Sunday, December 31, 2006

I'm slowly recovering my blog from switching back to Blogger after a failed experiment with the program Writer's Block. For the record, there's something about Writer's Block that attracts spammers, and I can't reccomend it. Anyway, after they ate my bandwidth it seemed like a good idea to just go back to what works. I'll try to post more entries more often, we'll see.

Originally posted November 25, 2006 at 18:19.
Crossposted from another journal:

I'm really dissapointed.

As in severly so. If you've watched this space, you'll know that I've been looking forward to Happy Feet for MONTHS. It's been ages since I saw that first teaser trailer and declared that I wanted that movie to be out now.

See, I like penguins. I think they're very cool. I like good CGI. I like dancing animals. Tapdancing penguins? Go for it!

But what I was instead treated to was a movie that alternated between Moulin Rouge on Ice and a PETA commercial. That's exaggerating only slightly.

Basically, I don't think there was a single original song on the entire soundtrack, which bothers me. I like pop songs, I listen to them often. They picked some good songs, and they did okay by them (and I think they did much better at this task than Moulin Rouge, to be honest) but the fact remains that I think it's sad that Hollywood and television are not giving us new original music anymore. Even if I agree that the opening to Enterprise was gorgeous and well done, and the music well chosen, it still means that they didn't write anything NEW.

We just recycle old rock hits and move on. I don't like this trend.

Anyway, I was forewarned about the humans encroaching on the habitat plot. I remember one of my friends said it came out of nowhere, so I knew it would probably toss itself out there when I was least suspecting it.

It wasn't that it came out of nowhere, it was that it was poorly done and poorly intergrated into the story of Mumble. I know it's a kids movie but the fact is that kids movies can be BRILLIANT and deal with very adult subjects in really great ways. Kids books do this even better, but movies are often fantastic.

This one seems like they got halfway through and said "Oh, wait, this whole 'it's hard to be different' thing is too easy. We can't go with that, we need villains. What, you mean penguins have a naturally hard life and have lots of predators? No, I'm sorry. This doesn't really work too well. We're gonna go with...HUMANS!"

Ever single mention of humans seemed to be designed to make adults feel guilty. I liked that they referred to the humans as aliens, that actually amused me. But the rest of it was too much, it was too heavy handed and it didn't work.

It wasn't realistic, it wasn't neccesary, and it just didn't work.

Overall: Meiran is very saddened because she wanted to badly to really really enjoy this film, but she can't say she'll ever really watch it again. And that's depressing. Maybe if I can take it and clip out all the "alien" stuff and just have cute penguins being cute penguins.

There's a place on this earth for environmental films, and for movies that make us think. This one could have been it, but it was at the same time half-hearted and too much. I have no idea how they managed that, but they did.
Originally posted October 4, 2006 at 18:53.

Today, I was shelving and saw that we had gotten in Dramacon v.2. I've been rabidly waiting for this volume since I read the last one, which was probably about a year ago. I understand how hard it is to put out graphic novels and I'll try not to complain but dangit, if it's a year between this and the next volume I might become rabid.

The first volume has a lot of highs, much like a con weekend. It's almost frantic, and it ends on a good note. It's a LOT like going to your first big convention.

The second volume is NOT like that. In fact, it's a little more like going to conventions after you start to grow up and become a bit more adult. Yeah, you're still silly and you still geek out. But you also budget your money a little better, and you think a little more about things, and the emotions aren't quite on the same roller coaster.

This is not to say I didn't love it and reread my favorite parts right after I finished it. I like that more grown-up sensibility, the fact that the characters are actually dealing with some difficult issues for kids their age, and doing so without falling into typical cliches. Bethany, one of the new main characters, has a speech that really floored me and was very unexpected.

There is one fault I can find with this graphic novel, and that's the cutesy little name-dropping. I know, it's about fandom. I know, it's about an anime convention. But we're treated to "Narilyn Nanson," "Fruity Basket," "Half-Metal Alchemist," "Pawky," and of course, the big American manga publisher: MangaPop. Oh, I'm not sure at all what she's referring to.

