Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Dean Winchester

Ever since I fell in love with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I've had a thing for supernaturally leaning TV shows.  I take that back, my love for them is actually older than that.  Other than the anthology shows like Tales from the Darkside or The Twilight Zone, I think it was Friday the 13th: The Series, that really got me worked up over them.  I've actually featured one of the main character from that show, Micki Foster.  Over the years I've watched Beyond Reality, Poltergeist: The Legacy, Kindred: The Embraced, the remake of Dark Shadows, Charmed, Angel, The Vampire Diaries, and of course Supernatural

Going on it's 9th season, renewed for a 10th, I must say that while I don't love Supernatural as much as I do Buffy, it's comes pretty damn close.  Of course it helps that the show centers around two very hot brothers, Dean and Sam Winchester.  It's pretty damn hard to pick who the hottest one is, but when you factor in looks, personality, and charisma, Dean wins hands down.  The guy just oozes an odd combination of swagger and vulnerability, and it's damn sexy. 

It's not all about the sex appeal though, granted I would love for the writers to come up with reasons to get him shirtless more often, but it's the whole package that makes him one of the most dynamic characters to ever grace a TV screen.  The guy is fiercely loyal, and will do anything for those close to him.  He may not think it out all the time, he may not care what the consequences are, but he will protect those he loves with everything in him.

He likes to come off as a bad ass ladies man, but underneath that is this rather sweet guy who loves family more than anything else.  He is at his most vulnerable when it comes to family, and if there is trouble, it wounds him to the core.   He's cocky, arrogant, and just a tad bit too sure of his smile, but every once in a while, he lets us see that a lot of false bravado is involved.  

And how can you not love a guy who can got to Hell and back, not to mention Purgatory, and come out with any sense of self left in him.  The mental and emotional strength that would take is mind boggling, and is not something most of us have.

I'll be interested in seeing how he continues to grown and develop, preferably without a shirt on.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The End of an Era: The Decline of Barnes & Noble Book Clubs

On October 24th, 2008, my world changed for the better.  I'm not even sure how I stumbled upon it, but around 10:35 pm, I joined a community that will live in my heart for the rest of my life.  

I've always loved to read, but never really had people around me who shared my passion.  And until I stumbled upon the Barnes & Noble community book clubs, I didn't realized what I was missing out on.  I finally found a forum where I could not only discuss my love of books, but was able to indulge in conversation with individuals who were just as passionate as I am.  

When I first joined the boards, it was a thriving community with engaged admins and moderators who steered the conversations and did their best to split up fights and arguments.  And believe me, with this many opinionated, passionate members, there were plenty of those to be broken up.  I quickly found a place among them, and even with those I regularly disagreed with, Everyman & thewanderingjew quickly come to mind, I at least knew the conversation would be lively and long.  Whether we were discussing a particular book, politics, or the arts; the conversations could drag out for hours, even days, and they were wonderful to participate in or even just watch.

I became an addict of a handful of boards; Mystery, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Current Events, Literature by Women, and Fiction General Discussion.  These boards were lead by intelligent moderators, all of whom influenced my reading and the way I looked at a particular subject or book.  I owe a big thanks to Becke, Paul, Jon & Monty, Melissa, and Debbie for the way they led the discussions.  Sometimes they got to involved, Monty, but at least they maintained some of the most energetic boards on the site.

After a while though, some of the members started to drop off, they were either banned for being jerks, left for others reasons, or even just found other outlets for their discussions.  Then the site started to change, and not normally for the better.  They added a laurel and title aspect to the boards.  I actually owe the name of this blog to their toying around.  One of my favorites on the board, Kathy, started a discussion making light of the system, I and others joined in, and the Kingdom of Wordsmithonia was born.  What started as a minor discussion in the Community board, turned into it's own rather fantasy heavy board of it's own.  We had a King and nobles who lived in castles and ruled over fantastical realms of their own.  It was so much fun, and when it first started, most of the regular members of the community were joining in the fun.  

When, with the wonderful example of another board member, Deb, I decided to start my own blog, Wordsmithonia was the logical choice to name it.  Without these boards, I would not be blogging, and if nothing else, I owe everyone I met, a big thank you.

Then the storm clouds started to form above the community, and Barnes & Noble nailed in one of the last nails in the coffin.  They changed the formatting, and in doing so, turned off a lot of regular members, who quickly dropped out.  I could have dealt with the format changes, but whatever they did also caused a lot of us to have problems logging in.  I would go for months without being able to access the boards, and half the time when I could log in, I couldn't comment.  After a while, I got in the habit of not even trying and it would be months in between attempts. Once they got all the kinks worked out, many of the people I knew where no longer there and some of the boards were pretty much silent.

You add that to B&N's focus on the Nook boards, and it seemed that the lively community I had first joined was replaced by a ghost town.  There were a few boards that were still pretty active, but no matter how much I wanted to stick around, I would find myself wandering away for months at a time.  I think we all knew we were witnessing the end of the boards, and nobody was really happy with the way things were going.  They started to let go of the admins and the moderators, and they really didn't seem to care about the community they used to foster.

