Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Solid Stephen - It

Image result for red balloon transparent backgroundThough It was never my favorite Stephen King movie (that's reserved for Pet Sematary), and I didn't read the book (liked The Shining best), I do love my Tim Curry, and loved his Pennywise. Thinking, "who could possibly top that?" I almost passed over this new iteration of It. I never cared much for clown tropes anyways. But then I found out who was playing the new Pennywise-one of my new favorite actors, Bill Skarsgaard. I've been watching his amazing performance in Netflix's Hemlock Grove, and just knew I had to see what he could do to scare a bunch of kids into floating.

He did not disappoint. His Pennywise is his own, and it's quite scary. What I liked so much about this movie was that, as full as it was with "jump scares," they all served a very real purpose. Most of the time, those kinds of cheap thrills are for the audience's benefit only. That's not how the most horrific scenes in this movie are framed. It's the way that Pennywise scares the kids, isolating them and taunting them before spiriting them away-so you feel a connection to those characters. They felt entirely authentic and organic to the storytelling. It was so good that, even when I was scared, I was grinning like an idiot at how awesome Skarsgaard was.

I enjoyed the darker places that this version of the movie went to, pulling more from King's original text, which I appreciated. The history of the town's curse was really exciting as well. The woodcut-style colonial sketch with Pennywise peering out was especially good, and I won't be at all surprised to see some form of that on my walls one day soon. I'd love to see that story element developed further in the sequel to this film, where a very grown-up group of kids must rehash this nightmare.

K Rating: 5/5

Image result for it 2017 movie

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Lesson in Time Management - Twin Peaks

Image result for twin peaks 2017I've waited for the frenzy to die down a bit, allowing myself to digest Showtime's revival of David Lynch's cult show Twin Peaks. I've come to the conclusion that it was very much like the original show, in that there were certain things I couldn't get enough of, and other things I could have done without. Furthermore, that this sort of imbalance, which is frustrating because of how strongly the "good" segments resonate, is part of Lynch's style.

The great parts of this show were really great-I clung to every word during the FBI segments, and waited with baited breath for Dougie Jones to wake up, and realize himself as Agent Dale Cooper, the poor bloke who's been trapped in the red room for twenty-five years.  The segments taking place inside Twin Peaks were great as well-I especially loved Hawk's conversations with the log lady, and the seriousness of those scenes, despite their bizarre content. It made their dialogue feel immediate and urgent, despite its cryptic nature.  The same was true of the Garland Briggs narrative. You were never 100% sure what was going on, but you got more and more clues along the way. The special effects in alternative universes, swirling sky vortexes, and the lost time at Jack Rabbit's Palace were so out there, and yet so menacing and disturbing at the same time.Those scenes are the ones that satisfied the most.

On the lighter, humorous side, I loved the Horne brothers. They were endearingly hilarious, as were the Mitchum brothers.

Bringing everything we saw this time back around to Laura Palmer was a master stroke. But the problem was we didn't get any sort of revelation or closure as to the nature of Laura and the larger significance of her murder, or Cooper's quest to rescue her.  Not even a Lynchian conclusion.

For me, that comes down to a genius who has too many ideas in his head to see them all to fruition. There was an inordinate amount of time spent on things that ultimately didn't matter. Audrey Horne, for example. And her and (evil Cooper's?) son. And Norma's diner. The worst offender was Jacoby's "shovel out of the shit" radio program. While I fully appreciate that these things populate the world Lynch has built and give it some of its flavor, there were many episodes that felt slow as sin because too much time was being spent with them, to the detriment of the things that keep me absolutely riveted. The end result was a big fat question mark for Laura Palmer and Dale Cooper, and an only marginally satisfying reunion of Cooper with the Twin Peaks Sheriff Station.

Lynch's "take it or leave it" approach to his art is his prerogative as an artist, true. But, Lynch does not exist in a bubble. He has editors, producers, distributors, and an audience that have allowed his creation to come into being at all. So I don't think it's unreasonable for a show that's so unconventionally good to be somewhat conventional in leaving its viewers satisfied. I'm not saying I need a happy ending, but I need to be satisfied by what I watch, not frustrated by it. So as much as I loved Twin Peaks, there were lots of misses within its greatness, and I feel that Lynch made a major misstep by ending on the note that he did. There is only one solution: more Twin Peaks.

