BookBin2015: Locke & Key: Alpha & Omega

alphaomega

Okay, this one is going to be very brief, as Alpha & Omega is the last in a series of graphic novels that I already have professed multiple times to love. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez created a tantalizing, terrifying world in this series of novels that I definitely cannot wait to revisit in its entirety, thanks to the box set I bought earlier this month.

I have to say that this final novel did let me down a bit, but I believe that this was due more to the setting in of the depressing truth that this was the last Locke & Key visit I would get to make to Lovecraft, Massachusetts (yes, that still cracks me up every time I think about it). I think a sliver of responsibility for this disappointment also rests with the fact that so much time passed in between all my forays into this realm. Again, looking forward to re-reading them all at once, rediscovering what made me love this series in the first place, and hopefully discovering some more of the many enthralling ways that Hill and Rodriguez blew me away with their artwork and storytelling.

Huzzah and hooray.

Flashback Friday: Watcher in the Woods

Some people can say that their first exposure to Bette Davis was through one of her classics like All About Eve or Dark Victory or Jezebel—or even that camp classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And while I do love me some Baby Jane Hudson, I must confess that my first exposure to La Grande Dame Davis was through what might be one of the more terrifying Disney live-action movies I’ve ever seen: the 1980 “family” horror film The Watcher in the Woods.

First, check out the poster art for this one:

twitw

Actually, this was the poster artwork that Disney did for the film’s DVD release. Still, it does quite a satisfying job of visually summarizing the creepy factor of this movie. Here, watch the trailer:

Lovely, no? So what’s it all about, Alfie? Well, it’s about a family who moves into a manor owned by Mrs. Aylwood, played by Ms. Davis. The family’s older daughter Jan looks remarkably like Mrs. Aylwood’s daughter Karen, who disappeared 30 years ago under still-unexplained but supremely creepy circumstances. Others notice the similarity as well, including a watcher. In the woods.

All together…hilarity thus ensues.

Just as Clue played a memorable role in that portion of my adolescence filed under the “Slumber Party” tab, so, too, did this movie. And while I haven’t seen the film in many a moon, it was memorable enough that it has remained embedded deep in my brain (and might still make me want to have a dog named Nerak) and made me terrified of Bette Davis for years.

[Okay, to be honest, I’m still kind of terrified of Bette Davis. That was a woman you did not want to cross.]

For being a family-oriented company, I have to say that Disney can pull out the stops when it comes to the creepy factor. Plus, there was that stretch of time when the company seemed quite obsessed with the occult. Witchery popery popery witchery. Or something like that. Whatever, the point is, Disney has always liked a bit of occult in their films and this one was no exception.

Does this movie stand up to the passage of time? Well…no, not really. It came out more than 30 years ago. Give it a break. It was top-notch at the time, though, and part of what made it so spectacular was Davis. True, she took some…questionable roles in her later years, but she was Bette Davis. Bette Davis on a bad day puts most actors on their A-game to utter shame.

If you’ve never seen The Watcher in the Woods, give it a try. It might be fun…or at least good for a laugh, depending on how jaded you are. And if you have seen it, then enjoy this clip of the alternate “alien” ending, which I’m quite glad they didn’t use for the film. It’s a bit…no.

BookBin2015: Detective Ellie Hatcher Series

elliehatcherseries

I think I finally did it, denizens. I found a detective series that I like—with caveats, of course. Come on now, it is me who’s writing this. I come with caveats.

And before anyone points out that I have had mostly glowing things to say about J.K. Rowling’s go at sleuthing through her Robert Galbraith nom de plume, I kind of expect a great deal from Rowling as a writer because of my years of exposure to her storytelling style. The fact that I like her mystery novels, I suppose, didn’t really surprise me all that much.

The fact that I so swiftly and thoroughly fell in love with Alafair Burke’s storytelling was a completely delightful surprise to me. I’d never heard of Burke, so when I happened upon All Day and a Night in the local library’s Recently Released section, I tossed it into my stack of books as sort of a “luck of the draw” pick that sounded potentially interesting.

