Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: Mademoiselle de Maupin by Théophile Gautier
In a series of letters to his friend Silvio, the Chevalier d'Albert describes what would be the perfect woman for him and why he's in such desperate need to find himself a mistress. Unfortunately, every woman he meets is unable to reach his lofty standards -- not even the young and beautiful Rosette with whom he at first believes that he's found his ideal. She smart, coquettish, knows exactly the right thing to say and knows how to slyly manipulate his moods, but d'Albert soon finds himself back to lamenting his bad luck at trying to find the ideal woman. Finally, when he's convinced himself that he needs to find some way to break things off with Rosette, a young sman named Théodore steps into the picture.

He has all the women aflutter, and apparent to d'Albert, has had some sort of past relationship with Rosette to which she still feels a strong attachment. Much to his own surprise, d'Albert finds that Théodore embodies many of the qualities he's been looking for and hesitantly writes to Silvio, "I am in love with a man!"

But beneath all his charms, is Théodore hiding a dark secret?

Mademoiselle de Maupin turns out to be a 19th Century French take on Shakespeare's As You Like It so it's filled with cross-dressing and modest sexual intrigue only set in the French lounges and salons of the wealthy and bored. One the one hand, this comes across as a wonderful way to examine the social mores of the times, the differences between the treatment of men and women, and their pre-conceived roles in society. On the other hand, the story is told in such a boring fashion that it took quite a bit of effort on my part to finish it.

None of the characters particularly captured my interest. Which is a pity as the character of Théodore/Mademoiselle de Maupin was based on an actual swordswoman and opera singer of the 17th Century, Julie d'Albigny. She comes across more manly in her manners and attitudes than I would have expected, though she admits that she finds herself becoming more like a man as time passes. Chevalier d'Albert for his part, thinks himself a poet and describes in much detail and overuse of the extended metaphor. For example, in one paragraph, d'Albert questions where the idea of the perfect woman comes from and goes on the re-ask the same question (in the same paragraph) eight different ways. (Yes, I counted.) And that's a brief example. I found myself disliking d'Albert, the "hero" of the tale from the beginning and was bored reading each paragraph. In fact, I found skipped to the next after two sentences because I knew a long repetitive list awaited me. What's worse is all the characters wrote like that, and because the novel is, for the most part, epistolary, it makes for tedious read.

What I did find interesting was Gautier's openness to discuss homosexuality in his novel. Though d'Albert deplores the idea, calling it depraved, he still accepts that he may have fallen in love with another man. The same goes for Maupin. Disguised as Théodore, she finds herself able to see the attraction to both men and to women, though she also tends to believe that homosexual attraction to be against societal norms. Though she didn't seem to have a problem with it toward the end when she hops into bed with Rosette to reveal her true identity and stays the entire night in her room.

But even that isn't enough to make me whole-heartedly recommend this book.

Mademoiselle de Maupin
by Théophile Gautier
Penguin Classics
ISBN: 0-140-44813-6
softcover, 363pp.

purchased book

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Birthday Cometh

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Today, we celebrate the nth Anniversary of the miraculous birth of our friend Clark. Tonight will be much rousing of rabble, much consumption of shellfish and other denizens of the deep, and possibly a draught or two of the aqua vitae -- or something more potable and less likely to power a motorized vehicle.

All hail Clark!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Photographs & Memories
I bought this Jim Croce CD a few days ago in part because it was on sale. The other has to do with all the songs forming the background music for family camping trips while growing up. No matter where we went -- whether driving up and down California or traveling across the country to see New Orleans or the Badlands of South Dakota or Old Faithful in Yellowstone -- the 8-track we played the most was Photographs and Memories from Jim Croce. At one time, my Brother and I knew all the words to Roller Derby Queen, Time in a Bottle, and Working at the Car Wash Blues.

Slipping the disc into my car's player brought back all the words, all the memories. I love how music can do that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King
With her Mama having turned out to be a tomboy rather than the Southern Lady dreamed of by her Granny, poor Florence finds herself in the unwanted role as the last hope to raised in the tradition of the Daughters, to be a real Southern Lady. To do so, Granny and her faithful friend Jensy, try to steer Florence away from everything unladylike: education, holding down a job, keeping a clean household, ignoring doctors (because they don't know what they're talking about), fussing about the pains and misfortunes of others and how they relate to oneself. Florence is very reluctant to do so and thanks to her father Herb, her desire to learn keeps her from falling under the charms of her Granny's wishes. Much to Granny's disappointment.

