Monday, October 30, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier by Mark Frost
Published by: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: October 31st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 160 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The crucial sequel to the New York Times bestselling The Secret History of Twin Peaks, this novel bridges the two series, and takes you deeper into the mysteries raised by the new series.

The return of Twin Peaks is one of the most anticipated events in the history of television. The subject of endless speculation, shrouded in mystery, fans will come flocking to see Mark Frost and David Lynch’s inimitable vision once again grace the screen. Featuring all the characters we know and love from the first series, as well as a list of high-powered actors in new roles, the show will be endlessly debated, discussed, and dissected.

While The Secret History of Twin Peaks served to expand the mysteries of the town and place the unexplained phenomena that unfolded there into a vastly layered, wide-ranging history, Twin Peaks: The Final Dossier tells us what happened to key characters in the twenty-five years in between the events of the first series and the second, offering details and insights fans will be clamoring for. The novel also adds context and commentary to the strange and cosmic happenings of the new series. For fans around the world begging for more, Mark Frost’s final take laid out in this novel will be required reading."

Well, after that finale I'm sure most of us have A LOT of questions, and hopefully this book will provide a few of the answers. Or I'd even settle for just one or two!

Hiddensee by Gregory Maguire
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: October 31st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this imaginative novel rooted in the rich soil of early-nineteenth-century German Romanticism, beloved New York Times bestselling author Gregory Maguire twins an origin legend of the famous Nutcracker with the life of Drosselmeier, the toymaker who carves him.

Gregory Maguire’s novels have been called "bewitching," "remarkable," "extraordinary," "engrossing," "amazing," and "delicious." Having brought his legions of devoted readers to Oz in Wicked, Wonderland in After Alice and Dickensian London in Lost, Maguire now takes us to the Black Forest of Bavaria and Munich of the Brothers Grimm and E. T. A. Hoffman. Hiddensee recreates the backstory of the Nutcracker, reimaging how this entrancing creature came to be carved and how it magically guided an ailing little girl named Klara through a dreamy paradise on a snowy Christmas Eve. It also brings to life the mysterious godfather Drosselmeier—the ominous, canny, one-eyed toymaker made immortal by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s ballet—who presents the once and future Nutcracker to Klara, his goddaughter.

But Hiddensee is not just a retelling of a classic story. Maguire discovers in the flowering of German Romanticism a migrating strain of a Hellenic mystery-cult, and ponders a profound question: how a person who is abused by life, short-changed and challenged, can access secrets that benefit the disadvantaged and powerless. Ultimately, Hiddensee, offers a message of hope. If the compromised Godfather Drosselmeier can bring an enchanted Nutcracker to a young girl in distress, perhaps everyone, however lonely or marginalized on the eve of a winter holiday, has something precious to share."

So this is a weird book in that I feel it is definitely more in line with a lot of the Christmas books coming out this week, while still being Halloween enough with Maguire... and seriously, this week should be ALL about Halloween. My FAVORITE holiday on a day when books are released? Heck yea!

Mr. Higgins Comes Homes by Mike Mignola and Warwick Johnson-Cadwell
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: October 31st, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 49 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Preparations begin at Castle Golga for the annual festival of the undead, as a pair of fearless vampire killers question a man hidden away in a monastery on the Baltic Sea. The mysterious Mr. Higgins wants nothing more than to avoid the scene of his wife's death, and the truth about what happened to him in that castle. However, these heroic men sworn to rid the world of the vampire scourge, inspire Higgins to venture out and to end the only suffering he really cares about--his own.

This send-up of classic vampire stories sees Mignola teaming with British artist Warwick Johnson-Cadwell (Solid State Tank Girl, No. 1 Car Spotter) for an original graphic novel as outlandish as The Amazing Screw-On Head."

Now THIS is what I call a Halloween release! 

Total Cat Mojo by Jackson Galaxy
Published by: TarcherPerigee
Publication Date: October 31st, 2017
Format: Paperback, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This comprehensive cat care guide from the star of the hit Animal Planet show "My Cat from Hell," Jackson Galaxy, shows us how to eliminate feline behavioral problems by understanding cats' instinctive behavior.

Cat Mojo is the confidence that cats exhibit when they are at ease in their environment and in touch with their natural instincts—to hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, and sleep. Problems such as litter box avoidance and aggression arise when cats lack this confidence. Jackson Galaxy's number one piece of advice to his clients is to help their cats harness their mojo.

This book is his most comprehensive guide yet to cat behavior and basic cat care, rooted in understanding cats better. From getting kittens off to the right start socially, to taking care of cats in their senior years, and everything in between, this book addresses the head-to-toe physical and emotional needs of cats—whether related to grooming, nutrition, play, or stress-free trips to the vet."

And cats! Nothing says Halloween like cats!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Book Review - Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 19th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Malcolm Polstead is pretty content with his life. With his faithful daemon Asta at his side he helps his parents run their establishment, the Trout Inn, located in Godstow. The best part about the Trout is all the academics that frequent the pub due to it's proximity to Oxford. Malcolm is a bright lad and his school leaves something to be desired but he's able to fill in the gaps in his education through the conversations that swirl through the pub. He also benefits greatly from the Abbey located directly across the Thames. The nuns look on Malcolm as one of their greatest friends, whether he's helping Sister Fenella in the kitchen or Mr. Taphouse in the shed. All his free time is spent in his little canoe, La Belle Sauvage, traveling on the Thames. It's a life of little worries, with the dishwasher Alice Parslow being the only throne in his side. Though little does Malcolm know that everything is about to change when three distinguished gentlemen arrive at the Trout one night and question him about the Abbey. Soon there are rumors swirling that the nuns are caring for a baby of great importance. Malcolm quickly learns the truth, they are indeed protecting a young baby girl, Lyra Belacqua, and it's a matter of an instant for him to realize that he will protect her with his own life if it came to that. Being at Lyra's side means Malcolm has unwittingly become a focal point for various organizations and their needs, both nefarious and otherwise. The one he chooses to ally himself with, due to a horrific incident he witnessed, is called Oakley Street and his contact is Hannah Relf, a member of the research group studying the alethiometer. Malcolm's a valuable asset and his information, particularly concerning a disturbed man with a three legged hyena daemon, are very important. Yet soon a cataclysmic event will prove Malcolm's love for Lyra and his true worth to Oakley Street, if only he can outrun the laughs of that hyena.

La Belle Sauvage is a rare book in that not only did it meet my expectations it exceeded them. Reading this book has actually made me more excited for the rest of the series not less. I literally don't know how I'm going to handle the wait until The Secret Commonwealth which is hopefully coming out next year, not next week like I wish it was. Yes, it's not perfect, the cataclysmic and biblical flood goes on too long, the ending is abrupt with a lot of new concepts introduced but not yet fully explored, but these are pacing issues similar to His Dark Materials in that Pullman views the three volumes of each series as just one of three sections of a single book. In simple parlance, a book in three parts. A book in three parts that have their endings randomly decided by the length and by the arc of each section. Yet almost all problems that I have can be glossed over by the wonder that is Malcolm Polstead. There are many characters in the world I love, but there are few that I feel an instant connection with and have every fiber in my being devoted to protecting them. One such character in recent years was Neville Longbottom. Neville is just so vulnerable and sweet and had such a tragic backstory that if anything had happened to him I would have rioted. Malcolm is similar but in an entirely different way. He's gregarious and competent and smart and just loves the world and I want to shelter him from the harsh realities that are to come, much like Hannah Relf with regard to Oakley Street, but at the same time I know he can take the world on. If I had a kid I would love for him to be like Malcolm, he's just the sweetest most wonderful kid ever. I see him as a miniature Nick Frost, all 4' 6" of him just sauntering into the pub and going up to the elderly patrons and slipping into their conversations like he'd been doing it for fifty years and he knows all about what it's like to have lumbago. There's so much I want and hope for him, but even if it all comes to nought he'd run the best pub in the world if that's what he fell back on.

