Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 13 Books of 2013

I didn't do as much reading this year as I generally do. Part of it was my class last winter, and part of it was the advent of Emma Approved, my discovery of Doctor Who, and watching grown men scream like little girls at Slender Man games.

However, I did get a fair bit read, and I've compiled a list on my library account of more (most of the ideas taken from the Recommended Reading section on the Republic of Pemberley). Without further ado, here are my top 13 books of 2013!

1. The Iliad by Homer

While it's easy to glean ideas about The Iliad from pop culture references, it's another thing entirely to actually read it. I actually listened to it in audiobook format (Robert Fitzgerald translation), and while the reader wasn't the greatest, he did in fact do a great job of portraying the emotion that pervades the story. When Patroclus died, I swear the reader was about to actually burst into tears over it. (Not that I cried or anything...) The scene between Achilles and Priam is also extremely touching (as my brother points out over here). There's also some humor here and there-the "smack talk" amongst the soldiers tends to be very amusing. (Imagine two guys who used to play football, drunkenly discussing their glory days in the bar. You get the idea.) And my favorite part, when Aphrodite enters the battle to help one of her favorites, and gets cut by an arrow. She runs away crying, and the rest of the gods laugh at her for freaking out over a paper cut. And speaking of The Iliad...

2.) The Odyssey by Homer

I literally just finished The Odyssey, available on the website "Poetry in Translation". (I'd been reading it during slow times at work.) I initially started out listening to it on Librivox, but they changed readers to a very old woman who sounds like she's past everything but tea and quadrille, and needs a throat lozenge to boot. As I couldn't listen without the urge to clear my throat, I took to reading it. The Odyssey tells of Odysseus' trip home after the events of The Iliad, as well as his son's coming into his own, and becoming a man. In this, the gods aren't fighting as much, so we mainly see Athena helping Odysseus around Poseidon's traps for him. Poseidon, you see, is mad that Odysseus blinded his cyclops son. You know, after his cyclops son kept devouring people. (The frustration of the ancient Greeks must have been enormous, given how arbitrarily silly the gods were.) One thing that really struck me was how the Greek reverence for hospitality has never really changed. There is a lot of emphasis on welcoming guests and exchanging gifts, and Homer shows us just how bad Penelope's suitors are by having them treat the "beggar" (Odysseus, of course) horribly. I also enjoyed the depiction of the relationship between Penelope and Odysseus. Most of the marriages in the Greek myths are horribly dysfunctional (Agamemnon's disaster is referenced in-universe), but all we see is Odysseus wanting to get home to his wife, and Penelope using all her wiles to avoid the cultural pressure to remarry, because no one can compare to Odysseus. Their reunion is beautiful.

3.) Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

I've already reviewed this, but I want to reiterate some of the things I love about this book. The novel is absolutely poetic, giving luscious descriptions of a wintry medieval landscape, creating word-pictures of an endless forest, large feasting halls and cozy inn. The characters are drawn with a few deft strokes, with all of their flaws and virtues. The only way I can describe this book is "beautiful".

4.) Two Graves by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Preston and Child's Pendergast is one of the most complex and enigmatic literary characters I have ever encountered. Throughout most of the books, he is calm, cool, and in control. Two Graves throws that all right out the window. The book can be retitled "Pendergast beats up everyone". This is the culmination of the emotional and psychological torment the character has gone through in the previous two books of the trilogy. Pendergast is pushed farther than ever, and the book is as much about blowing up Nazis (literally) as it is about Pendergast overcoming his demons. (Again.)

5.) The Narrows by Ronald Malfi

I'm pretty picky about my horror. The market is inundated with sexy werewolves/vampires/zombies/Cthulhu and is somehow horror, even though the only scary thing is the sanity-blasting writing in Twilight. That said, there are plenty of genuinely good horror authors that know how to set up atmosphere and understand that the less explained, the better. Ronald Malfi is one of those authors. The Narrows succeeds where others fail because 1.) The characters are complex (I keep using that word), 2.) The atmosphere is laden with tension and paranoia, and 3.) The monster is unique but barely explained, leaving it as a very real threat to the world. While I'm not as thrilled with Cradle Lake (I just couldn't get into it), The Narrows represents the best part of modern horror.

6.) The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch

While I had a few issues with this book, it was overall one of the better ones I'd read this year. It was mystery, horror, thriller, and historical all wrapped into one. I loved the view we get of the time period, as well as some of the pervading beliefs. The characters, flawed as they were, leapt off the pages. And none were so compelling as Jakob Kuisl, the gruff, intelligent hangman with a penchant for medical knowledge. Pötzsch does a wonderful job of bringing his ancestors to life in this book, and for that alone it deserves praise.

7.) Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

It is hard to describe this book, simply because it is so unique. Sloan's story combines conspiracy theories, cults, antiquarians, new technology, and the search for immortality, and it all starts out with an unemployed guy getting a job at a bookstore. It's a funny and extremely quirky book that remains lighthearted even as it explores issues such as leaving a legacy, the tension between tradition and innovation, and the impact a good book can have on one's life.

8.) The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

This was another "different" kind of book that's hard to class. It is, of course, a mystery; or rather, a series of mysteries; but it is also McCall Smith's love letter to Africa. Mma Ramotswe is such a sparkling, confident character that it's not hard to root for her, and the funny and interesting characters that surround her only add to this delightful book. It also has its heartfelt side, exploring the love of one's home and family and overcoming loss and and grief. The strange situations and amusing ends to most of the mysteries makes this a rather cozy read.

9. The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross

What if there were nasty tentacled alien god-things trying to break through into our universe and devour our souls? What would we do about that? Charles Stross knows. We would battle those nasties with the dual weapons of bureaucracy and inefficiency. The Laundry series is a very strange and amusing look at what happens when you combine spy fiction, office humor, and Lovecraftian abominations. The book is rather amusing, in a droll, British sort of way, as Bob Howard tries to stop cultists from summoning the Eater of Souls, even if the Eater of Souls has already been summoned and is in fact his manager. Needless to say, Eldritch Hilarity ensues in one of the best of the Laundry books.

