A Head Full of Ghosts
I feel like I've read a plethora of is she or isn't she, is it him or is it nothing, ghosts or mental illness or whatever stories lately. By which I mean I've read a number of books recently that could be construed in many different ways. The little Stranger by Sarah Waters for instance raises more than just the question is the house haunted? If it is haunted, who's doing the haunting? Is it a deliberate haunting or is it more like your classic poltergeist; a manifestation of teenage angst? Or is it all a bizarre, bizarre series of manipulations designed to bring about the secret dream of one of the characters?
Paul Tremblay's novel A Head Full of Ghosts raises similar questions. It is the somewhat fragmented story of two sisters (and their parents, but the sisters are the most important characters.) Merry is eight, a little older than the age of reason according to the Catholic church, and Marjorie is 14, in her early teens and having a very rough time. She is displaying some pretty serious symptoms of mental illness but her father, who's recently lost his job and become a bit of a religious fanatic, convinces himself that she's possessed.
As peculiar as it sounds I'm sure to some people the idea of possession is easier to deal with than mental illness. Even with the best medication and care, illnesses like schizophrenia can be devastating and extremely difficult to treat. If you've bought into the pop-culture version of exorcism that is pretty easily treated. Bring in a priest, Bing Bam Boom, chuck out the demon and everything's fine. You hardly have to raise a sweat and it's all over and done with.
Dad takes this possession concept one step further and brings in, with the help of the priest, a reality show production company, which is offering to pay them a substantial fee; large enough to get the family back on its feet. And thus begins the filming of a show called The Possession.
Can you imagine what your life would be like if you were a child and all your classmates, teachers and neighbors were watching you on television once a week? If every detail of the tensions splitting your family were broadcast to the world? If everyone was debating what was real and what wasn't? What a nightmare.
The novel cuts back and forth in time, jumping from the present, fifteen years after the show ended, back to when Merry was a child. This gives Mr. Tremblay the opportunity to include plenty of foreshadowing and suspenseful comments. Part of the story was told in blog form, written by a character dissecting and critiquing the show. This was my favorite part of the book as I found her insights quite interesting.
While I came away fairly satisfied, my middle son thought the book never really delivered. It seemed to be leading up to something but never quite got there. For myself, while I enjoyed it and was interested, it definitely didn't live up to the cover hype. Stephen King says it scared him but it didn't scare me, much. Maybe this is one of those times where expectations work against you. If I hadn't thought it was going to be extra scary maybe I would have been more frightened.
You can read an excerpt here: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062363237/a-head-full-of-ghosts
(Purchasing anything via these links will net us a commission from Amazon, which helps keep the site up and running.)
The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire
Going a completely different direction, I just finished reading Howard Pyle's 1888 take on the Robin Hood legend. Unfortunately I read it on the Kindle and the copy I read was lacking the gorgeous illustrations that usually accompany the text. But it was still a fun read, filled with old ballads as well as vignettes of Robin and his Merry Men's lives. My favorite is when Will Scarlet comes to Sherwood. As the popular meme goes, this is someone who gives zero fucks. He is strolling along, dressed in fancy clothes, smelling a flower, when he runs into Robin, who immediately gives him grief for not living up to Robin's ideas of masculinity. Robin thinks he can best Will in a fight, but we all know that fancy dressed dudes who love flowers can have surprising martial skills. This book is particularly appealing because of the strong bonds the Merry Men have for each other. Friendship is nice, isn't it?
(Purchasing anything via these links will net us a commission from Amazon, which helps keep the site up and running.)
This week's bonus treat is a link to the world's greatest amusement park: Diggerland. https://www.diggerlandusa.com/ This is the perfect place for your Mary Margaret Road-Grader role play and of course appeals to those of all ages infatuated with giant machinery. (If you haven't yet read Mary Margaret Road-Grader then please do, it's available at Strange Horizons for free. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2001/20010129/mary_margaret.shtml)
Ready for the lowdown on Netflix's July offerings and vanishings? The biggest news is that are seven (!) new Netflix Original Series premiering. They range from two anime offerings (Kurumukuro and Magi: The Adventures of Sinbad) to two series for children (Word Party and Home: Adventures With Tip & Oh) to Stranger Things, which looks like an interesting mash-up of every scary story I saw back in the eighties. Trailer available here:
Speaking of the eighties, you can relive, or live for the first time, the excitement of all three Back to the Future films, as well as two Beverly Hills Cop movies. (The scene I remember best is the banana in the tailpipe.) Crazy cop fans will enjoy Lethal Weapon one through four while Bronies will get their My Little Pony fix at the end of the month.
If you enjoyed seeing Tommy Chong as the super laid back Yak in Zootopia, you might want to catch Cheech and Chong's Up in Smoke before it departs on the first. Be sure to binge watch seven Star Trek movies before they also go away on the first as well as Serenity on the sixteenth. (Oh Wash, how you break our hearts.)
See below for a selection of titles that will be added to Netflix in July 2016.
All titles and dates are subject to change.
