Thursday, October 31, 2013

Cover Reveal: 'Death of the Body' by Rick Chiantaretto


Happy Halloween! Today is the cover reveal of Death of the Body by Rick Chiantaretto!

Death of the Body

Release Date: December 13, 2013

I grew up in a world of magic. By the time I was ten I understood nature, talked to the trees, and listened to the wind. When the kingdom of men conquered my town, I was murdered by one of my own—the betrayer of my kind. But I didn't stay dead.

I woke to find myself in a strange new world called Los Angeles. The only keys to the life I remembered were my father’s ring, my unique abilities, and the onslaught of demons that seemed hell-bent on finding me. Now I must find out who I really am, protect my friends, and get back to my beloved hometown of Orenda.


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About Rick Chiantaretto

I've often been accused of having done more in my life than the average 30 year old, but if I were completely honest I'd have to tell you my secret: I'm really 392.

So after all this time, I'm a pretty crappy writer.

I have one book published but out of print, one coming out soon, and a bunch half written (when you have eternity, where's the reason to rush?). I've been favorably reviewed by horror greats like Nancy Kilpatrick, and my how-to-write-horror articles have been quoted in scholarly (aka community college freshmen's) papers.

I enjoy the occasional Bloody Mary, although a Bloody Kathy or Susan will suffice.

Mostly, I just try to keep a low profile so people don't figure out who I REALLY am.

- Rick




#BookReview 'Allegiant' by Veronica Roth (Spoilers)

Happy Halloween! You can find my Divergent review here and my Insurgent review here. If you haven't read Allegiant yet, do not proceed, or you will be spoiled.

Perhaps you would rather go to Publishers Weekly and read about how Allegiant sold 455,000 copies when it was released on October 22nd. It also mentions that the Divergent movie is set for release on March 21, 2014. That article contains no spoilers.

This review contains all the spoilers. I finished reading Allegiant on Tuesday, October 29th. It took me a week to read it, partly because I was finishing Fangirl and partly because I didn't want this series to end. Now I'm sad because it's over.

And because Tris is dead. Happy-ever-after for Tris and Four? Nope. Her noble self-sacrifice saved the city of Chicago, but doomed this YA couple to a sad and painful ending. So now you know why this is my Halloween post: it's about death.

Now that you've been warned of spoilers, I'm going to address some of the points I mentioned on Book Club Friday:

- As many tears as when I read the ending of the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, and the young lovers Will and Lyra can never be together? No, not as many. I only cried three times, and they were the squeal-y, The Fault in Our Stars tears that made my throat hurt.

What Tris did was very loving, but I'm so sad for Tobias (whose torment is described in agonizing detail).

- I'm still not crazy about Caleb, although Tris loved and forgave him, which made it a little bit better.

- Christina: this poor woman has lost so many good friends. First it was Will, who - let's face it - was probably the first person she ever fell in love with. Then, just as she's starting to get friendly with Uriah, he gets critically injured, never wakes up from his coma, and dies. Then she loses Tris.

Can we all just accept this headcanon right now: that at some point in the future, Tobias and Christina become more than just friends? I think I could be more okay with Tris' death if I knew Tobias would, eventually, love again. And only good things should happen to Christina from now on (she's suffered enough), and Tobias is pretty much a perfect boyfriend (a little angry at times, but under very understandable circumstances...) - so, can they please get together?

- I'm still not happy that Tori Wu is dead. I watched the first two seasons of Nikita, and Maggie Q is basically a flawless goddess and the living embodiment of Dauntless. When I see her playing Tori in the movie, I'm just going to get all choked up again because now we know that Tori will die and her brother will be sad.

Maggie Q, Sexy Quotient
Maggie Q - Creative Commons license
Don't get me wrong - I loved this book. I loved this entire series. It's so action-packed, and Tris and Four were just so sweet together (while it lasted), and I loved the character development. I'm not one of those people who are upset with Veronica Roth because the series didn't end exactly how they wanted it to, with Tris and Four getting married and having kids like Katniss and Peeta did. I think Veronica Roth did right by her own characters - not that my opinion is what counts. Sometimes Cath kills Baz, and sometimes she lets him and Simon live happily ever after.

But the sadness, though.

But I'm still really glad I read it. It was a hell of a journey.

P.S. Goodreads is counting Allegiant as the 60th book I've read this year, which completes my book challenge for 2013. It's kind of a cheat, a little bit, because some of those "books" are short stories, and I counted Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter as "read" even though I never finished it. (After the first third, I'd had enough. It just wasn't the book for me. No judgment on its quality, only on my reaction to it.)

2013 Reading Challenge

2013 Reading Challenge
Erin has
completed her goal of reading 60 books in 2013!

What did you think of Allegiant?

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Very Vintage Halloween

Happy Halloween Eve! Please enjoy some vintage Halloween pins.

"A full moon on Halloween night ensures that the powers of all forms of magick and divination practiced on this night will be at their greatest. A secret wish made at midnight will be realized within the coming year, and do not be surprised in an experience of a psychic nature awaits you in the very near future."

"In ancient Egypt, the goddess Bastet (also known as Bast or Pasht) was worshiped in the form of a lean, short-haired black cat, and sometimes as a female human having the head of a cat...She was a benevolent goddess, and the domestic cat was the animal most sacred to her. So sacred, in fact, that at one time, the very harming of a cat in Egypt carried the price of execution."

"The black cat is also associated with the Greek goddess Hecate (a deity with a strong connection to the practice of Witchcraft) and the Norse goddess Freya (who rode on a chariot drawn by cats...)."

"The ancient Greeks considered the owl to be a sacred bird, for it was the constant companion of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the patron deity of the city of Athens. It was through this association that the owl came to be known as a 'wise old bird.'"

