Sunday, August 30, 2015

Suspense Sundays (162) Big Shot

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Big Shot"
Air date: September 9, 1948
Starring Burt Lancaster
>>Episodes here<<

Quinn, an engineer, is working on an illegal gold mine operation in Mexico and is included in a deal the foreman is making of smuggling the gold out of Mexico.  Even though Quinn has a boyish and innocent face, he's not so innocent and cooks up his own plan of taking the gold for himself.  He hears from his new girlfriend that El Chico is a "mythical" warlord, created by the people in the small Mexican town to scare off the Americanos, and Quinn takes that idea and runs with it.

Quinn is a real piece of work - he's sensitive about his misleading innocent face, and he is conniving and heartless.  He has a good plan though, and it almost works out, except the foreman is smarter than he looks.  There is another, bigger, twist to this episode too that I really enjoyed and I think this makes for a great Suspense episode.  And it's interesting to hear Burt Lancaster, a very well known Hollywood actor, in this role!
Friday, August 28, 2015

Review: Pride and Mother F*cking Prejudice

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Pride & Mother F*cking Prejudice (Classic-Ass Lit #2)
by J.K. Really
Humor/Mashup
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman of small fortune, must be in want of a husband. But you can trust and believe single, not-rich Lizzy Bennet was doing just fine. She was too busy cracking up her best friend Charlotte, hiking new cross-country trails, and helping her older sister Jane keep their younger sisters out of sexy trouble with a nearby regiment of taut young soldiers to worry all that much about finding some man.

Pride and Motherf*cking Prejudice is a re-telling of the greatest novel ever written, because while Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is perfect in every way, you can only read it for the first time once. And she left out all the curse words. Experiencing this iconic romance as a mashup of the original verbatim dialogue and Lizzy Bennet voicing how modern readers react to Mr. Darcy and life at Longbourn gives fans of the original a chance to experience the greatest love story ever told as though for the first time...AND finally see Mr. Wickham properly cursed out.

Review:

After having loved J.K. Really's "imaginative" take on Jane Eyre, I was eager to read her next Classic Literature retelling, and her version of Pride and Prejudice was another hilarious experience!  It differed from her take on Jane Eyre, in that Lizzy Bennet's crass, and colorful way of speaking was heard by all, but not remarked upon as odd by any character (where in "Jane Eyre" Jane's colorful language was restricted to her innermost thoughts).  I thought it was an interesting distinction - of course it works much better for Lizzy to speak her mind, and it makes for some wonderful moments when she can really call out Mr. Collins or Mr. Wickham!  And of course Mr. Darcy as well.

For me, I did feel that since Austen's original work already has so much humor built in with certain characters and scenes, that J.K. Really's injection of humor only built on what was there, and didn't add as much to the story as I was hoping.   At times it got a little repetitive, but then I would always perk up when a particular scene that would be fun to explore through Lizzy's more outspoken lens would come up.  There is a sense too, that Lizzy is the voice of the reader, especially when she makes one or two vague modern references, which made me laugh, as I totally identified with her thoughts!

The dialogue is very rude at times, and Lizzy is (entertainingly!) forthright about her feelings, so that I thought this was still a hilarious take on the original, and for fans of Pride and Prejudice, I'm sure there is a bit of satisfaction in Wickham getting cursed out, and in Mr. Darcy getting really called out on his bad manners.

(Next book will be a take on Wuthering Heights!  This is gonna be gooooodddd!!!)
Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Star Trek VOY Season 5 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
I mentioned in my last post about Season 4 how Voyager seems more like a show about the story and science fiction concepts, which led me to thinking about something else about the show that I find interesting - that there are no established villains.  The Original Series had the Klingons, TNG had the Borg, and DS9 had the Cardassians.  Voyager does have villains, but as they speed through the Delta quadrant they leave behind many of them.  Species 8472 was the most chilling and the most promising of the villains so far (especially since the Borg can't conquer them!) but it's sad they can't be explored properly given the conceit of the show.  I suppose, I don't need a good villain but it does help to make a show better somehow.  I like that with an adventure based show that is long-running, there can be a touchstone of conflict by reintroducing a villain who is a great match for the protagonist.  It's good to have new villains, but nice to settle in sometimes with another round of protagonist vs. a good old, familiar antagonist.