Malcolm's goodness and humanity is balanced by a rather odious organization that forms at his school. Through the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an arm of the church, a league is formed, The League of St. Alexander. This league's job in all schools is to inform on people in honor of St. Alexander who turned in his own parents for worshiping false idols. Teachers, parents, friends, neighbors, anyone is in danger from this group if these children decide they aren't loyal to the church. The children who join quickly become the power structure in Malcolm's school with the headmaster being ousted for trying to dismiss the league. Many teachers soon vanish as they are supposedly being "reeducated" in the ways of the church. Every lesson must start with a prayer, or else that teacher faces removal. Malcolm's school becomes a haven for fear and hate and while I'm sure Pullman had been planning this book for years and taking things from the historical context of the church one can't help feel that it's oddly prescient. They are like little Hitler Youths where the zealotry brings out the worst in everyone. Living in a country where hate, fear, racism, bigotry, and sexism, are all alive and well and spouted by those in charge, to have a league indoctrinating this in those who will one day lead? It makes me shudder. Really, think how terrifying this is, children can be vicious and merciless and they can make an accusation against anyone and have adults believe them and applaud them. Their bad behaviour is being rewarded! The scores they can settle all because they have righteousness on their side? The fear and hate they can spew because they have a little enamel badge on their lapels!?! I want to hope that this isn't the future we're building here, but more and more it looks like it is.

Though these terrifying thoughts, though they need to be processed and dwelt on, just added another level to the book while not taking away my enjoyment. What truly gripped my attention was all the spycraft. THIS is what I expected Tinker, Tailer, Solider, Spy to be! La Belle Sauvage is like Oxford academia meets Bletchley Park and I loved every single second of it. And, in fact, so many academicians were involved in the world wars and the cold war that this makes total sense. Yet while things like Oakley Street passing messages in acorns made me wildly giddy, the true success of the spycraft here is that we focus on two characters that are new to the game. There's the higher ups, the lords and ladies, but it's the lowly reader of the alethiometer Hannah Relf and her naivete and her relationship with Malcolm as a sort of den mother that make me just love this story. Firstly there's just cute little things like Hannah hating crosswords, which figured prominently in the placing of code-breakers at Bletchley Park and were favorites of the famous Oxford resident, Inspector Morse. Or the books Malcolm borrows from Hannah, and for some reason here Agatha Christie being in all universes makes sense whereas I've had issues with things from our world being in Lyra's world previously. Perhaps because it felt more grounded in the world of Oxford than the land of the dead... But the book once again goes to the bigger issues: how do you know you're on the right side? Hannah has been working for years for Oakley Street without really questioning who they were or why she was doing it, only that she trusted the man who approached her. When she brings Malcolm in it's then she starts to go, "hang on a minute, am I working for the good guys?" In this world basically anyone working against the church is good because the church wants to propagate ignorance and indoctrination, so Hannah is on the right side. But just the fact that she questions them, much like Malcolm questioned The League of St. Alexander shows that they are on the side of knowledge. They do not blindly follow.

With having such weighty issues as false faith, hate culture, and subversion, I find it odd that once again Pullman sidesteps some fairly important sexual issues. Again, I don't know if this is because of his audience or what, but I feel like obliquely talking about it is doing more harm than good. The disturbed man with the three legged hyena daemon, Bonneville, believes he is Lyra's father. He had also just finished serving time for a sexual offense in which Mrs. Coulter was the witness for the prosecution. The only way that he could believe he's Lyra's father, despite Malcolm's insistence on Bonneville being deluded, is if Bonneville had been intimate with Mrs. Coulter. Either they were in a consensual relationship, much like Bonneville and one of the younger nuns, and Mrs. Coulter decided to punish him for some reason and get him sent off to jail which I wouldn't put past her, or, and this is my belief, he raped Mrs. Coulter and assumed the pregnancy was from the rape and not from Lord Asriel's relationship with her. Whatever way this actually played out I think skirting the issue does damage to the story in not explicitly saying that rape is bad. This could have been, and how I hate myself for using this phrase, a teaching movement. Rape is bad. Period. Later in the book when Alice and Malcolm are attacked by Bonneville at the mausoleum it is hinted at by the blood on her legs that Alice is Bonneville's latest victim. But again, it's not spelled out. There seems to be this barrier that Pullman has set up that IF he were to state these things baldly then childhood innocence would be lost. But hinting at it is far worse. State it. Remember it. Then let the story continue with this knowledge firmly in place. But then again, Pullman casually drops using Malcolm as bait for a pedophile for the benefit of Oakley Street and the only one who objects to that is Hannah. So maybe there's some issues that Pullman needs to address in himself with regards to what is and isn't acceptable even in a fictional universe.

As I previously stated there was a lot thrown at us readers in the last chapters of the book, lots of supernatural fairy tale aspects with otherworldly beings that are not in the least handled. Of course, seeing as the gyptians refer to these phenomena as "The Secret Commonwealth" and that's the title of the second book I'm not too concerned about getting my answers eventually... but there is ONE thing that I wondered throughout La Belle Sauvage and have been wondering ever since I first read The Golden Compass and hope that the answer is near at hand. Lord Asriel has some "otherworldly gifts" as his manservant told Lyra on Svalbard. Whatever he needs, be it beautiful glass windows or a child to sacrifice, he sets his mind on it and it appears. Now Malcolm has a strange phenomenon happen to him, an aura in his eye, which he mentions to Hannah. Of course, he adorably mishears it and calls it his aurora. But the first time it happens is the night he meets Lord Asriel and helps him to see Lyra at the Abbey and then gives him his canoe. Later it happens again when he looks at the card Lord Asriel left for Malcolm in the canoe and it sways Malcolm to take Lyra to her father than just back to the nuns. Again it happens when Alice and him have lost Lyra and they see the place she is being kept high on a hill. Could Asriel be guiding Malcolm to help him protect Lyra and reunite them and this aurora is the signal? We've never seen what Asriel's will looks like from the one it's being acted on. Could it be a simple corona of light in the eye? Could it have origins with the fairies? Or could this be a gift of Lyra's... it is seen that she is a bit of a fairy child. Well, only time and Philip Pullman's next book can answers these questions. So I will stew on them until the next book. And no, I'm not going to stew patiently.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Book Review - Philip Pullman's Lyra's Oxford

Lyra's Oxford by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 28th, 2003
Format: Hardcover, 64 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Lyra is in her favorite place in the world, high on the rooftops of Jordan College. It's been a few years since her journey with Will and she's settled into the academic life at St. Sophia's College and she's diligently studying when there's a ruckus among the birds. Pantalaimon and her quickly see the cause, the birds are attacking a witch's daemon. They rescue the daemon and sneak him back to their room to find out what's going on. The daemon, Ragi, was sent to Lyra to ask for help. His witch, Yelena Pazhets, has a wasting disease that is ravaging the witches and is rare in that it doesn't effect their daemons. There is a cure available from an alchemist in Jericho and Ragi needs Lyra's help to find this Sebastian Makepeace. Lyra agrees to help him later after her school commitments are done. That night as they sneak through the streets of Oxford her and Pan start to question Ragi's story. There's something about it that seems off. Yet Lyra isn't faint of heart. If they ARE walking into a trap then at least they will soon know the whole story. That story is dark and involves the love of a witch and the death of a son in the cause that Lord Asriel championed. Will Lyra have to pay for the sins of the father or will she be able to pull off an improbable victory once again?