We'll end on a good note though. I wasn't sure at first how I felt about a main subplot being the arguments of fans over what is and isn't manga. The characters are American's doing a Japanese-style comic. Some people call that manga, but they have people come buy going "that's not manga!" These are the people I always want to stab and remind that manga literally just means comic. It has no shiney specialness in Japan. THEY call Disney animation anime. THEY call X-Men manga.

Anyway, I have a new perfect retort. A character replies that if you apply the logic that only Japanese manga can be called Manga because it's a Japanese art form, then you can't call it pizza unless it's made by Italians.

The same character also says "We can call it fried cheese if we want, it's a free country."

Thank you, and so's your muffin.

Originally posted October 2, 2006 at 20:00.

For years, my husband has been telling me stuff from a book that was assigned in one of his classes, Home From Nowhere. I've been thinking about it, but it didn't neccesarily seem my speed.

Somebody special ordered both books my Kunstler at my bookstore, and then didn't pick them up. So I was going through and stickering them and such and decided "Hey, I guess I'll read these." Geography of Nowhere came first, so I started with it, even though my husband hasn't read it either.

Anyway, it's a very dense book. We were talking about it in the car, about how it's slow to read because every sentence really MEANS something, and it tells you things you didn't know, unlike most of what we read that is really repetitive.

It's really brilliant. I'm only about 1/3rd in and I'm already changing my staff picks to accomodate it. It's really changing my views on where I want to live, what kind of growth I like, EVERYTHING. And a book that can change my long held views when years of argument with my husband didn't...that's something.

I said that I think every person that lives in the D.C. metro area should be required to read this book. I fully believe that before anybody speaks before a planning commission (including the people ON the commission) should have to read it and understand it before they go off about development.

My husband thinks that it should be required reading in eighth grade classrooms. Modern eighth graders probably wouldn't be able to handle it, but I think a high school history curriculum is the right spot for it.

I rarely say these kinds of things about non-fiction books. But this one is just well-though, well-researched, and well-worded. In short: genius.

To quote my husband: "New Urbanism for the win."

Originally posted September 9, 2006 at 20:09.

I'm trying something new with my layout for these reviews and the links to Amazon to buy the books. Here's hoping it works.

Tales of the Frog Princess by E.D. Baker

(Crossposted from another blog)

These are the three books I read in the last two days. Yup, all three in two days. Why? Because they were that good. They're labelled as "independant reader" which means 8-13, but I don't care. I think they're good enough for any age level, and I think anyone who likes a good fantasy story or fairy tale will love them.

Obviously, these books are very rooted in familiar fairy tales, with references to the Frog Prince, Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and dozens of others. But, since I usually dislike when a fairy tale retelling has to throw in everything I think this one is my shining example of how to do it right. There are just offhand comments now and then, nothing too "pun-ish" about it. It's not in your face, it's just there and gone.

The Frog Princess introduces us to Princess Emeralda, her aunt the Green Witch Grassina, and her strict mother Chartruese. The names take a lot of getting used to, but in the end I realized I'd rather have goofy funny names than some of the stuff fantasy writers come up with these days.

Obviously, Emeralda (or Emma) comes across a frog who claims he's a prince waiting for a kiss to turn back into a human. I expected the story to me a more straight retelling, with her taking him back to the castle and all that and her finally kissing him in the final acts of the story. I was wholeheartedly wrong, and I'm glad for it.

In fact, that was the beauty of these books. There were a lot of things I saw coming and could imagine before they happened, but there was a lot that I got wrong and I was pleasantly surprised by. It's just darn good fanatasy/fairy tale literature, and I think half the people I know need to go out and pick them up right now. I actually only picked up the first on my lunch break, and got halfway through before I had to go back to work. The idea of not finishing it until Monday tortured me so I bought all three books before I left. I shouldn't have, but man am I glad I did. I wouldn't be surprised if I reread them in the next week.

Originally posted August 9, 2006 at 17:24.

