Don't forget to visit Kaylia's Official Website where you can get information about Kaylia's upcoming events, and learn more about her publications.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Benny and Shrimp

A book review for

Benny and Shrimp written by Katrina Mazetti

Once upon a time….

… and they all lived happily ever after.

Fairy tales are nice… sometimes. Sometimes though as readers we crave something a bit more honest, a bit more rough around the edges, a bit more Romance = washing he dishes and giving your significant other a nice foot massage.

Sometimes we don’t need a cliché storybook ending, we want something vital and real. We want something compelling and true.

It is in times like this that I would recommend a book like Benny and Shrimp.

The story is a classic Boy meets Girl… but that is where the cliché ends. This boy (Benny) and girl (the affectionately nicknamed Shrimp) meet at a graveside. And no, it isn’t morbid… it is sweet and somehow fitting. After a few causal glances at each other, they begin what amounts to two fish out of water stories and some endearing romantic comedy adventures.

But the book, and really the story, keep from being just.another run of the mill romance with the addition of a few key things. First, the narrative device of parallel structure is handled masterfully with the narration switching back and forth between our two main characters. It is worth noting that this tool is used to perfection… the reader never feels that they are getting more of one person’s side of the story and each of the very distinct voices is allowed to be showcased.

Another little tid bit is the fact that the book was originally written in Sweden. Surprisingly enough, this wasn’t as much of an issue as it was an occasional “oh yea, right… Sweden.” I loved the fact that the story itself was so well told that it could have taken place in the Midwest of America, England, or half a dozen other places and it still would have resonated.

Lastly, and I will be vague in an effort to not spoil anything for you, the problems of the love birds are both hauntingly realistic and classically endearing…. There doesn’t seem to be an easy clear cut answer…Because we feel for both of them, it is hard to find a solution. We just aren’t sure what is going to happen next. Much like life, that is what keeps us interested to the very end.

Again, I highly recommend this spirited, funny, poignant, realistic, and magical modern fairy tale.

(Oh… and I guess I should mention that it is tiny and simply a snap to read.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Wrote A Book

It is time.....

My book, Links, is now available for purchase on Amazon.com!!!!

The price is 11.95 (plus tax and shipping) and you can have it in your hot little hands as soon as next week!

How freakin’ sweet is that?

Copies are available for purchase on my website as well. (Initial supplies are limited and there is a bit of a delay for shipping… until we have the bugs worked out, I encourage you to use Amazon or send me an email at kayliametcalfe@gmail.com letting me know you want to be alerted once the process has been streamlined.)

Thank you all for your support and assistance in this project!

And just to whet your appetite, here is what the back of the book says:

A mother struggling to forge a connection with the daughter she lost years ago, the emptiness and frustration of a lonely marriage, a sweet sexual coming of age, a sisters' shared innocent rebellion, a surprising moment of horrific introspection, a moment of closure that shadows any hope for new beginnings...these stories and more showcase the links that everyday people struggle to create.

These are glimpses of successes, of failures, of hope. They travel deep into the hearts and minds of the regular people who embody our contemporary culture and remind us all of what it means to be human, to be linked.

Although the characters do not know each other, their common desire to find a connection reverberates throughout the collection, connecting each story with themes of loss, change, forgiveness, and acceptance.

Join these extraordinary voices as they weave together a chain of unforgettable Links.

Again, thank you everyone… this personal dream couldn’t have happened without the love and support of my family, my friends, my readers, and yes, even those wacky people on the morning train.


Friday, October 2, 2009

Between Me and the River

Book Review for Between Me and The River by Carrie Host.

This book was a haunting portrayal of a woman battling a rare and fatal form of cancer.

Sounds uplifting right? Well, no. It is about a woman with cancer, but it wasn’t depressing oddly. It wasn’t a litany of regrets or a weep-fest. It wasn’t full of anger. It wasn’t full of God.

It was full of honesty and poetry.

Carrie Host is truly a gifted writer. Her tone is simplistic and profound. Her words are beautiful and poignant. There are times that she gets a bit verbose, but she does have cancer after all.

What really touched me about Carrie’s story was the sheer poetry of her language. Her metaphors are well constructed. Her imagery is woven with the perfect blend of truth and sadness.

It is beautifully done.

What could have been simply a long run on of “woe is me” became a touching love letter from Carrie to her children, one of whom was an infant when she was diagnosed.

But it wasn’t just her remarkable ability to transcend her expierence into beautiful words and phrases. Carrie Host also told of her pain and suffering with an honesty and an attention to detail that makes the reader feel a part of her personal struggle.

Again, it was beautiful.

The book made me value my health, want to reach out to my mother, and learn more about carcinoid cancer.

Carrie Host is still alive, still writing, and her story is one that will touch and stay with you forever.

I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

District 9

At once buddy cop anti government and freedom fighter while being highly stylized and horribly graphically gory, this movie is not for the faint of heart, or the weak of stomach. Also, if you are annoyed by plot holes and if narrative flow is important to you, I recommend that you skip this one and take refuge in something better executed, like Moon.

I had heard a lot about this movie and was excited to see it. Perhaps my expectations were too high… perhaps my sensitivities for plot holes and break of narrative devices are too sensitive. Either way, while the movie was decent… it did leave me with an overwhelming feeling of “Blech.”

Which isn’t always a bad thing. But in this case… it wasn’t really a good thing either.

First, the movie, which follows the misadventure of a mid level bureaucrat tasked with relocating 1.8 million alien Prawns from their ghetto into a concentration camp sort of place, is an interesting story.

The allegory to apartheid isn’t lost and the disconnect between liberal ideals and reality showcased in the foils of the bureaucratic versus military standpoint is well played. The aliens themselves are nicely done from a special effects standpoint and it is almost refreshing that the entire situation takes place in Johannesburg , South Africa and not New York .

Of course the eviction of the aliens doesn’t go as planned, of course there is an evil conspiracy, of course humanity’s love affair with weapons and violence is showcased. From the Nigerian gangs to the white scientists, a picture of human nature at it basest and lowest is painted. At the center is Wikus who starts off as an insensitive bumbling sort of bigot and turns into a sympathetic bumbling idiot. This is a character only a mother could love… in fact his own mother does appear on screen long enough to admit that he was rather annoying but, after all, he was her son. The only way to not hate the character is to accept that you don’t necessarily like him, but were still going to root for him anyway.

On the whole, not bad.

But there were, of course, problems.

The shtick, besides aliens landing in Africa and then being forced to live in slums, is the documentary style in which much of the film was shot. As narrative devices go, this can be a very decent way to tell a story. A few issues invariably arise however. The first is the constant movement of the camera work that can make many audience members nauseous. (There was also an awful lot of gore, which gets more graphic in shots like this.) I, however, wasn’t bothered by the movement having never had any sort of motion sickness issue. No, what bothered me was more of a breakdown in narrative flow.

If you are going to make a movie documentary style, then you should never have moments that are clearly not part of the documentary. Having times when the shot, the angle, the subject is obviously not part of documentary footage breaks down the narrative flow. Having shots that further the story but don’t fit in… well that is just sloppy film making.

Then there was the element of, what I like to call, Plot Spackle. In this case it was magic liquid that not only could pilot a space ship, but also change human DNA into alien DNA.

