime, before they actually arrest you. If they believe they have evidence enough, they arrest you, and then you tell it to the judge.

Finally, Julian makes one final bid, one which is so silly it sounds like something Ed Reyes would come up with. See, Julian is just so afraid that he could be extradited from Sweden and sent to live in Gitmo.

Umm...why would he be sent to Gitmo? Do we send other rapists to Gitmo? No. We send terrorists to Gitmo.

Oh wait, he's also arguing that this rape case is really all about Wikileaks and a violation...of...confidentiality....

So, after all this, Julian has had to sit in a court hearing and give his side of the story and all that after all. And now he's forced, poor thing, to stay in an English mansion with nothing better to do than be interviewed by the media and sign a 1.5 million book deal.

Poor, poor Julian.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Book Review: Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson

I'm back from Ranting Land to talk about something much more pleasant to all, and what's really the point of this whole blog in the first place.

So, Chestnut King by Nathan Wilson

What can I say about this book? It was absolutely amazing.

The book starts out with a bang. The family is scattered to the four winds as they all set out, willingly or unwillingly, on different quests: Henry's father and Uncle Caleb go to Endor to confront the witch; Franklin the faeren is taken to the Chestnut King, and eventually Henry must make his way there. The witch's grip is becoming stronger and her forces grow greater. And everyone says Nimiane cannot be killed, which is really kind of what everyone is trying to do.

So, with everyone going everywhere, and a lot of things happening at once (as well the poor townsfolk of Henry, Kansas seeing all sorts of odd things going on without understanding them at all), there's plenty of action. The book moves along seamlessly, with just the right amount of breathing room in between the fast-paced sequences. Wilson made a smart move in adding less humor but making what humor there was even more forceful. It was definitely a great way to end the series.


Monday, January 24, 2011

A newspaper clip and an open letter

Giant Spider Rampages Through Florham Park

Mere hours after the New York Jets' tragic defeat in the playoff game, a giant spider came tearing through Florham Park, headquarters for the Jets football team.

So far, the body count is unknown, but the damage will certainly cost millions.

Head coach Rex Ryan was found cowering under a desk in the middle of the wreckage, muttering over and over, "She really did it! She really did it!"

Fans of Mystery Science Theater and the Green Bay Packers alike were seen bursting from their homes, screaming, "Packers won the Super Bowl!"

They were told by authorities to wait until February 6th.

An Open Letter to the Green Bay Packers

Dear Packers,

I hate you.

This is a long established fact. We carry within our hearts a mutual dislike of one another. Your victory yesterday shattered my illusions of a Bears Super Bowl.

But my dislike of you can never equal the deep-set rage that burns within my soul against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is outstripped only by that long-abiding, unquenchable fury I feel towards the Washington Redskins.

So you see, we have come to an impasse. Our only chance is an alliance. One of those, "I loosen your chains, you kill the guards for the maniac emperor who talks to severed heads on a regular basis" sort of deals. Do the Steelers talk to severed heads? I don't know.

However, I do know what will happen if you blow this for us.

Remember Florham Park.



Sunday, January 23, 2011

An Open Letter to the New York Jets

Dear Jets,

Well, we've had our good times, we've had our bad times. My team was apparently having tea while the Green Bay Packers snuck off to the Superbowl. Your conditioning coach thought it was acceptable to trip someone and pretend like he was totally just bringing his knee up, probably dancing to the song "She's a Maniac", or perhaps he confused you guys with the wrong Jets and was trying to intimidate the rivals through a song-and-dance routine.

But come. Let us move on from the bad times, and hope for the future.

Because I swear, if you lose and subject the world to a Packers/Steelers Superbowl, I will do this.

That's right. Because no amount of arachnophobia will prevent me from mutating a spider and sending it into Florham Park.

Make your choice.

