BookBin2014: The Silkworm

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It looks like this is the year when I rediscover J.K. Rowling, eh? I’ve already reviewed The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling this year, and obviously enjoyed them enough that I wanted to continue reading Rowling’s more adult fare. I have to admit that I wasn’t quite prepared to jump into her latest offering, The Silkworm, just yet. However, when the library emails to inform you that you’re next in line for a popular book you’ve placed on hold? You make yourself ready.

As with The Cuckoo’s Calling, this is another book Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and another book featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike. Again, I have to say that I love Rowling’s ability to create holistically stimulating worlds for her characters and, subsequently, her readers. I love falling into the pages of these books, walking alongside these characters. I think Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are delightful and I enjoy every moment I’ve gotten to spend with them thus far. I admittedly find some of the secondary characters irritating, but that’s life, innit? The core is compelling, and that’s what matters most.

I also enjoyed the plot of this novel a bit more than the first Cormoran Strike story. Much darker than the first story. Much more gruesome and sinister. This story focuses on the fate of an out-of-favor author who goes missing, only to turn up murdered in a manner similar to the fate of the protagonist in his latest book. With only a select group of people having seen said manuscript, it’s up to Strike and Ellacott to shake away the chaff and find the culprit.

Let’s drag out the dead horse that I usually beat at this point regarding mystery novels. All together now: “Not my cuppa.” Fine. I think they might at least be growing on me…or at least, Rowling’s take on the genre is wearing me down. This story was a lot less anticlimactic in its reveal than I found the reveal to be for The Cuckoo’s Calling. I still felt slightly “meh” regarding this reveal (perhaps because I had started to pick up on where the story was heading and why), but more for my own personal mystery aversion. Objectively, Rowling pulled together a fantastic story. Also, she’s quite the twisted sister. Me gusta. There were a couple of particularly vicious reveals that either made me newly appreciative of her obvious internal darkness or laugh as a result of my own gallows humor. Rowling continues to impress me with her authorial acumen to a point where, even when I don’t necessarily enjoy the genre, I’m still going to willingly go along for the ride because I know the driver is so impressively skilled.

Final Verdict: Even though I wasn’t quite prepared to fall down the mystery novel rabbit hole once again, Rowling made it easy for me to follow her by providing me with another riveting visit to yet another one of her skillfully built worlds. Actually, I think I enjoyed this one enough that I could see it finding its way into my library. Definitely looking forward to the next Cormoran Strike tale!

BookBin2014: Batwoman Volume 4: This Blood Is Thick

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I’m quite sad that I am here to give a rather lackluster review to my latest adventure with Kate Kane. Perhaps it’s because the last collection was, by far, the best of the best since Batwoman’s “New 52” relaunch. After all, it’s kind of hard to top Batwoman partnering with Wonder Woman. Also, Williams was back as the artist, which you all know delights me to no end. And both Williams and Blackman were fiercely on-point when it came to that collection’s story arc. Simply put, the third collection was perfection, IMHO.

The fourth volume, This Blood Is Thick, isn’t awful (that’s such backhanded praise, no?). Something about it, however, didn’t set well with me. Perhaps it had more to do with my knowledge of the behind-the-scenes issues. As fans know, this was Williams and Blackman’s last run as Batwoman’s authors. She’s now in another’s hands, with Williams and Blackman not even concluding the cliffhanger on which this collection ends. It’s a good cliffhanger, to be sure…but that just makes it all the worse. Dance with the one who brought you, DC. They brought the Lady Kane to this precipice. They should have been the ones allowed to lead her over the edge.

But I digress.

Perhaps it also was because Batwoman actually doesn’t get all that much air time in this collection. Surprisingly, for being the titular character, she’s almost relegated to supporting cast a lot of the time. That’s not necessarily terrible, since many of the supporting characters in Batwoman’s world are pretty ace…but I still would like my fair share of time with the star of the show. Also, I didn’t really like the injection of Batman villains into Batwoman’s storyline. I get why they’re there, but I have always enjoyed that Batwoman kind of exists in her own…what? Parallel universe to Batman and the rest of the Bat family? They don’t really intersect all that often (although Batgirl got a full-on taste of Batwoman’s mad skills a while back). I like that. But this time, seeing Batwoman going up against Batman foes like Mr. Freeze and Bane? I don’t know anything about these characters…and I don’t care to. They aren’t Batwoman characters. So GTFO.