Lyra's Oxford wasn't written just to wallow in the nostalgia of seeing a beloved character again. This isn't like every returning television series out there that is more of the same, it's like the uniqueness of the return of Twin Peaks. Yes, there's nostalgia, but this is an entirely new story, a new chapter, and while Lyra isn't dealing with tulpas she has dark forces to face and daemons to overcome. There are repercussions from what she and Will did, but more so just from the fact that her father wagged a war and people died because of his beliefs and not everyone is happy about that. Lord Asriel is dead and so can not face justice, therefore Lyra must pay. I think this book is what sparked the hope in Philip Pullman's readers that Lyra's story wasn't over because here, with this vengeful witch, we see that the fallout from the war against the Authority is still just beginning. As a reader my appetite was whetted for more. This taste just wasn't enough! What else happened? What else came after? I don't just want to see this more confident Lyra with this more settled Pan, I want to see the Magisterium fall, I want to see what happened to everyone. And like David Lynch, Pullman is a genius in that here he gives us just a little taste and then, with La Belle Sauvage, he goes back, further than his previous start and shows us the story we knew in an entirely new light. We don't necessarily get what we want or what we expected but what we needed.

And the one thing we needed to see here was a bit of Lyra not only coming into her own but coming home. Oxford and Jordan College have always been where Lyra belonged, yet when she takes off with Mrs. Coulter and later embarks on her epic journey with Will she doesn't look back. Yet it's the stories of her life in Oxford that pacify the harpies. It's her stories that give the ghosts in the land of the dead hope again. Therefore Lyra being in Oxford was a must. Yet there's all these questions, foremost of which is, after all her adventures would Oxford still feel like home? At the end of The Amber Spyglass we get a little hint that Lyra's going to settle back into life and find a purpose with Hannah Relf of St. Sophia's College who is an expect in the alethiometer but it's so much better to see that firsthand. And here we see a confident and studious Lyra, and that makes my heart glad. But what I really love about this little book is that it's not just that Lyra belongs in Oxford it's that Oxford knows this and protects and takes care of her. Those birds that were attacking the witch's daemon? They were trying to protect Lyra! Again and again this book gives us big and small signs that not only did the city of Oxford welcome Lyra back with open arms but that their number one goal is to protect her. Oxford really is Lyra's and I hope that with the coming books I get to visit it again and again in the years to come.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Strange Weather by Joe Hill
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: October 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 448 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A collection of four chilling novels, ingeniously wrought gems of terror from the brilliantly imaginative, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Fireman, Joe Hill.

"One of America’s finest horror writers" (Time magazine), Joe Hill has been hailed among legendary talents such as Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, and Jonathan Lethem. In Strange Weather, this "compelling chronicler of human nature’s continual war between good and evil," (Providence Journal-Bulletin) who "pushes genre conventions to new extremes" (New York Times Book Review) deftly expose the darkness that lies just beneath the surface of everyday life.

"Snapshot" is the disturbing story of a Silicon Valley adolescent who finds himself threatened by "The Phoenician," a tattooed thug who possesses a Polaroid Instant Camera that erases memories, snap by snap.

A young man takes to the skies to experience his first parachute jump. . . and winds up a castaway on an impossibly solid cloud, a Prospero’s island of roiling vapor that seems animated by a mind of its own in "Aloft."

On a seemingly ordinary day in Boulder, Colorado, the clouds open up in a downpour of nails—splinters of bright crystal that shred the skin of anyone not safely under cover. "Rain" explores this escalating apocalyptic event, as the deluge of nails spreads out across the country and around the world.

In "Loaded," a mall security guard in a coastal Florida town courageously stops a mass shooting and becomes a hero to the modern gun rights movement. But under the glare of the spotlights, his story begins to unravel, taking his sanity with it. When an out-of-control summer blaze approaches the town, he will reach for the gun again and embark on one last day of reckoning.

Masterfully exploring classic literary themes through the prism of the supernatural, Strange Weather is a stellar collection from an artist who is "quite simply the best horror writer of our generation" (Michael Kortya)."

Seriously, kudos to Stephen King for instilling such a work ethic in his kids. They've all had a busy and productive year!

Gin and Panic by Maia Chance
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Former socialite Lola Woodby is now struggling to make ends meet as a not-so-discreet private eye in Prohibtion-era New York City, along with her stern Swedish sidekick, Berta. When they’re offered a piece-of-cake job―retrieving a rhinoceros trophy from the Connecticut mansion of big game hunter Rudy Montgomery―it seems like a no-brainer. After all, their client, Lord Sudley, promises them a handsome paycheck, and the gin and tonics will be plentiful and free. But no sooner do they arrive at Montgomery Hall than Rudy is shot dead.

When the police arrive to examine the scene, they conclude that Rudy had actually committed suicide. But Lord Sudley can’t believe his friend would have done that, and there’s a houseful of suspicious characters standing by. So Lord Sudley ups the ante for Lola and Berta, and suddenly, their easy retrieval job has turned into a murder investigation. Armed with handbags stuffed with emergency chocolate, gin flasks, and a Colt .25, Lola and Berta are swiftly embroiled in a madcap puzzle of stolen diamonds, family secrets, a clutch of gangsters, and plenty of suspects who know their way around a safari rifle.

Gin and Panic is the next jaunty, compelling Discreet Retrieval Agency mystery from beloved crime writer Maia Chance."

Everyone needs a little fun period escape, and who couldn't do with a little mystery to solve on the side?

Everything is Awful by Matt Bellassai
Published by: Atria/Keywords Press
Publication Date: October 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the break-out star of BuzzFeed and the People’s Choice Award-winning comedian behind the web series “Whine About It” and “To Be Honest” comes a collection of hilariously anguished essays chronicling awful moments from his life so far, the humiliations of being an adult, and other little indignities.

Matt Bellassai has no idea what he’s doing. Well, to be fair, he did become semi-Internet famous by getting drunk at work, making him a socially-acceptable—nay—professional alcoholic. He’s got some things figured out. But the rest is all just a terrible, disgusting mess.

This is Matt’s book. Just to clarify, though, it is absolutely not a memoir; Matt is far too young to have done anything worth remembering (though he did win an actual People’s Choice Award for his BuzzFeed web series, “Whine About It,” which is pretty good, if you ask his mother). This is also most certainly not a book of advice; he is too woefully ill-prepared for life to offer anything in the way of counsel (though that won’t stop him from talking). Call this a collection of awful moments that led to his grumbling, blundering adulthood—a chronicle of little indignities that, when taken together, amount to a life of hilarious anguish.