10.) Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

In this epistolary novel, Kate attends her sister to Regency London so her sister can catch a rich husband; her cousin Cecelia isn't allowed to go because their relatives fear the mayhem that would ensue if they were there together; and magic is a common part of everyday life. This book had me laughing out loud several times as the girls try to make sense of the magical nonsense going on around them, their suitors try to wrap their minds around the girls' antics, and Cecelia's brother has been turned into a tree. It is all delightfully silly.

11.) Sanditon by Jane Austen and Another Lady

I had read this before, but it's such a cozy that I had to re-read it. We know very little about how Jane Austen would have continued this book had she lived longer, but the author (Marie Dobbs) does a good job of guessing at it. The ending may not be quite Austenesque but it still contains the tongue-in-cheek humor one expects in an Austen novel. This is one of my comfort books I read when I'm feeling ill or just don't feel like thinking about a new book.

12.) The Tale of Hilltop Farm by Susan Wittig Albert

One wouldn't think that Beatrix Potter and mysteries (including murder mysteries) could mix, but Albert does a very good job in doing just that. The book takes place as Beatrix first buys the now-famous Hill Top Farm, depicting her struggle with being a female owner of a farm and her grief at the loss of her fiance, while shenanigans ensue in the small town. Even more amusing, the animals in-universe act very much like Potter's book creations and are strong, fun characters in their own right. The entire series is lovely and comfortable.

13.) Wu Zhao: China's Only Woman Emperor by N. Harry Rothschild

This was a book assigned for my History of Asia class last winter. Wu Zhao is a fascinating person in history, as well as something of an innovator. She broke down class barriers by ascending from being a merchant's daughter to ruling the empire; she broke down gender barriers by proclaiming herself to be emperor (rather than empress, the wife or widow of an emperor), and she broke down religious barriers by keeping an admittedly shaky peace between the three belief systems of that time-Confucians, Buddhists, and Daoists. She was politically savvy and often ruthless, but was a complex person with conflicting interests and impulses. The book gives plenty of detail on the culture at that time. This is definitely a good biography for those interested in China's history.

Edit: Hi everyone! Anne over at ModernMrsDarcy wants us to share our faves of 2013, so I'll be linking this over there. And while you're at, check out her 2013 list and the reader link-ups. Reading all these is going to take a while. I suggest you get started now. NOW.

A Silly Summation of the Desolation of Smaug-Spoilers Ahoy!

Gandalf: Well, Thorin, I see we’re starting off with a flashback again.

Thorin: Yes. Where’s my dad?

Gandalf: That doesn’t matter, because Sauron wants your head and you need to go kill Smaug.

Thorin: Sounds like fun.

Meanwhile, in the present day, Azog is still following them.

Gandalf: We have to go to Beorn’s house!

Bilbo: Who’s Beorn?

Gandalf: A were-bear that might kill us all and hates dwarves!

Thorin: *facepalm*

Bilbo is awoken by BEES and Beorn being a Native American

Thorin: Yeah, Tonto, that’s great, but we have to get to the mountain.

Beorn: You know what I hate? Dwarves.

Thorin: Please don’t eat that mouse.

Beorn: You know what I hate more? Orcs. Everyone hates orcs.

Beorn offers them ponies, and they quickly arrive at the entrance to Mirkwood.


Gandalf: BRBtrollingSauronbyeeee.

Thorin: Get on with it.

As it turns out, Mirkwood isn’t just uncomfortably close, but causes hallucination. They hallucinate their way right into a bunch of spider webs.

Spider: Noms!


An epic battle ensues between the dwarves and the spiders, which is soon interrupted by the wood elves.


Tauriel: ARROW’D!

Kili: …I think I’m in love.

Legolas: So you’re all under arrest.

Thorin: For what?


So the dwarves are taken prisoner, Kili flirts with Tauriel—

Kili: Teach me some of your arrow techniques baby…

Tauriel: *finger gun*

Legolas: Are…are you two flirting? HEY STOP FLIRTING. I’M PRETTIER.

—and Thranduil is a jerk.

Thranduil: Come on, we just want a Silmaril. I mean do you know how long we’ve been fighting over the Silmarils? Since like forever!

Thorin: I’ll shove that Silmaril up your—


Meanwhile, Bilbo sneaks around and overhears awkward conversations.

Thranduil: So Legolas totally has a crush on you. But you can’t marry him, you know that right?

Tauriel: Whatever. I’m gonna go flirt with the dwarf some more.

Luckily Bilbo has his One Ring of Convenient Invisibility and soon finds the guardroom.


Second Elf: CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!

Bilbo rescues the dwarves the moment they pass out, and they go on a magnificent water park ride.


Jeff GoldblumBilbo: Must go faster…must go faster…


Kili: Don’t worry guys I’ll just pull the lever and OW MY LEG.



Kili: …I know I’m in love.

Afterward, Thranduil interrogates an orc.


Tauriel: TO THE PLOT!

Thranduil: Anyways, clearly this means Sauron wants to murder us all, and you know that the best policy to deal with Sauron is pretend he isn’t there. He hates the silent treatment.

Elsewhere, Gandalf and the Doctor Radagast have figured out they should go to Dol Guldur.

Gandalf: Okay, Radagast, Sauron has one of those stupid “anti-Muggle” spells on his fortress. Go tell Galadriel I’m gonna drop in on him for tea, okay?

Radagast: IT’S A TRAP!

Gandalf: I’ll be real careful and quiet, okay?

Five seconds later:

The dwarves, meanwhile, bribe Bard to sneak them into town, and Legolas vainly pursues Tauriel, in every meaning of that phrase.

Legolas: You know…you know we could talk to Dad, you know…

Tauriel: Come on, Legolas! We have to go save the world! And my boyfriend!

