"Take no heed of her...She reads a lot of books."
~Jasper Fforde

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

31 Days of Halloween #7

I love shows like The Twilight Zone and The Night Gallery.  They're so delightfully creepy.  Sometimes, I turn off the TV feeling genuinely unsettled, but most of the time, it's just a fun scare, nothing more.  (This is, of course, disregarding that episode of Night Gallery with the freaky possessed doll and the one with the painting that changes as things happen in the house.  Those were so scary!)
From the "Doll of the Dead" episode

Dark Midnight is a series by Jason Steele (of Film Cow infamy).  This is sort of his attempt at the world of late-night thriller specials.  It's not scary, and definitely bizarre, but I find that I really enjoy watching them.  I hope you do, too!  If nothing else, he certainly captures that strange, unsettling feeling of these sorts of shows.  The first link will take you to "Bet of a Lifetime", but I'm also including the links for the two other Dark Midnight episodes below:

31 Days of Halloween #6

Did you read the Goosebumps books as a kid?  I'm sure that even if you didn't, you've at least heard of them.  I know I read them.  And I always was afraid that it would be too scary.  I wouldn't call them scary, per se, and honestly, I didn't read more than a handful of them, but they were usually pretty creepy, even if I couldn't always get into the story.  That's why I moved from regular Goosebumps books to R.L. Stine's choose your own adventure books.  I forget what they were called specifically--something like Choose your Own Nightmare or Reader Beware: You Choose the Scare"--but each featured a situation similar to what children had come to expect from Goosebumps books: monsters, mystery, unsettling transformations, creepy strangers, and of course, "responsible" adults who never believed you.  There was also a Goosebumps TV show, but I never got into that.

Mr. JonTron himself, ladies and gentlemen!

The brother is a huge fan of the YouTuber JonTron.  And while I wouldn't say that I go out of my way to watch his stuff, Jon's bizarre sense of humor and obvious plethora of video game knowledge has been really starting to grow on me.  So, when I was looking for some content for this series of posts, I felt I had to look no further than JonTron.  Now, while Jon has posted many things that could be featured in a Halloween blog post, for this particular one, I'm going to stick with his Goosebumps Reviews.

Even though I never saw the Goosebumps TV show, I don't think that lessened my enjoyment of watching the JonTron critique of it.  Honestly, I think one of the best part of JonTron's reviews is watching him describe games you've never played, and shows you've never watched because he goes into so much detail...about how bad each one really was.  And by the time he's done, you're almost relieved you never experienced that game or show.  It just sounds too awful.  But, he's not all negative.  Some reviews are really positive.  And Jon's always super-funny!

If you enjoyed part 1 of this review, you can find Part Two here.  And for another bonus, you can watch the Top 13 Goosebumps Books by FamiliarFaces here as well.

31 Days of Halloween #5

Okay, so I've been pretty bad about updating these...School has been keeping me busy, along with some other things in my personal life that have come up.  The funny thing is, I know this blog is a much bigger deal to me than it is to all of you, and yet here I am fretting that everyone is going to be disappointed if I don't post 31 posts in the month of October, haha.  Still, I'm going to try and double up my posts until I get caught up on them.  I am going to do my utmost to get you 31 posts about spooks, costumes, and candy.  Just give me some time! ;)

Do you believe in ghosts?  To be honest, I don't.  But, once, when I was on a ghost tour around the city, I had a strange experience that I can't entirely explain.  We were down in a series of tunnels deep underground. It was said that sailors used to use this place at one time.  The tunnels we were in were supposed to be the most haunted.  The tour guide gave us a quick warning, before turning off the lights, plunging us into complete darkness.  It was so dark I could not see my hand in front of my face.  As soon as the lights went out, I felt an arm reach around my waist, with a hand resting on my hip.  And it remained there for a tense 30 seconds or so before the lights came on.  And it disappeared as the lights came on, so by the time I could see again, there was nothing to look for.  There was a wall to my right, and a female classmate to my left.  Behind me was a small table backed into a corner.  There was nothing under it, and a few books on top.  I wasn't backed up enough to hit the table, but even so, I feel as though a table in my back wouldn't feel the same as an arm around my waist.

Like I said, I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm not sure what happened down there.  Perhaps I had an encounter with some lusty sailor in the damp tunnels under the city.  Or, perhaps my mind was just playing tricks on me.  You can decide for yourselves, but as for me, I enjoy the ambiguity of not knowing.

A ghost with its stupid ghost face

FilmCow used to be one of my favorite YouTubers (along with VSauce, Rhett & Link, and Epic Rap Battles of History).  You might know of him from videos like Charlie the Unicorn, Marshmallow People, or Llamas with Hats.  However, his sense of humor is pretty bizarre and sometimes genuinely boarders on "messed up," making his videos something of the kind you discover when you find yourself on the "weird part of YouTube."

This video documents a day by day experience of one man (whose head looks like the top of a sesame seed hamburger bun, if you ask me!) in the Ghost House....

There are three other Ghost House videos The Reckoning, Reloaded, and The Return of Jafar) but honestly, they're not that great.  I've included them here, in case you were interested, but I think this one, like probably most of FilmCow's videos, was a one-trick pony.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 Days of Halloween #4

Ack!  I'm so sorry I missed October 4th!!  I was at work all day, and when I got home to start posting things, was horrified to find that my Internet had been knocked out and I couldn't get on Blogger!  Noooo!  So, that being said, I'm going to (hopefully) post Days 4 and 5 today (October 5th) and I'll try to be more on top of things for the rest of the month...

My birthday is this month.  I don't like a lot of attention on my birthday, so I generally don't tell people about it.  I'm bringing this up, though, because I wanted to show off an early birthday present I got, that also fits into my 31 Days of Halloween theme.