The boards will be going silent after April 30th of this year, and the end of an era will be over.  So after almost six years, 94,532 minutes spent in discussion, and 3,291 posts, it's time to say goodbye.  I owe so much to the boards and to the people I met there.  I'm actually friends with quite a few of them still, so I at least know those conversations won't be ending anytime soon.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Redoubt by Mercedes Lackey

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Life at the Heralds' Collegium in Haven has definitely improved for Mags.  He's even become something of a hero since risking his life to rescue his girlfriend Amily - daughter of Nikolas, the King's Own Herald - from Karsite kidnappers.  His training as an undercover agent for the crown is progressing.  He is no longer the "foreigner" so many students distrusted.  Life is good.

But Mags still doesn't know who his parents were, and though he knew there are skilled, determine assassins hunting for him, hired by Karse, Valdemar's longstanding enemy, he doesn't know why.  So it is necessary for Mags to be always on his guard.

Mags has grown extremely strong, agile, and remarkably adept at running across rooftops, slipping down drain pipes, and sneaking unseen along dark alleyways.  But now it is time for Mags to graduate to a new role:  Nikolas' partner and information broker.  And Mags discover that he's quite good at his new job.  So good, in fact, that Nikolas decided to let him run the undercover operation in town alone one hot summer night.

Mags has barely unlocked the shop when everything goes black in a blinding flash of pain.

He wakes with a agonizing headache, bound, blindfolded, in a conveyance of some kind.  But worse of all, he's head-blind.  No Mindspeech - he can't even sense his Companion Dallen. And if he can't sense of hear Dallen, then no one can sense him.  And if no one can sense him, then this may well be his demise.

And here we have a rather short review of Redoubt, the fourth book in The Collegium Chronicles series by Mercedes Lackey.  To be rather truthful, I'm thinking this series could have been told in three books, like every other series in the Valdemar books.  It's not that I didn't like it, but I'm starting to not care where Mags came from.  We do get more insight into his background, where his family is from, and a little bit of why they want him dead.  We even get a visit from a Firecat, my favorite sentient animal, after the Companions.

Don't think I'm complaining about the book, or that I didn't like it, because I did.  But I like almost everything by Mercedes Lackey.  It's comfort reading for me, I just wish she would have written this many books about Vanyel.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Speedy Gonzales

I've done quite a few Loony Tunes charters over the years, but for some odd reason, I haven't done one of my childhood favorites.  Witch Hazel, Foghorn Leghorn, Sniffles, Pepe Le Pew, and Wile E. Coyote & Road Runner, have all made appearances over the years, so I'm a little baffled why my favorite mouse of all time, Speedy Gonzales, has not graced our presence.  It would hurt my feelings, but I'm the one who decides to feature, so that would just be dumb on my part.  So I'm here tonight, correcting that slight on my part.  If I never do another one of these features, I can retire a happy man.

I'm not even sure why I love the little guy as much as I do.  When I think about him though, I smile.  It's that frickin simple.  Speedy Gonzales made me happy as a kid, and those memories, makes me a happy adult.  I grew up in a very abusive household, some of you may know how bad it was, though I'm pretty sure I haven't gone into a lot of details about that aspect of my childhood.  Let's just say that while my father never took his drunken frustration out of me or my little brother, I had a front row seat for what he did to my mom.  One of the worst memories I have as a child, is watching my father beat my mother in our backyard, with a 2x4.  He made me and my little brother watch it, all because she wasn't home within the timeline parameters he set for her.  That's not even touching the time he took a shot at her, or the time he shot my dog.  As an adult, I have very mixed emotions about my father, and they can change daily.  Thankfully, that part of my life was over by the time I was eight years old.  My mom finally left him, and shortly after he drowned in Indian Lake.  

I'm not going into all this because I'm trying to get you to feel sorry for me, or because I'm some over sharer, who never shuts up.  I'm telling you this because, as a young child, I needed escapes, somewhere I could go and leave my reality behind for a bit.  One of those escapes was cartoons, and Speedy Gonzales played a large roll in allowing me to get away for a while.  There was something so infectious about him, so joyful and full of life.  Even when he was in a strange or dangerous situation, normally involving Sylvester or Daffy, he was always happy.  He never allowed the world to beat him down, or make him less than himself.  He enjoyed life, and loved living it.  And at 61 years old, he is still enjoying life to the fullest, something I can only hope for at that age.  I also think he influenced me on my love of running, but that's a story for another day.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Murder is Easy by Agatha Christie (And How This Book Forced Me To Rethink Homophobia And Racism In Older Fiction)

Normally, I would start off the review by providing the synopsis from either the dust jacket or the back cover, but that's not going to happen this time around.  For those of you who still want to see it, I'll put it at the end of this post.  The reason for change is pretty simple, I could not start off as if this was going to be a normal review.  It's actually going to be a rather rambling, hopefully coherent, thought process put down on paper, albeit it's a computer screen this time around.

