Monday, December 21, 2015

Book Review: The Wild Wood

Charles De Lint's 1994 novel The Wild Wood, was part of a series called Brian Froud's Faerielands, wherein four different authors based short stories on four paintings presented by Froud.

The version I read was a recent reprint, and did not include the illustrations that appeared in the first edition (which I'm now eager to hunt down), but the novel still stood quite well on it's own.

The book follows Eithnie, a Canadian artist who has been living alone in the northern Ontario woods for a few years after a personal tragedy. After she begins to see strange creatures in the woods, she visits friends in Arizona, and after finding her inner balance returns to her home and the creatures that surround it.

The novel moves on two levels, a mythical one, wherein Eithnie finds she has become part of a strange prophecy, and a very human one, focusing on the healing process after grief.
I was really impressed by the book, and although it was shorter than I had hoped, it was still a great read and left me wanting more.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Catching up on Batman: Week Three

This week focused largely on the Death of the Family storyline, a successor to the A Death in the Family story (1988-89), which was both the first time I recall reading a full Batman story, and the first time I can recall being really freaked out by a comic, (sorry for the 14-year-old spoiler, but Jason Todd, Batman's second Robin, is brutally murdered by The Joker in that story), so I was pretty nervous going into this new crossover event to see how effective it would be.

A tense week of reading and a few nights of restless sleep later, I've got to say this is some pretty terrifying stuff. The Joker has returned to Gotham and has decided that a new, kinder Batman, supported by a Bat-family, is no good, and as a favour he has decided to help Batman get back to the basics, by killing every sidekick Batman has (or has had).

As this now includes Damien Wayne, the newest Robin and Batman's ten-year-old son, this event gets into some pretty terrifying places, and although I don't want to spoil anything, it is well worth the read and has me excited to see what else the good folks at DC have come up with in the last few years.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: On Wings of Song

My relationship with the stories of Thomas M. Disch have been varied, but always interesting.  From the strange work of hope that was The Brave Little Toaster (1980) to the incredibly thought provoking Camp Concentration (1968) and the creepy The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984).

Disch was really great at looking at the world through a new lens, although ON Wings of Song is clearly closer to the jaded world of Camp Concentration than the hopeful one of The Brave Little Toaster.

The Novel follows a young man called Daniel Weinreb, a youth in a future Iowa where music and free speech have been outlawed by local government.  At the age of 14 Daniel is sent to prison which effectively sours him entirely on living in the Midwest.   Setting his sights on New York, we follow Daniel throughout his life in this strange version of North America, one in which the government has draconian levels of control or simply ignores its citizens all together.

Much of the book focuses on "flying", a term used for astral projection that many people have access to, but is again, outlawed in many areas.  As a story in which a young man from a small town attempts to make it in the big city, the story is fairly straightforward, but the interesting thing about Disch's world is just how strange and off everything seems.

I'm not actually sure if I can say I liked On Wings of Song - the story was definitely affecting, but it didn't resonate with me the same way Camp Concentration did.  An interesting read, but not sure if it's one I'd want to revisit.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Book Review: Fairy Tales, Hans Christian Anderson

When it comes to series of books, I'm sort of a catch-and-release collector; I like to spend a few years collecting a series, then another year reading it, and then I either sell it in complete form to a used-bookstore or pass it on as a gift to someone who I think would really enjoy it).

For the last few years I've been working on the Everyman's Library Children's Classic Collection, collecting various versions of fables and fairy tales from throughout the world. But as I'm reading a science fiction update of the classic story The Snow Queen later this month, I thought it would be a good idea to check out the original.

Danish author Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875), most famous in much of the world as the creator of a number of fairy tales, including "The Emperor's New Clothes", "The Little Mermaid", "The Ugly Duckling", and the "Princess and the Pea", often told stories from multiple points of view (often of inanimate objects, and yes, I think it's fair to say his "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" is a literary ancestor of Toy Story), and although they don't all end "happily ever after" they are compelling and entertaining none the less.

The collection I read was at times humorous, heartbreaking, and in the case of a few stories, horrifying "Big Claus and Little Claus" comes immediately to mind as it focuses on one man tricking another into destroying his own livestock, murdering his grandmother, and committing suicide - for laughs!?!

Although I wasn't familiar with all of the stories, I found them to be quite readable, and am definitely looking forward to enjoying more of this collection when time allows.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Catching up on Batman: Week Two

My second week of catching up with the various Bat-Titles of the new 52 was pretty intense.  The focus across most of the titles was the Night of the Owls, an evening where a secret groups who claim control of Gotham set free their regenerating assassins (called Talons) to attack and kill all those who claim leadership to the city.

Considering Batman has been bringing it's readers new villains since the late '30s The Court of Owls are a pretty ingenious and insidious idea.  

Beware the Court of Owls,
That Watches all the time,
Ruling Gotham from a shadow perch,
Behind Granite and Lime,
The Watch you at your hearth,
They Watch you in your bed,
Speak not a whispered word of them
Or they'll send The Talon for your Head.

The idea of a secret family controlling the city has a pretty big "Illuminati" feel to it, but the stories were a lot of fun, and it's kind of neat to see the whole Bat-Family in action.

Looking forward to week three!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Christmas Shopping is complete!

Well, except for perishables (Chocolate, snacks, and food for the Christmas feast) we've managed to get all of our shopping done before the bell!

The bell being the point where our Downtown Malls start blasting Christmas music (which was today by the way).

Although a little slower than usual, as our benchmark is finishing before December first, so as of today I can leave the mall shopping to the folks who love a little holiday music with their shopping experience.


Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: The Shepherd's Crown

Not counting Good Omens (which I read back in 1990 when it was first published), I began reading the works of Terry Pratchett back in 2005, and at a book a month, it took me nearly five years to catch up to his prodigious output. Over those years in his books I met Rincewind, The Librarian, DEATH, Granny Weatherwax, Samuel Vines, and perhaps my favourite of his characters, Tiffany Aching.

Originally introduced as a nine-year-old cheese maker, Tiffany also happens to be, potentially, the most powerful witch in existence in Pratchett's Discworld series, and it is to Tiffany he returns in his final Discworld novel, The Shepherd's Crown.

The final book focuses largely on growing up, taking responsibility, and learning to understand the world around you. In the novel, Tiffany is faced with many choices, some very old, and a few quite new, but each needing to be addressed so she can become the adult she has been growing into over the five books she features in:

The Wee Free Men
A Hat Full of Sky (2004)
Wintersmith (2006)
I Shall Wear Midnight (2010)
The Shepherd's Crown (2015)

The book is pretty delightful, although it was a bittersweet experience, as this is the final book ina series I've been enjoying for over a decade, and as with most of my favourite series, I wish there were more.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Catching up on Batman: Week One

Using the resources of my local public library (epl) and my youngest daughter (Kaia), I have begun the process of working my way through the various Bat-Titles in the DC's 2011 launch, The New 52.

This week I was able to read through the first Detective Comics, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman, and Batgirl collections.

I've seen Batman fight the Joker, team up with the Flash and Superman, have his first encounter with the Court of Owls, and begin the story of a post-wheelchair Barbara Gordon as she takes back up the mantle of Batgirl.

As compared to most of the Marvel titles I've read over 2015, these are fast, gritty, and often surprisingly fun collections. Each one (excluding Batgirl) adds another love interest for Bruce, and each came with some fairly shocking plot twists overall, beginning with the Joker's interaction with The Dollmaker in issue one of Detective Comics, carrying into a run of Bane-venom infused Villains in Batman: The Dark Knight (highest on action, lowest on story of the titles I'm reading), and the eerily impressive introduction of the Court of Owls in the main Batman title.

Batgirl begins with the introduction of a new villain, Mirror, who targets people who should have died, but didn't, and aims to finish the job - basically someone who saw the Final Destination franchise and thought - how can I get in on this crazy action?

So far I'm having a lot of fun - it is interesting to see how many monthly Batman titles can dance around each other and I'm definitely interested in reading the first crossover this weekend, Night of the Owls.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Movie Review: Brooklyn (2015)

Thanks to the lovely folk at MongrelMedia, my wife and I were able to attend an advanced screening of the film Brooklyn yesterday, and honestly, it kind of knocked my socks off.

As a fellow who lists his favourite genres as Fantasy, Horror, and Science Fiction, John Crowley's Brooklyn didn't seem to have too much to offer at face value. The story focuses on a young woman named Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan), who immigrates from Ireland to America in 1950, and follows her life over her first year there.

Based on the 2009 novel by Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn simply won me over with its great humanity. I've seen a lot of films in my life focusing on the immigrant experience, but I can't think of another that focuses specifically on a young woman taking that trip on her own. Saoirse Ronan simply shines as Eilis from beginning to end and the world created in this story was one of understated beauty and hope.

Simply a wonderful film, I can't recommend it enough.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Batman Advent Calendar!

So here we are at the beginning of December, and I've realized that with the exception of Sandman Overture, and a couple Fables trades, I haven't done a deep dive into DC comics in over a year!

Luckily, my youngest daughter is an avid Batman collector, so for the rest of the month I'll be reading five great Bat-titles from the 2012 New 52 release.

Detective Comics
Batman and Robin
Batman: The Dark Knight

I'll still be blogging about all of my regular stuff, but each week I'll wrap up with a weeks worth of Bat-tastic info!

Happy Holidays!
Your Old Pal, Bookmonkey

Monday, November 30, 2015

Book Review: Into the Green

The first of de Lint's books taking place entirely in a High Fantasy world since,Wolf Moon, Into the Green takes place in a world where witchcraft is a hereditary trait, and non-witches both fear and hunt those with a connection to a mystical realm called "the Green".

The main character, Angharad (pronounced Ann-ar-ad), is a tinker, a harpist, and after a tragic attack on her people (sorry for the mild, first chapter event spoiler in a 22-year-old book) which ends in the death of her husband, a witch.

The book then works much as a fairy tale in that she must learn about her own abilities and her world in time to save it. The imagery in the book moves from wondrous (a magician's tree house stood out especially for me) to incredibly gruesome, but at less than 250 pages, the book was a quick dip into a fantasy world I won't soon forget.

Fun, magical, and surprising musical, Into the Green is well worth the read.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Book Review: The Walking Dead: Invasion

As it's the fifth tie-in novel to Robert Kirkman's comic book series, Jay Bonansinga's The Walking Dead, Invasion continues to follow the character of Lily Caul as she attempts to (spoiler for fans of tie-in novels) rebuild the pieces of the recently destroyed Woodbury during the events of The Walking Dead: Fall of the Governor and The Walking Dead: Descent.

Unfortunately for me, the book brings forth one of the staples of American Southern Horror novels - the evil priest. Now I'm not against a story in which an authority figure abuses his or her power to the point where they need to get what's coming to them, but this specific trope is so common in Southern horror, that I would love to read a novel about a kind-hearted Southern priest who does the decent thing because that's what would be most surprising to me in a horror novel these days.

Overall the story moves at a nice pace, and moves between four separate story lines allowing for a good narrative buildup throughout, the tension is very high, and, ignoring the overused evil-priest stereotype, it was a pretty solid read.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Book Review: Dreams Underfoot

Since March of 2014, at the rate of one book a month, I've been working my way through the works of Canadian fantasy author Charles de Lint. Beginning with stories clearly set in a high fantasy realm, over the course of his works he has moved his settings to a fictional Canadian city called Newford, which also happens to be the setting of his first short story collection, Dreams Underfoot (1993).