"Many Native American medicine men still consider the owl to be a messenger from the dead, while practitioners of Peruvian folk magick continue to utilize this bird in spells and rituals to combat black magick and to cure various ailments."

"The besom, another name for the broomstick, has long been associated with Witches--not so much because Witches were, at one time, believed to fly on enchanted broomsticks to from their Sabbats, but rather because the broomstick has played an important role in the handfasting and birth ceremonies of Witches and other Pagan folk since ancient times.

"In Greek mythology, Hecate, the goddess of the moon, queen of the underworld, and protectress of all Witches, possessed a broomstick that signified sexual union. If a woman desiring children jumped over three times, she would instantly become impregnated. It is believed that from this myth the Pagan custom of the bride and groom jumping over a broomstick evolved."

Many of these pins are from, from Halloween 2012. The text is quotes from The Pagan Book of Halloween by Gerina Dunwich.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

When Two Pieces of My Young Adulthood Died: Marcia Wallace and Lou Reed

"Thought of you as my mountaintop
Thought of you as my peak
Thought of you as everything I had but couldn't keep..."

--The Velvet Underground, "Pale Blue Eyes"

Over the weekend, two cultural figures who were instrumental to the workings of my subconscious passed away. Marcia Wallace, the voice actress who lent her voice to Edna Krabappel on The Simpsons died on October 25th (Friday night). Wallace was born on November 1, 1942, and passed away from complications of pneumonia. Simpsons producer Al Jean is reported to have said that the character of Mrs. Krabappel will be retired.

According to the obituary in USA Today, Wallace wrote an autobiography titled Don't Look Back, We're Not Going That Way that was published in 2004.

According to Internet Movie Database, her first role was in an episode of Bewitched. Her face is probably best known to fans of The Bob Newhart Show (it went off the air when I was still a baby), but she made brief appearances on a vast number of shows and voiced a number of cartoons. She did a voice on Darkwing Duck, the TV version of Aladdin, Captain Planet, and some other '90s ones while she was doing The Simpsons.

Just in case anyone didn't already know, I am a huge Simpsons fan and have been ever since they were shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show. I've seen every episode at least twice - probably dozens of times if I have it on DVD, which is up to Season 9 or 10. I still have to watch the new ones as they come out on Sunday nights, and if I you hear me say a non sequitur, I'm probably just quoting The Simpsons. I'm deeply invested in the cartoon series and its cultural impact (for 20+ years!), so to lose the voice of Edna Krabappel seems sad to me.

Especially since Edna just married Ned a season or two ago. And yes, I went to the website and voted for them to stay together.

Then, on October 27th (Sunday), Lou Reed died from liver disease. He was an ethnic Jew but said "my God is rock 'n roll." He was bisexual, and his family tried to "cure" him of this with electroconvulsive shock therapy. If all you know Lou Reed from is "Walk on the Wild Side," then oh, my friend, you have not even begun to crack the surface.

His solo music career was much longer than his stint with the Velvet Underground, but it's the VU songs that are really part of the landscape of my subconscious.

The first time I ever heard a Velvet Underground song, it was this one.

At around the same time, I also would have heard Duran Duran's cover of "Pale Blue Eyes" on their second eponymous album ("the wedding album"), but it doesn't have nearly the depth and power of the Nirvana cover, or of the original as sung by Nico. You can love Nirvana or hate them, but you can't deny they were a cultural influence on kids like me, going to high school in the early 1990s in the U.S.A. This cover got me to go to the library and check out a copy of the VU album with the Andy Warhol banana painted on the front (The Velvet Underground and Nico).

Nico had died in 1988, but I soul-bonded with her poor drug-addled soul while reading James Young's memoir of his late-career European tour with her. (It used to be called Nico: The End and was subsequently retitled Nico: Songs They Never Play on the Radio.) When I was 19 or so, I actually once tried to write a play based on the events in that book.

When I heard the original "Here She Comes Now" on the album White Light, White Heat (which I think I actually had to go to a music store to buy - that's what we used to do, kids, before they had the iTunes), I thought it was probably the most perfect pop-rock song in all of history up to that point. Lou Reed has this very sexual and somewhat mournful longing in his voice, and you're not quite sure if he wants some woman or some guy or some heroin, but either way, you could listen to it two dozen times in a row.

Sometimes, I did. Especially after I got the boxed set, and I could rotate between the album version and the demo. I used to get really excited to hear VU songs in movies, like The Doors and I Shot Andy Warhol.

One of Lou Reed's college professors was the poet Delmore Schwartz.  I always thought that was cool. The VU song "European Son" is dedicated to Schwartz. No one is quite sure why; maybe the title is because Schwartz's parents were from Romania.

I also remember Lou Reed from:

- His song "Tarbelly and Featherfoot" from the compilation/charity album Sweet Relief: A Benefit for Victoria Williams

- His associations with '90s U2, including a duet with Bono on Reed's "Satellite of Love" on the Zoo TV tour (which I witnessed only via pay-per-view) and their joint appearances on the soundtracks to two Wim Wenders films (Faraway, So Close! - featuring Lou Reed's "Why Can't I Be Good" and Until the End of the World - featuring Reed's "What's Good")

- Magic and Loss, the album he made when Sterling Morrison was dying of cancer, which is actually where "What's Good" came from. It includes the line, "What good is cancer in April? Why no good, no good at all."

- I remember when the performance artist/violinist/experimental musician Laurie Anderson started dating him in the late '90s. I didn't realize it, but they got married in 2008.

Which, I suppose, kind of shows that I lost track of his career after the 1990s. Reed and Anderson did quite a few collaborations, it seems. The last time I heard Lou Reed's name was probably when Norah Jones' side project The Little Willies put a song called "Lou Reed" on their album - a little story-in-song about cow tipping. I don't think Lou Reed was ever really down in Texas tipping cows. I think he was happy at the end, though, even though he'd gone through a liver transplant.