With keen wit and plenty of self-deprecation, Matt reveals how hard it is to shed his past as the Midwest’s biggest nerd, that one time a taquito nearly murdered him at his brother’s surprise birthday party, and the time he came out to his friends and family (the closet was a bit messy). Matt also wrestles with the humiliations of adulthood, like giving up on love in New York City, living alone with no one to heat his microwave dinners, and combating the inner voice that tells him to say aloud all the things the rest of us are smart enough to keep to ourselves.

You probably don’t need this book, but let’s be honest—you do. Since you’re already reading, you might as well pull up a chair, grab your glass(es) of wine, and enjoy."

Sometimes I feel like Matt Bellassai is my spirit animal.

Unqualified by Anna Faris
Published by: Dutton
Publication Date: October 24th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Anna Faris has advice for you. And it’s great advice, because she’s been through it all, and she wants to tell you what she’s learned. After surviving an awkward childhood (when she bribed the fastest boy in the third grade with ice cream), navigating dating and marriage in Hollywood, and building a podcast around romantic advice, Anna has plenty of lessons to share: Advocate for yourself. Know that there are wonderful people out there and that a great relationship is possible. And, finally, don’t date magicians.

Her comic memoir, Unqualified, shares Anna’s candid,sympathetic, and entertaining stories of love lost and won. Part memoir—including stories about being “the short girl” in elementary school, finding and keeping female friends, and dealing with the pressures of the entertainment industry and parenthood—part humorous, unflinching advice from her hit podcast, Anna Faris Is Unqualified, the book will reveal Anna’s unique take on how to master the bizarre, chaotic, and ultimately rewarding world of love.

Hilarious, honest, and useful, Unqualified is the book Anna’s fans have been waiting for."

Would anyone really be talking about this book if Chris Pratt and her hadn't split up?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Book Review - Philip Pullman's The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: October 10th, 2000
Format: Hardcover, 518 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

The final war with the Authority has come. The sides have been drawn. Ignorance and control or knowledge and freedom. That which was known as God was really just taking credit for creating that which was in existence long before him. Now his second in command is power hungry and wants absolute control over all worlds. A modern inquisition, which Lord Asriel will fight until his dying breath. Yet it's the breath of his daughter that is needed. She needs to live. She needs to fulfill the prophecy that she will put an end to death and become the new Eve. This might prove rather tricky as the Magisterium has sent a priest to kill her and her own mother is currently holding her captive in a drug-induced sleep in a Himalayan cave. It is up to Will, Lyra's staunch friend, to pull himself together after seeing the father he spent his life searching for killed in front of him by a witch and then have a pair of angels appear to direct the bearer of the subtle knife to Lord Asriel. But Will is up to the challenge and along the way to Lyra meets one of her old allies, the armoured bear, Iorek Byrnison, who has fled the arctic as the opening between worlds Lord Asriel has created has destroyed his icy fortress of Svalbard. They find Lyra in the nick of time, taking her out from under the hands of the Magisterium and Lord Asriel. While Lyra was drugged she dreamt of her friend Roger in the land of the dead and upon waking knows what she and Will must do. If his knife can open a window into any world, surly that includes the land of the dead. They will journey there with two new companions, the Gallivespian, the Chevalier Tialys and the Lady Salmakia who ride upon dragonfly steeds, and speak to Roger. Will might even get a chance to talk to his father. After that? Well, who knows how their journey will effect the war... but effect it it will, especially once they are reunited with their friend Mary.

Well, the "end" is here. I say "end" in quotes because as we know now it's not really the end but back in 2000 it was that. The big battle, the Authority toppled, the end and the beginning all in one. Pullman could have concentrated on the war, made an unsubstantial confection of explosions worthy of the big screen sometime in the summer months with angels fighting angels but instead he decided to focus on his characters. Lyra and Will take center stage, as well as new favorites, and instead of a grinding depiction of war we're given something bigger. A journey of self discovery and redemption and hope while the war just happens to be going on off to the side. Am I the only one to say "thank god" only to realize that Lord Asriel would totally disapprove that I, as a thinking person, am giving thanks to an organization that thrives on ignorance and he made a holy war to topple? While The Golden Compass is Lyra's story and The Subtle Knife is Will's story, The Amber Spyglass is about their journey towards not just growing up, but the knowledge of what it is to love. They are the Adam and Eve of this story and as such they must taste the fruit of knowledge offered up by Mary and basically reboot the world. The problem in this though is the vagueness that Pullman uses when describing their love. I can't tell if it's because he's trying to write around it because this was intended for a younger audience, but is their love more than love? Are they sneaking off into the savanna for some hanky panky? He's embracing the ellipses, more than once I might add, and after this long of a journey with these characters I NEED to know if just the knowledge of love was enough to bring about the second fall or if Lyra and Will actually had sex.

As for those we know had sex... let's look to Lyra's parents, Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter, I'm sorry, she's too scary to ever to refer to her casually by her first name. SO much of this series is dealing with parental issues. A lot of that is to do with the fact that as we grow up we have our parents to look to as to what we will become and this either is something we embrace or something we buck. But there's no getting around the fact that Lyra's parents are horrible parents and this is the crux of the series. Lyra is drawn into their world and their war. She is at times a pawn but usually THE major player in all of it. But her parents aren't static, they change over time until they make the ultimate sacrifice for Lyra and one is believable and the other isn't plausible in the least. Lord Asriel's journey and his faith in Lyra make sense. He saw her grow up, pretending to be her uncle, and he is willing to die to protect Lyra because he knows that his daughter will end the war he has wagged. His sacrifice at the end makes sense. He dies taking down the angel in power while also giving Lyra time to escape and fulfill her destiny. But Mrs. Coulter. I just don't get her. When she shows up in Oxford and swoops Lyra away to be a part of her world it's almost like Lyra is a doll she's picked up to dress and play with. Yes, she does save her from intercision at Bolvanger, and she saves her again from the church to hide her away in a dank cave in the Himalayas, but why? She claims it's because her grinchian heart has grown three sizes because of her daughter, but I don't buy it. They say every mother has this overriding instinct to protect their child and lavish it with love, but that's not true. Just look at the world around us, just look at this story. I don't buy that Mrs. Coulter would sacrifice herself for Lyra. For her own purposes, yes, but for her daughter? No way.

Yet I don't have as many issues with Mrs. Coulter as I have with the Mulefa. Those loving elephant faced, diamond skeletoned people whom Mary spends all her narrative with freak me out. But to be fair, it's not in their nature, it's in their wheels. Father Gomez the killer priest was so right when he said that their use of wheels was evil, and yes, I know I'm agreeing with an evil assassin, but seriously, wheels! Yes, I know, technically it's ingenious evolution, but the truth is me and wheeled creatures have a dark history, one which makes me hate them all. Are there things that you saw as a child that just ingrained themselves so deeply in you that they make up a substantial part of your nightmares and neuroses? Not the standard teeth falling out nightmare that so many of us suffer, but a hate of zombies from seeing a certain movie too young. Or a fear of elevators because of what the hell was in outer space when Charlie and Willy Wonka stepped out of the glass elevator (and yes, I cop to this one). Well, when I was very young I stumbled on the comic adaptation of Return to Oz. If you haven't seen Return to Oz, well, firstly you should, but secondly, it's a really dark re-imagining of Oz and the second and third books in the series by L. Frank Baum. There's shock treatment and a lady with removable heads. So while the shock treatment just gave me interesting knowledge, and the lady with removable heads made me slightly freaked, there was one part of the movie that terrified me: The Wheelers. Forget flying monkeys, these minions of the witch Mombi are "people" with wheels for hands and hatred in their hearts and they will hunt you down. Therefore I can not condone these Mulefa, they are in essence that world's Wheelers! BEWARE THE WHEELERS!

