Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blast from the Past

One of my Christmas gifts this year was an album I loved way back in high school: The Hurting from Tears for Fears. I remember overplaying the cassette tape to the point of being able to hear songs from the B side filtering through the songs on the A side. That's how much I listened to it. Putting the CD in my car's player brought all the lyrics back, and I sang along while Caesar looked at me as if I'd lost a marble or two. So here's one of my favorite songs from that ablum -- Pale Shelter.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Favorite Reads of 2012

“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.” ― Joseph Brodsky

I sorted through all the books that I read during the past twelve months. Some are new titles; some are classics. Some LGBT. Many horror (especially zombie-related). And I even read two non-fiction titles. (Don't ask me how that happened.) Forty-four books in all. From that pile, I've created three lists of my favorite reads from 2012. Without further ado....

Favorite LGBT Reads of 2012

  1. The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket by John Weir
  2. Better Angel by Richard Meeker
  3. Death of a Pirate King by Josh Lanyon
  4. Eat Your Heart Out by Dayna Ingram
  5. Frontiers by Michael Jensen

Favorite Horror Reads of 2012

  1. Autumn: Aftermath by David Moody
  2. Ghosts by César Aira
  3. Children of the Night by Dan Simmons
  4. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  5. The Killing Floor by Craig DiLouie

Favorite Reads of 2012

  1. It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
  2. The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket by John Weir
  3. The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
  4. Autumn: Aftermath by David Moody
  5. The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin
  6. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick Dewitt
  7. Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
  8. Ice Palace by Edna Ferber
  9. Better Angel by Richard Meeker
  10. You Can Get Arrested for That by Rich Smith

What are some of your favorites from 2012?

Friday, December 28, 2012

Post-Christmas Post

What a nice vacation -- which accounts for my lack of posting. We've been busy visiting museums, spending Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with his, buying me a new iPhone, and spending the day at Disneyland. And tonight, we're catching a performance of The Addams Family. All in all, we're both exhausted, but in a good way, and I'm looking forward to ringing in the new year.

I hope you and yours enjoyed your holidays, too! And just to keep us in the spirit of the season, this is a picture of a tree from Cars Land, all decked out in auto holiday style:

Monday, December 24, 2012

Favorite CDs of 2012

Once again, it's time for Favorites lists: books, movies, music, etc. so I've culled together my list of Favorite CDs from 2012. (Yes, I said CDs because I still don't own an iPad, iPhone or iPod.) These are CDs that were released and that I purchased during 2012 -- keyword being and. The music covers different genres as well as different countries because I'm eclectic like that.

Anyway....

My 10 Favorite CDs from 2012 are:

  1. Strangeland from Keane
  2. Radio Music Society from Esperanza Spalding
  3. Gossamer from Passion Pit
  4. Vows from Kimbra
  5. Sounds from Nowheresville from The Ting Tings
  6. Walk the Moon from Walk the Moon
  7. A Joyful Noise from Gossip
  8. Not Your Kind of People from Garbage
  9. Magic Hour from Scissor Sisters
  10. Valtari from Sigur Rós

I've been a Keane fan since their debut album Hopes and Fears in 2004. I was wondering if they'd peaked, though, after the release of Night Train in 2010. It felt so lackluster and sounded so different from the rest of their music that I wasn't a fan of the disc. But this year, they came back strong with Strangeland, and I think I played it for two months straight, refusing to remove the disc from my car's player. So here's a video from my favorite song on the CD, Disconnected:

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Archaeologia

The first day of Christmas Vacation, and I woke early, showered, shaved, then hopped in the car to check out Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology exhibit at the Discovery Science Center. Much of the exhibit included props, costumes, movie clips, illustrations, and other art related to the four Indiana Jones movies. However, they also tied all movies together with actual archaeological digs, such as Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines, the Sumerian city of Ur, and local digs from Southern California. And it was surprisingly interactive: before heading into the exhibit, I was given a small video player with a touch screen. Each exhibit had a number that you punched into the unit, and either an audio snippet or a short video played about that exhibit. So learned about the filming of the mine car ride from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and watched a three-minute clip from one of the movies. Plus, the designers added a treasure hunt game that required the treasure hunter to wave the video unit over a pylon which started one of nine mini-puzzles. Solving the puzzles provided a piece to a mask or idol or piece of pottery, and you needed to find all nine pieces scattered throughout the exhibit. Each puzzle also required studying a small part of the exhibits in order to solve. Clever and quite a bit of fun and very easy to not realize I spent a good two hours wandering through the costumes and stelae and bits of pottery and artwork.