The two living original members of the Velvet Underground are John Cale and Maureen (Mo) Tucker.

Safe passage to the other world, Marcia Wallace and Lou Reed.

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Sunday, October 27, 2013

#BookReview Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Paradoxically, the more I like a book, the less I can think to say about it. There are books I love to pieces - The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars, The Amber Spyglass, and Shanghai Girls, to name a few - but haven't reviewed on this blog, because "this book oh my god askjdhfbjdkalldhjasjkhchsklslla;" is not a legitimate book review. Sometimes I can't seem to get around the cartoon hearts that replace the pupils in my eyes when I love a truly great book.

Hence, what I wrote about Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl when I finished it Friday night was short.

FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some books make you feel like you want to climb inside and live in their worlds - this book made me feel like I'd already lived in this world. Except for the absent mother and the twin, I am the Cather in so many ways. I relate to so much of what she says, does, and thinks. The familiarity is some of the fun of this novel, but the real attraction is Rowell's writing style, which is funny, intimate and clear and contains just the right amount of snark to be charming and clever but not too clever for its own good. I haven't read either of Rowell's previous novels [Attachments and Eleanor & Park], but based on the strength of this effort alone, I think I can call myself a fan.

FYI, this is a must-read for all Potterheads.

View all my reviews on Goodreads

Let's talk about Levi. Perfect book boyfriend? For Cath, yes, he is - even though he kissed the blonde girl in his kitchen. (The way the two of them deal with this event, which occurred before they were dating, I feel is very realistic.) He loves her fan fiction, he brings her coffee, he's gentle and funny, and just sigh. Again, I think Rowell has written very realistically of first love. It's a feeling I quite enjoy revisiting, which is why I love Twilight so much. So I am pro-Levi.

(That's right, I love Twilight. I reserve the right to love things that aren't perfect - deal with it.)

Let's talk about Simon Snow. I honestly would love it if someone wrote Carry On, Simon as Cath, because the little bits of fan fiction that we get in the novel are tasty. Cath left her magnum opus unfinished (and, may I just say, I think the ending of this novel is perfection and I wouldn't want it any other way), but I still want to know if she decided to kill Baz or to let Simon and Baz live happily ever after. We're somewhat left hanging in a Hazel Grace Lancaster-type fashion.

This book is meta to begin with - fiction about a fiction writer writing fan fiction about fiction - would it just be too incredibly meta for someone to write Carry On, Simon?

FYI, Canadian writer Brian Jones writes Carry On, Cath on Wattpad - fan fiction about a fan fiction writer. Too meta? I don't know, but I like it.

Let's talk about how Simon and Baz use the names of magicians when they swear. So cute! They swear on Aleister Crowley and Doug Henning. (Although I contend the world's best Doug Henning joke is on The Simpsons when Cregg Demon, Magicfreek! says he's going to go back to Canada and run for Parliament.)

I'm not sure that Aleister Crowley is anyone you'd really want to look up to, but I still think it's adorable to have fictional magicians within a fictional narrative swearing on the names of real-life magicians (one of the stage, one of actual magical practice, although I'm sure Crowley did his fair share of showmanship as well. He seemed to have enjoyed shocking people, and I also think it is in this anarchic, anti-authoritarian spirit that the Beatles placed Crowley on the Sgt. Pepper's cover).

What else can I say about Fangirl? I think it's an instant classic, and it's definitely one of my new favorites.

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Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Unlikely Planner - Guest Post by 'The Undying Love' Author Greg McCabe

Guest Post:

Are you a planner or a pantser?

            This question, or a variation of this question, is probably as old as fiction writing itself. Do you plan out your stories or do you write them by the seat of your pants?

            If you asked ten of my closest friends and family members if they thought I was a planner or pantser, I’d bet that just about all of them would guess that I was a pantser. It just seems to fit my personality. I often live life by the seat of my pants. I love unexpected adventures and hate firm itineraries on vacations. So it just seems natural that I’d fly by the seat of my pants when writing.

            However, when it comes to the novel creation process, and writing in general, I’m a die-hard planner. I know it doesn’t sound like a very creative-writer-literary-thing to say, but I plot out my entire story and the majority of my characters before I even sit down at a computer.

            I was shocked myself when I discovered this about my writing process. In fact, years ago, when I first decided to write a novel, I sat down and tried crank out a book by the seat of my pants. I had a title and a rough idea of the story and that’s about it. I didn’t have characters or locations or twists or any details for that matter, I just sat down and started typing. It was disastrous. I must have stared at a blank computer screen for an hour before I was able to type three or four sentences, and those sentences were so awful I deleted them from existence for all of eternity. I was terribly dejected by the entire experience and figured my writing career to be over for good.

            A couple years later, I found inspiration in zombies, then read some articles online about planning out a novel and found one that made the most sense to me. Then I jumped in and began creating my debut novel, The Undying Love. It took almost three years to complete, but I did it. Yep, I wrote a book. Then I went out and even got it published. I consider the entire project to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and I couldn’t have done it without planning.

            My planning process looks a little like this: I start out by handwriting pages of notes about the book including a short summary, a long detailed summary, detailed character descriptions, and even sketches of what’s forming in my head. I then write out each scene with a quick one sentence description in an excel spreadsheet (the spreadsheet just makes it all easier to manipulate). These scenes then become the chapters of my book. As a write the first draft, I’m constantly going back and tweaking the spreadsheet and my notes. My notes serve a constant source of reference as I’m writing out each scene.

