Monthly Archives: April 2013

Review ~ 14

This book was provided to me by Permuted Press via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

14 by Peter Clines

Cover via Goodreads

Padlocked doors. Strange light fixtures. Mutant cockroaches.

There are some odd things about Nate’s new apartment.

Of course, he has other things on his mind. He hates his job. He has no money in the bank. No girlfriend. No plans for the future. So while his new home isn’t perfect, it’s livable. The rent is low, the property managers are friendly, and the odd little mysteries don’t nag at him too much.

At least, not until he meets Mandy, his neighbor across the hall, and notices something unusual about her apartment. And Xela’s apartment. And Tim’s. And Veek’s.

Because every room in this old Los Angeles brownstone has a mystery or two. Mysteries that stretch back over a hundred years. Some of them are in plain sight. Some are behind locked doors. And all together these mysteries could mean the end of Nate and his friends.

Or the end of everything… (via Goodreads)

A few weeks after I moved into my current apartment, I closed the door to the back bedroom from the inside of the room and found that the doorknob on the other side, which I had not seen until then, was of a completely different shape. Instead of a normal round doorknob, it was one of the push-down handle sorts. There isn’t another one like it in the entire apartment. While it’s not a big deal, my landlord just had two mismatched handles,  for a moment I was disturbed. It’s that feeling that Peter Clines wants to invoke in 14 and he succeeds often enough. This book is similar to Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Danielewski’s book does a better job of capturing that unease, but Clines’ 14 is saner, more coherent, and doesn’t require textural acrobatics. 14 is more genre and less literature, and that’s not a bad thing.

The characters really made this book for me. Nate could have been a whiner, but he’s not. He’s just a guy in his 30s who’s ended up in a very plain life. I don’t mind at all going on this adventure with him. I was especially appreciative of Clines’ capable female characters. Veek and Xela (and even Debbie and Mandy) are each very different but each has believable talents that are important in the story. They’re not just window dressings.

Plot-wise, 14 veers one way before shooting off in an interesting direction. I could use one word to describe 14 that would completely explain it, but that would be a big, huge spoiler. The characters did make a decision toward the end of the book that I didn’t feel was justified beyond the need for characters to see certain things, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Genre: Mystery, horror
Why did I choose to read this book? I like mysterious buildings, whether haunted or otherwise.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes! Quick read. Finished it in a three days.
Craft Lessons: Don’t be afraid to take chances. Clines is doing his own thing here and it works.
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley

Yes, once again, my review numbers are off. I’ll be posting about book #18 next week on its release date.

Saturday Cinema ~ Taming of the Queue, part 1

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Taming the Queue

My To-Be-Watched list has been set to random. Let the fun begin.

Killer Inside Me posterThe Killer Inside Me (2010) Starring Casey Affleck, directed by Michael Winterbottom – West Texas Casey Affleck looks decidedly un-Casey Affleck-like. Chilling, understated performance. There are couple scenes in this movie that I found really hard to watch. The very ending was terribly disappointing. Spoiler: [No one smells the enormous amount of liquid fuel that is doused around the house? Also, gunfire really wouldn’t ignite said fuel.] Based on a 1952 novel and set during that era. I would say that some of the psychology underpinning the character’s actions are also of that era.

Descendant posterThe Descendants (2011) Starring George Clooney Shailene Woodley,  Amara Miller; directed by Alexander Payne – Second movie in a row with some voice-over. It’s a family drama, very well done. And beautifully shot. I realized that I probably haven’t seen a movie set in Hawaii since, um, Blue Hawaii. I love movies with a strong sense of place. The Descendants has it. No Country for Old Men has it (and is the better west Texas movie if put up against The Killer Inside Me). Any movie set in Boston written by Dennis Lehane has it. Still haven’t seen a George Clooney movie (since Batman & Robin) that I haven’t liked.

Shame posterShame (2011) Starring Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan; directed by Steve McQueen – Lots of sex, lots of nudity. But that’s not the gratuitous part of this movie. Scenes start too early, last too long. The pacing is very slow. I enjoyed the lack of musical score during the first two-thirds and was rather annoyed by the its intrusion later. It was kind of like a cue to start caring about this character. Somewhat predictable too. Very meh.

