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Archive for November, 2009

Book Review: Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris (Series, #5)

November 30, 2009 9 comments

Summary:
Someone is shooting shifters in the parish, and the Werepanthers are suspicious of Jason.  Sookie sets out to clear his name, but things get a bit more complicated when it becomes clear someone has their eye not only on the shifters, but also on her.

Review:
Although the back cover claims this entry into the Sookie-verse is full of entertaining plot-twists, it actually reads as a been there, done that, plot.

Jason is in trouble, again.  Sookie’s fairy godmother has to save her, again.  Someone isn’t what they seem. Again.  Sam still has the major hots for Sookie (though I’ll never understand why.  She seems to just use him repeatedly when she needs help).  Bill still wants Sookie even though he’s sleeping with someone else, and Alcide is still kind of a jerk.

I think the problem with this book is that it doesn’t move the overarching plot forward much at all.  There is a tiny development in the Sookie/Eric plotline, but that’s all.  I guess I could forgive this if the individual storyline was new and exciting, but it’s not.  Ooo, someone’s targeting the supes.  Big deal.

In spite of all these complaints, I still want to keep reading the series.  This book read more like a clunker episode of a tv series you really love than a death toll.  I expect things will improve in the next book, and this was just a mystery idea that went bad for Harris.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought on Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review
Dead To The World, review

Book Review: Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris (Series, #4)

November 25, 2009 10 comments

Summary:
Just because Sookie has broken up with Bill doesn’t mean her relationship with the supernatural world is over–especially when she finds Eric naked and suffering from amnesia on the side of the road.  When she discovers from Pam that a league of evil witches have their sights set on ruling Shreveport, she agrees to hide Eric while the vampires, werewolves, and Wiccans attempt to fend off the witches.  To top it off, Sookie’s brother has gone missing, which may or may not be related to the near-war going on.

Review:
While the books in the series so far have been improving, Dead to the World is definitely a step back.

The individual plot lines aren’t so bad, but Harris doesn’t do a good job of keeping them integrated and flowing.  The book reads as if it has too many sticks in the fire.  Just too much happens in such a short book.  The reader is left feeling a bit of whiplash from the rapidly changing storylines and situations.

I knew Sookie would have a rebound after Bill, but I’d hoped Harris would be more creative than having that rebound be Eric.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Eric better than Bill, but I also enjoyed the tension between him and Sookie.  I wish that had lasted longer.  Similarly, I don’t think giving Eric amnesia was a wise character development choice.  I’m pretty sure anyone with amnesia plopped into the supernatural world would be a cowering mess.  That doesn’t tell us anything about who Eric is underneath his persona.  Sookie’s interactions with him therefore felt so fake that I not only couldn’t take real interest in them, I was also a bit grossed out by the falseness of them.  I didn’t expect Sookie’s rebound to be emotional, but I did expect it to be more real.

On the other hand, Sookie’s character development takes a nice turn.  Without Bill in the picture, she may have expected the supernatural world to pretty much leave her alone.  Instead she finds out they still depend on her.  Through the various situations, she starts to become a more empowered version of herself, and I enjoyed seeing that.

The best part of the book by far is Jason’s plot-line.  I can’t say much more or I’ll give away the secret, but suffice to say that I hope True Blood gets to this part of the story sooner rather than later.

While I’m irritated by some of the character development choices Harris has made, I am still enjoying the world she has created.  I am hoping though that the series returns to the tight, witty writing found in Club Dead.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought on Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review
Club Dead, review

Movie Review: The Shining (1980)

November 23, 2009 5 comments

Summary:
Jack Torrance thinks he’s found the ideal job.  He, along with his wife and son, can move into a Colorado hotel and take care of it for the winter in exchange for a living stipend.  An aspiring novelist, Jack sees this as such a perfect opportunity to write that he shrugs off the story of the previous caretaker who murdered his wife and daughters and then committed suicide.  At first everything is fine, but soon the sinister forces in the hotel start to work on Jack and his psychic son.

Review:
Wow.  I love horror movies, but it takes a certain combination of plot and visual to really scare me.  The Shining has scares in spades.