Legolas: But…but I’m Orlando Bloom…

So Bard sneaks the dwarves into town, where the Master has apparently taken up residence. Alas, Radagast does not make a timely appearance. A very annoying cockney does, though.

Cockney Guy: Baaard Bard you’re in trouble for reasons.

Bard: Like what?


Bard: Whatever. I’m going to go stir up the French revolution, or something.

Next we meet Bard’s adorable children, Bard realizes that this is all part of a Prophecy of Doom, and Thorin promises gold for all.

Thorin: I’ll build orphanages! Lots of orphanages!


But since it’s Bard, no one listens to him, and the dwarves get a big send-off while Kili lays around in Bard’s house getting Morgul’d.

Bard: FYI we give athelas to the pigs.

A mad scramble ensues.

Meanwhile, in Dol Guldur…

Gandalf: So basically, Azog, I just wanted to sell Sauron a new vacuum cleaner. I mean have you seen this place?


Gandalf flees, while Azog babbles something about “we are legion” while looking for his Guy Fawkes mask. Then Gandalf nearly runs off the edge of a cliff.

Gandalf: Seriously, can this place look any more like Amnesia?

Sauron appears as a writhing shadow.


The dwarves arrive at the Lonely Mountain, and after much derping around and making enough noise to wake a dragon, Bilbo points out that moon is light too.

Thorin: Right. Well then, go on Bilbo. Go fetch the Arkenril.

Bilbo: Oh. That. Yeah.

Bilbo wanders into the Hall of Shiny Things, pokes at things, and, since he hadn’t yet read Beowulf, picks up a cup.

Smauglock Cumberkhan: Starships…starships are annoying…Moriarty stole my money…HAYYYY WHO ARE YOU?

Bilbo: …barrel rider?

Pewdiepie: BARRELS!!!!

Smauglock: The squeaky one is right. I hate barrels.

A grand chase ensues, and Smaug knocks a lot of things over, pretty much because.

Bard: Did you hear that? Quick son, grab that black arrow! Smaug can’t stand black arrows any more than Sauron can stand the silent treatment!

The Master: JAIL’D!


Meanwhile, the chase continues.

Bilbo: OH COME ON. We could be a team! Haven’t you seen Dragonheart?


Thorin: Bilbo! There you are!


Thorin: You aren’t hiding the Arkenril in your waistcoat, are you?

Bilbo: DRAGON.

Thorin: I don’t think a dragon would fit in your waistcoat.

Smaug: FIRE’D!

Balin: We should probably run away now.

Bard’s house, meanwhile, is overrun with all manner of fantasy creatures.

Orc: Where’s Thorin?


Legolas: ARROW’D!


Orc: No, seriously, just…



Tauriel: *HOMICIDE*

Legolas: Okay, Tauriel, time to go kill more orcs!



Legolas: …*sigh*

Legolas proceeds to chase down a messenger orc, and winds up getting his pretty face artfully bloodied, while the mad scramble for the athelas ends.

Tauriel: Hey, athelas!

Everyone holds Kili down while Tauriel uses Highly Suggestive Elven Healing Technique.

Gloin: Well that was a privilege to behold.

Bofur: Should the kids be watching this???

Kili: Spiders…spiders want me to tapdance…sexy elven ladies…arrow techniques…

Dol Guldur

Gandalf: But you have to admit Machine for Pigs didn’t have as good a storyline!

Sauron: I ADMIT NOTHING! Now, you just stay there in your cage of doom while I go take over the world. AGAIN.

Back in the Lonely Mountain, our heroes run into a…problem.

Thorin: Holy crap, everyone died trying to get out!

Balin: Now what?

Thorin: Wait, I have a highly convoluted plan!

Thorin’s plan involves getting Smaug to fire up the kilns and make a giant gold dwarf that will melt onto him. It works this far.

Then he gets back up.


Bilbo: Where’s he going?


Bilbo: …aww we done did it now.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Book Review: The Dark Monk by Oliver Pötzsch

This is the second in The Hangman’s Daughter series. We start out with a priest discovering he has been poisoned, taking a strange secret with him to the grave. His sister, a wealthy merchant named Benedicta, arrives to investigate, and enlists the help of Jakob Kuisl, his daughter Magdalena, and physician’s son Simon. They stumble onto a series of riddles involving the Knight Templars and a fantastic treasure, all the while being shadowed by a dangerous group and worrying over a band of raiders attacking people in the forest.

In many ways, this was better than the first. The mystery was a bit more straightforward (indeed, it felt like a better-written Dan Brown novel), the characters were better realized, and the danger was still quite present. Magdalena began living up to her reputation and accomplished quite a bit, and without help no less. Benedicta was an excellent and intriguing addition, but my enthusiasm for this new character was dampened when I realized she was mainly being used as a way to stick poor Simon into a love triangle. That, in fact, was the most tedious part.

The descriptions were quite vivid and once again gave a very real sense of Germany in the 1600’s. Despite the tedious parts, I would definitely put this one on my re-read list.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Book Review: The Selection by Kiera Cass

Have you ever read a book that you knew wasn’t that great, yet you still couldn’t put it down? I’ve had that experience a few times before, and once again this happened.

The Selection is another addition to the “dystopian future YA novels” that seem to inundate the market these days. Indeed, the main premise feels like a less violent version of The Hunger Games. It is a future in which America has been through several wars and re-formed itself into a monarchy called Ilea, after the founder and first king. Everyone is divided into strict castes, but the Selection-essentially a competition to win the hand of the prince and future king-gives every girl a chance to rise above her station. America Singer is not interested at first, as she has a boyfriend (though in a lower caste than her); but when he breaks up with her, she enters the Selection as a way to get money for her family. She is sent to the palace with 34 other girls in an effort to catch the eye (and possibly the heart) of the prince.