Online and Worth a Look

It might get loud posterIt Might Get Loud (2008) Directed by Davis Guggenheim – A solid documentary profiling three prominent and innovative guitarists: Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White. Each has a different aesthetic and philosophy to music and this film brings them together to discuss the electric guitar. “What, the three of us get together? What’s going to happen? Probably a fist fight,” says Jack White near the beginning of the film. (Not-a-spoiler: No fist fights, but a great deal of mutual respect.) This was a re-watch for me and I remembered why I enjoyed it so much the first time. All three tell their own stories, their own histories with music. All three have a deep love and enthusiasm for their art. This documentary is currently available for viewing, free and legal, on Crackle.

Review ~ Stuck in the Middle with You

This book was provided to me by Crown Publishing Group via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Cover via Goodreads

A father for ten years, a mother for eight, and for a time in between, neither, or both (“the parental version of the schnoodle, or the cockapoo”), Jennifer Finney Boylan has seen parenthood from both sides of the gender divide. When her two children were young, Boylan came out as transgender, and as Jenny transitioned from a man to a woman and from a father to a mother, her family faced unique challenges and questions. In this thoughtful memoir, Jenny asks what it means to be a father, or a mother, and to what extent gender shades our experiences as parents. “It is my hope,” she writes, “that having a father who became a woman in turn helped my sons become better men.”

Through both her own story and incredibly insightful interviews with others, including Richard Russo, Edward Albee, Ann Beattie, Augusten Burroughs, Susan Minot, Trey Ellis, Timothy Kreider, and more, Jenny examines relationships with fathers and mothers, people’s memories of the children they were and the parents they became, and the many different ways a family can be. Followed by an Afterword by Anna Quindlen that includes Jenny and her wife discussing the challenges they’ve faced and the love they share, Stuck in the Middle with You is a brilliant meditation on raising – and on being – a child. (via Goodreads)

I read Jennifer Finney Boylan’s first memoir, She’s Not There, about her transition from male to female back in 2004. It’s an articulate book, devoid of sensationalism, about a topic that is beyond most people’s experience. Ultimately, it’s an autobiography that isn’t about being transsexual. It’s an autobiography about being a person.

Not surprisingly, Stuck in the Middle with You is about parenthood more than about being transsexual and a parent. Boylan wants what most parents want for their children: for them to grow up to be good people and not leave them with any burden. Against anecdotes from her children’s lives and her own childhood, she interviews other men and women about fatherhood and motherhood. What’s it like to have an absent parent? To be adoptive parents? To be gay and want children? To lose a child?  What’s the “norm”?

In the end, it seems the norm is what anyone has that works. “I don’t want to disappoint you,” one of her sons says one day, “I think I want to stop playing the tuba.” Boylan admits that she’s lucked out. Her world has been very accepting of her change, and that isn’t the case for many transsexuals. Her sons have seemingly avoided stigma as well and, after her first book and the publicity it generated, insisted that their mom use their real names in this book. But as any parent, any mother, Boylan still worries about her boys.

Like She’s Not There, Stuck in the Middle with You is well-written and humorous, though maybe lacking during the interviews. Boylan’s best talent is making her situation relatable.

Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan is slated for release on April 30th from Crown.

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir.
Why did I choose to read this book? Had read Boylan’s previous memoir, She’s Not There and enjoyed it.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes!
Format: Kindle ebook
Procurement: NetGalley ARC

Spring into Horror Read-a-thon

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Hosted by Michelle, The True Book Addict

Don’t let the word ‘horror’ scare you away. You only have to read one scary book during the duration of the read-a-thon. However, that book can be horror, paranormal, thriller, mystery, etc. The rest of the read-a-thon, you can read whatever you want. More horror/scary stuff or just your regular reading repertoire.

Wrap-Up

I read start-to-finish two (short) books, two short stories, two poems, and finished the last bits of two ARCs. And I read a few sections of Prose Edda, but that doesn’t go neatly into my apparent Two theme. Grand total of ~624 pages. I didn’t do much reading on Saturday, but I didn’t do much other than reading on Sunday. I deviated from my list somewhat mostly because 14 was pretty good and I have a harder time finding the next book to read when the last one was good. My books were of moderate creepiness. The one word I could use to describe 14 is synonymous with a certain genre of horror and would totally spoil the book. The Prince of Mists is kind of an old-school camp-fire horror story that isn’t going to keep me up at night, but was still a good time.

Goals

I haven’t read too much horror in a while. Lot’s of mysteries this year so far, but not much out-and-out horror. It used to be my favorite genre! I’d really like to get 500 pages in, but I’m going to be missing the majority of Saturday due to frisbee league finals. We’ll see how it goes.