For the person who’s freaked out by visuals, there’s blood pouring out of elevators, corpses, and of course Jack Nicholson’s amazing facial contorions when his character turns sinister.  Truly the movie would not have been anywhere near as frightening without Nicholson’s ability to contort his face into so many different frightening combinations.  The man’s face was made to act.

What really got to me though is the psychological aspect of this story.  What really makes this story worth it is the question of how much of what is going on is in the characters’ minds.  The truly evil things that happen are performed by characters whose minds are not all there.  They have lost their tenuous grasp on reality, and that is more frightening than any axe murderer, because anyone could go crazy.  Essentially, anyone could turn into a monster.

Take these two elements and toss in a bit of a last-minute puzzle at the end, and you’ve got the perfect formula for an excellent horror movie.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: Club Dead by Charlaine Harris (Series, #3)

November 20, 2009 13 comments

Summary:
Bill has been acting oddly distant with Sookie lately, so she isn’t exactly pleased when he announces he’s going to Seattle on a mission for the vampire queen of Louisiana.  She soon finds out from Pam and Eric, though, that Bill lied to her.  He’s actually been in Jackson, Mississippi with his one-time vampire lover, Lorena.  He’s also been kidnapped.  Something he’s been secretly up to has put them all in danger, so Sookie must put aside her anger for now and try to help the vampires free Bill and prevent a vampire war between the kingdoms of Mississippi and Louisiana.  Along the way, Sookie gets to know a whole lot more about the werewolves–not to mention about Eric.

Review:
I have to hand it to Harris, I expected there to be trouble in paradise for Bill and Sookie, but I didn’t expect it this soon or this serious.  Reading Club Dead made me realize this series isn’t about Sookie’s relationship with Bill, but about Sookie’s gradual entry into the supernatural world.  Bill just kind of served as a door.  I tend to be a bit of a romantic, but I’ve never really liked Bill nearly as much as the other supernatural guys, so let me just say–woohoo!

The plot is complex.  There are multiple mysteries for Sookie to figure out on top of dealing with her emotions about Bill’s betrayal and her odd popularity among the supernatural guys.  I enjoy the fact that she was never desired by human guys, but is among the the supernaturals.  It’s akin to the awkward growing up girl finding her niche in her 20s.  At first Sookie thought it was just Bill who has the major hots for her, but it turns out she’s a hot commodity with lots of the supernatural guys, but it isn’t just about her looks.  They like Sookie for her personality.  Something it seemed to me Bill never seemed to appreciate much.

Harris does a good job writing a unique werewolf world.  Whereas the vampires are notoriously cold emotionally, the werewolves are hot-blooded.  They’re passionate, strong, and animalistic.  Harris has them mostly working blue collar jobs, but excelling at it.  Sookie’s escort, Alcide, runs a highly profitable family general contracting business.

My only complaint is that Harris doesn’t seem to trust her readers to remember the rules of the world she’s created.  We get told yet again that silver chains can hold a vampire down, shifters aren’t out yet, Sookie had a hard time in school, the Japanese created synthetic blood, etc…  It’s annoying, and it makes it feel like Harris thinks she needs to dumb down the story for her readers.  I understand a quick rehash at the beginning of the book to remind us where we left off, but as for everything else, I think the reader can be trusted to remember that silver chain nets are dangerous to vampires.  Those parts are easily skimmed over though, and the res of the book makes up for it.

I originally was uncertain that Harris could keep Sookie Stackhouse’s world interesting for seven books.  I envisioned repeated “Bill and Sookie solve yet another mystery” outings, but I am glad to say I was mistaken.  As the books continue, more of the world is revealed, and Sookie’s life becomes more complicated.  I’m looking forward to what she’s going to reveal next.

If you enjoy the gradual building of a world around a strong female character, you will enjoy the direction this series is headed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought on Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Dead Until Dark, review
Living Dead in Dallas, review

Book Review: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King (Series, #2)

November 18, 2009 8 comments

Summary:
After finishing the first stage in a long series toward finding The Dark Tower, Roland knows he must now “draw the three.”  He will recruit three people to assist him in his quest.  Now past the desert and mountains, he has reached an ocean beach where dangerous creatures lurk.  As he walks up this beach he gradually finds doors to other realities where his three assistants reside, completely unaware they are about to be drawn into a quest in another world.