Says the one who went crazy over Wonder Woman’s appearance in the last collection.

Finally, though, it really is the ending that really pissed me off with this collection. Again, Williams and Blackman were cut off at the knees here. They’d already written Issue 25 (the continuation of where this collection ended) and were beginning to plan out Issue 26, which would have ended the arc of this particular Batwoman run. They knew where all the characters were going to end up, they knew how they were going to conclude the story…and now? Now we’re never going to get their ending. And that sucks. Seriously, I reached the last page and felt oh so frustrated and not the least bit furious. Really? That’s it? That’s how you wanna roll with this, DC Comics? Lame.

Final Verdict: All that being said, I’m keeping this in my collection. I don’t think that it was so terrible that I don’t want to own it anymore. I am, however, very disheartened by the truncated whimper on which Williams and Blackman have gone out with Batwoman. This is the last batch of their comics, and the next collection will mark the arrival of the new Weaver of Tales for the Lady Kane, Marc Andreyko. I’m not sure what to expect with the next collection, but I love the character enough that I’m willing to give it a proper chance to impress me. All I have to say is don’t blow this, Andreyko. I don’t take kindly to people fumbling my fandoms.

Photo Fun Friday: Dylan McDermot Mulroney

I’m struggling to find the time and the motivation for posting lately, but this was another one of those “inspired-by-true-events” misspoken names, a la the now infamous Tawny Kattan photo (which is still probably less traumatic than Steven Tyler Moore), that turned into an “I have to make that happen” PhotoShop moment.

Without any further explanation or any further ado, I give you…Dylan McDermot Mulroney. You are, of course, very welcome.

Dylan McDermott Mulroney

BookBin2014: Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend

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Before you even ask, no. I have never seen a Rin Tin Tin movie. I have never seen a Rin Tin Tin show. I didn’t even know what the original Rin Tin Tin looked like until I read this book (or how different German Shepherds used to look in comparison to how they look now). However, these facts speak to the illustrious ubiquity of this dog in such a way that I felt compelled to borrow Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin: The Life and Legend from the library when I saw it. I don’t know about in other countries, but here in the United States, the name Rin Tin Tin is so entrenched in the American pop culture lexicon that I’m absolutely certain that there are myriad others, just like me, who have never once seen any Rin Tin Tin movie or show, and yet know precisely who Rinty is.

For those who might not know, Rin Tin Tin is a German Shepherd (or Alsatian, as I believe the breed is called in some other countries) of epic entertainment proportions. I use “is” rather than the past tense, even though the original Rinty has been dead for many years, because just like other famous dogs—Lassie, Benji, Toto, Snoopy, Scooby—the dog might die but the name lives on (okay, Snoopy and Scooby can’t die). In Rin Tin Tin’s case, however, the name isn’t merely a stage name given to another dog. Lassie was never Lassie. Lassie was Pal. Benji was Higgins. Toto was Terry. But Rin Tin Tin…was Rin Tin Tin.

The life and legend both began during World War I, in a field in Flirey, France, where American soldier Lee Duncan found two German Shepherd pups still alive among the wreckage of a battle-damaged kennel. Duncan, a quiet, shy young man who found solace from an emotionally turbulent childhood in animals, claimed to instantly see something special in little Rinty and fought to bring him home once he was discharged from service. Back home in California, Duncan trained the dog and took him to Hollywood, where they literally walked from studio to studio, looking for someone who would be interested in making movies that would star Rin Tin Tin.

And it worked. (Or so the legend goes…)

Talk about a fairy tale story.

Rin Tin Tin starred in several silent films and appeared in talkies as well as television shows (and radio, too! Radio! For a dog!). Of course, the name has fallen to several different dogs (the original dog lived from 1918 to 1932, which means that the name of Rin Tin Tin has outlived its original designee by 82 years…and has existed for this line of pooches for almost 100 years). In fact, Rin Tin Tin XII still makes appearances at public events, although the ownership of the dog and the name has become quite muddled throughout the years.