It wasn’t until I was well into this book that I realized it was part of a series based on the lead character, New York City Detective Ellie Hatcher. Burke does a fantastic job of telling a satisfying stand-alone story, with benign-enough mentions to the previous books in the series that I didn’t feel as though I was unable to “get” any part of the story or the characters. However, the hints and the holistically pleasing denouement of this book were enough that I immediately went to the library’s site and tracked down the rest of the series: Dead Connection, Angel’s Tip, 212, and Never Tell.

I roared through all four of the rest of the Ellie Hatcher series in less than a month. I really, really like Ellie Hatcher. I found her to be an interesting filter through which readers approach the various crimes of Burke’s series. I suppose the only major complaint I had was how brutal all the stories are to women. Sort of similar to my ultimate complaint about the primary crimes of The Fall, the recent British detective series that starred Gillian Anderson, it seems almost as if Hatcher’s cases must almost always start with female victims or inevitably include female victims, more often than not of female-specific crimes, be it stalking, sexual assault, abduction, or some really gruesome torture. She lives and works in New York City, FFS. There has got to be some violence going down against some dudes somewhere in her district.

Okay, that’s not completely fair. There are crimes that involve male victims—but they almost seem tangential to the main ring brutality against women. I understand the very real implications that it’s mostly women who become victims of the types of crimes that detective stories want to focus on. If it bleeds, it leads. Or, apparently, entertains.

I know, I’m starting to sound like I didn’t enjoy these books. I honestly did. And I’m definitely on board for reading Burke’s next case for Detective Hatcher. I’m just going to hold out hope that the next one might bear in mind that crime happens to guys, too.

Final Verdict: I actually could see myself going back and re-reading these books and looking for clues that I might have missed along the way (although I’m quite pleased with myself that I was able to suss out the perps before the big reveals…and that I’m now using words like “perps” in my regular writing). I’d also actually like to go back to All Day and a Night and see what things might make more sense to me now that I’ve read all the preceding novels. I could make room in my library for Detective Ellie Hatcher. I also might read some of Burke’s other novels.

BookBin2015: Born with Teeth

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Kate Mulgrew will cut you.

Okay, that’s not true. Maybe. Possibly. She’s played characters who would cut you, though. Or place a used tampon in your English muffin if you insult her cooking (and, yes, I see what she did there). Or fire you out of the torpedo tube if you get in the way of her first (or any) cup of coffee. She’s made a career of playing tough women who know that the show goes on with or without you, so you best be ready to keep playing your role. After reading Mulgrew’s memoir Born with Teeth, I definitely believe that she takes on roles like these because she’s made of the same mettle (and metal) as every single one of her most memorable characters. You think Captain Janeway was tough? You don’t want to get on Red’s bad side?

Wait ’til you meet Kate.

Seriously, though, Mulgrew possesses an enviable dedication to enduring, both professionally and personally. She has experienced a full range of successes and failures that have chiseled her into a person of many gorgeous facets. She also delivers a memoir stripped to its essence. Mulgrew is not flowery or discursive. She remains on point and sharply honest. I got the impression that there were gaps in her timeline, not because she had forgotten those things or even that she wanted to paint over them. Rather, she isn’t ready to speak of them with the level of honesty she wanted for this book. And it does come across as honest. And I honestly love that.

Final Verdict: Since I’ve already mentioned this book in my review of the recent Sally Ride biography I read, it’s a safe bet that I’m keeping this book. I did pre-order it the day it released on Amazon. I adore Kate Mulgrew, even more now that I have read her memoir. If you are a fan, then I can happily recommend this book to you. I believe you will be pleased.

BookBin2015: Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

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I’m doing things a bit backward. I had hoped to finish posting the rest of my reads from the end of last year. That’s just not happening right now. Too much “other” going on at the moment. And, of course, I’ve got several books from this year that I should be posting first…but this seemed like the right place to start, on the right day.

