Saturday, October 29, 2011

Quickie Book Review: The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to read an older tale of horror, The Great God Pan. Arthur Machen wrote and published the novella in 1894 and though it was denounced by critics when it first appeared due to the sexual and degenerate nature of the story, future horror masters such as H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King have come to consider it a classic in the horror genre.

A young woman named Mary -- a foundling picked up off the streets by one Dr. Raymond -- becomes the unwitting subject in an experiment to allow a human to see what many consider to be the "real world", a wondrous place in which nature and all manner of creatures live just beyond the veil of what humans normally see. Witnessed by Dr. Raymond and his colleague Mr. Clarke, Mary wakens from the experiment, her eyes appearing to focus on something beautiful and far away. But soon her expression changes to horror, and she collapses to the floor in a fit of madness.

Time passes and Mr. Clarke runs into a beggar who turns out to be an old chum. They walk together, and Clark learns of how his friend wound up in such dire circumstances. His friend tells him of his wife, a strange woman named Helen, who many claim to be beautiful and yet no one enjoys being in her presence. A sinister air hangs about her person and their home. She ruined him, he claims, and then disappeared. Clarke investigates further, and tales of madness and unexplained deaths surrounding a similar woman begin cropping up. Curious if she is somehow connected to the events with Mary, he questions Dr. Raymond about that night. The Doctor warns him to leave things be before something happens to him. Clarke, however, is determined to uncover the truth.

Perhaps not as horror-filled by today's standards, The Great God Pan still manages to evoke chills not by blood and gore, but by providing moods and glimpses of evil. It's as if you notice something's not quite right, something that you can't see or explain, but you can't pinpoint it. The story works on your mind, wreaking havoc with your fears and imagination until you can't escape. That unknown element is probably more terrifying than knowing that a vampire or a zombie or some familiar creature is lurking about.

The Great God Pan is quite an unnerving tale and has earned its place as a classic horror tale. If you've not read it, I recommend checking it out.

The Great God Pan
by Arthur Machen
Project Gutenberg
eBook, 57 pages


downloaded eBook from Project Gutenberg.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dancing Machine

After almost a year of waiting, we finally scored some tickets to one of tv's hottest shows, Dancing with the Stars. If you watched last night's results show, you may have spotted us way up in the top balcony about 20-30 feet from the celebrities' waiting room. But the event started much earlier for us, watching the previous night's dances, complete with Maks' blowup with Len. I felt it would make for a particularly interesting results show.

The tickets had a time of 3:30 PM listed for when we needed to be at the studio, but we took it upon ourselves (after reading accounts from others who had attended tapings) to arrive earlier. Like 11:00 AM. We parked at The Grove, watched Mario Lopez interview random people for his TV show, ate a fine breakfast at The Farm of Beverly Hills -- all organic foods -- then made our way toward the line just outside the CBS Studio gates.

Lucky for us, we were near the front of the line which at least seemed to guarantee us standing room inside the studio. As we waited, the line gradually grew longer, stretching almost all the way down Fairfax to The Grove Dr. The fun part was critiquing the outfits of those passing through our crowd of elegantly dressed folks to the other side of the street where people waited to be seated for The X-Factor.

Shortly after 3:30 came and went, we were allowed behind the gates to an area with hard metal benches where we sat for another hour. But while we waited, J.R. Martinez passed through the crowd, singing autographs and receiving many well wishes for his dance from the night before. At 4:45, they herded us slowly and methodically into the studio, and we wound up on the uppermost balcony just above the seating area for the celebrities. I admit a little bit of vertigo struck me as we looked over the edge onto the stage and the crowd below. But I got over it somewhat as we had to stand for most of the taping.

Before the show officially began, we watched them film a dance segment to be shown during the broadcast, then they blasted the music and invited people to the dance floor for a bit of fun. As Party Rock Anthem thumped through the soundstage, Ricki Lake appeared in the celebrity booth. We caught her attention and waved, then the other celebrities slowly made their way into the booth. We shouted names, waved, and made complete fools of ourselves -- though Caesar takes the top prize for that, spotting Chris Jenner as she arrived, pointing and shouting her name. Which caused her to look up, so we all waved as she smiled and waved back.

Then, at exactly 6:00 PM Pacific, the live broadcast began, and we watched all the work that goes into crafting a live, one-hour show. We watched J.R. and Karina Smirnoff repeat their dance from the previous night, listened to Martina McBride perform live, and were disappointed when Chas was eliminated.