It's never easy making a moral judgement about a book, or even part of a book, let alone one first published in 1939.  Making those judgement based on the way a reader thinks in 2014, is especially difficult. I try to not do it, and for the most part I've succeeded, but the older I'm getting, the harder that is becoming.  Blatant homophobia, racism, and sexism, blanket earlier works of fiction, even by those authors you try to ignore it from.  For me, one of those authors has always been Agatha Christie.

I was able to ignore the racist language in And Then There Were None, despite the tinge of remorse I felt at ignoring it.  It's the same sense of  remorse I feel when I choose to ignore the lawn jockey furniture that peppers some of my favorite movies, The Thin Man and The Women, being two examples.  The mere idea that I'm able to brush early examples of racism aside in early works, annoys the hell out of me.  I feel as if it should be a bigger deal to me, and that I should feel some sort of outrage and shock by such ignorance.  Be that as it may, as uncomfortable as it makes me,  I can brush it aside, and explain it away.

You see, it doesn't affect me personally.  As an Italian American, who looks German, I've never been personally affronted by such behavior.  I've been called a wop and a dago before, but it was by someone who didn't understand what the hell they were saying, and despite their word choice, there was no hostility behind it.  I've seen it directed at my friends, and I'm offended for them, but it still doesn't wound me personally.  The few times I have had comments directed towards me, it's because I mainly date men who are not white.  I've been called a traitor to my race, and as uncomfortable as that makes me, I've chalked it up to ignorance and have been able to ignore it.  I don't have to live with racism every day of my life.  I'm offended by it, it angers me, it makes me uncomfortable when I see it from others, but it doesn't wound me the way it would someone whose skin pigment, makes them a target.  And because of that, I'm able to brush aside examples of racism in early fiction and movies, I blame it on the times, and allow myself the knowledge that such examples would never happen today, at least I hope they wouldn't.  I would like to think that if And Then There Were None was written today, Dame Agatha would not have used the N word, nor used some of the imagery she did.

What I can't brush off so easily, what does wound me to the bone, is the homophobic way gay men, and lesbians, were portrayed by most authors or directors.  I still try to blame the era the book was written in or the film was produced in, but the older I'm getting, the harder that's getting.  I find myself taking those portrayals personally, as if they are directed towards me.  I know it doesn't make sense, especially since Murder is Easy was written in 1939, I wasn't born until 1976. But when the only gay character in the book, despite that word never being used, is an effeminate and creepy Satanist, it's hard to to not be bugged by that.  It's even harder to forgive it when there are no positive portrayals in the book, or in any other book by her.  When you add in the fact that every gay character I've run into, from any author writing a book in the same era, runs to type, it is offensive.

Sometimes, despite the hostility that is still directed at gays and lesbians in this country, and lets not even talk about other countries like Russia and Uganda, it's hard to remember that it wasn't that long ago that almost every doctor in the country considered homosexuals to be insane, or mentally depraved at best.   That you could be locked up in an asylum, against your will, and left to die because you were gay.  And that was if you were lucky in the asylum, if not, it was much worse.  You would have been subjected to horrific medical castrations, and even the occasional lobotomy, making you less than yourself.  But that was the point, much like racism, homophobia is meant to reduce someone to less than human, the other.  And it's with that context in the back of my mind, that I do find myself judging some of my favorite authors for the way they chose to depict gay men and women.

As I age, I'm finding it harder to forgive these portrayals.  I'm tired of making the excuse that it was the sign of the times, that we wouldn't be portrayed in such fashion anymore.  I want to pretend that Doris Miles Disney could not portray Wally Howard, the murderer in That Which is Crooked, as an effeminate serial killing mama's boy, and lay the blame on his murderous instincts on that fact that he was gay.  But then I'm confronted by the way Rhys Bowen portrays gay men in her current Royal Spyness series, as either jokes or buffoons.  And as much as I love Georgie and the world she inhabits, I'm finding it harder and harder to continue with the series.  While the gay men in her books aren't the villains, they are still portrayed as less than men, as a stereotypical joke to be laughed at.  When I'm forced to think about it, I don't think Christie or Disney are any worse than Bowen in this regard.  And in a way, Bowen is worse, because she should know better.  We no longer live in an age where homosexuality is treated as a disease, at least not in the Western world.  I can't blow it off the way I do the earlier works, and then I find myself wondering why I'm drawing that line.  Why am I willing to forgive ignorance at all?  Regardless of when it was written, hate is still hate.  That's sentiment behind it isn't any different.

