Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Supernatural: Hopes and Dreams of Season 8

It's never come up, but I am a fan of Supernatural. Like, a big one. I discovered it almost a year ago and I've watched it repeatedly since then. If you started at episode 1, you would too!

It was just announced today that they finished shooting Day 1 of Season 8, and it got me thinking on all the things that I would like to see happen in the coming season with our favorite brothers and angel.


Note: This list is no particular order, just whatever came to mind first.

*****SPOILER ALERT! If you haven't watched the show up to Season 7, don't read any further! I don't want to spoil things for you in the unlikely event that the rest of the internet hasn't already! You've been warned!*****



1) Lucifer. It was damn amazing to see Mark Pelligrino as Lucifer return in Season 7. I missed him very much. And him as a voice in Sammy's poor broken head was wonderful, though scarce. (We needed more of it!) I was disappointed, however, with the lack of clarification. Was he just a hallucination, or was he actually real?

Hopes: I want it to be confirmed that Lucifer was indeed top-side, albeit attached to Sam's pscyhe. With Cass transferring Sam's crazy into his own head, assuming Lucifer was real, he would now be attached to him instead. And if you saw the Season 7 finale, then you know that Lucifer is in a very interesting place with Cass and Dean. Potential!

2) Bobby. I have mixed feelings about what happened to Bobby in Season 7. I was upset when he died, and started to get slightly annoyed with him as an angry ghost. I love the character, but I'm beginning to wonder if his death was the right move for the writers. Or maybe it was because we didn't get the usual waterworks that we've often seen from the boys in the past (more on that later). And it was very obvious that they left it open. We didn't actually get to see Bobby disappear when Sam and Dean burnt the flask, the flask didn't have its leather case, and Cass was sitting in the background in a suspicious manner. With his belfry full of bats right now, who knows what that hippy angel is up to.

Hopes: If they bring Bobby back, which they probably will, I hope it is either for a more satisfying send off, or for a highly significant reason. Maybe he got towed into Purgatory as well. (Will they answer our question about where ghosts go after their remains are burned? Hmmm......)

3) Dick and the Leviathans. I loved Dick Roman, but I hated the Levis. I thought they were a poor excuse for a top villain in Supernatural. Yes, their one weakness being Borax was pretty funny, but it took away from the gritty awesomeness that the show used to have. And they weren't very complex, either. All they wanted to do was eat everyone and each other. (Bibbing? Come on.) I feel like chances are good Dick will be appearing again in Purgatory, since he kind of brought them there in the first place. And that works for me.

Hopes: The only Leviathan I'm willing to tolerate anymore is Dick. He was charismatic and a delightful pain in the ass. So, if there are going to be any Levis in Season 8, please only make it Dick.

4) Sam. Oh, Sammy. Is it just me, or did he get gypped in this season? Yes, he had a few episodes with what I like to call his "Head Problems," which were great. But in all of the other episodes he was just so okay with the world and being in Hell and losing everyone and everything that it was so... NOT okay. He floated through the season like they were on a picnic that had a few ant problems. I tried to justify this to myself saying that the poor guy has to be desensitized to everything by now (how does anything get worse than Hell where you're Lucifer and Michael's bitch?). But it was that angry, angsty, and bitchy Sam from Season 1 that I think we all fell in love with.

Hopes: Now that Sam is, as Crowley said, very truly on his own, I think there is a chance for the old Sammy to come back. He really is all alone now. There is no Dean, no Bobby, no Cass, no Frank, Rufus, Jo, Ellen-- hell, not even Meg! It's just him and Baby, and I think it could be one hell of a ride to see what he does to get his brother back. Bring back his brooooood!

5) REAL Monsters. I love this show more than life itself, but beginning with Season 6 (with Mother of All, and all that) I've been wanting to see some REAL monsters. Not monsters in human form, but hairy, scaley, quadraped, drooling, red-eyed, toothy, winged, smokey, massive MONSTERS. They were almost shown in the last few seconds of Season 7, and I hope that wasn't a false teaser.

Hopes: Now that we get to see Purgatory, I hope we get to see monsters as they really are. In Heaven, everything was according to people's own imaginations and memories, so that explains why we didn't get to see angels flying around on wings and perching on a nimbus. I want to see non-humanoid creatures!

6) Crowley. He kicked ass and took names in a matter of seconds in the finale. And I loved it. As the new King of Hell, he's been playing it cool. But now, he seems to have gotten the upper hand again. I imagine he must be loving the idea of the Winchesters separated and Cass in Purgatory.