The acoustics inside weren't as good as I thought they would be, and I had a difficult time hearing the hosts or anyone else speaking. But we still enjoyed the show and would definitely want to try for tickets again.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Harbor by John Ajvide Lindqvist

The island of Domarö has a long and storied history, and tales are told of how the island slowly appeared to rise from the water and how the sea and the people lived in a strange sort of harmony. Anders and his wife Cecilia are two such people, living in a place know as the Shack -- a building of strange angles and drafty windows, but a nice little place right on the water -- built by his father Johan. One winters day, Anders and Cecilia, along with their daughter Maja, travel across the frozen waters to the lighthouse at Gåvasten, and while exploring the tower which seems to sprout from the very rock of the island, Maja disappears without a trace. No screams, no footprints, no signs of struggle. She simply vanishes.

Two years later, Anders returns to Domarö, trying to put his life back together after Cecilia left him. He returns to the Shack and soon begins feeling that he's not alone, that his daughter Maja is somewhere in the house, playing hide and seek. With the help of Simon, an old magician who has a romantic history of his own with Anders' grandmother Anna-Greta, Anders tries to piece together what he's been feeling inside the shack. But he uncovers darker tales that lie just beneath the happy surface of life on Domarö, tales of strange disappearances throughout the history of the island. As their stories comes to light, stranger events happen across Domarö, people turning angry for no reason or those who had disappeared suddenly re-surfacing on the island to wreak havoc. And Anders soon learns why the islanders fear the lighthouse at Gåvasten.

Unlike many horror novels, Harbor isn't filled with blood and gore or terrifying nightmarish creatures presented to scare the wits out of the reader. Instead, it offers a fully-drawn background of Domarö, its inhabitants, and the lighthouse at Gåvasten. The history intertwines with the present, and as the reader uncovers the past, the horror of what happened and continues to happen slowly bubbles beneath the surface, creating tension that seems to permeate every page of the book. Plus, it includes subtle twists that makes the reader unsure of which characters to trust and what defines good and bad, making the horror aspect all the more effective. For fans of horror, this is a must read.

Harbor
by John Ajvide Lindqvist
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-68027-5
hardcover, 500 pgs.


received book from the publisher

Friday, October 21, 2011

Quickie Book Review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

Margaret Prior decides to perform volunteer work at Victorian London's Millbank Prison, providing services as a Visitor to the women's facility. She needs something to do after her failed suicide attempt to keep her mind busy, and though her mother doesn't like the idea of her daughter spending her time at a prison, Margaret finds comfort in her new duties.

During one of her rounds, she notices a solitary inmate, sitting in a semi-dark cell and clandestinely admiring a small flower within her hand. She learns from one of the prison matron's that the woman is Selina Dawes, currently being held due to a séance gone wrong. Intrigued, Margaret takes it upon her self to learn more about Miss Dawes and begins spending more time with her. As the days and weeks pass, Margaret discovers that she is more than simply intrigued by Selina and her world of ghosts and spirits, and as her infatuation grows, so does her plan to find some way to free Selina from Millbank.

The story is told through the pages of Margaret's diary so in a grand way, that affected my desire for Margaret to be happy. Reading her thoughts about her family, how her view of the world changed after her suicide attempt, her delight at the new-found experiences with Selina -- it makes the connection with Margaret that much easier and in turn tricks you into believing and feeling just as she does.

What makes Affinity work for me is what I would consider the twist near the end. I know that I should have seen it coming, but the story of Margaret and her interest in Selina and her connection with the spirit world had me so wrapped up that I found myself mentally nudging Margaret forward to pursue the relationship, always seeing the happy ending, just as Margaret did. But that twist....

It's a wonderful novel, filled with characters so well crafted you can almost sense yourself walking around Millbank with them. And the story drags you in and keeps you in its clutches until the very end, like a good story should.

Affinity
by Sarah Waters
Riverhead Books
ISBN: 1-57322-873-7
trade paperback, 352 pgs.


purchased book

Image from LibraryThing.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Badges

Yes, I like those silly electronic badges. Most of them are nothing more than images, but a few do come with benefits, such as the one offered by Perry Ellis which provides special perks to people who have unlocked their badge.

The ones that keep me checking in, though, are the badges earned by completing a specific number of requirements, like going to ten movies or eating at three food trucks. So I was surprised during our vacation when I checked in at a hiking trail and earned the Great Outdoors badge (pictured). I have no idea what exact chain of check-ins lead to this one popping up. Some combination of beaches, parks, plazas, lakes, and other outdoorsy things, I would guess. Let's face it, I'm not Mr. Adventurer who spends every free moment out of doors. I like my books and the computer and the Wii and spending time with my butt plopped onto the couch watching cheesy movies on the SyFy channel.