Oh, Frankie!  It's wonderful :O

Again, this is one for the ladies, but guys, you might still find it kinda cool.  Or maybe, you'd like to get it for that special lady in your life...because what kind of girl doesn't want a stylish black purse with Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, and Dracula on it?  (My guess is probably MOST girls, but we're just going to pretend I didn't say that).

I've been a fan of the classic movie monsters since I was in high school and I had to do a project about the musical The Phantom of the Opera.  My search for Phantom movies led me to the original 1925 film.  From there, I started researching, found a documentary on Lon's son Creighton (Lon Chaney Jr.), and from there had my first experience with the unholy trio of classic movie monsters: The Wolf Man (the others of course being Dracula and Frankenstein).  By this point, I've seen most, if not all of the classic Universal films from their respective franchises.

Of course, I'll be posting more about these wonderful movies.  But, for now, I really just want to show off my new bag.  And encourage you to either purchase this for, or show it to any lady you know who has an interest in these bad boys.  The bag is really nice, big and has plenty of room for my stuff, with little pockets inside.  I'm very pleased with it.  :)

Friday, October 3, 2014

31 Days of Halloween #3

I loved dressing up for Halloween when I was a kid.  It was only as I got older that I started to get uncomfortable and stopped wanting to go Trick-or-Treating with the Brother and my friends.  As a 20-something college graduate, I almost wish I could go back to doing that again.  I might this year.  Who knows.  I would love to pass out candy dressed as Alice Cooper.

My list of childhood costumes ranges from cats to a ladybug to a cheerleader to a clown.  And it's this last one that I feel commands special attention.  I had to be like 5 or 6, dressed up with big floppy shoes and a rainbow wig; I never thought that I was scary.  And I never thought that the costume was meant to be scary.  After all, clowns, as far as I knew, were funny characters with big red noses and painted on smiles.  But, do a quick internet search, and you can find some pretty creepy stuff.  Personally, I'm not afraid of clowns, but I can certainly understand why some people are!

So, this I suppose is your warning, everyone.  This post is all about clowns.  And if you're one of the above-mentioned folks who suffer from Coulrophobia, then I apologize in advance; I don't mean to freak anyone out.  This is all meant in good fun.

Yes, that is a clown shark.

Day #: Clowns and Clown Shark

Yes, yes, I know.  I thought I would kick off this creepy clown post with a little video called Clown Shark.  This is by the wonderful team of Rhett & Link, personal favorites of mine.  Granted, this is not their best work, but I've been finding a ton of clown related videos, costumes, etc., and I thought it would be funny to include it, too.  The basic plot is a peaceful hippie (Rhett--looking a lot like John Lennon) reveals his fear of clowns and sharks...and is then attacked by a fearsome combination of the two.  Campy, silly, a bit stupid, and actually a bit freaky.  But, I enjoyed it.

Makeup by MadeYewLook

Now, if you made it through that nightmarish combination, perhaps we could move on to a makeup tutorial?  Have you thought of a costume yet?  If not, perhaps you might want to go as a clown.  This is more for the ladies, but feel free to watch as well, gentlemen.  I think the artist hams it up a bit too much at the start of the video, but her makeup job is so awesome that I think she can get away with it.  You can find her tutorial here.

Finally, I'll wrap this up with a song by my man Alice Cooper: "Can't Sleep, Clowns Will Eat Me". 

Please let me know what you thought in the comments.  And if you have any ideas for other posts, please feel free to share those as well.  It could be as specific as "Rhett and Link did this video called Clown Shark!" or as general as "Please show some stuff about Halloween costumes!"  Or, maybe something in the middle "I would love to see a post about Boris Karloff."

Thursday, October 2, 2014

31 Days of Halloween #2

If your childhoods were/are anything like mine was, trick-or-treating was a really fun time.  You dress up in colorful costumes and get free candy.  It doesn't get much better than that!  I'm sure, also, that you got the usual candy fare: Snickers, M&Ms, Reese Peanut Butter Cups, Dum Dums, Almond Joys, etc.  But, I'd bet that you weren't getting Musk Sticks and Salsaghetti in your treat bags.  And I'll bet that when you were growing up, most of you hadn't even heard of them! (And you might not even have heard of them until now!)

My personal favorite; Botan Rice Candy :)

When I was a kid, my aunt when on a business trip to China.  I remember her returning with all sorts of treats, covered in strange letters that I couldn't read.  I remember a bag of cookies--that tasted like animal crackers--with a picture of Hello Kitty on the label.  To 10-year old me, who loved Hello Kitty, it was the coolest thing ever!

In this video, YouTube tag-team Rhett & Link talk about different strange and wonderful (and maybe not-so-wonderful) candies and snacks from around the world.  I've tried a few strange treats myself, including Botan Rice candy and Satsumaimo sweet-potato-and-caramel rice candy.  I also love mochi, and while I have tried both strawberry and taro, my favorite has to be the sweet taste of red bean.

Of course, today's video covers more than just Japanese candies.  But, my experience really does not.  So, apart from one or two candy bars from Ireland (Crunchie, Flake--those may or may not be the actual names...) most of the non-American candy I've sampled has been from Japan.

Rhett & Link are a personal favorite of mine when it comes to YouTube channels.  And their Good Mythical Morning Show is worth subscribing to.  If you like what you see here, good, because I'm sure they will be popping up again somewhere on this blog :)  I actually have plans to bring in another one of their videos for my 31 Days of Halloween Challenge, as well.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

31 Days of Halloween #1

Ever since I started this blog, I thought it would be fun to do a 31 days of Halloween tribute all through October, with posts about everything from ghost stories to vampires to costume ideas to candy.  And I'm going to finally attempt that this year.  I hope I don't utterly botch this, and I hope you enjoy it!  If you're looking for more of a specific topic (movies, costumes, stories, etc.), please let me know in the comments, and I'll try to provide more of what you're asking for :)

Just sit back & enjoy the show!