To be fair, the book could have easily been titled, Dreams Underfoot: The Jilly Coppercorn stories, as his artist character Jilly appears as a main or secondary character in about three quarters of the collection. But as Jilly is an open minded woman, trying to see the magic in all things, I was quite happy to have her along for the collection.

The stories move from funny to heartbreaking and back again, some of them include very graphic imagery, but each of them feels very human to me, focusing (as de Lint often does) on how people react when exposed to the otherworldly. A fascinating introduction to his style of Urban fantasy, and a great place for newcomers to his fiction to begin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

We now pause for some Tooth-related issues

Just thought I would take a brief moment to explain why I haven't posted yet this week.

Last week I had the joy of having a tooth extraction, I lost a crown and was informed that there weren't really any other options.

My dentist (a very nice fellow, btw) sent me across to a specialist for the extraction and although it went well, I've spent the last few days in a lot of discomfort, which has finally cleared up, so expect a book review tomorrow...

also, kids, brush your teeth!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Book Review: The Long Utopia

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's Long Earth has been quite a treat for me since The Long Earth was published back in 2012. Taking place on an Earth where citizens can "step" into parallel Earths, (basically the same as ours, excepting the fact that human's don't appear to naturally exist on any other Earth discovered so far), the series looks at how, over the course of decades, society would deal with the sudden appearance of effectively unlimited resources and land, simply a step away from everyone.

This book, the fourth of a projected five, was a little melancholy for me, as co-author Terry Pratchett passed away earlier this year, it's hard to read the book without realizing that you are coming down to the last few novels from this writer.

The Long Utopia continues the story from the third book in the series The Long Mars, but in this one an interesting twist is added. New creatures begin to appear in a parallel earth, but unlike humans who've got there by either stepping "east" or "west", these creatures have stepped in from somewhere else altogether, kind of like the sphere who tries to explain his three-dimensional world to a square in Edwin Abbott's Flatland.

Following along with the conceit from the previous novels, all of the main characters are now in their later fifties and early sixties, which definitely adds to the one dimension not benefited by the introduction of the Long Earth, time. No matter how much exploration the characters have been able to do across millions of parallel Earths in the series to date, they are all getting older and their stories will be ending soon.

A good read.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Book Review: Engine Summer

Nearing the end of the 1970s in my reading of David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books Published in English from 1945 to 1985, I've hit my second book by author John Crowley, Engine Summer.

About a decade ago I read his 1981 fantasy book LIttle, Big, which focuses on a house, which is an entrance to the realm of Faerie, and a family tied to that world as well (it's pretty great).

Engine Summer (1979), takes place ages after us on a significantly depopulated Earth, among tribes (called chords) of peoples living as traders, farmers, hunters and gatherers. Among the people of Little Belaire we meet our hero, Rush That Speaks, a young man who's life changes when he falls in love with a girl called Once A Day, who soon leaves his community to join a group of travelers called Dr. Boots List.

Rush spends the novel travelling, attempting to find his way to either Once A Day, or perhaps to his own Sainthood, examining a world that has long since moved on from it's human populace. Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is it doesn't contain much backstory, requiring the reader to attempt to make sense of the story as they go along, keeping you in the moment with Rush throughout the narrative. The book would definitely benefit from multiple readings as plot points given later change much of what you've read before.

The world in Engine Summer is strange, haunting, and just as you begin to understand any specific setting, moves into stranger situations, still. At the same time, there are moments of humanity in the novel that completely caught me off guard, and truths for Rush that change everything.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Book Review: Sick in the Head

In addition to reading all sorts of Horror, Science Fiction and Fantasy novels, I've always had a soft spot for non-fiction, and specifically memoirs.

So when I heard about Judd Apatow's Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy I quickly added it to my must-read list.  The book is a series of interviews between Apatow and comedians dating back from the early eighties (when a high-school-aged Apatow began interviewing comedians) and 2014.  Each interview includes about a page of context for the interview, letting the reading know when the interview was done and under what circumstances.

The book is pretty great - the interviews move from delightful to instructive to heart-wrenching and often hilarious, and about halfway through I started creating a list of the friends I think would really enjoy the book.

My only complaint with the book, which happens to be the same one I had with Apatow's previously book I Found This Funny, is that the collection is organized alphabetically by author/interviewee.  Although a fair enough way to organize the book, I felt that chronological order would have worked a bit better, with just a little wiggle room, using the 1983 and 2014 interviews with Jerry Seinfeld as bookends.  

Regardless of order; the book takes a great look at the business of comedy, how it affects those who make a career at it and also works as a descriptive journey through Apatow's career as stand up comedian, writer, director, producer and most recently stand up comedian again.

An excellent read.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Movie Review: Crimson Peak

So let's start with an admission. I'm a pretty big fan of Hammer Horror films from the 1950s and 60s; honestly, if I chose a favorite director based on number of their movies I like, Terrence Fischer (1904 - 1980) would easily be in my top ten. Classics like Horror of Dracula (1958), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and The Mummy (1959) are still all incredible effective today, and the climax of Brides of Dracula (1960) may be my favourite defeat of a vampire in any movie I've seen to date... and don't even get me started on The Devil Rides Out (1968) - or you know, just read my post about it here.

Something about a lonesome mansion (or manor, or castle) a romance between an unsuspecting innocent and a suspiciously perfect partner with a dark past, and maybe a ghost or two just work perfectly. Also, looking at it, they also describe all the aspects of Gothic Romance fiction, of which I'm also a pretty big fan.

So earlier this year when it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro would be directing Crimson Peak, I knew I would have to check it out.