See, yesterday would have been Dr. Sally Ride’s 64th birthday, had cancer not had different plans for her. It seemed only right, then, to make a special effort to finish Lynn Sherr’s recently released biography on Dr. Ride, very aptly and originally named Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space.

Of course, as I commented elsewhere, when you have the distinction of having been the first American woman in space, there really isn’t a more appropriate or better title than that for your biography.

As I already stated, I finished reading this book last night. I couldn’t stop thinking about it—or aching from it—for about an hour afterward. The final few chapters are quite difficult to get through, not just because they touch upon Dr. Ride’s decline and death from pancreatic cancer, but also because they go into (slightly) more detail about the relationship she kept private for nearly 30 years.

I know many people within the LGBTQ community were angry with Dr. Ride for hiding the fact that she was gay, only allowing the news to be released in her obituary. Some have even gone so far as to label her a traitor to the fight for gay rights. IMHO, anger is deserved but misplaced. If you want to be angry, be angry with the culture that prevailed at the time Dr. Ride decided to enter NASA and become an astronaut. Be angry at the militaristic conservatism of a former boys’ club that in no way would have tolerated or even accepted an openly gay person among their astronaut corp. This was the agency that, as late as the early 1990s, tried to convince on-staff medical providers to add homosexuality to a list of disorders that would disqualify astronaut candidates.

But anger at Dr. Ride?

We hear people talk all the time about sacrifice to get what they want. We hear it from athletes. We hear it from politicians. We hear it from celebrities. Sally Ride sacrificed (and was lucky to have a partner willing to bear the sacrifice with her). She sacrificed herself to what she saw as a greater purpose—representing and supporting NASA, serving the myriad students she taught and inspired (many of whom ended up working for the space agency she so clearly felt devoted to), encouraging and educating young girls in the pursuit of STEM goals. She sacrificed by compartmentalizing her life so thoroughly that not even close lifelong friends knew of her relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy. Suspected. But never knew. Dr. Ride was a woman tightly protective of her privacy and fiercely focused on her goals.

Toward the end, was this because she still believed that such information would be damning? Did she believe that corporate sponsors and conservative parents would refuse the help of an organization run by two lesbians (something not that difficult to imagine as a legitimate fear back then when even today we have businesses refusing to serve gay patrons)? Or was it simply that she didn’t know how to let go of the control that she had kept over everything her entire life? It’s all speculation at this point, now, as author Lynn Sherr duly notes. Sherr, by the way, was friends with Dr. Ride, having spent a large portion of her career covering NASA, and Dr. Ride’s family and partner asked her to write this book.

Whatever her reasons, Dr. Ride did what she felt was necessary, and she made our world that much better because of it. She was the first American woman into space because she was the best choice for the job, period. She continued to support NASA throughout the rest of her life, even when it meant serving on the investigative commissions of both shuttle accidents, Challenger in 1986 and Columbia in 2003. She established Sally Ride Science as a way of encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams all the way to the stars, just as she had. She saw the danger that loomed ahead for this country as we fell further and further behind in the global STEM rankings. She also saw the danger of ignoring the fragility of our ecosystem and she constantly and consistently delivered the message that we needed to be more aware of our impact on this world because it’s the only home we have.

She was a remarkable human being who just happened to be a woman, who just happened to be gay. Hers was a life that deserves celebration, if not also a soupçon of sadness at the possibility that she lived a life incomplete because she felt it had to be so.

Final Verdict: I actually first started reading this as a library checkout, but stopped when I realized that I was going to buy it for myself. It will be going on my autobiography/biography shelf, right next to another book I recently read all about another woman who was first on her own trek to the stars.

Photo Fun Friday: Richard Simmons

I don’t know what I want to do with Flashback Friday. In some ways, I feel as though that particular part of the lair has run its course. Not sure. Still hashing it out.

Photo Fun Friday, though, is something I still enjoy doing. And I’ve been having these weird ideas for photo mash-ups that combine celebrities with similar names. Kind of like what I did with Dylan McDermot Mulroney or Steven Tyler Moore. Oh, or Tawny Kattan. I still get a kick out of that one.