Review:
The Drawing of the Three makes it abundantly clear that The Dark Tower series is all about plot and not about character development.    The characters do things that work for the plot, but make zero sense from a character stand-point.  I’m not talking about mistakes here.  I know in the real world people do stupid things.  It’s more akin to say a Nazi suddenly deciding he loves a Jew.  (That doesn’t happen in the book, but similar things do).   I personally find this jarring, but if you’re more of a plot person than a character person, it won’t bother you.

My other issue, and bare in mind that I’ve now read three Stephen King books, is that his writing tends to be misogynistic.  Sometimes it’s subtle.  An example in this book is when a pharmacist who hates his job is on the phone with a complaining female client.  Instead of thinking that he hates these people who complain, he thinks that he hates all these bitches who complain.  I, as someone who works with the public, am certain that he has had men and women complain, so why did King specify only women?  It seems whenever there’s an opportunity for a character to slur against women, they do.  I’m not saying no character should be misogynistic.  That’d be like saying no character should ever be racist.  I am saying that King shouldn’t take every opportunity to be misogynistic and run with it.

*spoiler warning*
An even better example of this is the only female character in this book, the second assistant, Odetta.  She has Dissociative Identity Disorder.  (King wrongfully calls this Schizophrenia, which is an entirely different illness).  Stereotypically, one personality is “good,” and the other is “bad.”  The good personality is grateful to the men for helping her.  She is quiet, submissive, intelligent, and strong inside.  Naturally one of the men instantaneously falls in love with her.  *rolls eyes*  The bad personality attempts to defend herself, is physically strong, and vehemently protects herself against suspected rape.  She actually tells these men that she will kill them with her cunt.  The only women I know who use that word are raging feminists attempting to reclaim the word, and that is not the context here.  She is also described as an ugly hag.  Granted later these two personalities merge into one, but the implications are there.  Men love women who act appropriately feminine.  If you behave in any unfeminine manner, you are an ugly hag they naturally want to kill.
*end spoiler*

In spite of that, though, I do still like King’s stories.  I’m mostly willing to overlook the bouts of misogyny, because the man can certainly write plot-driven horror.  The plot here is excellent.  We have doors that lead into people’s brains, horrifying creatures called “lobstrosities,” drugs, shoot-outs, infections, murderers, and more.  There is literally horror on almost every page.  I couldn’t put it down.

If you like plot-driven horror and don’t mind overlooking character development weakness, then you will enjoy this entry into the Dark Tower series.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

Previous Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review

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Movie Review: Kamikaze Girls (2004) Japan Shimotsuma Monogatari

November 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Netflix recommended this to me after I gave Battle Royale a 5 star rating.  I’m starting to have a thing for Japanese movies, and after reading the description I knew I had to get it.

Summary:
Highschooler Momoko may live in the countryside, but she’s big city fashion at heart.  Her babydoll, Rococo style frilly dresses, parasols, and bonnets make her stick out like a sore thumb at her school.  Ichigo is a member of a rough, tough girl biker gang.  Their paths cross when Momoko sells some of her dad’s Versace knock-offs to acquire money for more dresses.  A tentative friendship develops, affecting both girls forever.

Review:
The box for Kamikaze Girls claims it’s a Japanese comedy.  Although live-action, it definitely employs some of the zaniness seen in comic Anime films, so if that’s not your style, consider yourself warned.  I enjoy zany humor though, so I appreciated it here.

The acting is great.  The actresses playing Momoko and Ichigo play perfectly off of each other.  Ichigo walks tough and speaks gruff, while Momoko gently reprimands.

Japanese fashion is highlited here, making for excellent eye candy throughout the film.  Ichigo’s clothes are Easternized versions of Western punk fashion.  Momoko’s richly styled frilly dresses definitely hearken back to the 18th century France inspiration.

What really makes the film though is the plot.  This is a movie about friendship between young women, and their friendship doesn’t revolve around talking about men.  They support each other, instead, in making decisions about who they will be.  Instead of it seeming forced that they weren’t talking about men or sex or drugs, it felt completely natural.  They just had more important things in their life right now.  Should Ichigo stay in her growing gang or strike out on her own?  Should Momoko try to break into fashion design?  Can a Rococo girl also ride a scooter?