Hopes: I really, really, really want to see Crowley become the head honcho villain of this season. I want him to serve as the equivalent to Azazel, Lilith, Lucifer, and Dick. He has always been more sneaky and would take the back door to screw you over. Probably literally. I want to see what he can do when he's pissed off and has means. And I would almost want him to win... almost.

 7) Crying. I won't deny it. Like every other person of the female variety who watches this show, I enjoy the crap out of the heart wrenching scenes of the boys crying. Jensen and Jared are just too damn good at it. However, we were a little gypped in Season 7. There were multiple scenes that should have evoked tears or full on sobbing, but didn't. The most we got was some misty eyes before the scene moved on. As I mentioned before, this could be justified through the idea that Sam and Dean are just numb to everything now. Dean, especially, got a lot of explanation for being sick and tired of just about everything.

Hopes: Crying. That is all.

8) Castiel. I thoroughly enjoyed crazy Cass. He was a lot of fun, which has a lot to do with Misha Collins's portrayal. It was interesting to see a different side of him with the stick out of his ass and he was just hilarious. Unfortunately, his new outlook made him something of a scaredy cat, so at the fist sign of danger he tended to... well, poof.

Hopes: I wouldn't mind seeing Castiel crazy for a little while longer, just for fun. But I hope he goes back to his old reliable self eventually. Otherwise, it's safe to say that Dean is pretty SOL.

9) Dean. The tough on the outside, gooey on the inside rebel without a cause has gone to pieces these last couple of seasons. The poor guy really can't handle much more tragedy in his life. He has been tired since Season 1, and I feel for him. How he keeps going, I have no idea. Especially after Sam told him, in his nice, cupcake Sammy way, to get a life of his own. Ouch.

Hopes: I want to see Dean-o get revitalized. Or lose his mind completely. It's time we see him snap one way or the other, and either way could be a joy to watch. But this teetering on exhaustion thing is making me tired, which is depressing.

10) Michael. Michael (and Adam for that matter) ended along with Season 5. The showdown with Lucifer was thwarted and he was locked in a box with the key thrown away. And the character didn't get much time in the spotlight anyway, which was a little disappointing.

Hopes: I need to see a Round 2 between him and Lucifer. More than anything, I want to see him with DEAN as his vessel. We never get to see Dean be anyone but himself and I honestly want to see Jensen play an angel. I know he has the talent, and the writers need to use it, damn it!

Wanna slice of heaven?

Since I've reached a nice even list of 10, I will leave it at that. I am really excited for the premiere of Season 8 on October 3rd, and that the first episode will be directed by the ever-talented Jensen Ackles. I don't know how many other people would agree with me on these points, but if anyone would like to share, feel free!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Review: Love Never Dies (Or Does It?)

I just watched the Regent Theatre performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Never Dies." The perfect fuel for one of my favorite ranting subjects!

I may not have gotten it down in this blog as of yet regarding my favorite things to complain about in the fictional world (The Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll & Hyde, Frankenstein...) but I've been wanting to complain about "Love Never Dies" ever since the moment I first heard of it. But, gosh darnit, I have scruples about not criticizing things I've never seen, and didn't want to bitch about it lest I prove myself wrong later. And I am never one in position to see stage productions of any kind, so I thought my lips would be eternally sealed about my beef with LND. But, LO! The Australian production was recorded on a special BluRay and DVD edition! Huzzah!



Going into it I knew the whole story and all of the pros and cons of it thanks to a very entertaining person by the name of The Phantom Reviewer. He essentially reviews anything and everything ever to do with the Phanom and has a YouTube channel, as well as one on Blip.tv for more freedom from the copyright regime. Among the reviews was of Fredrick Forsythe's The Phantom of Manhatten, which is what "Love Never Dies" is veerrryyy loosely based on. Here is the review:




I love him and his insights, and I must admit, if it wasn't for him I probably wouldn't have given LND a chance. I did, and with as open a mind as I could possibly have regarding a sequel that is hated as much as it's loved by the "phans."

Now,  I enjoy the original Phantom, but I don't see it as flawless. Nor do I see the book or movies as flawless. What I do love about it, and somehow keeps me coming back for more, is the Phantom himself. He's a fascinating character in a fascinating setting (I mean the Paris Opera House). In fact, out of all the characters in The Phantom of the Opera tale, he's probably the most dynamic. So, with that in mind, I'm going to finally begin my critique of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Never Dies," filmed and performed in the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia.

Be warned: THERE ARE ***SPOILERS**FROM THIS POINT ON!
Continue at your own peril!

MELODRAMA!

