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Archive for the ‘Violence’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: January 22, 2022] In Beta_

I saw this book at work and was grabbed by the cover (yes, clearly covers do signify something about the book).  I decided to read it before reading much about it.  I didn’t understand the accolades until I read the acknowledgments at the end.  The book was self published through Inkshares, but it then went on to win (or at least do very well in some Nerdist/Inkshares Contest.  Which I guess is a big deal, maybe.

The book is set in a small town in the rural Pacific Northwest in 1993.  The town of Bickleton is boring.  Super boring.  There are like three businesses in town, one is a restaurant and grocery store together.  Everybody seems to work in the mines.  And there’s like a curse on the high school.  No a single person has ever gone to college.

And people aren’t exactly sure why–their grades are good, they just apparently aren’t good enough for even community college.

The main characters are Jay Banksman and his best friend Colin Ramirez.  They are nerdy boys who love video games and probably won’t be going to the prom.

Their school is a strange set up in which Jay and Colin and some of the other brainier kids are in a special classroom set apart from the rest of the school.  I have no idea if this is even remotely realistic, but who knows.  There was A-Court, the largest building which was close to the main parking lot and seemed to house all of the cool and popular people.  C-Court was smaller and shabbier and was where the dumber kids went–the burn outs.

Jay and Colin felt that A-Court was too vanilla and C-Court was too raw.  So they stayed in their trailer area called Tutorial.  Their teacher was Miss Rotchkey.  She had asked to teach these kids as a kind of experiment.  The school principal rolled his eyes at the whole thing but allowed it.  Miss Rotchkey was cool, teaching them existentialism and allowing them to use the school’s computer.  She was convinced that her class would be  the first to go to college.

But then came rejection day.  Everyone in the class was rejected from all of their schools, even their safeties.

Things were pretty much the same every day at school.  Then one day a rumor spread that there were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pies in the A-Court vending machine.  And Jay wanted to get one.  So he and Colin snuck down to the A-Court and managed to evade detection from the jocks and the cheerleaders when suddenly there was Jeremy and the Johns.  Jeremy McCracken was the most popular boy in school.  A handsome jock and star of the baseball team.  The Johns were everyone else on the baseball team (I love this little joke that literally everyone else is named John with no last name just initials).

When they see Jay, they crush his pie and punch him in the face.  The principal sends Jay to the guidance officer because, hey sometimes life isn’t fair.

Jay’s only solace is in video games.  He gets a lot of video game and computer magazines and is always looking for new games to try out.  One day he gets a game called The Build.  When he puts t into the school computer, the graphics look like just like Bickleton.  It’s 8-bit graphics, but there he can see the whole town.  Including people walking around.  He mouses to his class room and when he raises his hand, the pixel version of himself raises its hand too.

He can’t believe this.  He tries to tell people about it, but every time he starts to talk about it to someone, they glaze over and seem to forget everything he just said.

Then things start to look up for him.  Liz Knight, the most popular girl in school (who he has known since like first grade when they were actually friendly–the held hands once) breaks up with Jeremy and asks Jay to the prom.

Liz’s best friends (who only like to talk about Beverely Hills 90210) don’t seem to be on board with this–they look down their noses at Jay like everyone else does.  So what gives?  Is it a prank?  It’s hard to know because Liz has been acting really strangely lately (in addition to asking him to prom that is).  Has she has a breakdown?  Or a breakthrough?

The next day Liz and Jay are talking when Jeremy approaches and asks her to go for a ride with him.  She does and Jay is very jealous.  He looks at The Build and sees the red Mazda Miata driving away with a little heart above it.  He clicks around the screen and sees a menu for disasters.  So he clicks on tornado.

And within minutes a tornado appears on the screen.  And in the town–a town  that has never had a tornado in its history.

There’s a lot going on in this story (although it’s a very fast read).  I don’t want to give any kind of spoilers away, but I do like to mention that Jay finds out his avatar’s stats: Strength; Speed;  Hit Points; Intelligence.  And at some point he moves them all up to ten.

