Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BBC Book List Meme

(borrowed from Jef based on a Facebook note)

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Instructions: Look at the list and bold those you have read. Tag other book nerds (but only if you want to).

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

Total: 5

11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot

Total: 4

21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

Total: 2

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne

Total: 1

41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan

Total: 2

51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Total: 4

61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville

Total: 4

71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno – Dante (Should this actually be The Divine Comedy?)
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt

Total: 3

81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton

Total: 5

91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Total: 4

I've read 34 of them.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review: Almost Like Being in Love
In 1978, during their senior year of high school, all-star jock Craig McKenna and the brainy Travis Puckett somehow manage to meet and waste most of that last year of school falling in love, Travis encouraging Craig to keep up with his singing and to believe in himself and Craig putting up with Travis' idiosyncrasies like knowing the birth date and the former address of Judy Garland as well as making lists. During that summer, they trick their parents into allowing them to find an apartment together, to spend as much time together before each heads to college in a different town. But the Summer ends too soon, with promises of writing constantly to one another, which lasts for a while, slowing to a trickle until the letters stop altogether on both sides.

Twenty years later, Travis -- a college history professor who somehow has managed to get the football team interested in American History -- still hasn't gotten over his feelings for Craig and compares his would-be suitors to him. He finally decides once and for all to make up for the time he lost to search for his first real love. With the help of his college roommate Gordo, Travis sets off cross country, his only lead being Craig's mother in St. Louis.

Through various bits of correspondence -- news clippings, emails, answers to history test questions, letters, comments on Websites, lists -- Steve Kluger's Almost Like Being in Love tells a charming and humorous tale of boy-meets-boy, boy-loses-boy, boy.... (I don't want to spoil it.) At first, I thought the format would interfere with the story, but instead, it enhanced each of the characters and allowed more insight into their personalities. What better way to show just how neurotic a Travis is than to have him ask his students how he should handle the whole Craig situation in the form of an essay question on a history exam? The format also allowed the witty, sarcastic humor of each character to shine through, and I found myself laughing out loud throughout much of the book. Though I will mention that each character has the same sense of humor, which could easily have made this a one-note book, but the wit and humor is at such a constant pace that I didn't mind.

For me, this turned out to be a true romantic comedy, and I enjoyed reading every single joke and twist in the tale.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Leaving Long Beach

Don't worry. We're not packing up and moving.

Caesar and I spent much of this weekend in the greater edges of Los Angeles County, beginning Saturday evening with a 60th birthday celebration at Wahib's, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Alhamabra. The trip from Long Beach to Alhambra went by surprisingly fast: we hopped on the 710 at its origins and followed eastward until the freeway ended, and voilà, we were in Alhambra in about 30 minutes.

Inside the restaurant, a waiter directed us to the banquet room, already semi-filled with friends of the Guest of Honor. Tie-dyed balloons hovered along the ceiling, sometimes inching past the many peace signs decorating the walls. A few of the guests wore dashikis and other Indian-inspired garb. I soon learned that the Guest of Honor had the opportunity to take a Girl Scout Troop to Woodstock for the original concert but opted instead for a summer camp. To make up for that miscalculation, she spent many years in the Peace Corps stationed in Northern Africa, hence the hippie chic. It all reminded me of my days at Humboldt State....

We enjoyed the evening, spending much of the time trying to keep one of Caesar's great-nieces who recently learned to walk from getting into mischief. She headed for the restaurant's kitchen, was thwarted, tried again, was thwarted, crawled onto the mini-stage to get to the bright lights of the stereo more than once only to be lifted away giggling, then managing to reach it once and hit a button which changed the CDs, then dancing in her little shaking up and down to the music kind of way. I think she was the hit of the party. When not chasing the almost-one-year-old, we delighted in the attempts to get the chocolate fountain working. At one point, the thick chocolate coagulated near the spout, creating an ever-growing blob. They eventually figured out what needed to be done, and soon, the guests were running cookies and pretzels and bits of pound cake and rice crispy treats beneath the warm chocolate.

Don't think we didn't get to eat any wonderful Middle Eastern food. Warm pitas with a lemon-tinted hummus, chicken kabobs and some delicious seasoned lamb with brown rice. So good!

