delphipsmith: (ba headdesk)
Because news. Mostly this, but also everything that the Orange Hobgoblin says or does, because it highlights how incredibly incompetent and stupid he is. (Just look at all the tags I've applied to this post -- I couldn't stop, they are my frenzy made visible.)

So instead, I give you the peaceful February view out our back windows yesterday:

(click to embiggen)
delphipsmith: (GrampaMunster)
Forget the candy and costumes -- give me vintage horror movies! ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TCM is doing a marathon today through Monday. We just finished watching "The Blob" (1958) and now "Village of the Damned" (1960) is on, squeee!!! Also on the schedule, among others: House of Wax, Cat People, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, To the Devil a Daughter, The Mummy, Black Sabbath... I can hardly contain my glee :) I may have to call in sick to work on Monday lol

Saturday lineup
Sunday lineup
Monday lineup
delphipsmith: (Cicero books)
Since I've been Old Unreliable lately as far as appearing online (because real life = new house + dog with pewmonia + hosting Thanksgiving + work craziness + friend worries), I'm taking the easy way out and posting reviews of three books I recently read. If anyone else has read these, I'd love to hear what you think. I also recently read JK Rowling's Cuckoo's Calling which I thoroughly enjoyed, but I haven't written a review of it yet. Maybe tomorrow?

The Night SisterThe Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon: This book gave me horrific nightmares twice (twice!) the first night I started reading it. That hasn't happened in ages. The ending was surprisingly melancholy, and though not quite what I expected (I really thought spoiler )) it was apt, and rather touching. The narrative conveniently skips over the question of why in god's name Rose's mother didn't follow up on Rose's stories about Sylvie, given that spoiler ). The answer, of course, is because plot. Nevertheless, this was a fast diverting read, and good enough that I'll try another by her.

DisclaimerDisclaimer by Renée Knight: Intense, gripping, bewildering, startling; this book is like playing with one of those wooden puzzle cubes where it seems like a solid block until you get all the pieces in play in just the right way, and then the whole things falls apart and you see how it all fits together. As with any good suspense novel, the author hides some things from the reader, but she does it so cleverly that you don't notice; she quietly omits a few crucial points or phrases (in one case simply using a pronoun rather than a name), and the reader effortlessly makes certain assumptions without even noticing it and goes merrily on down the completely wrong path. Really beautifully crafted, with unexpected pokes and jabs around every corner that slowly grow into an almighty sucker punch that leaves your mouth hanging open.

Gothic TalesGothic Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell: Typical gothic tales, with a lot of family mystery/drama. Some interesting plots, but many of the stories felt too drawn out -- "like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." Wordy isn't bad if the words enhance the story and/or the atmosphere, but overall these stories just felt labored. "Lois the Witch" was genuinely painful to read, since you know pretty much from the third paragraph where it's headed yet it takes something like fifty pages to get there.
delphipsmith: (thinker)
The cool: The HTML5 Gendered Advertising Remixer. Drag and drop to mix audio and video from heavily boy-targeted and girl-targeted toy ads to see how ridiculous they both are. It's quite funny. I was particularly amused by overlaying the audio for Tonka Garage with the video for Betty Spaghetti.

The srsly?????: We all know about "trigger" warnings; fanfic has had them for ages as a courtesy to its reader. But it's really too much when college students demand trigger warnings on their syllabi.

This boggles my mind.

I'm not at all against trigger warnings in fanfic -- after all, fanfic is known for pushing the envelope in a lot of ways. But fanfic is, when all is said and done, a hobby. A thing you do on your own time, for your own reasons, in which you are free to seek out or avoid anything you like, from SSHG to Giant Squid + Hagrid.

The entire point of college, on the other hand, is (or should be) to expose you to new things, things you don't know about, things that make you think, and yes, even things that might make you uncomfortable. Because real life has those things. It's meant to spur dialog, critical thinking, analysis -- none of which are possible if the only things you look at are things that make you feel good. Because real life demands those abilities. And most importantly, it's meant to be a bridge between your (usually protected) childhood and the (often unpleasant) real world. Because yes, hon, you will encounter things that may be hard for you in Real Life.