These things with some very large plot holes made a movie that had a good idea…. It just wasn’t executed as well as it could have been.

It eventually comes down to how much slack you personally want to cut the filmmakers in the name of “cool idea” and “original idea.” Again, the acting was good, the special effects were believable, the plot holes were distracting, and the overall feel of the movie suffered by being made in a way that wasn’t actually a helpful way to tell what was, at its core, a very nifty story indeed.

Watch the D9 preview here

Here's a clip:

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Visions of America

Book Review for Visions of America

The idea of this mammoth coffee table book was to showcase the idea of Democracy through pictures.

The thing is… Democracy is an idea, it is hard to put an image along with it that isn’t something Congress, White House, Roman Senators, or Simple Waving Flag.

Joseph Sohm doesn’t go that route though…. Instead he shows the reader Democracy by tying the idea of Democracy to the idea of America… something much easier to photograph..

American people: at play, at work, in politics, in sports… American places: rural landscapes and city sky lines. This book is a gorgeous array of several of the puzzle pieces that make up the mosaic of American life. The shots are well composed, perfectly places on the pages, bright, colorful, resonating with patriotism and power.

And they are beautiful.

I like the state by state (even if I wish there had been more of it) I loved the large beautiful shots (even if a few were slightly cliché… clichés are there for a reason, because they work.) This book never failed to illicit murmurs of admiration from the people who flipped through it.

And almost everyone who has entered my apartment over the last few weeks has flipped through it, which is no small task… the book is huge and heavy. But it was worth it. As people flipped, they paused at the photographs, they nodded to themselves, they told stories of their own lives that they were suddenly reminded of because of the photographs.

No one read the text, which is a shame because it is here that Sohm really shines. But, of course, that isn’t the point of a coffee table book. The point is of visuals that impact and stay with you.

This book then, is a success.

Post script: I don’t normally put my own politics into my reviews… and today will be nom exception. However, I would like to point out that our country is currently divided over some pretty big issues and it is nice to see something positive. I think we could all benefit from taking a moment and dwelling on the good parts of our country no matter our differing opinions. I encourage you to visit the Sohm’s website and to enjoy the video below.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Author Interview: Screw Cupid

It isn’t often that you get to interview the author of a book you wrote a book review for... at least, it isn’t often that I get to do such a thing.

I must admit, I was a bit nervous. After all, while I saw some definite good in the book (Screw Cupid: The Sassy Girl’s Guide to Picking up Hot Guys –Full review Here-) including the writing itself, the style, the ideas of parties and places to meet said Hot Guys, I definitely took exception to a few of her ideas and suggestions. Again, you can read my review if you wonder what I am alluding to.

So then, how to talk to the author of a book that I found disquieting? What to ask her besides the obvious “Really? What were you thinking? What planet do you live on?” sort of things. I managed to curtail myself and decided to ask her questions drawn out of discussions I had with people about the book during the reviewing process and questions that came to me from the review.

I sent her 25 questions and she was nice enough to write back.. I hope she doesn’t regret it.

First off, I don’t want to be overly nitpicky… but some of her answers made my head spin.

Like her use of the word “rad” as in… “Another rad idea…”, I mean. Wow. The idea was indeed “rad” but I think I don’t need to explain how things like this can be really offsetting.

Ok… so without further ado, here is my interview with Samantha Scolfield, author of Screw Cupid: The Sassy Girl’s Guide to Picking Up Hot Guys: (I edited them down to keep this short(er) but if you really want to read all 25 questions, let me know.)

1.Can you tell us why you wanted to write it… and what led you to feel qualified?

I’ve been told my whole life by my friends that I should write down my mishaps in dating but couldn’t really think of a good reason why people would want to hear them. Then, when I figured out the secret to how to easily meet and start conversations with the guys I wanted to talk to, my good reason was there. I wanted to help others to meet the guys they liked, without having to repeat my mistakes.

2.One of the best aspects of the book is your frankness in telling us your mistakes and awkward moments. What do you think you learned from these experiences?

Hmm.... humility and what it feels like to be insanely embarrassed! Mostly what I took away from all my mishaps is to not take it personally when you get rejected (because 99% of the time your rejection is way more about their issues than yours), and that if you like yourself, others will follow suit.

3.Were you involved with the cover art and artistic feel of the book? Why did you go the route of bright pink and cartoon feel?

Yep, I was involved, and am very pleased with what the designer and the publisher came up with. They did a fantastic job. Bright pink happened because it’s bright, and also it’s a girl book and we wanted it to be immediately identifiable as such. The cartoon feel was the favorite out of many, many, MANY different cover ideas.
*(Just a side note here… one of the things that a lot of my readers disliked about th book was it’s obvious pinkness=femininity thing… could just be a case of the audience I tend to attract/interact with, but just thought I would point that out.)

4.Can you talk a bit about what sort of success you had with your techniques?

Well, I met my current boyfriend using my techniques, and he’s awesome, so that’s a check in my success column.
*(Another side note… she met her boyfriend online… so, yes, using the technique of “starting a conversation out of thin air” but if you are on an online dating site, it is hard, nigh, impossible to incorporate the whole Don’t Let Him Know You Are Interested part of Screw Cupid’s advice. Just saying’)

5.You say that you took three years of research to write this… as you get older, do you feel the techniques are ideas are still relevant?

Nothing has changed. Because Screw Cupid is based on a basic tenet of human nature (i.e. we want what we don’t know we have), I expect this will still work for as long as humans date each other.

6.Do you feel the techniques are usable for any geographic location?

Most definitely. As long as there are people to talk to, the techniques will work.
*(Several of my readers took exception to this idea… and the fact that the author resides in California’s LA does tend to make a difference.)

7.There seems to be a focus on bar/club settings. Do you think the ideas of the book can work outside of a meat market sort of place?

I mention bars and clubs only because they’re the first place most people think of when they go “out to meet guys”. I’m actually much more of a fan of outdoor venues where everyone is there to have a good time and hang out - outdoor concerts, food or drink festivals, hiking groups - these are great places to meet people because no one is walking around with a pre-conceived notion that they are there to find someone to date. They’re just there to enjoy life.
*(I really wish she had incorporated this more in the book… )

8. What would be your main piece of advice to single women who are looking for love?

Break out of your comfort zone and try new things - take classes, join new groups, sign up for something you’ve never signed up for before (a marathon, for example). If what you’re currently doing isn’t working, it’s time to change it up a bit.

*(This is perfect! It is advice like this, common sense to be sure but actually useful, that saved the book… if she had focused more on this and less on some of the other stuff, I think the book would have been much more useful.)

9. Many women might not want to play the role of the helpless, confused, in need of assistance or advice female when first meeting a hot guy… any advice for them?

Screw Cupid’s conversation starters can be a question about anything - they don’t have to be of the damsel-in-distress variety. You could say to the Hot Guy in question that you just got off the phone with your girlfriend and you guys have been arguing about health care reform and you’d like a second opinion.

*(I’m not sure if she is joking about this… let’s leave it and hope so.)

10. You advise to not be overly flirty because then your intentions will be clear and this is a turn off for men, but most of your openers lean toward the flirty side of things… asking about grunting etc. When do you think it is it OK to flirt and when do you think women shouldn’t?