OK, no more Wheeler talk, it's near Halloween, this movie is bound to be airing and the nightmares will return. Let's discuss a pet peeve of mine; quotes at the start of chapters, or even at the start of a book. I know for a lot of authors that they have a special meaning, that perhaps this certain line that they have included inspired them or sheds meaning on their writing or captures the essence of whatever is to come like some cryptic clue, but can I just ask all you writers out there to stop. If it's a clue or whatever it's annoying because after reading the chapter you have to go back and re-read it and see if you got it and if you didn't you just end up feeling really stupid. But most of the time, it just comes off as pretentious: "Yes, I have a Shakespeare quote because I've read all Shakespeare and know more than you, ha ha." "What, this obscure poet, you've never heard of them? How can you even live with yourself?" "Don't you just feel that this line wouldn't get it's meaning fully across without the weird spelling of the words and all that is implied by it's antiquity." So IF you're one of these authors, just know, THIS is what's going through my head and makes me hate you just a little bit. Or, if I'm honest, quite a lot occasionally. Here though, besides making me hate Pullman a little, because yes, I can see these quotes at the beginning of each chapter do reflect the world he's created and inspired him so I can't completely hate them though I reserve the full right to hate the tiny ass font they were set in, I can hate them for a logical reason... These quotes are all from authors from our world. Yeah, I agree, quotes from another world would be weird, but then again it might work. Why might it work? Because it wouldn't be grounding The Amber Spyglass so completely in Will's world. Like 10 pages in the whole book take place in that world yet each and every quote comes from there? Bad move Pullman. Bad move. You are tearing down the worlds you built and I don't even know if you realize it.

Though for all my nitpicking what I think Pullman got SO right is the new definition of the Kingdom of Heaven. Lyra and Will are told that each world has to build their own Heaven, which means that it's about cherishing and caring for the world and it's people because you're building the Kingdom with each act, with each thing you put back into the world. Which makes Will and Lyra's final separation into their own worlds make sense. Yes, it may pain them, but they are each such extraordinary people that think of what they can accomplish and build in each of their worlds? Their journey and their sacrifice create a new start, a new chance to fix the problems they see all around that have been caused by three hundred years of damage from the subtle knife and millennia of damage from the Authority. It's not just the humanitarian nature of this that so resonates with me, it's that when I think of heaven I don't think of some weird ethereal place I think of the world around me. Hence, if there is a heaven it would be here on earth. The best thing we could be given is a chance to live again, which is why reincarnation makes sense to me. Though within this I still have to question where Mary stands. She's an ex-nun who doesn't believe in God anymore and hence has turned to physics. Yet while the events around her show that "God" was really just taking credit for something he didn't do and that now his second in command is going power crazy, I think some part of Mary should have gone, "Oh wow, there really was a God and angels and etc etc." Yet she's still firmly entrenched in her new beliefs and despite there being correlations she just doesn't see that both things can be true. But then again she was friends with people who had wheels!!!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review - Philip Pullman's The Subtle Knife

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: July 22nd, 1997
Format: Hardcover, 326 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lyra followed her father across the bridge in the sky and lost him. There was a fog. A dense, impenetrable fog and she has found herself in a world with no one. The town she is in is deserted until one day Will shows up. Will is from an Oxford different than her own. His father was a great explorer and his mother is mentally ill. Will has been caring for his mother all his life since the disappearance of his father. Only now he and his mother are in danger. Men have broken into their house and are searching for something that his father left behind. He secrets his mother away and when he goes home to retrieve that which is sought he accidentally kills one of the intruders. On the run he sees a window into another world and climbs through and meets Lyra. They decide to join forces as the only outsiders in this weird little world they've found themselves in, which isn't empty after all. The town is run by gangs of children because the adults fled due to Spectres, dangerous beings that are invisible to children but destroy adults. The two kids go back and forth between Will's Oxford and Cittàgazze. Lyra is trying to learn about Dust and Will is trying to find his father. Lyra soon learns, thanks to nudges from the alethiometer, that perhaps her questions will be answered by helping Will find his father. Because as it turns out, his father might have played an important role in Lyra's life so far, as he one day found a window into another world like his son did and walked through, never looking back. But how are these windows even formed? Will will learn the hard way about the Subtle Knife, but it also means that in spite of the danger to him he can always go home.

If you're expecting The Subtle Knife to be a straightforward sequel to The Golden Compass you're in for a bit of a surprise. Yes, it is a continuation of Lyra's story, but perhaps not as anyone growing up reading the Harry Potter books would foresee. Harry Potter is always front and center, but here, Lyra takes a backseat. The spitfire we've grown to love has been drastically changed because of her father's betrayal and therefore it is up to the new character of Will to fill the void. While you could say that it's all about the balancing of these two characters, of male and female, I think the shifting of focus off Lyra might be more in the vein of another famous writer who dealt with church indoctrination, C.S. Lewis. The Chronicles of Narnia pick up and drop the various Penvensies like they're going out of fashion, and while Pullman never deserts any of our beloved characters, they all have their specific heft depending on the book. And The Subtle Knife belongs to Will, and to a lesser but more emotionally charged way to Lee Scorsby the Texas aeronaut. This kind of results with the reader feeling a little alienated. We've fallen in love with this world and now we're back at square one. Even weirder, we're back in our own world. We have to rebuild our love of this expanding universe while our heroine is in shock. Because Lyra's absenting herself from steering the book makes sense when you think of the very real situation she is in. She's in shock from the death of her best friend Roger. She doesn't know what to do, she's just pinballing around looking for something, someone to rally around and she finds Will and makes him her new cause. Lyra is actively promoting Will while stifling her and Pan's voice.

This change up just adds to the fact that this book is suffering from typical "middle book" problems. Everyone has heard of middle child syndrome, but I think more people need to be aware of the problems inherent in middle books. Ah, the issues facing the bridging book of a trilogy... you need to make it interesting enough that people will wait with baited breath for the final volume, yet you must give them a story that holds up on it's own, while also having a satisfying ending. If you want a master class in a successful middle book look to J.R.R. Tolkien's The Two Towers or Laini Taylor's Days of Blood and Starlight or Galen Beckett's The House on Durrow Street. I could go on because when a middle book gets it right it just stays in your mind as being the exception to the rule. While The Subtle Knife does "technically" hold up on it's own, it's not due to any overarching story, it's due to little moments that take your breath away. Imagery that is unforgettable, while Pullman struggles with setting up all the pieces that will be needed for the epic conclusion. Lee Scorsby's last stand in that rocky gulch will just rip your heart out and put it back in all gritty and pained. The witches swirling through the sky, like the unforgettable illustrations of Adrienne Adams's A Woggle of Witches. The dangerous yet somehow ingenious heist of the alethiometer from the odious Sir Charles Latrom. These moments stick with you. I remembered these moments in all the years since I first read The Subtle Knife, but as for anything else like plot? It had slipped out of my head because of all those middle book issues... and worst of all Pullman decided to end the book on a major cliffhanger... sigh. You know, minor cliffhangers can be just if not more satisfying. They also don't alienate your readers.