As she gets older, Florence realizes the only way to escape the pressures of becoming what Granny wants is to go to a college far from home. She finds herself at Ole Miss. Which leads her to her first romance in college with a female professor. Thanks to this relationship and its outcome, Florence finds the strength to remain true to herself. She also learns what being a true Southern Lady means and how much her Granny, Jensy and even her Mama are more like that ideal than they believe.

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady is a delight to read, an autobiography dusted with Southern charm. It's almost hard to believe the "characters" are real people: Granny Lura's determination to make a Lady of Florence (so that she can claim to be a Great Lady -- finally); her Mama, who thwarts Granny at every step of the road by being a chain-smoker, a tomboy and by holding down a job; her father Herb King, an Englishman who bartends and plays in a dance band, but acts more like the voice of reason for the entire family. The story offers some good insight into what it meant to come out in the 1950s South. Florence tries to rationalize her feelings and finally comes to terms with them when she meets Bres -- a professor at the University. She has to hide part of herself in public or face nasty phone calls and resentment. But Florence becomes a stronger woman and puts it into her book.

A great book that I highly recommend to everyone.

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady
by Florence King
St. Martin's/Marek
ISBN: 0-312-16215-4
hardcover, 278pp.

borrowed from the Long Beach Public Library

Sunday, August 22, 2010


No, not on the blog. That's one of my favorite lines from the movie we saw last night: Piranha 3-D.
In the are surrounding Lake Victoria (NOT the one in Africa), a sudden earthquake opens a fissure to an underground lake -- the perfect gateway for some hungry pre-historic fishies to make their way into the modern world. Just until those hungry buggers make their way to the Spring Break shenanigans in and around Lake Victoria. The nubile young college girls and their horny boy toys are in for a surprise once a little bit of blood hits the water.

Pranha 3D comes across as a trashy and campy homage to the sex-starved monster flicks of the 80s and 90s -- like some of what you'll find on Chiller or SyFy. Spring break; a plethora of breasts (and a few va-jay-jays, thanks to an underwater ballet sequence -- yes, "underwater ballet sequence", just go with it); campy, over-the-top acting; lots of surprise cameos; blood and gore; and man-eating monsters -- how can you not have a great time with that?! We certainly did, laughing and groaning, jumping with fright and enjoying a film that doesn't take itself too seriously.

With regards to the special effects: the cgi piranhas were decent, mouths filled with sharp teeth and menacing spines along the fins. The feeding frenzies worked well and were spaced enough apart that the tension of just where those little creatures are kept me glued to the seat. Too bad the 3D did nothing to enhance the film. For $16 a ticket, I expected much, much more. But what stands out in this movie (and makes up for the poor 3D) is the gore: lots of bodies getting shredded and some unique ways for small characters to meet their ends -- like Eli Roth, which was completely unexpected and spectacular. And what happens to poor Jerry O'Connell...brings a whole new meaning to full frontal.

The acting was good for the movie: Elisabeth Shue as Julie Forester, the town sheriff trying to save the town, her family and to stop an unknown foe; Christopher Lloyd as Mr. Goodman, the requisite scientist for such films; Steven McQueen as Jake Forester, Julie's son who goes against her mother's wishes; and Jerry O'Connell as Derrick Jones, a porn director visiting Lake Victoria to shoot his latest feature. O'Connell was fantastic as Derrick, stealing the entire film and uttering those words in the title of the post. (One of the best scenes in the film.) Plus, lots of cameos, as mentioned before: Richard Dreyfuss, Eli Roth, Ving Rhames, Ricardo Chavira, Paul Scheer.

If you don't like gore and lots and lots of blood, steer clear of this one. But if you want a fun, mindless, campy film, Piranha 3D is the movie for you. Just don't waste your money on the 3D version.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

5 Years

5 years ago today....

We met via Yahoo! Personals, discovering that we were both going to the same book group that night. Our first "date" was at the Hamburger Mary's that evening in Long Beach, trying to hint to the tag-a-long that we wanted to be alone. He never got the hint, by the way, but that didn't stop Caesar and I from getting together the next night to watch Lost and from there, moving in together; taking trips to San Diego and Walt Disney World and soon to Hershey, PA; being together for the births of two more additions to Caesar's family as well as our friend's twins; attending many concerts, plays and musicals; and having a wonderful time.

Our celebration started a bit early: Thursday night we saw a comedy show at the Irvine Improv. Local funny man Brad Williams kept us rolling in the aisles with his views of the world and on political correctness. The theater was packed for a school night, and everyone got into his routine -- so much so that he remained on stage for about 15 minutes after his set ended. And we ate it up.

Tonight, we're heading for dinner at Chris' & Pitts' for some good, local BBQ, followed by a movie. We will brave the crowds tonight to see Piranha 3-D.

So don't wait up!