If you like quirky foreign films and want a solid friendship movie, look no further than Kamikaze Girls.  You won’t be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Something I Learned Recently

November 16, 2009 2 comments

I had a bad childhood.  By that I mean bad in the sense that I’m having to deal with the repercussions of it today.  It’s given me challenges that I have to overcome in order to have a healthy life today.  I know, I know, a lot of people have to do this, but that fact doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk about it ever.  In fact, I think if people talked about it more, the world would be a healthier place.  But I digress.  Since I first became aware that I needed to unlearn some thought processes and behaviors and learn new ones, I consider each lesson I learn a victory.  This is one more way in which I won’t repeat the mistakes of my elders.  I will break the cycle.  Of course I also always wish that I had learned it sooner, but one should focus on the positives.  Something that it kind of astounds me it took this long for me to learn is how not to have a disagreement with people you care about.

People model how they fight primarily based on two things:  how their parents fought with each other and how their parents responded when the child disagreed with or felt hurt by them.  My mother was the model of the “I’m angry at you but I’m not going to tell you and simultaneously make your life miserable until you figure it out” woman with my father.  My father, who I love dearly, has the classic Irish temper (although it’s mellowed with age).

Here’s a sample scenario that got played out over and over.  My mother wanted my father to help her with the dishes, but she didn’t ask him to, because he should just know that.  (This is a mistake psychiatrists call “mind reading” and normal people call “ask for what you want, doofus, your husband can’t read minds”).  My father, being unable to read minds and working full-time while my mother stayed at home so probably figured her doing the dishes was probably part of the deal, didn’t help with the dishes.  My mother got angry and instead of calmly telling my father that she was hurt he didn’t offer to help with the dishes, she went on full-on attack mode.  One thing couples know, it’s how to push each other’s buttons, so my mom would set out to do exactly that.  My dad would take it and take it and then suddenly, randomly explode.  Then yelling and screaming occurred, and also sometimes throwing of things by my mother.  (A long-running “funny” family tale was how she threw dishes at his head in their first year of marriage).  This generally revolved around bringing up old wounds, yelling insults, and more until finally the actual original incident might possibly be brought up.  This was followed by more yelling and screaming at which point my dad would vacate to the garage where he would “fix things” aka throw tools around.  Eventually my mother, after ranting to us about our father for a while, would follow him to the garage where I’m assuming they made up as they came back in happy.

The above scenario wasn’t a rare occurrence.  This was how my parents fought, almost each and every time they had a disagreement.  At least to my knowledge.  Maybe they calmly worked some things out by talking to each other, but they certainly didn’t do that in front of us.

Now, couple that with how my mother would react to me disagreeing with her.  Kids don’t always agree with their parents, and sometimes parents do make a mistake and the kid has every right to be upset, yes?  Not in my mother’s world.  In my mother’s mind she was the adult so she was always right and disagreeing was synonymous with disobeying.  For instance, we’d be driving someplace and my brother would tell my mother he was pretty sure we got there by taking the left turn back there, and my mom would tell him she’s the adult.  She knows what she’s doing, and is he implying that she’s stupid?!  Then there were the few times I dared to tell my mother, for instance, that it hurt me that she called me that name she called me.  My mother’s reaction was always “that never happened,” followed by her entirely made up version of what happened and me being punished for lying.

Put these two things together, and it’s not exactly in my nature to calmly say “hey, when you did this, it upset me.”  Why?  Subconsciously I think my feelings won’t be calmly listened to or validated.  Also it’s just instinctual at this point to get upset and just act upset until the other person asks what’s wrong.  For some reason, it’s only recently that I realized healthy people don’t interact this way!  It’s normal when relating with people to sometimes have a disagreement or feel irritated or hurt by something they did, but if they’re a good person and you bring it up calmly and rationally, you can talk about it, forgive each other, and move on.  Novel concept, eh?

Honestly though, I think that a lot of people had bad disagreements and fighting modeled for them as kids.  Maybe they do realize it, not everyone is as slow as me to realize being mean to the people you care about is not the way to handle things.  But maybe they don’t.  So, internet-world, there is such a thing as the good way to disagree versus the bad way to disagree.  Talk to each other.  Really listen to what the other person is saying.  Try to see their perspective.  Validate their feelings.  Accept and give forgiveness gracefully.  Your life will be better, and maybe the world will be a slightly better place.

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