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Book Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Vampire horde.Summary:
A worldwide virus pandemic has turned most of the world’s population into vampires–both alive and undead.  Robert Neville might, quite possibly, be the only uninfected left.  Every day he goes out on his quest to simply kill the vampires while they sleep.  Every night he curls up in sound-proofed home drinking whiskey and listening to records.  Will anything ever save him from this monotonous existence?

Review:
It’s difficult to read a highly influential scifi book that inspired both the trend of writing of a worldwide pandemic and the original Night of the Living Dead and find that you actually are a bit unimpressed by it.  I was simply expecting more from such an influential book.

Claustrophobic.  That is the best word to describe the book, and it is also what Matheson excels at.  Depicting the effects of painful ostracism and loneliness on a person’s psyche.  For Robert isn’t alone per se.  He is surrounded by those infected with the virus.  Yet he can’t hang out with them or converse logically with them.  They are entirely at odds, and whereas the infected have each other, Neville has no one.  What this book depicts is what happens when the world moves on, and someone is left behind.  This is truly well done and what makes the book periodically powerful.

Yet it struggles with things, particularly the most simple story-telling and pacing.  The order of events is disjointed and difficult to make sense of.  Neville is a rather unsympathetic character because we only get rare glimpses into his past life before the apocalypse.  His relationship with Ben Cortman, an infected neighbor, is built up to be important and influential, yet it is dropped at the last minute.  One plot point in particular toward the end of the book truly makes very little sense.  The actions of the infected seem to be ludicrous at best.  At the base of it, we see Neville’s insanity much more clearly than we see his previous sanity, which makes his gradual changes due to loneliness less powerful.  Thus, both the characterization and the plot suffer from a certain ever-present disjointedness.

This reads as a great idea that was a bit poorly executed.  Perhaps this is why it has inspired so much other creativity.  The germ of the idea is excellent and easy to ponder upon in spite of a far less sophisticated story-telling.  I thus mostly recommend this to fans of the worldwide pandemic or Night of the Living Dead franchise to see where it all started.  Those who are intrigued by the look at ostracism may enjoy it as well, but others probably should steer clear.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: Soul Hunt by Margaret Ronald (Series, #3)

Blue-looking woman smelling the air.Summary:
Native Bostonian Evie Scolan is an adept bicycle courier and has her first real relationship in a while.  Of course, her life isn’t quite that simple.  First, she’s The Hound with an uncannily adept sense of smell that helps her find things.  Plus her boyfriend is a werewolf.  Then there’s the whole try to keep the magical Undercurrent in Boston under control so her beloved city doesn’t fall apart thing.  Not to mention the death sentence given to her by yet another sector of the Undercurrent giving her only until Midwinter to pull everything together.  Plus the Sox are sucking this season.

Review:
Yet again, I accidentally picked up a book that is partway through a series.  I’ve noticed this is a lot easier to do when it’s an ebook than a print book, because the print book tends to have a giant “3” or something on the binding, whereas the ebook gives you zero clue that this is part of a series.  Work on that, publishers.  Due to this fact, I spent the solid first half of the book trying to figure out what the heck was going on in Evie’s world.  Unlike paranormal romance that tends to offer up a quick recap of the important details, it would appear that urban fantasy isn’t so keen on that.  Well, that and Ronald’s world she has created is incredibly complex and hard to understand fully part-way into a series.

That aside, however, how is it for an urban fantasy novel?  Well, the fantasy element is strong and intensely connected to elements of urban living from good and bad neighborhoods to trolley tracks to old, abandoned buildings, to secret tunnels and ghosts.  This has it all if you’re after some seriously steeped fantasy.

Further, as a Bostonian myself, I can tell you that Ronald gets the local slang and layout of the neighborhoods right.  Personally, I think she’s a bit heavy-handed with the Red Sox love demonstrated by Evie.  I don’t really think Evie would be thinking about the Sox season sucking when she’s currently facing death, but maybe I’m just not enough of a fanatic myself.  Hah.

I think, perhaps, that why I couldn’t get into this partway through the way I could other series I started in the middle is that I don’t like Evie, and the mythos of the Undercurrent is way more confusing than it should be.  I can’t think of very much that’s appealing or redeeming about Evie as a character, which is problematic when she’s the heroine.  Similarly, she’s not beautifully broken or anything.  She reads as just…..average.  The fact that this is the case when she also has this weird supernatural nose is saying something.  Make Evie evil! Make Evie kick-ass! Just don’t make her so dull that I have zero doubt that I wouldn’t give her a second glance if I happened to see her on the streets of Boston.

Similarly, the mythos of the Undercurrent seems to change to suit the author’s needs.  Maybe I was missing plot twists from missing the earlier books, but it all just seems so much more complex than it needs to be.  Plus, what exactly makes Evie repeatedly go up against demigods when her only supernatural talent is the nose thing?  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  That and the whole part dog thing is just….ew.