            Yes, without planning, I’d never have achieved my dream of becoming a published author and I’d probably still be looking at a blank computer screen. I still remember the name of the book that I started years earlier and never finished. It was going to be titled Running the Streets. One day I’m going to go back to that idea and write that book, but this time I’m going to have a plan!

* * * 

The Undying Love by Greg McCabe


For Diane and Jackson, life is just about perfect. They’re healthy, happy, and madly in love with one another. Unknown to them, a virus is sweeping across the globe that instantly kills the infected and turns their corpses into mindless, murdering cannibals. In short: zombies have taken over the planet.

Diane and Jackson find out about the epidemic the hard way when their wedding is crashed by friends and family who have succumbed to the virus. Now, fighting for survival, they're faced with unthinkable decisions.

Follow their story across Southeast Texas as they meet unforgettable characters and face challenges that will put their love, and lives to the ultimate test.

Purchase Links:

About the Author:

Greg McCabe is a proud Texan. He was born and raised in Midland, Texas, received a degree in Speech Communication from Texas A&M University, and currently resides in the Lone Star State. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Mandy, his daughter, Annabelle, and his dog, Walter, as well as traveling, sports, movies, reading, and writing. He enjoys all genres of fiction, but seems to gravitate towards horror and science fiction. The Undying Love is Greg’s first book.

Friday, October 25, 2013

#FridayReads Currently Reading: Allegiant by Veronica Roth (Spoiler Free)

I finished The Lost Sun earlier this week, and I'm about 80% done with Fangirl. I'll probably have Fangirl finished tomorrow. In the meantime, Veronica Roth's third book in the Divergent Series came out on Tuesday the 22nd, and I could not resist the temptation to download the Allegiant e-book to my Nook.

Divergent review here
Insurgent review here

The Goodreads synopsis reads as follows:

What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.

But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

The explosive conclusion to Veronica Roth's #1 New York Times bestselling Divergent trilogy reveals the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

I'm only halfway done reading Allegiant at this point, and I do not wish to read any spoilers nor to give anyone else any major spoilers. I think I can safely say these things about the first half:

- I honestly need someone to pay me to do nothing but read novels all day, everyday, because finishing Allegiant is all I really want to do.

- At the exact same time, I don't want this series to end. I'm nervous and excited for the end at the same time. This is like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all over again. I anticipate tears. Hopefully not as many tears as when I read the ending of the His Dark Materials trilogy (if you'd seen me, you honestly would have thought someone died in real life).

- I take back every good thing I ever thought about Caleb when I read Divergent.

- Christina. Even though I never really pictured her as a light-skinned woman as I was reading, I cannot wait to see Zoe Kravitz playing her on film. I love Christina and I love Zoe Kravitz. That's all I'm saying for now.

- Tori Wu. Oh my goddess, Tori.

- This is a minor spoiler, but I'll go ahead and say it: Tris doubts whether her mother and father ever truly loved each other, but finds evidence they were really in love. This makes me so happy. And I really think I'm going to love Ashley Judd and Tony Goldwyn playing Natalie and Andrew in the movie.

Natalie turns out to be an even bigger badass than Tris even thought in Insurgent. That has Ashley Judd written all over it.

If you read it, tell me what you think - but only if you can do it without spoilers. I still haven't forgiven Pinterest for spoiling that one particular character death in Mockingjay for me.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Very Simpsons Halloween

Next Wednesday, much closer to the actual date of All Hallow's Eve, I have a post of vintage Halloween pins scheduled. This OHP! Wednesday, just for fun, let's have an all-Simpsons, version!

Marge: Hello, everyone. You know, Halloween is a very strange holiday. Personally, I don't understand it. Kids worshipping ghosts, pretending to be devils. Things on TV that are completely inappropriate for young viewers. Things like the following half-hour! Nothing seems to bother my kids, but tonight's show—which I totally wash my hands of—is really scary. So if you have sensitive children, maybe you should tuck them in early tonight instead of writing us angry letters tomorrow. Thanks for your attention.

Lisa: If they're really witches why don't they use their witch power to escape?
Homer: That sounds like witch-talk to me, Lisa.
Lisa: Never mind.

Bart: Dad! You killed the zombie Flanders.
Homer: He was a zombie?

Groundskeeper Willie: Care for a pumpkin seed?
Grand Pumpkin: You roast the unborn?!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

#YA #BookReview The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton #NorseMyth

The ending is sad (but since this is only the first book in the series, I'm not TOO worried about that), but otherwise, this book is kind of perfect. By that I mean Tessa Gratton - a scholar of Old English who previously translated 'Beowulf' - does a really wonderful job of weaving Norse mythology and Anglo-Saxon saga tradition into a young adult novel set in the contemporary world, tweaked with Germanic folkways. And - oh, yeah - the Norse gods are real.

The plot draws heavily on the Norse myth of the death of Baldur, traditionally the most beloved son of Odin. Yet Baldur is a secondary character to Soren Bearskin (that's Bears' Kin rather than Bear Skin), the mortal son of Berserker who went TOO berserk, filled with his own dawning battle-rage and destined to be like his father, yet not like him.

Soren is just beginning to realize how deeply he loves his friend Astrid, the daughter of a famous fortune-teller and a fortune-teller herself, when Baldur fails to make his annual return from the land of death. Baldur, who represents the sun, is sort of like a phoenix, who dies and then rises from his own ashes - at least, he has until now. Soren and Astrid set off on an adventure, guided by fate and joined by a new friend, the strange Loki's Kin girl named Vider. There are trolls, but just little ones. Their goal is to find the apple orchard of Idun, the keeper of youth and immortality, and when they get there, nothing is as it seems.

