Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Star Trek DS9 Season 2 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Season 2 of Deep Space Nine was much better than Season 1 for me, I'm happy to say.  I'm really getting interested in the characters and there were quite a few solid and engaging stories in this season.  Some that I really enjoyed but not enough to have thought of them as top 5 material.  But I was happy to see that after finishing the season, I had exactly five episodes noted down as ones that really impressed me.  I wish Netflix had a skip button for opening credits though - because the DS9 opening theme is long!

I want to give kinda honorable mention to the episode "Paradise" where Sisko and O'Brien land on a planet where technology doesn't work.  The leader - Alixus - becomes almost obsessed in forcing Sisko and O'Brien to give up technology themselves.  While I really enjoyed the episode, I was so disappointed that Alixus didn't get the comeuppance she deserved.  Her villagers accepted what she did to them and even validated her views.  And while she may have had a good (if stagnant) society going, I was so outraged by her psychotic need for control and that she took away their choices.  And she was not at all remorseful.  For such a good episode, I was left feeling very dissatisfied and frustrated by that ending.

5. Tribunal


O'Brien is off on a vacation with his wife when he gets arrested by Cardassians for a crime they don't feel the need to inform him about, to put him on trial for which he is already assumed guilty.  The Cardassian justice system is no joke, as it seems mostly about encouraging the accused to 'fess up to their crimes and atone so that the Cardassians viewing the trial can feel better about themselves.   The reason I enjoyed this particularly is because of O'Brien.  O'Brien is a flawed character - he has his prejudices and he's not always the nicest, but he is a good person, and seeing him treated so unjustly, and how frustrating his situation was, made him so sympathetic.  And the trial was extremely frustrating in itself, that the satisfaction of Sisko showing up in the end and ruining the whole thing without saying a word was very fulfilling.  

4. Whispers


Another O'Brien-centric episode!  In this one, O'Brien is being treated very differently by everyone aboard the space station from Sisko to his own wife and child, and he has no idea why.  The twist in this one is pretty mind boggling, and I loved how the story is told from O'Brien's perspective when it could have been told from a different one.  The storytelling is the highlight of this one, especially because I had no idea of how it would end - the episode was getting close to it's finish, and I couldn't imagine what was behind the door in the last scene that would explain everything.  But boy did it.

3. Armageddon Game


O'Brien (again!) and Dr. Bashir are helping the Kellerans and T'lani erase the existence of a biological weapon to stop the fighting between the two races, but are then attacked right when they are finishing the job.  O'Brien and Bashir's rocky friendship is a great part of this episode - especially since in this episode they grow to appreciate each other more.  O'Brien is accidentally infected by the biological weapon, so there is that added suspense (although of course he would be okay) of O'Brien needing treatment asap.  I found this a great story with fantastic character development.  And O'Brien's defense of marriage was so heartwarming! 

2. Crossover


This episode references the Original series episode "Mirror, Mirror" where Kirk and crew go into an alternate universe and encounter a darker version of the Enterprise.  Kira and Bashir are the unfortunate crew members to enter the alternate universe this time and it is just as dark and disturbing as it was so many years after Kirk went through.  Seeing most of the DS9 crew in such altered personalities was a fun part of this episode, even though it is pretty distressing how bad of a situation these people are in.  I love episodes that are a nod to the continuity of the Trek universe as well, so that's another reason I enjoyed this episode so much.  And I thought Nana Visitor was so compelling as AU Kira.

1. Necessary Evil


A seemingly mysterious attack on Quark, reminds Odo of an unsolved murder from the days of the Cardassian occupation, and Odo investigates the case again, bringing up a lot of memories.  There are flashbacks in this episode to when Deep Space Nine was run by the Cardassians and it was not a great place to be.  I thought seeing the recent history of the space station through these flashbacks was a great idea since it added layers to the characters and the stories they tell in this series so far.  It's really grim to see Odo cowed, and Kira downtrodden but it makes it even more understandable why they are good friends now.  The character development for Odo was a highlight for me, as was seeing him solve this cold case with it's surprising solution.

Monday, November 24, 2014

How a Blogger Can Use the Principles of Stoicism


From a tweet on twitter I found out there is this annual event sponsored by a university in England called Stoic Week which begins today.  It's a free online introduction and course on Stoicism, with the goal of increasing personal happiness.  I've been interested in the ancient philosophy of Stoicism for a time - I bought a book on it awhile ago, but never got around to reading it.  But after hearing about this event, I thought this was the perfect time to try it out.  Stoic as a description has come to mean suppressing emotion in the face of adversity, but this is not really what the philosophy of Stoicism is about.  Now I've only been reading about Stoicism for a few days now so I'm not an expert, but what I hope to gain from it is a way to decrease negative emotions - or at least decrease it's affect on me.  Negative emotions like fear, anger, and anxiety.  While also increasing personal happiness, which can be affected by understanding that there is only so much control you have in your life, and it's better to worry about what you can control and let go of what you can not.  Simple really, but difficult I think to really incorporate into one's life.  A life philosophy like this differs from a religion because often a religion tells you what to do to be a good person, but not how to do it.  The how part delves into psychology and I'm finding Stoicism advocates a few psychological tricks to help change behavior.

It's all very interesting to me, so I thought that one way to fix the principles in my mind and perhaps make it interesting to other bloggers who might want to learn about it,  is to draw up this post of ideas for how Stoic principles can help a blogger become better.  And if anyone reading is interested in learning more, it's quick and easy to sign up to participate in Stoic Week and get the free handbook with daily exercises.  I'm excited to see how this week will go!

Ways in which Stoicism can help book bloggers:


1. Desire what you have 

One major idea of Stoicism is that excessive desire causes unhappiness.  Because even when we think we will be happy getting what we want, that happiness will fade and we will want something else.  (Known as hedonic adaptation).  I am 100% prey to this kind of thinking.  And Stoicism advocates negative visualizations to try and combat this tendency.  That is to imagine what it would be like to lose what you already have, to appreciate it more.  So every time I really wish I could have that certain book, I should imagine what it would be like to not have a favorite book, or perhaps to never have the experience of reading it.  (Although I think readers sometimes wish they can have the experience of reading again a beloved book like it was new!)  But I think the drive to buy  more books can be a bit difficult to manage for some bloggers, so it is better to look at what you have (especially that every increasing TBR pile) and realize that there is the possibility that you can lose those books, so maybe take some time to read and appreciate it.