Having said that, I can't really fault Voyager, especially with how this season shaped up for me.  When I checked my list, I found I'd noted 10 episodes as noteworthy for me from season 5!  I don't think I've ever had such a long list for Star Trek.  It was really difficult to whittle it down to 5 episodes, let me tell you, so I feel it's important to include my honorary mentions: Infinite Regress (Seven gets taken over by personalities made up of people the Borg assimilated), Bride of Chaotica (aliens in sub space believe a holodeck program represents real life), Bliss (Voyager believes they've found a wormhole home, but it's a trap), Think Tank (the one with Jason Alexander!), and Warhead (a warhead with artificial intelligence).  All such good episodes - it's the stories that are drawing me in with this series.  And by the way, I'm so not happy with my top three - I find it so difficult to order them, they are all three almost perfect stories to me!

5. Relativity


Seven of Nine is recruited from the future to prevent a bomb from going off on Voyager that was planted sometime before Voyager left the Alpha quadrant.  Another good old timey whimey epsiode, that features a flashback to the first season, which I thought was very fun.  Seven proves how valuable a member she is to the crew as well, since she is the only one who can undertake this particular mission.  It's interesting that this episode again explores Captain Janeway's decision-making, which maybe throws a negative light on her, but again, she is in a very difficult situation.  I did sympathize with her of course and not the bitter man who was trying to destroy Voyager.  
Monday, August 24, 2015

Review: The Murder on the Links

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
The Murder on the Links (Hercule Poirot #2)
by Agatha Christie
Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


An urgent cry for help brings Hercule Poirot to France. But he arrives too late to save his client, whose brutally stabbed body now lies facedown in a shallow grave on a golf course.

But why is the dead man wearing an overcoat that is too big for him? And for whom was the impassioned love letter in the pocket? Before Poirot can answer these questions, the case is turned upside down by the discovery of a second, identically murdered corpse.…

Review:

This is another ingenious mystery of course.  Even though I'm re-reading this (albeit many years later), there was a shocker moment when the real murderer was revealed.  I was just not expecting it at all.  And I love that Christie can always surprise in her mysteries!

The building of this mystery was especially good I think.  Because there are so many details to go over, and Christie masterfully parcels out all the information and then gradually starts explaining parts of it.  Yet there is still that surprise in the end.  The story also introduces a French detective - Giraud  - who is a counterpoint to Poirot and his methods, and it's fun to read about their antagonism.  Especially when you know Poirot will triumph in the end.

This story is also an important one for the character of Captain Hastings.  I thought the romance was a little swift between him and his 'Cinderella', but it is very sweet and I love that Poirot is always looking out for Hastings, even if Hastings is not exactly up to doing the same for Poirot.  That point was a bit sad for me actually - that Hastings could not trust Poirot enough.  But their friendship has always had a bit of an edge, because Poirot can be exasperating sometimes.  But in a good way to me!

This is a well crafted and mystifying mystery and it is so easy to fall in love with the setting, the storytelling and the character of Poirot.
Sunday, August 23, 2015

Suspense Sundays (161) Crisis

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Crisis"
Air date: August 19, 1948
Starring Martha Scott
>>Episodes here<<

The crisis is a baby's illness.  The concerned mother must stay awake to care for her baby during a bad epidemic.  It's so bad, that there are no nurses or hospitals available to take care of the baby for the mother, and the mother is so exhausted, but she must fight it to stay up and maintain a steam treatment.  In her fatigue, the mother starts to have ... a vision?  a hallucination?  Of her child growing up, and her child does not turn out well.