Then comes the hard part for me though, and I'm still not sure what I'm going to do about it.  I've already judged Doris Miles Disney for her ignorance, and I will never read another of her books.  When it comes to Dame Agatha though, that is a harder judgement call.  I still love her and her books.  I get lost in her ability to weave a mystery out of thin air, and turn it into the most complex labyrinth in existence. Other than one or two instances, racism and homophobia really aren't written into her stories, though even those few times are still unforgivable.  Even now, as I'm writing this, I'm trying to justify my decision to keep reading her books, and that bugs me.  I should be able to walk away and never look back, but I can't.  For what ever reason, I'm going to judge authors differently, through whatever lens I conjure out of my ass.  It won't be fair, it won't make sense, but I'm going to have to start drawing lines somewhere.  I just need to figure out what those lines are.

And here is the synopsis I promised you, afterwards I'll even say a few things about the story itself.

Luke Fitzwilliam does not believe Miss Pinkerton's wild allegation that a multiple murderer is at work in the quiet English village of Wychwood and that her local doctor is next in line.

But within hours, Miss Pinkerton has been killed in a hit-and-run car accident.  Mere coincidence?  Luke is inclined to think so - until he reads int he Times of the unexpected demise of Wychwood's Dr. Humbleby...

I'm hoping that after you have read the previous eight paragraphs, you aren't left with the idea that I hated the book, because I didn't.  Some of my favorite Agatha Christie books have been her standalone novels, even if PBS put Jane Marple into the TV version of this one.  She seems to be at her most creative when she is trying to write a story around the personalities of her reoccurring detectives.  It's not often that she delved into the area of magic and Satanism, even if it mainly served as the backdrop for a rash of murders.  It's even rarer that the main character in her standalone was a man, and Luke was fun to read.  He delves into solving the mystery, the way I delve into a plate of potato dumplings, with relish and determination.

The secondary characters, except for the creepy gay Satanist, are well rounded and quirky enough to live in a village called Wychwood.  I'm not sure she assembled a more eccentric group of people into such a small piece of land.  The interactions between them are poisonous and hilarious, and sets up the perfect psychopath to go to work.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Still Life At The Wichita Art Museum

As per the usual, when I have a Saturday off, I took a trip to the Wichita Art Museum.  I'll be the first to admit that I'm cheap, and since they have free admission on Saturdays, it's the only day I'll go.  I had another reason to go that day, but it didn't pan out, and I'd rather not talk about it, so I'm not going to.  Either way, they had a wonderful exhibition of still lifes from their permanent collection in one of the lower galleries.  Most of these are new to me, as I'm pretty sure they don't see the light of day very often.  I love when they supplement with pieces in their vaults.  Art should be seen, not tucked away.  I took a few pictures, of my favorite pieces, and I thought I would share them with you guys. I'll be the first to admit that I suck at taking pictures of art work hanging on a wall, it's harder than you think it would be.

Red Roses by Sigmund J. Menkes

Englishtown by Janet Fish

Still Life with Cattails by Herman Meril

Still Life with Mask by Marvin D. Cone

Still Life, Copper Tray by Edmund L. Davison

Still Life of Flowers by Morris Kantor

Bouquet of Flowers in a Vase by William J. Glackens

Mortality and Immortality by William M. Harnett 

Still Life with Lemons by John Noble

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

In the Field of Merrilor the rulers of the nations gather to join behind Rand al'Thor, or to stop his plan to break the seals on the Dark One's prison - which may be a sign of his madness, or the last hope of humankind.  Egwene, the Amyrlin Seat, leans toward the former.

In Andor, the Trollocs seize Caemlyn.

In the wolf dream, Perrin Aybara battles Slayer.

Approaching Ebou Dar, Mat Cauthon plans to visit his wife, Tuon, now Fortuona, Empress of the Seanchan.

All humanity in peril - and the outcome will be decided in Shayol Ghul itself.  The Wheel is turning, and the Age is coming to its end.  The Last Battle will determine the fate of the world.

When I turned the last page of A Memory of Light, a journey I started back in 1994, came to an end.  Part of me was relieved that I finally finished the series, the larger part of me was devastated that it was over.  I had dedicated almost 20 years of my life to getting to know these characters.  I fell in and out of love with many of them, some I never liked, but they all meant something to me.  Many of the first ten books, I've read over and over again.  It's impossible to have this much exposure to them, without getting a little attached.

A Memory of Light wasn't the perfect final book for me, but I'm almost positive that I wouldn't have been completely happy no matter what happened in the book.  I wish that there hadn't been such a huge body count of reoccurring characters, over 50 when I stopped counting.  Many of them were major characters, and while I know some of their deaths were necessary, I'm also sure some of them could have been spared.  The major sacrifice, made by a central character and her warder, though horrific, was necessary, so I'm okay with that one.  But some of the other deaths, even now, stick in my craw.  Adding insult to injury, some of them were done off page, robbing the characters of a dignified death.  They deserved better.