41 on 41 (2014)
A Long Way From Home (2013)
Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future Part II (1989)
Back to the Future Part III (1990)
Bad Boys II (2003)
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Beavis and Butt-head Do America (1996)
Between: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Beverly Hills Cop (1984)
Beverly Hills Cop II (1987)
Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Blade 2 (2002)
By the People: The Election of Barack Obama (2009)
Cheaper by the Dozen (1950)
Cinderella Man (2005)
Death Race 2 (2010)
Death Race 3: Inferno (2013)
Deep: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Hello, Dolly! (1969)
Hey Arnold! The Movie (2002)
The Italian Job (2003)
Jackass: Number Two (2006)
Jim Jefferies: Freedumb - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Lalaloopsy Ponies: The Big Show (2014)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)
Lethal Weapon 3 (1992)
Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) The Longest Yard (2005)
The Lovely Bones (2009)
Making the American Man (2016) - NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE
Marcella: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Marco Polo: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Mean Girls (2004)
Nevada Smith (1966)
Nick of Time (1995)
The Painted Veil (2006)
Raiders Of The Lost Art: Season 2 Rumor Has It (2005)
The Shannara Chronicles: Season 1
The Sting (1973)
Stomp the Yard: Homecoming (2010)
Turner and Hooch (1989)
Watershed: Exploring A New Water Ethic For The New West (2012)
Well Wishes (2015)
Working Girl (1988)
Yours, Mine and Ours (2005)
Kuromukuro: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Big Short (2015)
A War (2015)
The Armor of Light (2015)
Brahman Naman (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL NSU
German History X: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Invitation (2015) - NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE
Word Party: Season 1
Mystery Files: Season 1
The Last Kingdom: Season 1
Rolling Papers (2015)
Gridlocked (2015) - NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE
Magi: The Adventures of Sinbad: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Todd Margaret: Season 3
The Adventures of Puss in Boots: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Holidays (2016) - NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE
Rebirth (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Stranger Things: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Liv and Maddie: Season 3
Internet Famous (2016) - NETFLIX EXCLUSIVE
BoJack Horseman: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Degrassi: Next Class: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Popples: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Wave (2015)
Home: Adventures With Tip & Oh: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Last Chance U (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
LEGO Bionicle: The Journey to One: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Tallulah (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: Season 6: Part 1
Hit Record on TV with Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Season 2
The following titles will be disappearing in July. Better watch them while you can.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
A League of Their Own (1992)
Along Came Polly (2004)
Best in Show (2000)
The Beverly Hillbillies (1993)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Caillou: Season 5 The Central Park Five (2012)
Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke (1978)
The Conspiracy (2012)
Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood: Seasons 1-2
Dinosaur Train: Season 2
Drive Me Crazy (1999)
Flashpoint: Seasons 1-5
The Flintstones (1994)
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas (2000)
The Game: Seasons 1-3
How to Marry a Millionaire (1953)
Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006)
Medium: Seasons 1-7
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood: Volume 1 (1968)
Mouse Hunt (1997)
My Sister’s Wedding (2013)
Notting Hill (1999)
Numb3rs: Seasons 1-6
Odd Squad: Season 1
The Perfect Storm (2000)
The Quiet Man (1952)
Reading Rainbow: Volume 1 (1985)
The Right Stuff (1983)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006)
Team America: World Police (2004)
Tesla: Master of Lightning (2000)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Other Stories (1993)
Wild Kratts: Seasons 1-3
Women Aren’t Funny (2014)
WordWorld: Season 1
Zoboomafoo: Season 2
Venus and Serena (2012)
Color Crew (2010)
Braxton Family Values: Season 3
Apologies for missing last week's column. Unfortunately my lupus antibodies have started some kind of grudge match/beef with my lungs, which is taking up far too much of my energy and ability to think. Hopefully this will resolve in favor of the lungs in the very near future.
Meanwhile, of course I have been playing lots of mobile games. When I'm too tired to think or read it's time to start matching, smashing things or doing both.
Angry Birds Pop
Rovio and Outplay teamed up not too long ago and made a bubble shooter game called Angry Birds Stella pop. Then they changed the name to Angry Birds Pop and have now released something like 800 levels. Of course I have beaten every single one of them, as of press time, although I haven't three starred all of them quite yet.
I enjoy this game quite a lot, especially because it doesn't nickel and dime me to death like the King games like to do. If I lose a level I'm offered the opportunity to get a free booster if I agree to watch an ad that is between a few seconds and 30 seconds long. This is fine with me, especially because that way I see trailers for lots and lots of different types of games. (It's astonishing how many truly terrible games there are out there.)
They have also added a new feature where each day you can take three daily challenges and win more free boosters. Examples; perhaps you need to pop 500 purple balloons, or play ten games as a particular bird (each bird has its own type of booster, with its own ability), or knock 35 pigs out of their bubbly hideouts.
It's a fun game that can be very challenging, and it is a good one for when you're sitting around waiting at the doctor's office, because you can usually play a level in just a couple of minutes. So when they call you back to take your temperature or your x-rays or whatever, you don't feel like you're abandoning your game halfway through.
Nibblers (called Fruit Nibblers when it is updating but plain old Nibblers on my screen) is another game from Rovio but this one doesn't have a single Angry Bird in it. Featuring a bunch of aquatic life heroes, this game takes place on an island. Creatures, aka Nibblers, come out of the sea only to discover that the land is infested with lizards that are happy to see them, because they're hungry and want to eat the sea life. The Nibblers however are excited because there are delicious, delicious berries all over the island.