The child as he grows up in the mother's vision - Curt is his name - is pretty awful.  He lies, cheats and steals, and is the indirect cause of his father's death.  He's on trial for murder of another man at age 25.  But, what was strange about this story is that this is something that the mother sees, and I guess we are supposed to take it, that this is something that could happen instead of just a strange hallucination of hers due to lack of sleep.  The mother is so overcome with the idea that her child would grow up to be a bad seed, that she tries to let her baby die.  (If you listen to the episode you'll find out if she succeeds.)  But this is a strange story for that - it's not believable to me that any mother would simply "imagine" her child will turn out bad, and then act on that.
Friday, August 21, 2015

8 Reasons to Sign Up For Misfits and Daydreamers

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
A few weeks ago, I looked at my twitter and saw a ton of notifications.  What was going on?  This was not normal.  But this was how I found out that I was picked to join the Truthwitch street team!  Truthwitch by Susan Dennard is coming out in January, and looks to be an exciting fantasy with echoes of The Last Airbender with elemental witches and an epic friendship at it's heart.  I haven't read it yet, but I'm dying to because it sounds amazing, and I'm so happy to be a part of the street team!

This is my first time participating with a street team actually, so I'm not sure what to expect, and it has just barely gotten started, so I really look forward to what's in store.  So far, the members - or Witchlanders - have been sorted into different "clans" which are all represented by an element.  I'm in the Water clan (woot Waterwitches!) and we decided to put together this post of reasons why you should sign up for Susan Dennard's wonderful newsletter "Misfits and Daydreamers" which has so much cool info!  The Misfits stand in for Susan's readers, while the Daydreamers are for the writers.  It's truly something I look forward to reading every week, and not just because I'm in the street team!  So please read on to see why you should sign up, and to meet some awesome bloggers!

And as an aside, if you are interested in Truthwitch and would like to be a part of the street team, signing up for the newsletter will give you information on how you can be picked to join in the future!  We're all a cool bunch! :)



Kit is a self-proclaimed book blogger and writer, on top of being a HS Junior and a Virginian, all of which has led to a coffee addiction. She blogs at Kit's Books.

Daydreamers: you love to write, but never know where to start or what to do? Susan Dennard gives some of the best advice you could hope for, all coming from personal experience!

Misfits: You want Truthwitch, you've heard about Truthwitch, but you're tired of getting second hand information from bloggers? Well get it straight from the author herself! Sign up for Susan Dennard's newsletter and always be the first to receive brand new Truthwitch content!
Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Favorite Book in Each Genre (Part 2)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Last week I posted my favorite books in each genre, but only focusing on the 'adult' side.  This post is all about the Young Adult side, because I have so many favorites that I feel that I should distinguish them this way.


Why I picked Fangirl:
This is my favorite Rainbow Rowell book so far, and it just does everything for me.  Cath is such a believable and sympathetic character, the story is sweet, funny and poignant, and it features a thing I'm very familiar with - being a fangirl.  I can't love Rainbow enough for bringing this story to life for all the fangirls, and all the awkward, shy girls!  And OMG, the romance is so beautifully done!




Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Born With Teeth

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Born With Teeth: A Memoir
by Kate Mulgrew
Autobiography
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


Raised by unconventional Irish Catholics who knew "how to drink, how to dance, how to talk, and how to stir up the devil," Kate Mulgrew grew up with poetry and drama in her bones. But in her mother, a would-be artist burdened by the endless arrival of new babies, young Kate saw the consequences of a dream deferred. Determined to pursue her own no matter the cost, at 18 she left her small Midwestern town for New York, where, studying with the legendary Stella Adler, she learned the lesson that would define her as an actress: "Use it," Adler told her. Whatever disappointment, pain, or anger life throws in your path, channel it into the work.