Okay, the gist of the plot is this: The year: 1907. Ten years after the the ending of "The Phantom of the Opera" where the Phantom let's Christine go to marry Raoul, he is now living on Coney Island (Yes, you read that right). For the past decade he's been working his way to the top in the entertainment business with the help of Madame Giry and her daughter Little Meg Giry, two characters who had relatively limited importance in the original story. The Phantom is now called "Mr. Y" and runs a show called Phantasma. I guess his pseudonym is supposed to be a pun of sorts. You know. Mr. Y. Mister Y. Mistery. Mystery. Get it? Clever.

I guess 10 years is enough time to transistion from Opera to... Ooh-La-La girls.

These ten long years, the Phantom has been tortured and depressed because he has no Christine to manipulate and spy on-- I mean to coach and be insipred by to write music. So, I guess he uses his tricks to lure her, her hubby Raoul and their son to America with a job proposition. When they arrive, of course all hell is expected to break loose. And I guess it kinda does?

The de Chagney's arrive in America.

There's the basic plot that gets things rolling. Now, I'm just going to skip the rest and dive right into those spoilers that I warned you about. And frankly, I think you'll be better off knowing them ahead of time to save you from the shock of facepalming yourself every ten minutes during the show. If you see these things coming, you should be able to pay attention more and hopefully take away the good things in this show... They exist, I promise.

First of all, the character of the Phantom was virtually wussied down in the sequel. I suppose one could argue the character's development over the years, maybe he learned some humility, or whatever. But, the one thing that I felt made the Phantom the Phantom was that he was-- to put it lightly-- deranged. In the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the tale, he wears only half a mask. That, to me, does not constitute a good enough reason to live in rat infested cellars, stalking people, murdering them, and blackmailing to get the money for his pretty clothes. But, that insanity is kind of what made me fall in love with the character. He was menacing. I LOVE IT.

MENACE!
(DVD capture from "Love Never Dies." This is him peeping menacingly from her mirror. *swoon*)

Unfortunately, in "Love Never Dies" he seems to have gotten a menace-oscopy. He's a grumpy puppy now. There is no murder, just flippant threats and lightweight blackmail. He kind of lost his Phantomy air, which is sad. I do give credit to whoever directed and/or wrote the Australian version. From what I know of the original London production of LND, the Phantom was even more fluffy and less dangerous. In fact, there is quite a significant number of difference between the London and Melbourne productions. In the Melbourne version, they seemed to have amputated some of the worst and expendible things that weighed down the London version. For instance, one or two of the somewhat obnoxious Coney Island numbers. The Phantom's Christine robot. The organ playing Gorilla (which I actually kinda wanted to see.... <_<). Meg was also toned down in her bitch/psycho attitude, and Madame Giry made a little less Norman Bates.

I think my favorite scene from the Melbourne verson is when the Phantom confronts Christine for the first time and gives a glimpse of that original craziness that made him so elegantly loony and alluring in the "Phantom of the Opera." You know, the wide-eyed, clenched fist, light on his mask, "You will sing for me or else, Christine! I own you!" But here's another great part about the sequel. Christine 2.0.

Christine in a new kind of outfit as she sings the title song, "Love Never Dies." Boring song, awesome dress.

Unlike just about every version of the Phantom story, movies, and stage productions alike, they seemed to have given Christine a bit of fire in the Australian performance. When the Phantom popped up out of nowhere and told her to sing, she replied with, "Aw hell, no, you crazy mo'fo'!" But... you know, more eloquently. That scene, which is very close to the beginning of the story, actually had me smiling. I was getting high hopes for this story. That was the reaction that I wanted to see from Christine when she's faced with Mr. Crazy Pants again. Aside from damn good singing lessons, what the hell did he ever do for her but give her nightmares and make her feel violated? Come on.



Unfortunately, as the story progresses in LND, she and the Phantom both seem to become pure slop and sap of fluffy, mushy, love and regret. They acted as though they just had an unfortunate breakup ten years ago because he family moved out of town and she had to go with them. This isn't The Notebook. This is supposed to be more of a gothic tale with opera themes! I'm all for her having some unexplainable graviation towards him, because that's apparent in the character interaction. But that simplified romance of "I love you and nothing else matters, not even marriage or murder" attitude totally lost me and lost the original feel of the story, I thought. I could rant about that all night, so... Moving on!

Gustave. That's the name of Christine and Raoul's son. He's ten years old. The kicker (or yawner)? Apparently we are informed through the song "Beneath a Moonless Sky" that Christine and the Phantom hooked up for a one night stand 10 years ago the night before she was supposed to marry Raoul. So many things wrong with this that I will only touch on a few of them. For one, the ending of "Phantom of the Opera" did not seem to be leading up to a hot night under a moonless sky. Granted, the only way she would be able to sleep with him is if she couldn't see his face. Hence, you know... no moon. Though, who wouldn't take ALW's Phantom in a well lighted room over this?

