Posts Tagged ‘review’

Human Again, Indeed

February 29, 2012 - 5:22 pm No Comments

I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

I was not first on the Ingrid Michaelson boat. I was probably towards the very end, coming just before the people who recognized her as the singer on the apple juice commercial. But from the very moment I heard her music, her voice, her quirky piano riffs, I fell in love.

Ingrid Michaelson writes music which, at first, seems like it’s going to be piano-pop nonsense. It’s about love, it’s silly, it’s fun and upbeat. At first. But Ingrid doesn’t shy away from the gritty, shitty parts of life. Some of her songs, or even snatches of lyrics in otherwise typical songs, are totally out of the realm of traditional, flighty, girly piano-rock. A song from her self-released debut album Slow the Rain comes to mind. The song is called Porcelain Fists, and not only are the piano melodies incredibly dark, the lyrics are painful to hear:

“Locked in the bathroom stall/Your back against the wall/Cold tiles beneath your knees/Your body broke your fall/Spitting into your own reflection gazing back/Inside your porcelain fists, your palms begin to crack.”

The first time I heard that, I was won over. Everything I’d heard of Michaelson’s music up to that point was whatever Pandora had selected for me, and until I sought out her earlier music on my own, I would never have expected a lyric like that from what had initially seemed like songs that I would listen to, shall we say, in good fun.

So with tears in my eyes and my hands folded together, each hugging the other tightly, I declared myself an Ingrid fan and dove into her music head first.

Things were really good between Ingrid and I. I got to see one of her shows, for free, at that, when she performed at the Pittsburgh Arts Festival, and Be OK had some real gems on it.

Then, just a few days after my birthday in 2009, Ingrid released Everybody.

I’m gonna be really harsh here for a moment, okay?

I felt betrayed. I’d never heard a more wishy-washy, boring, flat album in my life. I didn’t know what had happened. We’d been through good times and bad, Ingrid and me, we’d talked about everything, no matter how embarrassing or pointless. We were going to buy everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance.

When I got to “The Chain,” I knew I’d found an album I really, really didn’t like. “The Chain,” when it was live on Be OK, was so blisteringly powerful I would put it on repeat and sob. It was that beautiful, that painful, that absolutely touching. But this new studio version on Everybody… It was limp. There was nothing to it. It wasn’t hand-crafted, it was machined. There are about four songs on Everybody I’ll even deign to listen to at this point (“Everybody,” “Soldier,” “Locked Up,” and “Maybe,” if you must know, which are incidentally the first two and last two songs on the album, which means, yes, I don’t listen to the entire middle of the album).

So when I heard Ingrid was in the studio again, I have to admit, I was… tentative. I followed her faithfully on Twitter and Tumblr, keeping up with the progress of the album, and reading her mailing list to see if she was playing any shows near me. But I held my breath.

On January 24th, 2012, Human Again was released.

I rejoiced.

The album is funny and smart, the 17 songs (the last four from the deluxe edition) borrow from just about as many genres, and there are those familiar touches of darkness that anyone who really wants to talk about life can’t shy away from. But it was that same, familiar, girly piano-pop, that same heavy lightness Ingrid had brought to me years before.

“Keep Warm” has got to be my favorite song from this album. It’s happy. It’s relateable. It’s the kind of song that makes you feel safe. Other notable tracks, at least to me, are the peppy “Blood Brothers,” and the heart-wrenching, bittersweet “I’m Through,” which was the first track I’d heard from the album, and the first time I knew everything would, pardon the expression, be okay.

Human Again screams Ingrid Michaelson. Though it’s got touches of rock, country, jazz, folk, it couldn’t be more original, more true to the woman that I slowly became familiar with through three albums three years ago. I wonder if the title speaks to that, a sort of coming back to herself, or if it’s just happy coincidence.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter. What matters is I’ve got my Ingrid Michaelson back.

All sushi is good sushi. I guess.

June 20, 2011 - 9:39 pm No Comments

Well, I was gonna clear out all my spam comments but I got really bored with that so instead I’ll talk about two things I really love:

Food and Pittsburgh.

More importantly, food in Pittsburgh.

A good friend of mine had a birthday this past Friday and since nobody doesn’t like hibachi, he held his party at Saga, which is that new sushi/hibachi in Settler’s Ridge (that’s where the Giant Eagle USS Market District Starship Food Emporium is, and that is another tale for another time).