This allows him to take sweet revenge on the Jeremys and to have access to intelligence and memories that he’s never known before.

The story sounds like an all boys story and it kind of is, but as the story moves along, two women become essential to the story.  There’s Liz of course, and there is also Stevie, a computer nerd who has mad programming skills.

Having the book set in the nineties means that Harvey overloads the book with 90s pop culture.  It goes a bit overboard.  He throws in some good music cues (Beck, My Bloody Valentine) and some bad ones (the bullies drive around playing Kriss Kross’ “Jump” all the time.  I’m also curious, since I didn’t go to school in the 90s, but would they have played Rage Against the Machine at a prom and would the kids have slam danced?  I cannot imagine.

So this was a fun story and one that I read very quickly.

And, if you’re wondering, as I was, about its similarity to other popular culture books and movies, he says in the acknowledgments that he started it about a decade ago and was about a group o seventh graders who found a magic VCR that brought 80’s movie clichés to life.  While he was finishing it up, Ready Player One, The Lego Movie and Free Guy (I don’t know this last one) all came out.  So he changed his tactics a bit.

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: January 15, 2021] The Prox Transmissions

I had recently seen Starset live and decided to check out lead singer Dustin Bates’ books (which I had gotten for my son for his birthday and I think he hasn’t read).

All of the CDs have a theme and the story of the Prox Transmissions is meant to tie into the album called Transmission.

My understanding was that the graphic novel was an adaptation of the novel.  I couldn’t find the novel in his room, but I did see the graphic novel, so I started with that (even though I’m sure it would have ben smarter to read the novel first).

The most impressive thing about this to me was that it was published by Marvel.  Not because I’m a Marvel fan boy but because I just assumed it was self published.  That being said, I think a thing or two was lost in the abridgement.

There are double crosses and possibly triple crosses and seemingly minor characters come to have major roles without a very satisfying explanation.  Basically it feels like a story that has has a lot removed (which it is).

The actual story line is pretty cool though. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 25, 2021] “How Wang-Fo Was Saved”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

So here’s yet another story translated by Manguel.

The last few stories in this collection just left me feeling unhappy.  I didn’t really enjoy them, and found them mostly tedious.  A lot of them felt like stories that took an idea and kept building on it with more an more examples. Rather than advancing the story, it just reiterated the story.

Yourcenar evidently wrote many

Oriental Tales, stories set in the Near and Far East, a few based on traditional legends and folktales. According to Yourcenar, the story of the painter Wang-Fo and his disciple is her own invention, though inspired by a Chinese Taoist classic. Scholars, however, have pointed out that Yourcenar seems to have taken her inspiration from a collection of Japanese tales collected and retold by the nineteenth-century Greek-Irish scholar Lafcadio Hearn.

So, yes, another old story, which is what this reads like.

First we meet Wang-Fo’s disciple, who gave up his life to follow the amazing painter Wang-Fo.  He was very wealthy and slowly gave up everything so that Wang-Fo could continue to do his work. Everything he painted felt better than life–more vivid, more real. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 18, 2021] “The Travelling Companion”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

I have mixed feelings about including a Hans Christian Andersen story here.  On the one hand, I don’t think I have ever actually read an HCA story (of course I know many of them).  So on the one hand it was interesting to do so.  But, as with Homer, there was no from the last century and a half in Denmark worthy of inclusion here?

In this story a Poor John’s father dies immediately.  So Poor John sets off with his few belongings to seek his fortune.

The first night he slept under the stars and in the morning gave some coins to a beggar.  Later that night, he happened upon a church and made to sleep there for the night as the weather was worsening. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 16, 2021] “The Dwarf in the Television Set”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

This story made me a little uncomfortable because of the whole “dwarf in the television set” aspect.  Manguel describes it as a fantastic farce, but the whole thing felt weird and unfunny.  Maybe I would have thought it was funny if I read it when it came out.