2. Strive for virtue

Virtue in Stoicism is not what we think of as virtue - as in purity or morality.  (Although morality has a part to play.)  To live virtuously as a Stoic is to live well, which is to live the best that we can, fulfill our potential as human beings, and understand our own character.  Doing the best that we can in the main point here, as I think when it comes to advice for bloggers, one of the main ones is to do what you want and do it as well as you can.  It can seem like a good idea to try and emulate what top bloggers are doing, but where you'll really find satisfaction and possibly recognition is in finding out what is unique in yourself and creating your blog to reflect that to the best of your ability.  It's better to worry only about what you yourself can control - and how you act and execute your plans is what you can completely control.  Just put in the work and remain true to yourself.

3. Don't be upset by your judgement of things

We critique books - it can be fun to examine what we loved about one book and a bummer to have to talk about why a book disappointed us, but some people can get too upset about a disappointing book.  Perhaps when a blogger 'hates' a book it's not a deep emotional hateful anger, but since some reviews can seem like it is, I'll put this idea here.  One maxim of Stoicism can be summed up as "It seemed right to him/her."  This is a powerful statement to me.  It can lessen the frustration readers can feel about a book that seemed to be so obviously a mistake in many ways.  It's a statement that addresses the idea that we should not dwell on things we can't control (we can't control the execution of a book) and allows us to let go of anger and frustration by imagining how the other person feels.  And one's own judgement should not affect yourself or others too negatively.  Because as everyone says, it's just one opinion.  But perhaps it's a good idea that if someone else should accept your opinion that way, you should accept it that way too.

I should create a new tag on my blog for eclectic posts - because every time I become interested in something,  I find a way to blog about it!  I hope this was a bit interesting to those people who read through all this.  Stoicism is much more involved than the ideas in this post, so if anything here speaks to you, I'd recommend also seeking out the book "A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy" by William B. Irvine, which I am currently reading.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Suspense Sundays (125) Re-entry

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.

"Re-entry"
Air date: November 1, 1959
Starring Lyle Sudrow
>>Episodes here<<

Howard is going to go on an exploratory rocket trip into the upper atmosphere to test the technology.  His trip is just to go up and back and his wife is a little bit nervous for him.  Howard is nervous too, but when he gets up there and sees the beauty of the blackness of space, and the euphoria of weightlessness he is overcome.  He doesn't want to return, but stay in this new world.  The people communicating with him on land order him to return.

This episode begins with some musings on whether man will be able to go up into the stars, so that reminder that it hasn't happened yet for the people who listened to this episode when it aired, was jolting.  And such a great feeling to know that it has happened and it's all possible.  The story is a fanciful imagining of how people would feel up there, which I couldn't sympathize with at all since Howard wants to stay up there despite the fact he doesn't belong.  Although it seems to mirror that state of euphoria I've heard can come with deep sea diving.  The ending is pretty surprising though, and a little open-ended which made space travel a little unappealing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Signing: Cary Elwes and The Princess Bride

On Monday, I made the trek through traffic laden LA to reach Book Soup, which is an iconic bookstore in West Hollywood, that I've sadly never been to before.  The fact that I've finally been was a great occasion for me, but even better that I went because Cary Elwes was signing copies of his new book "As You Wish" which I reviewed on Wednesday.  And really loved.  It made me see The Princess Bride in a new light and appreciate it more.  It's astonishing to find out that it didn't really do well when it was first released!


The bookstore was packed (it was also a bit small, so that didn't help) but I got a standing spot in the back and I could pretty much see Cary for most of the Q&A.  The moderator asked him many specific questions on the stories that Cary writes about in his book, which I was pretty much familiar with since I had read it already.  But it was fun to hear Cary do his version of the voices of William Goldman, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Andre the Giant when he referred to them.  And it was also so heartwarming to see and hear him talk about the movie because of how much he loved being a part of it.

After the moderator asked his questions, he opened the floor to the audience and there were some great questions - one that I always like to know is if he had kept any props from the filming - and Cary said he was given his sword, but he made a present of it to the director Rob Reiner because he felt that was the right thing to do.  I should think he would keep it though after all the work he put into the sword fight!  I uploaded an audio clip of a couple other questions below - someone asked him how many times he's seen The Princess Bride (surprisingly not that many times!) and then they followed up with if his daughter had seen the film.  Which led to a really inevitable comment on Frozen.



The bookstore only allowed photos from the signing line, so I only snapped the one above as Cary was signing my book.  I wish I had snapped another when he was looking up, because he made a point to look at everyone, shake their hand, and address them personally.  And of course all I could think of was how good looking he is! :D  Because, wow. /shallow  But I'm really so grateful when celebrities/authors try to give a moment to their fans like that, by making eye contact.  I appreciate that they are trying to engage everyone for a short time at least.  And how cool that he signed every book with 'As you wish'!!  That means 'I love you' right?? :D

Since reading the book I've watched The Princess Bride three times now - just to see some of the things Cary mentions about certain scenes and also because I'm finding I'm even more in love with this movie.  There's so much to it, and so much happens but it all feels cohesive and paces just right. And the humor of it is perfection.  Cary was asked at the Q&A what his favorite line in the film was and he said "Anybody want a peanut" which always gets him for some reason.  And I identified with that, because when I did my first re-watch of the movie recently, that line got me too.  It's so understated and unexpected!

Like I said in my review of the book, if you are a fan of the film you will enjoy this book, and I'm so happy that Cary decided to write it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Review: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride
by Cary Elwes
Memoir
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.

The Princess Bride has been a family favorite for close to three decades. Ranked by the American Film Institute as one of the top 100 Greatest Love Stories and by the Writers Guild of America as one of the top 100 screenplays of all time, The Princess Bride will continue to resonate with audiences for years to come.