And that’s where Orlean’s book becomes quite an interesting tale. Honestly, the entirety of the story is fascinating. Orlean weaves a tapestry not just of the lives of the dog and owner and those they brought into their fairy tale, but also of the times and the events that shaped and were shaped by Rinty throughout the years. History, sociology lesson, Hollywood fabrication, love story, legal dissent, and urban legend, all rolled into this impressive tale of one of the most long-lived and beloved canine legends to emerge from the mists of bygone Hollywood.

Final Verdict: I love dogs, so of course I loved this book. I’m willing to bet that if you actually watched Rin Tin Tin, either his movies or his shows, then you would love this book even more than I did. Even if you know nothing about Rinty, this is a beautifully crafted biography of a dog and a time long passed but still cherished. I’ve already added this one to my wish list.

Wine A Little

I went really deep into the contemplative weeds on that last post, eh? Thought I would lighten things up a bit by finally discussing something that I’ve discovered I really, really love doing. A lot. A LOT.

Naughty denizens, whatever you’re thinking right now…I’m proud of you. But it’s not that. Or that.

No. See, while another one of my Internet PersonalitiesTM might be known as a whiny hater, Loba would now like to declare her passion as a wine-y lover. (Ooh, overwork that pun, Loba!) I love to drink. True, I used to love to drink because I loved the numbing insouciance of total inebriation. Rite of passage and all that jazz, I suppose. I’m a bit of a higher-class drinker now. I drink to enjoy the flavors, the craft, the love that goes into these libacious fineries. I’ve already proven myself to be quite the beer snob, both through Darktober and Febrewary.

Now it’s time to do the same with wine.

For several years now, we’ve been making regular trips to both the East Coast (Virginia) and West Coast (California) wine regions. Virginia has surprised us several times with some really fabulous wineries nestled throughout the Shenandoah region, but none so far has come close to competing with what California has to offer. Whatever miracle of wind, water, fire, earth, and air that winemakers have captured out there, they have become masters (and mistresses) of bottling the magic in the most delicious ways possible.

First, a few points of clarification. When we visit California wine country, we stick with Sonoma. Why? Personal preference. Experience has left us with the opinion that Napa is overcrowded, overpriced, and overhyped. They have decent wine, sure, but not decent enough to support the fees and prices they charge. Napa is the Disney of Wine Countries.

Conversely, Sonoma is bucolic, relaxing, and they offer wines that are the most appealing to our palates. If you lean toward Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels and shy away from crowds and empty fanfare, then Sonoma might be the side for you, too.

The other thing that we love about Sonoma is the abundance of small wineries. I love going to wineries so small that their bottles don’t even have bar codes on them. I’m not trying to be “I liked that wine before they had bar codes” hipster or anything. I’ve simply learned that a lot of times (but not always), if a winery has become large enough that they’re able to ship large batches of multiple varieties and vintages all the way over to the East Coast, then it’s because they’ve hit upon a process that allows them to produce bottle after bottle after bottle of generic wine. Again, it can be generic and delicious—but it’s still generic.

Think of it this way. When you buy tomatoes from a chain supermarket, they’re tasty, right? Nice, pretty little hothouse on-the-vine tomatoes that all taste fine…and the same. And then you get tomatoes from a farmers’ market or, even better, from your own garden. They might not be as refined or as pretty as the hothouse tomatoes, but they’re fresh and warm and succulent. And the flavor! You can taste the difference—intense, rich, robust. That’s kind of how I feel about wineries large enough to mass-produce versus the smaller wineries. The mass-produced wines can be great (there are a few I love), but the smaller wineries are free from the pressures of mass production and can focus on cultivating a wine of intensity and surprising variation.

Like I said, today is my declaration of wine snobbery, denizens.