Now, this sounds kind of boring (at least to me), but the parallels with the story of Esther caught my eye, and I found the actual relationship part intriguing as well. Cass actually does a good job of setting up chemistry, although her characters aren’t always the most pleasant; and as cliché as it sounds, America learns that life in the upper caste, while more luxurious, isn’t always better.

There is also more going on than an admittedly intriguing love story. The land of Ilea is in the middle of a crisis. Two different rebel groups have been staging attacks, and the tremors of uprising are beginning. This is further explored in The Elite, the second in the series, as well as giving us more about the history of Ilea.

The downside to the book is that for most of it, while there is a love story going on, America is in the usual “wish fulfillment love triangle” found in most YA novels for girls. Oh no, there are two hot guys that want me! Whatever shall I do? Given the nature of the book, I expect a certain amount of relationship drama, but drama created by implausible reactions and scenarios is incredibly tedious.

I’m somewhat intrigued about reading the last book, but I hope there is more focus on the wider aspects of the novel, as opposed to needless relationship drama.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Christ is born, glorify Him!"

Merry Christmas! Here's a Nativity song from the Orthodox church.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas Eve!

Christmas Eve is almost as important as Christmas itself. Santa comes on Christmas Eve, some people open presents on Christmas Eve, there are dinners, there are movies, there are church services. A night like this deserves a particularly festive and cheerful song.


And still a better song than Christmas Shoes.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Parody 5: S1, E6: Mindscrew

FYI Space is Purple, and someone vaporizes some Psi-Cop types.


Sinclair: Such a quiet, ordinary day.

Catherine: Yes. I’m sure nothing will go wrong at all.


Bester: Ohai.

Security Guard: CHEKOV! You’re my hero!

Bester: D-:<


Guy: You can go check on Sigma-957. There are totally no super powerful disco beings hanging out there. Just don’t tell anyone k?

Catherine: Sure.

Guy: Also people fight over that area of space. We’ll need G’Kar’s approval.

Catherine: What.


Sinclair: Nice day, nice day. Yep, it was…HEY YOU’RE IN MY HEAD GO AWAY.

Bester: Sorry I keep forgetting.

Sinclair: So who are you guys?

Bester: I’m Bester, I’m a Psi-Cop and I’m here to help!


Ironheart: I’ll take it, as long as it’s far away from people.

Apartment Lady: Kthxbai.

The room then rattles about threateningly. This is a bad sign, right up there with someone saying “Nothing can go wrong”.


Kelsey: So Ironheart got reassigned to a super secret operation and now he’ll probably sell that information or something.

Talia: He wouldn’t do that. He was my boyfriend.

Bester: Looks like we get to scan you!:-D

Kelsey: It won’t be fun. :-D

Bester and Kelsey do spirit fingers at Talia, which is apparently horrible, because Talia grasps at her head. Commander Chosen One intervenes.


Ivanova: SO WILL I.

Bester: Just how many people on this station are in love with Talia, anyways?


G’Kar: Sigma-957 is super creepy. I bet you think I’m a jerk. Well I am. But I’m not just a jerk.

Catherine: You let me go or I’ll go anyways.

G’Kar: You won’t come back.

Catherine: D-:


Ironheart: They experimented on me until I woke up and realized I was a Vorlon I had become super powerful and could telekinete the crap out of EVERYTHING.

Talia: I thought all teeks were crazy.

Ironheart: That was back in the Stephen King days.


Catherine: Let’s go to Sigma-957! I’m sure this won’t end badly.


G’Kar: I need a heavy fighter for a mission to Sigma-957. Just in case it ends badly.


Ivanova: You know, you could have kind of told us about the SUPER POWERFUL BEING ON THE STATION.

Kelsey: It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Bester: And we really don’t know what Ironheart is anymore. He went nuts and killed the head researcher.

Sinclair: Which makes this SO MUCH WORSE.


Ironheart: Psi-Corps is becoming the puppet master of this series and I’m becoming…

Talia: Batmantis?

Ironheart: No. Everything.

Talia: Well that makes great sense. Let me talk to Sinclair about this…




Walkers: Kthxbai.

Catherine: Hello? Computer?

Computer: Oh, we are so dead.

Catherine: …I HATE DISCO.


Ironheart: I’m becoming an energy being.

Sinclair: Sweet!

Ironheart: You’re a bunch of subatomic particles. And I could pull it apart with a thought.

Sinclair: …okay not so sweet.

Talia: We can’t let the Psi-Cops find out how to do this again.

Ironheart: I just need to leave so I can finish turning awesome.


Sh’Drog: Ohai Catherine. G’Kar told us to come bail you out after going to the creepy place of doom.

Catherine: Ohhhhhh he was trying to help.



Talia: You’re distracting him, meaning he’s losing control of his powers, which means we will be destroyed. Idiot.

Sinclair: Idiot! *facepunch*

Kelsey: Hey shooting at the super-powerful disco god is a good idea, right?

Ironheart proceeds to vaporize Kelsey and force-punch Bester.


Ivanova: The energy surge! IT’S OVER 9000!

Energy!Ironheart: Talia! I have become a disco rave! Here’s an awesome gift that may or may not become arc relevant!


Sinclair: We’ll accidentally the whole file.

Garibaldi: And you can tell them the ship exploded.

Sinclair: And you can’t blame Talia.

Garibaldi: Also GTFO.

Bester: FINE. I’ll just give you my signature plot-wave and go.

Garibaldi: So how’s Talia? What was with that gift thing?


Talia: *telekinetes the penny*


Catherine: So what was with that?

G’Kar: Character development. I’ve discussed this. Several times.

Catherine: And what was with the disco ship?

G’Kar: There are super powerful things out there that make us seem like little ants. It’s terrifying and awesome and extremely arc-relevant.

Catherine: Do all super powerful beings like disco?

G’Kar: Yep.