I love classic horror movies.  There's something so fun about sitting down with a big bowl of popcorn to enjoy a film that is really not so much scary, as atmospheric and creepy.  Classics like Frankenstein and Dracula readily jump to mind.  And, as you might notice, they're both included on this list.  However, there are a few other...gems on here as well.

These films precede the rating system.  And as such, they can get pretty...creepy, messed up, you get the idea.  I've seen three of them, and have not been emotionally scarred, so I'm sure you'll be fine (although, Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man are some of the mainstream ones, so who knows?)  Watch a few, let me know what you think.  These might be a fun alternative for Halloween movie parties; instead of conjuring up scares with Nightmare on Elm Street or The Exorcist, perhaps you can regale your guests with The Mask of Fu Manchu and Doctor X!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cabal is Coming!

So, I might have mentioned in a previous post (or two) that I'm super into the Johannes Cabal series by Jonathan L. Howard.  And I might have also mentioned that I have read all three books, and all six short stories.  And I might have even mentioned that there was a fourth book on the way.  Well, I know for a fact that I did NOT tell y'all that I have pre-ordered this book, and should be expecting it by the end of the month!!

I'm planning on reading it come December, with the brother, who also loves this series.  Since he won't be able to get his hands on a copy until then, I have to wait, too, in order to avoid spreading spoilers.  As anxious as I am to start, I thought it might be fun to revisit the rest of the series (novels AND short stories) before I read Book 4: The Brothers Cabal.  I think that, coupled with schoolwork and other books, should take me until December.  I hope, at least, since the last thing I want is to get into a Johannes Cabal marathon and have to stop short because I read the rest of the series too fast.

I really want to rant on here about how great this series is, but I'm sure you already know how I feel.  (If you don't, read some of my posts about this series!)  In the meantime, I'll be sure to keep you updated on what I'm reading and what I'm doing (I've been a bit bad about that recently).  For those of you who don't follow me on Goodreads, a short recap would say that I've been reading mostly manga, specifically Dragon Ball (NOT Dragon Ball Z) and Library Wars: Love & War...Oh!  And Osama Tezuka's Phoenix series.  Which, by the way, is amazing.  Apart from that, just my usual fare.  A bit of fantasy, some spooky stuff, some non-fiction, whatever floats my boat.

Until next time, my friends!

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Alan Bradley)

Summer mysteries are well under way.  I've officially finished the second Flavia de Luce book mere minutes before writing this.  This is a wonderful series.  I can't wait to get my hands on book 3 (A Red Herring Without Mustard).  But, for now, let's just focus on book 2: The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag.  First, I have to say Mr. Bradley has the most interesting titles for books!
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  • The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
  • Red Herring Without Mustard
  • I am Half-Sick of Shadows
  • Speaking from Among the Bones
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Not yet published)
I thought this book was delightfully unsettling.  What I like about this series (from the two books I've read) is that while the deaths are certainly unsettling, they are never graphic or disturbing.  This is a classic cozy mystery, where you can close the book at any time and go right to sleep, instead of staring up at the ceiling thinking about the grisly details.  While in book 1, Flavia, our precocious 11-year old chemist, finds a dying man in the garden, this time he falls right onto the stage during a puppet show being put on in the parish hall.  And there is a whole delicious list of characters and suspects.  Who would have killed Rupert Porson, the puppeteer?  Could it have been his pregnant traveling companion, tired of his abuse or his wandering eye?  Or was it the mad woman who lives in the forest, who shouted that the devil was dead when Rupert came crashing down onto the stage?  Or perhaps the German POW who lives on one of the local farms and has a bit of shared history with him?
It was a fun book.  Sure, it was perhaps not as good as the first one, but I really enjoyed it.  I just love the main protagonist, Flavia.  She's clever, cute, and feels so original.  As a kid, I think this is the sort of person I would have loved to hang out with; she's smart and adventurous.  Plus, she's got a heart of gold (when she's not plotting revenge on her sisters, who can be rather cruel to her).
I feel like there is more that I should be saying about this book, but I'm afraid if I do, I'll be giving away plot points.  And besides, all my gushing about how wonderful Flavia is was taken care of in my previous post about this wonderful little detective.  As for my next read, I think I'll be deviating from the mysteries yet again.  I'm currently also reading the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, and once I get a few more of those under my belt, I'll be writing up a post about the series (or at least a small portion of the series.  There are literally 40 books so far.  I've read 2.)
I've got a few other interesting books lined up.  Perhaps one of the most interesting is a little gift I received in the mail today from The Roomie, whom I have not been in contact with for months.  A book of library/librarian stories is pretty much the best thing ever to find sitting on the kitchen table after coming home from a particularly busy day at work.   I can't wait to start reading!  (Thanks, hun!)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Arsène Lupin, Gentleman Thief (Maurice LeBlanc)

Those who know me well enough know that I'm a huge fan of the anime Lupin III by Monkey Punch (as well as the manga that inspired it, although it's really not as good).  And one day, while I was on a total Lupin III kick, I happened to stumble upon an interesting little fact on the Internet: Lupin III (or "Rupan sansei" as he's known in Japan) is based off a French book series by Maurice LeBlanc about a gentleman thief-turned-detective named Arsène Lupin.  (He's called Rupan in Japan in order to skirt around a copyright issue that originally prevented them from using the name Lupin.  Not that it mattered to them, since there is no "L" sound in Japanese, and they were already pronouncing it with an "R" sound anyway).  Already a fan of the famous anime criminal, I thought it might be fun to go back and read the book that inspired it all.  And that's how I ended up reading Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Thief this summer.  It also helped, of course, that the book fit into my theme of summer mysteries.  