Cary Elwes was inspired to share his memories and give fans an unprecedented look into the creation of the film while participating in the twenty-fifth anniversary cast reunion. In As You Wish he has created an enchanting experience; in addition to never-before seen photos and interviews with his fellow cast mates, there are plenty of set secrets, backstage stories, and answers to lingering questions about off-screen romances that have plagued fans for years!

With a foreword by Rob Reiner and a limited edition original poster by acclaimed artist Shepard Fairey, As You Wish is a must-have for all fans of this beloved film.

Review:

The Princess Bride is a magical film.  I loved it when I first saw it and continue to find so much to delight in with every rewatch.  But even though I love the film, I never really delved into how it got made or what the costars thought of the film.  Thankfully though, this book supplies all that knowledge and more.

I listened to this on audiobook which I highly recommend.  Actually I think it's best to get this book in both formats - because the audiobook is read by Cary Elwes and for all the interviews the individual people involved with the production read it, so it's a great experience listening to everyone recount their own stories.  But the physical book has photos which I missed out on! (Although I now own a copy of the book too.)  The audiobook is very entertaining to listen to on-the-go because Cary has a way of making you feel like he is conversationally sharing this great history of the movie with you.  His personable reading and writing make for a fantastic listening experience.  And bonus that in the audiobook Cary does the voices of the different people he's talking about.

What I loved the most about this book was how detailed it was about the whole process of making a film.  It's a long and involved undertaking that I think must apply to the inception of most films (except for the part where the script is excellently written and conceived) and it's interesting to understand how much work went into the production.  And the book details the process in a way that showed how each piece of the puzzle fit together.  From securing the script, to finding the right actors, to learning difficult skills to portray on the screen - it all was set out as this great journey with the end result being this wonderful film.  I especially loved how Cary teased out the experience of learning to sword fight in preparation to filming the greatest sword fight sequence on film.

This is a marvelous read, and truly touching in some parts as stories are shared about Andre the Giant, who seemed like a truly remarkable and warm-hearted person, and as the people involved with the film share how much it has meant to them over the years.  If you love the film, you will definitely love this book!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Refined Reader (32) The E-book


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

Source
The idea of electronically reading books appears to have started with writer Bob Brown in 1930.  His idea came from seeing how silent movies have advanced by becoming 'talkies'.  Bob Brown called his idea the 'Readies' where books can be read in a much different way than even ebooks are read today.  His idea was to have words continuously scroll across and would have omitted superfluous words like articles and conjunctions.  It would have been more about getting the gist of the book in your mind than about recreating the reading experience electronically.

According to Wikipedia, the actual inventor of the ebook is a little unclear - it depends on the criteria one has for what constitutes an electronic book.  In the 1960s a researcher by the name of Andries van Dam, who formatted documents on an IBM computer is said to have coined the term electronic book.  But Michael Hart is popularly thought of as the inventor of the e-book for adapting the Declaration of Independence to an e-book in 1971.  Early e-books were at first mostly technical manuals to be read by people with specific interests, but when the internet came around sending e-books became easier and more useful to people.

E-books have only really taken off in the late 1990s.  It helped when a uniform format (Open eBook) was developed so that more machines could read e-books, instead of fragmenting the market with different formats.  In 1998 libraries began to offer e-books through their website.  The wonderfully archaic e-Reader pictured above (the Sony Data Discman) was released in 1992, although it's not the first e-Reader since there was a prototype portable reading unit called the Dynabook created in the 1970s.  Which would have been more akin to a laptop.  In 1997 the invention of electronic paper (which does away with the need for a backlit screen) helped usher in the more enduring kind of e-Reader, with the first e-paper reader, the Sony Librie, released in 2004.

E-books are very prevalent today - 50% of Americans own a device to read e-Books (e-Readers or tablets) so it's fascinating to see how much the industry has grown in just a few years.  The ideas have definitely advanced from the early conception of the Readies.  But it is intriguing just how much Bob Brown got right from just his concept -

Though we have advanced from Gutenberg's movable type through the linotype and monotype to photo-composing we still consult the book in its original archaic form as the only oracular means we know for carrying the word mystically to the eye. "A simple reading machine which I can carry or move around, attach to any old electric light plug and read hundred thousand word novels if I want to, and I want to." My machine is equipped with controls so the reading record can be turned back or shot ahead, a chapter reread or the happy ending anticipated.
-- Bob Brown, 1929

If you are an e-Reader, do you remember what you first thought of the format?  Were you against it before, but now love it?  What kind of e-Reader do you own now?

Source:
Wikipedia 
New York Times
Readies

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Suspense Sundays (124) Easy Victim

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.

"Easy Victim"
Air date: October 25, 1959
Starring Paul McGrath
>>Episodes here<<

Arthur Ames has had a lot of bad luck at the gambling table, and receives a visit from his creditor with an ultimatum.  Get the money, or else.  The only option he has now for getting money is marrying it. There's a rich widow he knows of and he woos her.  But after he pays off his debt, Mr. Ames can't stay with a woman he doesn't love.

This was a clever little episode with a twist that, while not earth-shattering, was nicely ironic and even made me feel that there was a little justice.  Which if you listen to this episode, that might not be a good thing.  I thought it was almost farcical how Mr. Ames' attempts to do away with his wife failed a couple times, and that aspect was fun.  This has a solid story with a twist I didn't expect at first, given how common this story trope crops up in these older suspense stories.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Famous People Tag

I was tagged by Maggie at Macarons & Paperbacks to do this Famous People tag which was created by Naomi at Wonderland Creek.  I'm kinda a big fangirl when it comes to my favorite celebrities, so this was a really fun tag for me to do!

The Rules:
  • Put up the ‘famous people tag button’ and link back to the person who tagged you
  • Answer the questions
  • Tag the ten last people who commented on your blog (excluding anonymytes or the person who tagged you)


1. Who's your favourite singer/group?
I'll have to go with my old stand by and writer and singer of my favorite song - "Maybe I'm Amazed" - Sir Paul McCartney.  I love the Beatles, but I also love a lot of Paul's solo work, so I think it's fair to just put him down for this.


