Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Poppin' Fresh

There are so many commercial mascots out there, that narrowing it down this last month was a pretty hard thing to do.  For this last post, I tossed a few around in my head; Snuggle, Ernest J. Keebler, Count Chocula, Mr. Owl, Chester Cheetah, and Dig'em Frog, were all vying for my attention.  I decided on the cutest one of them all, though Snuggle may disagree with that, Poppin' Fresh.  Better known as the Pillsbury Doughboy, Poppin' Fresh is a pop culture staple.

Since I was a kid, Poppin' Fresh has been appearing on my television screen, convincing me that the products he was peddling, were they flakiest, tastiest things around.  I can't look at a crescent roll, biscuit, cinnamon roll, or cookie, without thinking of him.  It doesn't even have to be one of his. If I see a baked good, I hear his giggle  

He's such an adorably cheerful sort of guy, that you can't help but find him cute.  Even if most commercials annoy you, I dare you to sit through one of his, and not smile.  Actually, I double dog dare you.  I can't do it, you can't do it, I bet even Genghis Khan would have cracked a smile or two.  For a little guy who is selling something as filling as baked goods, he has a effervescent lightness to him.  He's bubbly, giggly, and just plain cuddly.

What I find to be the most amazing, is how he can handle random people coming up and poking him in the belly.  Something tells me it's not a sexual thing, he's too innocent for all of that.  I'm just going to assume that he is a true example of the rarest of commodities, a genuinely nice guy.  I have to admire anyone with that much patience

I would keep rambling on about how wonderful, sweet, lively, precious, and scrumptious Poppin' Fresh is, but I think I'm getting hungry for a biscuit.  Or do I want a cookie?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

A quarter century ago, Boston had the dirtiest harbor in America.  The city had been dumping sewage into if for generations, coating the seafloor with a layer of "black mayonnaise."  Fisheries collapsed, wildlife fled, and locals referred to floating tampon applicators as "beach whistles."

In the 1990s, work began on a state-of-the-art treatment plant and a 10-mile-long tunnel - its endpoint stretching farther from civilization than the Earth's deepest ocean trench - to carry waste out of the harbor.  With this impressive feat of engineering, Boston was poised to show the country how to rebound from environmental ruin.  But when bad decisions and clashing corporations endangered the project, a team of commercial divers was sent on a perilous mission to rescue the stymied cleanup effort.  Five divers went in; not all of them came out alive.

Drawing on hundreds of interviews an thousands of documents collected over five years of reporting, award winning writer Neil Swidey takes us deep into the lives of the divers, engineers, politicians, lawyers, and investigators involved int he tragedy and its aftermath, creating a taut, action-packed narrative. The climax comes just after the hard-partying DJ Gillis and his friend Billy Juse trade assignments as they head into the tunnel, sentencing one of them to death.

Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant

One of my biggest joys in having a book blog, is in being able to read nonfiction books I would never have heard of otherwise.  I've always read nonfiction, but in the past, is was on subjects I already knew about, or it was a book someone had suggested, or given to me. Blogging has opened my nonfiction eyes, in ways I never though about, when I started Wordsmithonia.  I've been exposed to people and events I have never heard of, been fascinated by subjects I would never have thought about on my own, and most of all, it's given me a better sense of the way other people view the world.

With Trapped Under the Sea, I feel as if a piece of our country's history, which I would almost bet most people outside of Massachusetts aren't familiar with, has been exposed for all of us to see.  Our national media seems to focus on the latest political scandal, or piece of celebrity gossip.  Stories that should be making national headlines don't.  I think it would be safe to say that more people know about Britney Spears shaving her head, than know the names of the men who lost their lives in the Deer Island tunnel.  And I would also think it's fair to say that even the majority of the people who were exposed to this story in the news, don't remember it now, and probably never knew a ton of the details to begin with.

From what I can gather, this book actually started off as two part story in The Boston Globe Magazine. Running in August of 2009, Swidey delved into the lives of the divers involved, and finally put voice to their story.  What started off as that two piece story, has turned into one of the best examples of narrative nonfiction I've had the privilege to read in quite a while.

Most of you already know that I'm a huge fan of the two Mitchell Zuckoff books that I have read.  Frozen in Time and Lost in Shangri-La, are two of the best examples I can give of what a good narrative flow is in a nonfiction book.  Both, Mitchell Zuckoff and Neil Swidey, have a way of telling a story in its most natural form.  Trapped Under the Sea reads like a well crafted novel.  This is not a dry spewing forth of names, dates, and events.  This is a well written, compelling story of the lives of those affected by the tunnel disaster, and of those that contributed to it's happening.  It's a fascinating look at the decisions that led to this event, and it doesn't shy away from the consequences of it either.  Where most authors may have ended the story at it's logical conclusion, Swidey takes us into the aftermath, chronicling not only the investigation, but how the personal lives of those involved were changed by the events that day.  It doesn't shy away from the messy details, or the negative ways in which the men who survived, spiraled out after the disaster.