Rating: 4/5

Image result for twin peaks 2017
Seriously, Lynch? Come on!!!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

THE SPECTER OF THE INDIAN: BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE


I'm so pleased to announce the schedule for the blog tour of my historical nonfiction book, hosted by Pump Up Your Book!







Title: THE SPECTER OF THE INDIAN: RACE, GENDER, AND GHOSTS IN AMERICAN SEANCES, 1848-1890
Author: Kathryn Troy
Publisher: SUNY Press - Summary from their website HERE






Participants:


Monday, September 4

Tuesday, September 5

Wednesday, September 6

********

Monday, September 11

Tuesday, September 12

Wednesday, September 13

*******

Monday, September 18

Tuesday, September 19

Wednesday, September 20

*******

Monday, September 25

Wednesday, September 27

Thursday, September 28

Friday, September 29

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dark Fantasy Lite - Sea of Shadows

Sea of Shadows (Age of Legends Trilogy Book 1) by [Armstrong, Kelley]There's plenty to like in Kelley Armstrong's new Age of Legends Trilogy, starting with Sea of Shadows. A ritual meant to keep vengeful spirits at bay takes place annually in the Forest of the Dead . Twin girls are just old enough to conduct the ritual themselves, but things don't go smoothly-their entire village is wiped out by shadow monsters, and it's up to them to travel to the Imperial City to warn the emperor.

Armstrong did a lot of things right in this fantasy. I'm a sucker for rituals and legends coming to the foreground, and the legendary creatures that represent the main peril of this story were described in great detail. The narrative had darker strains, with great mood in the way the Forest of the Dead was depicted, as well as the devastation wrought on Edgewood, the village that lies just beyond. Characterization was spot on, both for the twins Ashyn and Moria and for the two other survivors, Ronan and Gavril, and the surprise twist at the end will absolutely keep me reading the rest of the series.

The main drawback of this series was the world building itself. The concept is a fine one, and I really appreciated that it had a more Eastern flavor in its underpinnings, but the depth and breadth of the world building were insufficient to match the concept. As I was reading, I could feel the potential for world building to have happened on an epic scale. Its beginnings were there, but in the end the language wasn't hefty enough to bring the world to life as much as it promised. Part of that was the action-oriented pacing of the plot, which focused on fighting monsters. There was nothing wrong with these segments, but they did stop us from feeling the world in all its fullness, and the book in truth could have been twice as long in its description to really draw me in to the universe.

Another thing that detracted was the sometimes too transparent use of culturally specific details. The worst offender was the ritual suicide as a form of defeat. The self-stab and then beheading for honor's sake is just too specific to Japan, and it pulled me out of the world. You want to use that concept? Fine, but make it your own in some way, don't just cut and paste. It was world building at its laziest.

Related image


And lastly, the author seems to have been confused about just what kind of threat she wanted to write about. The things that come out of the forest: are they shadow vapors? vengeful ghosts? shadow-stalkers, which is sort of like the walking dead? That concept was not cohesive. Discovering the source of the disruption is framed with a sense of urgency-figure it out, fix the problem, contain the spirits. But the political intrigue that becomes apparent in the last quarter of the book, while interesting, does not jibe with what we'd been presented with thus far, and does raise questions about the direction of the rest of the series. My vote is for something more spiritual and mysterious, rather than man-manipulated sorcery.

Overall I liked Sea of Shadows, but felt it was playing it a little safe. And for dark fantasy, you never want that. Hopefully the second installment will pick up the slack.

K Rating: 3.5/5
(No more 10s: too many numbers to keep track of)
**New Author Goal: 16 out of 30**

#15 was another I put down after about 75 pages: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I really wanted to like that book, but the writing was just atrocious, and little stupidities kept me from being engaged. Medieval Carcassone had suburbs? Really????

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Extreme Gothic: The Cure for Wellness

Very few films can claim to have it all. This one does. The Cure for Wellness (2016) has heady doses of Gothicism, body horror, psychological terror, and a disturbingly believable modern aesthetic.

New York financial analyst Lockhart is sent by his employers to fetch the boss, who's seemingly gone off the deep end while taking in the waters at a shi-shi  spa/clinic/resort/asylum set in the Swiss Alps. Then there's the old, "I'm not a patient" routine, and things devolve from there.