Ironheart: *hums Disco Inferno*

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: Riptide by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

For centuries, it has been rumored that Ragged Island, lying off the coast of Maine, is the resting place of infamous pirate Red Ned Ockham’s fabulous treasure hoard. For centuries, people have tried in vain to get around the deadly water trap that makes the treasure inaccessible. Every attempt has ended in failure. The island was bought by Malin Hatch’s grandfather; but Malin’s brother died on that island, and =he wants nothing to do with it.

But when treasure hunter Gerard Neidelman approaches Hatch with the diary of Ockham’s architect captive and a grand scheme, Malin agrees to allow one last attempt to retrieve the treasure. But there is more to Ockham’s treasure, including the famous weapon known as “St. Michael’s Sword”, than anyone realizes. And in this treasure hunt, ignorance can be fatal.

Preston and Child (or “The Gentlemen”, as they are known by us crazed fans) once again give us a heart-racing thriller with an amazing twist at the end. (Not of the Shyamalan variety, thankfully.) Their characters are fully realized and complex, from the enigmatic Neidelman to the intense, conflicted local minister. As usual, it doubles as a history lesson-we learn a lot about ancient code use in governments and spying as well as what goes into boating.

It was a thrilling adventure overall, with a wonderful (and rather creepy) solution to all the little mysteries in the book.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Book Review: The Hangman's Daughter by Oliver Pӧtzsch

It is 1660 in the German town of Schongau, and a small boy has just been murdered and left with a strange tattoo on his body. The townsfolk still remember the witchcraft scare years before, and tension quickly builds as other children are killed. Fingers start pointing to the local midwife and herbalist, but the executioner Jakob Kuisl, a feared man considered dishonorable, believes there is something more going on. He reluctantly teams up with the local physician’s son, Simon, to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, his daughter does some investigating of her own on the side…

This book keeps you on the edge, always throwing in more mysteries and more clues, and filled with complex characters. Jakob himself is often gruff and unapproachable, a veritable Sherlock Holmes complete with pipe and obscure knowledge no one else seems to have. Despite it all, we get glimpses into a fiercely caring side. He’s protective of his daughter and seems almost condescendingly fond of the townspeople who treat him with contempt. Simon is intensely curious, easily frustrated with his own father and their superstitious patients.

The biggest disappointment is the fact that the book purports to be about Jakob’s daughter Magdalena, who is supposed to be intelligent and useful. However, she mainly stumbles onto answers while getting herself in trouble, and spends much of her time whining over how she and Simon can’t be together. All in all she behaves very immaturely for a 21-year-old, especially one living in a time where children must grow up very fast. (Luckily this starts changing in the second book.)

However, overall the book is wonderful, with a detailed look into the culture of the time. Many things we take for granted today were considered nonsense. (At one point Simon reads a book in which the author postulates about “small living beings” being the cause of disease. I’ve yet to find out if there was such a theory at the time or if it’s the author’s fanciful addition.)

The author has done his research, and that’s because he is descended from the real-life Kuisl family. The book is even better when considered as the author’s defense of his ancestors.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Parody 5: S1, E5: Parliament of Madness


Garibaldi: No, you can’t bring a knife here! I don’t care if it’s the Easter Bunny’s knife, it’s illegal.

Drazi: D-:<

Garibaldi: Whose idea was it to gather all different religions here at once? AND WHAT IS PLOT!CATHERINE DOING HERE?


G’Kar sings a Narn song that sounds remarkably like Gilbert and Sullivan. Also, he is cooking pillbug.

Tu’Pari: Hi G’Kar! I’ve brought you an Important Thing About Stuff.

Important Thing About Stuff: Hi, I’m Du’Rog, and I am dying. And you can too.

G’Kar: What.

Du’Rog: After I’m dead all my money is going to hiring an assassin to kill you. They’ll be there about two days after you get this. It’ll be fun. Tootles.

Na’Toth: Hi, I’m your new aide.

G’Kar: WHAT.


Garibaldi: Your ex-girlfriend is here.

Sinclair: Oh, no problem. Not interested at all.

Garibaldi: Good.

Sinclair: She can be here if she wants, we’ll be busy enough to avoid each other.

Garibaldi: Okay.

Sinclair: I’ll just get on back to my duties then and not think about Catherine.

Garibaldi: Right.

Sinclair: …

Garibaldi: …

Sinclair: She, ah, wasn’t with anyone, was she?


Londo throws food, music plays happily, and people eat and drink. ESPECIALLY DRINK.

Delenn: Ummm…


Vir: We started celebrating after we beat up another species. It’s a great party.

Londo: They went to the Castle AAAAGGHHH… GEDDIT?

After shouting “A’tooo” which is apparently an attempt to sing “Werewolves of London”, Londo throws some food at Sinclair and shows off the gods.

Londo: Morgoth, protector of front doors.

Tolkien: WHAT.

Sinclair: Where’s Catherine?

Garibaldi: Business sector. Flee while you still can.

Londo: Hey Delenn we should date. Garibaldi we should date too!

Vir: I think I saw a fanfic like that once.


Catherine: So this is awkward.

Sinclair: Yep. Sure is. Just to let you know I totally broke up with Carolyn.

Catherine: That’s nice. Your pants are talking to you. It’s a bit scary.

Ivanova Commlink: Commander…? Londo’s passed out and Garibaldi and Vir started singing  “Werewolves of London” and Delenn is crying under the table and…

Sinclair: Let’s go on a date.

Catherine: Don’t we do this every few years?

Sinclair: Yep. See you at 8?

Catherine: I’m there.


G’Kar: I’m so very sad that Ko’Dath was shoved out an airlock.

Na’Toth: At least she didn’t have a bridge dropped on her.

G’Kar: So you were totally the assassin hired to kill me, right?

Na’Toth: If I were you would be dead. And you’ll get a black flower when the assassin comes. That’s how they work.

G’Kar: Sure. You know all about how assassinations work, don’t you?

Later, G’Kar has bad dreams.

G’Kar: No…no Du’Rog I don’t want to tap dance OH GOD A BLACK FLOWER.