It was a lesson she would need. At twenty-two, just as her career was taking off, she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter. Having already signed the adoption papers, she was allowed only a fleeting glimpse of her child. As her star continued to rise, her life became increasingly demanding and fulfilling, a whirlwind of passionate love affairs, life-saving friendships, and bone-crunching work. Through it all, Mulgrew remained haunted by the loss of her daughter, until, two decades later, she found the courage to face the past and step into the most challenging role of her life, both on and off screen.

We know Kate Mulgrew for the strong women she's played--Captain Janeway on Star Trek; the tough-as-nails "Red" on Orange is the New Black. Now, we meet the most inspiring and memorable character of all: herself. By turns irreverent and soulful, laugh-out-loud funny and heart-piercingly sad, BORN WITH TEETH is the breathtaking memoir of a woman who dares to live life to the fullest, on her own terms.

Review:

I'm only familiar with Kate Mulgrew's work on Star Trek: Voyager, but enough of her personality and force of character on the show came through to make me interested in her as an actress and in her career, so I was happy to read her memoir.  It indeed delivers in showcasing her personality through her voice and in the way she has lived her life so far.  And what I found extra enchanting about the book, was in how well Kate Mulgrew writes - her prose is often poetic and the way she describes some of the difficulties she has had in her life was very moving.

Her story has a way of being unapologetic about the way she has lived her life, and I found that very interesting when she talked about giving up her child for adoption.  Her struggle to have a career and be a good mother was so thought-provoking, and while I feel like some of her choices might not be thought of well by others, I loved that she faced those decisions bravely, and stayed true to her passions and what she wanted out of life.  It was refreshing to feel that she didn't shy away from the issue too much, and embraced and discussed her life with such openness.  The memoir also gives an interesting view of the behind the scenes of working in television and film; even though Kate doesn't go into a lot of detail, especially with Voyager.  The acting side of her life is not as well described as her personal life, which felt appropriate because this book was more about Kate Mulgrew's emotional journey and not her career.

The memoir ends a bit abruptly to me - I mean, Kate wraps up the book well, but ends it a few years before present day.  I would have wanted to learn more about how her second marriage ended since the courtship is so well described, but it does seem like the real emotional arc of the book is Kate's experience giving up her child for adoption and that story is wrapped up perfectly.  This is a memoir that can be selective as far as history, but often felt like a vivd, sometimes moving, sometimes hilarious conversation with the author, and I enjoyed that intimacy Kate Mulgrew was able to convey through her words.  Definitely any fan of the actress, or of a rich, dramatic personality should read this book.
Sunday, August 16, 2015

Suspense Sundays (160) An Honest Man

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"An Honest Man"
Air date: August 5, 1948
Starring Charles Laughton
>>Episodes here<<

Freddie's mother has just passed away, and Freddie is finally free from her overbearing ways.  Being over forty now, he is thinking of getting married and has an eye on his beautiful co-worker Dora.  While walking her home one night, Dora lightly talks of her ideal man being intelligent, hard-working and with a little money put away for a rainy day.  How much money? Freddie is eager to know, since he matches her ideal in every point but that one.  She says $1000.  Freddie doesn't have the money, and loathes to do anything dishonest to get it, since his mother always taught him that stealing is the very worst thing any one could do.

Freddie seems like a nice guy, so it's unfortunate the path his story takes in this episode.  It's a little upsetting though that his mother's attempt to educate him, turned out so wrongly!  This was just a so-so episode though, since it seemed obvious that things would go badly for poor Freddie.  Charles Laughton - who is a very talented actor I believe, was a bit strange in this episode though - there were moments when his reading of his lines came out awkwardly - like he was about to flub them.
Friday, August 14, 2015

Review: To Kill A Mockingbird

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
To Kill A Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
Classic Literature
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior - to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into ten languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

Review:

Re-reading this book so many years after I read it in high school, has only transformed my once hazy, fond recollection of this memorable book, into an adoration of it's simple, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a 1930s Southern town.  There's a uniquely American aspect to this way of life, and also something appealing and saddening about the people and their lives.  This truly is a wondrous examination of humanity and decency.