Gerard Butler, eat your heart out.
I probably don't need to call spoiler with this but... SPOILER! Gustave is the Phantom's son! *le Gasp!* Again, as many reviewers of "Love Never Dies" have noticed as well, there are many fallacies in this conclusion. 1) The Phantom figured it out because Gustave knew how to play piano a little and likes to make up his own music. Uncanny. Must be his! Never mind the fact that he was raised with music because his mother is an opera singer. Irrelevant. 2) She did the dance-with-no-pants with the Phantom the night before her birthday-clothes-wedding-march with Raoul the next day. How is she supposed to tell who the baby daddy is? 3) It's just a terrible and contrived plot device that they kept from Forsythe's novel and probably shouldn't have.

"The Beauty Underneath" where the Phantom has the misguided idea to show the kid his lair, then his face. (Side note: I felt like I was on drugs during this number. It was damn cool.)

I think Raoul deserves a little blurb too... For one thing, I never did understand why there are so many Raoul haters in the phandom. As a writer I have an appreciation for him in the story as the necessary contrast to the Phantom. He's there to show (at least he was supposed to) just how bonkers the Phantom was and to be the morally guided, innocent youth to save Christine from a character who, for all intents and purposes, was a villain. I like him. He's not a bad guy, just a little... namby pamby. Just because he doesn't write sexy songs or wear a nice suit or know how to play the mystery card, that's no reason to hate on him! Poor guy was always doing the right thing as best he could. That being said, I think the writers (and probably Andrew Lloyd Webber himself) must have hated Raoul as much as the phans and decided to justify it. Our fair haired little Viscomte was turned into an angry drunk who didn't give a continental for his wife and son and apparently got them buried in debt because he's a gambler. Whhaaaat? Steadfast and chivalroud Raoul? Welp, I guess if you're going to write a fluff-fest between the Phantom and Christine, gotta get Raoul out of the picture somehow. And justify Christine's willingness to commit adultery. Just like a poorly written fan fiction. Exit Raoul, alone and destitute. I was more sad for Raoul than I was for all participants in the climax of the story.

Simon Gleeson as Raoul. The only adult character in the story who should have had a chance at a happy ending. Just sayin'.

The ending is the thing that makes or breaks a story, and whatever potential "Love Never Dies" had, was shattered irrevocably by the ending. Dear God, what have those writers done?! While I'm fairly certain there was a good number of people who found themselves tearing up at the ending, I had this look on my face:


The word that I've seen tossed around in reviews regarding LND is "Contrived," and I couldn't have chosen a better word myself. It was contrived. All of it. More than anything, the ending. I know what they were aiming for. They wanted to bring a tragic and powerful ending to these horribly star crossed characters and make the audience weep at the beauty (a word you will hate after watching LND, I promise you) and impossible love. But I can't help feeling like they failed horribly. The ending was straight out of a 90's movie, complete with crazy person brandishing a gun. After Christine at last performs for the Phantom, they find that Gustave is missing. First they think Raoul took him. Nope. Madame Giry? Nope. Meg? Yup! Meg Giry, gone crazy because the Phantom never noticed her, takes Gustave to the docks of Coney Island presumably for a swim. The lad can't swim and she liked to make a point of people nicely disappearing in the cold, wet depths. The Phantom, Christine, and Madame Giry catch up to them, Meg pulls out a gun. She gives them Gustave, since all the wanted was to be notcied by the Phantom. The gun goes to her head, and the Phantom seems to slip out of character like a puppy in a laundry shoot to coax ger to give him the gun. He says comforting things to let her know he understands how she feels, and everything's going good. He says, we can't all be pretty and perfect. Can't argue there, he's an expert in not being pretty. Then he adds, "We can't all be like Christine." *FACEPALM* Meg goes ballistic (and who can blame her) and the Phantom tries to take the gun, but it goes off and hits Christine. Everyone cries, she dies. Raoul's gone and Gustave is left with his real father, whom he accepts despite the ugly face. But then Raoul is suddenly back without a word. The End. And it's terrible.

I probably went into more detail than necessary for the ending, but I at least wanted to give a taste as to why it's so... cringe worthy. It's a cop out way to produce tears from people by bringing in a gun and shooting down Christine. What I would like to know is, what necessitated her death in relation to the plot? The tragedy of it might have been more profound if she and the Phantom had been fighting to be together for all these years, no just coping without. It just... doesn't work.