Well, you’re talking about two different kinds of flirting here. Flirting by winking and blowing kisses prior to asking a question (that, using Screw Cupid’s techniques, should indicate that you could care less if you’re talking to him or to some other guy) won’t work. He’ll know in that situation in very certain terms that you’re very interested in talking to him. If, however, you ignore him and then go ask your question, he’s not going to know whether or not you like him - which is attractive. Humans want what they don’t know they have. Asking a guy in a teasing manner why the male persuasion grunts in the gym (which could be construed as flirting) is still a neutral question.

*(No, no it’s not… especially if you are at a social place and if he is a stranger. Also, do people actually wink and blows kisses at strangers/ Am I just too old to have ever found that an acceptable way of making contact?)

11. A lot of women are self conscious about talking to random guys… any advice for a woman who simply can’t just start a conversation with a guy?

Warm up to it, but don’t give up and remember, practice, practice, practice! The fear behind approaching guys is 100% about rejection. Screw Cupid’s techniques are designed to set up a situation where you can talk to a guy without him knowing you’re interested. How can he reject you if he doesn’t know you’re interested?

*(By seeing through the clever ruse and then not talking to you…?)

12. Using your pick up line techniques… what do you hope women will be able to accomplish?

I want to level the playing field in dating. I want women to be able to talk to the guys that they like, without having to wait for the guy to initiate the conversation.

*(Again… this is a noble goal… I personally disagree with how she is setting up the go-about-it-process… but the goal is damn important.)

13. Your approaches seem to count on quantity rather than quality… if a girl isn’t out to collect dozens of telephone numbers but wants to make a good solid connection, do you think your advice is still usable?

I focus on quantity only so that you can quickly weed through the not-so-desireables to find your quality guy. You’ve got to keep meeting new people so that you can fine-tune what exactly you’re looking for and find that perfect guy for you.

14. Do you think attitudes about the double standard of women hitting on and pursuing men are changing in our society? Do you think they are different in regards to age… as in guys in their 20s might be threatened by an assertive women but guys in their 40s might not be?

As far as I can tell, 95% of the male population (20 to 80) would LOVE IT if women took the initiative in dating, so yes - it seems like societal standards are definitely changing. What’s not going to change is an aversion to awkwardness (or what happens when you make your sexual interest in your targeted Hot Guy known).

*(So guys love it when women take the initiave… as long as they don’t know the girl is actually interested… Am I the only one left scratching my head?)

15. Do you watch any of the reality romantic set-em-ups on TV/ (Like the Bachelor, Cupid, etc)

I graduated from high school with one of the guys on the most recent season of The Bachelorette, so I watched a couple episodes of that, but other than that I don’t watch them. I much prefer real life to TV!


So, I hope you have learned a little bit more about Samantha Scolfield and her book Screw Cupid: The Sassy girl’s Guide to Picking Up Hot Guys.

Let me leave you with this gem:

You know all those “great guy friends” that every woman has? Most of them don’t talk to girls they don’t know anymore because they’ve been burned by fake phone numbers and bitchy reactions to their pick-up attempts. These guys aren’t losers - they just don’t know how to initiate conversation. Why not take the initiative and start the conversation yourself? By the way, I’m currently working on the sequel to Screw Cupid - teaching these Nice Guys how to meet girls.

(Full interview available upon request.)

Read full review here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Screw Cupid

Book Review for Screw Cupid: The Sassy Girl’s Guide to Picking Up Hot Guys written by Samantha Scolfield

Where to start? Maybe with the word “Sassy” which seems out of place, maybe with “Picking Up” which is 1999-speak for today’s “Hook Up”, and maybe with “Hot Guys” which actually sets the tone a bit for the book… in that it plays upon shallow stereotypes, oversimplification, and an almost detrimental view of gender role relations.

We could also start with the fact that the book is bright pink.

Here’s the thing… the idea behind the book is worthwhile…. It is the methods that are nauseating. So, for real, let’s start with what actually works.

Samantha Scolfield has written what amounts to a quick and easy guide on how to start conversations out of thin air. This is a valuable skill… the skill of small talk, of extroverted communication, of finding a way to talk to strangers in ways that will usually inspire them to talk back to you.

Her voice as a writer is delightful, funny, and honest. Her recounting of bad dates and embarrassing moments are cringe worthy and can be widely appreciated and sympathized with. She even gives a pretty decent list of places to meet people (even if she sticks to examples featuring the gym and the bar), and her party theme ideas had me taking notes.

It’s just the rest of it.

She starts off with the premise that Hot Guys (described as any guy you personally find hot) won’t ever be attracted to girls who are assertive and honest about what they want. Therefore, it is the job of the Sassy Girl to start a conversation with her intended Hot Guy… but, and here’s the kicker, not let him know she is interested.

It’s a whole new way of playing hard to get. A way, she assures us, will work because the guy will suddenly become so engrossed in making sure the girl wants him, that he will forget any idea of not wanting her.

Before we even discuss the problems of her actual advice, we must first consider the premise. Are Hot Guys turned off by women who make their intentions clear? I would wager that the percentage probably mirrors girls who are turned off by guys who are a bit too on the nose. But, let’s be clear. There is a big difference between “Nice boots, wanna F—k.” and “”Hey, my name is….” To distil all men’s attraction or non attraction to women who actually show interest is taking the cheap way out of the question.

This, sadly, isn’t the only time or place where Scolfield decides to forgo actual thought and rely on antiquated perceptions of how guys think. According to her, most guys like golf, most guys don’t want to be hit on, most guys can’t see through her “clever” ruse.

Yes, those quotes were intentional… there is nothing clever about her conversation/not flirting/secret ruse of picking up on the hot guy.

Here are a few examples of how you too could start a conversation with a guy so that he won’t know you are interested:

Ask him why guys grunt at the gym.
Ask him what’s up with guys hogging the TV remote.
Ask him if he thinks Angelina Jolie is pretty.
Ask him to interoperate “guy speak” that some other guy told a some other friend.

If Scolfield finds anything wrong with starting off the conversation by having the female throw herself into the bimbo helpless victim role, she doesn’t show it.

You know what’s coming right? I have to say it… books like this perpetuate the double standard and the objectification of women. Scolfield is telling us that is it okay for women to make the first move… just as long as no one can recognize it as a move.

And what’s worse… any guy not drunk off his ass or with two brain cells to rub together will see through this and know that she is interested, throwing the original premise out the window.

Let’s face it… girls don’t randomly start conversations with guys unless they are interested in something. It isn’t always sex… sometimes we need to know what time it is… but if you are male and in a bar and a girl starts to chat you up about practically anything (especially things like grunting and Angelina Jolie’s prettiness) she probably has a watch.

That brings us to location. Most of the scenarios that are discussed are bar/club sort of interactions. Couple that with the term “picking up” and what you get is a lesson in Quantity, not Quality. In fact, SC extols the virtues of thinking of dating as a numbers game. One of her key pieces of advice is to not talk too long to any one guy… get a date on the schedule (or his number) and then move onto the rest of the guys at the bar.

Because nothing says I’m not at all a flakey bar fly like schmoozing your way through ten different guys in one night.

I would like to point out, Samantha Scolfield lives in LA. Methinks there might be a location driven aspect to this book. Maybe these superficial techniques for winning the numbers game works in what is easily one of the shallowest cities in the world… do you honestly think it would work anywhere else?