The dwarf lives inside a gigantic color TV.  The TV is owned by Gastão (who owns a department store with many TVs). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK:  hiatus

[READ: December 5, 2021] “Ulysses and the Cyclops”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my seventh time reading the Calendar.  The 2021 Short Story Advent Calendar is a deluxe box set of individually bound short stories.

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check this link where editor Alberto Manguel is providing daily commentary on each of the stories he selected for this year’s calendar.

Obviously Homer is a classic–the classic–poet.  But it seemed an odd choice to pick Homer (from B.C. days) when surely there was a more recent Greek writer who deserved some attention.

I’ve read The Odyssey at least three times.  However, I’ve never read it in verse form.   And I found this form to be very challenging.  I was certainly glad I knew the story already. (more…)

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[LISTENED TO: November 2021] A Natural History of Dragons

This book sounded interesting. I knew nothing about it (aside from the title) and had no idea it would unfold the way it did.

Turns out that Kate Reading, whom I didn’t know, was an outstanding reader. She did male voices so compellingly that I forgot it was just one reader.

The book is a memoir.  The book feels like a Victorian novel (where a woman is not allowed to have the kind of adventures she ultimately does).  Reading reads Lady Trent in a kind of slow, deliberate, older, upper class lady voice.  It felt a wee bit slow at first, although I couldn’t imagine her doing it any other way.

Lady Isabella Tent is the leading scholar on dragons.  Indeed, the book starts:

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth into the clear light of modern science.

Each chapter even has an olde-fashioned style in which the chapter heading summarizes what’s to be found within.  Lady Trent is an old woman now, finished with the excitement of her life and all that she has accomplished and she has decided that rather than answering all of the letters she gets all the time, that she would set the record straight and write her memoirs.

She starts from her early childhood and her tone is at one approving and occasionally disbelieving in the kind of person she was.

When Lady Trent was young Isabella, she had a unladylike desire to be scientific.  When she first captured a “sparkling” (this book is written as if we would know what she’s talking about since it is a memoir of a famous person’s exploits.  If you don’t know what a sparkling is, well, where have you been?).

Her mother was horrified by her behavior.  I mean what kind of girl dissects a bird to see how it can fly?  A scientific genius, that’s what kind. (more…)

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[READ: Summer 2021] The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires

I loved the name of this book.  The fact that it was put out by Quirk Books was a major plus.

This book was read by Bahni Turpin and she was magnificent.  I was hooked right from the start.  I loved her Southern accents and the way she made each character unique and easily recognizable.

In the preface to the book, Hendrix explains that this novel is a kind of apology for his earlier novel My Best Friend’s Exorcism.   In that novel teenagers were the protagonists and parents were cast as trouble for them.  He felt the need to address the concerns of the parents this time around.

I love the way the characters clearly love their children but are also realistic about them:  “Being a teenager isn’t a number,” says Maryellen. “It’s the age when you stop liking them.”

The story opens in a hilarious way.

It’s 1988 and Grace Cavanaugh had started a book club,  She wanted all of the women in her circle to read the classics.  This month’s book was Cry, The Beloved Country.  Grace was the quintessential Southern woman.  Her house was perfect.  Her thick pile carpets were white and immaculate (the way she inwardly cringes as cheese straws land on the carpet is hilarious).  She did not allow for anything improper.  She expected people to do what was proper.  Like finish the book club book.

The story zooms in on Patricia Campbell.  She needed the book club,  But she did not read the book.

She was given twenty minutes to talk about the book.  And the way she tries to stretch it out is hilarious.  Eventually Grace calls her out on it.  And is very disappointed in her.  Soon enough, though, the other women reveal that they didn’t read it either.

On her way to her car Patricia is stopped by Kitty Scruggs, another book club woman.  She invites Patricia to join the book club that she has just started.  It’s going to be her and Slick Paley, a conservative Christian (with an amazing accent, thank you Bahni) who seems dumb but is far from dumb, and Maryellen, a Yankee transplant (who has a very different accent which is nice to hear).  Eventually, even Grace joins because they are going to be reading the most salacious true crime books they can find.