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Bookish Meme

I haven't done one of these here meme thingies in such a long time. This one, borrowed from A Guy's Moleskine Notebook, seemed right up my alley, so how could I resist?

1. Favorite childhood book? Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH from Robert C. O'Brien hooked me on reading.

2. What are you reading right now? Another Country by James Baldwin; Mademoiselle de Maupin by Théophile Gautier; The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith; If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino

3. What books do you have on request at the library? None at the moment.

4. Bad book habit? Buying more books than I need, since my pile already takes up 2 shelves packed two rows deep with books and more piled on top of those.

5. What do you currently have checked out at the library? Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady from Florence King. I finished reading it, but need to write my review.

6. Do you have an e-reader? Nope.

7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once? Several at once, a habit I picked up in high school.

8. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? Definitely. I'm reading more LGBT books. Not sure why that is, but it's true.

9. Least favorite book you read this year (so far?) So far, I would have to say Getting Even by Woody Allen.

10. Favorite book you’ve read this year? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

11. How often do you read out of your comfort zone? Not too often, but I plan on reading more non-fiction. I have a few lined up already.

12. What is your reading comfort zone? Horror, LGBT fiction, prize winners

13. Can you read on the bus? Haven't tried since high school.

14. Favorite place to read? The couch in the living room with the TV on at a low volume.

15. What is your policy on book lending? I lend quite a few books, keeping track of who has what in my LibraryThing account. I try not to lend too many books, though. Right now, three people have some titles from my collection.

16. Do you ever dog-ear books? No.

17. Do you ever write in the margins of your books? Not recently.

18. Not even with text books? Not with them, because they needed to be in good condition to get money back during college.

19. What is your favorite language to read in? English, but I can read French; it just takes much longer.

20. What makes you love a book? Characters that I like (whether heroes or villains) and a good story. I've stopped reading books when the story dragged or made no sense whatsoever. if I'm scratching my head wondering what the hell's going on, chances are, I'm going to stop reading and either give the book away or donate it.

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book? Characters and story....and if I enjoyed reading it.

22. Favorite genre? Horror -- ghosts and zombies.

23. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did?) Non-fiction. I'm so hesitant because I'm afraid it will come across as a text book and bore me to tears.

24. Favorite biography? Well, I don't read too many of these, but I just finished Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King and loved it. She's very funny and has that Southern charm about her writing style.

25. Have you ever read a self-help book? When I first came out, I read quite a few books about dating and what it meant to be gay.

26. Favorite cookbook? I don't have one.

27. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)? I guess inspirational for me means something that made me want to continue with trying my hand at submitting something for publication. That would be Sheep and Wolves by Jeremy C. Shipp because all the tales seem so simple yet complex at the same time. They provide a great example of not being afraid to try something different and having it work.

28. Favorite reading snack? I don't eat while reading. Too distracting. ;-)

29. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience. Since I enjoy reading award winners, I picked up a copy of John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, read about 10 pages and wondered why I didn't read a few pages at the bookstore before purchasing. Would have saved me about $17.

30. How often do you agree with critics about a book? Not often, mostly because they tend to be flowery and overly creative with their blurbers. What I think of a book usually disagrees with what they think of a book. That's why I prefer reading bloggers' reviews because they seem more aligned with how I read a book.

31. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews? I always dislike retaliation of any sort, like what happened with my review of Anathema Rhodes. A few fans of the author left negative comments on the post, attacking me. But if i don't like something, I don't like something. I won't write something happy and cheery just because I don't want to hurt someone's feelings.

32. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose? Spanish.

33. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read? A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys. 1,500 pages -- very intimidating.

34. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin? Palimpsest by Gore Vidal

35. Favorite Poet? I don't have one since I don't read much poetry.

36. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time? One, because I'd probably lose track with all the other books around the apartment.

37. How often have you returned book to the library unread? Not very often.

38. Favorite fictional character? Perenelle de Marivaux from Blood Pressure and Bite Marks by Terence Taylor

39. Favorite fictional villain? Lord Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.

40. Books I’m most likely to bring on vacation? Horror, ghosts, zombies -- something that will keep my interest on the long flight.

41. The longest I’ve gone without reading. 2-3 days.

42. Name a book that you could/would not finish. Dreamcatcher by Stephen King

43. What distracts you easily when you’re reading? A funny TV show.

44. Favorite film adaptation of a novel? The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Awesome book. Awesome movie.

45. Most disappointing film adaptation? Dune by Frank Herbert (film by David Lynch)

46. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time? Probably about $75.

47. How often do you skim a book before reading it? Not often enough.

48. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through? The story and/or characters turn illogical, unbelievable, stereotypical. Can't stand that.