The ironic thing is that that it doesn’t really matter what the girls say to the guys at the bars or clubs (or vice versa). With the amount of noise inherent and the over all meat market mentality prevalent in 98% of them… connections are going to be made based on mutual attraction no matter what she says to start the conversation. This is where the book could really have worked… if the idea had been “it doesn’t matter what you say, get out there and start talking” we would have a very different, and much less offensive, guide. Instead the focus is, again, on quantity and getting connections.

But what sort of connections? Again, Scolfield does a great job of listing p[possible ways to start a random conversation… and her ideas of how to mentally psych yourself up to do that if you happen to be shy are worthwhile, but her goal here is to get you as many numbers and dates as possible… which might be just what some people are looking for, but I guarantee that a lot of people out there want actual connections. Quality over Quantity.

Ironically, Scolfield says that she did “research” for this book for three years… which means that she went on a whole slew of first dates but didn’t actually manage to turn any of those into relationships… until yes, apparently she now has a boyfriend who she met using her methods.

She met him online.

Ironic? Maybe.. but also totally understandable. What this book really does is list possible conversation starters and prove that it is hard to meet people at bars.

Like most things in life, we can take what works and leave the rest. And that, is where we have to end it.

PS: I had a chance to interview Scolfield, Read it Here!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Julie & Julia (movie)

My book review for Julie & Julia is here.

Movie review for
Julie & Julia

This movie was a delight. The movie is told in parallel structure which can be dangerous, but in this case works beautifully. First we have the story of Julie Powell, (played is sweet perfection by Amy Adams) who is a government drone bored post 9/11 New York resident turned food blogger as she cooks all 524 recipes from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in the span of a year.

The counterpart story is that of Julia Child (Meryl Streep is perfection) as she changes from bored housewife to a mistress of French cooking and and then works on writing a cookbook about it.

The two paths never really meet… there is clear intention to keep the story lines distinct which gives both women and both stories the ability to flourish. The movie done exceedingly well; we care about both Julie and Julia and never feel that they are competing with one another. Both could have carried an entire movie but by having the two interwoven we never get sick of the Julia Child voice and we are treated to their lives in steady small delightful doses, sort of like courses in a fancy French dinner.

Both actresses do wonderful jobs and let’s give a shout out to the supporting men (Stanley Tucci for Julia’s Paul and Chris Messina as Julie’s husband ) More than just second tier characters, the love story woven between the couples is genuine and romance at its best.

“You are the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life.” Paul (and then Julie) says and the entire audience swoons.

One of the best parts of the movie is that it really is exactly what the title promises… two stories that have overlapping themes but are still their own.

I find it interesting that this movie was released on the same weekend as the tripe “The Ugly Truth” and the overblown “I Joe” Despite the fact that Julie & Julia is a sweet even tempered romantic story about cooking and loving, it managed good numbers on opening weekend, (In fact it came in as the number 2 movie behind GI Joe. This is good news, it means that we can keep encouraging nice wholesome fun movie to continue being made; the kind of movies that I could take my grandmother or my lover to see.

Again, wonderful movie, well done. I highly recommend it… and ladies, drag your boyfriends/husbands… like good cooking, this movie is meant to be shared with those we love... even if you hate hate cooking!

Monday, August 10, 2009

A Circle of Souls

Book Review for A Circle of Souls by Preetha Grandhi

I read an advanced copy of A Circle of Souls and so I got a copy that had some problems… I am sure that an editor helped fine tune the book before mass market availability. There were some minor formatting issues, a few errant typos, and some pretty major plot inconsistencies…

I am not an editor, my concerns are more story driven, and thus despite these distractions I was able to concentrate on the story and the overall feel of the book.

What I found was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the idea behind the book (a young girl communicating through her dreams with a murder victim) is interesting, but upon execution there are issues.

The first of which is the tone. The themes of the book are dark: murder, child abuse, drug abuse, child psychology, etc. The verbiage, however, and the structure are decidedly simplistic. There is a recurring sing song sort of repetition of names and ideas. The author also relies heavily on “telling” us what the characters are feeling rather than “showing” us.

Maybe that was intentional… to make a point about the interactions of children and adults, to point us toward the truth of these two overlapping worlds, but it wasn’t quite there. Instead the diction seemed watered down for unknown reasons.

The potential of a compelling story was there, it just got lost in the trappings of Trying Too Hard.

There was also the overuse of flashbacks, problems of one dimensional characters, and some unbelievable actions by law enforcements. Add to the mix an obvious red herring of who the bad guy is and a late addition of idea of reincarnation. What we are left with is a story that could have been so much better had it been, in a word, less.

I look forward to future novels by the author, who I believe has a unique voice and an obvious desire to showcase the world from a child’s point of view. A Circle of Souls, however needed more work and fewer issues.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Ugly Truth

Movie review for The Ugly truth

It is ugly, but thankfully it isn’t the truth.

Rarely have I been subjected to such a minutia of insipid downright mind burning entertainment as I was last night while watching The Ugly Truth.From rape jokes to misogynist smarminess masquerading as humor, from the cliché rom/com moments of naked guy and girl in tree to the overt sexual harassment work situations that are laughed off, this move had all the ingredients to warrant it a special place in hell.

The premise is unbelievable, the moral structure is offensive, the chemistry between the two leads is more third grade than anything else, and the wanton use of vulgarity and sexual humor would be laughable if it weren’t so predictable. Oh look… vibrating panties… oh, let me guess, she is going to loose the remote and be subjected to rip roaring orgasms during a corporate meeting. How… funny?

No. Not funny.

This movie seems to take particular delight on cutting down women, on perpetuating misogynist stereotypes, and of giving an updated version of “The Rules” that apparently works and is seen as gospel truth. The main character might be a successful professional women, but only because she is a control freak. She has to be literally remade in the image of what is most desired in order to be able to catch the man she has her heart set on. This includes fake hair, new wardrobe (because her elegant business attire and very stylish comfy clothes are dowdy…. Which, by the way, they wouldn’t be in any universe outside of this movie), advice to laugh at what the man says no matter what, fake orgasms, never criticize, stick her boobs out, play hard to get…. The list goes on and on.

Of course it works because men are all shallow buffoons and they all want bimbo Barbie doll lovers.

Overly cliché, downright offensive, this movie is a severe waste of time energy and talent.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Defying Gravity

TV Review for Defying Gravity

This show was surprisingly good. I had it pegged as a space soap opera with too much sex and too many silly romantic entanglements. What I got instead was a decently written Sci Fi show with (yes) some significant romantic entanglements but more than enough interesting space and mystery stuff to make up for it.

The production value of the show alone is worth checking out… this isn’t the Sci Fi of Star Trek with clean futuristic lines and fancy computers that talk to you…. this is near future drama where people still wear space suits and space travel is an expensive dangerous calling.

The basic premise is that there is a six year mission to travel throughout our solar system, visiting seven planets. Haunted by failures in the past and working under the direction of an as of yet unexplained entity that is pulling the strings, the story of the mission is told in parallel structure with flashbacks of the training on earth and the day to day work of the journey as it unfolds. With a stellar cast and some very written over ridding themes of humanity, intimacy, trust, and cohesiveness,… this show is off to an amazing start.

I highly recommend Defying Gravity and would like to throw out kudos to ABC for producing this space show that feels more like a miniseries than a formulaic people-in-interesting-circumstances sort of drama.