I’d mentioned the gathering to my boss, and though he had not personally eaten there, many of his friends had, and he had… well, let’s just say, not heard good things.

And now I know why.

Let me say on the face of it, Saga is not a bad place to eat by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I’ll say up front that the hibachi chefs themselves are the best I’ve ever seen.  Those who ordered hibachi (see: everyone but me as I am a pescatarian, though I regretted my decision upon finding out there was swordfish hibachi and I’ve always wanted to try swordfish) said it was good, though I’ll get into that more in a moment.

First I ordered iced tea.  Let’s forget I’m a tea snob for a moment, but when my iced tea arrived it was very much warm tea and very little ice, and I was the only one at the table who didn’t get a lemon.  The waitress also forgot to mention that the tea is unsweetened and you have to ask for sugar and you’d better damn sure want that sugar because it’s gonna take a good ten minutes for you to get it.  It also tasted less like black tea and more like burnt.  That about set the tone.

I ordered sushi, two different rolls, with a sashimi appetizer.  My sashimi arrived with everyone else’s appetizers and was possibly the most gorgeously plated dish I’ve ever seen.  It came with the standard bean sprouts and ginger, but the whole thing was served on a sasa no happa (a large bamboo leaf) with an orchid bloom and was arranged immaculately.  It was cheaper than most sashimi plates at only $9, but for obvious reason: I only got nine pieces of fish, which I considered reasonable.  But though all the garnish was beautiful, there was a hell of a lot more of it on the plate than there was food, and it left me thinking I’d missed something somewhere.

Though I got my appetizer at a reasonable time, I also got my first sushi roll at… exactly the same time.  Now, I’m not a fan of warm sushi, and I’m also not a fan of being done with all of my food by the time everyone else has, well, started, and I wanted to watch the hibachi being cooked, so I had to sit, and let my sushi get warm.  That was the first real problem.  The second was that the sushi was far too huge.  Proper sushi etiquette (and if you don’t care for that, simple ease of eating) dictates that you don’t take bites, you put the whole slice in your mouth at once.  Let. Me. Tell. You. What.  I would have to have been a tyrannosaurus to fit one piece of this sushi in my mouth at once.  They were huge!  Bigger may be better, but when your sushi is the width of a pepperoni roll and so loosely configured that if you do try to take a bite it all falls apart in your soy sauce dish, you become aware that there may be a problem.  These, despite the impossibility of such a maneuver, were three-bit pieces.  And that is not cool.  I’m sure they would have been delicious if I could have fit them into my mouth in one go, but as it stood, I had to pick them apart and eat them bit-by-bit.  Warm.

I also stole the husband’s ginger-dressed salad since he’s anti-ginger (but loves red-heads, I promise), and I have to say…  Well, there’s good ginger dressing, and there’s bad.  They tried to make this gingery enough to soothe those who actually know what ginger is supposed to taste like but palatable enough for those more familiar with ranch dressing, and they failed.  The dressing tasted like nondescript orange vegetable mash.  And that’s bad.

The husband, having ordered hibachi, informed me that the food was fine but had perhaps a bit too much teriyaki.  Take that with a grain of salt, as he likes his food a bit blander than most.  What he was right about were the sauces.  The traditional sauces, being the shrimp and steak dipping sauces, were both a little bit off.  The shrimp sauce was not creamy enough and a bit too tangy, in an effort to be more akin to cocktail sauce.  It didn’t work.  The steak sauce was a good sauce all around, but not a shining example of hibachi by itself.

I was left with the feeling that Saga had gone out of their way to hire the very best chefs they could get their hands on, who put on the best food-related show anyone had ever seen, and hoped that that would cover for the mediocre nature of absolutely everything else in the restaurant.  So if you want a good show, by all means, give Saga a try.  But if you just want some delicious and reasonably-priced sushi or hibachi with good service and a good atmosphere, for heaven’s sake just go to Yokoso.

First they built the road, then they built the town.

April 1, 2011 - 12:56 pm No Comments

By now you’ve probably heard of Arcade Fire.

I mean, they won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards which is apparently still a thing that people watch.

Which brings me to my point.