Then today, we visited one of Caesar's friends in Glendale, trying some delicious organic foods at Granville's. My Turkey Club Salad with balsamic bleu cheese dressing was fantastic. Afterwards we walked around Glendale's new shopping center which looks almost exactly like The Grove in Los Angeles, right down to the trolley winding through the streets and the high-end stores filled with overly expensive crap. (And yet I bought a $10 butting board at Sur La Table so who am I to judge "high end crap"?)

We ended the day by heading North toward Burbank and every horror fans dream store, Dark Delicacies. Horror books, horror films, t-shirts, greeting cards, anything related to horror was somehow crammed into this store. If we'd had more time and a credit card with no limit, I would have gone crazy buying book after book. Instead, I picked walked out with only two titles to add to my book pile.

I have a few days off next week. Maybe I should take another trip up there....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The State of the Art

For a long time, my Mom had season tickets to The Ahmanson. She and her two friends started all those years ago in the upper balcony -- some of the least desirable seats in the entire building -- and worked their way year by year to the orchestra section. Then, the Phantom of the Opera arrived for a 5-year stint. The regular Ahmanson season was moved to the James Doolittle Theater (now re-christened as the Ricardo Montalban Theater) in what was then an unsavory section of downtown Hollywood. Bums, poorly lit streets, drunks, little police presence -- not exactly what three women of age alone in Los Angeles needed. So they allowed their subscriptions to end and tried to make up with season tickets at other, smaller theaters in Orange County. According to my Mom, the shows were good, but they all missed the day trip to Los Angeles. Then, one of the women passed away, and going to the theater fell by the wayside.

Knowing how much my Mom missed seeing shows, I decided about six or seven years ago to treat her to a show around Mothers' Day and bought tickets to see Amy's View. Since then, it's grown into something we both look forward to each year.

This year, though, she spent Mothers' Day and much of the surrounding months recovering from both a hysterectomy and a bad bout of pneumonia, forcing us to postpone our theater trip until last night. We saw Putting It Together (yes, I saw it again; I enjoyed it and thought she would, too) at South Coast Repertory. I managed to find two tickets in Row B, which seemed to delight her to no end. Before the show, she read the entire program, then folded it open to the song list so she could follow along, piecing together which song came from what musical. She talked excitedly during intermission about the sets, the music, the singers, how wonderful everything was. And, she was still smiling after the show ended.

I'm looking forward to this again...maybe sooner than next Mothers' Day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Review: Starshine
Starshine presents six of the best short stories from science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, ranging from ghosts and mysterious creatures to flights through space and explorations of distant planets.

Derm Fool: Dr. David Worth spends his days trying to find a cure the effects of a snake bite and winds up with a novel money making scheme. (At first, you think "ew", then it dawns on you how funny it actually is.)

The Haunt: Bill is in love with Miriam Jensen, a haughty, matter-of-fact woman who won't stand for artifice. Plus, she treats Bill more like a lovesick puppy which convinces him to take her down a notch by tricking her into visiting a "haunted" house (which he and his friend Tommy rigged to scare the wits out of her). But something doesn't quite go as planned once they step inside the house. (Probably one of the best haunted house stories around.)

Artnan Process: Two Earthman -- Slimmy Cob and Bell Bellew -- venture to the planet Artnan with the hope of discovering how the Artnans convert Uranium-238 into the more powerful Uranium-235 before the Martians do. The Martians, already on Artnan, decide to let Cob and Bellew do all the work and plan to steal the secret should they figure it out. Little do those Martians know what they're in for with cob and Bellew....

The World Well Lost: The Lovebirds, as the alien pair came to be known, arrived on Earth from Dirbanu and wanted nothing more than to be with each other. The government of Dirbanu, however, deems the Lovebirds as criminals and wants them returned immediately. Hoping that the act of returning them will be seen as a way to begin friendly relations with Dirbanu, Earth sends the couple back with a team of Earthmen specially chosen to escort them because of their hardiness when it comes to long space travel: Rootes, the unflappable captain, and Grunty, so named because he hardly speaks. During the trip Grunty finds out he has surprisingly more in common with the Lovebirds than anyone suspects....

The Pod and the Barrier: the Luanae have many resources to offer the Earth and would give them gladly if it weren't for the barrier they created hundreds of years ago to shield them from marauders and which now keeps them prisoners of their own planet. The Earthmen hurtling toward the barrier believe they have the answer to destroy the barrier once and for all, but could they be wrong? Does their unemployed and disagreeable Crew Girl (a.k.a. prostitute), who's along for the ride, have a better idea?