Best part? You can watch the first two episodes on hulu.com!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bonjour Tristesse

Book Review for Francois Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse

Don’t let the fact that the book is tiny, that it was written by a very young unaccomplished writer in 1955, or the fact that it is French dissuade you. This book is wonderful.

We spend the summer holiday with Cecile, a teenage girl on the cusp of womanhood who is caught between the desires of her younger self and those of the woman she is destined to become. Through her eyes we see a glimpse of the beauty of the French seaside and the complexities of her society. Cecile moves toward her abrupt coming of age with resolve and trepidation… she yearns for the simplicity of an imagined perfect family life while at the same time manipulating the adults around her in order to maintain some sense of control.

Cecile’s love hate relationship with first her father’s latest mistress Edna and then later with his fiancé Ann, is really a response to her unorthodox relationship with her father himself. Her fumbling in the matters of love with the older boy Cyril and her loss of her innocence, by her own hand, hallmark the classic heart trauma of a girl becoming a woman.

Cecile is a wonderfully written character. She isn’t always understandable or likable, but she is always engaging. Her metamorphosis is heart breaking and yet wholly unsurprising. Sagan writes with a style that is clear, concise, and reminiscent of Fitzgerald. In fact, had Cecile suddenly taken a trip to West Egg, it would not have seemed out of character.

With its gripping storytelling, it is no wonder that this book became a classic. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Sparrow

Book Review for The Sparrow
Mary Doria Russell

This book was a masterpiece of storytelling.

Weaving together themes of faith, hope, love, adventure, mystery, and exploration, Russel tells the story of a band of pioneers who journey across the galaxy to make first contact with a newly discovered alien species.

Summoned by picking up radio transmits of music, the group is made up of Jesuits, Atheists, and a Jew. But they are more than that… they are a close knit family unit brought together by God, or at the very least by Emilio, the world renowned linguist Jesuit priest.

Not needing anyone’s permission, this group travels via an asteroid in our very near future to find the source of the Alien Singers and perhaps find God along the way.

The story is told on two parallel tracks through Emilio, who has returned to Earth alone, his body and his faith bearing the marks of the violence and horrors that are hard to imagine. As he heals, he slowly tells the story of the fateful mission to his fellow priests. At the same time, Russell uses flashbacks to round out Emilio’s story, to give us background on all the party members, and to bridge the gap of what he can and cannot articulate. The effect is a seamless quilting together of an epic story full of believable characters and profound truths.

Unlike a lot of science fiction, this book focuses more on the characters and their development than technology or setting. The result is that even though there are things like interstellar space travel, the story feels as if it could be happening right now to people you might actually know and better yet, care about. There are aspects of any first contact scenario be it on an alien world or settlers from one country interacting with natives in another. Russel takes the time to gently make socially driven points about the value of language and balance in nature, but these messages are subtle and don't overwhelm the story.

Again, this book is a masterpiece of storytelling... more than any other book I have read this year, I highly recommend The Sparrow.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Julie & Julia (novel)

Julie & Julia

This book was fantastic!

Yes, it is about cooking. (Which I can neither understand the allure of nor the necessity for when there are things like delivery Chinese food and microwaves).

Yes, it is about Julia Child (someone I had never –gasp- really heard of).

And yet… I loved this book almost comepletly. Yes, there was one aspect that bugged me, bothered me, turned my avid reading into dull eyed scanning… and I’ll get to that in a second.

First though, the book is about a woman named Julie who decides pretty much on a whim to cook all 500+ recipes from Julia Child’s first cookbook. Wait… it gets better. First off she will do all of these recipes in the span of only one year, and she will blog about it as she goes.

Now if you are doing the math, you will have realized that she is going to be clocking more than one recipe a day. And writing about her adventures… all while maintaining a job and a social life.

Admirable, sure… but it is Julie’s voice…. Her raw realistic sometimes vulgar and hopelessly honest voice that turns this project into something worth reading about, even if you don’t understand her desire to undertake it.

The story is about the food, the blog, the constant dishes… but more than that Julie tells us a story about her world… of a mindless boring drone job, a social group that is acheningly familiar, and the trials and tribulations of an actual marriage. Her story is the story for any woman who has felt trapped and needed to DO SOMETHING in order to find her power, her voice, in the world.

And it is almost without flaw.

There is just this one thing…

As a blogger, Julie wrote about her adventures in the kitchen, being brutal with the truth and her occasional failure. In the book, she does this as well, but she adds in fictionlized vignettes Julia Child’s life. (I know they are fiction, I read the introduction.) This sadly does a few things… it breaks up the narrative flow and distracts from Julie’s story, Julie’s voice. I am not really sure why she felt the need to do this… in my humble opinion they added nothing, no parallel structure, no on-par climatic build, just the occasional pause in the story of Julie for a bit of Julia.

Other than that… the book is wonderfully done. It keeps the audience engaged and laughing as we journey with Julie toward the project’s completion. Reading it, one is almost convinced that cooking can be fun, that cooking can be worth it, that cooking French food (fancy and involved French food like bone marrow sauce) is doable by even us common women.

In a word: the book is fantastic.

(And yes, I am aware a movie based on the book is due out this summer. Look for the review of it as well as a comparison sometime in August.)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Surrender All

Book Review for Joni Lamb's Surrender All

When reading any work of non-fiction, one must first determine what the goal of the author is, To entertain? To inform? To Persuade? It is the final option that is the most difficult but it is that goal which Joni Lamb chooses for her book Surrender All.

She attempts to convince you to surrender your all to God.

In order to do this, she lays out what, I am sure she thinks, is a well planned out logical argument. This argument is indeed compelling (if ultimately severely lacking in the area of logic).

She starts off the book with the following questions; Do you believe in God? Do you believe that he has a personal stake in your life? Her argument for surrender basically assumes that you have answered YES to both of these statements… she doesn’t try to convince you that there is a God and she only briefly discounts the belief that God might just not care about you personally being more concerned with other God-like worries.

This flaw in her logic can be easily overlooked however if you are of the target demographic; someone who already believes in God. There’s more to it though… it isn’t enough to believe in God, you must surrender to God or else you run the risk of living a horribly unpleasant life despite your faith.

This is where the true essence and problem of the book lies. She spends the next hundred or so pages giving “examples” of people who either didn’t believe or (and this is key) didn’t believe in God enough to warrant the “good life.’ Many of her stories start off with the “There was this man who believed in god but he hadn’t truly surrendered and thus he was unhappy….”

It’s that same old “You might be Christian, but you aren’t a REAL Christian unless….” This is a syndrome of many churches that people find hypocritical.

And her evidence? Her “proof” that only by surrendering all will you ever find true happiness and peace with God? Nothing but a very long list of anecdotal examples which hardly can be used as any sort of reliable evidence.

She also relies heavily on “post hoc ergo propter hoc” as in “I lost my keys, I prayed, then I found my keys… therefore God is not only real but wanted me to find my keys and only gave them back to me because I prayed.”

This sort of attitude is dangerous and it wasn’t long before the examples of people being healed with prayer started to crop up. Of course, hot on their heels were examples of people who weren’t healed because they lacked the proper amount of faith.