I also wished and prayed for at least one more scene of the three boys together, and that never happened.  I would have loved for Rand, Perrin, and Mat to have connected one last time.  For that matter, I would have loved to see the original group that left Emond's Field, have one more moment together, and that was dashed as well.  I'm not sure, given the action in the book, that such a reunion could have been possible, but it would have been nice to see.  It would have been a nice emotional closure point for me, I just have to wish for it after the book was over.  Obviously there are major issues with such a wish, given the events in the book, but a reunion of those left would be nice to see.

And that brings us to the way the book ended, or didn't end.  The Age, and the story up to that point, are over.  There is nothing else that could prolong that particular story, but it's the aftermath that is still begging to be told.  I want to know what happens after a certain character rides away, from what everyone but a few thinks is the end.  I want to see that character explore who they are after all the events that have shaped their life, and the world, over such a long period of time.  I want to see who they chose to reveal the truth too, who is brought back into the fold, and who is left out in the cold, never knowing the truth.  I want to see certain relationships grow, others healed, and some come to an end.  I want to see who the twins grow up to be, and who Olver becomes.  I want to see how the young couple rule a kingdom they weren't expecting, and how another couple rebuild a kingdom once thought gone.  I want to see how the world heals itself, and read Loial's book.  Which means Loial has to know the truth, at some point int time, otherwise the tale will never be accurate.  I want so much more, but that's because I can't really let go.  I will be reading these books over and over again still, and I'll be praying for an epilogue at some point in time.  I could even handle 14 of them.

And I still want Tuon and the Seanchan destroyed.

The Rest Of The Series:

The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising
The Fires of Heaven 
Lord of  Chaos
A Crown of Swords
The Path of Daggers
Winter's Heart
Crossroads of Twilight
Knife of Dreams
The Gathering Storm 
Towers of Midnight 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Oswald, The Lucky Rabbit

With Easter right around the corner, I had the idea of featuring a rabbit stuck in my head.  I went through the obvious choices; Bugs, Roger, Peter Cottontail, the crew from Watership Down, and Trixx, but none of them felt right to me. Everybody knows them, and I'm not even sure I like some of them.  Inspiration struck though as I was getting a glass of water, I looked at the wall in front of the sink, and it hit me.  Right in front of me was the answer, staring at me, with a big grin on his face, was Oswald, the Lucky Rabbit.  When our local Disney Store closed a few years ago, I happened to pick up this wonderful canvas of Oswald for a few bucks.  It's done in muted tans, grays, and blacks, a color scheme that suits my style perfectly.  I really didn't know much about him, but over the years I've done some reading, watched a few early cartoons, and promptly fell in love.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Oswald, let's just say he predates Mickey, and is just as fun to watch.  For various legal and creative reasons, Oswald was regulated to the waste bin of history for decades.  After Disney was able to repurchase the rights to the character, Oswald has slowly had a rebirth of sorts.  I won't got into all the details of why this poor guy was abandoned, but it is a rather sad story.  And It was totally not his fault, the guy was hilarious.  He could detach limbs and use them as props, he was funnier than any rabbit had the right to be, and he brought smiles and laughter to everyone he met.

When he was abandoned though, he life took a horrible turn.  With Mickey on the rise, and himself in decline, I'm afraid he became a little bitter and angry.  By the time Disney got him back, and started to put him back to work, he wasn't the same happy go lucky rabbit anymore.  He resented Mickey.  He couldn't understand why the mouse got the life he was supposed to have, and quite frankly, I don't blame him.  If I was thrown out like old bath water, I'd be pretty damned pissed off myself.  But Oswald is not a bad guy, at his core, he wants to be loved and make people laugh.  I'm not saying he still doesn't have his issues, but he is getting through them, and he is slowly being given his due.  He is evening making appearances at the Disney theme park in Tokyo now, and his image is starting to pop up in the other parks as well.  He has his own line of merchandise, and he even has had a new cartoon, where he is the lead.  His star is back on an ascending path, and I can't wait to see where it takes him.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wordsmithonia Radio: R&B That's Never Been Played By Our Local Stations

It's not very often that the majority of the R&B music I like gets played on the radio stations here in Wichita, KS.  I'm not sure why that's the case, but the stations around here tend to play the same 30-40 songs over, and over again, with rarely an aberration.  Don't get me wrong, I like Beyonce as much as the next fan, but there is so much more to the world of music then the couple of artists everyone seems to know about.  I know a lot of it has to do with where I live, but it doesn't change the frustration I feel when I turn on a local radio station.  So when I want to listen to what I like, I have to buy the albums or listen on Youtube.  I'm going to share with you some of the songs I rarely get tired of listening to, no matter how old some of them are.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Little Squirrels Can Climb Tall Trees by Michael Murphy

Synopsis From Publisher:

Kyle Miller is a rare breed.  Though born to conservative parents and raised in small-town Oklahoma, Kyle realized young that he had to escape rural America.  Now he's living in New York City, working as an ER doctor, and paying off his massive student loans.  He's never been on a plane and never seen a movie, but he is worldly enough to recognize attraction when it smacks him in the forehead.  Not that he knows how he managed to crack heads with Joseph, who's a good foot shorter than Kyle's six and a half feet.