If foursquare feels I did something outdoorsy enough to unlock the badge, who am I to argue?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Walking Not To Forget

Caesar and I joined his niece and a few other family members at Rainbow Lagoon in downtown Long Beach yesterday morning for the Walk to End Alzheimer's. I feel like I should describe the different community groups with tables to provide information regarding their services or the hundreds of walkers -- from children to grandparents -- who decided to spend their Sunday morning helping to raise money or the inspirational words from Mrs. California USA and from the Vice-Mayor of Long Beach. But all I want to talk about is one table at the event. One tiny piece of particle board with stacks of large, paper flowers and piles of black Sharpees. For me, this single table made this particular fundraising walk different from the others.

The volunteers separated the flowers into four stacks, each color representing a specific reason why someone was walking. The orange flowers stood for those working as allies in the fundraising -- maybe it was a community service project or a school organization creating a team or perhaps someone just felt like walking and raising money. The yellow ones represented those who know, live, work with, love, care for someone with Alzheimer's. The purple were for those who had a loved one pass away from complications brought about by Alzheimer's. And the blue were the most special, presented only to those walkers who were themselves living with Alzheimer's. On each flower, walkers were encouraged to write something to express why they were walking or who they were walking for.

I asked for a yellow and a purple.

On the yellow, I wrote the name of my Grandmother and of Caesar's Mother. My Grandmother, who recently turned 93, now lives within a few miles from my parents. When she first started showing signs of Alzheimer's, my parents moved her from Ventura to a senior assisted living building not too far from their home, and from there, to a smaller facility, specializing in care for those with Alzheimer's. She still makes jokes, she still remembers people and places from her younger days. But she doesn't recognize my Mom though she visits almost every day.

On the purple, I wrote the name of my Great-Grandmother. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's while I was just reaching double digits. I remembered our trips to her apartment -- not even half a mile from where I currently live. My brother and I loved watching her old tv (a small black and white screen set high in a walnut cabinet with a large built-in speaker beneath the set). I don't remember when things changed. One day she was living in the apartment, the next my Mom and Dad were making arrangements for her to move into an assisted living facility in Huntington Beach. Neither my brother nor I liked that place. It seemed more a hospital than a home. The air smelled of medicine. The "guests" sat alone in wheels chairs in the hallways or lay in their hospital beds. The two of us would say hello to Great-Grandma then hurry outside, afraid the air would smother us. My parents didn't care for the place, but it was what the family could afford, and it was close to both my family and my Aunt and Uncle.

Great-Grandmother disappeared on more than one occasion, somehow opening the "locked" front doors during the night and walking down the street. My parents received many calls from the police, and we head to the area around the hospital and search for her. Then one day, they received the call. My brother and I were allowed to attend the service but were driven to my Aunt and Uncle's house before the burial took place.

During the walk's opening ceremony, they had everyone raise their flowers, telling us that we were planting a garden of hope by walking. Hoisting those flowers brought back all the memories of my Great-Grandmother, what she endured, what my Grandmother is going through today. And I knew why I was walking.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

No, not Christmas. October means Hallowe'en and all things ghastly, ghouly and zombie-riffic. It also means that my reading focuses more on horror tales that normal. I've already finished four such novels, including Henry VII: Wolfman by A.E. Moorat (which I will review soon). And to help usher in those feelings of terror, the chill that pour down your spine and force the goosebumps on your arms, I'm posting a video of a favorite song from "Weird Al" Yankovic's In 3-D album: Nature Trail to Hell in 3-D. (Note: this is not an official video)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book Review: Midnight Movie by Tobe Hopper

I did a double take when I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble. Tobe Hopper...Didn't he direct The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? I plucked it from the shelf and thumbed through, intrigued that the director of such a classic horror film had written a novel -- with the help of Alan Goldsher (author of Paul Is Undead). Perfect timing, too, as I needed reading material for the trip so I purchased and downloaded an e-copy.

For most of the flight from LAX to Honolulu, my eyes were glued to my nook, quickly flipping through the pages of what turned out to be an interesting horror story.

In Midnight Movie, a film fanatic named Dude McGee has discovered the very first horror film ever directed by Tobe Hooper, the mastermind behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and decides to screen it at the SXSW festival in Austin. He eagerly invites Tobe to attend the screening and to speak afterwards. The problem, though, is that Tobe doesn't remember much about the film: the story, the filming, almost nothing save for the title, Destiny Express. But he reluctantly agrees to show up anyway.