In spite of the tragedy and prejudice rampant in the town of Maycomb, the actions and beliefs of a few good and decent people begin to make a difference, and it's that sense of hope in humanity that makes this such a touching read for me.  While it's narrated by Scout, the real star is her father, Atticus Finch, who is so gloriously paternal and wise, that I'm sure most everyone wishes they had an Atticus Finch in their life.  But Scout herself is such an integral part of the story.  Seeing the drama through her childhood lenses gives me such a sense of nostalgia, while also highlighting how simple right and wrong can be, when stripped of preconceptions.  That aspect of stripping away prejudice to just seeing the truth makes this such a powerful story.

There are many great nuggets of wisdom in this book that are sometimes unexpected glimpses into a real truth of the human condition that it's no wonder this book has endured as a classic, and is still so highly regarded.  The story feels like a series of vignettes at times - especially when Scout gives snapshots of her childhood antics with her brother and their friend Dill, but it all adds up to a momentous portrait of life, and a glimpse of an era that can seem different to modern times in some ways, but in many ways is no different at all.

Postscript:
I re-read this book in anticipation of reading Go Set A Watchman, but after reading some reviews about it, I 100% have no interest in reading it and seeing Atticus through an altered lens.  I love this book too much, and I already feel depressed about Go Set A Watchman from reading other's thoughts on it.
Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Favorite Book in Each Genre (Part 1)

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
In keeping with my habit of ranking things in my head, I was recently thinking about the books that are my very favorite examples of each genre (each genre that I like to read that is).  And I was thinking why those books appeal to me so much.  After having made my mental decisions, I had to make sure I wrote them down somewhere lest I forget!  It could so easily change in the future.  So here are my favorite books in each genre - right now.  Part 2 next week will be my favorites in YA.



Why I picked Confessions of a Conjuror:
I generally read biographies only if I really love the person it's about.  And Derren Brown is a person I love.  What makes this biography stand out for me though, is in how his sense of humor is integrated into the story, and in how eclectically he tells his story - weaving in his personal thoughts on several issues, and some history and philosophy and magic tricks.  It made for a delightful read.




Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: Fairytale Beginnings

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Fairytale Beginnings
by Holly Martin
Contemporary Romance
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


Love is an open door…except when it keeps slamming in your face.

Hopeless romantic Milly Rose has had her fair share of heartbreak. Obsessed with all things Disney, she refuses to give up on finding her Prince Charming – he’s out there somewhere, isn’t he?

When Milly is given a job to investigate the origins of an historical building in the village of Clovers Rest, she’s not sure what to expect. What she discovers takes her breath away - a beautiful real life Cinderella castle, complete with turrets, a magnificent drawbridge AND a very handsome owner… Cameron Heartstone.

As Milly and Cameron begin to unearth the secrets of Clover Castle, they can’t ignore the intense chemistry building between them. But they’ve both been hurt badly before. Can they take a big leap of faith and find their own happily-ever-after?

Review:

This story does deliver on the sweet, heartwarming romance with the two very likable leads, and the wonderful setting of an old, charming castle.  I thought that the romance was cloyingly sweet at times (this is coming from someone who normally revels in it!) but some circumstances in the story could get too cutesy and predictable.  Because of this I didn't enjoy the first half of the story as much, but the second half picked up and was much more enjoyable.

Milly is a fun character - with bombshell good looks, but very smart and devoted to her job.  She is easily distracted by the owner of Clover Castle - Cameron - but then again he's gorgeous to look at so it's understandable.  I was surprised by how quickly I bought into Milly and Cameron's relationship because it does move very quickly, but I thought they worked so well together as a couple that it was believable that they would fall head over heels in love so fast.  And the fact that they tried to resist each other for a bit made it easier to root for them to get together.  As was the troubled romantic relationships Milly and Cameron has each experienced in their past.  They were damaged by that experience, so it's lovely that they could heal each other.