This was a great book!  I honestly wasn't sure what to expect.  After all, I had fallen for Lupin the THIRD, the young, brash, and completely charming GRANDSON.  And sure, he was based off of the LeBlanc character, but that didn't mean that they were going to be the same.  And I'll be honest; they weren't the same.  But, despite this, they were both VERY good.  I really loved this original incarnation of Lupin.  He was funny, clever, charming, and had a sort of confident, mature bearing to him that Lupin III lacks.  While his "grandson" is cocky, over-confident, and pretty lusty, the original Lupin is much more of a romantic.  He does things not so much for the money or the sex, but because it's a charming or romanticized adventure.  It's like Robin Hood: robbing the rich and saving fair maidens.  Whether or not the whole thing is actually like this is up for debate, but this is certainly how Lupin sees it.

More than anything, these stories actually reminded me a lot of the Lupin seen in the Hayao Miyazaki Lupin III film The Castle of Cagliostro which quickly became one of my all-time favorite films as soon as I had seen it.  In this movie, Lupin III seems more mature.  He's not interested in all the ladies and the money; in fact, I don't think he makes any sex jokes at all (as contrasted to his other movies, which has him ogling breasts, chasing pretty girls, or attempting to seduce his on-again/off-again girlfriend Fujiko Mine).  His focus is on righting wrongs and saving a damsel in distress.  And in this book, that's what Lupin focuses on, too.  Sure, he plays some tricks and steals some things.  He even goes up against the greatest detective in literature: Sherlock Holmes.  But, he's not all about childish excitement.  He's more purposeful.  And it made for some great, fun stories with lots of drama and mystery.  I think my favorite was actually the final story: "The Sign of Mercury," which was almost completely over-the-top at times, but it was just so much fun that I didn't even care!

If you read any of the books I suggest this summer, this is one you just have to check out!  And I highly recommend that while you're at it, you give the anime a shot, too.  (A side note, some of the movies are rather bland, and might give you a bad introduction to the series.  Start with Castle of Cagliostro or Lupin III Series 2.)  But, read this book first.  Seriously.  Go read it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Bad, the Good, and the Down-Right Amazing

"Miss Emmy?"
"Yes, Watson?"
"What are all these books?"
"Well, those are books I just read."
"Yes, but, as far as I can tell, none of these are mysteries.  Isn't mystery your theme this summer?"
"That is correct, doctor.  That's what happens when you work in a library and new and interesting books are constantly falling into your lap.  You take them home and you read them."
"And what are you going to do now?"
"Elementary, my dear Watson!  I'm going to review them!"

And, that's pretty much what happened.  I went to work, I found lots of books (mostly chemistry, but I haven't read those yet) and I sat down to start reading, even though many of them weren't mysteries (mostly because they were coming due).  What can I say?  I'm a sucker when it comes to books!

First in this motley lineup is David Sedaris's Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.  I've heard some great things about this author, so I was really excited to check it out.  But, I'll be honest, I was terribly disappointed.  The stories were actually pretty depressing, and the characters were really full of themselves.  By the time I finished reading (it was a short book, so I managed to choke it down), I was feeling a bit bleak about stuff in general.  I'm sure his other stuff is funny, but I just wasn't feeling it with this book.  One positive, though: the illustrations were pretty fun.  (I mean, some of them were gross, but I did like the artist's style.)

The next book was far more enjoyable, and actually
should probably get it's own post, but I'm just not feeling up to it right now.  This was Vicious by Victoria Schwab, a twisted Sci-Fi novel about two friends, turned enemies, after their thesis studies on near-death experiences and super-human abilities goes horribly wrong.  It was a fast-paced read, and constantly kept my attention.  I really enjoyed reading it.  I think the best part is that for most of the book, you really don't know who to side with.  Clearly, both protagonists are nuts, but each presents a compelling reason that he is the correct one.  I have my thoughts on the matter, but I don't want to be the one to give any spoilers, so I'm going to just keep quiet about that.  But, I will say that it was a fast-paced, fascinating book, and one of those rare stories that actually left me completely unsure of what was going to happen until the very end.  Plus, I loved the characters for their depth, but only really "liked" a couple of them based on personality.  Some of them were just despicable but that's sort of what you want from your antagonist.

And finally, I did promise that this was to be a three-book post.  So, the final book of this trio is a wonderful manga graphic novel: Hetalia: Axis Powers, Vol. 1.  I recently started watching the anime, and I'm actually almost done with it.  So, while starting Season 4, I thought: Hey, isn't there a manga to this?  Yeah, let's go check it out.  For those of you unfamiliar with the anime or manga, Hetalia: Axis Powers is essentially a collection of stories about world history and politics (in this case, mostly WWII) where all the countries are depicted as attractive men.  The stories are clever and funny, and somehow manage to make sense, even though the countries are people instead of landmasses.  An example, when America decides to break free from England, he actually leaves England's house (he was living there along with other English territories.  Likewise, other countries in the same empires live together, like Austria and his girlfriend Hungary, who appears to be one of the only girls in this comic!).  It's a clever storyline, and makes me want to get interested in world history again.  I used to think history was fascinating, but after four years as an English major (during which time I decided to dump my History minor in favor of a Classical Studies one), I guess you can say that I got a bit sidetracked and my interests went elsewhere.  I've noticed that post-graduation Emmy is much more interested in reading about other things, like history  and science than she was before.  This is certainly a good thing.  And of course, I'm looking into reading more manga.  Hetalia is just the first on my list.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance (Gyles Brandreth)

This review has been a long time coming, especially since the book itself should not have taken this long to read.  At less than 400 pages, this engaging mystery should have been a quick read on a Sunday afternoon.  Instead, it sort of dragged.  I had read it once before (pre-blog, if I recall) and couldn't remember why I never finished the series.  Ah, that might be why.