One of the really brilliant things about this book is the nature of reality in it: the gods are real and interact with mortals (Vider, it turns out, knows Loki personally, and Soren meets Loki's daughter Fenris Wolf), but are also spoken of in myths, and there are different versions. The gods could tell mortals their own true histories, but they choose to let the mortals create their own versions, because even the gods have agendas, and it wouldn't suit their ends to have their full stories known. The gods are mysterious, and even Astrid's foresight can't reveal everything about the journey she and Soren will make...

Resulting in a sad ending. I hope the next book in the series makes right what was "wrong" with the ending. I also hope Loki gets to play a bigger role in the next book. When he appears, it's as a sullen teenage boy. The myths about him make him the mother of Fenris (he became a female wolf and lived among a pack of wild wolves; all were slaughtered except Loki, and he then discovered his belly swollen with Fenris), but she calls him "Father." I would like Tessa Gratton to tell me more about Loki.

Gratton's conception of Freya is very interesting as well. Most of what I've read associated the queen of the Valkyries with the All-Mother Frigg. I've never read anything else that associated Freya with Hel, the queen of the world of the dead. Hel is usually called Loki's daughter, along with Fenris and the Midgard Serpent (Loki's three children with his frost giant mistress). I like this twist, making the goddess of love and war Freya one with the death-goddess.

The Goddess who embraces the souls of warriors at death should be the one who watches over their shades - which is part of the traditional mythology, that dead warriors feast with Freya and become her lovers. Hel is usually thought of more of ruling over the souls of dead mortals, I think, but I think this is a really interesting twist. Maybe Freya, Frigg, and Hel are the trinity or triple goddess in Norse mythology, equivalent to Persephone-Demeter-Hecate in Greek mythology and the triple goddess The Morrigan in Irish mythology?

If I lived in this universe, which god would I choose to follow? I'd probably belong to Freya, like Astrid does. Either Freya or Frigg, although the temptation to belong to Loki would be there as well.

It's really different from any other YA novel I've read before. It's fascinating. So other than wanting more, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I look forward to the next one, The Strange Maid. It won't be out until June 10, 2014, but you can preorder it now.

I got this book free in exchange for a review through Amazon Vine. I was not otherwise compensated for this review, which represents my own honest opinion.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mystery/Thriller: Antonello Fiore's 'Killer Rumors'

Killer Rumors (Frank Rinelli, #1)Killer Rumors by Antonello Fiore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For Philadelphia detective Frank Rinelli, life is good. He's got a loving relationship with his sister, her husband, and their lovely daughters. His work partner is Nick Lorenzzo, who happens to have been Frank's best friend since they were schoolboys. But even seasoned detective Frank is rattled when he's called upon to solve the vicious murders of two beloved Catholic priests, found with strange clues on their bodies. The priests are not the only ones to fall victim to what appears to be the evil work of two men. The detectives quickly hit upon a suspect: Tom Branchard, a defrocked former Catholic priest who fell from grace when he was convicted of horrendous crimes against his parish's young children. But what was the connection between Branchard and the two priests found murdered? And who will be the next victim?

This briskly-paced crime thriller has enough action and surprising twists to keep the reader guessing. I'm not a high-volume reader of the mystery/thriller genre, but when I do read one, I expect certain elements, including a protagonist who's likable and competent, but not a cartoonish superhero type, and Frank Rinelli is that.

By the way, if this series ever becomes a movie or a TV series, I want David Valcin from Person of Interest to play Frank.

Frank, as a narrator, is not vain enough to say, "Hey, I'm really good-looking," but you just know that he is. This novel delivers all the elements I would expect, but contains enough surprises to avoid becoming a paint-by-numbers police procedural.

Another thing this novel does really well is give us just enough of a glimpse inside the villain's head to make his motivation believable. In this case, there are two antagonists with two very different motivations - and then there's a shocker of a twist that connects them. I won't say anything else about the plot to avoid giving away any spoilers.

If you don't mind some intense action and a few gruesome crime scenes, and you're looking for a page-flipper to occupy an afternoon, give this one a chance. Do be aware that, while nothing explicit is described in the novel, mention is made of the abuse of young children, and sensitive readers may find that aspect of the story disturbing.

I received a copy of this book from the author at no cost in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, October 11, 2013

#FridaysReads 'Fangirl' and 'The Lost Sun'

I'm currently reading Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and loving it! The synopsis from Goodreads:

"From the author of the New York Times bestseller Eleanor and Park.

"A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

"Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

"Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

"But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

"Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

"Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

"Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

"For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

"Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

"And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?"

Simon Snow, for those who don't know, is a fictionalized version of Harry Potter. (A fictionalized version of a fictional character? It's kind of meta, but that's what it is.) Cath and Wren are well-know in the Simon Snow fandom as the co-writers of an ongoing romance series between Simon and his roommate Baz. Baz is, essentially, Draco Malfoy. Essentially, Cath ships Drarry - really, really hard. If you've ever been in a fandom and you're familiar with fanfics and shipping, you'll probably find this book highly amusing. 

If you find it highly amusing that there are people who get into fandoms and know terms like fanfics and shipping, you'll probably find this book highly amusing. 

Cath and Wren are from Omaha, Nebraska

I'm also about 100 pages into The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton. Its Goodreads synopsis:

"Fans of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and Holly Black's The Curse Workers will embrace this richly drawn, Norse-mythology-infused alternate world: the United States of Asgard. Seventeen-year-old Soren Bearskin is trying to escape the past. His father, a famed warrior, lost himself to the battle-frenzy and killed thirteen innocent people. Soren cannot deny that berserking is in his blood--the fevers, insomnia, and occasional feelings of uncontrollable rage haunt him. So he tries to remain calm and detached from everyone at Sanctus Sigurd's Academy. But that's hard to do when a popular, beautiful girl like Astrid Glyn tells Soren she dreams of him. That's not all Astrid dreams of--the daughter of a renowned prophetess, Astrid is coming into her own inherited abilities. 