Joseph is Kyle's polar opposite in other ways too, well-off where Kyle is poor, and self-assured while Kyle is insecure.  He's also determined to show Kyle what a great guy he is and bring the confidence Kyle shows in the ER out in her everyday life.  But Kyle's hectic work schedule and inexperience with relationships won't make for an easy romance.

I really don't know what my problem is, but I'm ridiculously addicted to romance right now.  I can't seem to get enough of it.  I'm not sure if my brain is trying to tell me to get my toes back into the dating game, after years and years of purposefully being single.  Maybe I just like reading about sex, which is something I'm not all that familiar with anymore.  And truthfully, I end up skimming through most of the sex scenes, so I'm all most positive that it's not the second explanation.  I'm not even all that sure about the first, while I have thought about it, and maybe even talking again with someone I dated 19 years ago, I'm not sure that explains it either.  I do know that, to a small or even large degree, it's the fact that I'm discovering so many new to me authors, some of whom are pretty frickin good.  I'm not familiar with the ebook publishing world to know what portion of these authors also get paper books published as well, but I do think a lot of them would be if they were writing in another genre.  So many of them are brilliant, that it's their writing I'm addicted to, not necessarily the romance aspect.  Though I'm not skimming through ALL the sex scenes.

When it comes to Kyle and Joseph, they were adorable.  They were the typical odd couple, a couple that on paper, does not belong together, but they click.  Kyle, in all his innocence, gives Joseph a new lease on life.  Allowing him to dive back into a relationship with someone who isn't jaded or bitter by past relationships.  Kyle on the other hand, allows himself to really explore life and all it has to offer with Joseph, something he's never done before.  The relationships also allows both of them to truly trust in each other, an idea that's foreign to both of them.

Kyle is the surprise standout for me.  He is the character that grows the most, and truly comes into his own person. He comes out to his very fundamentalist mother, something he thought he would never do, in front of an entire room full of religiously conservative women.  When the guest speaker starts rallying against the evils of "the gays", he eventually breaks down and confronts the man.  He isn't afraid, he isn't hesitant, he's amazing in that moment, and if he was real, I would have proposed to the man.  From that moment on, he is a man who is fully comfortable in his own skin, which allows him to be completely comfortable with Joseph.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Favorite Fictional Character --- Florence Johnston

The Jeffersons was one of those of shows that I grew up watching, but really didn't appreciate until I was a bit older.  The show was full racially tinged humor, something I really wasn't able to understand as a wee little lad.  There are moments that, even now, where I'm uncomfortable with some of what's being said, and I'm almost positive a show like this couldn't exist in today's environment.  Despite all that, I can't help but watch it when I'm channeling surfing.  It's on about three different stations right now, and much like a lot of the sitcoms from it's era, it's still relevant.  Many of the issues bandied up then, are still problems now.  And since comedy and laughter gives us a different way to look at things, I hope shows like The Jeffersons will always have a home on the silver screen.

In my not so humble opinion, Florence Johnston was the highlight of the show.  As a maid she sucks.  She's lazy, mouthy, can cook about as well as the Swedish Chef from The Muppet Show, and probably doesn't know the difference between a mop and a card table.  But what she lacks in cleaning skills, are more than made up in her mouth.

The woman is a champion of snark, a queen of sarcasm, and the hand down favorite in any put down contest.  I don't know if there is a character, before or since, that is as good at putting someone down as she was. It wasn't just what she said that made her so good, it was the timing and the delivery.  She could do it with a straight face, just when you least expect it.  But she could also do it with humor and love, and smile the entire time.  While Florence may have meant everything she ever said to poor George, you knew there was real love behind the relationship.

And boy was the woman fearless with her wit.  Whether she was facing down a burglar, kidnapper, or simply poor mouthy George, she never let the opponent daunt her for long.  She gave as good as she got, and always came out on top.  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Synopsis From Back Cover:

When Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called to investigate a woman's murder, it doesn't take long for him to realize that no love was lost on the victim.  But even if everyone hated her - her husband, lover, and daughter among them - how is it that no one saw her get electrocuted in the middle of a frozen lake in the center of town?

Gamache digs beneath the surface of Three Pines to find where the real secrets are buried.  But other troubles lie ahead for the detective.  It seems he has some enemies of his own... and with the coming of the bitter Northern winter winds, something far more chilling is in store.

Can someone please build a real life Three Pines village somewhere.  I'm thinking that I want to move, and I can't think of any place that I would want to move to more.  It's almost unbelievable, how much this town seems to take over these books.  For me, the setting is almost, if not a little bit more, as important as the characters and the plot devices used to progress the story forward.  Don't get me wrong, I love Gamache.  I love his men, and I love the villagers, but I love the village more.  There is so much character and vitality in that little blip on a map, and I want some of it for my own.