The second half of the story was more intriguing because there were obstacles to Milly and Cameron's happiness in the form of Cameron's two-faced PA, Olivia.  I thought it was fairly obvious early on that Olivia was not what she seemed, so there was no suspense in that character reveal for me, but I did enjoy reading how Milly and Cameron dealt with her.

While this is a very sweet story with a quality of innocence, there is a bit of sexy-times in this book, but nothing explicit.  It's really a very heartwarming and fun read, full of miscommunications and light drama.  The setting of the castle and the old traditions of the nearby village is wonderfully eccentric and enjoyable as well.  This is a great read for the summer!

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review.  I was not compensated for this review.)
Sunday, August 9, 2015

Suspense Sundays (159) Yellow Wallpaper

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Yellow Wallpaper"
Air date: July 29, 1948
Starring Agnes Moorehead
>>Episodes here<<

A woman narrates her move into a new house with her husband John, a Doctor, and her new baby.  The woman is nervous, with poor mental health, but her husband and her friend are dismissive, and try to convince her to shake off her issues.  For her health they give her a room with beautiful windows and a very ugly yellow wallpaper.  The woman becomes fixated on that wallpaper.

This is based on the famous short story by Charlotte Gilbert Perkins, which showed the attitude towards mental health at the time, and especially when women were dismissed as nervous and hysterical.  The story is more suspenseful in how deceptively worse the woman becomes, as she succumbs to hallucinations about that wallpaper.  As an adaptation of the story, I thought this did a great job - Agnes Moorehead was perfect as the narrator - sympathetic and unnerving in her gradual psychosis.  
Friday, August 7, 2015

Movie Musical Challenge: 42nd Street

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In Movie Musical Challenge, I'm watching all 25 picks for AFI's greatest musicals starting from the bottom.  Number 13 is the oldest film on the list - 42nd Street from 1933, starring Warner Baxter and Bebe Daniels.  With memorable visual musical sequences by Busby Berkeley.

The story for 42nd Street is fun, lighthearted fare.  There's a director who is desperate to get a hit, a young, inexperienced chorus girl ready for the big time, and ... a bunch of other people.  It was funny to me that the two people I named above have the real arc of the story.  With something to lose, yet there are quite a few other characters that are important to the story, yet have their own separate storylines.  It's an interesting intersection of backstage drama and what it takes to put on a show during the 1930s.  It may not be entirely accurate, but it is very entertaining.

The film features lots of great dancing and some catchy, memorable music, but I feel like the real interest in this is the work of Busby Berkeley and his signature stage creations.  The sheer amount of dancers and time it must have taken to set up the camera shots is mind-boggling.  And I can see his influence in a few movie musicals I've watched.  The last half hour of the film is devoted to 'seeing' the stage show the whole movie has been building towards, and it's a showcase of Berkeley's stylized kaleidoscope and geometric effect.  I really enjoyed watching it.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Guest Review: The Haunting of Hill House

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

Some weeks ago I mentioned to Alisa from Papercuttts that I would love to finally read something by Shirley Jackson and as she mentioned wanting to have a little blogger event about her,  I thought it was a wonderful idea and opportunity!  We decided to read a Shirley Jackson book, and each post the others' thoughts on the book on our blog, so I present to you Alisa's wonderfully thought provoking review/exploration of The Haunting of Hill House, a seminal ghost story.  A book I sadly haven't read yet, although I have seen and enjoyed the film version.  (To read my more straightforward review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle, check out Alisa's blog!)

Sherman, Cindy. Untitled Film Still #13. 1978
Sitting in an art history class that covered art from Impressionism to contemporary works, my jaw dropped when my professor announced that this photo is not actually a film still. It’s a still photo made to embody a common cultural narrative, one that we all know because we’ve seen it a million times before, or we’ve at least seen ‘something like it.’ In this photo, the artist Cindy Sherman poses as an innocent college co-ed, late at night and alone in the library, when an off- screen sound catches her attention. I believe the most remarkable part is that we know how this narrative ends: not well.