I'm sure some are going to read this book as an indictment of the greedy corporate climate, that so many like to point fingers at.  And I'm sure that they would be valid in those thoughts, even if that's not what I took away from this book.  Instead, Trapped Under the Sea, was a celebration of the human spirit and drive that compels so many of us forward..  

It celebrates the men who would even think of going into a 9.5 mile long tunnel under the sea bed.  It glorifies the spirit of those would would do so, even into an environment that has no breathable air, or any safe way out if something were to go wrong.  It makes us proud to be part of a species that can even dream that big, who even thinks of building a tunnel that far out to sea.  It honors all of those who have given up their lives, in the name of human progress and innovation.  It's a testament to what has driven this country since it's founding, but it's also a warning of what happens when the goal becomes more important than the lives of those trying to reach it.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books, for this review.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Lord of Mountains by S.M. Stirling

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Rudi Mackenzie, now Artos the First, High King of Montival, and his allies have won several key battles against the Church Universal and Triumphant.  But still wars rages on, taking countless lives, ravaging the land once know as the United State of America.  Artos and his Queen, Mathilda, must unite the realms into a single kingdom to ensure lasting peace.

If the leaders of the Changed world are to accept Artos as their ruler, he will need to undertake a quest to the Lake at the Heart of the Mountains, and take part in a crowning ceremony - a ceremony binding him to his people, his ancestors, and his land.

Then, once he has secured his place and allegiances, Artos can go forward, and lead his forces to the heart of the enemy's territory....

Book nine of the Emberverse series, and it doesn't look like it will end any time soon.  The tenth book is already out, and at some point in time I really do need to get my hands on it.  Lord of Mountains opens with the ongoing battle with the Church Universal and Triumphant, CUT.  CUT is still being controlled by Sethaz, the son of Theodore Kaczynski, yes the UNABomber.  Of course it appears that a darker power is actually in charge of Sethaz.  A Power opposite of those that anointed Rudi at his birth, and the ones who helped him find The Sword of the Lady.

Rudi and his allies, which there are many now, beat back the CUT forces, and set them running.  It's not as easy as I'm making it sound, and countless men and women lose their lives in the fighting, but it's war so you have to take the long view of things.  Everyone understands that CUT is not gone forever, that Sethaz is still at large, and that the dark powers are still at work.  But right now it's time for Rudi and Mathilda to finalize the allegiances and bonds they have made.  It's for that reason that they journey to the lake, at  it's here that we are given a sneak peek at what the future holds for them.

I'm still not sure I liked that peek into the future.  It took some of the tension out of the air for me, since I knew certain people have to remain alive for the events to happen.  I guess I should consider it a good thing, but I like to have a certain level of unpredictability in my fantasy reading.  At that is my only real criticsim of this book.

Okay, I take that back.  I do have one other negligible gripe, but it's so small, I almost didn't mention it.  When I reviewed The High King of Montival, book eight in the series, I mentioned home the old guard has given away to the new crop of characters.  And it's not like I don't like them, but I wish Mike Havel would have never died, and that Juniper, Eric, Signe, Sandra, the Huttons, and the various other characters that page hogged the first books, would get more page time now.  Those were the characters that got me hooked, and some of them haven't been seen in ages. And now, judging from the synopsis of the next book, this generation of characters is about to take a back seat to their children.  So if Rudi, Mathilda, Father Ignatius, and the rest of their contemporaries are about to be confined to the B bench, what happens to the first group of characters?  I understand series move on, and focus changes, but this series has an over abundance of great characters.  I just wish some of the old timers were still getting their due.

The other point I wanted to touch upon, and it's not one I've made before, but in general, I like the way the author has included gay characters into the series.  Some of the societies treat their gay members better than others, but for the most part, they are included in society, and many hold serious positions of power.  There are numerous gay Mackenzies, but none of them are major characters.  They are accepted and celebrated, and nobody treats them any different.  There is Dr. Aaron Rothman, who is part of the Bear Killers.  Mike Havel saved him during the first migration period after the Change.  This book marked his first appearance in ages, I'm just glad the guy isn't dead.