49. Do you like to keep your books organized? Alphabetical by author's last name

50. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them? I do both, but tend to keep more than I really should.

51. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding? Keep me away from Harlequin/romantic type drivel.

52. Name a book that made you angry. Hasn't happened.

53. A book you didn’t expect to like but did? The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

54. A book that you expected to like but didn’t? Getting Even by Woody Allen.

55. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading? Best Actress by John Kane

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: Tinkers by Paul Harding
George Washington Crosby waits to die in his living room, lying on a rented hospital bed, memories and hallucinations overlapping. As the last of his days quickly approaches, the story of his father, Howard Crosby, begins to take shape. Howard was a tinker, spending his days selling wares to the mountain folk while spending his free time dreaming up little contraptions and trinkets for his understanding wife. His personal demons begin to take a firmer grip on his life, forcing him to make a decision that casts a shadow over his family.

I'm one of those who learns that something wins a book award and immediately need to find a copy of it. Curiosity, for the most part. I want to know why this book above all others was chosen. With Tinkers, I think the writing won the voters over. It's poetic and prosaic at the same time. The descriptions of nature fit the mold of poetry exceedingly well, with such sentences as:

"A wind would come up through the trees, sounding like a chorus, so like a breath then, so sounding like a breath, the breath of thousands of souls gathering itself up somewhere in the timber...."

The tales of George and his mother finding the doctor's house moving down the street or Howard's interactions with the people of the mountains seamlessly intermix with the descriptions to create something that seems simple and complex at the same time.

My issue with the book is that it read like two stories instead of one: the story of George counting down the days until he passes, and the story of Howard and his life-altering decision. The spiel on the book's back cover gave the impression that George re-visits his past to make amends. But, other than George and Howard being son and father respectively, their stories never intersected -- until almost the very end of the book (but I don't want to give away too many spoilers).

That doesn't take away from the book. I still found it enjoyable as both stories were well-told and interesting. Definitely worth a read, especially if you like experimental writing.

by Paul Harding
Bellevue Literary Press
ISBN: 978-1-934137-12-3
softcover, 191 pgs.

purchased book

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Night the Lights Went Out

Walking home from Kafe Neo after a fund dinner with Clark and mutual friend Brian, no sooner were we across the street from the neon art-deconess of the Art Theatre when all the streetlights blacked out. Traffic lights, street lamps, some businesses and apartment buildings -- all dark. The theatre, however, still glowed its blue neon and blinding white marquee, as did a few of the shops. It felt apocalyptic crossing from corner to corner using only the headlights of cross traffic to show us the way, turning down the darkened street, listening to the chatter of voices discussing the black out or calling friends/family on cell phones.

Our apartment ended up a victim of the blackout so we lit candles and hung out on the couch, looking at the lit buildings closer to the beach, talking until the power returned.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Confronting the Red Lines and Self-Doubt
I read through my story twice after letting it simmer and stew for a good week. And it was AWFUL!!! I sat on the couch, red pencil in hand, scratching though lines and paragraphs, wondering how on Earth I ever came up with that. The 22 pages now look like they lost a battle, suffering hundreds of nasty red wounds in the process. (Much like one of the characters in the story itself.) And yet it was good for me to do this. Re-reading gave me the chance to figure out what worked and what didn't, maybe re-arrange the placement of certain actions within the timeframe of the story or even to re-write and flesh out specific scenes, and I found myself getting into the process.

Then, Jef's email arrived with a long list of questions. My heart sank. Was the story really that bad? Was is unbelievable? Did I fool myself into thinking that I actually had a shot at trying to write something anyone would want to read?

I tend to be very good at self-defeat and wanted then and there to burn the pages and erase the files from my Flash drive. It would have been so easy, too!! But I thought back to all those New Years resolutions and promises made and neglected about getting something published. No one but me was saying that this would never pass for a story so why all the Debbie Downer nonsense?

Jef thought it a good take on zombies, that it just needed some parts to be expanded, others shortened, and he posed questions that made me think about what the characters would really do. And, you know what? The questions made sense. And I feel energized, that this story -- once the re-hashing and re-writing are over -- has as good a chance as any to be included in the anthology.

Now, I just need to get it done!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Book Review: The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch by Joseph Delaney

Young Thomas Ward was born the seventh son of a seventh son, and being such, he's saddled with trying to find a profession for himself. After all, his oldest brother Jack would inherit the family farm, and his other siblings had been married off or found suitable employment. But with the help of his Mam -- who knew he was born for a specific purpose -- Thomas is about to become the apprentice of Old Gregory, The Spook.
Old Gregory spends his days traveling the county, warding away ghosts and ghasts, protecting homes from boggarts, and doing away with the occasional witch. His days are numbered, though, and he needs someone to whom he can pass his duties -- and it can only be the seventh son of a seventh son. Reluctantly, he takes young Thomas on, teaching him the basics of the lonely life of a Spook. And Thomas has a lot to learn, especially when he unwittingly releases the evil witch Mother Malkin from her confinement. With Old Gregory lured away, can he defeat Mother Malkin on his own, or will he end up like the Spook's last twenty-nine apprentices?