Anyways, dear readers, I thought I'd give it another go.  And this is the end result.

The best way I can describe this book to people is like this: Think of a Sherlock Holmes book.  But, instead of Sherlock Holmes, you have Oscar Wilde.  And instead of Dr. Watson, you have poet Robert Sherard.  When Wilde discovers the corpse of his friend and pupil (and possibly also his lover) Billy Wood, naked, surrounded by candles, with his throat slit ear to ear, he decides that Billy's killer must be found.  But when the police aren't willing to look into the death of a street urchin whose body has mysteriously disappeared from the crime scene, Wilde takes matters into his own hands and goes searching for clues with the help of his friends Robert Sherard and Arthur Conan Doyle.

In theory, this is a great book.  And really, it was an interesting read and I did enjoy it.  But, it was just so slow.  It moved at a glacial pace (okay, perhaps that's unkind).  It was slow, but it was not boring.  Oftentimes, there were twists and surprises which caught me completely off guard.  Still, there was something missing.  And I'm not exactly sure what that is.  This had all the makings of an amazing book, but instead, I feel it only earned a very average 3 of 5 on Goodreads.

After this, I'll moving away from mysteries for a moment, and turning to some science books I picked up (mostly chemistry) and a bit of sci-fi/fantasy.  Stay tuned for more reviews!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)

I'd like to say at this point that my summer reading has gotten off to a good start.  I've been out of school for about a week (give or take a day or two) and I'm already posting about my second summer mystery!  This one is a bit of a jump from the Father Brown mysteries.  Now, instead of a Roman Catholic priest, we have an aspiring chemist, who just happens to be an eleven year old girl with a passion for poison.  Her name is Flavia de Luce.

Life has not been super-kind to Flavia.  Her father has been emotionally distant since the death of her mother when Flavia was a baby, and her two older sisters are always ganging up on her.  (Not that she can't handle herself.  She gets back at them on more than one occasion).  Things start to get interesting for Miss Flavia, however, when a dead bird turns up on the doorstep with a postage stamp pinned to its beak.  This is followed up the next morning when Flavia finds a dying man in the cucumber patch.  But, what starts off as simply fascinating soon becomes personal when Flavia's father is charged with the murder.  Soon, she finds much more than she bargained for in this exciting story.

I have never been much for cozy mysteries, which is why I thought this would be a great summer reading assignment.  As far as I'm concerned, this topic is about as close to virgin soil as I'm going to get when it comes to reading materials.  Sure, I've read mysteries, but not many.  Perhaps I don't because of a couple simple reasons.  (1.) I hate being able to guess who the murderer is right off the bat.  Do I try and guess anyway?  Of course!  Half the fun of reading a mystery is to figure out who the murderer is, what's the motive, and how was the murder committed.  A lot of times I can guess.  And that's annoying.  (2.) Or, the murderer will be something stupid.  "I killed Mrs. Patterson because I wanted to be the head of the bake-sale committee for this year's PTA."  Huh.  Not much of a high-stakes crime here.  Just a stupid one.  This book avoided both of these pitfalls.  Not only was I not able to guess who the murderer was, but the motive and method were thought-out.  It was very good!

Another of this book's positive characteristics was the detective.  For such a grim sort of character (an 11 year old with a passion for poison!!) Flavia was incredibly likeable.   She was funny, candid, and fascinating.  Sometimes, when writing a mature child character, he or she does not sound realistic.  Mostly, you get the image of an adult when reading, or worse, the character either sounds creepy or fakey-fake fake.  So, of course, I was vaguely concerned that Flavia would turn out the same way.  I was pleasantly surprised.  She's smart, certainly.  In fact, remembering the awful struggle that high school chemistry was for me, I would even venture to say that Flavia might be smarter than most adults my age (and probably smarter than me).  But, at the same time, there is no doubt that she's a child.  She's simply a beautifully written, three-dimensional character.  Clever, but naive, Flavia is an impressive sample of a well-written character, and I can't get enough of her!  Good news is that there are at least six books out, and a seventh on the way for 2015.

On a bit of a tangent, I know I had some great supplementary materials for Father Brown.  Coincidentally, while there are no movies about Flavia out yet (as far as I'm aware), there is a huge stack of chemistry-related books lying on the floor of my bedroom.  I'll hopefully be posting about those soon.  It's entirely a coincidence that I have those.  I didn't even make the connection about Flavia being a chemist until early this morning.  Oh, and according to IMDB, there's a possible TV series in the works, as well.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Complete Father Brown, Part 1 (GK Chesterton)

And so begins the Summer Reading 2014 collection!  And our first detective is one Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest with a knack for solving all the mysteries that he has the misfortune to encounter.  This collection, written by a personal favorite of mine, GK Chesterton, has been on my To-Read list for years.  It's only now that I'm getting around to picking them up.

The collection I read was actually comprised of two Father Brown books: The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father Brown.  Before this, I had only read one of the stories before: The Blue Cross.  It was a great story about the French detective Valentin pursuing the master criminal Flambeau, who happens to be pursuing the mild-mannered, doddering priest Father Brown.  I highly recommend checking it out, just for a sample of these sorts of stories.  You can actually read it online here.  (Project Guttenberg is great for reading old books in the public domain, such as this one!)