The Portland Protective Association has the most visible gay characters though.  It's a culture that is dominated by feudal rules and laws, and is heavily influenced by the Catholic Church.  Gay men and women are frowned upon, but considering the characters we are talking about here, nobody will ever say or do anything about it.  Tiphaine d'Ath, is just about the most dangerous and feared women of all the series, and I'm pretty sure nobody wants to be on her bad side.  She is on the good guys side, but even her allies are afraid to step on her toes.  Her lover, Deliah, who is a Wiccan priestess, is admired for her grace and beauty.  Of course those around her don't know she is of the craft.  Of course it helps that she is married to Rigoberte, Baron Forest Grove and Marchwarden of the South.  It's a marriage of convenience since Rigoberte is gay as well.  It gives them both cover, and produces heirs.  And it's created a huge friendship between the three of them.

I'm still waiting for the series to focus on a gay character for a while.  Maybe Rudi's heir could be gay.  He is a Mackenzie so it's not as if he would have a problem with it.  Since I doubt that will happen, I'll have to contented with the gay characters who are there.  Of course in order to enjoy them, I need to get off my ass and get book ten, The Given Sacrifice.  And book eleven, The Golden Princess, comes out later this year.

Other Books In The Series:

Dies the Fire
The Protector's War
A Meeting at Corvallis
The Sunrise Lands
The Scourge of God
The Sword of the Lady
The High King of Montival
The Tears of the Sun

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wordsmtihonia Radio: It's All In The Name

Songs are written for and about people all the time.  There are love songs, break up songs, I hate you songs, and don't call me that songs.  Something about using a person's name, makes the song more personal.  It brings the story to life, and gives the listener something to focus on.  By using a name, it allows the artist to tell a story, and it allows that story to grow in ways it won't otherwise.  So for today's post, I thought I would share some of my favorite songs, that call somebody out by name.  There are a few songs I love, but they won't be included because I've recently used them in other posts.  So this time around you won't see "Jolene" by Dolly Parton or "Take a Letter, Maria" by R.B. Greaves.  But I think you will find that the songs I am including, are just as good.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Clue - 1985

Part of Synopsis From Back Cover:

Was it Colonel Mustard in the study with a gun? Miss Scarlet in the billiard room with the rope? Or was it Wadsworth the butler?  meet all the notorious suspects and discover all their foul play things.  

I could write a really short review.  All I would have to say is, frickin hilarious, and leave it at that.  I don't know how many of you have seen this movie, but I'd be willing to bet anything, that there isn't one of you, that doesn't think this is a frickin hilarious movie.  Between the over the top cast, the terrific writing, and the crazy endings, all three of them, there is so much greatness in this movie, it's hard to contain it all.

For those of you who have never seen it, it's a pretty simple premise.  Groups of strangers are invited to a spooky house in the middle of the country, and of course it's storming outside.  They are given code names; Professor Plum, Mrs. White, Miss Scarlet, Colonel Mustard, Mr. Green, Mrs. Peacock, and after a dinner of monkey brains, they are all revealed to be the blackmail victims of Mr. Body.  Once that information is out, it's not soon after that Mr. Body, and a whole slew of victims start to hit the morgue.  By the end, Mr. Body is joined by 5 others, all of them his accomplices in blackmail.  The the big reveal happens, or does it.  If you saw this movie in the theater, you were treated to one of three completely different endings.  Luckily for us, the home version shows all three.  Just pick your favorite one, and go with it.

You can't talk about this movie without talking about the cast.  It's the actors that make the characters, and they are characters I love so much, I did a Favorite Fictional Character post about them.  Lesley Ann Warren is sexy and funny as Miss Scarlet.  She pulls off the vivacious madame vibe, and ramps up the campiness,  It's sheer perfection.  Martin Mull is perfect as the dimwitted, rather bullish Colonel Mustard.  Madeline Khan is Mrs. White.  And that about all you have to say about her.  Madeline Khan had perfect timing, and could do no wrong. She played the neurotic, slightly crazy role to a height, nobody else could have achieved. Michael McKean, who I normally don't like, embodies the prissy Mr. Green.  While the whole playing gay thing for laughs annoys me, for some reason I'm able to overlook it in this movie.  Maybe because they are all so over the top, it's hard to not find it funny. Tim Curry, can do no wrong in my eyes.  Well he can, The Three Musketeers, but he is stellar as Wadsworth, the butler.  Christopher Lloyd, another one I'm not normally a huge fan of, is great as Professor Plum.  He pulls off the slightly sleazy, intellectual type pretty well.  And that leaves us with the fabulous Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Peacock.  Along with Madeline Khan, I think she gives a performance to rival the others.  She is prudish, snobbish, neurotic, fussy, and just about every other adjective you can think of.  She is brilliant, and oh so funny here.