There are four basic goals to accomplish in the various levels. Sometimes you need to get rid of a particular type of lizard. (While some really are lizards, there are others that probably fit more into a broader reptile class. Also there's a couple that look like tiny weird abominable snowman, or maybe lizards in snowsuits, so I don't know. Classify them however you like.) Other times you need to rescue helpless fish that have stranded themselves and need to get back into the water. Sometimes you need to collect a certain number of berries of various colors. Other times you need to clear spaces filled with mud and with a few lizards usually mixed in.
It's a matching game where you need to match at least three berries of the same color in order to remove them and other obstacles. When you match four colors you get a little guy called Coral, which you can use to shoot across the entire playing field, knocking out anything in its path. Match berries in an L shape and you get Nibblers that shoot in four directions at once. Five in a row and a groovy and mellow octopus shows up. He removes three rows at once, which is quite nice.
As with Angry Birds Pop, when you lose a life you have the option of starting the next level with some type of power up if you watch a short advertisement. This might be a Coral, or some obstacles may be weakened, or you might get a fruit that gets rid of every berry of a certain color on the screen.
Nibblers is also a lot of fun but it's also extremely adorable. I especially like the little cries that Coral gives as he/she is launched or waits for you to activate them. I honestly don't know how many levels there are available right now because I find the game somewhat difficult sometimes and I'm much further behind than I am with Angry Birds Pop. But there are more than 435, because that's what level I am on.
The newest addition to Nibblers is what they call the Grand Tunament. There are three levels to each tournament and you can win boosters as well as gold. And of course the pride you feel when you trounce the other players. Is that worth more than gold?
I finally got around to seeing Zootopia, a film I wanted to see since I saw the previews back when I was at the new Star Wars movie. Starring actors with whom I am mostly unfamiliar, this animated movie is a delight. Set in a time when animals have evolved enough that predators and prey can live together safely, Zootopia is ostensibly about a young lady rabbit who wants to become a police officer.
She's the first bunny to join the force and naturally she faces a certain amount of prejudice. In fact when you get right down to it, Zootopia is about prejudice and bigotry. That's quite a bit of stereotyping going on, which is almost always pointed out by other characters, which is nice. It is a little heavy-handed with the lecturing at a couple of points, but overall the messages go down smoothly.
Judy Hopps, the bunny, is horrified when her superior, Chief Bogo, played by Idris Elba, assigns her to parking meter duties. She was valedictorian for her police training class and is very keen, and the last thing she wants is to be shunted off into meter maid hell. There's a big case going on at the police department with 14 different mammals vanishing. Everyone but her is set to work on the case, and she definitely feels the sting of being left out. But she is one determined little bunny and next thing we know she and an unusual partner are in are on the case, hunting for a missing otter.
This film is beautifully drawn film is beautifully drawn, with gorgeous, lush backgrounds. The characterization of the animals is done so well that the moment Idris Elba's character walked onto the screen, before he said a single word, I thought ooh that guy should totally be played by Idris Elba. On the other hand I didn't even recognize Alan Tudyk's weaselly character, even after hearing his dialogue.
The world building is spot on, with lots of little details that enhance the film. And there are some sly references that will likely go over younger viewer's heads. There is a reference to a character an actor played in a previous Disney movie, as well as a couple of nods to Breaking Bad.
Jason Bateman plays the hustling fox while Ginnifer Goodwin plays Judy. Shakira is fab as a pop idol/mentor called Gazelle. Also adorable are Nate Torrence, who plays a super cute, exuberant cheetah and Raymond S. Persi as Flash, a slow talking sloth that works at the MVA.
There is plenty of action, humor and an interesting mystery with loads of pop culture references. You can watch a trailer here:
(Purchasing anything via these links will net us a commission from Amazon, which helps keep the site up and running.)
This week's bonus treat a short cooking video from Volpi Foods. My youngest likes to look at these before bed, as they are very soothing and help him sleep. There isn't any dialogue and the music is nice. This particular one is an asparagus and pancetta risotto.
The Brides of Rollrock Island
The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan is an interesting take on the selkie legend. In case you're not familiar with it, they are fairy women who are seals in one form and human looking women in their other form. When they come ashore and turn into a woman they cast off their seal fur coats. If you can steal that sealskin and keep it hidden from them then they're bound to you. Obviously this is an awful form of slavery. Brides of Rollrock Island at its heart is a look at the multi-generational damage that this slavery brings. Told in multi protagonist perspective it's an absolutely gorgeous book. If you've read Ms Lanagan's work in the past, such as Tender Morsels, you might be a little worried that it's going to be absolutely heart-rending. I'm happy to report that this book isn't nearly as traumatic as the other one. Or at least it wasn't for me. It's a beautifully written, moving story. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/209564/the-brides-of-rollrock-is...