This movie has a lot of things going on, but they all work together in a surprisingly deft way that is simultaneously horrifying and refreshing. To summarize:

This is a solidly gothic film. The entire beginning of the plot is structured like Dracula-a young man at a firm sent to get the senior exec who's lost his marbles. He's staying up at the mountain, where the old castle has been converted to a luxe retreat for high-powered magnates suffering from society's ills. There is a sharp divide between the castle staff and the dwellers below-a legend of an incestuous, sadistic baron destroyed by fire, and rumors of crazy experiments keeping people away in the past and the present. There's the mysterious grounds keeper, who is not carrying water, as he claims, down to the subterranean bowels of the castle. There are secrets: hidden identities, relationships, motivations.

Image result for the cure for wellness movie
I'd be totally relaxed by this, wouldn't you?
It's also the best asylum-based horror scenario I've ever seen. I'm normally intrigued by such settings, but end up rolling my eyes at trite, tropish storytelling. Not here. The hydrotherapies offered at the castle were well-developed and thought out, and the water theme gave everything a sense of robust detail and cohesion. Nevermind that there's something in the water, and the clientele are slowly withering away like Egyptian mummies. Aside from the gothic layers, there are layers of mad science that, combined with the other elements of the film, turn the plot into more of a labyrinth. There are layers and sublayers, and then there are sublayers. Then's there's the sideways surrealism of such scenes where Lockhart gets lost in the steam rooms, made all the more special by the kinds of truly bizarre touches that earned the director, Gore Verbinski, kudos for his version of The Ring.

Jason Isaacs (the head doctor) wears an excellent mask of serenity as Lockhart's horror deepens, and the layers of deceit, exertions of power, and questions of sanity are just thin enough to be perfect. Normally, when one goes the way of cerebral terror, they refrain from body horror: the visceral, "oh my god I'm gonna be sick this is so cool" element. I've never seen the two work together so well, and this is mainly a praise of the careful plotting. Wrap both of those in a simultaneously gothic and modern sensibility, and this is the result: it borders on genius. This is a near perfect film, and my only regret is not seeing it sooner. The trailer did it absolutely no justice. But don't be fooled. This film is incredible, and should not be missed.

K Rating: 10/10

Image result for the cure for wellness movie

Saturday, August 5, 2017

A VISION IN CRIMSON - FREE - GET IT NOW ON AMAZON

As I work towards producing Book 2 of my Frostbite Series, there's no time like the present to fall in love with new worlds filled with dark magic, sizzling passion, and vampires. Pick up your copy of A Vision in Crimson from Amazon today!


Katelyn knows her magic is risky, but Icaryan light is fading fast and she is desperate. Returning to Earth, she crosses paths with Luca, a vampire hybrid living on the outskirts of humanity. Passion sparks their weary hearts. The rogue hunter follows Kately into a world teeming with wonder and danger, forsaking his own quest to root out his father.

But his father has not forgotten him.

A Vision in Crimson is the first installment of a new epic fantasy blistering with romance and Gothicism.


Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Dry Telling- The Unquiet Bones

I'm trying to bone up on my historical fiction. I was never much of a fan when reading history day-in and day-out was a necessity, but now that I am free of those fetters I can enjoy the creativity that can flow from such beginnings. I wouldn't have become a historian in the first place if I wasn't interested by the past.

But only certain bits of history intrigue me: the weird, strange, dark, or unnatural. Unidentified bones and multiple murders in Medieval England certainly qualifies. The story of The Unquiet Bones was clearly presented, perhaps too clearly most of the time. That might be the Law and Order enthusiast talking, but I was usually a few steps ahead of the plot, and wished for more complexity. At times. Most of the time, the mystery and its investigation were finely done.

What this story really lacked was a sense of flavor. It was very straight-forward and matter-of-fact in its telling, focusing on the same kinds of details-what is eaten, how cold Master Hugh's feet are- as he travels back and forth to seek out the killers. I wanted more ambience, more local, cultural robustness to round out this story and give it mood. Looking back now, I think I may have given too short shrift to Oliver Potzch's The Hangman's Daughter (see my review here). The plot may have been slow in some places, but wasn't always, and it had local character in spades, with fully developed characters that you were drawn to love and/or hate.