Then there’s Richard Simmons. This bolt of lightning hit me during my commute this morning.

richard-simmons

Fabulous Photo Friday: Zoonami!

This is the post that started the downfall of the lair last September. I wanted to find a nice photo gallery plug-in, which I thought I had. Turns out, though, that because my CMS was already crashing, the plug-in just served to bring it down even more. Strangely, that same plug-in still won’t play nicely with my blog. Oh well, just had to find a new one.

These are photos from a trip I took to San Diego in January 2014. For a couple of exquisite reasons, my time at the San Diego Zoo quickly became the pinnacle of my time there. I spent practically from the moment the zoo opened until right when it closed, roaming the paths, snapping tons of photos, and just standing, mesmerized, while watching all the marvelous beasties at play.

Here, then, are my favorite photos from that day.

See You in the Funnies

Okay, denizens, you can relax. I’ve made my decision. I’m not going to write individual reviews of all the books that I finished last year while I struggled to rebuild my lair (I know, many of you were probably up for many nights,  pondering what my decision would be). I have 15 books from that time frame (not counting the books that I have finished already in 2015). With what I wrote last time about not wanting this to just be a book review blog, I think it makes more sense to condense my reviews rather than posting 25 book reviews (yes, I’ve already finished 10 books so far this year; those I might actually review individually).

This post, therefore, will be for the graphic novels that I finished at the end of 2014. What’s going to make this an even quicker post is the embarrassing truth that I don’t really remember a whole lot about what I wanted to say about some of these novels. Old age, my friends. It’s coming.

Let us begin…

parker1

I admit right away that I knew nothing of Richard Stark or his character Parker when I saw these three graphic novels at the library. All I knew was that they were new to the graphic novel section and there were three of them. For some reason, I’m always more inclined to pick up new graphic novels if they’re a series and more than one is available right away. Weird, right?

After reading all three of these novels, I did a little investigating and stumbled across the Web site The Violent World of Parker, which actually provides quite the appropriate blurb on Parker:

You’ve heard of the hero and the anti-hero…how about the non-hero? That’s how Parker, the main character in a series of novels by Richard Stark (AKA Donald E. Westlake) has been described. Parker is a thief, but he’s no charming cat burglar who playfully eludes the silly authorities. He’s a ruthless thug who does whatever it takes to get what he wants (usually money), and he doesn’t care about a living soul other than himself. Some of the things he does will be repellent (I hope) to readers.

Thug? Yes. Non-hero? Yes. Repellent? Yes. I don’t envision myself reading any more of these graphic novels or ever reading the original books on which they were based. However, I have to say that Darwyn Cooke did a fantastic job of translating Parker and his world into a neo-noir, almost Sin City-esque monochromatic nightmare world in which there aren’t really good guys. Just degradations of bad. Where does Parker fall on this spectrum of gray? Well, I’ve confirmed that he’s a non-heroic thug who does repellent things. You’re smart. You can suss this out.

Final Verdict: Beautiful, succinct artwork does very little to diminish the inherent ugliness of Parker’s world. As crime novels go, I suspect that true fans might adore Parker. I did not, but I give credit where it is due. Cooke has taken existing stories and given them a compelling visual spin.


batman1

This will be an even quicker review. Again, I picked up the first two graphic novels for the New 52 reboot of Batman because they appeared as a pair. A mediocre, rather banal pair. I actually found the storylines tedious. Then again, I haven’t really found Batman to be anything less than that description for quite some time. Over-saturation is never a good thing for me.

I willingly admit that I should not have picked up these novels, even if they did arrive as a pair at the library. I’m not interested in Batman’s world right now. Also, the pressing present need to make everything dark and grave and bleak is no longer appealing to me, even with the Caped Crusader and his filthy Gotham. Plus, Batman keeps spiraling ever-downward into a fugue state of vigilante insanity that I fail to find appealing. I grew up watching Adam West as Batman. This new guy? He really needs to lighten up.