Na’Toth: I didn’t do it.

G’Kar: Fine, fine I totally believe that. I need you to find Tu’Pari, and I’m going to go fetch a bodyguard.


A noob Minbari arrives.

Delenn: Ohai Lennier. You can look up, otherwise you’ll walk into a wall, pass out, and possibly never wake up.

Lennier: D-:

Delenn: Also don’t call me Satai or people will be confused as to why I’m here as an ambassador.

Lennier: …okay?

Delenn: Also you can help out with the Minbari ritual. And keep stuttering in that adorable way.

Lennier: :-D


G’Kar: I have nowhere to go.

N’Grath: LOL. The Narn needs protection. It’ll cost you your soul. Here, I give you the guy from The Goonies.

G’Kar: That works.


G’Kar: …maybe.


Catherine: So let’s get this over with. We discuss being at the academy, our family, then we talk about how we fought and have sex.

Sinclair: ...let's just skip to the end.


Delenn: Valen said some pretty epic things, and everyone decided to be awesome. And then we eat berries.

Sinclair: Sounds like fun. Sounds like something I could totally come up with when I’m bored.

Delenn eats a berry in an…oddly suggestive manner. And then she stares at Sinclair rather intently, which just makes things more awkward than they already were.


G’Kar: Where’s my bodyguard?

Sloth: *is dead*

G’Kar: D-:


Garibaldi: So you totally don’t know this guy, and he just randomly showed up in your room dead? Ooh, nice lingerie.



G’Kar: Ohai Tu’Pari. Where’d you get that data crystal.

Tu’Pari: Shu’Toth gave it to me please don’t hurt me I won’t do it again.

G’Kar: That’s…that’s Na’Toth’s father…



Sinclair’s listening to Tennyson until Catherine shows up with food, flarn, and wine to celebrate her find of some sort of important thing.

Catherine: Let us quote Tennyson. Also we should totally get together again.


Catherine: …what.


Narn Person: Nu’Dak our courier got lost.

G’Kar: Wait, what?



Tu’Pari: I’m wearing glasses lol. And you’re wearing paingivers.

G’Kar: And for some reason you don’t have six fingers.

Tu’Pari: Can’t have it all.

Na’Toth: Ohai.

Tu’Pari: You should leave, or terrible things will happen.

Na’Toth: Nah. I’m the backup. Oh, paingivers. So boring. Here, I’ll show you how to do it.

*kicks G’Kar*

*kicks G’Kar A LOT*

Tu’Pari: Wow, this is fun! But I still don’t trust you.

G’Kar: *tacklekickstomachpunch*

Na’Toth: That was easy. Kicking you to break the paingivers worked out well.

G’Kar: I’m sure there was no other way to do it.



Na’Toth: Wow, Tu’Pari, you were knocked out for like three days.

G’Kar: And I gave you lots of money.

Tu’Pari: But they’ll think I betrayed them!

Na’Toth: Yep, they’ll be here in about an hour. Sucks to be you.

G’Kar: You’d better take the next ship out.

Na’Toth: Kthxbai.

They then skip off giggling, which draws more than a few people’s attention, probably because two Narns skipping and giggling means something terrible either has happened or will happen soon.


Everyone is utterly confused by Sinclair’s way of demonstrating Earth religions.

Sinclair: Come on in guys. This is an atheist, who is totally not J. Michael Straczynski. And here are a number of religions, including an Amish guy. How he got here when he hates technology is anyone’s guess.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Parody 5: S1, E4: ANVILection


Reporter Woman: I have 80’s hair. And where is Sinclair?

Garibaldi: In a ship. He does this a lot.

Reporter: Well I haven’t talked to him since I got here.

Garibaldi: Yeah. Hey, look, it’s an aphrodisiac and a floor wax! I wonder if it’s a dessert topping too?


Franklin: Hey, Vance, I haven’t seen you in a while!

Vance: Hello old student. I have a super awesome fun adventure! WE’RE GOING ON AN ADVENTURE STEPHEN! TO CANDY MOUNTAIN!

Franklin: Okay…?


Dockworker: Anything to declare?





Vance: We found these, and the Ikarra used to be a very advanced race.

Franklin: It’s scanning stuff! This is so awesome! Wait, why wasn’t this quarantined?

Vance: It got quarantined on Proxima 3. This is going to be epic, and I want you to help us poke at this unknown technology!

Franklin: YES PLEASE.


Nelson: Ugh…I feel terrible after opening that creepy box AND DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN MY HAND IS THE BORG!


Ivanova: We’re checking on some bizarre energy readings, and you have to meet with that reporter.

Sinclair: I don’t wanna meet with the reporter!

Garibaldi: Why?

Sinclair: Well…


Reporter: So what do you think of this hot topic issue?



Sinclair: And then I was told if I liked bananas, there were lots of bananas on the Rim, and it all went downhill from there.


Franklin: I don’t like raiding dead worlds, it’s…awkward. Like rifling through a homeless spider’s pockets.

Vance: But it’s AWESOME. And archaeology is hard work. AND AWESOME WORK. I lost my fedora.


Nelson: Look, a scarab beetle! I’ll put it on my neck. That makes complete sense, right?

Scarab Beetle of DOOM: LOL.


Franklin: Lights? No lights? Nelson, you in here? Vance? HELLOOOOO?


Franklin: OW Y U SHOOT ME?


Sinclair: So why did he get attacked by a guy covered in organic armor using a weapon?

Vance: I don’t know. Nelson said he checked them.

Sinclair: What does it even DO?

Vance: It’s trying to assimilate Nelson possibly.

Garibaldi: But WHY?


Reporter: Lol hi Commander.

Sinclair: Go away 80’s hair.

Reporter: This is news.

Sinclair: And you are an idiot. GTFO.

Reporter: But I want to badger you in the middle of a crisis where people are dying horribly!

Meanwhile, Borg!Nelson is going around shooting people and totally not shouting “exterminate”. At all.