2. If your favourite male actor was in the same room as you right now, what would your reaction be?
Ooh if someone like Michael Fassbender was here, I would keep it together, excitedly tell him how much I loved him in Jane Eyre, and how he's an amazing actor and my ideal man ask him if I could get a picture (because I could not believe it happened otherwise) and then fall apart afterwards when he left.


3. Is there a famous person you used to love but (due to something they have done in their life) you've suddenly changed your mind?
Not really, I'm happy to say I generally find I admire what I see of my favorite celebrity's personality and private lives.

4. Name a famous person you like who's name starts with a V.
I can't think of anyone!  I hope I'm not forgetting someone obvious....

5. What's one of your favourite red-carpet dresses?
I had to google some because no dresses have stuck out that much for me, but I finally decided on what Idina Menzel wore recently to the Oscars.  Love the classic look of it!


6. Who's your favourite Royal person?
Right now, I really like how Princess Kate is managing her public image - she seems so poised and graceful and compassionate.


7. Who's your favourite child actor/tress?
Seeing how I'm already in a Christmassy mood, I will say Macaulay Culkin since Home Alone is such a great movie and Macaulay Culkin did a fantastic job with it.  I always watch it around Christmas and I'm always impressed by how sweet and believable he was in that role.  The second movie was great too!



8. Are there any actors/actresses whose private lives you like?
Well he's not really an actor, although he's done some acting, so I say that counts!  Derren Brown's private life seems just perfect.  He has eccentric hobbies, travels, paints, he has a wonderful philosophy about life and his work reflects that, and look at his library!



9. Do you think that the actors/actresses have improved these last 100 years?
Like Maggie talked about in her post, I think our perception of the quality of acting has changed over the years as our perception of quality writing and production values have changed.  What was amazing back then, wouldn't cut it now, but it was still quality at the time.  And actors are still wielding the same kind of skills, but it might come across differently now.  There is subtlety and nuance in performances regardless of time.

10. What's the weirdest famous-people name?
Well maybe this doesn't really count, but Penn Jillette (from the magician duo Penn & Teller) named his daughter Moxie Crimefighter.  Which is a name I feel is very um... surprising.

11. Do you think you look like a famous person? Which one(s)?
No, I haven't been told I look like anyone famous either.  Oh well maybe some day! :)

12. Share your favourite famous-person quote.
Neil deGrasse Tyson in answer to a question from a Reddit AMA


13. Who's your favourite dancer?
Gene Kelly!  This was a super easy question for me!  Watching him dance makes me feel light on my feet! :)


14. Why is your favourite actress your favourite one? When did you decide that she was your favourite?
Karen Gillan from Doctor Who, Guardians of the Galaxy, and now one of my fave new TV shows - Selfie (which unfortunately was cancelled.  I was really loving that show.  They are still airing some already filmed episodes so maybe tune in and boost the numbers?? Tuesdays/ABC/8pm).  I decided she's one of my favorite actresses from watching her as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, but seeing how versatile she is made me admire her so much, and she seems silly and goofy in real life as well, so she seems like a very cool person!

15. Have you ever met/seen/been close to a famous person?
Yes!  I'll drop this picture right here since I just mentioned one of them - unfortunately they didn't allow posed photos so we had to make do with this quick snap while passing by.  Of course it was perfectly fine, because I was just happy to see Matt Smith and Karen Gillan in person!

The last 10 people to have commented on my blog (and thank you so much!) are:

You are tagged, if you have time or inclination to talk about a bunch of celebrities. :)  If anyone else would like to do this tag, feel free!  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Review: The Young Elites

The Young Elites (The Young Elites #1)
by Marie Lu
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a malfetto, an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars—they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.

Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.

Review:

Wow, this story is dark!  It takes chances and has lots of twists and turns that I was really not expecting for this genre.  Which is so refreshing and delightful.  I thoroughly enjoyed the ride this book took me on.

The story mainly follows Adelina, although there are chapters from other characters' POV.  I didn't mind when the story switched to a different POV because those chapters were usually short and it was interesting to get into the heads of Teren and Enzo.  And I think it was important to understand the motivations of those characters because it adds so much to the suspense.  The characters and members of the Dagger Society were all so different and intriguing from the beginning - so much mistrust, fear and doubt is mixed together in the narrative to create a darkly emotional story.

The story's setting is richly textured - there's a realism to the world-building and the rules of the magic that added so much to the depth of the story.  I could easily imagine the setting, and the way the magic the Young Elites possess was described made everything more exciting and tangible.  The mechanics of it seem very realistic - down to details of how using the powers affects them physically and emotionally.   I really appreciated how well-written every aspect of this story was.

There are some big developments in this story, that I think set the stage for a very exciting trilogy, especially with the epilogue which revealed a major shock.  Adelina is a character that has a long journey to go on, and it's not easy to see where it will lead her.  I was so invested in this wonderfully detailed and developed book - I can't wait for the next one to find out what happens next!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thoughts on Doctor Who Season 8


The latest season of Doctor Who is all over now which always comes too fast.  I posted about the first episode when it aired at the end of August, and I wanted to comment again on the season as a whole.

-- Some Spoilers Below --

 I never really warmed up to the 12th Doctor now that it's over.  I think it's because I want him to be a hero and a good man, even if he has to do bad things.   I'm okay if the Doctor has to explore that side to him and there is doubt to this side to his character, but ultimately I think of the Doctor as a an eccentric, who's clever and a bit of a madman, but who represents the better side of humanity because he believes in it.  For lack of a better word since of course he's not human.   The 12th Doctor really let me down a little too many times with how often he treated his failure in saving people so cavalierly.  Even though it might be a mask for how he really felt.  And even though in the end the fact that these people died had something to do with the overall season arc.  I just didn't enjoy it.  If the 11th Doctor's run felt like a fairy tale (especially for Amy Pond) that fairy tale is over.   But now that we've gotten over the rough parts of developing this Doctor as a broken but indurated character, I hope that means he's going to be built up to the more dependable Doctor.

Clara's character development was much better this season - she really gets to show off quite a bit, and I often thought she was much more the Doctor than the Doctor was.  So that it made total sense to see her try to pass herself off as the Doctor in the finale.  And while it made her a great character, it still made me sad to think the Doctor needed her so much to help him fulfill the role he's put on himself through his past lives.