How To Kill Aunty: Hubert's aunt takes much delight in watching him fail at everything. Even trying to kill her with one of those newer TV sets. She catches on almost immediately and decides to have some fun, helping him along, then rubbing his nose in it like the stupid man he is. But in the end, is Hubert really as dumb as she thinks?

I'm a fan of the short story, and these are some of the best. From darkly comic to scaring the pants of me to unique twists to the sci-fi genre (the Lovebirds in The World Well Lost turn out to be a same-sex couple, and the story mimics current views on homosexuality), Sturgeon's stories show what can be done in a small amount of words.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Diet in Ruins

Possibly. Because Caesar made these for dinner:

I swear...I only ate three enchiladas. Yummy, cheesy enchiladas filled with shredded chicken and black beans and a touch of sour cream.

Excuse me. I need to wipe the drool from the keyboard.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just a Few Things

  • I stepped on the scale after my beachside walk this morning. 209 lbs.!! Holy crap! I honestly don't remember the last time I weighed less than 210 lbs. That's 6 lbs. gone since the beginning of August and 4 more to go to reach the goal set by my cardiologist.

  • On Monday, I tweeted about a book that I'm currently reading, casually mentioning that I wished I could send it back. So yesterday, the author of said book tweeted back about being sorry that I hated to book so much. For the rest of the day, I battled with myself about whether to return the tweet with my reason for not enjoying the book (and I did not use the word hate in my tweet; for that matter, I didn't even mention the author's name) or to leave it be. I chose the latter, after discussing it with my friends Rob and Clark. Hooray for social media!

  • I've been all about the coupons lately when it comes to the theater. A week ago, Caesar and I saw Putting It Together thanks in large part to an email from the theater offering $20 tickets. I thought my Mom would enjoy the show so I browsed through my Entertainment book, found a coupon for $25 tickets to the same theater, and now, she and I will enjoy the show for a total of $30 off the price of two tickets. Score!!!

  • I bought a remastered CD of Madonna's True Blue album. And am still shocked that the album was originally released in 1986, my junior year in high school. Man, am I getting old....
  • Thursday, September 17, 2009


    I've stumbled onto a plateau as far as my weight loss goes. The past few days, my weights been hanging around 211 lbs. without gaining or losing. (I guess that could be seen as a good sign.) Now, I need to find some way to re-invigorate my exercise routine, maybe add a little jogging into the mix.

    My cardiologist wants me to be down 10 lbs. by the time of my next appointment in less than a month. I feel it's doable -- only about 5 lbs. to go.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Book Review: The Rising
    Jim Thurmond thought of the dead coming back to life as something relegated only to horror novels and the movies. Until a week ago when his pregnant wife died, then woke up and tried to take a bite out of him. Hidden beneath the ground in a fallout shelter he'd convinced his wife to let him build, Jim surveys the zombies scrambling to get to him. But something's not right: these zombies run, use tools, even talk and taunt him.

    All he can do is stay locked in the shelter while the re-animated dead take over above. Then his cell phone rings. And on the other end is his son Danny, hiding in the attic at his mother's house in New Jersey, pleading with his dad to come get him. Jim does the only thing he can do and finds a way to hopefully sneak out of the shelter unnoticed to find his son.

    The Rising takes a novel approach to zombies, giving them a frightening intelligence thanks to a gaffe from a government lab hidden in the Pennsylvania woods, that fits within the framework of the book. Slow-moving zombies are terrifying enough; but give them a working brain, and they can talk, fire guns, even ambush their prey. Another difference from many other zombie novels comes when flocks of undead birds swarm and divebomb people or vehicles, or an undead fish devours its tank companions, breaks the glass and begins spouting words at its next targets. Unexpected and wonderfully satisfying.

    I enjoyed the mix of storylines -- Jim trekking through a nightmare world to find his son with the help of an elderly priest, a scientist who feels guilty about the creating the zombies trying to get a deaf boy to safety, an ex-prostitute escaping from the zombies -- and the strong characters. I will say, though, that I found the soldiers turning into a heartless militia/gang seemed a bit clichéd, but not enough to keep me from finishing. In fact, I despised them so much that I almost cheered aloud when things didn't turn out as they planned, and it made for a fantastic climax to the tale.