Love, Erica

Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Dandelion Fire

I'm near the end of my reviews...which means I'm actually going to have to write something to post instead of just reviewing stuff. I could write about how it turns out Jared Loughner, PhD in Nutcasery, is a Truther, but that wouldn't take long at all.

Jared Loughner turns out to be a Truther, meaning he blames George Bush for 9/11, which isn't something a right-wing nutcase does.

There. That was easy. *Hits the imaginary Easy button*
On to the review!

Dandelion Fire by Nathan Wilson

Henry is about to be sent back to his adoptive parents, who have been released from captivity. Not wishing to return to his suffocating former life, he decides to go through the cupboards to find out about his past and his real parents. He soon finds himself crossing paths with a powerful wizard in thrall to the dark realm of Endor and angry, though rather comical, faeren. Henrietta, meanwhile, determined to follow Henry, finds herself in troubles of her own (once again those crazy faeren).

The book was a bit more faster-paced than the last, but that was necessary; Henry isn't just discovering, he's taking part in the action now. We see his slow growth into his own in this book, and learn a bit more of his and others' history, including Uncle Frank's. A nice second book to this series. The ending was really enjoyable; almost dream-like in its peace.


*hits the imaginary Easy button again*

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Book Review: 100 Cupboards

100 Cupboards by Nathan Wilson

Henry York is an ordinary boy who has been overly sheltered by his parents. When they are kidnapped while biking in South America, he is sent to stay with his Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty in Kansas (Dotty is a nickname for Dorothy...GEDDITGEDDIT?). That's when everything starts turning weird. He wakes up one night to find plaster falling on his bed, and discovers that cupboards have pushed their way out of the wall. Lots of cupboards. Each leads to another world, and it seems there must be one in his grandfather's old bedroom, constantly locked; he sees a short man leave the room to use the bathroom at one point. He and his cousin Henrietta start investigating the cupboards, ignoring the dire warnings that they could awaken an ancient evil.

Nathan Wilson writes these books with a matter-of-fact realism that just seems to work in fantasies like these. He follows Henry's train of thought very well and very realistically, while showing that he is much more than he seems to be. It is telling, too, that Henry's doubts about himself first start being conquered, not by grand adventures in other worlds, but simply by playing baseball for the first time and finding out he's really not that horrible. Little victories lead to bigger ones.

I think the matter-of-fact tone is what makes this stand out. Even when the characters not acquainted with the oddness sees it, they just set to work to do what they must (i.e. Zeke). Henry is easy to relate to, as is Henrietta. The book went fast but it wasn't constant action; the flow was just right.

4.5/5 (.5 for Henrietta being a heroine with curly hair)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Book Review: Cemetery Dance

Missed a post yesterday, I believe. We had a movie night, watched Knight and Day. It was pretty good, it kept a steady pace without feeling exhausting. The acting was decent, but it was definitely a popcorn movie. The action scenes, of course, defied logic, and was a bit exaggerated for humor. This was its shining point: it managed to be a gentle parody of spy movies disguised as a fluffy romance. The humor was not in your face; but it was there, and some parts were still laugh-out-loud funny. The heroine's sudden revolution into complete competency was a bit...sudden. But as I said, it was not meant to be a serious character study. It was meant for laughs.

Anyways, on to what I intended to post: the review of the latest Pendergast book I've read. (I haven't finished Fever Dream)

Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

The beginning. THE BEGINNING. The cover blurb pretty much gives it away (although Dale was surprised it happened so early in the book) but I'll let you see it for yourself.

So Smithback and Nora Kelly are celebrating their one year anniversary when A ZOMBIE HAPPENS. Seriously. In the wee morning hours when D'Agosta is investigating the murder scene, Pendergast APPEARS OUT OF FREAKING NOWHERE to inform him that the perp, caught on tape and seen by several eyewitnesses, including Nora herself (hospitalized), has been dead for well over a week.

Oh, God.