Fodder

14 Cover artI never stick to my lists. This is what I may or may not read:

  • Finish Sherlock Holmes & the Needle’s Eye (not scary, but I want to finish it) Done!
  • A couple of of short stories – I’m behind on my short story per week reading. Done!
  • 14 by Peter Clines (NetGalley) Done!
  • The 7th Woman by Frédérique Molay (NetGalley)
  • Bad Glass by Richard E. Gropp (Stoker nominated)
  • Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino (Stoker nominated)
  • 44 by Jools Sinclare (Amazon taster)
  • Hannibal Rising by Thomas Harris (TBR pile)

Updates

Monday: Finished reading Sherlock Holmes and the Needle’s Eye by Len Bailey, a NetGalley ARC that I didn’t quite finish over the weekend. I was on the fence about what short stories I might read for this week. I’m in the mood for Glen Hirshberg, but have none. I was considering the Poe’s Children anthology, but I’m *not* in the mood to deal with the quality inconsistencies that sometimes happen with anthologies. Finishing Mr. Bailey’s book made up my mind for me. It’s time to dip back into Sherlock Holmes canon. “The Adventure of the Cardboard Box” by Arthur Conan Doyle is a grisly piece of work, sensational for its time. In it, Doyle mentions Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue. I hadn’t read it in years, so that’s my other short story for the week.

Tuesday: Started 14 by Peter Clines. So far, so good. Ended up feeling pretty poorly. Kinda did the minimum amount of work and then read a little.

Prince of Mists CoverWednesday: Feeling better today. Played some ultimate frisbee. Read. Missed the Twitter chat *drat!*. Napped a bit. Worked on the novel. Planning more reading after the movie I’m watching is done.

Thursday: Another pretty good day. Made some considerable progress on 14, added some to the second draft of One Ahead, played some disc.

Friday: Finished 14. I liked it rather well. I’m going deviate from my list to start Dark Water by David Pirie. I just got it from NetGalley and it’s close to its re-release date (though it won’t transfer to my Kindle). And I need to do a couple other not-necessarily-horror weeklies (a couple sections of Prose Edda and a couple Poe poems). [Alas, Dark Water wasn’t doing it for me. Bring on The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon instead.]

Saturday: My Saturday progress happened between midnight and 1am-ish. I was too jazzed up about frisbee league playoffs to read later Saturday morning. My team made it all the way to finals which meant we played four games from 2:30-9:45ish. Too tired afterward to do anything but vegetate.

Sunday: My body hurts. I read on. Actually, I was mostly awake enough this morning to catch the Twitter chat, which was fun and has caused my TRB pile to grow. Finished The Prince of Mist and moved on to finishing Doctor Who: Prisoners of Time, Volume 1.

Cinema Saturday ~ Bates Motel & Hitchcock (new horror series, pt 2)

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The Out of Order Series

How much room does Hannibal-the-TV-series have to tell a story? If you’ve read Red Dragon or watched Michael Mann’s Manhunter or Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, or really know anything about the character of Hannibal Lecter, you know how this series is going to end. Presumably, the series is going to expand the collaborations between Graham and Lecter, but does knowing how this relationship ends spoils the series? Spoilers aren’t quite as important as we often make them out to be. In fact, audiences often want to know what the story is behind characters, especially charismatic evil characters. We know the ending; bring on the beginning.

Bates Motel signWhich brings me to Bates Motel, the 2013 series. Psycho, the 1959 novel by Robert Bloch, spawned an entire franchise of movies and TV shows that are very different from the original novel. Bloch’s Psycho was influenced by the story of Ed Gein, a Wisconsin serial killer that is pretty far from the gawkily charming Norman Bates of  Hitchcock’s 1960 film. The next two sequels moved further away from the, well, Hitchcockian and toward 80s slasher horror sensibilities. They weirdly worked, carried mostly by the performance of Anthony Perkins. (Bloch wrote two more Psycho books as well. His Psycho II poked at slasher films as an escaped Norman Bates makes his way to Hollywood.) A 1987 TV pilot called Bates Motel killed Norman off and left his motel to an insane asylum friend. Psycho IV: The Beginning was the first to delve into a cause for Norman’s complications and pretty much ignored all the previous sequels. Young Norman was played by Henry Thomas, better known as Elliot from E.T..