Shining Girls and Broken Monsters
I read Shining Girls last week and then followed it up with Broken Monsters, both by Lauren Beukes. Unfortunately that means I'm now done with all of her fiction and will have to wait for her to write another book. I very much enjoyed reading her novels. Every one is different from the last one which is nice. Don't get me wrong, I like series just as much as the next person but I also really enjoy authors who can change their styles from book to book. (Say for instance Neil Gaiman.) The Shining Girls is a time traveling serial killer murder mystery/thriller. One thing that I love about this story is that it doesn't focus on the killer or the killings or describe them in lurid, loving detail. This book is about the victims and the impact on the victims' family. A young lady survives what should have been a fatal attack and goes to work as a newspaper intern so that she can do what the cops haven't been able to do; find the killer. This is a terrific novel but it is a little confusing because the chapters jump around to different times and I had a little bit of trouble keeping straight what was happening when. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2012/10/11/start-reading-the-shining-girl...
Broken Monsters takes place in Detroit post bankruptcy. It's set in the burgeoning art scene and it also follows a series of murders. If you like the TV show Hannibal you should like this novel. Like Hannibal, it's also very surreal and features bizarre, disturbing manipulation of the victims' bodies. It's told from the perspective of artists, writers, a police officer and her daughter, and a homeless entrepreneur. I found this story quite confusing because I wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't. I'm not going to spoil it by giving you my interpretation. But if you don't like stories that can be read in various ways you probably won't like this one. However if you are up for a bit of a challenge with your mystery you should really like it. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/2014/09/16/broken-monsters-lauren-beukes-...
Magic for Beginners
Speaking of stories that can be interpreted in different ways and are rather nebulous and vague, Ms. Link is the master of this type of story. I read her novella The Specialist's Hat more than a decade ago and I still have no idea what it was about or what was happening. I started Magic for Beginners a couple of years ago and misplaced it. I reread it a couple of days ago and was surprised to discover that one story, Stone Animals, that I previously found extraordinary baffling now seems much more straightforward. It's about a disjointed family that moves from the city into the country. They slowly abandon their possessions as they say that they are haunted. Dad, who is spending way too much time in the city, is informed that his entire office is now haunted. At one point the daughter says that her brother is haunted. Meanwhile mom becomes obsessed with painting and fantasizes about drinking paint and the lawn becomes infested with rabbits. As with all of Ms. Link's works, merely discussing plot doesn't at all convey the sheer gorgeousness of her work. Below is a link to The Faery Handbag, which is an absolutely fabulous story told by a young lady whose grandmother has a handbag in which an entire fairy hill and a small village live. This is one of my favorite stories of all time. The Hortlak is about a lonely young man who lives in a convenience store right by an abyss that's filled with zombies. Some Zombie Contingency Plans is a story with a mysterious painting, a gentleman who just got out of prison, and a teenage house party. The title story, Magic for Beginners is another one that I really like. Told from the perspective of a confused young man whose parents' marriage is in trouble, it's about friendship and fandom. There's quite a bit about a television show called The Library. If that was a real show I would watch the hell out of it. You can read The Faery Handbag here: http://smallbeerpress.com/free-stuff-to-read/2005/07/01/the-faery-handba...
This week's bonus treat is from the Department of the Interior's Tumblr. It's a red fox who is having a bit of trouble. http://americasgreatoutdoors.tumblr.com/post/143893926234/is-it-friday-y...
Ready for the lowdown on Netflix's June offerings and vanishings? The biggest news is probably that we get a new season of Orange is the New Black in the middle of the month. Those of you who grew up in the nineties and are reliving your childhoods will be excited to see three Jurassic Park films are on their way, as well as a Pokemon movie and series. Scandal fans; if you can hang on until mid-month you'll be able to re-binge watch Season 6. Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3 will also be available mid-month, so Agent May fans can rejoice. Spotlight, a fantastic but deeply depressing film, is coming in June.
The Station Agent is leaving at the beginning of the month. This is terrific film; fairly dark and funny, starring Peter Dinklage. I believe this was his breakout role. Some scary films that are going away include the Others and Stir of Echoes. I don't know why those films didn't get more buzz when they were released. For the younger set, Mulan and Who Framed Roger Rabbit are both exiting towards the end of the month.
Netflix also makes a special mention of Season 2 of Between debuting July 1.
See below for a selection of titles that will be added to Netflix in June 2016.
All titles and dates are subject to change.