What I liked the best about this detective is just how sweet and innocent he is.  Father Brown is not your typical action hero.  He's too short to scale walls, and not strong enough to fight off any desperate criminals.  But, he's full of common sense and goodwill.  He's more concerned with saving the soul of the perpetrator than he is with seeing that justice is done.  But, at the same time, he's not going around preaching and emphasizing an overly Catholic attitude.  This is not one of those books that is made to be obviously Christian to the point where everyone but the most zealous of believers are ready to put the book down.  For the most part, he most Catholic thing about him is the fact that he's a priest.  These are genuinely enjoyable cozy mysteries with surprising twists.  My personal favorite was probably The Hammer of God, which is about the mysterious death of the local minister's womanizing, hedonistic brother who is discovered dead in the center of town with his skull completely smashed like a pumpkin.  The murder weapon is a small hammer--too small to have done that kind of damage--which belongs to the cuckolded blacksmith whose wife was having an affair with the victim.

In an attempt to expand the scope of Ramblings, I'll also be including any supplementary material concerning the detectives that I pick up over the course of my summer.  In the case of Father Brown, there is actually a lot more than you would expect, including several audio adaptations (at least one of which is not so much an audiobook as a "radio program" or "audio play" retelling), and a couple of TV series.  I've been watching and greatly enjoying the one starring Kenneth More as the little priest.  While he appears to be a bit older than suggested in the books, he does an absolutely wonderful job, and I highly recommend it!  I'll be posting more about that later, though, when I have the chance to finish the series.

So, in the meantime, just sit back and prepare for more mysteries and mayhem to come.  Is there a mystery series you have particuarly enjoyed?  Share it in the comments below!  Unless something changes (and you never know!!) I'll be posting about the Flavia de Luce series next, with the first book The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  (And in case you were wondering, yes, I would also like to eventually read The Complete Father Brown, Part 2!)

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Summer Reading 2014

Summer is finally here!  And it could not have come fast enough.  With my job and classes, I found that I rarely had time to spend with my friends or do anything fun.  It was just work, work, work.  Even my Spring Break was one long week of playing "catch up" on the projects and assignments I didn't do earlier in the semester.

I'm tired.  I think that sums up my feelings right now rather well.  I'm tired, but excited for the chance to spend some more time doing fun things, blogs, catching up with friends, spending time outside, and of course: reading!

I've done some thinking about what I wanted to do for this summer's reading theme, and I believe I've settled on a suitable one.  It's a mystery.

No, that's not me being coy.  The theme of this summer's reading is going to be "It's a Mystery".  A focus of course, on the mystery novel.  Alternate titles I went through before settling on this one were:
  • The Butler Did It
  • Death of a Writer
  • A Cozy Mystery
  • Killing Lovborg's Child (a reference to the play Hedda Gabler--the "child" is a manuscript)
  • Miss Scarlet, in the Library, with the Candlestick
In all cases, the spirit of it all is the same.  This is going to be a summer of mysteries!  I've been collecting mysteries that I want to check out for a while.  Here's just a small sampling of what I have planned:
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  • Anything Sherlock Holmes (both Conan Doyle and various adaptations)
  • The Joseph Rouletabille stories by Gaston Leroux
  • The Arsene Lupin stories by Maurice Leblanc
  • The Father Brown Stories by GK Chesterton
  • The Flavia de Luce stories by Alan Bradley
  • The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Granted, this list is a bit ambitious, but I'm just hoping to at least sample each series.  You never know what you'll like and what you won't.  Be sure to check in periodically, where I'll be keeping you up to date on what I'm reading and what I plan on reading next.  As always suggestions are most welcome!

Until next time,


Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Last Temptation (Neil Gaiman)

I promise that this will be my last graphic novel book review for a little while.  I'm sure you guys are getting sick of them.  But, I just had to go on a little mini-rant about how awesome this book was.  First, it was written by Neil Gaiman, who writes nothing but awesome, except for his Sandman series, and possibly Stardust.  I don't remember much of that, except I didn't like it.  Second, it includes Alice Cooper!  That's right!  The Last Temptation was actually written in conjunction with Alice Cooper's concept album of the same name.  So, yay!

The story is about Steven, a high school kid who follows a creepy showman (who looks a hell of a lot like ol' Alice) into an abandoned theatre for a once-in-a-lifetime performance.  While there, the showman invites him to join the show...permanently.  And, being the charming master of dark creepy things that he is, the showman allows him some time to think things through.  He offers him a life of fun and excitement, free from pain and responsibility and growing old.  And in return, all Steven needs to give up is his potential.

It's a creepy story, certainly.  But, it was fun to read.  And it combined one of my favorite authors and one of my favorite musicians.  I never thought I'd pick up a Neil Gaiman book with Alice Cooper in it.  And I found it completely by accident, as I was checking in books at work. 

The version I was reading was in black and white, but there is apparently also a color version out.  I'll be trying to get my hands on a copy of that next.

The best part for me, however, was the concept album, The Last Temptation, that went along with the book.  I read the book first, then got the CD through inter-library loan (ILL).  I won't go into details here, but the music was WONDERFUL.  Gaiman suggests pairing the two together for the ultimate reading experience, but by the time I figured out that there was an album, I was already too committed to "starting this book today, dammit!"  
(Sometimes, I fear I take after Lost in Space's Dr. Smith.  "Smith!  Don't eat that!  You don't even know what it is!"  "Oh, nonsense, it looks delicious.  And if it were poison, I evolved palate would be able to detect it".  Or, in my case: "Em!  Don't read that yet!  You have to wait until the CD comes." "Oh, nonsense, this book looks awesome!  It won't be a big deal at all."  And maybe it was.  I won't really know.  If you do the "correct" thing and pair the two up, please let me know how it affected your reading experience.)