There is a lot more to tear apart in regards to the story, but I'll try to leave it there. Since I picked out the Australian production, I think it only fair to mention the cast, directing, and other performances.

Playing the Phantom in this version is Ben Lewis. I've never seen any other performance of his and only have this DVD recording to judge by, so I'll be fair. He was good, I thought. Very tall, commanding posture, and had great gestures fit for the Phantom. He also had the constant wide-eyed expression that was a little creepy and laughable at times, but comforted me in thinking the Phantom may still be psychotic after all. Of his singing, I wouldn't say he was my favorite Phantom, but he was still very good. When I say "very good" I mean he didn't sound like Michael Crawford (sorry).

Cuts a nice phantomy figure.

In the role of Christine was Anna O'Byrne. I thought she was great. With the make up she was reminiscent of a porcelain doll and I would like to think it was her acting that gave Christine the spark of life that the character tends to lack. The character is (and ought to be) conflicted with a ton of emotions, which I thought she pulled off along with a great singing voice.

All in all, I can't think of anyone I didn't like in this cast. Loved Simon Gleeson as Raoul, and Sharon Millerchip as Meg Giry. I also especially loved the Phantom's henchmen, Gangle (Dean Vince), Squelch (Paul Tabone) and Fleck (Emma J Hawkins). They were very much improved-- particularly Fleck-- from the London version.

Fleck (Emma J. Hawkins), Gangle (Dean Vince), and Squelch (Paul Tabone) in all their carny glory.
In fact, Coney Island and it's carnival atmosphere seemed better all around in the Australian production. It was dark and creepy. If I was to imagine the Phantom running a carnival, I think it would be just that. In the London version, it seemed more cheeseball American musical from the 1940's or something. Rather grating on the senses...

I doubt Coney Island ever had anything like this but... I like it!

If you've read this far, then you probably won't be surprised when I say that I have very mixed feelings about "Love Never Dies." The general plot is an abomination, the music is decent (one or two I admittedly adore), the cast of the Australian production at the Regent Theatre is great. Within the terrible plot, flashes of quality came through occasionally. If you're a phan of any sort, I suggest you rent, or buy (or YouTube) the BluRay/DVD film of LND and judge for yourself. There are things to enjoy even if the story makes you ill. Try to enjoy it, since I (mostly) did!

Another aspect of the show that doesn't match anything else. Wish I knew whose face that was...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Short Story: "Then That's Good Enough For Me"

Well, the short story that I submitted was ultimately rejected. A little disappointing, yes. But not surprising considering I have never written a short story in my life. Heh. So, rather than hiding this thing away (like I'm inclined to do), I figure I should throw it out there. Maybe someone will tell me what I did wrong.

Writer's Cafe: Then That's Good Enough For Me

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Short Story Hell

Recently, one of my English professors suggested that I write a short story or poem for an upcoming contest/event. She's only read my essays, though, never my creative writing. So, what she probably doesn't know is that my track record for these things has been consistent in that my writing is never picked for anything. Granted, the last time I tried I was 10 years old and my story was a ridiculously embarrassing rip off of Titanic. (That stays between us... <_<) I love to write, and so long as I can do it anonymously, I'm emotionally golden. But this contest (though they don't call it that) requires that whoever's work is chosen, the author will read it aloud to other people while they nom on free cookies and coffee. Reading aloud I can do. Reading MY OWN stuff aloud? Might take a few years off my life.
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Let's put stage fright aside. I live to write, but there's a huge problem here. I write poetry as well as I can play sports (both resulting in concussions) and I have never written a short story in my life. The one time I was assigned to write one for school, the thing ended up being 33 pages. A novella, if anything and a terrible one that was gladly revised into my novel, Tarkington Wolf. And being without stories or ideas is rarely my issue. It's finding one that would fit into the required minimum of 7 pages that proves to be the biggest obstacle.
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I wrote it though. Yay me. It's within 7 pages, if barely, and relatively solid. But, having read a good number of short stories, and being the author of this one, I feel it's sickeningly lacking in yumph. I've revised it 10 times already, constantly cutting out informative narrative and pointless dialogue, since I have an unfortunate habit of writing out an entire conversation between characters in real time. It's like eavesdropping on people at the bus stop. The deadline for submission is in a week and frankly, I have no expectations of winning, since my story is not one of a life changing personal experience or the tale of a gay teen or anything. This is sensationalist fiction, plain and simple. That's what I do, damn it! If I can't succeed with what I do best, then why try to write something out of my range, that's what I say.
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I did do quite a bit of research in hopes of learning the basic structure and criteria of a short story. One that I've seen before is the criteria presented by Kurt Vonnegut. It's a good list of guidelines, though I don't think it applies to every story. But, for the novice short story writer, this is sage advice. Mr. Vonnegut says:
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1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way
that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or
she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if
it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal
character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent
your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the
reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a
window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as
possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such
complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could
finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
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The main point I brought with me when diving into my writing was that every short story should have a punchline. I've read a lot of short fiction that didn't seem to be going anywhere until that last line that hits you like a slap in the face. For example, Guy de Maupassant's story "The Necklace" where a woman borrows a necklace, accidentally loses it, spends ten years of her life paying it back only to find out at the end that it wasn't even worth a 6th of the debt she paid. And, probably more famously, O. Henry's "The Gift of the Magi," where a young married couple want to get each other gifts. He sells his watch to get her a comb, she cuts off her hair to get him a watch chain. I guess a lot of short stories could be like drawn out jokes where irony is the key to holding it all together.
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I'll end this by saying that I don't like short stories. So whoever lives in the cosmos granting points for effort, send some this way!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Highlighting Differences