That all being said, whenever we’re about to take a trip to Sonoma, I spend a good week or more doing research. I pull out my map of the region and I begin to cross-research wineries there against wineries recommended by different sites related to the area as well as against personal reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor. I narrow down the selection to a list of places I think will be good (or places we’ve been to previously that we enjoyed and want to revisit). I group them according to area, charge up my GPS, and I’m ready to go. So far, we’ve made it to more than 50 wineries (in both Sonoma and Napa). That might sound like a lot (okay, it actually is a lot), but we haven’t even scratched a patch on wine country, considering that Sonoma alone has almost 400 wineries.

So what’s the point of this post? Well, I’m not Yelp or Trip Advisor, but I do have some recommendations. I’ve narrowed my first list down to 10 (because that sounds like a lovely even number, right?). Some of these are wineries we’ve been to more than once. Some are wineries we just discovered—but their wines were so delicious, I couldn’t help but praise them. All of these wineries produce rich, bold, complex reds—so sorry if you aren’t a red wine drinker. I’m admittedly just starting to learn more about white wines, but I will be sure to indicate if any of these wineries have whites I enjoyed.

Oh, and enjoy a few of the multitudinous photos I took recently while driving around Sonoma. That’s another thing I love about Sonoma—even if you don’t like wine, you’re going to love the area. Stunning vistas and long, winding roads that duck through groves of ancient, gnarled trees cloaked in Spanish moss and meander through orchards and rustic valleys full of flowers and farmhouses and collapsing barns. I could drive around these areas all day. Plus, the perfectly aligned rows of grape vines do wonderful things for my mild-grade OCD.

And now, in alphabetical order…

Loba’s Top Ten Sonoma Wineries, 2014 Edition

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A. Rafanelli. We visited this winery for the first time during our most recent trip. It’s by appointment only, but it’s well worth the effort. They also are very amenable to making time to welcome you for a tasting. I didn’t realize we needed an appointment, so we ended up literally phoning them while sitting outside their gate; 15 minutes later, we were driving up to one of the most beautifully kept wineries we’ve ever visited. Seriously, this place is beautiful. Do not miss the opportunity to wander around the property after your tasting. We entered the rustic tasting room and immediately received a glass of the most delicious Zinfandel I’ve ever had. It was dark and luxurious, with a fine floral finish. They don’t offer many wines for tasting, but this Zin was wonderful enough to make the trip worth it. We also were lucky enough to meet the owner (who looks eerily like actor Ray Wise, who will always be Leland Palmer to me). He’s quite a gentle, genial gentleman, and the history of his family’s journey from Italy in the early 1900s to this beautiful winery and its wonderful wines is lovely.

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Bacigalupi Vineyards. This was another recent discovery, but another winery that shows the strength of its age and experience through delicious wines. One of the things that we learned from other wineries’ staff is that Bacigalupi is a well-respected vineyard. Several other wineries purchase grapes from them because of their quality and consistently praise them (which is kind of nice; Sonoma wineries are very supportive of each other). It’s only been since 2011 that Bacigalupi have run their own tasting room to let others sample their own blends. The winery produces a lovely Chardonnay, but we instantly fell in love with their Pinot Noir. Again, this is a wine that speaks to a deeper level of care and skill, with delicious complexity. Additionally, the family-run tasting room was a lovely experience; we even ended up meeting both the Bacigalupi twins, Katey and Nicole, as we stopped one day for a tasting and the next day to pick up a bottle of Pinot because we couldn’t stop thinking about it. Great experience.

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Frick Winery. What do you get when you combine a charming tasting room, an eclectic wine maker, and a line of wines so delicious that it’s virtually impossible to select one favorite? You get my favorite winery. Bill Frick is a viticultural virtuoso. He’s been working his vines since 1976, and it’s pretty much just him running the whole show. He only produces 1,400 cases each year, which grants him the ability to be very hands-on and selective with the whole wine-making process. The end result is a series of some of the most holistically pleasing wines I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing. He also offers one of the most diverse line-ups, especially for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel-heavy Sonoma. He excels at both reds and whites; his Viognier is elegant and coquettish, and his Cinsaut and Counoise are bright bold streaks of incomparable flavor. There’s a reason that we have more Frick in our fridge than any other winery’s offerings. Simply put? He’s amazing.