    I definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a quick zombie/horror fix. And I can't wait to read the sequel, which is already in my pile of "To Be Read" books.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Dancing and Sondheim

    A first occurred for me yesterday: attending a ballet/tap recital for a 3-year-old. And what fun it was! Dozens of parents and other family members packed the gym at a local recreation center in Pico Rivera, armed with digital cameras, cel phone cameras and video to watch their little darlings sway and step to the music. When we arrived, a group of little girls in bathing suits marched to the center of the floor and began dancing to "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini", some girls having fun, others waving to family in the audience and two little girls in tears as they ran from the floor looking for their parents. A few more groups danced before Caesar's great-niece and her dance crew took to the floor. (She's the on in pink at the far right in the pic.) She raised her arms, toe tapped right, toe tapped left, spun in circles, bent at the knees and seemed to have a fun time. Of course, I snapped pictures with my camera, Caesar shot a quick video with his, and form the rest of his family, all I heard was clicking and ooing and aahing.

    Afterwards, we treated the little ballerina to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at Rocky Cola Café in Whittier. (And I kindly thank the group for the change in plans since I'm not that fond of Italian food.)

    Later that evening, we drifted behind the Orange Curtain to catch a preview showing of Putting It Together at South Coast Repertory. Different from most revues, Putting It Together used Stephen Sondheim's music from Company, A Little Night Music, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Merrily We Roll Along and The Frogs, and mixed in some more contemporary pieces of his from Dick Tracy, Assassins and Into the Woods to tell a new story: five people spend the evening at a very rich condo in New York, and as the evening unfolds, they uncover pent up feelings about marriage and relationships.

    The songs worked incredibly well together. I think this was in part because many of Sondheim's songs sound alike so something from Company could be inserted into Sweeney Todd without interrupting to flow of the music. But also, the talents of the five actors brought the songs to life: Tony nominees Harry Groener and Mary Gordon Murray as a long-married and weary couple, Dan Callaway and Matt McGrath (from The Broken Hearts Club) as two of the remaining party guests and Niki Scalera as help hired for the party. With them, the songs seemed to belong wholly to this show rather than to have come from others. Also -- and I don't usually comment on this -- the set was astounding. A two-story New York condominium, with circular staircase rounding to a loft/hallway above. Harry opened the curtains with remote control, revealing a view of New York City, complete with lights turning off and on in the offices and apartments across the way. At times, I forgot it was simply a set.

    We both enjoyed the show, which officially opens this coming Friday. If you happen to be in Orange County, CA, in the next few weeks, take a chance to see it.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    The Family That Loses Together

    I visited my folks last night, and what a shock to see how much weight my Mother's lost over the past few months. Clothes that at one time didn't fit now hang loosely on her frame, in need of alterations to make them just right. Thinner cheeks and arms, and noticeable trimming of other problem areas. (Being a gentleman, I won't mention those.) She's like a whole new person, thanks to both exercise and the strict diet imposed by her doctor.

    During dinner, she rattled off changes to her order like an old pro, at one point possibly confusing our waiter. She's the type that sticks to something one she starts, seeing it through to the end or melding the changes into her lifestyle choices. She walks every day, rain or shine, and somehow manages to get my Father out of the house and either walking part of the way with her or gently nudging him to exercise in their clubhouse's pool.

    She's very inspiring, showing me that giving up on diet and weight loss will only take you back to unhappiness about myself, my looks, my health and so on. You go, Mom!

    Wednesday, September 09, 2009

    A Special Effects Extravaganza!
    That's all I should say about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which we happened to see on Monday. Because that's what the movie basically was: an excuse to showcase cgi work, lots of explosions, martial arts/fight sequences, a futuristic underwater compound beneath the polar cap, miniature machines devouring metal in a green haze. I liked that aspect of the film, followed along gripping the armrests during the race through Paris, and generally having fun. The story and acting turned out to be a bit corny and over-the-top, bordering on camp, but I enjoyed see Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the bad guy and having fun with the part. And the cameo from Brendan Fraser was a nice touch.

    Verdict: not a fantastic film but a lot of fun and worth the popcorn and air-conditioning.

    Monday, September 07, 2009

    Saturday at the Pike

    We spent most of the first day of the Labor Day weekend at The Pike, beginning with an early lunch at Islands. I stuck with my diet, orderly a half-sized Wiqui Waqui BBQ Chicken Salad (without the red onions) while Caesar decided on the Kanapaali Cobb. However, we did indulge a little with an order of fries. Not to worry, though, because we only ate about half the basket between us and we spent the next 45 minutes walking them off along the boardwalk.