In contrast, Lord Gilbert seems very empty. His dialogue was usually just a mimicking of what Master Hugh had already said, which undermined both of them as distinct or unique in character and voice. It is hard to say whether I will pick up the next in the series, especially when there are so many other things to read. It's a shame that the cover art is so fascinating.

K Rating: 6/10
**New Author Goal: 14 out of 30**

Related image

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Oh. My. God. Castlevania!!

Rarely have I seen a more fulfilling adaptation of a thing I have loved so much for so long. Netlix's new anime of the Castlevania  series was a fantastic four episodes. My only complaint is that the first season was short. So short, in fact, that you barely get to see the inside of Dracula's castle, which is a huge deal. But that really is the only bad thing I can think to say, that I wanted more, and wished Netflix had had the guts to test the waters with a full season. They learned pretty quick though, and renewed the show almost immediately. Smart.

Here's my take on the highlights of Castlevania:

Dracula: Maybe this should go without saying, but still. They made him sympathetic, providing the burning of his wife as the motivation for the curse he lays upon Targoviste. At the same time, he is every bit as bad-ass as the punishingly difficult final boss that every player expects from Castlevania. My personal favorite was the pillar of fire.



Image result for castlevania netflix

Additionally, I liked that, in lieu of Dracula being irreparably, inexcusably evil, we have a very sinister view of the religious authority in the town, the one responsible for burning Mrs. Dracula. When he gets his comeuppance, it's both well-deserved and well-scripted. *MWAH!*

Image result for castlevania netflix
"I'm Trevor fucking Belmont."

The humor
: Despite the awesomely despicable gore (loved that whipped-out eyeball), there was a thread of grim humor throughout, which really added something to the dialogue, and the overall feel of the show. The material is definitely being taken seriously, but the dark humor feels authentic and genuine to the kind of apocalyptic scenario that Trevor Belmont and the people of Targoviste have thrust upon them.

The catacombs: Though we only got to see a small portion of Dracula's castle, the setup for it was really well executed. A small visual moment lets you know exactly when it's happened (the light bulbs indicative of Dracula's technology). But it was presented as a subterranean sector of the town itself, which in reality was a demonstration of just how far Dracula's reach over the town extends. Clever.

Can't wait for more. Gimme more. I need more!

K Rating: 5/5

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Straight-up Creepy: The Resident

I never hesitate to watch anything produced by Hammer Studios. The Resident (2011) was no different, and my interest was piqued by the presence of Jeffrey Dean Morgan (TWD's Negan) and the Hammer idol Christopher Lee himself.

The Resident is about a recently separated doctor (Hillary Swank, my least favorite person) who moves into a new apartment, and is never quite alone there. Creepiness ensues, and interest turns into obsession, turns into violent mania. That's about all I can say without giving away more.

Image result for the resident 2011


The film was fine, but it certainly wasn't Hammer's finest. The depravity of the voyeurism and the brutality accompanied by it were spot on, and the production values were spot on (especial kudos go out to the lighting department), but the plot was so straightforward it was disappointing. I really hoped for more psychological bends and twists, and wished the identity of the perpetrator had been kept from me. At least a little misdirection was wanted, and with it this film would have earned its place.

Image result for the resident 2011
The man needed more to do...how do you
underuse a talent like his????
There were plenty of choices as to who could be harassing the unsuspecting doctor-the new landlord, (we all know Negan is very capable of being a creepy mother-fucker), his old grandfather (he's been the scariest man/monster who's ever lived), or the philandering boyfriend who she stupidly lets back into her life. But I wasn't left guessing, not even for a little bit, about who the villain of the film was. And that really took away from it, for no discernible reason. They even pulled a weird directorial stunt of rewinding scenes not even of a quarter of the way through the movie to hit me over the head with the resolution of what I thought was the plot. Then everything was laid bare, and there was nothing left for me to do but sit back and watch the grossness unfurl. I would have much preferred being kept in the dark, finding out along with the dear doctor just what the hell is wrong with her apartment, and why she can't seem to wake up in the morning.

K Rating: 6/10

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mixed Signals: Standard Gothic Meets Paranoiac in The Widow's House

In my quest for new authors, it seems more common than not that the writers, and their stories, have great potential, but lack something in execution. The same is true of my recent read, The Widow's House. The back cover touted a terrifying gothic story set in the perpetually haunted Hudson Valley.