While there are those who grow to love Will as much as Lyra, I have to say that I've always been on the fence about him. Yes, he has struggled, yes he has survived against the odds, and yes, he has a soft spot for cats, yet there was always something that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Until now. Will's mother is mentally ill. This isn't the problem, the problem is the way in which Philip Pullman describes Will's thoughts in regards to his mother. I don't know if Pullman is trying to show that Will is young and naive or if Pullman himself just doesn't get mental illness. And yes, there are people out there that try as they might just aren't able to comprehend what mental illness is in any form, from having it to dealing with someone who has it. Will is very straightforward about knowing that his mother's problems come from within, that there's something wrong. She obviously has OCD as well as other more serious problems yet when Will hears about the Spectres he starts to fantasize that somehow in his world, this world, that perhaps they are what cause mental illness. While yes, a child does dream of there being some external force that can be removed and their parent returned to normal, the actual belief wouldn't be there. Having spent a childhood growing up seeing those with problems and having OCD myself Will would never be this naive. What's more he describes what his mother does as just things she does, he never once focuses on the underlying compulsion. It's like a flip got switched in her and she does these things without any logic. But the truth is for the person suffering there is a logic, a drive. They might not want to do it, they might be fighting against it every step of the way, but Pullman just doesn't get this across. Mental illness becomes just another problem Will deals with instead of the horror it really is. Pullman trivializes it for his character's backstory.

I guess the reason the way Pullman handles mental illness annoys me is because he's dealing with such weighty issues, reconciling religion and science and yet he got something so wrong that can I trust his analysis of anything? This weird give and take between religion and science is one we have fought of centuries and which is sadly still being fought as Creationism is being taught again in many schools. Yet in Lyra's world experimental theology is what physics is in our world, indicating that there science and religion are more entwined and accepting of each other. As the series continues you see that yes, it is the battle between free thought and that of indoctrination but it's not so clear cut as The Magisterium would want you to think. And yes, this book is taking many ideas and bringing them together for you to think about, especially the fall of man as Milton depicted it in Paradise Lost, but to me, at this point in the series, it almost feels as if Pullman isn't sure what his side is. Both sides have committed atrocities in his narrative, yet we have yet to learn what is the truth. Because this is fiction, while we might speculate day and night and a book that leads to a good discussion is the friend of all book lovers and book clubs everywhere, we still need to know where Pullman's opinion lies. Did God create the universe or did science? This needs to be stated. Clearly. And it wasn't here. Here we suffer once again from middle book issues and have to wait. Sometimes I just want to find authors and shake them. As I write this I'm about a third of the way through The Amber Spyglass and the truth has been revealed and with that revelation I wonder why he waited. Yes, he's created a big set piece with it, so it would have made this book a little longer. But some of the building blocks were in place and a touch more foreshadowing might have made this book a more satisfying read.

But life isn't about satisfaction most of the time. Life is about just living day to day wondering about the mysteries of the universe that if we think too long on we'll be right there with Will's mom. Yet in the end I keep coming back to the more supernatural elements of this story, the fantastical, the prophetic. The witches. The witches have a prophecy that Lyra will be the end of fate by initiating the second fall of man. Here's the thing though, how is there really fate in this "world" that Pullman has built. Prophecies are all nice and good but he's clearly shown us that the multiple worlds theory is at play here and that each and every decision creates a different universe that has splintered off. Therefore everything is possible and everything IS happening at the same time. In a multiverse where everything is possible how exactly does prophecy come into play? Is it just for this ONE Lyra and this ONE Will? If something happened to them could Lord Asriel or Mrs. Coulter or the church go to another universe and nudge that other Lyra or Will into line with what they want? I get that this is a multiverse changing war that's on the horizon, but if everything is possible at all times yet you need a certain chain of events to happen how do you do this? It's almost too hard to reconcile these opposing ideas. So Lyra will end fate. What does that mean? I mean, really, how is fate possible in these books? It could be possible if the worlds were self contained. But travel between them is possible, so then what? Again, middle book issues! It's like he just threw everything at this book and figured he'd work it all out in the end. The problem I have is can he actually work it all out? I seriously don't remember from when I first read this series!

Monday, October 16, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Book of Dust Vol. 1: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman
Published by: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Renowned storyteller Philip Pullman returns to the parallel world of Lyra Belacqua and His Dark Materials for a thrilling and epic adventure in which daemons, alethiometers, and the Magisterium all play a part.

The Book of Dust will be a work in three parts, like His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass). The book is set ten years before The Golden Compass and centers on the much-loved character Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon.

Philip Pullman offers these tantalizing details: “I’ve always wanted to tell the story of how Lyra came to be living at Jordan College, and in thinking about it, I discovered a long story that began when she was a baby and will end when she’s grown up. This volume and the next will cover two parts of Lyra’s life: starting at the beginning of her story and returning to her twenty years later. As for the third and final part, my lips are sealed.

“So, second: is it a prequel? Is it a sequel? It’s neither. In fact, The Book of Dust is . . . an ‘equel.' It doesn’t stand before or after His Dark Materials, but beside it. It’s a different story, but there are settings that readers of His Dark Materials will recognize, and characters they’ve met before. Also, of course, there are some characters who are new to us, including an ordinary boy (a boy we have glimpsed in an earlier part of Lyra’s story, if we were paying attention) who, with Lyra, is caught up in a terrifying adventure that takes him into a new world.

“Third: why return to Lyra’s world? Dust. Questions about that mysterious and troubling substance were already causing strife ten years before His Dark Materials, and at the center of The Book of Dust is the struggle between a despotic and totalitarian organization, which wants to stifle speculation and inquiry, and those who believe thought and speech should be free. The idea of Dust suffused His Dark Materials. Little by little through that story the idea of what Dust was became clearer and clearer, but I always wanted to return to it and discover more.”

The books of the His Dark Materials trilogy were showered with praise, and the Cincinnati Enquirer proclaimed, “Pullman has created the last great fantasy masterpiece of the twentieth century.” With The Book of Dust, Philip Pullman embarks on an equally grand adventure, sure to be hailed as the first great fantasy masterpiece of the twenty-first century."

What it's all about people. What it's all about.

Harry Potter: A Journey Through A History of Magic
Published by: Arthur A. Levine Books
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 144 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"As the British Library unveils a very special new exhibition in the UK, Harry Potter: A History of Magic, readers everywhere are invited on an enchanting journey through the Hogwarts curriculum, from Care of Magical Creatures and Herbology to Defense Against the Dark Arts, Astronomy, and more in this book uncovering thousands of years of magical history.

Prepare to be amazed by artifacts released from the archives of the British Library, unseen sketches and manuscript pages from J.K. Rowling, and incredible illustrations from artist Jim Kay.