Each of the women is married and their families are very different.  Patricia’s husband is straight-laced.  Her daughter is just old enough to be sarcastic to her and her son, Blue (that name is explained about 3/4 of the way through the book) has suddenly become obsessed with Nazis.  Basically, she needs these women.

Five years later, the book club is still going and the women feel closer to each other than ever (although Patricia doesn’t feel super close to Grace, because who could, really).  Then one night, a night that Blue didn’t take out the garbage, Patricia walks to where the cans are stored and is attacked.  The assailant is an old woman.  She acts crazy and even though Patricia knows her, she can’t talk sense into her. The old woman bites off part of her ear (which becomes quite a conversation piece, obviously). (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: Fall 2021] Men at Arms

The Watch is back and it’s getting bigger.

And they are going to have to deal with another person who is trying to oust Patrician Vetinari.  This time the person in question is Edward D’eath a high ranking member of the Assassins Guild. D’eath has been doing genealogical research and he believes that Corporal Carrot might be the rightful heir to the throne of Ankh-Morpork–the throne which even Lord Vetinari won’t sit on (but won’t remove either).

Meanwhile, Captain Sam Vimes is about to be married to Lady Sybil Ramkin (I can’t believe that the Vimes /Lady Sybil relationship was settled after just one book!)

Sam is delighted with Sybil, but he hates just about everything else about the upcoming marriage.  He hates that Sybil is one of the richest women in Ankh-Morpork.  He hates hobnobbing with the other rich people in the city (Sybil is really very different from everyone else, which is why he loves her). He is even rather uncomfortable with just how rich Sybil is.  There’s a very spot-on argument about how rich people even save money when they buy expensive things.  For instance, the average cop can’t afford to buy expensive shoes that last.  So instead he has to buy cheap shoed that wear out quickly.  Then he has to buy another pair.  And then another pair.  Three $20 pairs that don’t last as long as one $50 pair.

The worst thing for Sam is that he really doesn’t want to give up being a cop.  Well, maybe he kind of does, but it’s all he knows.  And he knows that he’ll miss it.  Even if things are changing around him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: hiatus

[READ: Fall 2021] Lords and Ladies

The Discworld Witches are back for another story.  (This is the fourth Witches story which puts them on equal footing with Rincewind at this point).

I have been reading all of the Discworld stories in order (obviously?) and I wasn’t looking forward to this one because of the lousy cover.  I mean, look at that.

But this book turns out to be great.  In addition to the enjoyable story, Sir Terry sets the record straight on elves.  They are nasty.  They are wicked.  They are not cute, they are cruel.  And they don’t appear in Discworld because generations ago they were locked out

The only way they can get back in is via the Dancers, a ring of magnetized iron stones.  Or technically they can’t get in there because the iron stones keep the elves away–elves can’t abide iron.  But when the time is right the worlds get close and the elves try to see if they can somehow get someone to magic away the iron.

And it turns out this is a time of convergence.  Crop circles begin appearing around Lancre and that can only mean that the universe of Elves is nearby.

So what is wrong with elves exactly?  They enter the minds of humans using glamour, to try to make them see the world differently.  Yes, Witches enter into human and animal minds, but only temporarily.

Here’s what they say about elves.  And what those words mean.

  • Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
  • Elves are marvelous.  They cause marvels.
  • Elves are fantastic.  They create fantasies.
  • Elves are glamourous.  They project glamour.
  • Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
  • Elves are terrific.  They beget terror
  • No one ever said elves are nice. Elves are bad.

Granny and Nanny can remember the stories about the elves.  But Magrat is too young, to sweet to believe that elves are bad.  She would believe that the elves are magical and fantastic in a good way.  She would not understand why they must be kept out.

And so Granny and Nanny do not tell her.  (more…)

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