    At first we bypassed the planks closest to the water, trying to keep to what little bits of shade we could find. But, seeing as I'd never visited the Long Beach Lighthouse, we finally braved the direct sunlight and ambled along the paths surrounding it. The cool breeze felt wonderful as we climbed the small rise into a park. I spotted this globe and snapped a pic with the Queen Mary in the background. To the right were more nautical pieces: an anchor, benches shaped like bows of a ship, a stone ship's wheel. And dozens of trees with families sitting or sleeping underneath. We walked along the edge of the small bluff, watching the sea gulls and pelicans staking spots on various piers or other objects floating in the harbor, following the path's curve around the end of the spit and back toward the boardwalk.

    Heading back to the Pike, we stopped long enough to spot small crabs crawling underwater across the rocks, pausing every so often to pull tiny bits of food into their mouths. And once we spotted the first crab, we couldn't stop finding them, hiding between the rocks or foraging in the green water plants. A few schools of good-sized fish passed through, too. We didn't linger too long, with the heat bearing down and the movie's start time quickly approaching.


    After buying tickets, we headed into the air-conditioned theater to find seats for District 9. Fortunately, we waited long enough once the movie had been released to allow the crowds to dim down a bit so only a few groups of people sat scattered around the theater.

    In District 9, an alien spaceship entered the Earth's atmosphere, hovering above Johannesburg about 20 years ago. After days of waiting for something to happen, the government sent crews up to the ship, broke in and discovered the alien creatures -- called Prawns by the humans -- malnourished and suffering from some terrible accident. So they did what anyone would do and created a place for them to live in Johannesburg, a slumlike area known as District 9. But tensions have been rising between the humans and the Prawns for the past 20 years, and Multi-National Union (MNU) decides to relocate the aliens to a new encampment. In order to legally make the move happen, each of the alien families needs to be evicted form their homes so they set up a team headed by Wikus Van de Merwe to go door to door and to further film the entire event for their records.

    During a routine check of one house, Wikus accidentally sprays a dark fluid in his face but cleans it away, thinking nothing of it until he late becomes violently ill. At the hospital, the doctors discover that Wikus' arm has begun to morph into that of a Prawn, and he must know fight against the MNU for his own survival while finally understanding the life that they have imposed upon the Prawns.

    An amazing film on so many levels. First, the special effects are some of the most seamless I'd ever seen. The spaceship, the Prawns, the other visual elements seemed very real, as if they actually filmed them rather than slip them in afterwards. Second, the story paralleleds what life is like for humans in Johannesburg: the poor or unwanted living in slums while the rich live the high life, making decisions for them. I also liked the reversal of just who the bad guys are -- and it's not the aliens. And third, the cast is fantastic, especially Sharlto Copley as Wikus. He played the part of the nerdy everyman who gets thrown into unbelievable circumstances incredibly well, and very believably.

    District 9 was one of the best films so far this year, one that I would definitely see again.

    Saturday, September 05, 2009

    Book Review: Bite Marks
    Adam Caine, a vampire less than a hundred years old, enjoys his sadistic streak when it comes to victims, especially building up hopes and dreams then tearing them to shreds and savoring the aftermath. Take Nina, for instance. He forces her into prostitution, gets her addicted to heroin, and then turns her into a vampire to watch her destroy her own five-month-old child. Things, however, do not go as he planned; once transformed to a vampire, she does feed on her child, but brings him back before Adam can destroy her. Now, an infant vampire crawls loose somewhere in New York City, and Adam must seek help from the woman who changed him into a vampire before the Triumvirate finds out and the secret world of vampires becomes known to the humans.

    Meanwhile, estranged lovers Steve Johnson and Lori Martin try to piece together their latest book focusing on vampires. The ad they placed in the Village Voice brings in only one serious response, but they haven't heard from her -- a young woman named Nina who claims to have firsthand knowledge -- and are about to give up on her, until her brother Jim shows up on Steve's doorstep. When they learn of her violent death, Jim convinces them to help him find her killer, not realizing until too late the monsters they must battle to avenge Nina are real.

    With his first novel, Terence Taylor offers a great addition to the vampire genre. He keeps with the traditional mythos, coming out only at night, feeding on human blood, controlling human minds, but also draws from other vampire tales. His Autochthones -- a race of vampires living in the tunnels beneath New York's subway system -- worship a creature similar to Bram Stoker's White Worm. He adds new twists to vampire history, as well, turning such events as the crash of the Hindenburg into a cover up for vampires trying to cross from Europe to the States, and creating a system of government to maintain order between their world and the human world.