Jospeh Delaney's novel is a fun adventure tale, geared more toward the young adult crowd, but I think everyone will enjoy it. He presents some great characters: Thomas Ward, who possesses some special gifts, seeing as he's the seventh son of a seventh son, and is trying to cope with being away from his family for the first time; Old Gregory, The Spook who dreads trying to train yet another apprentice only to possibly lose this one, too; and Mother Malkin, with glowing eyes and skin ravaged by worms, determined to seek revenge on the one who confined her. Sometimes Thomas comes across a bit too thoughtful and cautious, moreso than I think a young boy his age would be. Rather than dragging the story down, it actually makes his character more likable, taking time to consider all his options before acting on them.

I enjoyed the story, as well, getting caught up in the action scenes of Thomas forcing himself to enter a dark, quiet forest at midnight on his own (creepy enough when you're an adult) or battling ghosts in an abandoned house. Each scene is paced well and not overly long, so that by the end of one chapter, I had to find out what happened next, and didn't put the book down until I finished it. Best of all, the story doesn't talk down to kids. Thomas may be frightened, he may be facing a new world on his own, but he's smart, he takes the time to consider everything rather than act rashly without preaching to the reader that this is how you should act.

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch is a fun read, perfect for anyone wanting to take a stab at reading horror for the first time -- not too scary and filled with lots of action. (And witches, boggarts and ghosts.)

The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch
by Joseph Delaney
Greenwillow Books/HarperTrophy
ISBN: 0-06-076620-4
softcover, 358pp.

purchased book

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie-ish Music

I've always been a fan of movie scores. Sometimes, the soundtracks, but I prefer the orchestral music that sometimes hides behind the actions of a scene, fixing the emotions to match the interaction on screen. Think John Williams and the approach of the shark in Jaws. Think Ennio Morricone as the lone gunman Blondie runs into the bandit Tuco in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's this music that brings you back to the movie whenever you hear it.
And I've recently found a music group that writes and performs such music -- only without the movie. E.S. Posthumus manages to evoke the same cinematic feel with their songs. When I fist listened to Kalki, the first track on their Makara CD, it reminded me so much of an epic, swashbuckling action film (complete with clashing swords on Unstoppable) that I went online to look for the movie from where the music came, only to realize that no such movie existed. I think this is the first time I've ever felt that someone should make a movie simply to fit the music! And each song -- even their versions of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and J.S. Bach's Saint Matthew Passion -- evoke the same response with me.

I definitely going to find more of their albums so thank goodness CD Baby carries quite a few of them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Eating Out for a Cause

One thing Caesar and I seem to enjoy doing more and more is eating out. Yes, we both cook every now and then, but after a long, hard day at the office, its such a treat to have someone else cook for us and to clean up after out mess. So when the opportunity arose to put our favorite after work event to good use, we jumped at the chance.
Tonight, we participated in the C.A.R.E. to Dine Program, a fundraiser for the C.A.R.E. Program which provides benefits and services to the HIV/AIDS Community in Long Beach. For the past few years, they've chosen one night in August for people to check out local restaurants, with 20% of the day's monies donated to the C.A.R.E. program, one of the largest HIV specialty providers on LA County. We partook last year at a little Mexican restaurant not too far from the apartment, but this time, we found a little BBQ joint on the list that we've always wanted to try: Johnny Rebs'. So I called our friend Clark and met him after work to "put some South in [our] mouth" as their slogan says.

The restaurant's located in the northern part of Long Beach, and if you aren't looking for it, you might just pass it. It resembles a bit shack, with slats of wood for siding and a dirt parking lot. But you step inside, and the aroma of bbq and roasting meats fills your nostrils, and your mouth begins watering. Clark was already at a table, cracking peanuts and tossing the shells on the floor. (The floor was littered with them.) We joined him, ordering mason jars of 7-Up and iced tea while browsing through the menu. Caesar and I decided on the Blues Plates Special -- a 3-course meal for two -- and Clark ordered the BBQ baby back ribs (with potato salad and macaroni and cheese). Our meal came with a starter, and we chose the onion rings. We shared with Clark who ordered a half portion of the deep fried pickles, which were fantastic.