Arcade Fire won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year.  I’m not going to downplay this because I have to say, that’s awesome.  Allow me to be completely selfish when I say that this means the music I listen to is now popular and that means I’m cool again and I didn’t even have to do anything.  (I am cool, right?  Then again, if you have to ask…).  But the album that won the Grammy was (obviously) their new album, The Suburbs.  If you haven’t heard it yet, go open your Grooveshark, play it, and come back.  Back?  Okay, now go listen to their first album, Funeral.  I’ll wait.

Funeral was Arcade Fire’s first real album (disregarding the “Us Kids Know” EP from 2003), which was released in 2004.  And it was magical.  MTV2 named it their Album of the Year way back then, and it won a lot of stuff and broke a lot of ground and was generally very well respected.

And no one heard about it.

Hell, I didn’t even hear about it until right around 2007, and the when the opening strains of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” hit me, I was sucked in.  My heart was ripped out of my chest.  I listened to it dozens of times in a row.  That was right before their second album, Neon Bible, was released, and the timing was perfect.  Soon enough, I was an Arcade Fire addict.  There was something so raw and powerful about those albums, more so with Funeral, but it wasn’t lost in the more polished Neon Bible.  They both meant something.  They didn’t have to grow on you, they were you.

The Suburbs is not that kind of album.

In fact, let me fess up right here: the first time I heard the album in its entirety, I was entirely unmoved and entirely disappointed.  In fact, I listened to it twice in a row, but for the exact opposite reason I put Funeral on repeat for the entire summer of 2007: I had completely zoned out and missed half the album.  It took me several minutes to even notice there was no music playing in my headphones anymore.  But the second time, the same thing happened.  Could this be the case, I thought?  I’d heard the single “We Used to Wait” on The Daily Show and had messed around with the totally engrossing interactive video for it and I’d loved it; how was it that the rest of the album could be so lacking?

And then I listened to it in the car.

This is not the kind of album you can listen to sitting still, staring out the window.  This is the kind of album you put on and turn up and roll down the windows and go for a long drive.  The lyrics reflect this, they’re almost about this, but that’s not even the point.  You have to be moving.  Get on a bus, ride your bike, go for a drive.  This album is too huge to listen to sitting still.  If you’re not moving, it won’t move you.  It’s like an experiment, or it feels like it to me.  It’s also completely back-loaded with the good stuff.  Sure, the first seven or so songs are by no means bad; they’re catchy, toe-tappy.  I’d go so far to say that “Rococco” is infectious and that the extra beats inserted into “Modern Man,” after it’s finished giving you a head trip, will make you want to take up the drums.  But it’s the second half of the album that has that magical, gut-twisting, tear-jerking Arcade Fire feel.  It’s hard to say where it starts, since all the songs are derived from three or four central themes and bleed into each other, but you’ll know it when you feel it.

That is why The Suburbs won Album of the Year.  Because unlike the longing, lonely, and yet somehow upbeat strains of melody in Funeral’s “Wake Up” or the crushing, solitary pipe-organ opening of Neon Bible’s “Intervention”, The Suburbs is not something you can put your finger on.  You almost can’t find a place to say, “This is my favorite part,” because there are no parts.  It’s just one massive creation.

It’s still not Funeral, it’s still not my favorite.  But I get it now.  It’s part of a story, a story that Arcade Fire started to tell us in 2001, that they’re still telling ten years later, of primal humanity and modernization, of finding light in dark places, of corruption and a salvation that we cannot find in things or institutions, but that we can only find in each other.

New to Arcade Fire?  Paperclippe recommends: “Crown of Love” from Funeral; “Intervention” from Neon Bible; “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)” from The Suburbs.

Think you’ve maybe heard this band before?  You might have heard the re-recorded version of “Wake Up” in the movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are or heard Peter Gabriel’s cover of “My Body is a Cage” on a recent episode of House.  BBC’s Top Gear used “No Cars Go” as the montage for their introduction of the show’s tenth series, and oh yeah, they played at the 2011 Grammy Awards.

People of the Book and The Black Death

July 4, 2010 - 12:48 am No Comments

As promised, I did finally finish Geraldine Brooks’ People of the Book, and let me tell you, it’s just as amazing as my previous post, written at about the 2/3 read mark, would lead you to believe.  In an effort not to repeat myself, I’m actually going to skip reiterating the plot points and make mention of a few other things that really stood out to me.