The "gothic" segments of the book were the hardest to swallow. For one, the protagonist Clare doesn't take her haunted situation very seriously. She states rather plainly what she saw, dismissing those supernatural instances out of hand before there's time to create any kind of atmosphere, mood, or sense of terror within the character. Automatically then, I can't be made to care much about these things either.

Second, the characters of the book (all old-school traditional (read really pretentious) writers seem to be bashing the very genre their author is writing in. That certainly didn't endear me to the book or its characters, but aside from that, it was contradictory to the plot. If Clare's husband, Jess, the "famous" (actually one moderate book ten years ago) writer balks at dilapidated houses and the stories bred by them, why is he so eager to move in to one, claiming inspiration? The only one writing a decent story in that house is Clare, based on a local Apple Blossom Queen. That was an interesting quirk, but unraveling the who's who of the story was convoluted, and not in an "AHA!" kind of way.

The plot didn't build in tension, mainly because every possible chance at a real gothic story was brushed aside, and was largely tropish. The concepts were good, but tropish. And I didn't really care about the growing distance between Clare and Jess. It wasn't exciting, or unpredictable, and again, it didn't endear me to Clare, who puts up with someone painted as lazy, self-centered, abusive, and potentially philanderous.

The last quarter of the book is the best part, but mainly because it is almost an entire shift in the book itself. Not just in the plot, but also in the kind of book you're reading. We went from a semi-haunted I don't-care-about-this story to a psychological thriller, which was exciting for the last few pages, but wasn't fully developed. The breadcrumbs that should have been there throughout really weren't. When Clare starts to question her reality, or when you start to question her reliability as a narrator, that is the author's best accomplishment in this book. But again, to see that kind of consistency in tension and telling throughout the book, rather than a sleepy novel that had a great ending, would have been immensely preferable.

This is what comes of dabbling: trying to write in a genre that you only half-heartedly, at best, seem to respect or even understand. When you look down your nose at the thing you're hoping to draw readers with, the result is usually half-assed. It's a mathematical certainty. GARBAGE IN= GARBAGE OUT.

I've said this many times before, but it is usually true. If you think this story is for you, watch Paranoiac instead. Or  Strait-Jacket.

K Rating: 5/10
**New Author Goal: 13 out of 30**


Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Lesson in Character: A Darker Shade of Magic

Four Londons: all distinct, with some parallels, bound by magic. One closed off from the others, whose horrors begin to creep back into the rest.

It's a great premise, which is of course why I picked up A Darker Shade of Magic. The plot itself: the invasion of hungry, murderous, black magic into the remaining realms: one on the brink of destruction, one prosperous, and our plain ol' regular London, felt fresh and new. The concept of how the worlds interacted with each other (which is to say very little), the description of different magical systems, (especially Black London's magic), all that was very good. But overall, the book was only "meh." For one glaring reason: the characterization sucked.

The two main characters, Kell and Delilah, are painfully shallow and contradictory. Kell is one of two remaining blood magicians, capable of traveling between worlds. For someone who wields unspeakable power, over blood and the elements, Kell is constantly on the run in this book. He was weak at every turn, waiting to be rescued by the female, presumably just for the sake of having the stronger character be female. Which in this universe, made not a lick of sense, since she's been living in Grey London (our London, where magic is forgotten). You wanna have her discover some powers she couldn't possibly have? Fine by me, but her snarkiness rubbed me entirely the wrong way. She came off as pig-headed rather than brave, which I didn't appreciate. Her biggest contradiction is that she thinks of herself as a pirate. She seems to have no seafaring background whatsoever, and of course no realistic conception of pirate as privateer - something the author would do well to demonstrate she understands. Additionally, her desire to do that, in addition to cross-dressing, and the use of a top hat are anachronistic. Tri-cornered hat is more like it, if she dreams of being a pirate.

It peeved me, these little details about how the worlds are built-essentially, that there wasn't a great attention paid to details. The concept of how the worlds interact is not enough-each one of those worlds felt empty, and I had to do a lot of the work in terms of imagining the places where the characters traveled, filling in gaps that the text didn't provide. And the secondary characters are worse-off than the mains: they get so little page-time, that they're barely established, let alone made complex and capable of growth. Which is a problem, because those are the people whom the mains care about. But I can't empathize with them about stock figures.