7 Chinese Brothers (2015)
72 Cutest Animals: Season 1
72 Dangerous Places: Season 1
A Walk to Remember (2002)
Big Stone Gap (2014)
Bob Ross: Beauty is Everywhere (1990)
Breaking the Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed: Season 1-2
Cold in July (2014)
Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land On The Moon? (2001)
Cuba: The Forgotten Revolution (2015)
(Dis)Honesty: The Truth About Lies (2015)
El Libro de Piedra (1969)
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007)
Extraordinary Tales (2015)
The Fear of 13 (2015)
Gabo: The Creation of Gabriel García Márquez (2015)
Gentlemen and Gangsters: Season 1
The Good Witch: Season 1
The Great Alone (2015)
Hadwin's Judgement (2015)
J. Edgar (2011)
Janis: Little Girl Blue (2015)
Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park III (2001)
Lion Heart (2013)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
The Odd Couple II (1998)
Off Camera: Series 1
Pokémon the Movie: Hoopa and the Clash of Ages (2015)
Pokémon: XY: Kalos Quest: Season 2
Portrait of a Serial Monogamist (2015)
The Resurrection of Jake the Snake (2015)
Rock the Kasbah (2015)
Sam Klemke's Time Machine (2015)
Second Coming (2014)
Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)
UFOs: The Best Evidence Ever (Caught on Tape) (1997)
What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy (2015)
Beauty & the Beast: Season 3
Hibana: Spark - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Pretty Little Liars: Season 6
Bo Burnham: Make Happy - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015)
Jarhead 3: The Seige (2016)
LEGO Friends: The Power of Friendship: Season 2 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Voltron: Legendary Defender: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Me Him Her (2016)
Scandal: Season 5
Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong (2015)
Available 6/14/16 The League: Season 7
After The Spill (2015)
Boom Bust Boom (2016)
The Giver (2014)
In the Shadow of the Moon (2007)
Naz & Maalik (2015)
Night Owls (2015)
Poverty, Inc. (2014)
Top Spin (2015)
TransFatty Lives (2015)
Being Mary Jane: Season 3
Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Season 3
The Unborn (2009)
All Hail King Julien: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Orange is the New Black: Season 4 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Cedar Cove: Season 3
Grey's Anatomy: Season 12
Bunk'd: Season 1
I Am Thor (2015)
Life Story: Series 1 The Making of Life Story
Best Friends Whenever: Season 1
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)
Dragons: Race to the Edge: Season 3 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The Fundamentals of Caring (2016) - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
Justin Time GO! - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
A Very Secret Service: Season 1 - NETFLIX ORIGINAL
The following titles will be disappearing in May. Better watch them while you can.
A Wrinkle in Time (2003)
About a Boy (2002)
Bridget Jones's Diary (2001)
The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Fury (2004)
Clear and Present Danger (1994)
Disney Animation Collection: Vol. 5: Wind in the Willows
Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)
Elias: Rescue Team Adventures: Season 1
The Faculty (1998)
Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog (1995)
Groundhog Day (1993)
In the Bedroom (2001)
Jersey Girl (2004)
Kinky Boots (2005)
Losing Isaiah (1995)
Madonna: Truth or Dare (1991)
Marvin's Room (1996)
Music of the Heart (1999)
My Boss's Daughter (2003)
Nine Months (1995)
The Others (2001)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Private Parts (1997)
Schoolhouse Rock!: Earth (2009)
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)
The Station Agent (2003)
The Stepford Wives (2004)
Stir of Echoes (1999)
Stir of Echoes 2: The Homecoming (2007)
The Super Hero Squad Show: Seasons 1-2
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
View from the Top (2003)
Wayne's World (1992)
The Yards (2000)
Eureka Seven: Seasons 1-2
HawthoRNe: Seasons 1-3
The Bank Job (2008)
A Late Quartet (2012)
The Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss: Season 1
Mixology: Season 1
Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me (2013)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame II (2002)
Marvel's Avengers Assemble: Season 1
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Through the Woods
I've mentioned Emily Carroll in this column several times, because she is so amazing and inventive. She draws the most beautiful, disturbing comics, many of which have a root in various fairy tales. Her story His Face All Red (discussed here: http://qualitytimeweekly.com/content/sixty-one-nails-and-his-face-all-re...) was probably the piece that first got her the kind of acclaim that she deserves. A couple of years ago she published a gorgeous collection of her work called Through the Woods, which I finally read last night. As a result I didn't get to sleep until five a.m. Yes, for me her work is that scary. The one that I found most perturbing is called A Lady's Hands Are Cold and has the bones of the story of Bluebeard but the flesh is new. A young lady is told to marry a gentleman but once she is ensconced in his home she hears a wailing voice singing a dreary song of death. What would you do? Maybe what she does and maybe not.
My Friend Janna is about a pair of young ladies who are fake spiritualists until something happens and the real supernatural world intrudes. The Nesting Place begins with terrifying stories a mother tells her daughter and then goes on to be even creepier. Our Neighbor's House starts deceptively quietly and quickly goes all south. And of course His Face All Red is included in this collection, which all revolve around the terror found in or near the woods.
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Forfeit and Slay Ride
My mom tried to pass her love of certain authors down to me, but I was maybe too young to enjoy them at the time. She would read me a paragraph or two and I would just be thinking I wanted to be outside playing. But later I did come to love two of her favorites; P. G. Wodehouse and Dick Francis. But rereading two of Mr. Francis' early works, Forfeit and Slay Ride, I can see why I didn't like them when I was younger. They both have kind of strange attitudes towards the women characters. In Forfeit the protagonist is married and his wife is mostly paralyzed from polio. As a result he indulges in short flings, hopefully with women who don't get emotionally attached and ask for more than he can give. In the course of writing a series of investigative articles he meets a woman called Gail and they fall into bed together. This is all sort of background to the central mystery of the novel, which is interesting and clever, but to me the final resolution of his lady situations seemed much too facile and objectifying. I wonder of the author wasn't influenced by the popularity of the James Bond books and was trying to infuse that whole “sexy douchebag” flavor?