It was a great way to spend a few hours on the first day of my vacation. I did snap some pics, but the lack of a flash forced me to discard a few. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week, with a trips to both our families to celebrate the holidays, a visit to Disneyland, and tickets to the musical The Addams Family. Maybe I'll find some time to relax....

Friday, December 21, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Bostonians

by Henry James

Olive Chancellor, a confirmed old maid (at the age of 30), desires nothing more than to see the day when women will earn the right to vote, just as the men do. She attends many lectures and salons of Boston, listening to the great ladies of her day espousing the virtues of allowing women the right to vote and to aid in running the government. Though the talks are edifying, momentum has yet to pick up and spread the women's suffrage movement outside of a few notable cities. And then, while attending one such lecture at the home of Miss Birdseye -- one of the local leaders of the suffrage movement -- Olive hears the voice of young Verena Tarrant. Trained by her parents as a gifted speaker, Verena mesmerizes the small gathering as she speaks, and Olive realizes that Verena is just the voice she has been waiting for to lead the movement. Olive immediately conspires to take Verena under her wing and away from her parents, preparing her for a role as the new voice of the suffrage movement.

One obstacle stands in their way, though: Olive's cousin Basil Ransom, a Southerner visiting from Mississippi with the hope of beginning a law practice in Boston. He happens to be at the same salon, noticing Verena more for her looks rather than her vocal abilities. Something about her lights a fire in his heart, and he sets out to win her heart -- much to the dismay of Olive who vows to keep Verena at the forefront of the suffrage movement any way she can.

What makes the story worth reading is the characters. Olive Chancellor comes across as cold and determined, knowing exactly what she wants and how to get it. Her hold on Verena and her need to mold her into a figurehead of the suffrage movement borders on obsessive, in a Mrs. Danvers kind of way. As for Ransom, he gently laughs away the thought of women having the right to vote, burying his real feelings behind slick Southern charm, and he would like nothing more than to prove to Olive that her struggle will never succeed by making Verena his wife. Two perfectly drawn warriors, and neither is at all likeable -- which may be how James intended it. But I found some mad delight in watching the two of them try to outmaneuver one another, using Verena as the rope in their tug-of-war.

The Bostonians displays this struggle between the two cousins, making for an interesting battle of the sexes played out during the late 19th century. Definitely worth a read.

The Bostonians
by Henry James
A Signet Classic/New American Library
mass market paperback, 370

purchased book

Image from LibraryThing.com.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Finally Finished!

I finally finished inFAMOUS, choosing the Good Karma path and freeing Empire City from the clutches of telekinetic and electricity-wielding overlords. Or something like that. It was both fun and challenging, with a great story, and I liked the fact that the entire environment was used. The hero doesn't finish all the missions in one area then move on, never to return to that area. Toward the end, the hero flies by helicopter to all parts of the city then must fight his way back to the final battle arena. I'm looking forward to inFAMOUS 2 but must finish either Epic Mickey or Alice: Madness Returns before I can even consider starting a new game.

Image from The Game Critique.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mmm.....

This was dinner Saturday night, en route to the Gay Men Chorus of Los Angeles' holiday concert. We stopped at a little burger joint in Pasadena called Slater's 50/50. They offered many traditional burgers with a slight twist, but I opted for something risky, something daring. Take a closer look at the picture: that's not mustard and ketchup -- it's peanut butter and strawberry jelly with two thick, crispy slices of bacon. It's called the Peanut Butter and Jellousy and, before anyone gets grossed out, let me just say here and now that it was delicious! Especially with a side order of deep fried pickles. As we learned later from the manager, the burger also comes à la mode.