First of all, this book is absolutely brimming with strong female characters.  For all of the pain and torment most of them have suffered, the female protagonists seem to be the strongest, most noble characters one could hope to come across in such a text.  They are not perfect by any means, and often they allow themselves to be weak, but that’s what makes them strong, in the end.

Second of all, the book is inspiring.  The sheer coming together of religions for a common cause, even though (or perhaps more because) it was completely a non-issue to those involved in the rescue of the book, the displays honesty, of respect, and of understanding are really an inspiration.  Even if all of the characters are fictional, the journey the book took, the number of times it had to be saved, is fact.  It really happened.  So whether or not the events went down exactly as Ms. Brooks speculated or not is only half of the story.

Third, it’s simply amazingly well-written. It switches easily, un-jarringly between main character Hanna Heath’s first-person slang-laden Australian internal dialogue to other POVs, sometimes third person, sometimes first.  It doesn’t interrupt the story at all, and actually serves to enhance it.  Point of view is something I’m really sensitive toward in books, so the fact that this didn’t throw me off or even bother me at all is a tribute to its fluidity.  In addition, Hanna’s internal narrative, when situations allow it to be, is absolutely hilarious, drawing away (but not discounting) some of the darkness from more heavy sections before and after her internal monologue.

I have to be honest: I picked up this book because the cover had glitter on it (oh don’t even pretend you’ve never done the same thing) and it ended up being one of my favorite books of 2010 so far.

The book I’m working on right now is John Hatcher’s The Black Death (you know, for lighter, summer reading material).

I’m about a 1/3 of the way in and I want to avoid saying anything which might change in the remaining two-hundred pages (but come on, it’s the goddamn plague; we know how it’s gonna end) but what I have to say is this: this book is so. incredibly. dry.  It’s an historical narrative, but it is very historical and very little narrative.  There is a non-fiction, italicized insert at the beginning of every chapter, and to be honest, with the way the actually prose is written, it feels kind of redundant.  It’s good for explanation, but I feel like if the narrative is this flat, the disclaimers could have some how been worked into the body of the story itself.

That being said, it’s not a bad writing style, it just feels like its doing itself a disservice by having blatantly un-story segments followed by the story, which is written in almost the same voice.  The content is heady and dark enough, pressing enough, to carry the story by itself, but I almost feel like it shouldn’t have to.

Finally, a note on the blog: I failed to mention this in the previous post, but I’ve instituted the use of categories; they can now be found in the sidebar.  So if you’re looking for something specific, you won’t have to fumble through all of my posts about food to get to a particular book review.

Stay tuned: next time I’ll be talking about An Arsonists’ Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England and, if I can just man-up and finish it, the third and final installment in Christopher Paolini’s Inheretance Trilogy, Brisingr.

Hope my Canadian friends had a great Canada Day, and I hope my American friends find an excuse to blow something up later today (they always do…).

I have successfully renewed my library card; Neil Gaimen, graphic novels, and book restoration.

June 24, 2010 - 4:47 am 5 Comments

And, after paying off $16 in fines that I didn’t actually have but didn’t feel bad about because a) it was my fault that I didn’t know when my card expired and b) the library really needs that money right now anyway, I went and checked out some new books. I got most of the things which were recommended to me, but some where out (Ubik by Phillip K Dick for one) and some didn’t seem to exist (Carmichael’s Dog by R.M. Koster, which could be find neither in the Carnegie Library nor the inter-library loan system, so I did suggest they purchase it), but in the end I ended up with far too more books than I will have time to read and that is never a bad thing. This may have been due to the newly-proffered baskets a la very small shopping carts the library now supplies so that you don’t have to balance your books under your chin, which truly was the only think that kept me from taking out twenty books in the past, as I have a very small chin-to-crook-of-my-arm ratio, which only allows for about 6 hardbacks or 10 paperbacks.

Anansi Boys
Already I’ve delved into Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, one of the very few novels by him which I have not read (due to the fact that I previously thought it was permanently checked out, then found out that no, it just lived in the teen fiction section), and I am finding it very silly. I completely empathise with Fat Charlie, though perhaps not in such a severe way: my dad is that dad who is and will always be cooler than you and when you you throw a party all of your friends from high school show up begrudgingly so when they find out, no, he has a real job now and can’t come drinking on Thursday nights. So there’s that.

