Thursday, June 30, 2016

Book Review: Moonlight and Vines

Charles de Lint's third collection of short stories set in his fictional city of Newford, includes many reoccurring characters, including favourite Jilly Coppercorn, brothers Christy and Geordie Riddell, and the Crow Girls (featured in Someplace to be Flying). Many of the stories in this third collection focus on death and loss, but de Lint tends to end his stories on a hopeful note.

Standout's for me were "Saskia" and "The Fields beyond the Fields" both featuring Christy Riddell (Newfords analogue of real-world Urban Legend collector Jan Harold Brunvand) and a woman who may be something else entirely.

A fun find for me was "China Doll" a story originally published in an anthology for The Crow franchise, which, although a little at odds with de Lint's Urban Fantasy setting, was still an interesting visit to James O'Barr's original work.

A fun read!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Lost Pages

To be fair, I'm one of those people who walk and read. This does mean upon occasion I'll get people saying things like:

"Hey Professor, leave some books for the rest of us"


"Watch out, your going to get hurt"

or my personal favourite,

"BOO!" Usually occurring with a jump in front of me.

but to be honest there are some unfortunate consequences that come with walking and reading.

For instance, today I got to the end of my book and realized I was missing the last four pages - and they could have fallen out (this was a used-bookstore purchase) anywhere in the last twenty block I'd just finished walking.

So now here I am, book of short stories in hand, and am four pages short of finishing my book because those four pages are literally gone.

Luckily epl has a copy.

And I brought a back up.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Book Review: Someplace to be Flying by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint's 1998 novel, Someplace to be Flying begins innocuously enough; a cabdriver witnessing a mugging decides to get involved and ends up getting shot for his troubles. Then, along with the mugging victim (a photojournalist on her way home), he is saved by two young women who appear to be able to fly.

de Lint has always excelled at stories wherein people meet the supernatural and end up shifting their views on the world, but Someplace to be Flying goes much further than this, adding in an entire hidden populace on Earth and drops both characters into the middle of a city wide war. The book actually takes it's time setting up the main events of the story, spending nearly a hundred pages introducing its ensemble and using another fifty for backstory before everything begins to move forward very quickly.

The story is set in Newford, includes a few characters from previous novels and short stories, but is largely populated by new characters, including a set of sisters that are like nothing I've read before (and I've been reading fantasy novels since the mid-eighties), and immerses the reader into an experience including emails, admittance forms and more.

The story works incredibly well at setting up its own mythology and plays fair with all of its charactes (although I have to admit to losing track of exactly who was who twice). A fascinating read and one that already has me looking forward to his next work.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: Trader, by Charles de Lint

Charles de Lint's Trader (1997) was, for me, a pretty great way to use fantasy elements to tell a story about starting over.  The novel focuses on a luthier (stringed instrument creator) named Max Trader who wakes up one day inhabiting someone else's body.  The story follows Max as he tries to come to terms with what has happened, attempts to put things back the way they were and tries to stop the man who seems to be ruining his old lie.

What I really loved about the book was how it showed the interconnections between all the folk in Max and Johnny's (the other half of the body swap) lives, and how this change had long lasting effects in all sorts of places.

De Lint mainstay Jilly Coppercorn appears in the novel in a smaller role, as do a few other characters from his previous novels and stories, but Trader largely focuses on Max, Johnny, two young women, a runaway and her mother, and deftly moves back and forth between all of these characters to tell an intruding tale of secret lives, starting over and the power of dreams and will.

In the end, much of the novel follows themes of how people deal with change that is beyond their control, asking whether you have the inner strength and drive to flow with change or stay forever focused on what you feel you are owed.

Another great read.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

In an average year I make it to about 18 movies in the theatre; half of them are easily Oscar nominees in January and February, and about six are various Superhero/Wizard/Spaceship films (which would be a movie I'd see entirely based on the title).

This tends to leave me with about two movies a year in theatres and in my chosen Genre, the horror film. More often than not these end up being post-apocalyptic films as they look better on the big screen.

Last night, however, I went to an advanced screen of The Conjuring 2, director James Wan's follow up to his 2013 original featuring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators who, worked on cases like the Amityville Horror and the Enfield Poltergeist in the 1970s and 80s.

The movie was a lot of fun for me for a number of reasons:

1) Wan is getting really great at doing supernatural horror - although he is still probably most famous for the originalSaw (which is well worth a watch), the Insidious and Conjuring films show a really neat progression of his work behind the scenes, laying out the various home and characters before fully submerging them into the horror of the story, and working well on both the over the top and the subtle in horror.

2) The leads are pretty incredible, getting you to invest in them as a couple first and then using the strength of their relationship throughout the horrors of the film is a great way to show the power of a good relationship.