This is a movie that I have enjoyed countless times, couldn't even begin to guess at how many times I've seen it.  This is the type of movie that can get me to laugh, even when I'm in the crappiest of moods.  If you have never seen it, you are missing out of a true comedic gem.  Besides, how can you not love a movie based off one of the greatest board games know to man

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Taste of Love by Andrew Grey

Synopsis From Publisher:

The lunch rush at Darryl Hansen's restaurant, Cafe Belgie, is getting to be too much for one man to handle, and Billy Weaver is a young man in search of a job -- any job -- to support his family.  Billy gains Darryl's respect with his earnest nature and willingness to work hard, but Billy's admiring looks resurrect pain and shame from Darryl's past.  Until Darryl stumbles across Billy's secret, Billy is suffering in silence: his father died a few months earlier, leaving him struggling to raise his twin five-year-old brothers.  Darryl takes Billy and the boys to the restaurant, where they'll stand together to face the smorgasbord of troubles in their future; while Davey, Donnie, and Billy worm their way into Darryl's heart.

Since I first bought this book, I've now read it a few times.  I've actually read the entire series a few times by now, and I'm sure I will again at some point in time.  I'm not really sure what has gotten into me this last year, but I can't get enough romance.  I guess since I'm not getting it in real life, I'm having to find it on my NOOK.  Actually, that is a rather flippant response to my overall, apparent addiction to m/m romance lately.  And at this point in time, I do think it's safe to call it an addiction.

I'm not even going to clue you into how much I've spent on ebooks since I first got my NOOK, but even knowing my own spending habits, I'm a little in shock at the overall price tag. When all you have to do is push an on screen button, it's a little hard to stop yourself.  So I've made myself a promise, I'll only buy one book, every other week.  I'm hoping I can keep myself to that, but even if I have an occasional slip, at least I know I'll probably enjoy what I'm reading.

Almost without exception, I have enjoyed every book I've read from Andrew Grey.  I think of all the author's in this field, he is my favorite out of all of them, and there are some really good ones out there.  He is able to create realistic characters, who even though they all have perfect bodies, come across as authentic.  At least as authentic as romance characters can be.  Darryl and Billy don't deviate from that at all.  Even when they are facing challenges normally not seen outside a soap opera, they respond in ways that feel organic, and truthful to who they are as characters.

More importantly than that, I believe them as a couple.  As individuals, I love them both, but as a couple, I adore them.  Despite all the differences between the two of them, and there are several, they fit together.  Honestly, I'm not sure I could see them with any other character, in all the romance books I've read so far.  I just wish finding the perfect guy, was as easy in real life.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Charlie the Tuna

I think it's almost impossible to predict which commercial characters, will stay in the collective memory of a population.  I can't even begin to imagine the graveyard that would need to be constructed to lay to rest, all of the failed commercial mascots.  Sure, some of you may remember Big Yella or The Noid, but do any of you really remember Waldo the Wizard or Frito Bandito?  Mascots fail for multiple reasons, and I'd quickly bet that the vast majority of them do in fact fail.  Even when they prove to be successful, Spuds MacKenzie, how many of them really last over a long period of time, let alone decades.

Charlie the Tuna, the mascot for Star-Kist, is one of those mascots that seems to be impossible to kill off.  Yeah, his hipster ways seemed to disappear for a while, but he's been back for a while now, and it doesn't look like he is going anywhere soon.  I'm actually a bit surprised that our current crop of hipsters haven't taken to him more.  After all, he was a hipster before most of them were a twinkle in their parent's eyes.  Between the glasses, the hat, the scarf that comes and goes, the way he talks, and his absolute conviction that he a most refined taste; it all screams hipster.  I'm actually rather shocked that today's hipsters haven't adopted the name Charlie.

Of course poor Charlie, no matter how well attuned his own personal taste is, Star-Kist keeps rejecting him. It doesn't matter if you have a keen eye for style, if you don't taste good, you don't taste good.  The country got so used to poor Charlie being rejected, that Star-Kist's response to him, became a regular part of our conversations.  "Sorry, Charlie", is part of our cultural heritage, and something quite a few of us still say to this day.

Charlie already been retired once before, so I won't be surprised if the poor guy is put out to pasture again.  What would surprise me though, is if Star-Kist were to leave him in a nursing home, never to be heard from again.  When a company has a winning mascot, that doesn't offend anyone's sensibilities, it seems rather dumb to not keep him around.  So here's to hoping that Star-Kist keeps rejecting him, and never accepts his application to be canned.  It also helps that I can't stand canned tuna.