After seeing the film, the word I could best use to describe it is "lush", meaning "very rich and providing great sensory pleasure." In many ways the film is best looked at as an experience for the eyes and ears. Yes, there are a number of graphic depictions of violence - fans of Pan's Labyrinth will be familiar with the types of shocking violence that can appear in Del Toro's films. Yes, the movie clearly owes a lot to Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca and the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaption as well.

At it's heart, the film is a ghost story, and for the two hours it lasted I simply couldn't look away. An incredibly fun film that hit all the marks I look for in this type of story.

Monday, November 9, 2015

So I've caught up with the Outlander Series!

During my lunch hour today I finally caught up with all those other Diana Gabaldon fans and finished Written In My Own Heart's Blood, the eighth book in her Outlander series. Having read the first novel back in 2010, and thoroughly enjoyed it, I decided to read the series at the rate of one a month back in April, and have done just that.

These books average somewhere around 900 pages each, and use aspects of fantasy, time-travel, historical and romance fiction.

In reading them I've gotten:

1) A greater respect for romance fiction
2) A lot more knowledgeable about parts of the world in the mid-to-late 1700s
3) Reading Glasses (not necessarily related, but a fact nonetheless)
4) better biceps (seriously, these are HUGE books! - try carrying them around in Hardcover for a week at a time and see what happens to you!)

Written in My Own Heart's Blood
moves (sorry for mild-spoilers, don't worry I won't talk about the end) back and forth between Claire in the United States circa 1778 and her daughter Briana in Scotland, circa 1980. Much of the book focuses on how the American Revolutionary War affected the lives of women, and considering there are a number of massive historical battles and events taking place in the novel, I was really impressed to see how these were depicted from Claire's point of view as a doctor (or Conjure Woman, a term often used to describe her), a wife, and a grandmother, and giving the narrative enough time to focus on each of these.

Part of what I've enjoyed about this series overall is how it doesn't seem to be afraid to follow Claire from her twenties into her thirties, forties and fifties, showing just how much her age can change her world view. The last time I recall reading a book that impressed me this much with changing perspectives of a single character was probably Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.

If you've never given the series a shot, it's definitely worth it, and now, like every other fan, I wait with baited breath for the next one...

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Movie Review: The Martian

So for those of you who haven't gotten around to seeing The Martian yet, here are a few simple reasons why you should.

1) Considering it's all fancy graphics and high concept designs, this is a really great example of old school science fiction. In science fiction from the forties and fifties, authors often were scientists themselves and worked incredibly hard to make sure the science they used in their stories was as realistic as possible. In the film, astronaut Mark Watney is injured and left for dead on Mars and has to figure out how to survive in an entirely hostile atmosphe. Basically, think of the story as a man trapped in a shrinking box attempting to find his way out before it kills him.

2) The human side of the story is simply fascinating - seeing how people deal in times of extreme stress has always been great drama - think disaster movies, war movies and indeed, survival stories. Part of why The Martian works so well is to simply see how people work together with the tools at hand to get a job done.

3) The movie is definitely one for the big screen. With visuals set on a colossal scale, this is the kind of movie that deserves to be seen on the big screen, rather than on your television or, God help us, your smartphone.

In the end, The Martian works wonderfully as a survival story, but more importantly, as a human one.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Twelve

And here we end our visit to Hemlock Grove.

In the end, the show is a different take on a classic monster mashup, think Frankenstein meets the Wolf Man but in an updated version.

Throughout the season, the series attempts to show how these mythical beings would act and interact in a contemporary setting. In many ways it can be considered Magic realism, but in terms of a Horror, rather than a Fantastic setting.

In many ways the show is a success in what it sets out to do; the vampire, werewolf, and monster elements work in a "real world" setting.  In many ways the story works more as a thriller with horror elements than simply a classic horror story.

The pacing of the series does sometimes work against it - as the story attempts to stretch across the course of thirteen episodes, most of the episodes work, but I ended up feeling like the series could have worked at ten, rather than thirteen, episodes.

The series works best when it focuses on the growing relationship between Peter and Roman, showing how their friendship changes and grows during the course of the murder investigation, and although my personal favourite character was Shelley (the series version of the Frankenstein's monster), the human side of these characters is what worked best for me.

In the end, I'm not sure whether I'll be following up with the later seasons - but as the first season was a pretty straight adaptation of the novel, I'd like to see what the creators end up doing with these characters once the go off book.

Thanks for hanging out with me for another Ocotober!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Eleven

Moving away from the series various werewolves, vampires, Frankenstein's Monsters, and psychics, I thought today would be a good day to look at the series regular human character, Christina Wendall, (played by Freya Tingley - pictured left).

A quick side note; of the kids in the series I haven't forgotten about Letha Godfrey (Roman's cousin), but as she ends up pregnant in the second episode by, in her own words, an angel, I'm trying to stick to the one character without an obvious and direct supernatural connection to the series.

Christina is introduced in the pilot as the series answer to Twilight's Bella Swan.  She's a highschool student looking to be a writer, and in first meeting Peter, directly asks him if he is a werewolf.

Throughout the series, Christina ends up finding one of the killer's victims, and ends up in the local insane asylum - her hair changes from brunette to white over the course of the season and a number of people she knows end up being the victims of the killer.

As she is the one main child character who doesn't have obvious supernatural powers or a supernatural origin, she is, in mny ways, the easiest person to relate to in the series, allowing the audience to see the horror in the town through her eyes.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Ten

The more genre television I watch, the more often we spend an episode inside a character's head, usually allowing them to learn important plot points and to allow the audience to see more thematic elements of the story overall.

Hemlock Grove does this in the eigth episode, where Vampire (sorry Upir) Roman is drugged and falls into a coma.  The next episode balances events around Peter, the Monster Hunter, and Roman's cousin Letha.