As for the main dishes, my roasted chicken salad was huge and tasty; Caesar's pulled BBQ pork plate (also with ma and cheese) looked deceptively small (but he barely managed to finish it); and Clark's ribs, well, let's just say he didn't finish the entire plate though he tried. Everything was delicious, and that BBQ sauce was so tangy and spicy that we poured it on everything. I doubted we could eat anything more, but we still had dessert coming so we ordered the banana pudding with Nilla Wafers, and Clark tried the peach cobbler.

All I will say is that I don't think I need to eat anything for the next few days. My stomach would probably burst if I even drank a sip of water.

The sacrifices we make for charity....

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Oskar Schell and his Father shared a special relationship, filled with puzzles and games and fantastic stories such as the one of a mythic sixth borough in New York that used to sit right where Central Park is now until it floated away inch by inch. That all changed one day in September 2001, when the World Trade Center was struck, and his father died along with so many others. Now, a year later, he's still trying to cope not only with the death of his father, but how his Mother and Grandmother and the world around him have changed.

One day Oskar enters his Father's closet, someplace he hadn't been in quite a long time, and spies a blue vase high up on a shelf. He tries to get it down, causing it to fall and break instead. Clearing up the mess, he finds an envelope with the word "Black" written on the front, and inside a key. But a key to what? Could this be one last puzzle from his Father? Key in hand, he sets off on a quest around the five boroughs of New York to discover the lock into which this mysterious key fits and what mystery it holds for him.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close tells a very touchy story without pussyfooting around the topic of 9/11. It happened, and people need to deal with it and its consequences, just like Oskar does throughout his quest. Through his eyes, we learn not only how he lives with those events, but how his Mother -- and probably hundreds like her -- dealt with the loss of a loved one in the World Trade Center, posting a picture of him as one of the missing, the funeral without a body, getting on with living. What's great about this book is the characters: Oskar, who has a brain for facts and figures and tells things as they are; his Mother, helping him the only way she knows how by letting him find his own way; his Grandmother who suffered through the bombing of Dresden and with whom he keeps in constant contact via a baby monitor; Ruth Black who lives on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building; a Mr. Black who lives in the same building as Oskar, but has never left his apartment. Each one has a unique story, but at the same time, hints at a similar understanding to what Oskar's going through, dealing with loss.

At times, I had trouble following some of the unaddressed letters that appeared sprinkled here and there. I wasn't sure who wrote them or to whom they were addressed (though some of that was cleared up by the end of the book). I also thought the pictures and layout of some of the text -- a single sentence at the middle of the page, for example -- might be too gimmicky, but instead, they enhanced the story. Especially the series of photos at then end of the book; those gave me a smiling sense of hope.

A great story with wonderful characters and great writing. I found myself caught up in the story and Oskar's quest, and I think many readers will, too.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
by Jonathan Safran Foer
Mariner Books
ISBN: 0-618-71165-1
softcover, 355pp.

purchased copy

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

This year hasn't been as big a movie year for us. NO big blockbusters angling for our dollars. Nothing we'd go out of our way to see or that couldn't wait until DVD. (Though I do want to see Inception on the big screen.) When either of us suggests going to see a film, we hem and haw, and eventually give up and watch TV. With that said, we did manage to agree on a film and dragged ourselves from the apartment to see The Girl Who Played with Fire on Saturday.
The Girl Who Played with Fire takes place a year after Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander uncovered the truth about the disappearance of Harriet Vagner. Lisbeth has been in hiding with her newly found wealth, but decides that she needs to return home, back to her former life in Stockholm.As she unpacks and slowly begins to reconnect with the few people she considers friends, she finds herself being hunted by the police, implicated in three murders that all link to her in some way. The first two -- a reporter for the magazine and his girlfriend -- were working on a story involving sex trafficking that they had planned on publishing in Millennium magazine, currently the home magazine of Mikael Blomkvist. The other murder involved her abusive guardian Nils Bjurman. Lisbeth sets out to clear her name and to find out the identity of the mysterious Zala, finally asking help from the one person she truly trusts, Blomkvist. But are they both ready for the truths about both the murders and Lisbeth's past that they may uncover?

A good film, perhaps a bit slower paced than the first movie in the trilogy. I think many second films are like that, slower so as to establish more of the story and to set up the third part. We learn much more of Lisbeth's background, especially about her father and how she came to be under the government's protection, and the movie ends with more questions being asked and only a very few being answered.

Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth) and Michael Nyqvist (Mikael) were great, as they were in the first film. Lisbeth is such a dark character, and Rapace portrays her with such ease that whoever is chosen to play her in the English-language remake has some tough shoes to fill.