At first, the screening seems to be running smoothly, even if the "movie house" turned out to be a divey little bar far from the main SXSW activities. The crowd seems to be getting into it, almost mesmerized by the dreadful acting and story playing across the makeshift screen. Slowly, however, Tobe notices things aren't quite right with the crowd. The bartender, for example, becomes quite violent. Or how about the young woman who suddenly grabs Tobe wanting sex then and there. But once the movie ends, the crowd returns to normal.

Or so it seems. Soon after the crowd goes home, strange things begin to happen around Austin. A mysterious STD appears that turns bodily secretions blue. A rash of violence and destruction spreads through the city. Random people turn into zombies then infect others. A series of fires pop up around the city. And it only gets worse as "The Game", as it begins being called by the press, moves out of Austin to every corner of the United States.

With a small group of the unaffected, Tobe embarks on a mission to stop "The Game" before total chaos breaks out.

I'm a bit on the fence about this book. I liked the idea of using a movie screening as the catalyst for the horrific happenings, similar to The Ring but on a much grander scale. You catch the disease by watching the movie, then the infected spread it around by touch or even by tweeting. But at times, I felt too much was going on. Zombies in this part of the country, random acts of violence here and there, an STD that spread everywhere. Trying to connect those varied strains with the storyline of Destiny Express was, for the most part, in vain; the only thing that made sense were the zombies since those played a large part in Destiny Express. And for the life of me, I never understood why the disease was called "The Game".

The characters are what really make this book work. From the aged director Tobe Hooper who on the surface seems like a forgetful, horny old man but in reality is the protective wiseass of the group to Dude McGee, one of the creepiest and most disgusting individuals in fiction -- once or twice, I thought I caught a whiff of salami in the plane's cabin -- each character has something relatable about them that draws you into the story.

Plus, the pages are ripe with plenty of blood, gore and sex to please the horror fan in me.

Midnight Movie was fun to read, and I would be very interested to see what happens if they tried to turn it into an actual move.

Midnight Movie
by Tobe Hopper
Three Rivers Press
eISBN: 978-0-307-71702-3
electronic, 214 pgs.


purchased eBook

Monday, October 10, 2011

O'ahu: A Short Review

We arrived safely late in the afternoon yesterday. An almost 6-hour flight and a 3-hour time change really tends to wreak havoc, but I wanted to post about the week spent on O'ahu. I thought a brief rundown of what we did would be enough rather than boring you with how much we enjoyed the beautiful weather, the calm beaches, the amazing food, and the wonderful people. No need to rub it in.

Sunday -- The Arrival

We arrived earlier than expected, which meant we couldn't check into the house so we explored a little of the windward side, driving the winding Kalaniana'ole Highway alongside Hanauma Bay and northward towards Waimanalo. On the way back, we stopped for a bite to eat at the Koa Pancake House in Hawai'i Kai. Enough time had passed that we could finally check into the house and settle in.

Monday -- The Birthday

First thing in the morning, we ate at the Koa Pancake House. Again. Macadamia Nut pancakes for me while Caesar ordered the buttermilk stack and a side of fried potatoes. Afterwards, we tried hiking to the top of Koko Head Crater. The trail consists of a set of old railroad ties and tracks heading from a district park up the side of the volcano. And it's worse than any stairmaster you could ever imagine. (A few people even wore weighted vests during the climb!) We only made it halfway before my legs started to give and my asthma kicked in. I'm sure the view from the top was incredible, but it was quite stunning even from our stopping point.

Giving up the hike, we headed to the Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve. This was my favorite spot on the island. Warm, crystalline water filled not only with snorkelers and sunworshippers, but some incredible sea life. We spotted a sea turtle poking its head above water, and I managed to identify three types of fish venturing close to the shoreline. We sat enjoying the view and the water for a good two hours before heading back to the house.

For my birthday, I made reservations at 'Ama 'Ama, one of the restaurants at the Disney Aulani Resort & Spa. The resort is in Ko Olina, nestled among many other resorts. The Aulani is quite a stunning resort, with large towers, open air lobbies, and a slow-moving river in the courtyard complete with rafts. The 'Ama 'Ama is open air and overlooks the private bay that the resort shares with a Marriott and another resort, and our table offered an unobstructed view of the sunset. The food was okay, but if you're like me and have an allergy to walnuts, the menu provides very little for you to enjoy. I can't eat walnuts, but have no problem with cashews, almonds, macadamia nuts, etc. However, the restaurant lumps all those together so any dish that has nuts of any kind is a off limits. Unfortunately, it seemed most of the dishes used nuts in one way or another -- the bread, the sauce for my steak, even the desserts. I was fine with the alternative bread and the replacement sauce for my steak, but the desserts.... We ordered one of two items, in case one or the other had nuts in them. Apparently, five of the six desserts had nuts, and the two we wanted fell into that category, so we were served a coconut (which I hate) panna cotta with awful-tasting pineapple. In my book, the dinner was a bust. Sorry Disney.