Interestingly, in the dream sequence, Roman's sister is played by a different actress, which is a little strange as the actress who plays her normally, Madeleine Martin, is under such significant makeup (and the regular use of a body double to show her character's height), that it seems like you could have simply used the actress you already had...

Although the episode does increase the eeriness of the series overall, I tend to find these stories a little light on plot development, and was happy to get back to the main story over the next few episodes.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Nine

The Sins of the Fathers.

Much of episode seven works in flashback, describing the backstory of Peter's mother and Uncle, how have been having an affair since the pilot.

Past that Roman (pictured left) and Peter go their own ways, and each make some pretty horrible, and horrific, mistakes.

Part of the appeal of a multigenerational horror story is watching history repeat itself in different ways, and just as Olivia (Roman's mother) makes what may be a disastrous connection, Roman goes one step further, and takes part in what may be the most horrific event in the series so far.

Roman has the ability to force his will on others - simply stated, if he can look someone in the eye, he can effectively control their actions and or memories.

At first this seems like a pretty amazing ability, but think about it for a minute.

With an ability like that, all the check on your own behaviour would have to come from your own willpower, as anyone else could be controlled into going along with you.

Actually, that sounds pretty awful.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post 8

The Geography of Hemlock Grove

Five episodes into the series and I'm growing more than a little curious about the geography of the town.  In reading the original book, I actually felt like the town was a sort of analogue for Detroit, a city where industry has left, but as the city still has a massive medical complex in The Godfrey Institute, it must have more than one skyscraper right?

Apparently, not so much (pictured right).  In the series the town appears to have more in common with Gilmore Girls Stars Hollow than a city, and although it does have both a small time charm and all sorts of quirky characters, the comparison pretty much ends there.

As with many things, I was able to find a map of the town online (at the Hemlock Grove wiki) which does end up looking like a tiny mining town with a massive single skyscraper dominating the skyline.

Strange, but (fictionally) true.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Seven

Okay, so there's actually both a Frankenstein (the scientist) and a Frankenstein monster in Hemlock Grove.

After four episodes filled with Vampire (sorry, Upir) and Werewolf stuff, the idea of a mad scientist creating a monster was a heck of a lot of fun for me.

Actually episode four does a nice job of both moving the murder mystery forward and fleshing out a one of the supporting characters through flashback; specifically Dr. Clementine Chasseur (played by Kandyse McClure, pictured left).  Initially in the series, she's introduced as an officer of U.S. Fish and Wildlife, but things begin to move pretty quickly to show she's covering for something.

Part of what I'm enjoying at this point is the fact that the show seems to be working to have traditional monster archetypes (vampire, witch, werewolf, etc.), but then attempts to deconstruct them; the witch has magic, but doesn't use it as it causes more trouble than it's worth, the werewolf hides his nature for fear of scientists, like the mysterious Dr. Chausseur and her interest in Peter.

So far, as an adaption, I'm definitely preferring it to the original book, which moved, chapter by chapter, through different narrative techniques, often feeling more style over substance, but the different transitions seem to work much better in a televised format.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Six

After watching a third of the first season, I think I'm finally starting to get what Hemlock Grove is putting down.

Currently, the show has about five different storylines going on, ranging from the friendship between to Peter and Roman, to the overall murder mystery and the bizarre focus on the Ouroboros imagery throughout.

What finally hit me this episode was how the show is actually laying each storyline out and moving them forward that their own pace - there really is no guarantee that a plot point (like Shelley's (pictured right) strange disfigurement or, even stranger, random glowing) will  lead to anything in a specific episode.

The stories move at different paces and although each episode touches on them, the series works a little like a soap opera, in that it always has something going on, but never seems to give a conclusion for anything.

As I'm definitely sticking with the series through the first season, I'm interested to see how it will all end up, and I'm hoping that my understanding of the pacing will play out.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Five

Episode three (sorry gang, but spoilers abound), actually moves into some pretty interesting territory.

In many ways the series comes down to this.

Imagine you've got a pretty terrible secret (in the show's case, Peter is a werewolf), and then imagine that some horrible crime starts happening in your neck of the woods that really starts to point to you as the guilty party.  The worst thing is, with your own knowledge and background, you indeed have the capacity and the inclination for this crime, but you know it isn't you.

What do you do?

Although I still kind of feel like I've started watching the second season of a show that should have done a heck of a lot of explaining previously, the third episode moves the mystery along, and for the first time, all of the side plots begin to feel like they are contributing to the main story overall.

Also two caste members from the Battlestar Galactica reboot?  How cool is that?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Four

Without going into too much detail of the second episode, this is the one that confirms that yes, Peter is a werewolf, and it does it in one of the more startling transformations sequences I've seen in quite a while.

For me the gold standard will always be  Rick Baker's transformation effects in the 1981 film An American Werewolf in London (the makeup for that film was so good that the Academy Awards introduced a new category, Best Makeup, because of it), and although much of what you see in the episode is clearly computer generated, the effects are pretty impressive nonetheless.

The episode itself largely focuses on the murder mystery, but does introduce (through email), Roman's older sister Shelley, a giant girl suffering from some undefined deformities, who wheezes loudly and speaks through a small mechanical device in person, but through her emails, shows herself to be well spoken and quite intelligent.

I actually preferred the second episode to the pilot, and am definitely looking forward to the rest of the season.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Three

So then the book became a television series...

On April 19th, 2013, the entire series became available for download on Netlfix.

As a bit of a slow starter - I of course, found my current copy in DVD form at a used bookstore back in July.

So here's what I've got to say about episode one - Directed by horror filmmaker Eli Roth (famous for Cabin Fever, the Hostel franchise, and a movie called Clown one of my coworkers says I have to check out), the pilot for the series, titled "Jellyfish in the Sky" starts very similarly to the book - the narrator is missing, but the opening death sequence surrounding the first victim is incredibly intense, brutal, and pretty darn horrifying.

