Friday, March 29, 2013

Things I've Noticed: I've Finally Got ahead of Games of Thrones

Back in January I started reading George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, first A Game of Thrones as a book club pick, and then I figured I should try reading a book in the series each month until I caught up with the rest of the Fantasy-genre world.

Having finished the third novel, A Storm of Swords this morning, I've finally got ahead of the television series (which I'm also watching, by the way), so for two glorious days I'll be one book ahead of where the show is.

I'm still working on the second season of the series - no HBO in the Bookmonkey Household - We're more the "Watch each season on DVD as it comes out" type, so although those of you with premium cable packages (or less strict views on what can be downloaded online) will begin to pull ahead of me again until Christmas-ish when season three hits the DVD stores.

How am I liking the books so far?  I'm liking them a lot, actually.  I enjoy the rotating point-of-view and the complex story lines.  Also the continuous cliffhanger endings are a lot of fun too.

Happy Easter, Y'All!

From the Desk of an embarrassed Bookmonkey

All Right, I’ll admit it – I got pretty focused on some school stuff yesterday and entirely forgot to put out a post.  So instead of ignoring the fact and bringing you a Genre Character of the Week, I’ll simply use this space to thank you for your patience.

Sorry Ladies and Gents – if you’re all taking the time to come here and see what’s new, the least I can do is put up new stuff in a timely manner.

Your deeply embarrassed friend,


Monday, March 25, 2013

First Impressions: Bates Motel

Last week I checked out the new A&E series Bates Motel, with my wife and my youngest daughter Kaia.  A few days earlier I had shown Kaia the 1960 classic Psycho - so we were pretty excited to see how this new show would go.

One episode in, and honestly, I'm liking it.

As the series is effectively a prequel to a story most people are very familiar with, it's interesting to see how they play with the interactions between young Norman Bates and his mother Norma.  The casting is really good, both stars Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga come off as quite genuine, and both more than a little wrong - just the perfect mix of what you would expect for the characters.

The premise has them relocating to Oregon after the untimely death of Norman's father.  Here they purchase a new motel and try to start a new chapter in their lives.  Pretty quickly things start to go south.  The police seem strangely interested in the pair and Norman's quick popularity with the girls at his new school seems to be a pretty big problem for his mother.

With a series like this everything comes down to atmosphere - if things go wrong you move quickly from creepy into farce, but so far, the tone is very nicely set and I'm definitely interested in checking out the next episode.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

To See or Not to See: The Evil Dead

Okay, I am a pretty big fan of The Evil Dead franchise; like most I began with the 1987 film Evil Dead 2, then went back to watch the 1981 original and watched the 1992 follow-up Army of Darkness in theatres.

Years later I used my love of the series to see how cool my wife was (answer – very cool), introduce my friends to something they hadn’t seen before (and the cool friends I showed it to still talk to me), and eventually even got to show the series to my youngest daughter as she began her own exploration of the horror genre (and for newcomers to my blog, relax, first I showed her scary kids movies, then scary movies from the ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s – not the ‘70s though, because that decade in horror was messed up – I’m still not old enough to see a bunch of those movies).

So here I am, a huge fan of the franchise, when what do you know, a new version of The Evil Dead is about to be released in theatres.

So now I’m conflicted.  The original 1981 film is one of the freakiest horror films I’ve ever seen.  Seriously.  Both original sequels move away from straight horror into a bizarre horror/comedy hybrid (which I love as well), but that first film was just got under my skin and wouldn’t let go.

The new film has the blessing of the original producers, and the reviews so far have been pretty positive, but I’m still nervous that by revisiting my own childhood experiences with horror (until I saw The Evil Dead, my experience involved TV movies and the big franchisees of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers – all of which (except for the original Halloween andElm Street films) did nothing to prepare me for how scary a movie like The Evil Dead could be.

Honestly, I’ll probably go see it (I talk about horror a lot, so my friends may start asking me what I thought of it, so I figure I should have some thoughts), but I’m gonna be pretty careful with my expectations.  Speaking as a guy who did a month-long study into re-imaginings of horror classics I know how well, and how poorly, these films can translate.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Lilly Caul

This week's character is a little tricky.  You see, as a pretty big fan of The Walking Dead,  I've enjoyed the story as both a television and comic book series, and as of late, I've enjoyed the back-story novels written by creator Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga.

Last week I read the second of these two back-story novels, The Walking Dead: The Road to Woodbury, which features the back-story of Lilly Caul (pictured right), perhaps one of the most infamous characters in the comics - without giving away spoilers, let's just say she sits pretty darn close to The Governor in terms of how much she affected the lives of Rick Grimes and crew.

What I can say about the novel, is that it does a good job of portraying the character in a sympathetic manner, and although I can't say it makes me like the character any more than I did before, I do feel like I understand her better.