History of Violence
I also have started the graphic novel A History of Violence, written by John Wagner and illustrated by Vince Locke and though I’m only about 70 pages in, I expected to me much more grabbed by it than I am being (no I have not seen the movie but I do want to, mostly because I would let Viggo Mortenson do horrible things to me). Nothing really against it so far, I’m just the type who has to get into things early on or else I shove them in a corner and let them starve (this is why I can’t have children). For something that’s reputedly a psychological thriller and also, um, a graphic novel, I thought I would be a lot more into it by now. But we’ll see.

People of the Book

And finally, I’m still reading People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks who won the Pulitzer for her work, March.  It is truly amazing.  It’s a fictional story about the Sarajevo Haggadah, an early Jewish seder book, rare and priceless in that it was very finely made and included illustrations (haggadahs are usually boring and utilitarian, my Gentile friends, and nearly no Jewish books were illustrated because for a very long time that was taboo, much as most Muslims consider images of  the prophet Mohammad, PBUH, to be false idolatry).  It tells how the book was created, where various stains and markings on the book come from, and how the book came to be bound in it’s current form, not to mention how it survived the Bosnian War, rescued many times over by people of all faiths, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not so much (one story line involves a very alcoholic Vatican priest and a Rabbi with a severe gambling problem).  The main plot, if you will, is about the woman restoring the book in the present day, who reminds me very much of Temperance Brennan, played by Emily Deschanel of Bones fame.  But, for as into this book as I may be, it does get very heavy and dark at times, and I had to put it away for a while because I was absolutely overcome by one of the stories of persecution of the Jews during the Inquisition.  There’s a particularly graphic depiction of a form of torture which involves making a person swallow a very long piece of linen inch by inch and then pulling it back out of them, and I had to take a breather.  That surprised me.  I’m usually very okay with violence and horror and just god-awful gore and nonsense, but that was a bit much.  When I am through, however, this book will probably have a whole blog dedicated to it (as it’s shaping up to already) because it is just so wonderfully crafted.

That’s it for me for now; I’ve gotten about six hours of sleep in the past two days so I’m going to try to catch some shut-eye.  See you all on the morrow.

Reblogged for truth.

June 21, 2010 - 7:57 pm 1 Comment

Censorship causes blindness.

That wonderfully clever image right there was taken (stolen, whatever) from The Book Project, an amazing book-themed blog by my dear friend @ReinaDeLaIsla (yes, all of my friends live on Twitter). Her whole blog features censored or challenged books, including a lot of dystopian fiction which is one of my favorites. If you enjoy what you see here, I really suggest you go check out her blog. I’m currently scouring it right now for more current reading material.

Didn’t get to make it to the library today, but tomorrow, oooooh, tomorrow. Books.

“I Am Legend” (Well, no, not me personally.)

June 12, 2010 - 11:15 pm 6 Comments

Have you ever wondered why vampires can’t get a tan?

Why don’t they like Italian cooking?

And what would a Muslim vampire do when faced with a cross?

These are just a few poignant questions asked (and, shock and awe, answered) in Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which is, at least in my experience, the first modern vampire novel, focusing more on the science of the creature than the supernatural nature of it.

The book, written in 1954, is still amazingly undated to this day.  There is very little within the story that would suggest lead character Robert Neville lives in any era other than this one, disregarding the fact that the setting (the late 1970s) is declared at the header of every part of the novel.  Coming to the story from a perspective which has been drenched in just about ever vampire novel from 1850 forward, with a huge emphasis on the late 1980s, I found the narrative to be smooth and easy to understand.  The only point which I faltered over at first was the difference between the ‘living’ vampires and the ‘dead’ vampires (which ends up being a huge difference, but for the purposes of avoiding a spoiler, I will not mention why).  Then it dawned on me.  I had read Anne Rice’s Campire Chronicles, and the designation between a ‘living’ and ‘dead’ vampire was very much the same in Interview with the Vampire as it was in I Am Legend: ‘dead’ vampires are dead.  They died.  They have thus been buried, and then rose from their graves.  ‘Living’ vampires are simply transitioning from life into undeath without all of that messy potting soil, and as a result, are much more sound of mind and purpose.  I thought it was a cool distinction in Rice’s works and feel no differently now.