The Missy reveal was a great moment though, and I thought the new Master was amazing - just so creepy, offbeat and crazy.  And what was up with the Mary Poppins vibe?  So wrong, but I loved it.

The Danny and Clara story was a major heartbreaker.  I was shocked when Danny was hit by the car in the first half of the finale, and when Clara wanted the Doctor to fix things I really wanted him to too.  (But I knew he wouldn't because this is not a Doctor who can fix things yet.)  Danny and Clara's romance felt like it developed fast (but I know a lot of time passed between episodes) but I liked them together and I wanted Clara's ending to be a little bit happy - if this is her last episode?  Which maybe it's not.  The finale was such a downer though, and sad, but in a way that made me feel so frustrated with the Doctor and Clara because they are so caught up in themselves they can't see through to comfort each other.  But I am hopeful that it can't get any darker for the next season (and at least the Christmas special looks like it will be a bit of fun).

Overall, the season and the characters didn't draw me in as much as before.  I appreciate that Moffat is doing new things with Doctor Who, but the season felt disjointed sometimes, and I felt too disappointed in the 12th Doctor to really like him.  I think the best episode of the season was 'Flatline' which had an imaginative script, and of course a major hero moment for the 12th Doctor.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Suspense Sundays (123) The Crisis of Dirk Diamond

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.

"The Crisis of Dirk Diamond"
Air date: October 18, 1959
Starring Bernie Grant
>>Episodes here<<

Mike Snyder writes the comic strip of the adventures of Dirk Diamond.  Sales for the Dick Diamond comic is going down and his editor demands that Mike create a better villain.  The editor asks him what truly scares him and Mike tells him how when he was a child he imagined a frightening man named Freddie.  The editor loves it and orders him to write him into the comic, but Mike is still a little frightened of Freddie.

A little frightened turns into A LOT frightened when Freddie starts turning up.  I really loved the premise of this episode - I thought it was genuinely creepy in the beginning and Freddie's voice is a little unnerving, but I think the ending was a bit abrupt and left me less than satisfied.  I think for such a great set-up it might have been hard to pull of an even better resolution though.  So for the ideas and the atmosphere this is a pretty good listen.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Star Trek DS9 Season 1 - Top 3 Favorite Episodes

I think it will always be rough transitioning to a new Star Trek series after I've become so fond of the previous one.  I was not feeling Star Trek TNG after watching The Original Series, but TNG eventually won me over so I'm sure DS9 will do the same* - apparently around the third season.  But at the moment, I'm disappointed in a few things with DS9 so far - the dullness of the space station aesthetically, the fact that we are stuck on a space station, and the time it's taking me to warm up to these characters.  The one good thing is that Quark is somewhat lessening my lack of patience with the Ferengi as a race.  I'm starting to see the fun in them as a plot device, but only as a secondary.  The episode that focused on Ferengi politics was very annoying to me.

With season 1 and 2 of TNG, I could only really pick three episodes that appealed to me in that season, and that's the case again for DS9.  Although really, in my choices below, there were only moments that appealed to me, because I was not enamored with the episodes as a whole.  I really struggled to get though this season unfortunately, and I'm so looking forward to getting past DS9's growing pains to the good stuff!

3. If Wishes Were Horses

The idea of thoughts becoming reality is a great one, and seeing such a mismatch of characters like Rumplestilskin, a famed baseball player and an alternate OOC Dax made for a quirky mystery as the crew try to understand why they came into being in the first place.  The solution to the mystery was much less interesting to me though - I was probably just disappointed that the imaginary characters didn't have more up their sleeve than it seemed.

2. The Forsaken


In this episode, a mysterious entity gets into the computer of the space station and starts to affect normal procedures, and meanwhile Lwaxana Troi and a group of ambassadors visit the station.  Lwaxana takes a romantic interest in the resident emotionally unavailable character - Odo - and makes a connection with him while they are stuck in the turbo lift.  The entity living in the computer was not as interesting to me as the added depth we see to the characters of Odo and Lwaxana when they open up to each other in the turbo lift.  I really loved seeing why Lwaxana is such a magnetic character - when she can be so compassionate and understanding.  And based on my history of favorite characters from the previous Star Trek series (Spock and Data) I wonder if Odo will become my favorite on DS9.... time will tell!  (And Rene Auberjonois was a voice in The Little Mermaid, so points in his favor!)  Definitely I empathized a lot with Odo's story in this episode.

1. Move Along Home


A new species, the Wadi, visit the space station and since they seem to really like games, they gravitate towards Quark's fine establishment.  But when Quark cheats them, they make him play their own game, which has seemingly high, and very disturbing stakes.  This was another episode that has a cool mystery in what exactly the rules of the game are, and it was fun to see members of the crew in the game and needing to figure out it's weird logic.  But the resolution was very convenient, and it was odd that there was pretty much no reason why they had to put real people in the game.  But I ranked this first in my list since I enjoyed it the most of this season.

*I'm happy to say that Season 2 of DS9 is much better!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review: Killer Instinct

Killer Instinct (The Naturals #2)
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
YA Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Cassie Hobbes has a gift for profiling people. Her talent has landed her a spot in an elite FBI program for teens with innate crime-solving abilities, and into some harrowing situations. After barely escaping a confrontation with an unbalanced killer obsessed with her mother’s murder, Cassie hopes she and the rest of the team can stick to solving cold cases from a distance.

But when victims of a brutal new serial killer start turning up, the Naturals are pulled into an active case that strikes too close to home: the killer is a perfect copycat of Dean’s incarcerated father—a man he’d do anything to forget. Forced deeper into a murderer’s psyche than ever before, will the Naturals be able to outsmart the enigmatic killer’s brutal mind games before this copycat twists them into his web for good?

Review:

This series continues to be engaging with it's myriad of twists and turns, and details about behavior and psychology.  I think I enjoyed the second book a bit more than the first because the characters are further developed and they feel even more like a real team.  There's still a lot of issues they have with each other though, so there's plenty of emotional drama that each character needs to deal with.  Character development is necessary in this series because of how much it delves into psychology, and it's great fun to understand how they think.