Overall, it was a fun book.  Was it the greatest graphic novel I've read?  No.  But, it was fun.  And that's really what's important to me.  Yeah, sometimes I felt it was a bit hokey.  And the "Lost in America" sequence dragged a bit, because the dialogue was straight from the song lyrics.  Nothing wrong with that, per se, but have you ever heard someone "say" song lyrics?  It just doesn't sound right.  And it doesn't read right, either.  But, the story was cool in that sort of vaguely creepy atmospheric way.  It reminded me of the time I tried to read Something Wicked This Way Comes, and then had to return it to the library because I ran out of renewals.  Or even of the feeling in the air at the end of September to late October when you sit outside in a lawn chair watching the leaves swirl around while reading books about vampires and other bogeymen.  Keeping that in mind, I plan on picking it up again this October.  Hopefully it'll be a fun read.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Scott Pilgrim 1-6 (Bryan Lee O'Malley)

I've been reading a lot of graphic novels lately.  (As I'm sure some of you surmised from my post on Sandman, quickly followed by one on Scott Pilgrim.  I guess a lot of people have been recommending them to me lately (first those two girls at work, and now my brother).  While I was pretty lukewarm about the Sandman series, however, I loved Scott Pilgrim.

Why?  Well, it's a fun series!  And it takes full advantage of its medium as a comic book.  The
plots are over-the-top and outrageous, but great fun to read.  Imagine this if you will: Scott Pilgrim is your average 20-something post-graduate bum.  He lives with his gay roommate, Wallace Wells, sponging off his stuff instead of getting a job, and has just started dating a 17 year old (Scott is 23), much to his friends' disgust and amusement.  Then, everything changes when Scott meets Ramona.  She's the girl of his dreams.  Literally.  Ramona has an uncanny way of wandering through Scott's head on her delivery route for Amazon.ca.  Then, they finally get to meet during the day.  And start dating.  But, before they can get too serious, Scott first has to fight Ramona's evil ex-boyfriends.  All seven of them.  But, Scott has a few skeletons in his own closet, as well.  Drama and hilarity ensue.

I first heard about this series because of the Michael Cera movie that came out a few years back.  I had liked Cera's performance in Juno, and so when my brother told me about Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, I was curious.  And it was a really good movie.  I love video games and comic books, so the film's combination of the two was pretty awesome.
But, this isn't a review about the movie!  We're talking about the book (if you're interested in the movie, you can read my movie review at Cinema Sweetheart's Film Reviews.

If you liked the movie, I would highly recommend the books, since there is so much more to the plot and to the characters in the books.  And if you weren't a huge fan of the film, I would still suggest checking out at least the first couple of books. 
I really loved that the characters were more developed in the graphic novels than in the movies (since there was more room to let them run free).  Plus, there are extra characters who don't make it into the movie at all!  I hope that by this point, most of my readers know how important characters are to me when I'm reading a book.  Plot is certainly important, but highly developed characters are like crack to me.  I was especially pleased with the characters of Roxie, Kim, Wallace, and Joseph.  Roxie is that little pigtailed girl in the picture just above this.  I found her more sympathetic in the books (still evil, but more sympathetic).  Kim comes across as a bit of a bitch in the movie, but in the comics, honestly, she was probably my favorite character (after Wallace, Scott's gay roommate.  That man is perfect).  And of course, I don't think Joseph even makes an appearance in the film.  But, he's bearded and sarcastic, and perfect.

But, it's not just about the characters.  Do you like action?  Well, how about fights with seven evil exes?  Or mysterious sword-wielding Chinese man with sunglasses and an epic black duster jacket?  There are battles of the bands, love triangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids.  Every time I would crack open the next book, I was surprised.  It was just a great collection of books.  I want to go into more details, but I'm afraid I'll start giving spoilers, so I'm going to shut up now.  But, check out the books!!  The first one is Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Sandman 1-3 (Neil Gaiman)

I have a sort of love-hate relationship with Neil Gaiman.  On one hand, I think he is brilliant.  I love his novels, and his short stories are simply to die for!  On the other hand, his writing is pretty dark.  Actually, it can get very dark.  And that's where I have some issues with him.  Not because he's dark (like chocolate, sometimes I like my books dark), but because he can be too dark.  And then I get uncomfortable or depressed.

I think that's sort of where I am right now with Neil Gaiman's Sandman series.  Out of 10 graphic novels, I've read 3.  And I'm seriously considering stopping here.

Perhaps, before continuing, a bit of background is in order?  The Sandman series reads almost like a dream, confusing, convoluted, and fascinating.  The plot lines sort of run all over the place, but the main focus centers around one character in particular: Lord Morpheus, or Dream.  That's him to the left.  Morpheus is one of the Endless, a group of beings who existed before the "gods" of Neil Gaiman's world, and will exist after they have faded away.  There are 7 of these (Death, Desire, Dream, Delirium, Destruction, Destiny, and Despair).

In theory, it's an interesting series.  In Book 1, Morpheus is captured by a scholar who wants to live forever, and believes the best way to achieve this is to capture Death.  But, he captures her little brother Dream instead.  During his 70 years of imprisonment, Dream is unable to control the forces of dreaming and waking, and much of the world falls into chaos.  When he escapes, all hell breaks loose in his attempt to seek revenge and set things right.   The rest of the stories seem to jump around a lot.  Sometimes they are in the present, and sometimes in the past.  Dream meets Shakespeare, serial killers, and ordinary people who have no idea what they are getting themselves into.