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J Vineyards & Winery. This is probably the most mainstream winery that will be on this list. It’s also one of our first truly great wine-tasting experiences (and the winery that introduced us properly to the Sonoma side of the wine coin), so J has a special place in my heart. They are gifted at Pinots, including several single-vineyard rotations that definitely wow and surprise with subtle flavor variations that make each worth trying. They also surprised me with some truly exceptional sparkling wines. I’m typically not much of a sparkling wine fan, but J’s line is atypically sweet (without being cloying) and refined (without being overly processed). Be forewarned though: They are also one of the most expensive wineries we’ve ever visited in Sonoma. Definitely a treat reserved for when we feel like splurging a bit.

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Matrix Winery. I nearly didn’t stop at this winery because of the name. Unless Trinity is going to be my sommelier and Morpheus is somewhere in the back, adding blue and red pills to the wine, I kind of think the name is a little silly. Then again, I go by LobaBlanca, so what do I know about serious names? I’m so glad we stopped, because Matrix has become one of our favorite stops since we discovered them a few years ago. They are a premier producer of fabulous Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, (sensing a theme?) and Sirahs, including several awarding-winning vintages made with…Bacigalupi grapes (insert “It’s a Small World” theme here). Their tasting room can get a little crowded on weekends, which detracts from the experience slightly, but their wines have always impressed.

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Merry Edwards. Ms. Edwards, one of California’s first female winemakers, has been cultivating her viticultural skills since 1974. The result is unquestionably stunning Pinot Noirs. In fact, I would be so daring as to state that I think her line of Pinots are the finest we’ve yet experienced. Considering the competition (even on this list alone), that’s about the highest praise I can offer.

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Moshin Vineyards. What’s not to love about a winery with a giant hummingbird statue out front? Even when we don’t stop to go in, I love driving by this charming little tasting room. Inside, though, I know is a sublime line-up of amazing reds, including a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon (which is more prevalent over in Napa than among Sonoma vintners). They also make a couple of delightful Chardonnays, but I always come back to their wonderful line of Pinots. One thing that I haven’t yet noted is that, with smaller wineries, variation is a reality…a beautiful, delicious reality. Vintages at these wineries will change depending on how well (or not so well) that year’s grape crop did. With a winery like Moshin, with several different types of Pinot Noir, you are bound to find yourself switching preferences based on all the wonderful, magical things that transpired in the process of getting from grape to wine. What’s even more fun is when wineries let you do a side-by-side comparison of different vintages of the same wine (something that Moshin has let us do). So much can change in the span of a year…

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Porter Creek Vineyards. Roll up to this vineyard and you might find yourself greeted by a friendly vineyard pooch. You will definitely find yourself floored by the beautiful view from the tiny tasting barn (yes, it’s a barn). Again, this winery can get crowded easily because of the small size, but the wines are worth the stop. Pinots and Zins, of course, dominate, but Porter also makes an exceptional old vine Carignane as well as a silky Russian River Chardonnay.

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Thomas George Estates. This was another recent discovery, but their wines were so amazing that I ended up buying half a case of their varieties (and would have bought one of each if I could have). They are equally skilled at whites and reds, with divine Viogniers and Chardonnays and Pinots and Zinfandels of impeccable caliber. Plus, their tasting room is located inside their wine cave, which makes for an awesome tasting experience. We were lucky enough to have a great sommelier, who had recently taken a trip to Virginia to sample some of their wines, so we were able to compare notes and exchange recommendations. We were also lucky enough to finish up our tasting and purchases right as a limo-bus full of tipsy bridesmaids (and presumably a bride) arrived to make the wine cave echo like it was being invaded by drunk chickens. Why mention this? To point out that wine tasting is not just about the wine. It’s about the sommelier, the location, the other patrons. I have no doubt that my experience there would have been far different had we arrived while the bridesmaids were getting their drunk on. In fact, I probably would have left without even going in. Just keep in mind that sometimes a winery needs a second chance to impress you (or disappoint you twice).