The narrative is darkly funny, with a lot of good points you’ve probably wondered about vampires yourself, but simply allowed yourself to dismiss for the sake of suspension of disbelief.  Matheson goes out of his way to explain those little quirks, not limited to but including those first three questions up there.  The answer, wholeheartedly, is SCIENCE (take that, sparkly vampires).  And yet, despite that, the story is emotional, sometimes painful, and rings of truth.  It also sites other popular vampire texts and myths (namely Dracula) which really made it feel possible.

I had not seen (and do not plan to see, despite my inexplicable love for Will Smith) the movie adaptation, as I had heard around the time of the release that they changed the ending.  Now that I know that the ending properly is, I feel like junk-punching whoever made that decision.  I can’t say too much, but I will note how frantic and absolutely apathetic the ending was, and given the events taking place, I mean that in a good way.

In summary, if you like sci-fi, disillusionment, or vampires, and you’ve been living under a rock since 1954 (like I clearly had), read this book.  It only took me about two hours and I would gladly give up another two to read it again.

Speaking of rushed but necessary endings, I saw Splice the other day.  Very weird, kind of cute, and very sad.  Regarding some of the character exploitation in the film, particularly that of the women-type-folk, I’m not sure whether or not I can really say I liked it, but I didn’t dislike it, and it’s certainly a film which will make you think weird thoughts even days after you’ve seen it.  I would probably watch it again.

Uh, that, and Adrien Brody is smokin’. (Technical term.)

Speaking of tings I did the other day, I went to an Ingrid Michaelson show.  This has nothing to do with anything, I just wanted to gloat.

That’s all for now; sorry this one took so long to post.  My library books are just about due, so I’m going to skip doing a list of the ones I took out this last trip (I never got around to many of them anyway; life’s been kinda raaaaaahhhhh lately) and start clean next time.  I also may do a review of Theresia, a very bizarre little Nintendo DS which has more gore, dark corners, and puzzles than a Saw movie (also, it doesn’t suck.  Sorry Saw fans, but I can only get behind a formulaic plot, and a very thin one at that, for so long).

The n00biest n00b, and a tea review.

May 17, 2010 - 4:53 am 2 Comments

You guys, you guys.

I just figured out how to reply to comments.

I will now reply to you.  I promise.

I won’t, however, be replying to ALL past comments (well, the ones that I would have, at any rate), just ones I receive from now on.  Okay.  Now tea.

I’m house sitting for my grandmother through next week, and I have discovered she has a cupboard full of wonderful-sounding teas.  The one which first caught my eye was Duchess-brand Peach Apricot Pure Ceylon tea.   I am a big fan of Republic of Tea’s Ceylons, and I thought this might be similar to the mango Ceylon that they carry (yes, I am aware that mangoes, apricots, and peaches are all entirely different fruit; it was just the only thing I had to compare to).

It was not.  I let it steep for about 4 minutes, added one teaspoon of sugar and one teaspoon of honey.  It was terribly, terribly bland, which was not what I was expecting, since the color was so dark and the smell upon opening the can was so rich, and, well, peachy.  All I could figure to do was add a little more sugar, and when I did, all I tasted was sugar.  Honestly, Lipton’s little tea bag peach tea was better than this (admittedly, I think Lipton has very good teas, but they’re not very adventurous, and yes, they are a little bland unless you let them steep a good while).

I had never heard of Duchess Teas before, and after this, probably won’t go out of my way to find anymore.

If you’ve had a different experience with them, let me know! In the comments! Which I now know how to reply to!

On a final note, a few hours ago I started reading Brock Clark’s (what a name) An Arsonist’s Guide to Writer’s Homes in New England.  I’m about a third of the way through, and if I have my way (read: if I don’t fall asleep on the couch) I’ll comment on it, and the final book in Christopher Paolini’s final book in the Inheritance trilogy, sometime tomorrow or Wednesday.

Books and books and books.

May 5, 2010 - 11:44 am 3 Comments

As you may or may not have assumed by the title, I myself am a huge fan of reading. Thanks to the wonderfully magnificent Kristen at http://carnivaloftherandom.blogspot.com (be more awesome, curb the suckage), who I am constantly pleased to have as a friend, I’ve decided, since I can rarely otherwise decide on a blog-worthy topic lest I go on and on about what I had for lunch, I shall blog about the myriad books I rescue from the library.