Now that I've bent your ear over how much I love the setting, I want to make sure I point out how much I loved the story itself.  There is something so intoxicating about Louise Penny's storytelling.  She is able to weave murder and eccentric characters into this wonderfully quirky tale, that keeps me enchanted the entire way through.  Sometimes it's hard to pay attention to a story when the characters are so strong and vibrant, which they all are.  You either hate them or love them.  I love them all, including the murder victim, who deserved everything that happened to her.  Truthfully, she probably deserved a little bit more.  The woman was a bitch, not sure there is any other word for her.  Her murderer had every right to kill her, and I'm not sure I would have done anything else in their shoes.  But she was so fleshed out, and had such a distinct personality, that I loved her anyway.  Or maybe I didn't love her, but I loved the characterization that Louise Penny gave her.

Even more though, I loved the story she gave them to play in.  The interactions between the characters, the way they relate to each other, gives so much depth to the underlying mystery.  It allows the reader, myself included to get lost and almost forget that this is a fictional account of a fictional murder.  She breathes so much life into every word, that it all feels real, concrete.  Even better, she never allows the story to get to heavy.  There is a playfulness to everything, even with the horrendous crimes that occur.  It keeps the story enjoyable, and allows the reader to feel comfortable in the face of violent death.

Now I just need to get my hands on the third book, and I'll be a very happy boy indeed.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes

In honor of National Poetry Month, I though I would share with you one of my favorite narrative poems.  "The Highwayman" was written by a then twenty-four year old, Alfred Noyes.  It is a grand romantic tale of a highwayman who is in love with a inn keepers daughter, Bess.  Like most romantic poetry of it's time, it does not have a happy ending, actually the tale is quite tragic.  The highwayman is betrayed by another suitor of Bess.  Being the loyal lover that she is, Bess gives her life to make sure the highwayman is warned and able to seek revenge for her death.  As in most revenge tales, it does not end on a happy note for anyone involved, though the two lovers are reunited in death.

After "The Lady of Shalott" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, it is the one poem who's tragedy affects me the most. Call me a hopeless romantic, but my heartstrings are pulled by any story that involves love and death, especially death by betrayal.  

So I'm going to shut up now, and let you read the poem for yourself.  At the end, I'm going to include a video of Loreena McKennitt, singing a version of the poem.

Alfred Noyes
 THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, 
    The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
    The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
    And the highwayman came riding—
    The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

    He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin,
    A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin;
    They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh!
    And he rode with a jewelled twinkle,
                      His pistol butts a-twinkle,
    His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.

    Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
    And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred;
    He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
    But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
    Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

    And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked
    Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked;
    His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay,
    But he loved the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's red-lipped daughter,
    Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—

    "One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night,
    But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light;
    Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day,
    Then look for me by moonlight,
                      Watch for me by moonlight,
    I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."

    He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand,
    But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand
    As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast;
    And he kissed its waves in the moonlight,
                      (Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!)
    Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

    He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon;
    And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon,
    When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor,
    A red-coat troop came marching—
    King George's men came matching, up to the old inn-door.

    They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead,
    But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed;
    Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side!
    There was death at every window;
                      And hell at one dark window;
    For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.

    They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest;
    They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast!
    "Now, keep good watch!" and they kissed her.
                      She heard the dead man say—
    Look for me by moonlight;
                      Watch for me by moonlight;
    I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!

    She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good!
    She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood!
    They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years,
    Till, now, on the stroke of midnight,
                      Cold, on the stroke of midnight,
    The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!

    The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest!
    Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast,
    She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again;
    For the road lay bare in the moonlight;
                      Blank and bare in the moonlight;
    And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain .

        Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear;
    Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear?
    Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill,
    The highwayman came riding,
                      Riding, riding!
    The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!

    Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night!
    Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light!
    Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath,
    Then her finger moved in the moonlight,
                      Her musket shattered the moonlight,
    Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.

    He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood
    Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood!
    Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear
    How Bess, the landlord's daughter,
                      The landlord's black-eyed daughter,
    Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.

    Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky,
    With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high!
    Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat,
    When they shot him down on the highway,
                      Down like a dog on the highway,
    And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.

    And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, 
    When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
    When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
    A highwayman comes riding—
    A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.

    Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard;
    He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred;
    He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
    But the landlord's black-eyed daughter,
                      Bess, the landlord's daughter,
    Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

Saturday, April 5, 2014


Synopsis From Back Cover:

When young Willow Ufgood finds an abandoned baby, he is suddenly thrust into an adventure filled with magic and danger.  According to ancient prophecy, the sacred child is destined to end the reign of the evil sorceress Queen Bavmorda.  Now, with only a single swordsman at his side, Willow must overcome the forces of darkness that threatens to destroy anyone who stands in his way!

This movie is one of the first ones that I remember going to watch by myself.  We were traveling with the carnival when it came out, and I really wanted to see this.  My mom and brother wanted to watch something else, so they went in one theater, and I went into another, and I fell in lifelong love.  It could have been in Sedalia, MO; at the Missouri State Fair, but I could be wrong.  That may be where I saw Darkman a few years later instead, but where I saw it isn't important, it's the fact that I saw it that matters.