"When Baldur, son of Odin and one of the most popular gods in the country, goes missing, Astrid sees where he is and convinces Soren to join her on a road trip that will take them to find not only a lost god, but also who they are beyond the legacy of their parents and everything they've been told they have to be."

Gratton has written this book in a fairly brilliant way. It's set in a contemporary, familiar world (the 21st century U.S.A.), using familiar modern language, yet there's just enough Norse mythology and Germanic folkways to make it resonate with the time-honored sagas of the English language and its cultural ancestors (think Beowulf). Gratton is a scholar of Old English, but this novel is in the voice of a modern teenager. 

I don't think I'm explaining it well, but it's really well done. 

Heather at Blonde, Undercover Blonde had a good idea today: to link to all the reviews she's done so far in 2013. I don't want to link to every single one, but here's one for every month:

January - The Count of Monte Cristo
February - Cora: The Unwilling Queen
March - The Art of Disappearing
April - Hemingway's Girl
May - Lover At Last
June - In the Body of the World
July - Divergent
August - Insurgent
September - Finding Esta
October - Princesses Behaving Badly

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Joss Whedon's 'Much Ado About Nothing' - A Non-Whedonite's Take

I've been looking forward to watching this movie for a long time. I love Shakespeare, and although I've never read the entire text of Much Ado About Nothing, I'm somewhat familiar with the play from the 1993 film version, starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson as Benedick and Beatrice.

I'm not a fan of Joss Whedon per se. I have no reason not to like him, I just never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, or any of his other series. Buffy was my mom's show; she never missed it. I can honestly say I never watched a single episode, but not because I was against it for some reason. I just liked other things at the time it was popular, and I've never felt any particular urge to watch it.

I have seen The Avengers three or four times now - I'm quite fond of it - and I did start watching this fall's new Agents of SHIELD show.

The person I am a fan of is Amy Acker. If you're not watching Season 3 of Person of Interest, you should be. (If you're missing it on Tuesday nights, you can catch up on iTunes.) Her character Root is really stealing the show this season as she calmly but creepily talks about her relationship with The Machine to her therapist.

Acker is a slim, dainty woman - very elegant and beautiful - and when she gets in character, she looks like a ballerina with murder eyes. I hated Root at first. (I'm overprotective of Harold Finch.) Then I saw how interesting she was. Now, while I still think her character does a lot of bad things, I like Root, and I'm protective of her, too.

(Cf. the character Rebekah on The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, whom I started off hating but ended up liking and respecting probably more than any other female character in the series.)

"Root" as Beatrice? That had to be interesting.

The DVD came out on Tuesday the 8th, and I got it from Netflix today. I watched it almost immediately. I'm going to watch it at least once more before it goes back - I loaded the Shakespearean text (this one - 99 cents!) into my Nook so I can read along.

It was everything I hoped it would be. It's a beautiful movie - visually striking (filmed entirely in black and white), true to Shakespeare's intentions (a dark comedy with moments of joy, and a lot of double entendres), yet fresh and original. Not only is Amy Acker a perfect Beatrice, but Alexis Denisof is a perfect Benedick. I honestly doubt I could ever get tired of watching those two together.

Alexis Denisof appears in The Avengers as the Chitauri leader - a minor role - but I remember him best as vile, promiscuous Sandy Rivers on How I Met Your Mother. I understand he's the real-life spouse of Alyson Hannigan, HIMYM's Lily Aldrin and a Buffy alumna. This is my first exposure to his serious work.

The other Avengers veteran, of course, is Clark Gregg, who plays Agent Phil Coulson in the Marvel movies (and spin-off TV show) and heroine Hero's father Leonato, the governor of Messina (a province of Sicily), in this film. Hero is played by Jillian Morgese, making her debut in a feature role; her paramour Claudio is played by Fran Kranz. I'm unfamiliar with Kranz - apparently he appeared in the Whedon projects Dollhouse, which I know nothing about, and Cabin in the Woods, which I understand to be a horror film. I couldn't help but keep wishing for Robert Sean Leonard, who played Claudio in 1993 (after Dead Poet's Society, before House). I just loved RSL in that role. I loved Gregg as Leonato, though.

I had a hard time not tearing up with joy when Agents of SHIELD brought Coulson back from the dead.

Another actor I recognize is Reed Diamond, here playing Don Pedro, the Prince. He was also in Dollhouse, but I don't know what that is. I remember him from Homicide: Life of the Streets, my major TV obsession of the 1990s. He was Mike Kellerman, a character who came in about mid-series when he transferred from arson to homicide.

Speaking of investigators, Dogberry the constable is played here by Nathan Fillion. Although I think the actor is very good-looking, I haven't really seen him in anything. I never watched Firefly, I don't watch Castle, and the one episode I watched of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog failed to capture my interest. I like Michael Keaton in general, but I found him very hard to understand as Dogberry. I think Fillion does a much, much better job.

The constable and his deputies do bring up one of the down sides of this movie, though: it lacks even the remotest whiff of ethnic diversity in casting. There are two or three people of color who appear as extras in the entire film, none of whom have speaking roles. Really, Joss Whedon? Although it was a clever choice to make Dogberry and his constables look like the cast of a modern police procedural, what cop show since 1985 do you know of that's entirely lily-white? None. Cop shows, with their ensemble casts, are usually on the more progressive end of representational casting. And that's just one idea of how at least one person of color could have been cast in a speaking role in this film.