The Psycho franchise has a canon history that rivals many 60-year comic book runs. The stories are subtly retold within the sequels (and even in Gus Van Sant’s remake). Histories change. Heck, even futures change depending on what thread is followed by a viewer. As a whole, both movies and books, the only constant essential is Norman and his mummy. Which means that the new Bates Motel is in the same position as Hannibal. Eventually, the inevitable needs to happen.

Despite the changes–the motel is now on the California coast, Norman is a high school kid with girl problems, there’s another Bates sibling–and my love of Hitchcock’s film, I like Bates Motel the best out of this crop of shows. The essential thing about the Psycho franchise involves the character and (future) history of Norman Bates. He doesn’t even need to be an Anthony Perkins’ Norman, but it certainly helps. Freddy Highmore brings his own quirks to the character and the series is being ambiguous about what is going on and what is only going on in Norman’s head.

Let’s Get Meta

Hitchcock movie posterEvery story has a story behind it. At least one. When a writer writes a novel, there are stories about what inspires the novel and stories about the actual writing of the novel. Movies, with so many people involved in their manufacture, have a lot of stories. I love stories about movies almost more than I love movies.

Usually movies about movies are documentaries. Hitchcock is not. Hitchcock tells the story of Alfred Hitchcock’s career and personal life around the time that Psycho was made. I know very little about how factual this film is, but to a fan of Psycho, it’s a lot of fun. The performances are uncanny. Sometimes Anthony Hopkins, Scarlett Johansson, and James D’Arcy are so much like Hitchcock, Janet Leigh, and Anthony Perkins that it’s a let down when they’re not.

The movie begins, incongruously, with Ed Gein offing his brother Henry. The camera pans to show Hitchcock standing at the scene, drolly commenting on what Ed would ultimately inspire. Gein, played by Michael Wincott (an actor I hadn’t seen in a while),  becomes a touchstone in the movie, appearing to Hitch in moments when a steel heart seems necessary. Hitchcock is certain that Psycho is his next film, the film that will make him more than the director of  safe films like North by Northwest. The rest of Hollywood thinks that the tale of a gruesome serial killer isn’t a good idea at all. Against the backdrop of Psycho‘s production, we have Hitchcock’s relationship with his wife Alma Reville, a screenwriter, editor and collaborator with Hitchcock. I had no idea that Hitchcock collaborated with his wife. Considering my own circumstances, that’s a nice story to see, especially since things don’t always run smoothly in a marriage or a collaboration. The film is as much about Alma as it is about Alfred. The two need each other to be more whole, like a Norman (or Ed) needed the woman in his life.

Again, as a viewer, we know the outcome of this movie. Psycho is a huge success. Alfred and Alma’s marriage survives. Getting there? That’s interesting part.

Part 1 from last week

Review ~ Hype & Glory

Hype and Glory by William Goldman

Cover via Goodreads

Filled with gossipy and truly fascinating anecdotes, Hype & Glory is an insider’s look at two of the most popular events in the world–the Cannes Film Festival and the Miss America Pageant. (via Goodreads)

I spent many afternoons in college in the basement of Love Library – North reading from the 791.4 section. Don’t worry, I had to look that up. When I frequented the library, I knew where these books were without paying much attention to their call numbers. 791.4s are the books about public performances, radio, movies and TV. This is where I ran into William Goldman first. I read his scripts and dishy books about the movies before I ever tracked down a copy of The Princess Bride.  I’d pull one off the shelves, sit at one of the few tables in Love Library – North’s basement and read until I had somewhere else to be. Ah, the good old days!

The blurb on the front of Hype & Glory reads: “A true account by the only person to have been a judge at both the Cannes Film Festival and the Miss America Pageant–in the same year–and lived to tell about it!” Good marketing because it’s that incongruity that got me. The Frenchness of Cannes; the New Jersey-ness of the Miss America Pageant. All told against Goldman’s divorce and re-insertion into the dating world. The stories are fun, if a little dated. The contests in question occurred in 1988 when $70 million was a huge budget for a motion picture. But it’s a neat behind-the-scenes look and Goldman is a talented storyteller.

Genre: Non-fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Impulse read. I like Goldman’s stuff.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes. Good fast read.
Craft Lessons: Milk-by-the-pickles, maybe I can pick up some of Goldman’s levity.
Format: Hardback
Procurement: PaperbackSwap
Bookmark: For some reason, I ended up using the dust cover. It was sort of like, “I’m just going to dip into this book. I’m not serious enough to get a proper bookmark.”