Even though this story revolves around some gruesome murders (although thankfully it's not heavily detailed in that aspect) and it does follow the mindset of a serial killer, the story feels more like a light and entertaining read.  It's not overly grim which is a big plus for me.  I find it very interesting how the author maintains the lighter YA feel despite the darker aspects of the story.  While I did enjoy the psychological profiling information that we often get when Cassie evaluates other people, I did think it was a little too much at times - there were moments when I really wanted to advance with the story instead of stopping to go over the details of someone's face and posture.  I think the information was interesting, but sometimes wished it was balanced better with more action.

The first book has a bit of a love triangle, but the romance hasn't overwhelmed the story in both books so far which makes me happy.  With such terrible things occurring, it would not seem right if Cassie was more focused on which guy she liked more.  The resolution of this story was a highlight because it was so suspenseful and thrilling.  The mystery was set up well and delivered with many unexpected twists and revelations.  I really enjoyed this read, and am looking forward to the last book as I think it will address the mystery surrounding Cassie's mom which was set up in the first book!

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

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Refined Reader (31) The Case of the Vampire


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

Last week I posted on the horror genre, and also asked about favorite supernatural creatures.  Mine is the vampire, and while reading up on horror fiction, I saw mention of two early documented cases that sparked vampire hysteria in Western Europe, which I found very interesting to read!  So I wanted to talk about it here.  Vampires - or blood-sucking entities have been around since ancient times - almost every culture has a legend concerning them, but our modern concept of a vampire comes almost exclusively from 18th Century Europe.

The first case concerns a Serbian peasant named Petar Blagojevich who died in 1725.  After he died, several people in his village died soon after, with nine deaths within eight days.  On their death-beds, the victims claimed to have been visited by Blagojevich at night.  The villagers demanded an investigation, and because Serbia at that time was part of the Austrian empire, Austrian officials and doctors looked into the matter which is why this is such a well documented case.  Although the investigators wanted to wait for permission from their superiors, the villagers did not want to wait so Blagojevich's body was exhumed and found to be in a state consistent to a 'vampire nature'.  The body was relatively undecomposed, there was hair and skin growth, as well as blood in the mouth.  The villagers staked Blagojevich and then burned the body.

The second case happened in another village in Serbia with a man called Arnold Paole.  When Paole first moved to the village, he claimed he had been attacked by a vampire, but cured himself by eating soil from the vampire's grave and smearing himself with the vampire's blood.  In 1725, Paole died from falling off a hay wagon and in the month that followed his death, four people claimed to have seen him, and all four died soon after.  The body was exhumed like with Blagojevich, and was found in the same state of seemingly abnormal decomposition.  Paole's body was staked - an apparently he groaned and bled from it, and the other four victims were also staked to prevent them from becoming vampires.

These cases were written about and spread throughout Europe, although officials and doctors maintained that vampires do not exist.  The Austrian Empress eventually passed laws against exhuming bodies and that led to the end of the vampire hysteria.  But the stories still persisted.  I should say that the state of decomposition described for these 'vampires' can happen realistically, and it's ignorance of that, that fed into the hysteria.

Do you have any favorite vampire stories?

Source:
Wikipedia / Wikipedia

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Suspense Sundays (122) Infanticide

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.

"Infanticide"
Air date: October 11, 1959
Starring Santos Ortega
>>Episodes here<<

A young boy is found dead in his bed, and the episode follows the police interview of his step-father.  The step-father's issues with the mother of the boy and other personal problems abound.  But did the step-father kill his step-son?

Wow, this episode is Boring.  It's more like a dramatic character piece than a good suspense story unfortunately.  And the drama wasn't even that great - given that it's really hard to feel any sympathy with the step-father.  And there was no twist in the end to redeem it.  There's nothing I recommend about this episode - except if you are going to listen to this show, I recommend listening to another episode.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Team Human

Team Human
by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel.

Review:

This was a fun book to read - light on emotional investment when it comes to the characters, but full of quirkiness and a great sense of humor.  Having read Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan, I found that this book didn't have quite the number of jokes and one liners that I anticipated so instead I felt this story was amusing instead of laugh-out-loud funny.  The story did have some legitimate and interesting points of view in Mel and Cathy in their attitudes towards vampires.  It's interesting to see Mel grow from her almost irrational dislike of vampires to understanding, and because this is a bit of a parody of vampire stories, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Cathy is ultimately not belittled for her point of view as a character.  I don't want to reveal too much though about the choices the characters make in the story.

There is a nice romance between Mel and another character too which gave more dimension to the vampire vs. human aspect.  The romance is predictable, but sweet, and it was entertaining to see the little bumps in their romance along the way.  The story also features a side mystery with one of Mel's other friends, and that also became a bit predictable towards the end, but it contributed much to keeping the plot more interesting.

This wasn't a book I devoured so much as quietly enjoyed.  The message in the end is a great one for tolerance and choice however, and it was delightful to go on this journey with the characters.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pippin: the Musical

I feel like this show is really popular with the hardcore musical fans, but I've never seen it or heard the music (except for a couple songs)... until now.  I saw it on tour in LA, twice now and I have to say, it's a fantastic show.  Comparing some clips from the original 1972 production to this new revival version, they really brightened it up and made it more of a spectacle which means it's a great show to see live. There are actual circus performers and some really cool acrobatics.  Oh yeah, and magic tricks!  This show is pretty much unlike anything I've ever seen - the concept is so unique, and the execution is brilliant.