Franklin: The Ikarrans got invaded a lot, so they created the perfect weapon that could fight anything. They programmed it with the brain wave patterns of a researcher named Tularr. And it won’t respond to anyone who isn’t pure Ikarran. But they got a little overly specific on “pure”.

Sinclair: To the Zocalo! Who came up with this “pure” thing?

Franklin: Religious fanatics.

Sinclair: Well of course they did!

Franklin: And when the machine got done beating back invaders, it killed everything else.

Sinclair: Let’s try to talk to Tularr instead of the Borg.



Sinclair: Let’s lure it to the docking area. I’m gonna piss it off!



Sinclair: OHAI TULARR.Your whole world is destroyed. You failed. You destroyed it yourself cuz you suck. NYAH NYAH.

Borg!Tularr: Did not!

Sinclair: Ikarra is dead NYAH NYAH.

The “Nyah Nyah” is enough to really annoy His Borginess. He shouts stuff about “protect” and “exterminate” and knocks Sinclair into some chairs.

Borg!Tularr: You’re not pure!

Sinclair: Your people weren’t pure either.

Borg!Tularr: Yuh-huh!

Sinclair: Nelson whose body you’re using at the time saw your world. Check it out in his mind.

Borg!Tularr: The anviliciousness of it all! It’s TERRIFYING! TOO MANY ANVILS!!!

After asking forgiveness of the Great Maker, who’s apparently a really important guy like J. Michael Straczynski Borg!Nelson takes off the scarab and Nelson becomes unassimilated.


Franklin: Nelson’s okay. Found this odd cardiac stimulation taser in Nelson’s bag, like the marks on the dockworker guy’s back. So you knew about the whole not quarantine thing.

Vance: Well…err…Interplanetary Expeditions is a front for a bioweapons supplier. I wanted to make sure the organic technology thing was legit.

Franklin: And then it took over Nelson cuz he was willing to kill.

Vance: Look, don’t turn me in and the supplier can give you money.

Franklin: SERIOUSLY?


Garibaldi: So everyone thinks you’re awesome. But this is the third time you’ve thrown yourself into life-threatening danger. You need a purpose beyond paperwork. Like becoming a Chosen One or something.

Sinclair: Well that’s awkwardly arc relevant.


Franklin: So now that we’ve had this anvilicious episode, we have a growing racist group of anti-alien people on Earth.

Security: Earthforce wants those bioweapons for bioweapon research TOTALLY JUST TO KEEP EARTH SAFE.

Franklin: D-:

Ivanova: I’m going to go get drunk.


Reporter: So is being spacefaring worth it? Or should we take care of our issues at home?

Sinclair: Nah. Everyone agrees the sun will eventually go out, like a million years from now or something. So we have to keep it up or basically everything is screwed and we don’t get to throw raucous parties on any planets, such as the Vorlon homeworld.

Reporter: …that was oddly specific.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Movie Review: Beautiful Creatures

First off, I have not read Beautiful Creatures. It’s on my list; but said list is very, very long.

I’m very torn about this movie. On the one hand, it presented a rather interesting dilemma and atmosphere. It is certainly in the Southern gothic tradition-a small insular town, witchcraft, voodoo, etc. On the other hand, some of the notions do not seem well thought-out. I don’t know if it’s like this in the book, but the way the movie presents them is a bit uncomfortable.

Ethan Wate is a book hipster that is somehow still one of the cooler kids in his school. He has been having recurring dreams about a young woman he has never met. Then he meets the girl in question, Lena Duchannes, whose family (especially her odd uncle) is rumored to have strange powers and worship the Devil. The two slowly get to know each other, but as it turns out, Lena does have strange powers. She is a very powerful Caster, and she is destined to either become dark or light on her sixteenth birthday, the fate of all female Casters. The only way to escape the dark is for someone she loves to die.

Now, as I said, the movie wasn’t that bad. It was interesting, it had beautiful scenery and costumery, and you come to truly feel for Lena. (Not so much for Ethan-he’s just sort of bland. I don’t know what the girl sees in him, but you know. Rule of Romantic.) There are some epic magic confrontations and extremely creepy moments. The problem is the way many things are presented. There is a town meeting of “good Christian folk” discussing kicking a teenage girl out of school because they think she is a witch. I’m sure that would work just fine-if the movie wasn’t actually set in present day. As it is, I find it difficult to believe this would happen simply because a town is small and the majority of the people there are Christian. Literally everyone in the movie who is Christian are horrible people or complete idiots. So, there’s Problem #1: denigrating an entire belief system, presumably for some clunky attempt at satire that really doesn't work that well.

Problem #2 lies in the main dilemma-Lena’s true nature will steer her to either darkness or light. As it is, she does wind up making her own destiny. But it’s revealed that her cousin went through the same process on her sixteenth birthday, and turned out to be dark. BUT WAIT. Her cousin literally ran from the room when she felt darkness taking over to save her family. How is her true nature “dark”? The way this whole “claiming” thing works doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Problem #3 is related to this. See, the claiming doesn’t really happen to the men. They can either be dark or light and it's entirely by choice. Lena’s uncle has ceased using dark magic for her sake. He is a gruff but caring and sane man.


Seriously. Lena’s cousin, the one who was desperate to save her family, promptly goes homicidal the moment the dark claims her, and becomes a seductress extraordinaire who’s entire purpose in life is to turn Lena evil. Lena’s mother is completely psychotic, laughing maniacally and almost rubbing her hands together with glee as she plots to take over the world. When Lena briefly goes “dark side” she promptly makes a giant tornado (or possibly a sharknado, I mean we are dealing with the mentally ill here) to tear through the town and kill everyone. So why does this happen to females? Why do the women go completely psychotic while the men are perfectly fine and can control their powers? It’s not explained, but it jives so well with the hysterical woman stereotype that it makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

So-great story idea, horrible execution.