As with the book, the pilot is swimming in potential leads, in addition to both Peter and Roman, their mothers, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins all make appearances and also fight for screen time, leaving me unsure of which storyline to follow - in general I prefer a show like Lost or Skins when featuring an ensemble cast, focus on one character per episode and give me some time to get to know everyone.

The series looks pretty great however, the colours are lush, the town, which appears to be both a small town, and a previously thriving factory town, looks like a great setting for a horror story, and I quite enjoyed how the pilot acknowledges some of the similarities to Twilight and points out that this is nothing like that.

In the end the pilot had me interested in watching more - so far no werewolves, but a lot of mystery.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post Two

Generally if a film or television show has been adapted from a book, I'm likely to try and read the source material first, possibly because I love reading, or because I want to know where the story originally came from, or maybe I just like to feel like I'm more "in the know" than my friends and loved ones.

So, when I decided to spend the month looking at the Netflix series Hemlock Grove, you'd better believe I picked up the original novel and got reading.

The original novel is ok. I've read a lot of werewolf and other monster fiction over my life, so I can easily compare it to all sorts of things, considering it a slightly twisted version of Twilight, or even a little bit like the film The Lost Boys, in that the story goes to a lot of lengths to show how monstrous the creatures appear to humans, but that the monsters themselves are never really viewed as tragic, just scary.

The novel largely follows two young men, Roman Godfrey and Peter Rumancek, one of whom is a werewolf and the other is likely a vampire (although he doesn't seem to be aware of it). Much of the drama focuses on a string of brutal murders in the city/town of Hemlock Grove, and of the search for the killer.

For me the issue was a massive amount of pretty unnecessary side characters, and a number of side-plots that seemed to go nowhere and not amount to much. The story begins with a fairly clever writing device, in that the actual (and unnamed) killer is also our narrator, but once their identity is discovered, the book seems to drop the concept. Both leads go through a number of harrowing events and some of them are quite effective and disturbing, but in the end, if I were looking for a great werewolf novel* - this wouldn't be it.

Now onto the show!

*My favourite three would be Endore's Werewolf of Paris (1933), Brandner's The Howling (1986) and McCammon's The Wolf's Hour(1989)

Friday, October 2, 2015

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove: Post One

Welcome to the first of my October posts on the Netflix series Hemlock Grove, which, after viewing one episode, looks a little familiar...

So you've got this werewolf see, and then a vampire-ish sort of fellow, and they both attend the same high school, and then there's this girl...

But, unlike the way I spent 2010, this series has some pretty diehard (as opposed to twi-hard) fans, and it was based on a book first, and the soundtrack is supposed to be pretty fantastic...

Okay, you know what - Hemlock Grove!

Let's see where this takes us!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Get ready for some werewolves...

As we head into the glorious month of October, it's time to gear up for another of my yearly dips into a horror theme.

This year it's the Netflix series Hemlock Grove.

As with my month on the Saw franchise a few years back, I'm going in blind, having never seen an episode of the show and with very little idea of what to expect.

Here's what I know so far:

1) It's based on a book (which I start reading today!)
2) There are sure to be some werewolves
3) It's currently in season three, but I'll be focusing on season one

Also, I may be talking about all sorts of other werewolf titles I'm fond of, so get ready, because on Friday

Bookmonkey visits Hemlock Grove!

Monday, September 21, 2015

Book Review: A Breath of Snow and Ashes

Diana Gabaldon's fifth book in her Outlander series, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, was, for me, a pretty great addition to the series, but there were a few items I took issue with.

First of all the good - even through these books take a lot of time to go through, the view of little day-to-day activities in the mid-1770s America was a huge part of it's charm. Just seeing how issues ranging from marriage, birth, infidelity, and the law worked at the time, through the eyes of time-traveller Claire Fraser is one of the books great strengths. As with the rest of the books in the series, there is a lot of action and intrigue going on as well, but exploring this woman's life is definitely the highlight for me.

My biggest complaint with the book was (sorry for the mild 10-year-old spoiler) all the kidnapping - at this point both Claire and her daughter Brianna have been kidnapped multiple times and I found the fact that yet again, both of them were kidnapped at different points in the novel to be more than a little repetitive.

Will I still keep reading? Oh absolutely, the good far outweighs the bad in these book and I've only got two more to go before I'm all caught up with all the other Outlander fans out there!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Book Review: The Princess and the Pony

Rarely do I find the need to purchase children's picture books anymore.  My kids are both out of high school, and although I am hoping for grandchildren someday, that day probably won't be anytime in 2015.

But every once in a while, I come across a title that really needs to be purchased.

Yesterday, that title was Kate Beaton's The Princess and the Pony.

I have long been a fan of her collection Hark, A Vagrant (2011), which was a delightful mix of Canadian History, Literature, and more than a few strips featuring "Sexy Batman".

The Princess and the Pony focuses on a young warrior princess who desperately wants a warrior steed for her birthday and ends up with... ummm... The delightful little guy on the lower right-hand corner of the book cover.

The book is a wonderful look at gift giving, acceptance, and finding the value in things you may at first overlook.

Also there is farting, and my inner three-year-old boy found this incredibly hilarious!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bear with me, I'm almost finished my latest Gabaldon

All right, I'll admit that reading fantasy fiction does often come with a down side - as the books are bigger, you end up having to spend longer and longer amounts of time to read them.

Right now I'm on day nine of my latest book by Diana Gabaldon, A Breath of Snow and Ashes.  Now that's not to say I'm not enjoying this 980-page tome, (although I will admit - mid 10-year-old spoiler - that two kidnappings happening in the same book to two characters that have both been kidnapped before stretches my sense of reason a little), but I will say that usually in the same space of time I could have knocked out a couple horror or science fiction novels, and I'm pretty sure (not 100% however) that I'll finish tomorrow, and will be able to put up my review at that time.