Guest post written by my buddy Bernardo GrahamI think it’s funny that since I got directtv my boyfriend and my differences have been amplified. It has always been obvious to us that we are very different, but I never thought we wouldn’t be able to sit down and watch a TV show together. He can’t stand the shows that I like, and I return the sentiment about his. I admit that some of the shows I like are very girly, but I don’t expect him to watch those with me. I try to watch shows like The Bachelor and Real Housewiveswhen I am by myself. He will not watch anything but sports. I can suggest all sorts of compromises and he won’t go for any of them. I get so sick of watching basketball games that I just zone out and eventually fall asleep. I don’t even want to imagine what football season will be like! I wish we could find a common ground that we would both enjoy. I am going to keep on trying to find something. Maybe I should start renting movies about sports?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bringing a little bit of retro style into my home

Guest post written by Lana CopelandI'm really into vintage and retro things. Some of my favorite times are the 60s, but more like the Mad Men 60s than the Woodstock 60s. I think that if I had a Woodstock looking 60s home, I wouldn't look very much like an adult. Now, it doesn't look just like a flash from the past exactly, but it definitely has a little bit of retro flavor.I'd like to make my home look a little more sophisticated and I looked online to get a little bit of inspiration for that. While I was online looking up some of that stuff, I ran across some info on sears replacement windows. I knew that's something else that I need to address in my home to make it look a little more sophisticated, so I'm going to get my windows replaced. I think it will make a huge different in looks.I decided to also get a bar cart for my home. I think it's a great way to bring in a little more of that retro flavor, but in a modernized way. I love how minimalist it is while serving a much-needed purpose for me.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Soulless (Opening Excerpt & Chapter 1)