D'Agosta heads off an official investigation, while helping Pendergast on the side;  Nora, hell bent on revenge, and Pendergast have a less...traditional investigation. Apparently there is an Obeah cult nearby that Smithback was investigating, and guess who our main suspects are? Pendergast decides to employ some vodou "just in case" (one wonders just what the guy saw out on the bayous that makes him take it somewhat seriously. Or maybe he noticed the authors didn't employ a scientific explanation in the last book and got worried.).

Meanwhile, animal rights activists wander about, shouting things and being general nuisances (one calls keeping animals as pets "oppression", leading me to believe Oreo must enjoy oppression a great deal, judging by the way she enjoys sleeping on my coat).

A weird one, this. Riveting, heart wrenching at times, and the villain was just STRANGE.

However, Laura Hayward is starting to sound less like tough female police captain and more like whiny drama queen. Despite having taken a firm stand beside D'Agosta in The Book of the Dead suddenly she's back to "I'm not sure cuz you messed up trying to help Pendergast". In this book it seems her main role is to whine that D'Agosta is going to get in trouble helping Pendergast again. She's starting to become the over-emotional, moody female instead of the competent woman she had been before. It feels almost like the authors are trying to inject some relationship drama into the work and it just seems jarring.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Book Review: The Wheel of Darkness by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

We start off in...Tibet. What? Yes, Tibet, where Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, are taking a much-needed vacation in an old Buddhist monastery after that whole Diogenes problem has been solved (we hope). However, they soon have a case to solve and have no time to strive for enlightenment. An ancient treasure called the Agozyen has been stolen from the monastery, and Pendergast soon tracks it down to a ship about to embark on its maiden voyage. It's being hailed as greater than the Titanic, which should send everyone running and screaming like little girls, but nothing of the sort happens. The worst is that Pendergast actually manages to get the ship to stop, reverse, and let them on. That's people skills there.

Once on board, they meet a cast of characters, several who could be suspects, and Pendergast ingratiates himself with the ship security by dealing with some gamblers in the casino who have been counting cards (like those nerd kids in Vegas) and Constance investigates the service area belowdecks. Meanwhile, deaths are starting to pile up, and a storm is on its way. Serial killing in a storm! Great way to spend a vacation.

And there's that problem of the smoke ghost floating around scaring everyone...

A great book, although an odder one, and luckily free of the usual drama. A great twist as well. Once again, the authors kept me riveted.

4.5/5, .5 because, whoa! They didn't have a scientific explanation for something for once!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Book of the Dead

We start out with Our Hero falsely imprisoned, with the incompetent FBI agent Coffey doing a happy dance all the while and turning the Colonel Klink of the prison against him with all manner of nonsenses. D'Agosta and Constance team up with a brilliant guy, Eli Glinn, whose actual job is indeterminate, other than solving things with engineering skills. Things? Whatever things there are. Including psychological profiles of deranged killers named Diogenes. Thing is, he can't figure out what drove Diogenes nuts and made him hate his brother. And Pendergast, who can't remember anything that would have happened, is locked up. So, Eli's solution is simple: bust Pendergast out of the prison that no one has ever escaped from, ever. But Eli is an engineer and you know how those engineers are.

Meanwhile, D'Agosta is trying to stay out of trouble with both his boss and Hayward, who is not pleased with D'Agosta's involvement in Pendergasts' troubles. Meanwhile, the museum is in trouble after the debacle from the last book and needs some good publicity. Hugo Menzies has a great idea! After you have read Dance of Death, you will find that, really, Hugo Menzies having any ideas whatsoever is a Bad Thing. Nora is chosen to curate a new show. See, this rich Italian count is descended from someone who had bought an entire Egyptian tomb, which was sold to and exhibited in the museum for a short time before being boarded up (thanks to-you guessed it!-a curse). It is planned to reopen the tomb with an additional sound and light show.

Once again a riveting book, and with less clutter of unnecessary plotlines. The end, I promise, will knock you off your feet, into the Grand Canyon, down the river, and all the way to the Pacific Ocean, where you will wash up on Hawaii, looking dazed and saying "Whoa. That was, like, WHOA."