The thing being.

I rarely have much to say about most books, unless they’re particularly good (or particularly bad). As such, I’ve devised a system. Each time a receive a book, be it from the library, as a gift, or actually having spent my hard-earned money, I’ll update a list. Books that are particularly good (or bad) will be blogged about on the whole; otherwise, I will simply update the list with the title, author, a brief summary, general thoughts, and whether or not you should give it a look-see.

I’ll split the list up into four categories: Currently Reading (self-explanatory), Finished (also pretty clear), Back to the Bin (books I wasn’t interested in enough to continue reading after 50 or so pages), or Waitlisted (books I’ve got with me but haven’t yet started). I’m including the Waitlisted category in case I pick up something good that you, yes you, reader, recognize and can leave a comment like “Make sure you get to (whatever book),” since a lot of the time Waitlisted books end up going back to the library if I can’t get to them quickly enough.  I typically take out way more books than I’ll ever have time to read; that way, if a disproportionate number of them are Back to the Bin or shorter than normal, I don’t have to sit around twiddling my thumbs should I actually run out of them.

I believe I’m also going to start doing the same thing with albums, but that’s another blog post for another day.

So, without further adieu, here is this installment’s list:

Currently Reading

  • *Omega Minor by Paul Verhaeghen: I’ll be honest, I’m eighty pages in and I’m not really sure what this book is about.  So far, we’ve covered Nazis, quantum physics, sex, behavioural psych, and lush descriptions of the German country side.  That being said, this book is almost 700 pages long with some of the tiniest print I’ve ever seen.  It’s huge, it’s elaborate, and it has a tendency to digress.  Of course, I love it.  If you’re into that sort of thing, give it a good, strong chance, but if you can’t abide by translations, pointless banter, or a hearty helping of the f-word, pass it up.
  • *Dagon and Other Macabre Tales by H.P. Lovecraft:  Look, it’s Lovecraft, do I really have to get into this?  Of course, this is a collection of his less-popular works, so I’m actually probably going to give it a good, solid review when I’m through with it.  Until that point, it’s Lovecraft.
  • *Halting State by Charless Stross:  I’m really enjoying this.  The plot involves the theft of the contents of a bank in a World of Warcraft-esque world called Avalon Four, and how, since these games are so invasive to such a wide and important market, this could drastically upset a real-world economy.  It’s set a bit in the future, has lots of UK slang, and is in the second person.  If nothing else, it’s a really strange read, with a lot of good, nerdy humour.

Finished

  • *Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker:  If the words “Clive Barker” didn’t get you, then the opening sentence should: “BURN THIS BOOK.”  A story told by the world’s most incompetent demon, who is the book.  That’s right.  Is the book.  If I say too much more, I’ll give something away, for sure, so all I can say is, if you have a free few hours (that’s all it took me, both because it’s not terribly long and also because I didn’t put it down for hour-long stretches), read it.  It’s worth it.  It’s funny as hell.  This may get a full review at a later date, if I can find a way to do it without spoiling the whole thing.
  • *The Neverending Story by Michael Ende: I had a deprived childhood.  I’d never seen the movie.  I’d never read the book.  This was sitting on the shelf, I nabbed it, and finished it quickly.  It’s a story (for those of you who were as deprived as me) about a world known as Fantastica and how humans influence this world, and vice-versa.  I will say this: the first half of the book, the story of Atreyu, was one of the most compelling pieces of YA fiction I have ever read.  The second half, the story of Bastian, I could have taken or left.  The kid is simply too trite and whiny, and in such a fashion that he makes you want to strangle him.  Avoiding as much of a spoiler as I can (once again, for the six people who’ve never seen the movie), I almost wanted him to fail.  I wanted someone or something to kill him just so I could say, “HAH! SEE? YOU’RE A FUCKING FAILURE OF A HUMAN BEING.”  Maybe the movie is different, I still haven’t seen it.  I say read it, but if you find yourself in the second part and completely unmoved to finish it, don’t bother.  You’re not missing much.