I mean, in 1993, Don Pedro was Denzel Washington and his brother, Don John, was played by Keanu Reeves (biracial; Caucasian and indigenous Hawaiian). We want the colorblind casting. We expect it. And yet, actual Renaissance-era Messina was more diverse than this movie, I'm sure. (Which makes sense, if you think about it, because even though we think of Italy as a predominantly Caucasian country, all the Mediterranean countries are equally accessible to European, North African, and Middle Eastern peoples who can navigate the Mediterranean Sea.)

For the villainous Don John, Whedon cast Sean Maher. I don't know who that is, but apparently he was on Firefly. What I know about Firefly is that it was set on a spaceship and Nathan Fillion played the captain.

So I'm probably missing some of the fun by not knowing all the Whedonite in-jokes with the cast, but I still felt like I got exactly what I wanted out of this movie. It was visually beautiful, clever, witty, and fun - everything you want out of a Shakespeare comedy, even though this is probably the darkest of the comedies. 

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Hollywood Classics Title Index to All Movies Reviewed in Books 1 - 24 by John Howard Reid. $0.99 from
Another essential book for a film buff's library, this one is packed with information and reviews. Some of the entries are quite extensive. JHR provides all the information you need, including complete cast and production staff. I find JHR's information invaluable. I like to read not only who acted in a movie, but who made it, both top-billed and lesser mortals. -- Ross Adams in DRESS CIRCLE mag.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Gravity: The Movie (Spoilers)

Major spoilers for Gravity abound here - if you haven't seen the movie yet and don't want to know what happens in it, turn back now!
Public domain image from NASA showing Edward White performing a spacewalk
I saw Gravity, the 2013 film directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney on Saturday, October 5th. I went with my parents and husband - we saw it in 3D. I hadn't seen a movie in the theater since Life of Pi. As with Life of Pi, I was glad we paid the few extra dollars for the 3D experience.

First we saw a preview of Keanu Reeves' latest, 47 Ronin. Rick Genest is in it. I bet makeup artists love Rick Genest because he's, like, 90% done already when he sits in the makeup chair. But I digress.

Gravity, in some ways, is a very minimalist film. The only actors whose faces we see are Bullock and Clooney. For the first act, the backdrop is the earth, mostly covered in pillowy clouds but with bright stripes of human habitation shining through.

Sandra Bullock in 2009; Creative Commons image by Angela George
Later, we move through various human-created environments in space: first the destroying Explorer shuttle, then the International Space Station and a Soyuz module, then the Chinese space station and its escape pod. Those are very mechanized, artificial environments, and all are portrayed as overflowing with weightless human-made junk. However, the film starts out very starkly, with simple white letters on a black background reminding us that there is neither atmosphere nor gravitational pull in the void of space, and life in such an environment is therefore impossible.

I'm no great student of the films of Alfonso Cuaron; I think the only other one of his movies that I've seen is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. (It's my favorite HP movie, but that's not necessarily because of Cuaron's directing. I do think he did a great job, though.) I don't know anything about his philosophies, but I do think he tried to get us to notice something:




Creative Commons image
I mean, he told us essentially that in the opening titles. When we first meet the three astronauts engaged in their mission, though, they seem to be vibrantly full of life. Clooney's character, Matt Kowalsky, is engaged in snappy banter with mission control and the two astronauts who are aboard the shuttle as he tests a jet pack. Dr. Ryan Stone (Bullock), a physician trained as an astronaut to test equipment with medical applications, is extremely focused on her work. The third spacewalker, Dr. Sharif, performs repairs while dancing.

Then, shit goes spectacularly wrong when the Russians blow up one of their own satellites, setting off a chain-reaction debris avalanche. The crew attempts an emergency evac, but it's too late: Kowalsky and Stone are the only survivors. (Zero points for ethnic diversity; there's one Indian-American or Pakistani-American character, and he's dead within minutes. We see his face only after the character's death and in a photograph.) Kowalsky manages to rescue Stone from her free spiral through empty space, but in the process of reaching the ISS, must sacrifice himself so that Stone has a chance to survive.

If the movie can be broken down to its most essential conflicts, they would be woman vs. nature and woman vs. herself, and this is essentially the story of one woman's survival. You can think of it as a female version of 27 Hours. But - and bear with me here - I think one possible interpretation of this movie is that Ryan Stone is NOT a survivor, but in fact dies in space and is reborn when she emerges from the Chinese space capsule in the ocean.

The most obvious reference to the fact that the human-made environments in space serve as a second womb for Stone occurs when she first reaches the ISS airlock. Stone strips out of her oxygen-depleted flight suit, closes her eyes, curls up into a fetal position and floats in mid-air, thick tethers serving as an artificial umbilical cord. The visual is far too obvious to be a coincidence.

And why would she need to be reborn? Because she's dead - not in an all-too-literal Sixth Sense sense, but at least in this metaphorical sense: she "died" when her daughter died. What does she do on earth? Work, then drive, listening to the radio. She goes into orbit to do the exact same things: work, "drive," listen to the radio. Listening to the disembodied voices on the radio is her way of disconnecting from actual, living human beings; she goes into a world of ghosts. In her ghost world, Stone learns she can talk to her deceased daughter again. She can talk to Kowalsky after his noble self-sacrifice; he can even answer her, offer her the Russians' hidden stash of vodka, and - most importantly - help her solve problems. She sees dead people, but fights to return to the land of the living. Space is death. The only life is life on earth.

(Yes, there is a neuro-biological explanation for why she imagines or hallucinates Kowalsky: she's turned down to the oxygen in the Soyuz capsule to less than what her brain needs, and she's experiencing oxygen deprivation.)

The International Space Station, with Soyuz capsule, in a public domain/NASA photo
So Ryan Stone saves herself, using the last bit of thrust the Soyuz possesses to reach the abandoned Chinese space station and return to earth in its escape pod. When she hits the ocean, her capsule catches fire, and rather than waiting to be rescued, she has to submerge it and swim out. Bursting out from a liquid-filled metallic womb, rising to the surface to take her first gasp of air? Definitely a birth scene, without a doubt. The last frames of the movie show Stone standing up in the sand and taking her first steps.