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Book Review: Dance of Death by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Now that I've gotten my political mindvomit out of the way, I can go back to trying to update these massive amounts of book reviews that I've collected over the past few months.

Dance of Death by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

This one starts out with a bang that knocks us off that Grand Canyon cliff we were dangling over (more on dangling later). A professor down in New Orleans (New Orleans? That can't be a coincidence!) suddenly goes off the deep end in class, and D'Agosta is summoned to Riverside Drive, Pendergast's New York mansion, by Constance Greene. Because Pendergast has not yet returned from Italy (and is presumed dead), Constance believes it is up to D'Agosta to stop Diogenes' evil plan, which is supposed to take place in one week. (Way to procrastinate Constance!) D'Agosta must learn all he can of Diogenes, because people close to Pendergast are slowly being killed off.

Several subplots weave in and out of the main thread. First there is the Dangler, of no importance except comedy (the NYPD have good reason for calling him that); there is D'Agosta's growing relationship with Laura Hayward (okay, okay, they're already shacking up) which will cause much drama later on; and there is a new exhibition at the museum, with Nora Kelly and Margo Green in the mix. This has much more to do with the main plot than first appears. One can only hope no horrific monsters decide to burst in upon the festivities this time...

Definitely another good addition to the series, and once again the narrative is tight and the characters spot on. I did think the brief feud between Nora and Margo was unnecessary; it took away from the plot rather than added to it. I felt like the authors didn't want to go with the cliché (oh the two females are BFF's immediately!) but having them take instant dislike to each other is just as cliché. Of course one can see Diogenes' plan a mile away, and the police objection to the obvious as well as rejection of an eyewitness account (D'Agosta's) was a bit unbelievable; aren't they supposed to keep every option open? But then we wouldn't have a story.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Review: Brimstone by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

This is yet another book of the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and marks the beginning of the "Diogenes Trilogy".

The book opens up with some poor Latina housekeeper getting scared out of her wits by finding her employer dead in a locked room, under...odd circumstances.

Enter D'Agosta, stage right, fresh from Canada but stuck as a police sergeant in the Hampton PD, an embarrassing demotion from lieutenant of NYPD. No sooner does he appear than does Pendergast, which of course means everything is about to go to hell in a hand basket.

And that could just be literally.

See, more deaths follow on the heels of this one, and they all bear the same mark: all appeared to have been burned from the inside out, in locked rooms, and all so far seem to have been involved in some sort of pact with the devil. So is it mere spontaneous combustion...or has the Prince of Darkness come to claim his own? On the trail, Pendergast and D'Agosta head to Florence, Italy, leaving behind Pendergast's ward, Constance Greene. And if that name pops out at you, there is a very good reason for that.

Once in Italy their trail starts leading them toward a priceless violin, while poor Laura Hayward is stuck in New York dealing with a crazy street preacher. (What happened to any of the sane street preachers?)

To top it all off, Pendergast receives a note from his long-lost brother Diogenes, who is insane and happens to be planning some horrific crime.

This novel was strange, but good fun, leading us amongst many strange and amusing characters, including Count Fosco, a shining tribute to Wilkie Collins' character from The Woman in White. The villain was suitably clever, and the denouement kept me on the edge of my seat. The narrative felt a bit tighter in this one, and left us with a cliff hanger so big that we might as well be dangling over the Grand Canyon.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Book Review: North by Northanger by Carrie Bebris

I had planned on combining my two reviews, but the Amazon links using images kept messing up the format on the page. It was very annoying. So, we'll do this one at a time.

North by Northanger by Carrie Bebris

The third in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series. Now...this was a somewhat odd one, and a little different from the last.