I felt something similar in Slay Ride, which is about a young man who is an investigator for the Jockey Club, who goes to Norway when an English jockey is suspected of stealing thousands of kroner from a Norwegian racetrack. The protagonist is immediately infatuated with the head of security's wife and spends too much time wondering if she cheats on her husband. And at one point he says, in reference to another woman, something along the lines of “Widows are made for comforting.” Seriously? Thank God I have read Mr. Francis' later work and am pretty sure this bizarre attitude is only temporary.
This week's bonus treat more of a reminder than anything else. If you haven't been to your library lately you might want to see what new things they have added. Almost everything I am reading these days is coming from the library. I think I sent twelve books back today. I am so lazy I don't even go to the library. I look things up on their website and place holds on what I want. When they are ready they go to the library where a friend works and she brings them back to me. (In exchange for me letting her take my car to work.) The older books I am reading are often not available at my county library but I can get them through inter-library loan. This means I can check out anything in the entire state of Maryland, including the contents of the fabulous Enoch Pratt Free Library.
And of course there is much more to the library than books. You can do all kinds of research, including genealogy, or take classes, or go to anime or knitting club, or bring your young one to story time, or check out toys. My library used to check out paintings but I am not sure if they still do that. Some libraries even have seeds! And that's not counting more mundane things like DVDs and CDs. There really should be something for everyone.
Earlier this week I got an email that mentioned a book called Staying Fat for someone somebody; a title I found intriguing. (It didn't actually say someone somebody, I just can't remember what it actually said.) It's by Chris Crutcher, who turns out to have been writing award winning novels since the mid 80s. I grabbed one of his older books, called Stotan, from my library and gave it a try. For a skinny little book, 183 pages in paperback, it's quite intense, with an awful lot going on. It's ostensibly the story of four friends who are on the swim team who go through an intense week long training exercise called Stotan Week but it also touches on quite a lot outside of sports, like bigotry, white supremacists, first amendment rights, domestic violence, the importance of honesty, and more, that I don't want to spoil. It seems as though that would be too much; jamming so many problems into one little book, but Mr. Crutcher pulls it off deftly. Told from the perspective of Walker, a young man who is somewhat alienated from his family, Stotan is a physically and emotionally grueling journey. I didn't think I was going to like it because I'm not a big fan of sports stories in general, but I did and the swimming details flew by as quickly as everything else.
Cycle of the Werewolf, the Talisman
I'm still in my Stephen King reread phase. I thought it would take me most of the year but at this rate it will take me a lot longer. I am only up to 1983, Pet Sematary. There are two books by Mr. King that I have never wanted to reread; Needful Things and Pet Sematary. They both crossed a line I didn't want to cross and left me feeling depressed and just plain bad. I'll see if the same thing happens on the reread. When I first read Clive Barker's Damnation Game I actually threw up partway through. I reread it this past week and I didn't even gag. I don't know if it was because I knew the disgusting scenes were coming up or if it was because I was pregnant when I read it the first time and throwing up was a daily habit. Either way, I'm hoping Pet Sematary won't be so painful on the second go round.
I also zipped through Cycle of the Werewolf and didn't like it one bit. This has always been my least favorite of Mr. King's work, followed by Carrie. Cycle of the Werewolf is told in vignettes, one for each month of the year. The writing comes off as somewhat pretentious and it's just mildly irritating. I would not recommend it.
I did finish the Talisman, by Stephen King and Peter Straub. I don't know how many times I've read this novel but it never gets old. It's the story of a 12 year old boy called Jack who can flip into another world called the Territories. As the novel begins he is told that he can save his dying mother's life by traveling from New England to the west coast and bringing back a talisman. Naturally there about a million obstacles, some of them pretty gruesome. The novel clocks in at 900 plus pages and is a nice leisurely read. (My copy, which came from the library, reeked of smoke, giving me a glorious headache. How much do you have to smoke to stink up a book you only have for three weeks?) One of my all time favorite characters is in this book, a teen werewolf called Wolf. He is the best.
Like many of Mr. King's works the Talisman is essentially about the battle between good and evil, but it is also an adventure story and never bogs down in ethical or moral quandaries. (I can't say if Mr. Straub's work deals with the battle between good and evil because his novel Shadowland scared me so much I haven't read any more of his work.) I would love to see this novel turned into a television series.
This week's bonus treat is a video of the wail of the loon. In Pet Sematary Louis hears a cackling, laughing cry and is told it is the sound of the loon, so I looked them up to see if they really sound like that. This particular cry sounds a bit like a wolf, or a lonely dog in a backyard.
Two of my favorites this week are Ben Aaronovitch's novel Midnight Riot and Alan Tudyk's new video series Con Man. Midnight Riot is what Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series wants to be and Con Man is either Alan Tudyk's love letter to science fiction fans or maybe a poison pen letter; I suppose it could be viewed either way. I also quite enjoyed an older contemporary romance by Janet Evanovich, who is best known for her Stephanie Plum bounty hunter series.
Midnight Riot takes place in London, in fact its name in the UK is the Rivers of London, and features Peter Grant, a mixed race probationary constable who's just getting ready to get his first real assignment. To his dismay he's told that he's basically going off to work in the paperwork department, facing a lifetime of drudgery and data entry.