Saturday Cinema ~ The Following & Hannibal (new horror series, pt 1)

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Introduction

I watched Hitchcock Wednesday night and got excited about posting about it, and the 1959 Robert Block novel Psycho, for Throwback Thursday. Unfortunately, I’ve posted about Psycho in the past. It was in fact my first Throwback post of last October. I realized that aside from shoe-horning movie talk into book posts I don’t really have a place to muse about movies (and TV) and lately I’ve been doing a lot of musing. So, welcome to Saturday Cinema. It probably won’t be every week, but it probably will be on Saturday.

The Essentials

Within the last three months, three serial killer TV dramas have hit American screens. The Following premiered in late January, followed by Bates Motel in March and Hannibal in early April. I was interested in all three of these, but also apprehensive. Tinkering with beloved characters, even monstrous ones like Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates, is a dicey proposition. What I didn’t expect was that it wouldn’t be a favored character, but a favored writer that would inflame in me the most ire.

First, a slight digression: I consider myself a pretty flexible Sherlock Holmes fan. Jeremy Brett might be my iconic Holmes, both in terms of the character and Granada’s faithfulness to the stories, but my heart is big enough to include just about any adaptation. As long as what is essential Holmes stays intact. To me, Holmes needs to a genius. He needs to be focused and arrogant. He needs to willing and able to take action. Everything else can be tinkered with. Joan Watson? Why not. Sherlock and John meeting as boys in boarding school? I’m game. Holmes as an addled buffoon? Nope, sorry. Try again.

Raven posterI figured that as long as the storytelling was half decent, I would like The Following. The cast looked good. The notion of the leader of a cult being in jail while his followers wreak havoc was intriguing. That the killer patterned his murders off the works of Poe was…okay, that was the worrying part. I have a very specific notions about Poe. Before The Following premiered, I watched The Raven, starring John Cusak. The story not only features a serial killer copying the elements of some of Poe’s stories, but Poe himself investigating the crimes. I should have loved this film. I didn’t. I didn’t hate it, but it fell very short of what I wanted that movie to be. The Following doesn’t get it right for me either. While only kinda-sorta following some of the crimes in Poe’s stories, the show also purports that Poe is all about the beauty of death, which I don’t agree with. One of Poe’s more prevalent themes is the inevitable decay of beauty. The living thing, even while dying, is beautiful. The dead thing is not. That to me is essential Poe. My ideal Poe movie/TV show would involve intricate and beautiful architecture and machinery (a la “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum”), would feature against-the-clock mysteries, and would leave characters seeing how much more beautiful life is after facing death. It would seem, actually, that my ideal Poe movie is Saw

Let’s skip to Thomas Harris and his character, Hannibal Lecter. Hannibal in Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs (take your pick between movies and books) is a black box character. What we know about him as readers and viewers is due to his interactions with other characters. We don’t get into Lecter’s head. Thomas Harris opened the black box that is Hannibal Lecter with the novels Hannibal and Hannibal Rising and recieved mixed reviews. Fans wanted to know what makes Hannibal tick, but were a bit edgy when Harris’s vision wasn’t their own. (For the record, I like Hannibal quite a bit, but still haven’t read or watched Hannibal Rising, Lecter’s ultimate origin story written and the fourth book in the series.)

Hanninal on NBCWhile only two episodes in, Hannibal seems to be playing by the original rules. Hannibal is a force within the series while the main character is Will Graham. I haven’t decided yet if I like this show. The writing strikes me as a bit flat when not being downright heavy-handed. I’m not a fan of Will Graham “on the spectrum.” But I can’t deny that Mads Mikkelsen makes a pretty darn good Hannibal Lecter. The show might have won me over in its second episode when Hannibal muses about whether God feels particularly powerful when he drops church roofs on His worshipers’ heads. That’s pretty much straight from the the book (Red Dragon, I think) and I hope that the TV series is willing to toy with these ideas more than the movies ever did. The essential Lecter may be the character’s ability to hold a mirror up to good people and show them how tarnished they could be. Maybe that’s what the later two books in the series was missing.

Next Saturday

I started out meaning to post about Bates Motel and the movie Hitchcock as well, but I think I’ll save those for next week.

If there are any bloggers that would like to join me in talking about movies and TV, I’d consider doing a Linky thing. Drop me a comment. (Also, if there’s an existing blog meme for the weekly discussion of movies that I’ve missed, please let me know.)