Then again, I'd like to see something substantial happen in this universe: not just plotwise, because that this book semi-accomplished, if in a somewhat rushed way, but the first book in this series left off suggesting that their escapades would be episodic, rather than part of a larger arc of depth and growth. Which is frustrating. I want to like this series. If I can just get some characters I can care about, I'll be fine.

K Rating: 5/10


**New Author Goal: 12 out of 30**

Sunday, July 2, 2017

A Shallow Horror -The Neon Demon

Beauty queens can be bitches. The beauty industry, likewise, is a dog-eat-dog world, with fierce competition between models, photographers, makeup artists, etc. That is the setting of The Neon Demon (2016), which follows the new "it" girl around L.A. for a few days, before things get ugly.



Overall I enjoyed this film, and appreciated the special attention paid to artistic shots, but it wasn't robust enough for me to merit it being a feature-length film. Not with the plot as thin as it was. This would have felt much sharper had it been shortened as part of an anthology, or simply just a short film, but the violence that is blended with the artistry of this film was only strong in certain places, leaving a lot of empty space in between scenes that could have carried a more complex plot, rather than the very expected jealousy that brews among girls who have been in the business longer than the angelic-looking newcomer, whose face and demeanor catch the eye of designers and photographers as being "true" beauty, rather than the manufactured faces and bodies of the competition.

Image result for blood and black laceWhen the competing girls try to capture the new girl's look (literally), things get interesting, and the violence is smartly done, but it just doesn't go far enough. By the time those scenes of violence begin to escalate, the movie is over. And the nature of the violence itself (I don't want to give it away) is something I have seen before, so as nice as the shots were, more originality would have paid off there. It's a matter of the writing, not the storytelling, if you catch my drift. And with subject matter like this, it's all too easy for me to compare it to Blood and Black Lace (1964). In other words, there's a very hard act to follow.

The director Nicolas Winding Refn has gotten my attention, but I want to see this kind of talent being put to real solid use. Firmer, more intricate writing on par with the photography would have made this stellar.

K Rating: 7/10

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Not Quite as Good as the First: The Wise Man's Fear

The Name of the Wind was one of the best books I read last year, and I was eager to continue Kvothe's story in the second installment of the Kingkiller Chronicle, The Wise Man's Fear.

This hefty volume picks up where the first book left off, with Kvothe studying to be an Arcanist while continually trading barbs with the wealthy, pig-headed Ambrose, struggling to keep his financial head above water, searching out his lady love, and, oh yes, searching for any clue at all to the legendary Chandrian who butchered his entire troupe for singing the wrong kinds of songs.

The lyrical, enticing language that drew me into the first book was still just as strong here, and certain parts of the story developed in ways that excited me: learning more about the Chandrian, for example, and laying the ground for hopefully more on that front in the next volume. I also never tire of the threads of the story dealing with the Edema Ruh, the troupe culture into which Kvothe was born. But I was disappointed by a number a small issues I took with the book, issues that accumulated as I continued to read. This book felt more repetitive than the first. Sometimes in the actual plot, where the day to day detail was so excruciating that it became redundant rather than enriching. I think specifically of the back and forth travels to Imre searching for the love interest Denna. Kvothe did the same thing hundreds of times in The Name of the Wind, and hundreds of times here. It got stale very quickly. So did the continual finding and loss/destruction of his beloved lute, and the perpetual problem of paying his tuition with a loanshark and having to pay her back. A book that was 1000+ pages didn't need that-it didn't make the story feel grander or more epic: if anything, it detracted, and gave it an underlying sense of the humdrum.

When Kvothe temporarily leaves the Arcanum to seek potential patronage in Vintas, the story splinters further, and while each individual sector may have been interesting, it did damage to the overall cohesion of Kvothe's narrative. While I fully understand that the hero's journey has multiple stops along the way, the presentation of those threads here were rarely satisfying. There was no appreciable development of Kvothe's character as a result of them, which bothered me the most. You're supposed to get stronger, smarter, better equipped, or what have you, to face the challenge at the end of the road: not continually be referred to (by yourself and others) as a clever fool. While in the Vintas court, it felt like we stepped into Game of Thrones for a bit, just for the sake of it. Then we veered off into a traveling mercenary band and then fairy land, where the siren Felurian showed Kvothe some interesting things-things that might develop further in book three, and might cast the whole series in a more tragic light. Then some darker moments involving an encounter with the Chandrian, which I absolutely did appreciate, because it moved Kvothe forward. This was perhaps the only thing in the book that accomplished that, which is sad.