But when he and his partner Leslie May are called to a strange murder everything takes a turn. He meets a witness to the murder but this witness is no ordinary witness. This witness is a ghost. When he goes back looking for the spirit to get more information from he's approached by an older gentleman who asks him what he's doing and he thinks the hell with it I'll just tell him the truth. And that's how he meets the man who becomes his new supervisor, Detective Inspector Nightingale and begins his career as an apprentice wizard/cop.
Overall Midnight Riot is lots of fun. The author is also a screenwriter so it's no surprise that the book has excellent visuals and the dialogue runs smoothly. The book is quite funny but it's also kind of heartbreaking. Partner Leslie May is bright, witty, and steadfast whereas Peter is a bit more ditsy, and easily distracted. While she is a steady officer with good detecting skills, he is better at picking up stray impressions and making nebulous connections.
Midnight Riot is a mystery which involves a series of peculiar murders. Told in the first-person, we really get inside Peter's head. While quite a bit of urban fantasy involves werewolves and vampires, which are fun and interesting in their own way, this one explores territory that is probably new to many readers, including deities having territorial disputes over London rivers. I started book two, Moon Over Soho but I'm not quite as enamored. I'll let you know in a future column what my overall impressions are.
Created, written, and directed by Alan Tudyk, Con Man is about an actor called Wray Nerely who starred in a beloved but ill fated science fiction show called Spectrum. Set 10 years after the cancellation of the show, Wray bitterly resents science fiction and by extension fandom, but he makes his living going from convention to Convention interacting with fans. He badly wants to leave Spectrum behind and work in more mainstream films but everything seems to conspire against him.
His boneheaded moves, trials and tribulations, and just plain bad luck result in very funny but cringe-inducing scenes. In this sense it's like HBO's Veep in that the characters get into so much trouble and make such fools of themselves it's almost painful to watch.
We get to see the negative side of being famous, or at least famous in certain circles. Wray is pestered for autographs while he's literally on the toilet, and any negativity towards others is immediately going to be online. He should be on his best behavior whenever he's in public, but of course that doesn't actually happen.
My older brother gave me this series for my birthday, with a strong recommend and he's right; it's excellent. I'm watching it with my middle son, and we're both really enjoying it. Of course both of us have been to quite a few science fiction conventions and I've been a panelist on several panels so we have experienced some of this stuff firsthand. (I was in the restroom once when a woman tried to give her manuscript to an agent, offering to slide it under the stall door.)
With an all star cast including Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion, and a gazillion others, this series is a real treat. You can watch a trailer here.
Hero at Large
Hero at Large is Janet Evanovich's first published novel, which she says changed her life. She has re-released her older contemporary romances that ran before her Stephanie Plum books became so popular. Hero at Large is the story of Chris, a single mother who is a skate coach for figure skaters. She lives with her aunt Edna, who's extremely opinionated, and her little girl. While she's excellent with her students, she's not mechanically inclined and her car dies as she's on her way to work. Ken Callahan, hero, stops to help her and she inadvertently breaks one of his arms.
As a result he ends up moving in, renting the downstairs, which will help her make ends meet and give him a chance to mend. But she is horrified by her burgeoning feelings for him and is determined to not disrupt the calm life that she's built for herself and her family. Ken on the other hand is determined to become a permanent fixture in her life.
This is another fun story with lots of details about figure skating, which is nice as I haven't read a lot of books that are set in the figure skating world. I had some minor problems with the book which are partly because it's fairly dated at this point. They have a whirlwind courtship, falling in love in a very short time, too short for my tastes. Of course they've got problems that are coming down the pike because if it was just a story about people falling in love it would only be a couple pages long, but the speed of their relationship made me kind of nervous. This is this is not a story that would work very well today because this guy is a complete stranger and she doesn't do anything to research him. He wouldn't even be in her house for five minutes today before she was looking him up on Facebook or something. But this book was originally written in 1986 when hardly anybody was online. Anyway it's a fun read and a fast read. I think I read it in about an hour. So if you like romances give this one a shot. You can read an excerpt here. http://www.evanovich.com/books/hero-at-large/
This week's bonus treat comes from cartoonist Jim Benton. I think we all know or are this person. http://www.gocomics.com/jim-benton-cartoons/2016/04/11
This week I found time to do a little gardening, which in my case means watching my friend weed my garden. Then I came back in the house and went right back to reading. I'm definitely on a big reading streak, partly because I had to cancel my cable last December as a cost saving measure. Which means I can't go online or I'll be inundated with Game of Thrones spoilers. So anyway, this week I read several cookbooks the most interesting of which is called Vegan Tacos by Jason Wyrick. The author has a nice breezy style and there are tons of gorgeous pictures. If you are all into tacos you should give this book a look.
I read Lauren Beukes' second book Zoo City and liked it even more than I liked Moxyland. She takes the idea of an animal spirit and plays with even more than Philip Pullman did when he wrote His Dark Materials books. In her world not everyone has an animal manifestation. Only people who are responsible for the death of another person has one. Naturally this makes people without animals a little nervous and the animaled live in segregated areas. Our main character Zinzi has a Sloth, who is kind of endearing, even to me to find sloths rather terrifying. He acts almost as her conscience, grumbling and complaining when she wants to do things that are unethical or immoral. He's also quite literally a guide in that when she's trying to make her way through the labyrinth of a condemned building in the dark he steers her by poking her with his claws to tell her which way to go.