Overall, the book is worth the read, and for those of you who like the type of stories that further examine secondary characters in the main story, it is a pretty good example of how to do this type of story correctly.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Movie Review: Psycho

Doing a little prep work yesterday, I treated my 15-year-old daughter Kaia to her first viewing of the 1960 Horror Classic, Psycho.

I did this for three reasons.

1) Honestly, whether you're a horror fan or not, there really are very few films as fun to watch for the first time as Psycho.  I told her nothing about the film, except that I thought she might like it and let her enjoy the experience with no knowledge of what the story would bring (totally jealous by-the-way, as I knew most of the plot points the first time I watched it) - for the record, at first she thought Norman was kind of cute.

2) Tonight on A&E the new series Bates Motel is starting, and as it follows a teenaged Norman Bates, she's probably going to either see it or hear about it - so I wanted her to see the original first.

3) In a week or two, I should be getting the 2012 film Hitchcock from my local library, and as the film is about the making of Psycho, I wanted to review the original again before I saw a story set behind the scenes.

In the end we had a pretty fun time watching the movie - at first she thought the title was a little misleading, after all, what's so psycho about a lady stealing some cash from her boss - it was pretty suspenseful however, so my daughter said the movie should have been called Suspense-o (doesn't quite roll off the tongue, does it?), but by the end, she admitted, the title was a pretty good one for the story.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Things I've Noticed: Steven Saylor writes a darn fine Mystery

This week I read the latest of Steven Saylor's mysteries set in Ancient Rome, The Seven Wonders.  In it, his detective character, Gordianus the Finder explores all seven of the wonders of the Ancient World and solves mysteries along the way.

The book, the 13th of his Roma Sub Rosa series, is actually set well before the rest of the series, when the main character was seventeen-years-old.  Although my personal tastes run to Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, this series, which I started when I was taking a class on Ancient Rome and Early Christianity for my Undergraduate degree, got me totally hooked.

Beautifully mixing together Mystery stories and Historical Fiction, I simply couldn't put this series down, and honestly, if I could find them in hardcover, I would be pretty tempted to add them to my own library.

The first in the series is Roman Blood, and if you are interested in checking out a new mystery series, I would strongly recommend this one.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Game Review: Dead Space 2

Hitting a personal best in time through a new game, I finished Dead Space 2 after 18 days - now I know that compared to the really dedicated gamers, who finish these types of things in about 18 hours, it's not that fast, but for me it was pretty impressive.

After the pretty massive spoiler of the first game, Isaac spends a lot of the second game questioning his sanity.  The game has really impressive graphics, all sorts of eerie settings, and a really interesting story.  Like the first game you build your weapons as you go - unlike the first game, you actually get to see Isaac's face.  Also, instead of being set in a large spaceship, the second game is set in (and on) a vast space station.

The game still did give my kids the creeps (in fact my youngest refused to come into the room while I was playing at all - strange, as she was the one who gave me the game), but on the positive side, the version of the game she got me included the additional game Dead Space: Extraction - which I'll get totally obsessed with in about a month, when I'm finished my classes for the term.

Overall, and a few years late, I think the game is pretty impressive, lots of fun, and I cant wait for the next game in the series after the price drops to where I'm willing to pay for it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Book Review: The Android's Dream

This weekend I read one of the early novels by John Scalzi, The Android's Dream, which is both a political satire, and an Adventure/Thriller story, wherein galactic war may be averted, but only if a specific breed of sheep, "The Android's Dream" (and yes, it is Electric Blue in colour).

The story follows a man called Harry Creek, who has the unique job of effectively delivering bad news to various alien cultures.  It's not a great job (and definitely makes me think of the film Up in the Air), but like George Clooney's character in that film, Harry is pretty darn good at what he does.

Then an old friend asks Harry for a favour, it seems that an alien species, The Nidu, are looking for a specific type of genetically modified sheep, and Harry needs to find it first.

The story bounces around through war story, political intrigue, slapstick comedy and even into artificial intelligence, and in my mind, has more in common with Douglas Adams than with Philip K. Dick (from whom the author clearly borrowed the title - which he states in the acknowledgements), and although it is not nearly as accomplished as Old Man's War - I definitely preferred it to Agent to the Stars - and to be honest, I quite liked Agent to the Stars.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Things I’ve Noticed: Beautiful Monsters Was a Pretty Cool Exhibition

One of the great things about where I work is that I’m just a few blocks away from all sorts of cultural centres in my city, libraries (which I use – a lot), Art Galleries, and Performing Arts Centres are literally just sitting there, available for my cultural edification any time I like.

Obviously (with the exception of the library), I’ve never really visited any of these places.