Blue fairy print, Blue fairy artwork, beautiful fairy painting, magical fae, magic jar, fairy wings, fairy decor, fantasy art, blue artwork
Felurian, apparently, has turned Kvothe into a philanderer, both in Ademre and back at the Arcanum when the time comes. Not with Denna of course: the contradictions actually undermine the entirety of the tension between the two of them, rather than add to it. Ademre, another new locale for this book, had the opportunity to interest me more, because of more intel on the Chandrian held within the community, but that was not the focus. Here Rothfuss tried hard to show a foreign culture, and while I can see very easily that a great deal of thought went into the details of civilization, i.e. expression through hand gestures rather than facial changes, other parts like their open sexuality made no goddamned sense. That is the cultural historian in me talking, so maybe others would not complain, but I saw the contradictions in the Adem's claims to higher civilizations through control of the face. Given that context, the complete lack of control around sexuality and childbirth was incongruous. Controlling reproduction (through marriage) is one of the first markers of civilization across space and time. Just ask Foucault.

All in all, it didn't shake my desire to see the series to its conclusion, but I go to the third book (when it comes) a little warier, a little less excited than I was. And that's what's really sad.

K Rating: 7/10

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

In Defense of Lovecraft: Lovecraft Country

I made room for Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country on my shelf because, hey, it's Lovecraft! Ancient gods, mystery cults, cosmic horrors piercing the veil of sanity...what's not to like?

Here's what I don't like, and take extreme umbrage with. There has been a growing trend to look at Lovecraft-not his fiction, not his impact on genre literature-but at Mr. Howard Phillips himself, and say: this man was a racist, and his fiction, his legacy, requires correction.

What's the purpose of conjuring up nightmarish elder things when there are real monsters lurking in America? That's what Ruff would have us think-that since there were (and still are) real dangers in our society, wrought upon us every day by the racial divide sown into the very fabric of this country's creation, that there is no place for imaginative horrors and fantasies. Not by racists like Lovecraft, that is.

Through his character's mouths, Ruff says as much in one of the episodes in Lovecraft Country. The man's a racist, so his work shouldn't be read, shouldn't be praised. That sickens me to my core, and I'll tell you why.

1. In the twentieth century, for the entirety of the twentieth century but perhaps moreso in the 1920's during which Lovecraft was most active, everybody and their mothers were racists. Not only in America but especially in America: with a long history of slavery, then segregation mixed with terrorism, scientific racism, and an American eugenics movement (YES-the thing that brought Nazi Germany to the Final Solution), racism has always been and continues to be the order of the day. That doesn't make it okay, that doesn't normalize it, but it does contextualize it. Lovecraft, while sometimes vocal about his racial inclinations, was no better or worse than most of his New England neighbors. You only know that about him with more certainty because he was a writer. To define him by this is a nonstarter; it's not news, and it's not a definitive piece of his identity as a writer. To say that, based on his ideas about blacks and other ethnic minorities, his literature is not worth reading, is assinine. That kind of thinking would wipe from the earth practically everything penned by a white person until possibly the end of the twentieth century, when thinking about race in terms of cultural relativity even emerged as a school of thought.

Image result
Not even close, Ruff. Not even close
2. Matt Ruff couldn't shine Lovecraft's shoes. I read for about 75-100 pages, then I had to stop. For a book that touted itself as the answer to Lovecraft's whitewashed universe, the book was empty. The characters were flat, their universe was bland, and there was no mood whatsoever to be had in any of the short little tales that are only connected by the thinnest of threads. There was a seriously missed opportunity to inject African-American culture into this work in a real way. I'm thinking specifically of the "Which House," where the female character speaks to the ghost haunting the house, very calmly, in a defiant, stereotypically "uppity" manner. Why not deal with spirituality in black communities, Ruff? WHY THE HELL NOT???