The Nutella and Banana Bread Pudding we scarfed down for dessert was equally incredible.

I surprised that we managed to roll out the restaurant door and made it to the theater for the concert. That turned out to be a fun event, too, filled with men in drag, children dancing, carols in Japanese and an unnamed African language, rainbow Santas (one of which was Jewish) tap dancing across the stage, and fantastic singing. We also bought four of their charity Christmas tree ornaments which we plan on giving away this year.

I did enjoy the concert, but I still felt like party crashers, going to an event with so many power gays in attendance. Definitely not the type to have bothered with a peanut butter and jelly burger.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Bifocal

Yesterday was my bi-annual visit to the ophthalmologist. Thankfully, he didn't need to dilate my eyes, but after listening to my vision complaints -- having to lift my glasses in order to read the small text on menus, or any small text for that matter -- he offered the diagnosis. The one which only goes to re-inforce my aching muscles and hard-to-lose paunch: I need bifocals. New lenses with that little demarcation line separating good vision from old-man vision.

The change was inevitable, though, so I'm just going to take my "Big Boy" pill and accept the fact that I'm not aging backwards like Benjamin Buttons. The only bright side is that my new lenses will be progressives, meaning that the long-distance vision and the near vision will be blended into the lens offering a gradual change to my sight. A co-worker wears and loves them, but warns that it will take some time to get used to the change.

As long as I will no longer need to raise my glasses to read, I'll be happy.

Image from mtsofan's Flickr photostream. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Quickie Book Review: The Affinity Bridge

by George Mann

The world of Victorian London is full of dark and mysterious activities, such as the strange plague that rots the body and forces the sufferer to crave human flesh has rattled the nerves of folks in the poorer districts. Meanwhile, sightings of a spectral, glowing policeman who strangles random people has Sir Maurice Newbury -- an agent for the Queen and specializing in the supernatural -- scrambling to find the culprit. In the midst of it all, a dirigible known as The Lady Armitage crashes into Finsbury Park and bursts into flames. Normally, Scotland Yard would handle the investigation, but the Queen has a keen family interest in discovering what happened, so she chanres Sir Maurice and his new assistant, Miss Veronica Hobbes, to scour the wreckage for clues.

Combing the skeletal airship, they come across a group of crash victims restrained to their chairs so that they could not leave. Heading toward the front of the ship, they are unable to locate the pilot of the ship: no body, no skeleton, nothing to indicate that anyone had been steering the airship. Outside the wreckage, the meet with a Mr. Stokes a representative from Chapman and Villiers, one of the leading air transportation services in the country, and that hey had recently begun to use automatons to pilot their airships. Stokes assures Newbury and Hobbes that the automaton could not have malfunctioned. However, the duo sets out on their own investigation to find the missing pilot, and in the process, uncover the dark secret behind the automatons and a possible connection to the glowing policeman.

The Affinity Bridge spins a fun mystery/adventure tale set within the steampunk world of Victorian London. Electric lights, steam-powered airships, zombies, mechanical men -- what a world to explore, and yet author George Mann manages to keep things firmly within the Victorian world. One of my favorite examples of this is Miss Hobbes preferring to use a regular horse and carriage rather than one of those noisy, mechanical contraptions being controlled by drivers who still aren't too comfortable with the technology. Plus, his characters are all well-written and strong, from the unflappable Miss Hobbes (who has dark familial secrets) and the technologically-enthused Sir Maurice to the squirrely and smarmy Mr. Stokes and the unemotional and determined Pierre Villiers -- the creator of the automatons.

My only fault with the novel is the side story of John Coulthard. Introduced in the prologue while serving in the war in India, his character disappears almost immediately after that. His sister happens to be Sir Maurice's receptionist, but the search for him and the reason behind his disappearance don't affect the main story in any way and doesn't have any relevance to it.

But that is very minor in relation to the rest of the book. The Affinity Bridge is a great mixture of mystery and steampunk -- a fun read that I definitely enjoyed.