As The New Republic pointed out, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe’s brilliant novel about the great harms of colonialism, Things Fall Apart, now carries the warning that it “may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, and religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.”

If we allow students to opt out of things that they assume or imagine might upset them, or that they just plain fear, it seems to me we are doing them a disservice.

delphipsmith: (George scream)
"Little" being a relative term. Eeeeeeeeek!

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delphipsmith: (weeping angel)
The AccursedThe New York Times said, "Some novels are almost impossible to review, either because they’re deeply ambiguous or because they contain big surprises the reviewer doesn’t wish to give away."

I'm not so sure about the surprises -- other than one particular thing near the end, it wasn't too difficult to see what was coming, although some of the events were decorated with surprising details. However, there's no question about the ambiguity. (Which strikes me as a rather oxymoronic thing to say, but there you go.) Even after the last page, one still isn't quite sure what happened and what only seemed to have happened.

I have a love/hate relationship with Oates. I've read very few of her books -- more of her short stories -- because almost every one I've read has left me deeply uneasy. I read "Where are you going, where have you been" five years ago, and just remembering it still creeps me out to this day. Obviously this is the mark of a skilled writer, but I don't generally choose my books for the purpose of psychically scarring myself. In addition, she has a tendency to focus on the dark side, and as a result it's often difficult to like any of the characters in her novels. They're just not very nice people, many of them.

This book has many of the elements I love, though, so I thought I'd give it a shot. First and foremost, it's a purported history, replete with excerpts from letters, diaries (including coded ones!), newspaper articles, transcribed eyewitness accounts, and a boatload of historical detail intermixed with straight narrative. Oates does an excellent job creating the very different voices of the writers of these various "primary sources" -- I particularly enjoyed the semi-coherent ramblings of the neurotic Adelaide Burr, who refers to herself as "Puss," reads Madame Blavatsky in secret, and has some serious issues with sex. The narrator himself, one M. W. van Dyck, is great fun, an unreliable raconteur prone to digress into irrelevancies (the history of corsets, the minutiae of Princeton politics) at the drop of a hat. Like all too many writers, he clearly wanted to jam every single bit of his research into his book; in fact, he spends several paragraphs listing all the things he had to leave out.

Second, the story is intricately woven into actual history through the use of real people (Upton Sinclair, Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, Jack London, various faculty at Princeton University), places (Princeton University, New York City) and events of the times (Socialists, anarchists, etc.). None of them are particularly pleasant people, but they are real.

Third, it's got solid Victorian gothic chops: a demon bridegroom, huge grand homes, a beautiful innocent young girl, a vicar with a secret, a competition with the devil (or possibly just a minor demon, it's hard to say), an exotic and mysterious European nobleman, murder, suicide, madness and more. All that and a surprisingly high body count. (Like the House of Usher, the doomed Slades don't seem to have much of a future, although that too is ambiguous.)

On the down side, most of the characters aren't very likable and the supernatural parts end up playing second fiddle to the real villains: the upper classes, who can't be bothered to speak out against racism, prejudice, poverty, hideous working conditions, the second-class treatment of women, and other societal ills (although the narrator himself doesn't seem to even notice this, which is kind of amusing).

And it's very, very long.

So be patient, Constant Reader, and expect to enjoy the journey as much as -- perhaps more than -- the destination.
delphipsmith: (VampiresKiss)
I very nearly gave up on this, due to fear of anticipated witch/vampire paranormal-romance cheesiness, and had it not been for the luscious descriptions of Duke Humfrey's reading room at the Bodleian, old manuscripts, food and wine, I might have bailed early on. But perseverance was rewarded: the author came through in terms of plot and I'm glad I stuck with it, because it turned out to be quite good. Some of the romance is, I freely admit, indeed a bit cheesy -- the male lead really needs to stop growling and purring -- and after the horror that was Twilight I have very little patience for the "I want you desperately but we cannot have sex now, we must wait until it's PERFECT" nonsense, but in the end these were minor quibbles in light of the intriguing plot. A plot, I might add, which manages to combine witches, vampires, demons, alchemy, secret crusader societies, and just about every magical power known to witch-kind. Not to mention some supremely good descriptions of wine (she said, smacking her lips).