At last the beginning of my adventure in reviewing a book one chapter at a time! I'll start with a basic play-by-play, then a review of the chapter(s).
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I will be honest here. I googled and asked around to learn the official name of the excerpt that is sometimes included at the beginning of novels, but I couldn't find an answer. In fact, it's probably called just that. An excerpt. So I'll go with that. (I wanted to call it a teaser, since that's essentially what it is, but oh well.
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EXCERPT: The gist of this scene is the heroine, Alexia Tarabotti, being attacked by a vampire. I had to read the first paragraph a good three times in order to understand it. Being taken out of context (since it's an excerpt from the novel somewhere) I know it's not necessarily meant to be understood right off the bat. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was that the chosen excerpt was an action scene and I couldn't tell whether or not an action was attempted or succeeded, whether or not the heroine dodged the attack from the vampire, or what a "desperate wriggle" is supposed to mean when the vampire was stuck with a wooden hair stick. (I imagined some kind of shimmy with a boa, but that can't be right....)
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In the middle of this fight to the death, which drops them on a tray of food, (the reasons why they're fighting is left to be explained) Alexia worries about food getting on her dress. I know it was meant to be funny, but perhaps the humor was lost along with the context. Similarly in the narrative, which is from Alexia's viewpoint, she likens the nameless vampire's death to "a soufflé going flat" and dubs it the Grand Collapse. Another humorous moment? Bit dry, but again, it's an excerpt.
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REVIEW: Judging it as a sample text that is intended to intrigue me to read on, I wasn't impressed or very interested. All it did was introduce me to what seems like a fumbling heroine with a bland sense of humor. But, as a writer, I will give this piece of writing the benefit of the doubt. It could easily had been a poorly chosen excerpt, which I know happens often. I just hope the rest of the book makes more sense than that snippet of a scene.
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CHAPTER 1: In the very first paragraph Miss Alexia Tarabotti is introduced (in name only) and the narrative simply says that she is at a ball, which she dislikes, but there is no explanation as to why she is there in the first place. It's also a cliché pet peeve of mine to see a stereotypical nonconformist woman in a Victorian setting. I wouldn't mind a story where the hero is a social bug and dresses in the latest fashion and is closed minded and ignorant like their contemporaries. But I digress....
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After briefly explaining her lack of enjoyment in the ball, the narrative goes straight into saying: "... she had retreated to the library, her favorite sanctuary in any house, only to happen upon an unexpected vampire. She glared at the vampire." Immediately that strikes me as poor writing. Not only is it boringly direct, but it lacks tension, reason, surprise, and even humor if that was the intent. Hell, I don't even know the main character well enough to fear for her life, let alone the vampire's. Then it's willy-nilly explained that- hey!- she has no soul and apparently that's reason for a vampire to avoid her.
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Without any dialogue even being exchanged, he attacks her. Turns out, her lack of a soul neutralizes anything supernatural, and his fangs disappear as soon as he touches her. The description given of him creeping out of the shadows and touching her is frustratingly vague. How he touched her, where, etc. is not explained. As soon as he lets go of her, though, his fangs reappear and he dives in for another bite. To this, Alexia utters the first piece of dialogue (which doesn't take my breath away at all). She says: "I say! We have not even been introduced!" Ha.
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She then attacks him with her 007 parasol that is equipped with a buckshot and black frills, despite that fact that it is "terribly tasteless" to be carrying one at a private ball. She bonks the vampire on the head with it and scolds him for his manners. Ha.
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From her hair, she takes out a wooden hair stick that she cleverly calls her "hair stake." Ha.
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When the vampire finally speaks, the fangs cause him to talk with a lisp. My eye twitched with what might have been a laugh wanting to come out at that idea, but for some reason it wasn't all that amusing. I think a vampire with a lisp would have been a little funnier if he wasn't depicted as a clown from the get go. Though, that might not work either...
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Finally, an explainer is thrown in the middle of this scene. Alexia is what is called a "Preternatural" because of her soullessness, a name given to her kind by the "Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR), a division of Her Majesty's Civil Services." The scene continues a little as she explains herself to the vampire, but it's interrupted again with a paragraph explaining her appearance. Alexia is described as being "exotic" but not lovely. I'm hoping this actually means the heroine isn't the 'fairest of them all' with all the men tripping over each other to get her. If that's the case, there may be hope for this dry character yet.
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Ah, and here's where the excerpt in the beginning comes in. He attacks her, she kills him, etc. The flattened soufflé and all. Then, a group of dandies from the ball happen to walk in and see her with the dead body. So, she pretends to scream and faint.
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Two men show up at the scene and shoo everyone out but her. The grumpy "Alpha" is Lord Maccon and his "Beta" is a nice little man named Professor Lyall. It's a rather typical introduction of a sour commander character reprimanding the hero, or in this case heroine, for a job sloppily done. One of the paragraphs suddenly switches to Maccon's POV, which is a tad annoying, but not necessarily confusing, so I can let it go... (Though I'm not hopeful future chapters will avoid POV hopping.)
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A following paragraph did confuse me, though. Professor Lyall is examining the vampire's body and inspects the creature's trousers. It goes on to describe him taking a leather case containing steampunk goggles out of his pocket. It wasn't until the professor put them on that I realized he took them out of his own pocket. I had to read it twice for clarification. I know I've been guilty of confusing who is doing what in action narrative, but reading this sort of thing is a helpful reminder to clarify which "he" is which. How was I supposed to know Count Vague-y McVagueness the Vampire didn't carry goggles in his trouser pockets?
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After a bunch of unneeded banter regarding Alexia's criticism of the vampire's taste in clothing, Lord Maccon asks her what happened, and like any good investigator, takes out a writing kit to get it down. What he takes out, though, is some elaborate writing kit that is more like a small chemisty set with a stylus. Since this world involves normal Victorian England, why not just use a pencil and notebook? Seems more practical to me... Because he apparently used an all-too authoritative voice on her, she gets uppity and calls him a puppy. This is when the author decides to explain that the choice of insults was because Maccon and Lyall are werewolves. Hence the "Alpha" and "Beta" titles.
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Their conversational banter is interrupted AGAIN to explain about her mother, Mrs. Loontwill, who is oblivious to the supernatural aspects of her daughter, and only cares about marrying her off. It seems her preternatural status was explained to her when she was only 6 years old by some silver haired gentleman with a silver cane. An important character later, obviously. (My first thought is that he will turn out to be the main villain, so it will be fun to see how my half-cocked prediction will go!) The exposition here goes on for too long explaining her childhood and becoming quite repetitive with the fact that Alexia is half Italian with a Roman nose, but great curves. All of this interrupts the conversation so much that I didn't remember what they were talking about when she finally replies to Maccon.
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After more dry banter and a segment with a sandwich, finally, a point to the chapter rears its miraculous head! Professor Lyall (Bless you, Lyall!) informs them that if the killing of this vampire can't be proven as self-defence then Alexia could be accused of murder. Some conflict and danger at last! (I don't count the lispy vampire.) But once again, we're subjected to more exposition where it tells us more about the characters than it's showing. It makes the conversations ridiculously difficult to follow when EVERY line is divided by an explanatory paragraph or two.
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Ah HA! A little purpose for the vampire's lisp, other than failed humor! Apparently, his "fang lisp" indicates that he is a vampire with no etiquette, which means that he doesn't belong to a "hive" where they would have surely taught him some. Apparently. Though, I feel as though it was established a hundred times over in this chapter that this "rogue" vampire couldn't have belonged to a hive.
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The POV is switched again to Lyall... ugh... One viewpoint, pleeaaasse.....
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Twice, there has been mention of a hedgehog incident involving Alexia that put her on the BUR's sh**list. I'm a little interested to know what that is all about, I admit.
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The chapter then ends with Maccon and Lyall contemplating the puzzle that is Alexia and why she hasn't gotten married yet.
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REVIEW: Well, Lord Maccon obviously has a thing for Alexia despite her "Roman nose and dark complexion," and there may possibly be some romance between the two. Could be fun. I hope it at least gives Alexia a little more character. Her soullessness is explained as a lack of morals, not emotions, but she is still coming across to me as dry. Gives me cotton mouth just reading it. Her sarcasm falls extremely short and so far she's not a character that I care much for. And though I'm told these characters each have their own mysterious qualities, none of them are intriguing enough to me. I will just have to keep reading and see if this catches my interest...
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Mood at the end of Chapter 1: Bored, but have hopes.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Review: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate) by Gail Carriger