In many ways, reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House felt like walking through a gallery of Cindy Sherman’s Film Stills. Thoughts of ‘I’ve seen this maneuver before,’ hung like a curator’s parenthesis on every paragraph. But that’s not because Shirley Jackson employed a bunch of scary movie clich├ęs; she was the creator of them.

The Haunting of Hill House was first published in 1959, and I’m not going to say it’s the first ghost story ever told, or the first story written to send shivers down your spine, but I will claim that Jackson is the mother of the modern paranormal activity narrative. Jackson got to work, and culture weavers immediately took hold of the yarn she was spinning. Let’s look at the timeline:

1959 - The Haunting of Hill House published
1963 - The Haunting, a film based on the book, was released
1973 - Stephen King published his first supernatural horror, Carrie
1979 - Cindy Sherman makes Untitled Film Still #26 (see below)
1989 - I was born
2010 - The first of a long series of Paranormal Activity films was released
2015 - I consume all this media and declare it to be predictable because, hello, I’m looking backwards at more than 50 years of wildly popular paranormal horror stories!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
A Darker Shade of Magic
by V.E. Schwab
Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.

Review:

I find it so hard to write a review about this book somehow.  It's just so magical.  The world-building alone was tremendous.  Just really immersive and believable, with a clear idea of what each "London" was like, and how different and how it affects the people who live there.  I loved that so much about this book.  I truly felt like I was traveling between universes while reading.

The story starts off with two separated main characters - Kell and Lila as our guides to their respective Londons, and it's not clear where the story will go from the beginning as the differences and the restrictions of the worlds are set up.  But Kell and Lila were such great, powerful characters on their own, that it was wonderful to just get to know them as story developed.  They are so very different from each other too - but it's touching how they come to trust and depend on each other.  Although there are touches of a romantic interest with them, their relationship is really founded on friendship, and that was refreshing and enjoyable to read about.

This was a fantastic read, with world building, plot development, and action paced perfectly, to a very nail-biting finish.  The villains in this story are so chilling as well - completely devoid of ethics and consumed by their need for power.  I didn't really have any idea of what I was in for when I picked up this book, and I feel like that vagueness about the plot details when starting really helped bring me into the story.  Kell and Lila have a very hard battle in front of them, and it's a wild ride to see their story come to its conclusion.
Sunday, August 2, 2015

Suspense Sundays (158) Summer Night

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Summer Night"
Air date: July 15, 1948
Starring Ida Lupino
>>Episodes here<<

Anna's father has just passed away, and while trying to call her friend Helen, the telephone switch operator casually talks about a serial killer, known as The Lipstick Killer, who is going around town.  But Anna is preoccupied now that she mysteriously wants Helen to come to her house and stay for awhile - this Helen who stole away the man she loved many years ago.

Wow, this episode had no end of twists.  This is a very well constructed story, with Anna keeping her secrets until it's revealed that she has an ulterior motive for asking Helen to come stay with her.  And the reveal about The Lipstick Killer was even more of a shocker - especially when it seemed that Anna was the killer.  I enjoyed how this was told almost exclusively by Anna, it made for an interesting twist on a serial killer loose story, when it seemed like the narrator might be the culprit. 
Friday, July 31, 2015

My Birthday Disneyland Checklist

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

Very soon now, I'll be heading out to one of my favorite places on Earth (also the happiest place) the Disney resort,  to celebrate my birthday.  After thinking about it, there really was no other place I wanted to be (...for the distance and the price).  And inspired by Amaris's past post on her Ultimate Disneyland checklist, I wanted to share a few things I hope to do at the resort, that I have not been able to do before:

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Star Trek VOY Season 4 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
So Season 4 of Voyager, or as I like to think of it now - The Seven of Nine show.  LOL, I'm just kidding (slightly) but she really got a lot of screen time for a new character.  They wanted to get more viewers to the show I guess.  I do like that it feels like Voyager has two female leads now which is awesome.  Captain Janeway is such a bad-ass now - I continue to love her as a character.  I'm pretty sure now she is my favorite character from this series.  I do feel sorry for B'ellana though - it feels like so much of her storylines revolve around her love interest Tom Paris and what he's going through.