The main character's irritating Mary Sue-wimp-ness ("No no no, I don't want to be a witch, I don't want to be magic" -- what are you, NUTS, woman??!??) does at last get explained in relatively credible terms. I suspect that in book 2 (forthcoming) she'll be a much stronger person, since there are some strong female characters, the best being Matthew's mother Ysabeau; when she faces down her other son, Baldwin, it's quite a scene. The Bishop House turns out to be a pretty strong character itself; I love the way it creates new bedrooms and spits out useful items as needed.

The intertwining of alchemy and genetics, magic and evolution, past and present are engrossing, and a nice change from the fluff that makes up most vampire/witch/demon fiction in these degenerate days. I'm looking forward to Book 2.
delphipsmith: (VampiresKiss)
Thank you, thank you, thank you [ profile] noeon !! What a great read -- Wicked Gentlemen has an intriguing setting, imaginative interesting characters that drew me in, political and religious infighting, a smattering of theological debate, and some spicy drunken sex. Good stuff!! But it should have been three times as long as it was. I wanted more development of the relationship between Belimai and Harper, but I also wanted MUCH more about this world -- was the story about the Prodigals coming back from Hell true or was it a myth? If true, when/why/how did it happen? Continuing prejudice against them is certainly understandable, but if it's been centuries why haven't they intermarried more by now and created a hybrid? Are there any demons in positions of power? Is the discrimination legal or just habitual? Is there anyone in the Church who's truly spiritual or has it degenerated completely into a political power, like the Popes during the Renaissance? Do the Prodigals have souls? Why can't more of them fly? Etc etc etc etc etc.

Ginn, Ginn, please write more, do a sequel, do a series, do SOMETHING!!
delphipsmith: (why a spoon?)
Couldn't stop myself. Had to go back and re-read it after reading their sequel and Dante's original. It's as good as I remembered. Like any good retelling or adaptation, it's true to the spirit of the original but transforms it into a shape that's relevant for the new audience (some critic said the Watchmen movie suffered from its slavish devotion to the original -- said it was "more a curation than an adaptation" LOL!). Double plus good :)
delphipsmith: (books)
This is the sequel to their Inferno from years back and overall a worthy successor. Aimee Semple Macpherson is here, roaming Hell on her motorcycle looking for souls to save. J. Edgar Hoover is a demon (humorously known as Pink Talon). There's a Carl who I think is Carl Sagan. Anna Nicole Smith is in the Fourth Circle (hoarders and wasters), and there are strong hints that quite a few folks from the Bush administration are in the Eighth Circle in the Pit of Evil Counselors. Once again, at first glance some of the characters seem wildly inappropriately placed here in hell; then as Allen (and the reader) think it through, it begins to make sense. I'm not sure I'm all in favor of the ending as it seems a bit grandiose, but it works with the setup. Some characters from the last book are here, though in different places; Billy the Kid's fate is sad, but I was amused and quite heartened by Reverend Canon Don Camillus and his ice cream truck.

What I love about this book and its predecessor -- aside from the cracking good story and the entertainment of trying to identify the various people -- is that it actually manages to dig up some logic and sense in the concept of Hell. It also aligns with my personal philosophy that we make our own fates by our actions, not by some arbitrary randomness, and that we're always capable of learning. That even something as apparently horrible as hell could have a purpose beyond infinite sadism, and that no one is beyond redemption. For some people of course it's a longer and harder journey than for others, but that's as it should be. They have more to learn.

Now I'm going to go back and read the original. Sadly, I'm not fluent in Renaissance Italian (go figure) but in the conclusion the authors recommend Dorothy Sayers' translation. I didn't even know she'd done one. So I trip off to my shelf to see whose I have, thinking it would be John Ciardi's, and lo and behold -- it's hers! I think that's a sign.


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