And is it just me, or is Bruce Wayne an overindulged narcissist? This was the image that really hit this truth home to me (not the text; just the image itself):

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“Why, of course I’ll help you, orphan…but only if you’re a young White male who looks exactly like I did when I was orphaned. I can’t be helping riff-raff who won’t look as good in a tux as I do.”

Bruce Wayne is a jerk. Discuss.

Final Verdict: I promise, I won’t check out any further adventures of Narcissisto Whackadoodle and his band of merry clones as long as I’m in my current state of mind regarding superheroes.


ldoai

I actually deeply enjoyed Fabien Vehlmann’s Last Days of an Immortal. Simple, desaturated, slightly impressionistic art masking the futuristic complexities of a sci-fi mystery. What’s not to love about that? The text deals with numerous concepts that many a sci-fi nerd has wrestled with, I’m sure, including the allure of immortality—as well as the inevitable tarnishing of said allure when what is wished for is finally obtained.

Lisle:
Siempre Viva! Live Forever!

Ernest:
Then what?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
Then what happens?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
I don’t want to live forever. I mean, it sounds good, but what am I gonna do? What if I get bored?

Lisle:
What?

Ernest:
And what if I get lonely? Who am I gonna hang around with, Madeleine and Helen?

Yes, I just quoted Death Becomes Her.  You’re welcome.

Final Verdict: I definitely want to revisit this novel.


edtwof

I thought I would never finish this book. I used to read Alison Bechdel’s strip “Dykes to Watch Out For” when I was in college. I didn’t read it with regularity, but I read enough of it to keep up with the general flow. However, when I discovered this massive beast of a collection at the library, I couldn’t resist revisiting those Essential Dykes.

I think that Bechdel’s efforts with this strip were, pardon the pun, essential at the time she actively drew them. She challenged misconceptions and represented the lesbian community at a time when representation was critical. It wasn’t all positive representation, mind you, but that’s life. The expectation that gays must be flawless beyond reproach—eunuchs of purest, guileless intent—to be tolerated (not accepted…tolerated), is, as my father would be most likely to say, “rubbish” (thank you, BBC America, for confirming his continued standing as an Anglophile).

However, that was where the mindset was evolving at the time when Bechdel’s Sapphic squad was in its prime. People are people, flaws and all. We’re messy, we humans. All of us. The beauty of Bechdel’s strip was that it wasn’t all beautiful. But it was fairly real. Bechdel wasn’t into the Will & Grace approach. She didn’t want her characters to be one-dimensional, static, bland. She made them damaged, well-intentioned, raw, emotional, ravenous, intellectual, sumptuous, eclectic.

She made them people. Imagine that.

Final Verdict: As essential as I agree Bechdel’s strip was, I’m not kidding. I seriously felt as though I would never finish this collection. It was like the friggin’ Energizer Bunny. I suspect that it’s best consumed in bits and bobs, which one might be able to do if one owned this. However, I was under a time limit, thank you, library. OVERLOAD. I suspect I might change my mind later and perhaps want to revisit this book, but not yet. Still, I heartily acknowledge the value and importance of Bechdel’s contribution to gay literature.


revolverI’m not really sure why I picked up Matt Kindt’s Revolver, but I did find elements of it to be quite enticing. The crux is that we are witnessing the main character, Sam, as he revolves between two parallel existences—one in which he is a run-of-the-mill office worker, slinking through a life that leaves him almost completely disengaged and disinterested in everything; and the other in which he finds himself struggling to survive a post-disaster nightmare that finally reaches him and forces him to take control and take and active role in creating his own path. In one, he just survives and in the other he is just barely surviving. One leaves him a husk and the other finally lights a fire within him and makes him want to do whatever it takes to keep going and keep doing what he thinks needs to be done. In one universe, he finds a purpose that he had completely abandoned even considering in the other. Though violent and destroyed and uncertain at best, the post-apocalyptic universe seems to be where it’s at for young Sam. Who knew?