Thanks for bearing with me.

Once more unto the breach!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Riding the new Metro Line

The View at MacEwan Station
This weekend our city finally got it's second train line - the Metro Line, which adds three stations to where our Light Rail Transit (LRT) can go - two Post Secondary Institutes and a Hospital.

So on the first day of operation I did what I always do with a new transit line, and spent some time on it while reading.

The ride was pretty nice, and filled with people either video recording or taking snapshots, and I heard more than once the mention of "This will be going on my YouTube Channel", all of which faded to the background of the view (see pictured right) and of my Superior Spider-Man comic.

It's always nice to see infrastructure developed in your home town, now I've just got to see how this might benefit or hinder me in my daily commute.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Book Review: The Scarlet Gospels

In my reading I have three favourite authors, three people who get space on my shelves no matter what, and although there are a few close seconds, so far no other author compares for space in my collection when it comes to Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Clive Barker (Although Charles de Lint is quickly moving into a strong contender for number four).

I've re-read all three authors a few times and still go back for more, so when a new book comes out, you can bet I'm chomping at the bit to crack that new spine and get reading.

Barker's latest, The Scarlet Gospels, combines two of his most famous characters - the demon known as Pinhead (introduced in his novella The Hellbound Heart - later adapted into the film Hellraiser), and Harry D'Amour (introduced in the short story "The Last Illusion" in Books of Blood volume 6 - later adapted into the film Lord of Illusions).  

Personally I enjoyed it, but as someone who has been looking forward to this book since he first mentioned it as an idea in the late 90s, I will say I felt it lived up to it's promise, and worked quite well as an extremely creepy read.

As with most of his books, I wouldn't recommend it to the faint of heart - it is filled with some truly gruesome and horrifying content, and as it focuses largely on characters from his previous works, I wouldn't recommend it as a  first dip into the books of Mr. Barker (check out Books of Blood for that).

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Book Review: Modern Romance

So let me start by admitting that I'm a big fan of books by comedians; whether learning about American history through Jon Stewart or Nick Offerman, or reading a fun autobiography by Amy Poehler or Tina Fey (which had me laughing so hard I drew uncomfortable stares on the bus - a near-criminal public display up here in Canada), if any comedian I enjoy puts pen to paper, I'm likely to give their efforts a try.

So earlier this week I picked up Aziz Ansari's first book, Modern Romance, expecting a look at the actors life when I was stunned to find out the book was largely focused on the issue of romance and relationships in the era of social media.  Also to be fair, I'm sure most people already knew this, as I would have had I looked into anything about the book or even read the back cover.

Co written by sociologist Eric Klinenberg, the book works as a really great piece of creative non-fiction, is well-researched and includes interviews and references to authors such as Clay Shirky and Sherry Turkle.

The book was a pretty fascinating look at how people are meeting, dating, and marrying each other these days and as a communications studies major, played directly into the stuff I love to read for fun.

This may be my favourite non-fiction book of 2015.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Book Review: Crooked Little Vein

Okay, so think of a hard-boiled detective story, mix in a healthy dollop of Hunter S. Thompson and understand it's written by the fellow who wrote Transmetropolitan, and you'll have a pretty good idea of where this novel is going to start.

The book follows a private investigator named Michael McGill who goes on one of the craziest cases I think I've ever come across.  His case (don't worry, spoilers will be limited to the first thirty pages) is to track down a secret "second" United States Constitution for the White House, as it may contain magic political power to sway audiences.

Then the book goes more than a little insane - not for the faint of heart, and really just try to answer the question "Whatcha reading?" asked by anyone while in the middle of this book, trying to explain it in a way that won't make you uncomfortable is impossible.

The book is an awful lot of fun, however, working much like a standard detective novel, but mixed in with some of the weirdest, strangest, Fortean plot points I've ever found outside of the Illuminatus Trilogy.

Well worth the read.

Friday, August 28, 2015

So I'm now 39...

Earlier this week I celebrated my 39th birthday with some camping and a trip to The Louisiana Purchase, a wonderful little Creole and Cajun restaurant here in Edmonton.

Also I had my second sugary treat since June 1st.  It was a chocolate truffle cake and it was DELICIOUS!

The no sugar thing goes pretty well so far.  Next up for me will be skipping September so I can enjoy both Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween treats come October.

Anyway, I realized that I had been neglecting my blog this week so wanted to swing by and say HI!

Next up will be a review of Clive Barker's The Scarlet Gospels - which I'm almost finished and am really REALLY enjoying!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Book Review: Console Wars

Every once in a while I find my way to a book that has me looking at my childhood in a slightly different way, and causes me to rethink the things I did and why.

Blake Harris' Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation, looks at (roughly) the five year span in the first half the 1990s when SEGA moved from bit player in the video game industry to a massive giant, eventually toppling the stranglehold Nintendo had on the industry at the time.

From 1990-1995 I was pretty much exactly the target audience of the SEGA genesis; aged 14 to 19 and having been raised on the classic Nintendo, a new machine advertising more grown-up games and turning my (then) current system into a baby toy as far as I was concerned, I was definitely jealous of all of my friends who had one and played my way through as many Genesis games as I could get my hands on.

What this book does so ingeniously is to look at the story from the point of view of businessmen and marketers.  At a time when the toy industry was distancing itself from videogame consoles after the collapse of ATARI, Nintendo worked its way into being the defacto video game console in both the East and the West throughout the late 1980s.  Part of what I loved about the book was the context and perspective it gave to the story, expressing that monopolies are not seen as negative in Japan and that much of SEGAs success came from some very savvy marketing ideas, as well as a certain hedgehog.