Discover the truth behind the origins of the Philosopher’s Stone, monstrous dragons, and troublesome trolls; examine real-life wands and find out what actually makes a mandrake scream; pore over remarkable pages from da Vinci’s notebook; and discover the oldest atlas of the night sky.

Carefully curated by the British Library and full of extraordinary treasures from all over the world, this is an unforgettable journey exploring the history of the magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories."

Anything that makes Harry Potter more real, am I right?

House of Shadows by Nichola Cornick
Published by: Graydon House
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The wooded hills of Oxfordshire conceal the remains of the aptly named Ashdown House—a wasted pile of cinders and regret. Once home to the daughter of a king, Ashdown and its secrets will unite three women across four centuries in a tangle of intrigue, deceit and destiny...

In the winter of 1662, Elizabeth Stuart, the Winter Queen, is on her deathbed. She entrusts an ancient pearl, rumored to have magic power, to her faithful cavalier William Craven for safekeeping. In his grief, William orders the construction of Ashdown Estate in her memory and places the pearl at its center.

One hundred and fifty years later, notorious courtesan Lavinia Flyte hears the maids at Ashdown House whisper of a hidden treasure, and bears witness as her protector Lord Evershot—desperate to find it—burns the building to the ground.

Now, a battered mirror and the diary of a Regency courtesan are the only clues Holly Ansell has to finding her brother, who has gone missing researching the mystery of Elizabeth Stuart and her alleged affair with Lord Craven. As she retraces his footsteps, Holly's quest will soon reveal the truth about Lavinia and compel her to confront the stunning revelation about the legacy of the Winter Queen."

Yeah, I love house books. English house books are even better!

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A warm, wry, sharply observed debut novel about what happens when a family is forced to spend a week together in quarantine over the holidays...

It’s Christmas, and for the first time in years the entire Birch family will be under one roof. Even Emma and Andrew’s elder daughter—who is usually off saving the world—will be joining them at Weyfield Hall, their aging country estate. But Olivia, a doctor, is only coming home because she has to. Having just returned from treating an epidemic abroad, she’s been told she must stay in quarantine for a week…and so too should her family.

For the next seven days, the Birches are locked down, cut off from the rest of humanity—and even decent Wi-Fi—and forced into each other’s orbits. Younger, unabashedly frivolous daughter Phoebe is fixated on her upcoming wedding, while Olivia deals with the culture shock of being immersed in first-world problems.

As Andrew sequesters himself in his study writing scathing restaurant reviews and remembering his glory days as a war correspondent, Emma hides a secret that will turn the whole family upside down.

In close proximity, not much can stay hidden for long, and as revelations and long-held tensions come to light, nothing is more shocking than the unexpected guest who’s about to arrive..."

One for Christmas, which despite being October is still fast approaching...

Cooking Price-Wise by Vincent Price
Published by: Calla Editions
Publication Date: October 17th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Best known as a star of stage and screen, Vincent Price was also a noted gourmet whose enthusiastic promotion of home cooking included several cookbooks and a television show, Cooking Price-Wise. This charming book of Price's favorite recipes is based on the Thames Television series he hosted in the 1970s, which showcased timeless international cuisine. Scores of easy-to-make dishes from around the world include soups, breads, main courses, sidedishes, and desserts that can be made from ingredients readily available in supermarkets and food shops. Fascinating food-related historical tidbits add extra zest to the newly typeset recipes and numerous color and black-and-white photographs that enhance this handsome collectible edition.

This special expanded edition of Cooking Price-Wise stands as a true family affair, featuring new contributions from the author's children, including a Preface by his daughter, Victoria, and a Foreword by his son, V.B. An extensive bonus section, "The Culinary Legacy of the Price Family," includes baking recipes from Vincent's grandfather, the inventor of baking powder; journal entries from the author's eye-opening trip to Europe as a 17-year-old; and a selection of family favorites from Victoria Price's childhood. Plus, Victoria also provides a wealth of insights into the Price Culinary Legacy."

Seriously, HOW DID I NOT KNOW OF THIS BOOK!?! Also, extra points if it's cost efficient, LOL! 

Friday, October 13, 2017

Movie Review - The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass
Based on the book by Philip Pullman
Starring: Eva Green, Daniel Craig, Kristin Scott Thomas, Dakota Blue Richards, Freddie Highmore, Ben Walker, Clare Higgins, Charlie Rowe, Jack Shepherd, Magda Szubanski, Nicole Kidman, Simon McBurney, Derek Jacobi, Edward de Souza, Christopher Lee, Jim Carter, Tom Courtenay, Sam Elliott, Kathy Bates, Ian McKellen, Jason Watkins, Paul Antony-Barber, Hattie Morahan, and Ian McShane
Release Date: November 27th, 2007
Rating: ★★
To Buy

There are parallel worlds, worlds joined by Dust, some are just like ours with the only difference being that humans have constant animal companions called daemons. This is a story of that world and a girl, Lyra, and her daemon Pan. Lyra's living a carefree life in Jordan College, Oxford. She has her best friend Roger and all the gyptian kids to play with. They run amock and stage their childish wars and whisper about the evil gobblers that take kids away. Only maybe the gobblers are real... After a visit from her uncle, Lord Asriel, wherein he once again said Lyra was not to accompany him on his adventures to the north the beguiling Mrs. Coulter arrives and offers Lyra what Lord Asriel wouldn't, a true home and a northern adventure. Only Roger isn't there to see Lyra off. Soon Lyra is in London and thoughts of Roger are long gone. But life isn't perfect in Mrs. Coulter's world. She can be cruel and is obviously hiding things from Lyra. Of course Lyra is hiding things from her as well, in particular a Golden Compass, a symbol reader that the Master of Jordan College gave her. It soon becomes clear that Mrs. Coulter is actually the head of the gobblers who are kidnapping children to perform an operation on them called intercision and Roger was one of the kids taken. This and Mrs. Coulter's daemon trying to steal the Golden Compass is the last straw. Lyra runs into the night and is reunited with the gyptians. They are mounting a rescue mission north to rescue the children and Lyra wants to come. There she can rescue Roger, see an ice bear, and perhaps her uncle. But the journey is dangerous and she and Pan could be separated forever...

As the music soars and the end credits roll you realize that yes, not only are they ending the story before it's true grim final act, they are overly confident of a sequel that will never come. Could it be Daniel Craig's fault, as this is the first of many would be franchises that he kills proving he's only able to successfully churn out Bond film after Bond film? Or could it be that Chris Weitz shouldn't have had such grand ambitions? Whatever it was that went wrong, and a lot must have gone wrong, what was to be the next Harry Potter cum Lord of the Rings franchise was a sanitized steampunk odyssey that just didn't get it. Back when it was released in 2007 I remember getting all my friends together and just being dumbfounded that the whole movie was such a misstep. I seriously sat there unable to believe that they ended the tale on a happy and hopeful note. The reason I love the books is that despite being firmly rooted in fantasy there is realism with it's real world consequences. But the only real world consequence for the film franchise was that it was one and done. Girding my loins to actually watch the film for the first time since the theater I was struck by it's try-hard nature and that despite everything that went wrong, it wasn't as bad as I remembered. There were enough British actors that I love peppered throughout that they were able to distract me from the epic fail that was the overall film. Little things would occasionally be right, but overall it reeked of failed hope, even Saruman and Gandalf reuniting wasn't enough to save this floundering mess. Bloodless battles in a world that is too sleek and too dismissive of what the heart of the book is lead to a movie that makes no sense.