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Zichichi Family Vineyards. If you are looking for a unique boutique experience (try saying that five times fast after a day of wine tasting), then I direct you to Zichichi. This winery does barrel tastings, which means that they take you directly into their fermentation area and draw samples straight from the barrel. It’s really quite awesome. (True, they might do “regular” tastings, too, but I don’t think they do; at least they haven’t either time we’ve been to their winery). Also, they make some truly remarkable Zinfandels. I vacillate in preference between their Estate Zin and their Old Vine Zin (see? Tasty, tasty variation), but both are extraordinary. Plus, the vibe here is so…chill. You enter a beautiful tasting room and are greeted by some of the friendliest, most relaxed sommeliers possible (I’d be pretty mellow, too, if I had their view all day). Nice, friendly, informative staff and some amazing wine. Seriously, what is there not to love about a place like this? Just note that what they are offering from the barrel hasn’t yet been bottled…so if you like what you try, you can order it, but then you’ll have to wait a few months for it to finish aging. Trust me, though, when I say it’s well worth the wait.

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And there you have it—Loba’s top 10 Sonoma wineries for the moment. I’m sure this list will change. I’ve already started a list of new wineries for our next trip. Who knows what those might bring (other than more delicious red wines)? If you ever find yourself roaming around the back roads of Sonoma and you stumble across any of these wineries, I hope you give them a go. Or head to their Web sites and see what they’re selling (if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that allows wine shipments). Whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy. I also hope you have some really strong tooth paste…or just enjoy having a purple smile. Red wine—stainfully delicious.

Flashback Friday: Mannequin

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As I’m sure that several of you read recently, Meshach Taylor passed away from cancer at the end of last month. I’m sure many people’s initial response was that Anthony Bouvier had gone to join Julia Sugarbaker in that great design firm in the sky. The first words out of my mouth were “Oh, no, Hollywood Montrose died.”

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To anyone who isn’t certain who exactly that might be, Hollywood was the flamboyantly gay window dresser Taylor portrayed in the 1987 cuh-lassic movie Mannequin. Of course, I use the term classic in a very subjective way, since I know that this movie: a) isn’t everyone’s particular idea of entertainment; b) is now incredibly dated in that uniquely 80s “how on earth did this ever get made?!” kind of way; and c) will always make me laugh no matter what kind of mood I’m in or how many times I’ve seen it. And I’ve seen it quite a few times, denizens. Because Kim Cattrall.

Okay, so Cattrall was the reason I wanted to watch the movie in the first place, but she’s not the only reason I ultimately fell in love with it. I know it’s ridiculous and doesn’t make sense and the adult me sometimes takes over while I’m watching it and points out all the absolutely nonsensical parts of the script that make her cringe…but the kid who fell in love with this movie all those years ago promptly regains control and just goes along for the ride, whether by motorcycle, hang-glider, or Hollywood’s fabulous car…

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Which brings me back to Hollywood. I wrote this about the character elsewhere, but here it is again:

I know Hollywood was horribly cliched and stereotyped as only an 80s-era movie could do with minority characters. But even with as campy as he was, Hollywood was still integral and important to the story. He was Falstaffian, yes, but he was also one of the heroes. That meant a lot, especially since for years movies felt compelled to portray gay characters as anything but heroic. Unnatural, yes. Evil, yes. A good character? Never. Also, Hollywood was hilarious. And that car. And those glasses. And…oh, man, I loved Hollywood.

Yes, Hollywood was stereotypically gay, but he also got to help save the day…and wield a big effing fire hose while doing it. And, in the end, he stood by the hero’s side when he finally “got the girl” in true cliched style. It might be small by today’s inclusive standards, but showing Hollywood as important enough that he remained right to the very end of the final reel, right by the hero’s side? Good times.

Beyond all that, though, this movie is just a bundle of 80s WTFery in all its big-haired, big-shoulder-padded, glitzy, goofy, shiny, “I think they’re implying that he’s having sex with a store dummy, but let’s just ignore that and listen to this Jefferson Starship song really loudly” style.