3) If you happened to catch the BBC mini-series The Enfield Haunting earlier this year, as I was, you're in for even more of a treat as that story follows the same events but from the supporting characters point of view - in many ways horror relies on perspective to be most effective and these two versions of the same story actually helped each other a lot.

Although I didn't like this film quite as much as I did the original Insidious (which, as a story not based on true events, could take some very interesting jumps) it is a solidly effective horror and left me hoping for more if the film does well.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: The Wreckage of Agathon

John Gardner's 1970 novel The Wreckage of Agathon marks my sixth book of the "36 Best novels for a Survey of Ancient Greek History" over at as well as the first story set after the Bronze Age.

The novel takes place in Sparta during the reign of Lycurgus, who transformed the city state from an Athenian trade-based society into the warrior culture we connect Ancient Sparta to today. The novel focuses on a Seer, Agathon, who along with his apprentice, is imprisoned during the change of power and left to sit in a sort of limbo in prison while awaiting a trial for crimes that have never been made quite clear.

The novel takes the form of alternating narratives, by Agathon and his apprentice/cell mate Demokokos (who is called Peeker by Agathon and the Chapter headings). The two things I enjoyed most about the novel were the fact that the Spartans, as viewed by Agathon, are not evil, they are simply the new way and in his mind an all controlling way of any sort is evil, and the fact that the novel, taking place in roughly 700 BCE shows a man living at the end of his civilization, looking both backwards at what was and forwards at what might be.

Considering the almost fetishistic view of the Spartans as shown in the Frank Miller (and later Zack Snydor film adaption) story 300. It was kind of refreshing to read a story set at the dawn of that culture and viewing it as the death of something, rather than simply the beginning of one of the Ancient world's most formidable warriors.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: City of Mirrors

Justin Cronin's final entry into his Passage trilogy, City of Mirrors (2016), spans nearly a thousand years, moving backwards and forwards through his viral infestation of North America (wherein Vampire-like creatures effectively wipe out the population of the continent), and brings a number of interesting new elements to his post-apocalyptic world.

Originally conceived as a challenge by his daughter to write a novel about "a girl who saves the world" the novel effectively wraps up the story of Amy Harper Belefonte, also known as Amy NLN and "The Girl from Nowhere" as well as the surviving characters from the previous novels. Without going into spoilers, I will say that I felt each of the characters where handled fairly and with the exception of one major plot hole, the story does a great job of showing the terror and beauty of a world devoid of us.

For me, the novel was surprisingly hopeful, leaving the series pretty high up in my list of favourite post-apocalyptic works, and although I complained of the pre-apocalypse flashbacks in the second book (The Twelve), I was expecting them here, and felt they worked for the overall story.

A great, if lengthy, read.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Movie Review: High-Rise

Ben Wheatley's High-Rise works as both social satire and an incredibly bleak view of how not all technology is actually a benefit to humanity. Based on the 1975 science fiction novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard, the story focusing on a number of residents of a new high-rise building which works as a self-contained community; including amenities, grocery stores, entertainment, etc., and shows how quickly a project can go from the ideal to a brutal reality.

The film focuses on Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) who, over the course of three months moves from new tenant to perfect tenant, in one of the eeriest ways possible. The film has a mid-70s aesthetic and uses the ABBA song S.O.S. to brilliant affect throughout, and in ways I've never heard ABBA before.

The film does include a lot of graphic and violent imagery, and is definitely meant for mature audiences, but along with the original novel, is well worth examining and uses both shock and unexpected humour to make its point.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Book Review: Legend, by David Gemmell

David Gemmell's Legend (1984) is pretty much a perfect example of what I love in high fantasy novels.  High Fantasy, being stories told in a fantasy world populated by characters, events and plot best described as epic (think Lord of the Rings), is a sub-genre of Fantasy, and both Conan the Barbarian and Bilbo Baggins can fit in it with ease.

I've actually read a number of David Gemmell novels before, even ones set in the his Drenai Saga, but as I read those in Junior High and High School, I had never done the research to see if the books I was reading were part of a larger whole.

Legend is largely a novel about a siege.  In many ways it echoes the American story of the Alamo and Gemmell did cite western author Louis L'Amour as an influence.  The story involves thieves, farmers, warriors, townsfolk and an old warrior known simply as Druss the Legend, and follows these people as they defend a castle against an overwhelming force.

The story moves along at a great pace and puts a lot of value into all of it's characters, from the top down, drawing the reader into the story of this last great defence of a dying empire.

If you've never read fantasy novels before, I can't think of a better place to start.  This book reminded me of everything I fell in love with the genre as a young man and although Gemmell passed away in 2006, he left over twenty novels that I guarantee I'll be checking out myself very soon.