Throw in a few tried and true guaranteed to make the liberal Christians vomit sentiments like rock music has evil subliminal messages and the Enemy causes depression, you need good loud praying to cure you and you have the rest of the book. My personal favorite is the lesson (stated over and over again) that God can heal all things if you have faith… even your abusive meth addicted husband. So stick it out, don’t even think about divorce, and just pray really really hard.

In other words, surrender to blind faith.

Obviously, I am not her target audience. I find her logic trite and untrue. I think she does an actual disservice to the religion of Christianity as a whole by touting this “not quite Christian enough” mentality. I also find her views on healing and domestic violence appalling.

Would this sort of fear mongering guilt inducing series of scary bedtime stories work on a believer? I’m not sure. Her television empire is doing quite nicely, so someone must be buying into this.

However the fact that her book has been out since last year and her PR firm contacted me to do a review of it makes me think that sales must not be as good as they would like… Seriously, seeking out a blogger such as myself (with my dozens of gay rights and sexually progressive posts) to write about your book for what could quite possibly be the opposite of your demographic, speaks of either server scraping of the bottom of the barrel or a potentially brilliant conversion method.

Joni’s voice is clear in the book, she writes in a wonderful style that is both conversational and genuine. Her message, however, needs work

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In The Cut

In The Cut

Yes, it’s an “older” movie, but it had been languishing long enough in the bottom of my Netflix queue, so last night I watched it instead of doing one of the other dozen or so things I should have been doing.

Here’s my take;

The movie is surprising in all the not typical ways. Billed as a thriller / mystery with a steamy sexual relationship as its center, what we have is a movie where the twist is pretty much expected, the sex is steamy but stunted and short lived, and the best parts are the hard to decipher stylistic additions that change this from a odd thriller to an artsy thriller.

First, the sex (because I know that’s one of the biggest draws). The sex is hot, good, a bit raw, and there are some elements that are dazzling in how real it all seems. Meg Ryan is naked y’all and she isn’t the bubbly pixie from her rom/com days… this is an adult woman with “twisted” sexual appetites. (Twisted is in quotes because despite what the movie seems to want to tell you, women masturbating, enjoying oral, and being voyeuristic isn’t really that uncommon or that twisted.)

Next: The twist. (No, I won’t give it away). The best part about this movie is the dysfunctional relationships that seemed to be nothing but jagged pieces of the puzzle of life, trying to press against each other hard enough to fit. Which is perfectly apt. Yeah, you can sort of figure out the twist… but the surprising thing is that you spend more time thinking about all the other little things that build into the twist and therefore the end is still satisfying. There are layers of symbolism and when you start asking yourself if random shots hold deeper meanings or clues, you know the movie has done its job.

A few other things:
The symbolism and the use of the color red in this movie is great.
If you have read “To the Lighthouse” you will get the film on a whole deeper level.
The use of cinematographic cut aways and New York as a character itself, is done very well.
Kevin Bacon is very good as crazy manic.

Be prepared, the language is harsh, the sex graphic (even if it doesn’t last long), and the murder scenes are grisly. In short, the movie is precisely what you expect a twisted thriller / sexy suspense movie to be.


Post Script: … it was based on a book! Another addition to the great and mighty “must read” list…..

Tuesday, June 30, 2009



As beginnings go, this one was sort of …. blink and you’ll miss it coupled with cheesy voice over and a tall pointy eared youth walking through a forest.


I suppose it is hard to make a new show based on a story that has been done and redone and then redone again (and again) but in today’s climate of “We miss Buffy” and “Harry Potter made a lot of money….” It isn’t really all that surprising.

Ok, fine. Open mind and all that.


Actually the show isn’t half bad. Anthony Stewart Head is Uthur, the roles of who is who in the court are a bit jumbled, but overall it is a fantasy show with enough familiar touches and enough changes to make it interesting.

Like.. Guinevere is the Lady Morgana’s maid… and she is all sweet on Merlin. This can’t end well.

I will note that Merlin has remarkable teeth… in fact most of the pretty people in this show are well, remarkably pretty which is slightly disconcerting… but the fact that there aren’t any blonds I find refreshing.

By the way, Arthur is cute and also a bully with a sense of justice, Merlin is telekinetic and a bit of a prat, and the music is cliché but perfectly fun. There is also a bit of teenage angst, but thankfully it never gets further than “I want to be special… wait, I am, now I am slightly tortured…” and I can live with that.

I would rather not live with the English accent half the cast have or the creepy badly CGI dragon mentor… but lets not be too picky.

So, despite a lackluster beginning, I will tune in again because we all could use a bit more magic and nifty medieval props in our lives.

Or maybe that’s just me.

(One last note: when someone gives you a old highly illegal book of magic and tells you to keep it hidden, it seems in poor judgment to set it on your bedside table and then walk away from it leaving your door ajar…. Again, maybe that’s just me.)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Novel vs Movie: My Sister's Keeper

The movie review is Here

The book review is here.

Many times it is difficult to compare movies to the books they were based on. The readers of the original story feel a fierce sense of obligation to promote the reading, while those who entered the scene at the movie stage feel just as obligated to tout the energy the acting, the special effects…..

I have always felt that in many cases comparing books to movies is like comparing fresh apples to apple pie. They are both apple in taste, but one has gone through remarkable transformation and is something altogether different. And sometimes, despite you love for apple pie… you crave an apple pure. They are different things and should be treated as such.

This is an argument I usually reserve for when the movie holds its own and despite “never” being as good as the book, it is still a good use of your time.

That is not the case here.

Not only does the book do a better job of telling the core story, a better job of creating characters that you care about, a better job of character development, a better job of pacing and telling a whole complete story…. But the movie does all that badly.


The book is written as series of journal type entries from all the major players involved. We get Ana’s side of things (mostly, she is our main protagonist) but we also get the perspective of the father, the mother, the brother, the lawyer… And this works as a novel. Partly because of the change in font/style/point in time, partly because this narrative technique is tailor made to give us piece after piece of a large puzzle that once complete offers us the whole picture. The movie attempted this sort of thing but fell hopelessly flat. The audience constantly wonders, ‘who are they talking to?’ and the diction is off for it being a journal… in the movie, Ana’s voice over says at one point “that’s my sister…” which is not how one write a journal but rather how one explains a photo.

Also, the point of view of Kate (the sick sister) is held off in the book until the end giving it well deserved weight. In the movie her voice is heard early on and seems to be there to do nothing more than make the audience weepy.

Something novels do extremely well is to show the passage of time. This concept is much harder for movies to do well.. and My Sister’s Keeper is a prime example of this. The actors age oddly and the because of the augmented pacing the time line is sometimes difficult to follow.

In essence, the filmmakers miss much of the beauty and poignancy of the story that was found in the novel. Having the audience actually laugh at improper times is a sign failure.

The whole thing is especially disappointing because there was potential for something really good and deep and meaningful… and at times we almost get it. There are a few moments of symbolism that are well done, but for the movie-goer’s eyes they lack context and thus are totally lost.

Perhaps, however, the real crime here is (as always in an adaptation) the issue of the Unforgivable Change. Little changes are expected, big changes are not appreciated, but again usually accepted… but the Unforgivable Change is truly unquestionably horrific. And no, I am not talking about the ending…. That change can be argued for and against all day and the answer will eventually come down to Hollywood, audiences, and marketing. I am talking about the kidney.