    Taylor tackles something I've always wondered: what would happen if a vampire becomes infected with HIV. The HIV begins to slowly destroy an infected vampire, which is what happens to the nest created by Baby, but Taylor's creativity comes into play when describing what happens when an infected vampire bites a victim. They die, only to rise sometime later as a vampire zombie, of sorts, with the infected blood itself using the new body as a vessel to infect more people and other vampires. The scenes in which the blood passes are quite astonishing and imaginative, complete with exploding eyeballs and other goriness.

    Bite Marks contains well-developed characters, too. Adam Caine (born Frederic Hartwell) is evil personified: cruel, merciless, willing to do anything to get what he wants no matter who it harms -- as long as he remains untouched. HIs vampire mother, Perenelle de Marivaux, struggles to maintain a balance between her human identity and her vampire one, at times acting as peacemaker for Adam while secretly wishing him dead but switching at the drop of a hat to remorseless thoughts of death when Steve and Lori possibly threaten to reveal the vampires' existence. Steve and Lori act as I would expect any normal couple with relationship issues, trying to understand what happened between them while being thrust into something way over their heads and seemingly impossible.

    My only detraction is the character of Claire St. Claire, a young female vampire, who was an accomplice to such a heinous crime -- even by vampiric standards -- that she was entombed for 50 years without food or contact. A great deal is made of her release from imprisonment early on in the story, but she disappears after that. As I made my way further and further into the story, I wondered when she would pop up, but she never did. Perhaps she'll appear in another story....

    Bite Marks tells a fast-paced, fantastic tale, creating a new history for vampires in New York City while keeping the gore and horror many readers have come to expect from a vampire story. Fans of horror and of vampires will definitely enjoy this book as much as I did.

    Thursday, September 03, 2009

    Hatch, Pt. I

    Usually when I walked through the back door, the cat rubbed the side of his head up and down against the door frame, adding to the thin black stain on the wood work, followed by the inevitable hunger meows, demanding a little head scratch and a lot of food in his bowl.

    But not tonight.

    I called his name, clicked my tongue a few times while hanging my keys on the hook and walking through the kitchen. Not in the living room crouching on his favorite pillow or spread along the coffee table.

    A quick glance toward the hall, and there he sat, tail curved around his legs, head turned up staring at the ceiling.

    Or, more precisely, at the hatch in the ceiling leading into the crawlspace.

    "Hey, Kitty, how're you doing?" I reached down and scratched the top of his head. He hissed and tried to take a chunk from my fingers. "Okay, okay! I'll leave you alone!" I stepped over him and headed into the bedroom.

    I couldn't wait to change out of the slacks and button down shirt. The weather lately was unbearably hot, and the moment I set foot outside the air-conditioned office, my clothes started clinging. I quickly peeled off the shirt, leaving it next to the bed, and stepped into the hall to make the quick trip to the guest bedroom and the dresser.

    I opened the second drawer down, rummaged through the dark t-shirts when footsteps softly shuffled across the ceiling of the guest bedroom and into the hallway. I slowly followed, my fingers lightly guiding me along the walls while my eyes focused on the sound. When the footsteps stopped, I found myself directly beneath the hatch.

    © 2009, G.A. Carter...this is a work of fiction

    Wednesday, September 02, 2009

    Forgive Me, Blogfather, For I Have Sinned

    It's been two days since my last blog post....

    I could blame it on this otherworldly heat we're experiencing in Southern California. My skin feels as though it's melting as I type.

    Or perhaps the need to finish the latest book received from St. Martin's Press -- Bite Marks from Terence Taylor. A fantastic vampire tale, complete with a baby vampire and someone tackling the possibility of vampire blood mixing with HIV.

    Maybe my new-found desire and results in the weight loss arena -- and wanting to continue losing -- are keeping me from my blogging duties. I'm walking more, and we're both cooking more meals at home. Like the Southwest Chicken I made tonight with black beans, whole corn kernels, diced tomatoes and diced green chiles.

    Being busy at work makes for good excuse, too.

    Nope. I think I just need to get myself to write something each day. Perhaps I'll get back into the flash fiction. I have this great idea about a cat and a strange noise coming from the crawlspace....