Back to the Bin

  • *Sorceress by Lisa Jackson: This was a smutty romance, so I wasn’t expecting much.  It’s not even that the story was particularly bad; on the contrary, it could have been a legitimate novel if the author’s style wasn’t so amateurish, the characters so flat and obvious (and for those of you who think all romance is that way, you’re sorely mistaken, I promise).  Actually made it a hundred pages in, then put it down one night before bed, and never cared to pick it up again.
  • *The One Marvelous Thing by Rikki Ducornet:  A collection of short-stories.  Not much bad to say, her style just didn’t tickle my fancy.  Too abridged.

Waitlisted

  • *The Word of God by Thomas M. Disch: This man wrote The Brave Little Toaster.  I didn’t know there was a book.
  • *A Visible Darkness by Michael Gregorio
  • *Unfinished Tales (Of Numenor and Middle Earth) by J.R.R. Tolkien: Yes. I’m one of those people.
  • *The Endless Forest by Sara Donati
  • *Angel Time by Anne Rice: Her latest work.  Got a few pages in, but wasn’t in the mood.  It feels very like The Witching Hour, at least stylistically.  Will try again later, but it goes back to the library today.

All for now! More books (and music and movies, very possibly) later!

[EDIT: On a style note: apparently bullet points don't work in this theme, so the asterisks are there as place keepers so I don't have to edit this post should I change the theme.]

TWO HOURS IN – initial impressions of Final Fantasy XIII

March 10, 2010 - 1:32 pm No Comments

1. At first, I really didn’t like the battle system; I thought it had too many frills that it didn’t need and was going the way of FFXII: “Wait… I have to what? But… aren’t YOU the game? Isn’t this YOUR job?” But the minute I saw the “Items are a free action” tutorial, my whole view of it changed. Maybe it’s because I’ve always been like, “Hey, I’ve got two to three people SITTIN’ ON THEIR HANDS RIGHT NOW, THROW ME A FUCKING PHOENIX DOWN, WOULD YOU?” and now they will, but it’s more than that. It really simplifies the whole system and takes it about as far away from FFXII as it seems to want to get. And the chain attack feature is pretty nifty too: “What’s that? I can hit more than one dude because I have two guns? Wait – I have two guns? I’M IN.”

Battle system: ****

2. I really don’t need to say this, do I? It’s shiny. It’s full of bloom. It’s lush. People’s hands look like they’re actually holding onto things. Eyes don’t look flat. It’s a goddamned work of art.

Graphics: *****

3. You know, it’s a Final Fantasy game. In two hours, you know about as much of the plot as you do for the first two season of Lost. I’m hesitant to even grade this, but because it really is original and kind of strange, I think I could get into it.

Plot: ****

And then it goes to hell.

4. YOU WOULD THINK FOR A FRANCHISE THAT HAS MORE MONEY THAN A SMALL NATION THEY COULD AT LEAST HIRE HALF-DECENT VOICE ACTORS. It really takes away from the character development and some of them border on plain irritating. I don’t expect MUCH character development in two hours, but there was really none. At all. It might be because you had to switch from person to person so many times that you could never really get attached but that’s another beef I’ll get to in a moment.

Voice acting/character development: **

5. The. Music. Sucks. There might as well be no goddamned music. In fact, I would PREFER there to be no music over this boring, half-hearted Phantasy Star Online lobby fish bowl attempt at ambient soundscapes. There is absolutely nothing compelling about the soundtrack at all. The opening sequence was the opposite of gripping. And in a Final Fantasy game, I hate to say it, but (at least to me) that’s the death rattle.

Music:

That’s right. No fucking stars. None.

6. Between the switching, the boring characters, the boring music, and the fact that the whole game rests on a plot which I still haven’t gleaned so I can’t even really consider it, the presentation of the game is… really quite average. Lost Odyssey, the Final Fantasy that wasn’t, had a better overall opening experience than this. The use of jumping from this guy to that guy to this guy again to keep the plot moving and eventually get all of your characters together is fanfiction-y at best. It smacks of, “And then – and then! …AND THEN!,” and is a plot device I can’t get behind. Other than holding out for a hope, I’m really finding it hard to get into this game, maybe even harder than pausing to make graphs to assemble my move set in FFXII each time I acquired a new character made it.

Overall initial presentation: ***

Will I keep playing? Yes. With baited breath? Ennnhhh…

On a scale of VII to X2, I give it Kingdom Hearts 2: I’ll keep playing because I’m familiar with it, not because it’s really any good.