I'm just not as into it as I thought I would be so far.  And that's always a disappointing
feeling.  Especially since this series got such high recommendations from two of my co-workers, one of whom enjoys similar books to me.  But, I suppose you can't win them all, and after 3 books of Sandman, I think I'm ready to move on to something new.  With work and classes, especially, I find that if I'm not really into something, then it's best to just pass it on and read something else.  I have time, but I don't have the luxury of infinite time to read as much as I might want to.

(You should see the stack of books lying on my bedroom floor!  Eek!  I'm not sure when I'll have time to read any of them!)

One thing I really liked about the series was in Book 2.  I'm not sure how much I've talked about him here, but I really like the works of British Christian author GK Chesterton, and was delightfully surprised to see him featured in the second installment, Doll's House, as a physical manifestation of a piece of the Dreamlands.  He was actually pretty cool, too, coming across as very heroic, larger than life, and very human for something that is really only the stuff of dreams.  So, that was a nice little tidbit for me.  While I won't be reading much Sandman anymore (or probably NO Sandman, I think I will be picking up more Chesterton.  Just for a change of pace.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dear Cute Guy at Work

Stop trying to get under my skin.

Yes, you're adorable.  I'm not denying that.  I'm not even going to try.  But, please, stop making me jittery, teasing until I blush, pointing like a kindergartner , making me stick out my tongue in a childish last resort.

And don't give me that "Oh, I'm not that great" line of crap, or the one about how you feel so bad for yourself.  I see that smirk tugging at the corner of your mouth.  And it's really hot.  And that bugs me.

I can't keep hiding my smiles behind my hand.  I'm trying to be professional, and that's hard to do when you're making me laugh.  I'm not interested in this sort of thing.  Not right now.  And you're so not right for me.  On so many levels.  For so many reasons.

But, your eyes are so blue and your curls so blond.  God, you're pretty.

Yeah, just stop, and I think we'll both be fine.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells (Sebastian Faulks)

Before we go any further, I just want to let you all know that I have written a review for this book and posted it on Goodreads.  I'm not going to post it here, because I feel like there are some spoilers included and I don't want to give away anything.  If you DID read the book already, or really just don't mind spoilers, then here's the link.  By all means, go ahead and read a bit.  Tell me what you think.

I've been reading PG Wodehouse since I was in junior high, and my dear friend Sarah first told me about this awesome author she picked up.  And at the time, I wasn't overly excited about old Plum.  I didn't actually start reading his works seriously until, while working on a project about Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, I discovered that there was a musical about a bumbling aristocrat and his butler Jeeves.  I loved the musical, and that got me to check out the books.

That was as a freshman in high school.  I was, what, 14?  15?  Now, nearly ten years later, I have to admit that I haven't picked up a Wodehouse book since early this past summer.  Scratch that.  It's probably been longer.  And that's a real shame.  However, the appearance of The Code of the Woosters under my Christmas tree this year has sparked a desire to read the books again.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is not a Wodehouse novel, PG or otherwise.  It is, however, a tribute novel written by Sebastian Faulks in honor of one of the greatest humor writers of our time.  That being said, I had some general concerns before picking it up.  I mean, I've read tribute novels and adaptations for other characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, but for me, Wodehouse has always been something sort of sacred.  And I was afraid that this wouldn't live up to my expectations.

On its own, it was a fun story.  Bertie Wooster met a girl, Georgiana, while vacationing in France and fell in love.  They treated each other as brother and sister, though, and when they both returned to England, they promised to keep in touch. Well, circumstances bring them back together, and Bertie learns that his new-found love is engaged to someone else (but out of a sense of duty, not love).  Meanwhile, Bertie's childhood friend "Woody" Beeching is having some difficulties of his own.  He's engaged to Georgiana's cousin, Amelia, and unless Georgiana marries a rich man who is able to keep the family patriarch from selling the estate, Amelia will have to marry someone else, since Woody does not have the funds.  Torn between a sense of loyalty to his boyhood chum and the affairs of his own heart, Bertie has to step in and play match-maker in order to make things right for everyone.  To make matters worse, a spot of confusion and a few poorly-worded utterances by Woody has convinced his future father-in-law that Jeeves is actually an aristocrat, Lord Etringham, and Bertie is his valet, Wilberforce.  Only crazy confusion can ensue.  And what follows is a genuinely amusing book.

There were some issues, of course.  But, it wasn't that bad.  My main issue, really, was that while this is advertised as a Bertie and Jeeves book, it doesn't have the same feel.  Yes, the characters have the same names, and their personalities are pretty much the same, but there is something that just felt off.  And honestly, it wasn't until I started writing this paragraph that I figured out what it was.  The focus was not so much on how splendid Jeeves is at getting Bertie out of the messes he gets himself into, or even about how perfect this Wooster plan is before it all goes up in smoke.  It was more of a introspective look at things.  This B. Wooster sounds more mature, if that makes sense.  No squabbling, no childish rants and frustrations.  He seems more mature, more humbled, and more reserved.  Perhaps that's what happens to an aristocrat when he has to act as undercover butler for the woman he loves and her fiancee.  I don't really know.  But, it was a different sort of book than what I have grown accustomed to with Wodehouse.  Sure, it was still funny, but while I would shelve Code of the Woosters, Thank You, Jeeves, and Aunts aren't Gentlemen in the humor section of the Emmy Hart library, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells would fit better in general fiction.  It reads more like a drama.

Would I recommend it?  Yes.  Would I read it again?  Also, yes.  And would I buy a copy for my personal collection?  I only hesitate here for a moment.  Yes, I think I would.  The more I think about it, the more I enjoyed it.  However, I have to say, I don't think this is one of those books which you can tackle expecting it to read like Wodehouse.  If you do, you're going to be disappointed.  I would read it like any other book, but don't expect too much of Plum's flair.  I think if you approach the text with different expectations, you're going to enjoy it a lot more.