While I'm slowing down a bit with Voyager, I do still really enjoy the crew and the storylines; which are fun, inventive spins on science fiction ideas and it feels like the episodes revolve more around concepts than around interpersonal drama and alien conflicts.  Which I'm loving as it makes for some very interesting stories.

5. Hope and Fear


With the help of a linguistically talented alien, Voyager decodes a message Starfleet sent them months ago.  The message tells them of a ship with new technology that can send them home quickly, and they just need to go to certain coordinates to pick it up.  It seems too good to be true.  The real situation behind the message was a surprise to me - while I didn't expect for Voyager to be able to get home, I was surprised that this episode turned into an evaluation of Janeway's actions from a previous episode.  While I feel like Janeway's lax adherence to the Prime Directive is creating issues in more and more of these episodes, it's interesting how I feel like she made the right decision every time.  Obviously I'm not a big proponent of the Prime Directive here, haha.  Of course the consequences of her decision was very unfortunate in this episode.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: The Mysterious Affair at Styles

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1)
by Agatha Christie
Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:


In her first published mystery, Agatha Christie introduced readers to her Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Poirot, a Belgian refugee of the Great War, is settling in England near the home of Emily Cavendish, who helped him to his new life. His friend Hastings arrives as a guest at her home. When the woman is killed, Poirot uses his detective skills to solve the mystery.

The story is told in the first person by Hastings, and features many of the elements that have become icons of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, largely due to Christie's influence. It is set in a large, isolated country manor. There are a half-dozen suspects, most of whom are hiding facts about themselves. The plot includes a number of red herrings and surprise twists.

Review:

This book is momentous alone for being Agatha Christie's first mystery, and for it being the first case for her famous detective Hercule Poirot.  The atmosphere, the eclectic mix of characters and British sensibilities, makes this a wonderful read as well.  There is something so immersive about a Christie novel - she is adept at setting up a story and the characters quickly, and weaving up a mass of details and drama.  This is rather a short book for a Christie novel, so even though the characters feel natural and realistic, they are sort of only there to prop up the mystery.

In this mystery, there really is a sense that the reader is being given all the clues (through the delightfully clueless Arthur Hastings) - even with drawings of the rooms, and facsimiles of the tangible evidence.  Every detail is given, but in the end it is Poirot who must unite and clarify and this is all done so skillfully through Christie's writing.  I felt just as Hastings did, a little awed and a little abashed that I couldn't draw the right conclusions.

Poirot, with all of his eccentricities and quirks, seems fully formed and riveting in this book.  It is interesting to me that Poirot is so completely what he will be in the next books of his series - he's so unique too in his fastidious and exacting manner that it surprises me that Christie had such a grip on his character from the very first.  Poirot is a character who has always delighted me, and I love the sense that he is a formidable personality, while also being kind and generous to everyone.  Hastings, too, has always appealed to me - he's the perfect foil to Poirot - very British and correct, and observant enough of Poirot to be of aid to him.  And there is such a droll sense of humor in how many times Hastings dismisses Poirot's words or actions when it doesn't fit in with his own ideas and conclusions.  Hastings is so well meaning, but completely unaware of how badly he follows in Poirot's detective footsteps.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles is a wonderful mystery too - it's pretty impossible to guess the murderer I think, and the twist in the end is absolutely genius.  The methodology of the murder is so clever as well - this is a mystery that is packed with incident and suspense, and is a perfect beginning for Poirot.
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[This book is a reread for me - when I was in high school and into college, I read all of Poirot's mysteries, but lately I've had a longing to reread his stories, so I plan to read and review them for my blog - in order of publication.  It's a long oeuvre, so I won't rush to complete it - I'll just sprinkle in a Poirot mystery now and again!]