You could almost say there's an ecological message to this movie: care for the earth, because it's the only thing keeping us alive, and beyond it there's nothing but cold junk and death. Rebirth is clearly a central theme of the movie. You could say that Stone has been reincarnated after she's died and gone to "the heavens." Reincarnation is also suggested by the Buddha images the Chinese astronauts left on the monitor in their escape pod (the Buddha being one of the few enlightened beings able to escape an otherwise endless cycle of births, deaths, and reincarnations)*.

Creative Commons photo by Jakub Halun
Incidentally, the Russian capsule bears an image of St. Christopher with the Christ child on his shoulders. This makes sense for cosmonauts, because Christopher is the patron saint of travelers and sailors traditionally pray to him during storms. In this case, the "storm" was also caused by the Russians.

If you're one who believes in reincarnation in terms of a goddess-centered vision of the afterlife, then it might make sense to you that the earth itself is the goddess in this scenario. At death (and I think we can make the case that Stone is at least metaphorically dead when she leaves the earth's atmosphere, in the sense that she "stopped living" when her daughter died), one's soul leaves the earth/ascends to the heavens (as in Norse mythology, when the Valkyries come down from the sky on their flying horses and carry the fallen warriors upward), one is separated from the goddess, but then one returns to the body of the goddess (in this case, under the ocean, which is depicted as teeming with life), is born again, and lives another life.

Although the Gaia Hypothesis - that the earth and everything on it function as one living organism - is a scientific and not religious school of thought, people sometimes do adapt it to religious purposes - i.e. worshiping the earth itself as a deity because life cannot exist without it. Was Cuaron hinting at something like this when he directed this movie? I have no idea, but he plants some intriguing clues.

Alfonso Cuaron in a Creative Commons image by Gage Skidmore
*Someone please let me know if I am incorrect and that statue wasn't a Buddha.

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Another essential book for a film buff's library, this one is packed with information and reviews. Some of the entries are quite extensive. JHR provides all the information you need, including complete cast and production staff. I find JHR's information invaluable. I like to read not only who acted in a movie, but who made it, both top-billed and lesser mortals. -- Ross Adams in DRESS CIRCLE mag.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Book Club Friday: Princesses Behaving Badly

Happy Friday! This week went really fast (time flies when you're learning how to work your husband's hemodialysis machine), and now it's time for Book Club Friday once again.

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale EndingsPrincesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disney princesses, these women are not. But if you've ever wanted to know what a princess's life is REALLY like, without the singing crustaceans, this may be the book for you.

Does anyone else remember Uppity Women of Medieval Times and some of the other titles that Vicki León and some others* used to write for Conari Press (now part of Red Wheel/Weiser)? There was a whole series in the 1990s that sought to fight the erasure of herstory by bringing to light some of the lesser-known, but fascinating, women in history. This book is like a mini-course in that.

Like the Uppity Women series (its foremother), this book divides the women into categories, such as Warriors, Partiers, and Madwomen, rather than proceeding in strict chronological order. It focuses mainly on European history - the Germano-British House of Hanover seems to be a favorite subject - but is just multicultural enough to pass the sniff test.

Some of the women you'll find between the pages include:

- Pingyang (7th century China)
- Boudicca (1st century Britain)
- Durgavati (16th century India)
- Hatshepsut (ca. 1500 BCE Egypt)
- Njinga of Ndongo (17th century West Africa - what is now Angola)
- Roxolana (16th century Ottoman Empire)
- La Malinche (16th century Mexico)
- Sarah Winnemucca (Paiute people, 1844-1891)
- Margaret Windsor (1930-2002, sister of Elizabeth II of England)

The writing style is very informal, which some reviewers have disliked (one compared it to the tone of a gossip magazine), and I have to say, I see their point. I think what bothered me the most was that some of the passages about allegedly promiscuous princesses took on what I felt was too judgmental a tone. (To be fair, Napoleon and some of the Hanover kings get a little slut-shamed, too, so it isn't a particularly gender-biased strain of judgment.)

If you can forgive a narrative whose voice can, at times, be a bit intrusive, and you're a young person considering a history or women's studies major, or you're fascinated with history as a hobby, or you're a not-necessarily-younger person who's fascinated with royalty in general or who wants to brush up on some of the lesser-known women in political history, I recommend this book to you as a good jumping-on point. If you find a favorite, I'm sure you'll go on to research her in more depth.

Another complaint I noticed in briefly skimming over some previous reviews was that not all the women in the book are, strictly speaking, princesses. Some of them are impostors, or from cultures without a formalized system of royal titles, and some of them (especially in the early chapters) are legendary figures who may not have basis in historical fact. This part didn't particularly bother me; if Rodriguez McRobbie had stuck to a very formal definition of princesshood, the book would almost certainly have been more Eurocentric and less interesting.

I'm fairly happy with her selections, and with the depth of information she got into with most of them. I do think we need (frequent) reminders that history was never a male-only affair, so I appreciate the efforts of books such as these. I would buy it for my nieces, but I'd also try to get them to retain it as just one part of a larger women's history bookshelf.

I received an advance reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine Program at no charge in exchange for this review. I was not otherwise compensated for this review, which is my own honest opinion.

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Next Amazon Vine picks to read by next month:

*Including Autumn Stephens, whose latest book is Feisty First Ladies, available from Cleis Press. I saw it in the Viva Editions catalog when Cleis Press sent me a copy of Mitzi Szereto's The Wilde Passions of Dorian Gray. - Note noted on November 5, 2013.

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