So, I've been too lazy or too at a loss to know what to write for my blog, so finally I've decided to do what I enjoy from time to time: review something. However, my reviews tend to be about movies. This time I've decided to review a book for a change. Seems like a good way to get more use out of my Kindle, if nothing else.
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Since books tend to be more complex than movies (at least, they should be) I am going to attempt a chapter-by-chapter review rather than an overview at the end. Since books have so many words and nuances, it would be hard to cover everything at once. Also, I think it will be fun to make a record of my interpretations and predictions as the story goes along so that I could see just how completely wrong I was in the end!
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My first book of choice is that of the Steampunk genre, which I've been trying to familarize myself with.
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Title: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate), An Alexia Tarabotti Novel
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Author: Gail Carriger
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Genre: Fiction, Steampunk, Historical, Fantasy, Romance
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The premise is described in the following way on Amazon.com:
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Starred Review. Carriger debuts brilliantly with a blend of Victorian romance, screwball comedy of manners and alternate history. Prickly, stubborn 25-year-old bluestocking Alexia Tarabotti is patently unmarriageable, and not just because she's large-nosed and swarthy. She's also soulless, an oddity and a secret even in a 19th-century London that mostly accepts and integrates werewolf packs, vampire hives and ghosts. The only man who notices her is brash Lord Conall Maccon, a Scottish Alpha werewolf and government official, and (of course) they dislike each other intensely. After Alexia kills a vampire with her parasol at a party—how vulgar!—she and Conall must work together to solve a supernatural mystery that grows quite steampunkishly gruesome. Well-drawn secondary characters round out the story, most notably Lord Akeldama, Alexia's outrageous, italic-wielding gay best vampire friend. This intoxicatingly witty parody will appeal to a wide cross-section of romance, fantasy and steampunk fans.
(Oct.) Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Sounds interesting enough!
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The cover itself is pretty snappy. Very Victorian with just enough Steampunk that doesn't drown the image in clockwork or brass. Hopefully this will be one of the few novels whose cover is actually true to the book. (Let's face it, we ALL judge a book by its cover.)
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Expectations: The Victorian Era is my favorite. Though Steampunk is a fascinating concept, I have yet to come across an interesting and well executed story in that particular genre. It's usually too many goggles, watches, swords and airships and not enough character deveopment or unique plot. So, considering that the protagonist, Alexia Tarabotti, is apparently Soulless with a big nose makes her sound like a good character that I could like. And there's mention of a gay vampire as her besty. That could be awesome.
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Here's hoping this book is a winner!