I don’t remember being terribly blown away by the artwork, but I did enjoy the story and I found a couple of things to be quite creative. For instance, the bottom of every page, where the page numbers appear, had a news ticker into which the page numbers were somehow embedded as part of whatever news item was being reported, whether in the bland universe or the catastrophic one. Well-played there, Mr. Kindt.

Final Verdict: Good read but not one I marked as wanting for my own collection.


I grabbed Matt Howarth’s quick graphic novella The Downsized downsizedfrom the shelf as sort of an afterthought. I recognized it as being new and figured that it would take me no more than the better part of an hour to read it. What’s the harm in that?

It was definitely a very quick read. The Amazon review describes it at one point as “Think Big Chill for the new millennium.” I can kind of see that. Just without the music. Or the depth.

Not to say that this isn’t a well-considered story. It’s a slice-of-life contemplation on the status of the lives of several friends (and former lovers) who have gone through a series of tumultuous professional and personal experiences.

It’s called life.

Of course, there are a couple of unexpected twists to the story, which I suppose also fall soundly and correctly within the descriptive boundaries of “life” as well. I don’t really have much else to say about this one. Also, I’d hate for this review to go any further. It might end up being longer than the actual story.

Final Verdict: Nah, I’ll pass.

Cinco de Loba

My world started falling apart a few months ago.

Not my actual world. That’s still quite spectacular, thank you. No, my virtual world. My online lair. Here. You may or may not have noticed it. Things started slowly shutting down. Things were never quite right with my WordPress CMS after some kind of glitch in a regular update many many moons ago, but it was never bad enough to cause me to have to fix it. I just had to work around the inconveniences. I couldn’t save drafts. I couldn’t schedule uploads. I wasn’t able to preview posts. Stupid things that started adding up to larger, more irritating things.

Then the degradation began to become worse, until finally one day my site simply stopped working. The posts on the front page would load, but links to other pages stopped working and links to the individual posts stopped working. And then.

Poof.

Nothing would load. Nothing would back up. Nothing would save.

Honestly? I was a little heartbroken. I thought that I was going to have to scrap the entirety of my blog and start fresh. Somehow, though, I was able to force the CMS to give one final push and dump out the text. I was then able to get Adobe Acrobat to give me a PDF of a significant portion of my site, and I was able to save the photo folder from my ISP.

It took a hot minute, but slowly, I got the blog back together, purged my old WordPress site and built it back up, new. I haven’t completely finished tweaking and adding everything back, but the foundation is there, and it’s finally and once more solid. It’s taken me another hot minute or two to finally eke out the time to make this first new post to my “new” blog. My actual world is, as I said, quite lovely holistically. Certain cogs in the wheel, however, are squeaky and require far more attention than I used to have to give them. Those cogs have been consuming not just a lot of my time but more of my energy than a salt vampire at a Morton’s Factory.

Yeah, I’m still a nerd. Nothing’s ever going to change that.

However, the longer the time that passed since everything went Louie Kablooie, the more I realized how much I missed coming here and writing, even if it was just a review of whatever book I’d just finished. Oh, and for the record, I’ve been keeping a running tally of all the books I’ve read since my last BookBin review and I plan on posting reviews of them. I just need to decide whether or not I want to do individual reviews for all the ones I finished in 2014 or just lump them together into one summary. Because, see, I don’t want this to just be a book review blog anymore. I kind of lost my way for a while and didn’t really have a whole lot to write about. I think that’s changed.

All I know is that I have missed coming here. I’ve missed my lair. I’ve missed writing for fun, for myself. So, like Norma Desmond, I’ve come home at last.

And this time will be bigger and brighter than we knew it
So watch me fly, we all know I can do it

Okay, enough Broadway. You’ve survived to the end of this post. Have this photo of an adorable kitty as a reward. He’s my dad’s newest cat. He’s skittish as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and when my dad found him outside, he had puncture wounds in his neck from being attacked by a dog. He’s so nervous that it took three days of patience before he was finally comfortable enough with my presence to allow me to pet him. But he’s adorable, isn’t he? Who doesn’t love adorable kitties?

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