A fascinating read about the men who created, developed, and marketed one of the toys that defined a generation, Console Wars is well worth the read.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: From a Whisper to a Scream

Charles de Lint's second horror novel, From a Whisper to a Scream (1992) also happens to be his first novel set in Newford, which, as I'm reading his books in publication order, doesn't mean much to me, but for fans of his Urban Fantasy work, it may be a title which slipped past your radar.

As with Angel of Darkness, the book has some very dark material in; and the fact that it's dedicated to crime writer Andrew Vachss may give you an idea of the direction of that material.

The story focuses on a series of murders, which appear to have been cased by a dead man, and the people attempting to stop it; ranging from the police and journalists, to figures in the community and a runaway girl with a dark past.  I found the book to be compulsively readable, and blazed through it quickly.

Sometimes fiction takes me to very dark places, but within them the light of hope and love can shine very brightly.

A great read.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: Half the World

Following up his excellent first book in the Shattered Sea series (Half a King, 2014), Joe Abercrombie's Half the World moves the story a few years along and shifts his first protagonist, Yarvi, into a strong supporting character into this novel, which focuses on a female warrior in search of identity and a young soldier in search of himself.

As with the first book, although the novel is set in a fantasy setting, there is very little magic, and honestly it feels a little more on the post-apocalyptic (but very post) style of setting like in Terry Brook's Shannara series.

The novel switches back and forth between it's two protagonists each chapter and like the first book, is filled with action, adventure and some great character building moments which all contribute to another fine coming-of-age story (or, technically two coming-of-age stories).  

Although I didn't find it quite as strong as the first book, I'm definitely reading the final book in the series (Half a War) and will likely check out a few more books by Abercrombie in the next year.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Oldest Daughter is Engaged!

And a pretty fancy ring as well!
Hi All, Although normally I fill this spot with reviews and thought I have on the things I play, read, and watch, I needed to take a quick break today to congratulate my oldest daughter on her engagement!


And just for the record, her fellow asked for my wife and my blessing before he proposed, which we considered both classy and thoughtful.

I'll have a regular review up tomorrow, but was just too excited today to write about anything else!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Book Review: Spiritwalk

A collection of previous released short stories related to characters from his 1984 novel Moonheart: A Romance, Charles de Lint's 1993 book Spiritwalk is pretty fantastic.

Part of what I'm loving working my way through de Lint's fiction is how he ties everything together - this book is not only a sequel, but acknowledges it exists in the same world as both his Jack of Kinrowan character (Jack the Giant Killer, 1987, and Drink Down the Moon, 1990) and his own author character Caitlin Midhir (Yarrow, 1986), and although the shared-world and world-building devices he's used are really fun for readers of his fiction, they aren't even the best part.

What's really great about the stories in Spiritwalk is how he can handle multiple characters through multiple storylines and yet continues to deal with the same themes while never losing their individual voices, from the gruff ex-biker Blue to the mythical Coyote, he creates this amazing world full of characters that breathe and yearn and desire.

Although Spiritwalk may not be for the de Lint first timer (it is a sequel, after all), it was a delight to read and has me quite excited to continue my journey through his stories.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Book Review: Blood Kin

I picked up Steve Rasnic Tem's Blood Kin last month as it won the 2014 Bram Stoker Award for best novel, and I've been reading the winners of that list for years now.

My familiarity with the horror sub-genre of southern gothic is a little light to be fair; I loved Robert R. McCammon's Gone South, William Hjortsberg's Fallen Angel, and (although not a novel) Stan Winston's 1988 film Pumpkinhead all work well to show just how nicely horror can be used in the setting.

Blood Kin is a multi-generational story, taking place both in modern day and in the 1930s, using both a male and a female protagonist, and really focuses on the ideas of the sins of the father being visited upon the sons (or grandsons) and moves deftly between straight horror and dark fantasy elements.

A word to the wise, some of the horrific scenes in the book made me quite uncomfortable (and I read horror monthly, so that's saying something), so it may not be the best thing to read before bed, but I strongly recommend it if your interested in giving it a try.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

My No-Sugar Challenge, Month Two

So here we are at the beginning of my third month without sugar...

And honestly, so far so good.

I took a one-dessert break halfway through July to celebrate my oldest daughter's 23rd Birthday, but aside from that piece of delicious chocolate cake, I've spent the last two months sugar free.

The early days involved headaches and a bizarre sensitivity in my teeth, but since then I've dropped nearly twenty pounds and knowing that I've got another slice of birthday cake coming at the end of this month (I'll be turning 39!) significantly helps to take the edge off of my cravings.

To be fair, I still have a lot of sweet things, I'm eating a lot more fresh fruit for one, and I know I could be better about avoiding hidden sugars, but right now I'm feeling pretty good and see no need to stop.

After all, with the option for one delicious treat a month from now on, I can definitely get pretty fancy in my choices!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Decluttering: My Adventures with the KonMari Method of Tidying

While our youngest was away in Quebec for the month of July, my wife and I decided to try this new book all the fancy people are reading, Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  The book largely suggests that the way people clean their homes isn't the most effective, and that as your home is (theoretically) incredibly important to your well-being and happiness, it deserves to be cleared of the gunk that's been accumulating in it for years.

So we rolled up our sleeves and spent every weekend for the last month tidying, KonMari style...

The results were kind of interesting...
So here are all of our books (we were pretty worried the floor might give way)

And here is what we decided to let go...

From the gaming books...
To the University Texts...

To the massive collection in the garage.
And eventually we cleared up our shelves
Which is a lot.

...and I mean A LOT
And then, room by room, we went through everything,
From Seasonal to Storage

Including the room where we'd been storing everything.
And even cleared out the garage!