The Affinity Bridge
by George Mann
A Tor Book/Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
trade paperback, 334 pgs.

purchased book

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Meme of Spo

Sounds an awful lot like a new tarot card suit, doesn't it? The good doctor over at Spo-Reflections developed a little meme of his own and invited readers to take it for a test spin....

Playing video games on the PlayStation is jolly good fun (when not reading or at the theater)!

Tea, wine, or champagne? Tea, please.

How left handed are you? I have one. Does that count?

The loudest item of clothing I have: a white shirt covered in brown tikis that I bought in Honolulu.

The Best Friend: who is s/he? My partner Caesar

I’d rather eat rats in Tewkesbury than... watch one of the Twilight films.

How many of these have you done?:

1. Been to an opera - two, in fact: Faust and Gianni Schichi

2. Read a novel by Dickens - A Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol, and The Cricket on the Hearth

3. Drank Bourbon - no

4. Been to Key West - no, unfortunately

5. Visited The Stratford Festival of Canada - no

6. Spiders give you the heebie-jeebies - only black and brown widows, but I still find them fascinating to watch

7. Been to Michigan - no

8. Rolled down a grass hill - Yes! (and cow tipping)

9. Ate Synder Pretzels - mmm...yes

10. Used the word ‘rubbish” in the past 30 days - no

11. Worn a bow tie - yes, but either as a clip on or pre-tied one as part of my concert band uniforms in high school and college. I've never attempted to tie a bow tie.

12. Have a set of Viking horns - when I was younger, I did. And I think so in college during my freshman year, but that's a bit fuzzy.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Little Bit Country ... A Little Bit Rock 'n' Roll

We made the two-hour trek through traffic last night for the opening performance of Donny & Marie's Christmas in Los Angeles show at the Pantages. We didn't realize it was opening night until we saw the red(dish) carpet and the B- and C-list celebrities posing for pictures. Luckily for us, we managed to sneak by without the paparazzi snapping a pic or two.

I remember growing up and watching the Donny & Marie variety show with the entire family -- one of the few TV shows we all watched. The live show last night brought back all those happy memories as they sang what I consider their theme song followed by Christmas songs and video clips from their past holiday shows. Then, each performed solo, showcasing their styles and takes on music. Marie's country rock take on Jingle Bell Rock was incredibly energetic, and the girl can sing! We were especially impressed when she appeared in a full kimono and sang Un bel di, vedremo from Madama Butterfly. That. Was. AMAZING. I didn't know she had such a vocal range, and she flawlessly hit those high notes. As for Donny, he still has a great voice and can dance rings around the other younguns on stage.

I think what I enjoyed most about the show is how they seemed to have so much fun doing what they do. They joked with each other and even waded into the audience on more than one occasion. Such a great time, and I think we may try to see their show in Las Vegas the next time we head out there.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

On a Rainy Sunday Afternoon

There's nothing better on a rainy day then to have a bunch of friends an family over for a little get together. Throw in some good eats, good drinks, some Tupperware, and the fabulous Kay Sedia, and the weekend will be nothing but a huge success.

Forgive the blurriness of the picture, but that kind of beauty is difficult to photograph. We spent a little over an hour with the fashion model from Tijuana, enjoying her demonstrations of different pieces of Tupperware. Though I will now laugh like a 12-year-old at the mention of a "corkscrew". After the presentation, I truly understood why she's one of the top salespersons in the U.S. Not only did we laugh, but many of us oohed and aahed at some of the items -- like the cheese grater with a built-in measuring cup in the handle, or the can opener that doesn't cut into the metal or touch any of the foodstuffs within the can -- and I think almost everyone bought a few pieces. (I know we're getting a few choice items.)

And the mix of people was fantastic -- my Mom and Sister-in-Law finally met Caesar's Sister and Niece, old friends reconnected, and even a blogger buddy made it to the fiesta! I'm not sure why I'm so exhausted -- all we did was set up the tables and food and allowed Kay to work her magic.