Also Lena went from wearing incredibly awesome dresses and clothes to a chunky sweater that most people would have to be forced to wear. SCREW YOU LIGHT SIDE!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Serious Business: Or Ridiculous Trends in Christian Blogs That Need To Go Away

So recently I decided to take a sight-seeing stroll through the section of the blogosphere dedicated for Christians. I’ve found some very insightful observations and stories, even amongst those who I would generally disagree with.

But I’ve found a few disturbing trends, some of which I showcased in my “Christian Debate Flowchart”, some of which have only hit my mind as I’ve been reading.

First off, and this goes for basically the entire Internet, there is an element of “But that can’t be true, because I know this very specific case that is an argument against it.” Apart from the sheer abuse of logic that goes into this, it also shows a touch of egotism on the part of the writer/speaker. They are so incredibly super important that this one specific case trumps everything else! This happens especially during controversial debates, so that any dissenters must be constantly on the defensive rather than the offensive. Mention that, say, abortion is wrong, and you suddenly have an influx of people that just happen to have dire, life-threatening tales of childbirth that were only solved by a timely abortion (which sounds far too much like that South Park Christmas special for me to take entirely seriously).

Another trend I dislike is the use of “buzz words”. These are words anyone can throw out to immediately throw their opponent off-balance, and again, put them on the defensive. A really big one (as mentioned on the flowchart) is “patriarchalism” (or “misogyny”, if you have trouble pronouncing that one). Female bloggers really like using this phrase, because despite their desire to seem like strong, independent women who don’t need no man, it makes them look like victims of some evil man machine, and thus incur sympathy. This can be used for issues big and small. If you even think the phrase, “head of household”, you suddenly bear a deep-seated contempt for women. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think that way; you simply get informed that you “subconsciously” feel that way, because when the Bible says “Wives be subject to your husbands” you think that’s actually what it means. (The second half of that verse is always completely ignored in arguments from both sides, because it makes the actual misogynists uncomfortable, and makes it harder for females to play the victim.)

Other words have a very political flavor to them. Conservatives and liberals alike seem to prowl the Intertubez, searching for innocent bloggers to devour with their false doctrine and evil agenda to, I guess, take over the world or something. Feminists, meanwhile, are preparing their “Instant Castration Kits” for men and hatching insidious plots to do terrible things like write blogs about their opinions. To sum it up, the entire blogosphere is out to get you. And I thought the Slender Man blogs were getting complicated!

Then, of course, there is the endless debate over Scripture. Of course we are going to debate our interpretations of Scripture. Quoting Jesus is a-okay. But you mention anything said in the Old Testament, and “it doesn’t count because that’s the old covenant”. You mention anything said by the Apostles, and “well it’s not Christ’s words, so we don’t necessarily have to follow it”. And don’t even talk about any of those Councils. They were all old men anyways, so clearly didn’t understand anything about anyone else!

The thing that gets me most, though, is the mere reaction to a dissenting opinion. As Christians, we are meant to show love, and that means to everyone. However, within the blogosphere, I see fellow Christians excoriated for feeling hatred and contempt toward others, simply because they said “this is how I see it”.

This is not how we as Christians should behave. Yes, if we see false doctrine being taught, we should call the person out. But we should do it like we would to a family member, not some stranger on the Internet that clearly has it in for us. Just because some people use false doctrine to take advantage of others doesn’t mean they are all doing it with some hidden agenda. They will know we are Christians by our love, not by our behaving like the rest of the Internet, with less swear words. Usually.

XKCD shows us everyone on the Internet ever.

Monday, December 9, 2013

100 Themes Challenge: Rainbow

     “This is stupid,” Candy said. “You can’t follow a rainbow to its end. It’s light refraction. It doesn’t really have an end.”
     “Does so!” her little brother shouted, and ran on ahead. Jared was a stupid kid, anyways. The day before he’d become convinced there was some sort of “portal” on the bridge at the park. He ran back and forth for ten minutes before Candy dragged him back home. Her stupid parents just laughed and said all little kids were like that. Well, Candy had never been like that. She’d always been too sensible for this idiocy.
     “Jared, we’re going home. I’m leaving without you!” she said. Jared ignored her still staring up at the rainbow in the sky. To be fair, it did look pretty close. But it wasn’t.
     By this time, they were getting pretty far away from the houses along their street. Candy figured Jared was going to run right into someone’s field without thinking, and hurried to keep up. She saw where he was headed. There was an old broken-down shed sitting in the middle of the closest field, and it looked like the rainbow ended there. That was where Jared would go, because he was an idiot kid.
     “Jared, don’t go into that field! That’s someone’s property! Get back here!”
     “Scaredy-cat!” Jared yelled back. Candy snarled under her breath and marched after him. If the guy who owned the place came out, she’d just explain she was trying to catch her brother. She wouldn’t be the one in trouble…
     She pushed through the tall grass, watching her brother’s blond head bobbing up and down. Mom and Dad had to listen now. They had to see that letting him run off like this couldn’t be good. He’d probably get himself kidnapped some day trying to find magic beans, or something stupid like that.
     She shoved past the last clump of grass, and arrived at the shed. Jared was standing outside, staring in, an odd expression on his face.
     “Candy…?” he said hesitantly.
     “Yes, I’m here. And now we’re going.”
     “Candy, there’s a horse in here…”
     “Of course there’s a horse, Jared. It’s a damn farm. There’s going to be horses. Now…”
     Candy paused at the entrance to the shed, and saw what had confused Jared so much.
     It took her a moment to understand what she was looking at, because what she was looking at shouldn’t be possible.
     The rainbow did end in the shed. It filtered right through a hole in the top, all the way down to the floor.
     And standing beside the rainbow was a horse, munching at some hay that was left inside.
     This wouldn’t have been all that strange, except for one thing.

     The horse had eight legs.

A/N: There was an adorable picture of Sleipnir giving Loki a Mother's Day card but I can't find it now. Alas.