The only real drawback for me was the subtitles. Once again, they used dull white letters which at times disappeared into the film so that I couldn't follow certain scenes. It didn't ruin the story, but it was a bit frustrating.

Image from IMP Awards.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Pardon the dust....

I decided it was time to change the blog template to something more in line with my personality. What could be better than books?! Changing the template was surprisingly easy, and I like the way it looks.

That's it. A short, simple post. You may resume your regular blogging duties.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Book Review: Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory

I think -- no, I know that I own too many books. Caesar looks at the overflowing shelves in the guest bedroom then sighs and shakes his head as he passes me in the hallway. I can't help that part of my book addition, though I've tried to quit cold turkey from buying more. And we all know how well that works. (Forgive me, Father, for I purchased two more of the evil bindings of paper and ink yesterday.) However, one thing I can do to curtail some of my spending is to use the local library. It's down the street, not even two blocks from the apartment. AND I can request books online and either pick them up at my local branch or have them mailed to the apartment. How awesome is that?!
Del Pierce's life changed when he was 5 years old. Back then, he was one of the many people who became possessed by a demon. Most of the possessions lasted a brief period of time, but not Del's. His encounter with the demon known as the Hellion, who took over 5 or 6 year-old boys and made them throw tantrums or shoot a slingshot with such accuracy as to knock a person's glasses off, didn't end when Del's mother somehow managed to help Del control the presence.

But that was back then. Demons still jump around from person to person, sometimes acting altruistic like The Truth who abhors liars or sometimes more deadly like The Little Angel who haunts hospitals and whose kiss brings death. Incidents of the appearances are commonplace in the world. But the Hellion disappeared completely. And now, Del fears his demon may be aiming for a comeback via Del himself.

At night, he has to restrain himself for fear of what he might do. And the noises in his head are becoming more and more frequent visitors. Del sets out to find some way to stop the demon, but will he be able to handle the truth about the Hellion once he uncovers it?

I enjoyed Pandemonium. Author Daryl Gregory creates an alternate world, in which possessions are an everyday occurrence and have been for longer than anyone cares to remember. Not only that, but sci-fi author Philip K. Dick plays a major character, or rather, the demon Valis who possesses him does. For the most part, I found myself caught up in this world; then, in a passing moment, mention is made of Eisenhower's assassination, and I was left scratching my head, wondering what the heck that was all about. Fortunately, my confusion was cleared up, but much later in the story than I would have hoped.

As for the characters, I thought the mini Demonology chapters did a fine job of illustrating each of the major demons: The Captain's sudden appearance during a battle in India 2004, The Truth's in the courtroom of the O.J. Simpson trial, and others. Great vignettes, all of them. Also, Del Pierce provided a great glimpse into a man on the brink of sanity, struggling to keep himself in check while the world around him tells him that there's nothing anyone can do for him.

A thrill ride of a book, managing to mix sci-fi, horror, fantasy, mystery and thriller into one engaging story. Highly recommended.

by Daryl Gregory
Ballantine Books/Del Rey
ISBN: 978-0-345-50116-5
softcover, 283pp.

borrowed from the Long Beach Public Library

Just a Small Salad; I'm on a Diet

I tried out my new glasses last night. Vision through the left eye was almost perfect, sharp and clear no matter how near or far. The right eye saw everything in the distance with a bit of blur around the edges. Put those two together, and my eyes hurt, distances seemed distorted, and I constantly shoved the glasses back up the ridge of my nose hoping to make things clearer.

So while at dinner, I ordered a small chicken caesar salad from Hof's Hut and thought perhaps my glasses were playing tricks on me when the waitress set the salad bowl on the table. Two large tomato wedges, a handful of lettuce and a small grilled chicken breast. The entire salad was smaller than Caesar's dinner salad, only without the shredded carrots, sliced cucumber and most of the lettuce. We both stared at my excuse for a salad with surprise. I removed my glasses, wiped the lenses, but my salad was still just enough to feed a rabbit. A very small rabbit.

I ate it anyway, if only to silence my growling stomach.

But the real shocker was that my tiny meal cost more than Caesar's, and he had salad, a crock of soup and something from the bakery. To make up for it, I ordered a slice of red velvet cake. Can't leave a restaurant on an empty stomach.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Book Review: Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

I've been on a quest, of sorts, the past few year: to read each book on Publishing Triangle's 100 Best Lesbian and Gay Novels. So far, I've worked my way through 61 of the books (and 39 from the companion list of the best chosen by site visitors). I don't believe that I've written reviews for them all, but I'm trying my best. Hopefully, this brief review for Bastard Out of Carolina (#29 on the list) will make up for those that I've neglected.
Growing up in the poor part of South Carolina in the 1950s can be hard on anyone. No one understands this better than the Boatwright clan. A family full of hard-drinking men and strong women, they have a reputation around Greenville County for being hard to handle. No one understand this more than little Ruth Anne Boatwright, known simply as Bone to family and friends. She was born a bastard, with the birth certificate to prove it. And she's a tough little TomBoy, much to the delight of her Aunt Raylene and her cousins.