Kate is sick… she has been sick forever and her latest bit of sickness needs a kidney. From here sister. That’s the same scenario in both book and movie. Here’s the difference: in the book, the kidney is not a guarantee of wellness, in fact it is highly likely that even with the kidney, Kate will die. In the movie… not so much. The kidney is the saving grace for Kate making Ana’s fight to not be forced to donate it a bit harder to sympathize with. The idea of the kidney being a guarantee verse a last ditch effort to simply add a bit more time… changes the story in a remarkable and unforgivable way. Especially when you add in the “twist’ and the new ending.

Conclusion: Watch the preview then read the book. Despite its length, it is a shockingly fast read and will give you an actual story that not only makes sense but is worth your time.

My Sister's Keeper (the Movie)

Movie Review for My Sisters Keeper

The book review is here.

Anyone who has seen the preview for this movie knows what they are getting themselves into. You know going into it that there is a sick sister and a not sick sister… and that the not sick sister doesn’t want to be an organ 7-11 anymore. Also, you get the sense from the preview that the movie will teach you about life, love and family sacrifice.

All that is true… but it isn’t enough to make a movie compelling. For that, you would need a few things that this movie sadly lacks. Like cohesion and proper pacing.

I talked to a dozen fellow opening night viewers at my local movie theater and the overwhelming response was “good story, but not set up quite right.” Translation: the story is inherently powerful… sick kid…. Family drama… quality of life… how we deal with death… But the execution of this story left something to be desired. (To be fair this view was shared by those movie goers who had both read the book and who didn’t know it was based on a book.)

The movie had a framing device that was weak, a shifting narration that did little more than make the transitions awkward, and a sever lack of character development.

But ignoring the cinematography, the direction, the acting (which was superb), you are left still with a story that is haunting and tear jerking, and thus it is easy to forget all about everything else.

In other words, because the subject matter is inherently provocative, we don’t need a well made movie in order to leave the theater thinking “wow, how sad.”

In short, a disappointing execution of a very powerful story. Making an audience feel sad, is easy. Sadness is one of the easiest emotions to illicit from any audience no matter age, race, or financial strata. Show a child in peril, show a child in tears, show a mother weeping over a grave…. And Boom! Instant compassion on the side of the viewer.

The makers of My Sister’s Keeper knew this… and they seemed to delight in pouring lemon juice onto the open wounds. It is a shortcut to “good” by being “moving.”

And it was unnecessary.

Conclusion: Watch the preview, read a “spoiler”, and save yourself the ten bucks. You won’t be missing anything.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

My Sister's Keeper (The Novel)

Book Review for My Sister’s Keeper

I saw the preview for the movie and thought “Oh no way would I put myself through what looks like an emotional roller coaster.” Then I saw that it was based on a book and suddenly, I wanted to read it.

Because I’m weird like that.

So, I read the book knowing about as much as you do after watching the preview… there is a family with a sick daughter and another daughter (younger) who doesn’t want to be the organ/blood/tissue/whatever donor for her sister. She gets a lawyer and sues for the right to not have to. Everyone supposedly learns about love and family and sacrifice.

The book, thank goodness is a bit more than that.

Jodi Picoult weaves the story together with multiple narrators, the suing sister Ana is our main character but we also get the perspective of her parents, her lawyer, her brother, and her court appointed liaison. (We don’t get the sick sister’s point of view until the end… a choice that is beautiful executed and almost not noticeable.)

Along the way we learn about not just Ana, but about her whole family… how everyone is affected by the sickness of Kate.

The book is amazingly well written, careful and poetic while being totally believable and charming even as it treads on very shaky emotional ground. This is a story that could lend itself very easily to a caricature of heroes and villains but it manages to make everyone more human than epic.

Such is the case of the mother, Sarah, who is very human… very flawed… and even though you want to understand her, even though Picoult gives you all you need to see why she makes the choices she makes… she is never anywhere as sympathetic as Ana. Her obsession, her coldness, her fear is, again, understandable but we never really warm up to her.

I will say that maybe having Sarah as a character who we can’t wholly get behind helps keep the story focused on Ana… but I would also point out that had Picoult made her more likable, the drama at the end would have been better.

This separation that is there though makes the book fraught with tension and also supremely realistic.

From a reader’s standpoint, it is an easy read as far as words and chapters are concerned but it is a difficult read as you watch a family at the edge of implosion.

And then the ending comes along, knocks you on your rear end, and leaves you torn.

I highly recommend the book…. With a poetic prose that is clear and yet strangely cryptic, this book will hold you in thrall all the way through.

If you are interested: My take on the movie is Here and a discussion on how they compare is here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Movie Review for Departures

I had no idea what to expect when arriving at the theater... I had been invited as part of local indi film group and had the vague notion that it might be a foreign film. Other than that, I went in ignorant.

And left enlightened and moved.

The film (Japanese with English subtitles) is about a young man who learns the true value of life and death while he struggles to hold on to what is dear and let go of the past that haunts him. He has given up his dreams of being a master at the cello and moved back to his village with his wife. Desperate for a job he answers a want ad that says something vague about “Departures” but it isn’t a travel agency job… instead it is preparing the bodies of the dead for cremation.

Along the way, the audience watches as he struggles to tell his wife about his “shameful” job, while dealing with his own feelings of bitterness toward a father who abandoned him as a child. The movie is set is some of Japan’s most beautiful countryside and with haunting cello performances and stirring cinematography, the entire journey flows seamlessly.

It is little wonder that the movie won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. I highly anticipate showing it to friends and family… and owning the soundtrack as soon as I can find it.

It is still playing in limited places and for limited times… I highly recommend that you seek it out and prepare yourself for a wonderful story that weaves together romance, humor, and solemn beauty to tell a story that touches us all.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


This title comes to me courtesy of The 501 Book.

Book Review of Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

Many people will recognize Margaret Atwood as the author of The Handmaid’s Tale. This book is quite different, in fact, except for the author being one and the same, there is nothing else that ties these two together.

Surfacing is the story of a woman’s search of self as she searches for signs of her father on her family’s island home. Is he dead? Has he simply faded away in the untamed wilderness? She must know... but it isn’t just him she is looking for, it is a way to connect to him and to herself. She returns to the remote island she grew up on accompanied by two friends who are strangers and her lover and Atwood does a beautiful job of showcasing the difference between the “city” and the “country”, the ‘civilized’ versus the ‘uncivilized. The distance between the two is closer than you might expect, and when she at last taps into the wild, the reader cannot help but be lost in the woods as well.

This book is not for the faint of heart… this is not a book that can travel to the beach in a summer bag next to the sunscreen and the bottles of water. This is a book that cries out to be read in near silence, preferably near a serene lake. Not to say that you could read it anywhere… just that it begs for the completeness of your attention.

The characters are sometimes difficult to connect to, but the beauty of the description and the stillness of the action cannot be glossed over. Like a deep long dip in silent black water after the harshness of a day spent in direct sunlight, this novel will pull you under its spell and leave you transfixed, hypnotized by the desire of the heroine and craving your own wild pats… an animalistic desire for the uncivilized that lurks under the surface in each and every one of us.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Listener

Dear Kay,

Have you heard or watched the new show “The Listener”? I was wondering what you thought about it.