There is just so much to love about this movie.  It's a classic tale of an underdog hero, who despite all the naysayers puts his fears behind him, and does what needs to be done to save the day.  Willow Ufgood is not a normal hero, he's a small guy.  As a matter of fact, his whole race is small.  When you think of Nelwyns, think of the Munchkins in the Lad of Oz, but a bit more timid.  They are not know for their bravery, even if they do have a warrior class.  When Willow finds a little Daikini (human) baby, his first instinct is to leave her in the river.  Against his better judgement, his children and wife take little Elora Danan into their home.  When danger from the outside world threatens the entire village, Willow is tasked with bringing the baby to the first Daikini he meets and leave her there.

Willow is a struggling magician, and not a very good one at that.  He lacks the confidence within himself, which causes him to fail every time to tries to do anything right.  So when he is charged by the village to take the baby back where it belongs, he doesn't know what he can do.  He tries to give the baby to an army, and when that fails he is left with a Madmartigan, a swordsman who is locked inside a cage at a crossroads.  Madmartigan, played by a still gorgeous Val Kilmer, isn't a human that would inspire confidence in most people.  He's beligerent, a little full of himself, and just a tad bit shifty.  But he takes the baby with him, and proceeds to a bar and a whore.

Little does anyone know that the evil Queen Bavmorda, Jean Marsh at her campy best, is hunting that poor little girl down.  She wants her dead.  For whatever reason little Elorna Danan can bring her to ruin, and Bavmorda can't have that.  She sends out her daughter Sorsha, the lovely Joanne Whaley, and General Kael out to bring the baby to her.

What follows is a frolicking adventure story filled with magic, sword fights, trolls, curses, and brownies.  It's a grand tale of bravery and the triumph of good over evil.  It's a modern version of David and Goliath, with better special effects, at least better for the late 1980s.  It is a movie I will never tire of watching.  It's loud, brash, a little campy, but it's so much fun. It's also a little heartwarming, though I won't admit to that very often.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Exodus Towers by Jason M. Hough

Synopsis From Back Cover:

The sudden appearance of a second space elevator in Brazil only deepens the mystery about the aliens who provided it: the Builders.  Scavenger crew captain Skyler Luiken and brilliant scientist Dr. Tania Sharma have formed a colony around the new Elevator's base, utilizing mobile towers to protect humans from the Builder's plague.  But they are soon under attack from a roving band of plague-immune soldiers.  Cut off from the colony, Skyler must wage a one-man war against the new threat as well as murderous subhumans and thugs from Darwin - all while trying to solve the puzzle of the Builder's master plan... before it's too late for the last vestiges of humanity.

I can't believe it's been nine months since I reviewed the first book in this trilogy, The Darwin Elevator.  I guess it's true that the older you get, the quicker time seems to fly by.  Hell, for that matter, it seems like yesterday that I went through puberty and had my first kiss.  By the way, that was with a girl in McAllen, TX; her name was Rosa Rios, and she was adorable.  I must have been in 6th or 7th grade when it happened.  Other than that, I don't remember much, but if we want to talk about the first time I kissed a guy, I remember everything about that.  But I'm digressing, my whole point was about how quickly time passes, not first kisses.

Back to the story, which despite my hatred of scifi, I actually enjoyed it for the most part.  I didn't like it as much as I did the first book, but middle books tend to be inferior to the other two books it's sandwiched by.  We are introduced to a whole new group of characters in the jungles of Brazil.  The large portion of them are the bad guys for the book.  They are the immune scavengers who pillage and rape everywhere they go.  The force others immunes to breed with each other and with subhumans, in the hope of creating more immunes.  The second group are those who broke away from them and help Skyler rescue the colony.  This group is smaller and while not all of them survive, I really enjoyed spending time with them.  They added a depth to the story,that otherwise may have felt a little flat.

Where the story didn't work was in the distance that develops between Skyler and Tania.  It didn't feel like a natural separation, but more of one that was created to sow discord in the colony.  I don't really buy them as a couple, but this bickering and being at odds with each other seems even more ridiculous.  You add in the sacrifice that Tania makes at the end, and I'm just as confused by the whole thing as anyone.  Their relationship makes no sense to me, nor do I think it makes sense to them.

What I found to be the most fascinating aspect of the book was how humans still seem to be the main badguys.  We really don't see the Builders yet, though we know that they have done, and are getting ready to do even more, great evil to the planet, it's the humans who continue to make it more.  The subhumans are really nothing more than bipedal killing machines, and even with the new development they are making, are little more than the average mindless zombie.  It's the immune scavengers in Brazil, the religious mobster ruling with an iron fist, and the crackpot military bozo who are the true masters of evil this time around.  Humans are turning out to be their own worst enemy, and they need to find a way around that if they want to survive what the Builders have coming up next.