So yesterday I was trying to come up with some sort of monster-themed post for today’s blog and I googled Monsters and Edmonton which lead me to the Alberta Art Gallery ’s current exhibition: Beautiful Monsters: Beasts and Fantastic Creatures in Early European Prints (which closes on Sunday).  Having never gone to an art gallery before (except on school trips, but those visits are pretty structured), I wasn’t exactly sure what to exptect.  I knew I wasn’t supposed to touch anything, but that was about it.

What I found was a pretty cheap way to enjoy some stunning (and often creepy) works of art featuring all sorts of bizarre creatures as well as a lot of depictions of devils, demons and Hell itself.  The artwork was really quite cool and the images will definitely stick with me.

Quick rule of thumb for you other art gallery novices – try to book at least an hour to work your way through an exhibition.  I had 25 minutes and although I had time to read everything, I did feel pretty rushed and wish I could have gone back and checked out my favourites again before I left.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Genre Character of the Week: Lady Amalthea, The Last Unicorn

One of the best parts of writing about a different genre character each week is that it gives me both an excuse to keep reading new Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction, and it allows me to revisit some of my favourite genre books from my youth.  This week’s character comes from Peter S. Beagle’s 1968 fantasy novel The Last Unicorn, in fact the Unicornherself, sometimes called Lady Amalthea is one of my helped lead me to my later love of vampires, zombies and ghouls.

The Unicorn is first introduced to the reader from the point of view of three hunters, who after spending several days in a forest having found no game, decide that they may be in a Unicorn’s forest, which would keep all the animals safe from harm.  As they leave one of them calls out to the unseen Unicorn that she may be the last of her kind.

The Unicorn, disturbed by this information begins a quest to find where the rest of the unicorns have gone.  The story (mild 44-year-old spoiler) then involves her adventures with a magician, in a traveling circus, and eventually in the realm of King Haggard, where she finds her answers, but not in the way she expected.

Although I can recall reading a number of stories featuring magical creatures, even having them as main characters before this (The Hobbit immediately comes to mind), I can’t recall reading anything earlier with a supernatural creature as the lead.  Later on I would find many stories with sympathetic views of Vampires, Aliens, and yes even Zombies, but this was the first time I can recall reading a story where I could identify so well with a creature of legend.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Movie Review: Robot and Frank

One of the things I really like about Science Fiction is that the genre can be used to tell just about any kind of story - I know, from a very basic point of view, Science Fiction should be set in the future, have advanced technology, and quite possibly aliens, but honestly, any intriguing technology can be used to to tell almost any type of story within a Science Fiction framework (like one of my favourite romances of 2009, TIMER).  Case in point, Robot and Frank.

The movie follows a man named Frank (wonderfully played by Frank Langella), who lives alone and suffers from both depression and dementia.  His two adult children, Hunter and Madison, are concerned for his well being, and eventually his son purchases him a helper robot, designed to help Frank with his routine and his overall health.

The robot does end up helping Frank, but not necessarily in the way his children would appreciate.  Overall the film was about a lonely older man finding friendship and I've got to admire that.

In addition it also had Susan Sarandon as a librarian, which is nice, as I never get tired of librarians in film (in TV however, is a slightly different story)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Things I’ve Noticed: Saturday Morning with Bookmonkey

Overall I’d say I’m a pretty organized guy – on a normal day I get up in the morning, do my stuff (which surprisingly has included yoga three times a week for the last half year – who saw that coming?), go to work, come home spend time with my lovely wife and wonderful kids, hit the hay and do it all over again.

But then the weekend comes and my daily schedule gets CRAZY!

Okay, maybe not so crazy it needs capitalization.

Okay, I’ll admit, I tend to schedule out my weekends as well, but I tend to do it with a sort of whimsical abandon.  (if by whimsical abandon you mean - with a precise and clear schedule which lets me do all the things I like to do)

Here’s a small taste of my weekend schedule

Saturday (and yes, every Saturday, even if it’s my Birthday)
5:25am – Wake up, stumble to kitchen, grind beans, make coffee

5:35am – 6:30am play whichever video game is currently incredibly exciting for me, but tedious or too freaky for the ladies in my house (take break to get coffee)

6:30am – 7am – second cup, read, light (and quiet) tidy

7am – 7:45am – hang out with whoever gets up earliest, put together a grocery list

7:45am – 9:15am – get coffee/grocery shop/pick up breakfast – in my house Grocery shopping is Man’s work (or it was until my eldest daughter started coming along), so I hang out with my BFF Mike and grab some coffee at the local Starbucks and then do the weeks shopping, followed by grabbing some baked goods or breakfast sandwiches for the ladies at home.

9:15am – 9:40am – put away the groceries, have breakfast with the family, sincerely wonder why people all over my home town are still sleeping.

9:40am – put together to do list for Saturday and Sunday.

So there you go, a small taste of what a Saturday morning with Bookmonkey is like which only goes to show it’s a special kind of lady who can put up with my kind of crazy – so let me take a moment to say thanks to my lovely wife for putting up with her less than spontaneous husband.