Okay, wait, fan-made video break:

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Complete it all with Andrew McCarthy in his first appearance with a non-responsive human co-star (personally, I would choose a dummy over a dead guy, dude), Estelle Getty (picture it: Sophia Petrillo, running a department store in Philadelphia) and James Spader in probably the most un-James Spader role he’s ever played and, again I say, cuh-lassic.

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BookBin2014: I Remember You: A Ghost Story

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Some of you might remember that back in May I did a month-long celebration of some of my favorite Ladies of Horror May-hem. One of my selections was Eli from the Swedish vampire tale Let the Right One In. In that post, I mentioned that the movie was based on a book by John Ajvide Lindqvist.

During my last trip to the library, I tried to find this (or any) book by Lindqvist. Unfortunately, he apparently isn’t a big enough deal to make it onto our library system’s radar. However, instead of finding a Swedish vampire story, I ended up finding an Icelandic ghost story. Sure, why not?

And so I ended up reading Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novel I Remember You: A Ghost Story. True to the subtitle, it most assuredly is a ghost story…actually, it’s two ghost stories that run parallel to each other while each revealing in small doses how they will inevitably join into one conclusion.

This is another fine example of an author with exquisite planning abilities. Like Rowling, Sigurðardóttir has enviable skills when it comes to mapping out the precise route of each one of her characters, living or dead or somewhere in between. With storytelling, as with life, however, there can be too much planning. I believe that this became the case toward the end of this novel.

It wasn’t until the revelation of one of the connections between the two stories that I was suspecting (but hoping wouldn’t be the case) that I began thinking that Sigurðardóttir had overthought things a bit. I don’t necessarily mind stories about seemingly unconnected events that, surprise, suddenly do connect (even though I do feel as though the idea has become somewhat overused in recent years). However, I do balk a bit when the connections feel tenuous and forced. This one particular connection felt incredibly forced to me, and definitely tamped down my enthusiasm for the story. It was such a small thing…so small, in fact, that it was unnecessary. I wish that Sigurðardóttir hadn’t included it at all. Deleting this one connection wouldn’t have changed the story at all, in fact, and would have, IMHO, made the inevitable overlap of the stories into one far more satisfying.

I wish I could tell you more…but spoilers.

Otherwise, Sigurðardóttir spun an elegantly eerie tale that gave me a satisfactory number of creeped-out moments (nothing quite like reading a ghost story late at night with nothing but a book light and shadows to keep you company). I felt sufficiently American each time I tried to figure out how to pronounce Icelandic names and locations (I’m almost 100 percent positive that the only one I came even close to getting correct was Reykjavik), but even my linguistic ineptitude was part of the fun of reading this tale.

Final Verdict: I enjoyed my introduction to Sigurðardóttir enough that I will try to find some of her other books on my next library trip. However, I don’t feel the need to add this book to my own library.

BookBin2014: We

we_zamyatin

I knew nothing of Yevgeny Zamyatin’s novel We when I found it at the local library, other than the fact that it was one of the new arrivals in the science fiction section since my last visit. Turns out, this is one of the earliest examples of dystopian science fiction, predating more well-known novels like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984. In fact, Orwell even acknowledged in a review of We that he was going to use it as a model for his next book, his aforementioned dystopian classic.

There can be no doubt, upon reading this novel, that Zamyatin’s story was quite influential on many of the darker storytelling souls within the genre’s literary pantheon. Tangentially, I have a strong belief that he found influence and inspiration in preceding tales, including the works of H.G. Wells, whose notions of the chaos that scientific advancement could cause morphed in Zamyatin’s mind to the chaos of failed mathematical control.

In Zamyatin’s future, equality is a mandate, individuality is not an option, and the human collective (in its significantly war-reduced numbers) runs in such precise mathematical form that names no longer exist (our protagonist is known simply as D-503) and every moment of every day occurs according to precisely timed intervals. Wake. Walk. Work. Eat. Celebrate. Assemble. Copulate. Sleep. All planned. All approved. All performed according to the One State.

“Mathematically infallible happiness.”

How could anything possibly go wrong in such an equation?