I came into this wanting to love it, as I do with any book set in my home of Boston.  The fact is though, too much turned me off from it.  It is a fairly well-written urban fantasy, though, and a nice change from the typical southern setting we see.  I’d recommend it to urban fantasy fans looking for a change of scenery who don’t mind a rather ordinary heroine who’s basically part dog.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Spiral Hunt
Wild Hunt

Movie Review: Bolt (2008)

March 9, 2010 6 comments

Cartoon poster for Bolt featuring a dog, hamster, cat, and people.Summary:
Bolt is the star of a weekly tv action show in which he protects the little girl he loves from evil masterminds using his super doggy powers such as the super bark.  The producers, however, have worked hard to make sure Bolt doesn’t know it’s not real, so when he accidentally gets shipped to NYC, he’s in for a bit of a surprise.  Lucky for him along the way he teams up with an alley cat and a hamster who help him truly become a super dog.

Review:
Anyone who knows me knows I have a thing for talking animal movies.  It’s probably got something to do with the fact that in the imagination land that is my head, I tend to create my own soundtrack for the animals around me, so when dogs in a movie see a ball and we hear them saying “ball!  ball! ball!” instead of barking….yeah, I’m hooked.

That said, I wasn’t intrigued by the preview at all.  It all seemed so contrived, that I went into it expecting not to like it.  I was, however, pleasantly surprised.  The story manages to be cute and believable enough.  Bolt isn’t egotistic.  He’s intensely loyal in a way only dogs can be.  He’s been led to believe he can shoot lasers with his eyes, and it’s kind of adorable when he tries to melt iron in the real world.

The characters he meets along the way are the best of what we’ve come to expect from animated movies.  From the bad-ass alley cat to the over-exuberant hamster to the gangster pigeons they all work together to make Bolt’s non-television world the vibrant place it becomes.

The overall message of Bolt is actually quite delightful, and a surprise coming from Disney.  Only when Bolt comes to accept that over-the-top superpowers are fake can he come to be the best dog he can be in the real world.

I would definitely show this to kids, but anyone who enjoys animated movies without shout-outs to adults watching will enjoy this film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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5 Year Old Me and a Bag of Kitten Food (Virtual Advent Tour 2009)

December 23, 2009 12 comments

I decided to participate in the Virtual Advent Tour in which bloggers sign up for a day of the advent calendar to feature a holiday-centric post.  So, happy 23rd day everyone and welcome!  On to the post.

I grew up in rural Vermont with a brother 5 years older than me and my two working class, highly religious parents.  Since my parents were very serious about their Christianity, to the point that I was homeschooled until the 6th grade, Christmas was a big freaking deal.  Jesus being born was the fulfillment of many prophecies.  Without Jesus’s birth, there’d be no Easter and without Easter we’d have no hope at all.  Jesus’s birth was second only to Jesus’s death and resurrection, and that was only first because the Second Coming hadn’t happened yet.  Therefore, Christmas was one busy season for us.  I’m talking Advent Calendars, baking multiple goodies from scratch, multiple must watch specials and movies, two extended family gatherings, candlelight services, special church performances, and more.  Of course, me being a kid, the only truly important part of Christmas was the presents Christmas morning.  Although, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to admit it, and I would fervently state how much I enjoyed the family reading of the Christmas story from Luke between stockings and presents.

Since my parents fervently believed telling us that Santa was real was akin to telling us Muhammed was right, presents were gradually placed under the Christmas tree, and we weren’t allowed to touch them.  This led to hours of me sitting on the rug in front of the tree pining and wondering erm, *ahem* reading a book.  My brother and I became experts at determining what a present was just by its shape or determining what awesome present the unwrapped accessories under the tree went to.

Every year pretty much from the time I could talk, I asked for a kitty.  We had a dog, Beuaregard, but all I wanted was a kitty to snuggle and to feel purring on my feet when I slept.  Dolls shmolls, I wanted a kitty.  One December morning, when I was (I believe 5, definitely before I was 7) I came into the living room and came to a dead stand-still.  All you needed was to turn me to salt, and I’d be doing the perfect impression of Lot’s wife.  There under the Christmas tree was a bag of kitten food.  My heart raced and I did my best not to shreek in sheer joy, because a family rule of Christmas was if we guessed a present prior to Christmas morning, we weren’t allowed to have it.  It was the veritable don’t ask, don’t tell of holidays.  My mom wasn’t big into giving us what we wanted, she thought it’d be spoiling us, but my dad.  My dad always wanted to give us exactly what we wanted, and I was certain this bag of kitten food was his way of telling me that I’d have my kitty in a few short weeks.

Christmas morning came, and I impatiently went through the stockings and the reading of the Christmas story.  Present opening started, which was always a slow ordeal as we opened them one at a time while everyone watched.  My first present was not a kitty.  Ok.  So they were waiting to give it to me last knowing what a ruckus it’d cause.  I could wait.  Gradually all the presents were gone from under the tree.  Only the never-wrapped chocolate covered cherries and kitten food were left.

“Isn’t there something more?” I asked, as my parents got up to get some coffee.  My mom’s mouth opened to go into her ungrateful speech, but my dad cut her off asking, “Why do you think there’s something more?”

I pointed at the kitten food, “Well, there’s that bag of food there.”

“Oh, that’s a treat for the dog.  He loves cat food.”

No.  My dad had to be kidding.  He was a big teaser.  “What?”

“The dog loves cat food.”  At this point, my mom started tapping my dad on the arm, and recognition dawned on the two of them as I started to wail, “You mean I’m not getting a kitten?!”

According to family lore, I was inconsolable the entire day and crying a good portion of it.

Merry Christmas, everyone! May your day be filled with kitten-like presents.