Pulse (Japanese)

I've been wanting to watch this movie for MONTHS, since I read a review of how horribly creepy and great it was. Yeah, there's another dissapointment to add to the list. I was bored. Here's what I wrote up for another blog of mine:

Now, normally when it comes down to it, I like J-Horror okay, but I think several of the American remakes have really taken what was originally almost there and made it really there. That makes no sense, but it's hard to explain. But I doubt it's cultural differences, though it could be that I expect more from my movies than some.

I think, overall, Japanese films and anime tend to leave a lot for imagination and assumption. I was watching the commentary on Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and was SHOCKED how much I just didn't get from the film, that would have helped the entire thing be better.

It's something that I struggle with when writing, the idea that you think something is obvious but if the audience or readers don't get it without you explaining it, then it isn't there. You can defend your work if you like, but if nobody sees what you see then you have to step back and realize that it's your fault, not theirs.

Pulse felt like that to me. I really have no idea what the director/writer was trying to convey. Something about lonliness? A commentary on a perverse version of The Rapture? Something about ghosts overflowing into reality? Something about computer graphics?

I don't know. There was so much there, and nothing was ever really laid out. I don't need everything given to me on a silver platter, but I do like to understand SOMETHING before I'm done. I felt this way about White Noise too, because at the end I just didn't understand almost anything that went on during the film.

I think the American version of this one looks to just go completly in the wrong direction with it though. I'm one of the rare, rare few that really loved the American version of The Grudge. It scared me half to death, I was literally biting my fingers during tense scenes. But I think that there's a big difference between me and the average horror audience. I don't like gore, could do completly without it. I think that gore, 99% of the time, only detracts from the true fright.

You know what I find almost scarier than anything? Not disembodied limbs, or guys with machetes and hockey masks. Mirrors and other reflective surfaces.

Because one day, you could look into it and not see what is supposed to be there. And then what would you do? That's the kind of scare I want. I think the American Pulse that's coming out in the next few weeks (can't remember when) is going to go with the wrong kind of scare. The Japanese film could have really been frightening, but there were just too many instances of me going "WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? WHERE ARE YOU?"

Seriously, there's an entire scene that I have no clue where it happened. I don't even know if they were still in Tokyo. But the American one? Yeah, when people crawl out of laundry machines I just lose all desire to care. Dark Water and Identity have both been down the creepy washing machine route.
Originally published July 16, 2006 at 21:37.

I'm going to be trying to write less-formal reviews so that I can write MORE reviews, which is really the entire purpose of this exercise in blogging.

So first up for that idea:

The Queen Jade by Yxta Maya Murray.

I have to say that this book has sat on my shelf for AGES without being read. I also have to admit that I skimmed large portions of it.

That said, I think I could recommend it to people with a larger attention span that I had when I read it today. I just wasn't up for such a detailed storyline I guess.

The basic idea is that of an archaeological adventure, and it succeeds very well on that score. The main character, Lola, is searching for her mother. Her mother was searching for The Queen Jade, a legendary artifact with very fascinating history with betrayal, sorcery, mazes, and all that good stuff.

With just enough real history to provide the backdrop, the entire book seems very plausible. I liked the characters, I wanted them to succeed. And the very basics of the story, from the secret locations to the tromping through the jungle, are well done and interesting.

I don't think it'll ever be considered "high literature" but I don't like most of those stories anyway. This is one I'll probably pass on to friends of mine that like their books a little more intelligent than the average modern fiction.
Originally posted February 5, 2006 at 20:41.

18 Seconds by George Shuman

This book is one of the few that I'll end up reviewing that haven't been released yet. I got to read it by virtue of the advanced reader's edition that arrived at the bookstore. Since the point is for me to read it and try to sell it to people if I liked it, I decided to go ahead and review it here.

To get one thing out of the way: I was annoyed that the "heroine" was beautiful. Drop-dead-everybody-talks-about-her-for-an-hour beautiful. Sure, her life is horrible and tragic and yadda yadda, but I really was sick and tired of hearing how pretty she is, and how it doesn't fit that she's pretty and blind.