Zamyatin’s novel is a rebuke of many of the political and cultural happenings of his time, obviously, but his stark outlook on the results of those influences remain timely and relevant, nearly 100 years later. I’m honestly surprised that I had never heard of this novel before now and that it’s not nearly as well known as the previously mentioned novels that continue to show up on bestseller lists and required reading for students everywhere. Perhaps it’s because the previous translations of this novel have been unapproachable? I have read that some translations are not as engaging as the recent translation by Natasha Randall (which is the version I read). I had no problems with Randall’s efforts. I think, however, that Zamyatin’s style is a bit of an endurance test at times. That being said, it’s well worth it to make it through this novel, especially if you consider yourself a sci-fi connoisseur.

Final Verdict: I’m not sure. I feel as though, as a science fiction fan, that I should have this as part of my collection for its historical importance. Also, it is a compelling story, if a bit of a slog at times. I believe that I will at least add it to my wish list, for further contemplation. Prophets know that just because I add something to my wish list doesn’t mean that I’m going to be purchasing it any time soon. I have books on there that have been patiently waiting to be purchased for almost 10 years.

BookBin2014: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

quiet

It’s been quite a while since I brought you all a book review. It’s not that I’ve stopped reading; I simply couldn’t do more than one blog post a day during the month of May (TBH, I’m honestly amazed that I was able to do even that, with as chaotic as my May ended up being).

Then June came…and June went. How it’s already July, I still don’t understand.

Anyway, I finished Susan Cain’s book Quiet several months ago. The sign of it being a book that’s well worth it? I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I read it.

I make no secret of the fact that I am extremely introverted. I couldn’t make it a secret even if I wanted to. It really is that obvious. One of the major obstacles I encounter on a regular basis is the fact that many within the business world have apparently decided that the world should have no time for introversion. I have a feeling it’s an even more extreme outlook here in America, where “go-getters” and “action-takers” are the desired worker model. We want bold personalities ready to schmooze and smile and talk and lead and be the successes they were obviously destined to be simply because of their scintillating personalities and take-on-the-world attitudes.

Too often, people make the mistake of assuming that quiet people are weak, one-dimensional, antisocial, and ultimately valueless. This is unfair in general, but damaging to both sides in professional settings. Instantly assuming this litany of negative traits about introverted employees locks us out of achieving our true potential because we are never allowed to operate within a work model designed for our unique abilities, and denies our employers the full power of our abilities because we don’t fit the square holes of the Extroverted Ideal.

Cain, herself an introvert, makes a poignant case against this assumptive behavior by the corporate world and for more understanding of the richness that introverts can bring to any professional setting with just a little bit of adjustment to what has unfortunately become the standard. She also discusses the need for adjustments in schools as well, which embrace the valuing of extroversion over introversion more and more, significantly reducing the success rates for all those quiet, shy kids before they’re even old enough to get crushed by the corporate world.

Is this an objective book? Hardly. A book about introversion written by an introvert? Of course she’s going to have a lot to say about what is often a fairly unbalanced treatment of quiet people by the (too) loud mainstream. Is it a valuable book? Absolutely. Who better to tell our story and argue our case than one of our own?

Final Verdict: I definitely want to add this to my library. I also want to make it mandatory reading for every single extrovert, but especially every single extroverted person in charge of managing even one introvert, because here’s a little hint: You’ve probably been doing it wrong this whole time.

Flashback Friday: What’s Up

Nothing profound this evening. I had my iPod on shuffle on one of my 90s-era playlists, and one of the songs that came up was this gem from my musically misspent youth. I’ve no idea what most people thought of 4 Non Blondes, but I loved them. And I loved this song. The lyrics sounded so deep to my 16-year-old self. And Linda Perry, with her incredibly large voice and even more incredibly large mouth, seemed so cool and down-to-earth and real. Who knew that she would go on to write hit songs for the likes of Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Courtney Love, Kelly Osbourne, and P!nk. Hell, she pretty much put both Aguilera and P!nk on the map, with songs that either displayed gorgeous, thoughtful lyrics or insanely nuanced bounce and pep. She’s come a long way from “What’s Up.”

Still, I love this song. See? Nothing profound. I just felt like sharing a little something musical that made me happy once upon a time.

//www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/6NXnxTNIWkc