We start out with Elizabeth adjusting herself to life at Pemberley, and dealing with the usual things associated with pregnancy. Her biggest challenge at the moment is the hold the former Mrs. Darcy seems to have over the servants; Elizabeth cannot even move a writing desk without getting odd looks. However, in doing so, she discovers a letter Darcy's mother wrote before she died in childbirth, written for the future Mrs. Darcy, telling of a precious treasure hidden that she should find. Elizabeth is intrigued, but Darcy has more concrete concerns: he wants to engage a London doctor to attend Elizabeth when she gives birth. Though reluctant they head to Bath to meet the doctor, who is on vacation there.
Not only does Elizabeth have to deal with Lady Catherine "Don't tell me you're breeding!" "I prefer the term carrying.", but they also receive an odd note from a Captain Tilney, who says his mother was friends with Darcy's mother. They decide to visit him once their time in Bath is over. However, when they get to his home, Northanger Abbey, they find him bandaged, no one but one housekeeper named Dorothy, and very odd questions coming from the strange man. They leave the next day, only for policemen to come to their room at the inn and discover diamonds in a hollow of Darcy's cane. Darcy is put in the gaol, Elizabeth has to summon Lady Catherine to get him out, and they discover Captain Tilney was killed weeks before they had arrived at Northanger Abbey. The questions: who did they meet instead, why did they frame Darcy, and does this have anything to do with Darcy's mother and her treasure? Darcy and Henry Tilney deal with the first two while Elizabeth deals with the latter, and Lady Catherine's unpleasantness.
This was a bit more convoluted, yet at the same time it was easy to figure out at least two of the perps just by the impostor captain's manner of speaking. I also appreciated the brief element of supernatural; not overpowering but perhaps better that way. The doctor (Severn; you can tell what kind of guy that is) was appropriately snobbish and confining to the high-spirited Elizabeth, Lady Catherine was horrific, and Darcy was overly protective, which I thought is probably how he would be. I could have wished for more Henry Tilney, and it would have been nice for Catherine to have a cameo. Still, another fun offering but not quite as light-hearted, I think.

P.S. The formatting seems to be working fine now. I'll use the excuse and blame demons in the Interwebz lines.

Book Review: Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris

I will stop procrastinating. I will update this blog properly.

I have a good excuse though. I was sick, got over it, got a stomach virus right before Christmas, got over that, had Christmas, and now I'm sick again. But see, here I am, writing a blog post while sick. You should be proud of me. (At least I'm not under the influence of Nyquil yet!)

So, without further ado, on to the review!

Suspense and Sensibility by Carrie Bebris
 This is the second in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mystery series. Another fun offering from the pen of Carrie Bebris, and even odder than the last.

The book starts out with Elizabeth and Darcy chaperoning their respective sisters, Kitty and Georgiana, to London for the Season (i.e. that time of winter when single girls descend upon the city to find a husband). Kitty, though still a bit silly at times, has matured somewhat since being in the company of her wiser sisters. To her high luck she quickly meets and falls in love with a wealthy young man, Harry Dashwood, son of that harpy Fanny Dashwood. Harry is somewhat immature but overall decent, unlike his tactless parents. He and Kitty waste no time in becoming engaged to the horror of his mother and the approval of his sensible aunt (we all know who that is).

However, shortly after the engagement is made official, Harry discovers a painting of an infamous ancestor as well as the man's mirror; and suddenly, he is behaving like his rakish ancestor. Elizabeth and Darcy, concerned both about the young man that seemed so nice and their heartbroken sister, try to get to the bottom of this change of behavior.

This was yet another riveting tale, and the author's ability did not flag. I thought the resolution was a bit unbelievable, with regards to everything being tidied up so neatly, but I'm a sucker for fluffy happy endings. The happy surprise was also well done. There was the supernatural aspect which was enjoyable and quite frankly a little creepy; and of course the author continued with the believer/skeptic dynamic between Elizabeth and Darcy. Once again, good for light reading.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Because I have nothing better to do...


I tried to find the Regency period drama sketch, but alas.

Still, I want a Regency bazookoid blaster.