Pippin starts out as a story being presented by a circus troupe, with the Leading Player setting the stage and the actors occasionally breaking the fourth wall.  And in one case, there is a sing a long with lyrics projected - so that definitely broke the fourth wall.  While I absolutely love the idea of such a stylized coming of age story being presented in a Brechtian manner (we're always aware that this is a show), I think the message of the show got a little muddled for me.  Pippin is a naive, unsophisticated youth, even though he is a prince, and throughout the show he's searching for some bigger meaning for himself.  And when he does find something special, he doesn't recognize it until the end because it's not extraordinary like he was hoping.  And him finally appreciating the ordinary I can completely agree with, but there is this underlying sense that he's giving up a lot to be 'ordinary', that he's "trapped but happy" and the Leading Player really looks down on him for it.  And that made me feel a little sad.  The show managed to end on a high note, but I still couldn't stop thinking that this show is a journey of self discovery with so many wonderful possibilities and Pippin kinda settles if he doesn't feel that what he has isn't extraordinary to himself.  Though seeing it the second time, I think it's a fitting ending for such a lavish show and I suppose that mirrors how the audience feels though, since after such a fantastic show, it's back to reality by the end.  This show has layers!

The L.A. tour featured two special performers - Andrea Martin (a legend!) who originated the Broadway revival role of Berthe and who was just fantastic.  She's a comedic genius, but also she's in amazing shape and performed some really difficult looking aerial acrobatics.  She's 67 years old guys.   And John Rubinstein played the father, King Charlemagne - and John originated the role of Pippin in 1972.  So cool! I was also thrilled that the original Pippin from the recent revival was in the role again because it's so great that both original Pippins are in the show!

The music is the highlight for me in this show - perfect, tuneful melodies - I'm obsessed with a handful of songs from the show now, but I'll only mention a couple here - "With You" which is a gorgeous romantic ballad with a satirical side that is not evident in the music and lyrics - it's only evident if you watch the show - but I completely disregard that side, because the music and lyrics are so sweepingly lovely, and I want to dwell on the romance of it.

Another song I want to mention is the opening number "Magic to Do" which is a wonderful piece.  Just from the opening chords there's this excitement brewing, and the energy of the number promises and delivers on that excitement.  The Tony Awards performance ends with their rendition of "Magic to Do" - after a performance of "Corner of the Sky" which is another fantastic song!  Oh my goodness, I'm obsessed with this show!  It's so funny and memorable and surprising and just plain exciting, and I love that that energy is put out there to be absorbed in a theatre.


 

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Refined Reader (30) Origins of the Horror Genre


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!


The elements of horror in fiction has it roots deep in our past with folklore and humanity's concern with death and the afterlife.  Gothic literature played an important part in the evolution of horror as it's own literary genre, since modern novels were more based in realism until The Castle of Otranto (1764), the first modern novel to incorporate supernatural explanations.  When The Castle of Otranto was first published, it was marketed as a found medieval story so when it came out that it was in fact written contemporary, it was not critically received very well.  But it became very popular.

Horror literature incorporates many supernatural elements such as ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witches and the occult, and creates emotional, psychological or physical fear within a reader, but in a controlled manner which can be exciting or a thrilling.  Our psychological interest in reading horror stories is an interesting point to explore and there's more of a philosophical discussion of it on the wikipedia page linked below.  There are some ideas that because we don't have to deal with fighting for survival on a daily basis like our ancestors did, horror stories supply that need for excitement or for an adrenaline rush.

Pioneers of the horror genre include Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Bram Stoker in it's earliest incarnations,  H.P. Lovecraft and his 'cosmic horror' (in his stories the insignificance of humanity is often a focal point).  Lovecraft could also be credited in creating the modern zombie tale, as well as Richard Matheson, author of I Am Legend.  Stephen King is a highly influential modern horror writer, who helped make the genre extremely popular in our time.

Personally horror stories that feature overly gruesome details or graphic depictions of death are not appealing to me, but horror stories that deal with the supernatural and psychological horror is very interesting to me.  I usually like to read older horror novels since they are not as disturbing to me.  So I'm a little bit of a wuss. ;)

What are some of your favorite horror stories?  Do you have a favorite supernatural creature?

Source:
Wikipedia 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Suspense Sundays (121) The Man Who Would Be King

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.

"The Man Who Would Be King"
Air date: May 31, 1959
Starring Dan O'Herlihy
>>Episodes here<<

Dan and Peachey - two con men - travel to Afghanistan to pretend to be kings/gods to the more primitive people in that land.  They lord it up, and enjoy their time, until Dan decides to take a wife.  But it is against their law for a woman to marry a god.  The woman is scared and bites Dan, drawing blood, which proves he's not a god at all.  And the people get angry.

This episode is based on a short story by Rudyard Kipling and is more of a sad tale in my opinion than a suspenseful one.  It's clear that thing would not go well for these two men, and their bluff, arrogant characterization in the show just confirmed that they would not deserve a happy ending.  It's an interesting story though for the idea of two people deliberately taking advantage of another people's culture.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Interview with N.B. Roberts, author of Halton Cray



On Wednesday I reviewed the Jane Eyre inspired novel "Halton Cray" by N.B. Roberts and I'm delighted that the author agreed to do an interview for my blog!  I hope you'll enjoy reading her answers as much as I did!  And if you are a fan of Jane Eyre, Gothic, paranormal, or suspenseful romance, definitely check out "Halton Cray"!

And find N.B. Roberts on:

Q: What is your "Jane Eyre" origin story? When/Why did you first read the novel and what were your first impressions?

I've always loved period dramas, and while subscribing to a ‘classics’ DVD collection in my mid-twenties, I received a free paperback copy of ‘Jane Eyre’. Up until that point, I struggled to find books that enthused me to turn pages, despite reading in various genres. I had been under the illusion that classic works were written in an archaic style I might not grasp. Having Jane Eyre (the book) in front of me, I determined to read it before cheating with the TV adaptation – and so glad I did; I discovered my kind of novel! Jane Eyre kindled my interest in reading other classic works too.

From turning those first pages, the relationship that Charlotte Bronte establishes with the ‘reader’ was the hook for me. Jane, as a child, has a love for books with pictures and exciting titles. I felt that she couldn't see a book as interesting otherwise; she couldn't see beyond the boring black text – what interest could that hold? That was me as a child; I resonated with that, and the fact that Jane has a tough time at school. Jane’s experiences in many respects put my own complaints to shame. Watching Jane mature and take control of her life was mentoring to me, and I felt I could be anything I wanted to be. Though I found the author’s wit and turn of phrase absorbing, the story became enthralling and truly entertaining when Rochester appeared. In short – I couldn’t put it down. It will always be a book I return to for encouragement, comfort, and comedy!