But no. Everything was told in such a perfunctory, matter-of-fact way, that I could never connect to the characters, never feel the impact of their stories. First they got shaken down by the side of the road. After that, the protagonist's father is found in the basement of an arcane society that wants his blood. They escaped, then tried to find a diner that would service them.....

And it goes on and on like that. There's no emotion for any of the scenes, no matter the nature of the danger being faced. Both the perils of the Deep South and the unspeakable terrors of the Mythos can send shivers down one's spine. This book does neither.

3. It isn't the next Beloved. I'm a cultural historian by training. I've spent many years up to my eyeballs in the ideologies that have shaped this country into the divisive, hateful, self-important, deluded, bloodsucking thing that it (mostly but not always) is. So trust me when I say I know with a deep sincerity the scars of racial injustice in America, as much as someone can without it having been my own experience. On the literary side of things, I've read a tremendous amount of tremendous African-American literature. This is not that. This is a haphazard cobbling together of borrowed ideas watered down with nothing new or provocative added to the mix. What's written in these pages is in no way a contribution to a robust, meaningful, compelling literary history.

It's not what I expected: I expected a story that came at Lovecraft from a positive place, something that could add layers of racial dimensions that Lovecraft would not, indeed could not have thought of himself. Something to enrich the mythos, to enhance it. But it's not a bright and shining example of African-American literature. And it isn't genre fiction, by any stretch of the imagination. Which leaves us with nothing-just an empty shell of a book with Lovecraft's name on the cover.

That name, by the way, the one you would have us forget in favor of your own? That name on your cover is the only reason anyone took a second look at this book. And you would spit in his eye? Shame on you.

**New Author Goal: 11 out of 30**

Friday, June 16, 2017

Paper Thin - The Night Circus

I really wanted to like The Night Circus. It had all the pieces-a mysterious circus of dreams, competing magicians, a love story. At least, that's what the back of the book tells you. The only thing that was good about this book was the image of the circus it evoked, and the similarly mysterious but very chic Midnight Dinners hosted by the circus proprietor Chandresh.

Image result for the night circusBut that's all there is to it. How real magic operates in this universe is never specified, to the point where something intended to be mysterious just comes off as vague. Especially when the main tension of the plot is a magical competition between two young novices, Marco and Celia, pitted against each other without their consent by their mentors, who I think are supposed to subscribe to different forms of magic, or different approaches to magic..I can't really tell you, because I was never told myself. Too much was lacking in this story, for the sake of pretty words.

There's no chemistry: The supposedly star-struck lovers almost never see each other. They have no reason to get together, other than that the book demanded it of them. There's no sizzle on the page, and romantic, dramatic scenes are hollow and empty, without feeling a bond between the characters. Not to mention, there's the slight problem of the girl Marco has been living with for over a year, who he seems to like, but then ignores-that did not endear him to me at all. Their supposed romance doesn't even have the backdrop of the magical brinkmanship I was led to believe the book was about, because they don't view each other as competitors. It's their tutors who are at war. Given the eye-rollingly obvious homages to The Tempest, my guess is the author was going for the love-sickness of Romeo and Juliet, but Shakespeare this girl is not, and the few lines dedicated to the romance plot are empty. But without that, there is no plot, so....

Image result for the prestigeThe book's narrative is occasionally non-linear, and sometimes years pass (or so I'm told, but since nothing ever changes I find that hard to believe),  and it's very hard to see an urgency in this competition. It is too subtle-we are told the stakes are high, but it could take forty or more years to complete? And the players (and by extension, the reader) don't even understand the game they're destined to play? I was hoping for something more like The Prestige. Now those mofo's hated each other, constantly compelled to one-up each other. That's what this book needed: a real sense of competition, and of development, both of plot and character. There was a potential story between the senior magicians, Prospero and Alexander, but that's not the story we're told. Lots of potential and imaginative concepts were lost on this paper thin plot, where even the mains felt like extras. That's how shallow and flat they were.

K Rating: 4/10

**New Author Goal: 10 out of 30**
# 8 was Ilana C. Meyer's Last Song Before Night. I didn't review, because I didn't finish. It dragged.
#9 was The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. Want a review?  Pretentious, metaphysical, self-important bullshit. There you have it.