Along with the animal spirits comes some sort of psychic / otherworldly ability. In her case she can find lost things. When she looks at a person she sees sort of trails coming out of them with the missing object hanging at the other end. She's making a living finding lost things for people but she's also involved with some major scams. As the story begins she's finding a ring for an elderly woman but when she comes back the elderly woman has been murdered. So who's the suspect? Obviously it's going to be our heroine whose animal indicates she has killed before. This is the first step in an extremely convoluted journey that will take her into the depths of a corrupt music industry.
The story is interspersed with quotations from sources talking about the animaled and what it means. One of my favorites is a supposed transcript from a documentary about prisoners who have animals who are behind bars. The different ways that they're treated by their particular prison and their particular country was quite interesting albeit depressing.
Once again Lauren Beukes look at segregation, class struggle, and the wildly different lines of the Haves and the Have Nots. Zoo City was a fascinating and entertaining novel. You can read an excerpt here: http://bookslive.co.za/blog/2010/06/10/book-excerpt-zoo-city-by-lauren-b...
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
I started Tom Robbins' novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues back when it was first written. For some reason I never finished it. Maybe I lost interest? Anyway I finished it this week and don't know what to think. It's the story of Sissy, a young woman who is born with ridiculously large thumbs which she puts to work hitchhiking as soon as she can. She has a series of adventures that take her all around the world and bring her into contact with teenage cowgirls who are taking over a ranch, whooping cranes that vanish, rigid upper-class New Yorkers, a hermit, and a couple of fairly crazy doctors.
It's a book that is both hilarious and really dull. The language is lyrical and I love the metaphors and descriptions, such as a character wearing a skirt so short her crotch doesn't realize she finished getting dressed, but the philosophy and character rambling became very hard to get through. Maybe if you read like a chapter a day for years something it will be easier to cope with. Honestly I don't even know if I'm recommending this book or not. I guess you'll just have to give it a shot and see what you think. I may never know what I think. You can find an excerpt here: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/155513/even-cowgirls-get-the-blu...
Heartbreak Hotel is Anne River Siddons first novel, published after her nonfiction essay collection John Chancellor Makes Me Cry. Set in the fifties in the deep, deep south, this is the coming-of-age story of a very privileged white girl. She is pretty. She is smart. She is pampered. She's the apple of her parents eyes. It's almost like she's in a cocoon. She just drifts along doing what everybody else is doing. She's in a sorority. She's pinned to a super rich dude whose family owns an honest-to-god plantation in Mississippi. She writes for the school paper but she mostly just kind of writes about nothing or at least nothing important. Until for one moment she's able to empathize with someone who is the opposite of her. When she writes about her experience and how it changed her she sets off a ripple effect that will impact everyone around her and change her forever.
The story takes place at the very beginning of the civil rights movement or at least when the civil rights movement is coming to the attention of the average American citizen. It was written in 1976, which makes reading it now when we've both come such a long way and no way at all quite interesting. If nothing else this book is worth reading if you have any interest at all in mid-century Southern life. The amount of drinking and driving that goes on is absolutely appalling. I felt like I spent half the book cringing, between the drunk driving and the racism.
Celestial Blues: Book One, The Taken
I read Vicki Pettersson's new book Swerve not too long ago and had mixed feelings about it. I did like it enough that I wanted to give her another try so I picked up a book called The Taking which is book one in her Celestial Blues series. Also set in Las Vegas, this story is quite different from Swerve which was a straight-up thriller. This is a supernatural story with a hero called Griffin who has been dead for fifty years. Unable to move on, obsessed with solving the murder of his wife and himself, he is a sort of angel that escorts the newly murdered to their next destination. He inadvertently starts a chain of events that will lead to the murder of a feisty young reporter called Kit, who lives a rockabilly lifestyle and looks like the women of his day. He is told he has to watch her rape and murder and then take her to wherever she goes next. Of course there is no way he can stand for this so he steps in, which leads to even more chaos and confusion.
There are lots of stories about angels falling in love with humans and I've always found them fairly creepy. In this story Grif is not a pure angel; he's a man who's been given angelic powers. He and Kit get the all-clear from me. If they want to have a romance I'm not going to say no. By which I mean I'm not going to put the book down and refuse to finish reading it.
I really enjoyed this one. I liked it a lot more than I liked Swerve. In fact I liked it enough that I'm reading book two in the series already. This book brings together a whole bunch of my various interests. Kit loves vintage and retro items and her house is beautifully styled. As a seller of vintage items myself I got a kick out of reading about her possessions.
There is an extensive trail of dirty doings in this book. Grif was a private detective in life and with Kit being a reporter they're both on the case trying to sort out who's done what and who killed Kit's friend. Like Swerve this book has some very grim, gritty elements, so be forewarned. You can browse inside the book here: http://browseinside.harpercollins.ca/index.aspx?isbn13=9780062064646
This week's bonus treat is video of a baby elephant seal that is making the rounds. I'm pretty sure it was a cat in a former life.