Her mother Anney's been working hard to keep her and her younger sister in food and clothes. Things start to look up when Anney falls for Glen Waddell, and they move in together as a family. But life begins to slowly change for Bone. Daddy Glen starts coming after her in subtle ways, trying to make her fell as if she were the cause of all his problems. She does what she can to stay away from him, which angers him more. When Daddy Glen goes one step too far, Bone take matters into her own hands, with devastating consequences.

At first, Bastard Out of Carolina seems like a standard story of life in 1950s through the eyes of a young girl. We follow along with her as she learns about her family, explores the world of gospel music by befriending a young girl whose family works with the musicians on the road, navigates the social structure of the South, and tries to find her own identity as Ruth Anne. But snaking through the background, Dorothy Allison hints at something darker, a violent, tenuous triangle between Bone, Anney and Daddy Glen that threatens to snap at any moment. That final snapping and its surprising revelations and consequences are what make this more than an average coming-of-age tale.

Bastard Out of Carolina
by Dorothy Allison
Plume/Penguin Group
ISBN: 0-452-26957-1
softcover, 309pp.

purchased book

Monday, August 02, 2010

Pardon Me, Boy, Is This the Transylvania Station?

We escaped from Long Beach yesterday evening for some fun in LA, beginning with an early dinner at Home in Los Feliz. And it turned out to be a nice evening for it: sitting outside on the patio, enjoying a chicken pomodoro sandwich with sweet potato fries and sampling some of Caesar's chicken curry sandwich (which was delicious). I didn't particularly enjoy the gaggle of gays talking loudly about how many bowls they'd smoked the night before or bragging about which TV show they were going to loiter in the background of be on in the near future. I could feel my eyes rolling to the back of my head whenever one of them would cackle.

After dinner, we headed to Wacko just to check out all the neat little trinkets and doodads and gizmos they had in stock. And I walked away with a little Shake-A-Tongue figure called Slow Speed who now sits next to my tikis on the office desk. (Yet another collectible I don't really need, but what they hey?)

From Wacko, we drove to the Pantages for the main event of Sunday night: Young Frankenstein.
Too make a long story short, this musical follows much of Mel Brooks' classic comedy Young Frankenstein: Frederick Frankenstein travels from New York to Transylvania to clean up some loose ends at his Grandfather Victor's castle. He finds the infamous lab and discovers that the rumors about his uncle's attempts to bring dead tissue to life were true, and embarks on his own quest to complete his Grandfather's work.

And hilarity ensues.

Or tries to, anyway.

I didn't find the first act as funny as most in the audience did. Much of the jokes seemed forced; sometimes they hit the mark, other times, they missed by quite a bit. Sitting in the audience, I felt as though I were sitting in the audience of a show rather than getting caught up in the story. But the second act, where they re-enacted the Hermit's cottage and the "Puttin' on the Ritz" scenes, had me laughing out loud. The songs weren't all that memorable -- with the exception of Puttin' on the Ritz from Irving Berlin.

The dancing, however, from the Transylvania Mania to the shadow play of Puttin' on the Ritz, was incredible and ingenious. And all the actors were phenomenal: Shuler Hensley as The Creature, Joanna Glushak as Frau Blucher, Anne Horak as Inga, Cory English as Igor and Roger Bart as Frederick Frankenstein. (He played the part with a wonderfully subtle yet deranged touch.)

I'm glad to have seen it, if only to say that I was able to see Roger Bart perform. But I doubt that I would want to see it again.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Look Into My Eyes

Another visit to the ophthalmologist on Wednesday. Another round of sticking my head into a box with one eye closed while trying to spot the tiny flashing light. More drops in the eyes to expand the iris. Semi-blurry letters and numbers projected at the end of a long, darkened room. Why do I put myself through this torture every six months?!

Oh yeah, I'm a glaucoma suspect, that's why.

My eyes turned out to be okay, but new glasses were in order. I chose a nice, thin frame with clip-on sunglasses that should be ready within the week. The doctor also suggested...drum roll, please...reading glasses. That, or bi-focals. You see, I'm nearsighted, but if I need to read something small like a town name on a map, I lift my glasses and bring the map closer to my face.

Reading glasses sound ideal because I can pick up a pair at any drug store. But the whole idea solidifies the notion that I really am getting older. Ugh....