-Blog Reader Who Prefers Not to Have Her Name Used

Dear Blog Reader Who Prefers Not to Have Her Name Used

I am going to call you BRWPNHHNU, no wait… even that is too long… how about Trixie? Trixie it is.

Dear Trixie,
No, I have never heard of this show, but a quick search turned it up. In order to answer your question about what I think of it, I will have to watch it. Here I go!

Since the Castle treatment was so popular, here is the same sort of thing for The Listener. (blow by blow recap of the first scene, general recap following, and snarky review along the way.)

The Listener

We open on a young man standing on what at first looks like a roof during sunrise. His voice over asks us if we ever wonder what people are thinking… he doesn’t (apparently he tells us… and then our young man (OYM until they give him a name) gets a bit cryptic because that is what every show needs… a long slow buildup to pique your interest and make you salivate for the treat. OYM, by the way, is not saliva worthy in my book. Seems OYM is a telepath who can turn off (or mute) his ability by making a fist… sort of a physical technique to mirror brain activity that hopefully won’t ever be any more symbolic than that. (I don’t want anyone thinking that the way to shut up someone else is with a fist, thank you very much) and who also refers to his gift as God giving him “free cable.” Who wouldn’t want free cable?

His intro is complete with sidewalk swagger set to piano music but with horrible lighting in which he scans the people who walk by; the semi flirty thoughts of a woman and the fashion misgivings of a man. The man, at least, is totally valid in his fashion misgivings and I crack a smile. Then OYM proves that he is a good guy who uses his powers for good by giving an old man in a diner the extra buck he was just realizing he needed. Intro complete its time for the exposition as OYM sits down at a table and strikes up conversation with his friend (Cute Friend) in which we learn that he was with a girl named Olivia last night, he is habitually late to things, he is a first year paramedic, and the lighting crew really want us to notice he has pretty eyes. Also, he might have girl trouble but doesn’t want to talk about it with Cute Friend and they head off because now they are both late and we get more voice over (because voice overs teasing of framing devices that never actually show up are such good ways to shorthand actual storytelling….). He doesn’t want to be a freak he tells us (who? Who cares.) even as he gently touches the old guy from a minute ago and tells him to have a nice day. The old guy has a look like, “Hey… where you going cutie?”

In Cute Friend’s car with adorable mirror hanger doo-dad of course, the boys discuss their mutual lack of plans for the night while OYM texts someone and describes his fights with Olivia as two people with “unique points of view.” Cute Friend is not convinced as his thoughts betray him. And then OYM has a seizure of sorts while getting flashes of a car accident with someone trapped inside. Cute Friend pulls over (there is no traffic in this part of New York [CORRECTION: Toronto] it seems) and does that whole snapping of fingers and such while naming OYM who will now be Toby. Toby assures Oz (Cute Friend) that he is okay, it isn’t a brain amorism or a migraine. (If they are such good friends, how is it that he has never seizured up like this before?) Cute Oz is about to pull away when he notices a block away the same car accident Toby had just Sam Winchester-ed about*.

The boys jump from the car and run over to help. Despite Oz being the first to notice and run over, it is Toby who breaks the window and frees the girl while Oz stands back and says helpful things like “The car’s on fire” and “Be careful Toby.” He gets the girl and carries her heroine style away from the car with Oz saying ‘I thought it was gonna blow” and Toby responding “It’s not a movie, it doesn’t happen that way.” and then of course it does. BOOM! The boys share a look and the blond in Toby’s arms faints and credits roll.

And that ends my play by play portion except to say that the credits are horribly lame with nothing more than bright lights and a very intense scowling Toby staring off into the distance. I am guessing that they spent the budget on exploding cars.

Throughout the rest of the episode we learn that they are both Emergency Medical Service people, and that Toby likes to use his “free cable” for more than the occasional charity buck. He uses it to solve crimes… to set right what once went wrong… to kiss up with the boss, to stroke the ego of Oz, to waylay the aggravations of an ex girlfriend … We also learn that Olivia is a pretty doctor with a stick up her ass, She doesn’t seem to like Cute Oz while I find myself liking him more and more (his background pantomime of the adventure involving the car was perfect) and I wish he had been in more of the episode.

Oh and the lighting never gets better.

The police detective by the way is hot in one of those “I’m a model pretending to be something else” sort of way who doesn’t ever really do any detective work and in the end all but throws up her hands in a “I don’t know what just happened, but there is happy-ending-music playing, so it’s all good.” ort of way and exits stage right.

There is also a scientist professor mentor for Toby, named Ray who knows Toby’s secret. See, Toby’s powers are increasing and that freaks him out a bit.

We get the obligatory “I have to do something, I might be the only one who can help” and the “No one can know about you.” (from Ray.) and Toby is off to be the hero, to rescue the kidnapped son of the car accident mom.

What I didn’t like about the show:

It makes the same classic reading mind mistake most shows do. It implies that people only have one thought at a time and it is super concentrated. Toby looks at a woman for 5 seconds and she only thinks one sentence? Right,. Ok. Also, Toby seems to be able to visualize what the person is thinking… living in their flashback. So, then shouldn’t the show be called something besides “The Listener” since he is doing more than listening? His gift seems to have no real set parameters and thus it makes it hard to buy the whole “my gift is evolving” plot device.

Also, the lightening really sucks.

Another thing, no one ever brings up the idea that reading people’s thoughts is a bit of a huge violation of personal space. (Is this a FOX show?**) Also, the plot devices kind of overworked the plot… when car accident mom ditches the hospital it is Dr. Olivia who confronts Toby saying that the patient is in a bad way, with a concussion. (But this was the day before… and she can’t be the only person who has ever left the hospital AMA with just a concussion right?) If Dr. Olivia is so concerned why doesn’t she go to the patient’s house to check up on her, why give Toby (an EMS worker who wasn’t even on the case) the patient’s address. Why why why? Oh right. Because the script says so. I am so sick of TV’s depiction of doctor’s without morals. Gah!

And then Toby breaks into car accident mom’s apartment!!!!!!! I mean holy crap on a two foot stick! Yeah, he can justify his bump key because he is a EMS, but still!

The time sequence seems a bit rough around the edges, a lot of coincidences and even some huge time lapses.

We never see any actual calls the boys make being all EMS-y… too much time being all detective/hero.

They change narrative devices at 19 minutes, suddenly showing us things in real time that are happening to other characters. Which… seems… like cheating. And also disrupts the flow (such as it was) of the show.

Having the poor adorable little boy with his huge eyes calling his mommy “I miss you mommy” was a bit excessive. And the way in which the bad guy is dealt with was all sorts of lame.

Mostly though, the problem is with the acting of Toby… who… can’t act. Widening your blue eyes under big bushy brows does not you an actor make. And the way he talks, bleh, all low tone and intense feeling that feels overly phoned in.

What I liked: (much shorter list)

The cop who might be too pretty for realness but who kinda didn’t take anything from Mr. Intensity (Toby). Also, she wears totally inappropriate clothes but with the figure she strikes, no one seems to mind. Is that sexist? Nope… It’s true.

Vigilante mom buys a gun and has no idea how to hold it, this was unintentionally funny and totally sad.

The hints at creepy back-story involving a “gifted” mother and repressed memories for Toby.

I give this show a C- and will probably not watch it again.

*Supernatural dig there, ignore me.
**No, it is a Canadian show that has been picked up by NBC. -sigh-