Q: "Halton Cray" has some very striking horror elements and is in many ways more Gothic than "Jane Eyre". What inspired you to make the story darker and introduce a paranormal element?

I have a *slight* fascination with the macabre anyway; a love for Edgar Allan Poe tales, Vincent Price movies, gothic horror in general – adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula (1993) are among my favourites. It wasn't long after first reading Jane Eyre that I began compiling notes for Halton Cray. At that point I was reading the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. But I was keen to expand on the darkness I saw in Jane Eyre and explore. The horror in Bertha viciously attacking her own brother is only hinted at because Jane doesn't witness it first-hand. Even the way in which Bertha’s end was described to Jane is rather gruesome, and again, only a hint at the darkness of what happened. Jane also alludes to the supernatural to explain how she heard Rochester call her name from Ferndean,and he heard her reply. I saw an opportunity to magnify the darkness and weave my favourites together. Additionally, in Halton Cray, Thom is not the best behaved man on the planet. Therefore, my villain had to be really bad…

Q: Halton Cray, the house, is described in detail in the book, along with the workings of running a 'historic' home in England. What kind of fun research did you do for that aspect and is Halton Cray based on a real house?

The research was especially fun because I got to do something I love in exploring historic houses. I have a deep-seated admiration for the architecture and domestic stories. While writing, I was working as a software analyst, so I didn't have much of an idea on a curator’s responsibilities in a stately home: learning that role for Thom was an enjoyable challenge.

I feel lucky to have grown up within walking distance of a reputedly haunted Tudor manor, which provides my mental picture for the Halton Cray estate. Our National Trust manages it and they do a marvellous job. I am though a little sceptical about naming the house because I feel it may colour a reader’s interpretation of my setting. Having said that, if anybody is curious to know – I have had emails asking for more information – I will happily send them a link to this particular house. I spent the best days of my early teens there annoying the poor staff who were incredibly good to allow unaccompanied children inside. They were great too when I would phone them or turn up to ask odd questions such as ‘what would happen in a power cut?’

Q: What was your favorite scene to write in "Halton Cray" and why?

It’s difficult to pick one, but I’ll go for the blackout scene, which you mention in your review. That was a lot of fun to write, and I really enjoyed making dialogue dominant over general narrative. It was an exciting challenge to incorporate various elements of the book in one scene: the mystery, panic, and romance all thrown into the mix. It makes you wonder what you would do in that situation, whether you would stay cool or lose it.

Q:  I found the chemistry between Alex and Thom to be a highlight of the book - I was wondering if you had any tips for how to write/craft a good romance?

Thank you – I’m glad you felt that. It depends on what kind of romance would best fit a story. I don’t personally like insta-love. If going for a slow burn romance as I did with Alex and Thom, then the best advice I could give would be to read Jane Eyre (*grins*). A few key things I identified were:
  1.  Establish good/clear motivations for why your characters are drawn to each other. A durable romance based on him falling for her because she looks good in a pencil skirt isn't going to add chemistry, because it isn't going to add depth or understanding from a reader’s perspective. To help create those motivations, look at what your characters need and give that to their intended.
  2. Gradually does it. Don’t rush your characters in love. It is nothing new to have your lovers not even getting on in the beginning (Mr. Darcy and Miss Bennett are a well-known example); whatever works for your story to keep that build-up gradual, giving you plenty of time to have them challenge, explore, and appreciate each other. A misunderstanding, bit of jealousy, and the big will-they-won’t-they question never did any harm.
  3. Last but certainly not least! And this is a must when following no. 2, your characters need to make some physical contact occasionally, and their reactions need to be highlighted. Don’t rely on the reader taking the hint. If your character liked that his fingers brushed against hers, say so. She liked it.
Q:  Will the rest of the books in the Shadows of the World series have some inspiration from Jane Eyre? Or another book?

As with Halton Cray, the sequel will certainly inherit some elements of Jane Eyre, but does continue on more of its own path, with the occasional nod to Brontë’s work.

Q:  Just for fun - do you have a film dreamcast for Alex and Thom?

This is a tough one to answer, because before now I have never put an actor’s face to any of my characters. I would love to see the wonderfully versatile and talented Abigail Breslin play Alex. And since this is a lot of fun, I would nominate two actors to play Thom: Sam Claflin as seen through Alex’s eyes; he’s such a cheeky looking guy as well as a superb actor. Plus, check out the dimples! – And Norman Reedus, but as seen through everybody else’s eyes, because to me he can look truly sinister. Ha!

DREAMCAST!  L-R: Abigail Breslin for Alex, Sam Claflin and Norman Reedus for Thom

Q:  And because I have to ask one more "Jane Eyre" related question - which adaptation is your favorite?

Despite it being a less than perfect production, the 1983 BBC adaptation is my favourite. It captures everything from the book I want to see on screen. I really enjoyed Zelah Clarke's spirited performance of Jane. And I just loved how Timothy Dalton captured Rochester: his exacting and rather compelling tone – particularly when teasing Jane – met up with my idea of the Byronic hero from the novel. I had previously seen Mr Dalton in various roles when I was a child, such as James Bond, but I really rated him as an actor after seeing this series. His portrayal even became an inspiration for me when writing Thom's teasing of Alex. Although Timothy Dalton is a deal too striking in looks, he is in every way the perfect Rochester, and is additionally deserving of the role for playing the part of the gypsy! which still makes me laugh aloud – ‘Off ye lendings!’

Of course, being a TV series gave it sufficient coverage of the book, but what I really appreciated was the ample interaction between Jane and Rochester to warrant the profoundly passionate connection they formed; that coupled with the use of original text, this is by far my favourite.

I have to say, if I was in a similar situation with the blackout scene in this book, how I would react would depend on two things.  One -is Thom there to save me?  Because then I wouldn't panic, and two - if there are other people panicking like crazy, then I would most definitely endeavor to keep my cool!  And about the dreamcast - I love the author's choices, but Sam Claflin I double love!

Thank you for your fantastic answers N.B.!  And please everyone check out "Halton Cray" on Amazon or Goodreads!