Um, since when?

That little snit out of the way, since it doesn't matter at all really, the character is interesting. Turns out, through some quirk that's never explained (thankfully, explaining things makes them sometimes boring) Sherry can see into the last 18 seconds of a person's life when she touches their corpse. She can only get images from corpses, and only the residual flashes in the short-term memory.

While Sherry is doing her best to solve crime, new Leiutenant Kelly Lynch-O'Shaughnessy is trying to solve the dissapearances of two young women in her little summer-escape town. The book uses the technique where the reader knows exactly who the killer is, and at least a few of his methods. This definetly works well, and makes the mystery that much more intriguing.

What doesn't help, despite a review to the contrary on is the personal lives of the characters. I can see that Shuman is trying to keep us from falling too far into the Serial Killer's mind (which is an extremly scary place) but you can tell his hand isn't well practiced at this kind of writing. The strengths are in the policework, the attitudes, and the killer himself. The biggest weakness is Sherry's unrequited love, which comes off too false.

Shuman is a retired police officer, and you can get that feeling by reading. But trying to write a lonely woman's feelings about why she wants to find love, it falls into trite emotions that just don't capture the moment at all.

Lynch-O'Shaughnessy (whose name is far too long and is thankfully referred to as Leiu most of the time) has a similar turbulance in her personal life, and in the end it comes off a lot better than Sherry's, but only by comparison. If it was the only personal story in the book, I wouldn't have liked it either. I'm not sure what would have made those sections better, but they do drag it down a bit.

But when it comes down to the meat of the novel, the serial killer, his crimes, the policework used to catch him, 18 seconds does a wonderful job. There's no magic-like CSI actions here, but real procedure. The best thing is that it takes longer than a half hour for DNA evidence to come through. Shuman knows procedure and he puts it on the page faithfully.

The bad guy is very bad, and very well written. The loose ends get tied up a little neatly, but in the end everything comes together as a mystery novel should. The only reason I can't give it a whole-hearted reccomendation is the limping personal stories. Parts could also be hard to take for people who don't like violence, but then why would you be reading about a serial killer if you don't like violence?
I am currently reposting all of my reviews in order, copying them from the program I used for my blog for the last few months. Spammers attacked it, like nasty spammers do. So I'm switching back to blogger, wish I had never left. That's why the times and order might get messed up.

Originally posted January 6, 2006 at 22:41.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

This is going to be a very short review, because there isn't much that can be said about Never Let Me Go without going too far into the plot and circumstances of the story.

And that is something that is a detriment to the reader's enjoyment. I think the best way to read the book is with as little expectation as possible. It pulls you in very well on it's own.

Not to mention that a review on Amazon ruined a rather important plot point for me when I was glancing at the star ratings.

The novel is told almost like a memoir, and at first I was worried that it would jump around in the chronology. I can take something that moves backwards, forwards, or even in discernable patterns like The Blue Girl did. But often acclaimed novels are trying to hard to do something different and I just can't follow it.

But in the end, the story starts more or less in the now, jumps back to around age 13 and moves pretty steadily forward.

It is for stories like this one that the word bittersweet was created for. The basic plot is that Kathy H., our narrator, is coming to the end of her career as a carer. She begins to look back on her childhood growing up in Hailsham, an estate in England. It seems to be mostly like a boarding school, but you can tell that it isn't exactly a school and not exactly a "children's home" or anything like that.

Kathy takes us through her life, specifically her interactions with a best friend Ruth, and a close male friend Tommy. The story does one thing well, Kathy presents you with her life very matter-of-factly. She doesn't artificially introduce things, like being a carer, with little explanations for those of us "not in the know." That is refreshing as a reader.

You would think it would be frustrating, but instead you just wait to put the peices together because you know they will fall together. Though I admit the book leaves you with unanswered questions, in the end they fall under "things I wish I knew" instead of "things I should have been told."

Never Let Me Go is absolutly worth reading. I'm anxious to be able to discuss it with others that have read it.