Tuesday -- Pearl Harbor

We booked a tour of Pearl Harbor and am glad we did. I doubt either of us could have navigated the roads and found parking for the USS Arizona Memorial or the USS Missouri. Plus, it included the tickets for both so we were able to visit both sites without worrying about standing in line for tickets. A boat carried us from the museums to the memorial, and we read the names along the back wall and watched the "black tears" float through the water to break upon the surface. From the USS Arizona, we toured the USS Missouri, standing on almost the exact spot where Japan surrendered to the United States to end WWII.

Wednesday -- The Luau

With nothing planned until the evening, we slept in then headed for Hawaii's Plantation Village in Waipahu. Our guide, whose parents worked on a sugar plantation in the early part of the 20th century, took us on a 2-1/2 hour walking tour of the different homes that would have appeared on a plantation as well as discussed the migrant workers -- Chinese, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Filipino, Portuguese and Caucasian. We even sampled star fruit, bread fruit and sugar cane.

Before leaving, our guide Lorene recommended we stop by Leonard's Bakery just across the highway for a malasada -- a Portuguese doughnut minus the hole. We found the truck, and each devoured one of the sugar-coated pieces of heaven.

The day ended with Germaine's Luau in Kapolei. At first, we thought we had misread the directions because we were driving through an industrial area filled with scrap yards and mills. But tucked away between them was a beautiful stretch of beach with a stage and tables set up for about 500 guests. We watch the sunset, talked with one of the dancers, then enjoyed the most delicious food. The roast pig, pulled minutes earlier from a pit in the ground, was moist and tender; we piled our plates with not just the pork, but mahi mahi, teriyaki beef, macaroni salad, bread, and whatever else we could fit. The entertainment was fun, displaying dances from different Polynesian cultures and calling guests up to the stage to dance and to have a good time. It turned into one big party.

Thursday -- Education Day

Thursday morning, we started the day at the Bishop Museum then took the Likelike Highway -- a spectacular, winding drive through the rainforest to end up along the stunning beaches of Kaneohe Bay -- to the Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie. In the Center, we rode a canoe through all the different Polynesian villages, then walked along the water to watch a drumming presentation in Tonga, a music celebration in Aotearoa (New Zealand), admire the gigantic head statues of Rapa Nui, and enjoy a canoe pageant featuring dancers from each of the eight cultures represented in the Center. We even toured a bit of BYU Hawai'i and the Mormon Temple.

And yes, I managed to get us lost on the way home, somehow ending up at the military base in Kailua instead of the Kalaniana'ole Highway. It wouldn't be a vacation without a little scenic trip, would it?

Friday -- North Shore

This time, we drove the Kamehameha Highway to the North Shore, stopping in Sunset Beach at Ted's Bakery for a late breakfast. I tried the Loco Moco -- three scoops of white rice topped with a grilled burger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy -- while Caesar enjoyed Ted's Bento Box -- fried mahi mahi, fried chicken, a Kalbi rib, and rice. Next, we stopped at one of the beaches to catch the Pipeline, then headed into Hale'iwa for some shave ice at Matsumoto's.

We ended Friday with probably the most touristy thing of the entire vacation -- the Dole Plantation. We sampled pineapple, rode the Pineapple Express through one of the fields, and shipped quite a few gifts home to our folks. (Spam-flavored macadamia nuts!!)

Saturday -- Rest

We slept in, did laundry, started packing and tidying up the house. For our aloha dinner, we chose Roy's in Hawai'i Kai -- another opportunity to dine while watching the sunset, this time on Maunalua Bay.

Now, we're sorting through our 500+ pictures and getting back into the swing of life on the Mainland. And if you know of any place in Long Beach with malasadas, let us know.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Wish You Were Here

Aloha!

We're having a lovely time on O'ahu.

Koko Head Crater


Trail to Koko Head Crater


Hanauma Bay


USS Arizona Memorial


Wish you were here.

G&C

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Leave a Message

You have reached Greg's blog. Sorry he can't respond to your comments right now, but if you leave your name and a brief message after the YouTube clip, he'll return your comment just as soon as he returns from a relaxing week on the beaches of O'ahu.

Thank you, and have a nice day.