Moving beyond the illogical internal timeline that takes away all cause and effect, The Golden Compass was about flash and spectacle. The flash of a daemon being killed verses the substance of the connection between a human and their daemon. There is no heart and no soul. The irony shouldn't be lost on the faithful book readers. The story by Philip Pullman is all about growing up and learning about cause and effect and what if there was a procedure that could arrest childhood innocence. It's about separating the self from the soul in order to maintain this innocence. By stripping out all the layers on which the book works and going for a bowdlerized glitter-fest the movie has no soul. How can you ruminate on losing something you never had? This movie literally has no meaning. What's more is that while the soul is gone there could have been some glimmer of lessons learned. They could have maintained Lyra's loss of innocence with her journey from Jordan College to the perfumed, complicated, and adult world of Mrs. Coulter, but instead, once again, they vetoed that idea. By ending the tale on Lyra's balloon ride to her father she's still full of hope. The future is wide open. Yes, she's had harsh lessons, but all of them have been reversible. She fully loses her innocence when her father kills her best friend Roger, the one whom she had vowed to rescue. This false, and baffling to book fans, ending means that the entire moral of the story is gone, the cost of growing up is lost, and so was any chance at the film franchise succeeding.    

Yet the complete lack of insight into what the book is about wasn't just reserved to Lyra's journey, it encompassed the entire world Philip Pullman had built and can be seen most clearly in the daemons. This film literally just does not get daemons. The films opens with Eva Green's husky voice explaining about parallel worlds and Lyra's world and what exactly daemons are. But the truth is they tried and failed quite quickly while setting down the rules. There are glaring omissions and breeches that the uninformed viewer would just not see. One such omission is the whole distance rule. Humans and their daemons can only be a certain distance apart. Why is this important? Because when Lyra and Pan freak out not knowing where Mrs. Coulter's evil monkey is you don't get the reasoning behind it. It's because there should be no way that her monkey is off doing it's own thing. A HUGE revelation, and yet? Brushed aside. As for daemons touching each other and humans touching daemons not their own... well these are taboos NEVER laid down. The fact that Pan is all cosy with that creepy golden monkey about five seconds after meeting him, no no no. Touching is a no no. Lord Asriel's daemon bullying Pan? Again, NO! I mean, did Chris Weitz actually read the source material? Because once again by not setting the rules down a later scene doesn't have the impact it should. When the scientists at Bolvanger grab Pan no one watching this film would get the horror this implies. As for the Dust going THROUGH the daemons, lets not even go there. But all these things are nothing compared to how shitty the CGI is. Oh. Dear. Me. The truth is if you couldn't be sure of nailing this you just shouldn't have done this movie. The daemons are weirdly suffused with light and they don't move right, almost like the animators had never even seen a real animal. As for the fur? It shouldn't move by it's own wind and it shouldn't move in individual strands. 

Yet oddly enough it was the voices of the daemons that bothered me most. I'm not sure if it was miscasting or what, but the connection between a human and their daemon is so deep that I kind of feel weird hearing their voices aloud versus being a voice in their human's head. But I will say that this film isn't exempt from bad casting. Daniel "franchise killer" Craig aside I think anyone watching this film knows who is to blame, and that's Nicole Kidman. Sure, she's a big name, but that doesn't mean she's the right choice. She is ALL WRONG for Mrs. Coulter. This character has to be a split personality, she has to have a motherly seductive warmth that lures children in while also having a terrifying side embodied by that evil golden monkey. Here she only has the terrifying side. She's cold and calculating and just not right. It's like they took the arctic idea that threads through the book and instead of discussing the aurora or ice they just decided to have Nicole embrace these ideals, once again without looking at the bigger picture. The only plus that can be said is at least she hadn't at this point had so much plastic surgery that she looked more daemon than human, but that is a very small plus. Also, let's not even get started on Jim Carter, aka the beloved Carson from Downton Abbey wearing enough eye shadow that he could front a Glam Rock band because at least he was well cast. In fact the smaller roles were all so well cast that I almost want to go back in time and reshoot this film with almost the same cast but with a script that gets the bigger picture. For a film franchise you have to look to the future, not strip everything out and just hope it works. 

What was completely stripped out was the church. And this is unacceptable. I understand the reason behind this and I also understand why you'd be confused by me even mentioning the church in this review had you not read the source material. See, The Magisterium, the evil organization that Mrs. Coulter works for is really The Church, they are one and the same. Yet this adaptation took pains to make sure you never thought this by making cardinals councilors and throwing a few emissaries around the place. The production thought that the film would be too controversial if the big bad was the church. They removed them from Europe, plonked them down in London and made them an evil worlds dominating organization, not trying to, you know, stop the spread of sin, but helping these children become mindless zombies that they could control? Um, WTF!?! I just don't get it. The books are ALL about the church and if you remove it the domino effect happens, as you can see from all my previous complaints. You change one thing, and another, then another, all trying to fill the void by the initial change and in the end you end up with a near incomprehensible mess. A happy ending without a single grain of truth. Now, the church of old, the great old inquisition of centuries past might like the irony of this, but as a fan of the book just all the no. If you were going to change so much why even bother making this an adaptation? Make something new, something original. Don't take something with soul and strip mine it for something marketable, something soulless. Yes, I might not have loathed this film on second viewing, but it made me sad and wistful. The what could have been is so tangible that the ensuing disappointment is almost more of a letdown than the film itself.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Review - Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication Date: 1995
Format: Hardcover, 399 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Lyra Belacqua has had the run of Jordan College in Oxford her whole young life. The poor scholars just don't know what do to with the unruly girl. With her daemon Pantalaimon by her side and her best friend Roger she has scaled the roofs, waged war on the Gyptians, and spent her life going where she pleased. Though she'd never made into the Retiring Room... the night she does is a momentous one. It's not just the success of a campaign she's long wagged, but her uncle Lord Asriel has arrived unexpectedly and within a short amount of time she saves his life and learns about something that is to become her obsession, Dust. She can feel the capital "D." But Lord Asriel leaves, alive, and life goes back to normal, that is until kids start disappearing all over England. The kidnappers are given the moniker of Gobblers and soon they aren't just in Oxford, but they've taken Roger! Lyra is determined to save him yet she is sidetracked by the lovely Mrs. Coulter. She arrives and whisks Lyra off her feet and to London, where she is to serve as her assistant. The coincidence of Mrs. Coulter's arrival and that of the Gobblers isn't noticed by Lyra until later. When she realizes that this mysterious woman is responsible and is bankrolled by the church she runs away to find Roger. Teaming up with the Gyptians they travel north. There Lyra will see the most amazing sights and also face the most horrific betrayal. But with Pantalaimon, an armoured bear, witches, an aeronaut, and the mysterious alethiometer, Lyra might just succeed and find out what this Dust is.

I first stumbled on His Dark Materials during a very turbulent time in my life. There was loss and chaos and somehow these books reflected that and made me realize things were going to be OK. I would even go so far as to say that they really helped inform my DNA and pushed me to read more, to escape into the magical worlds located innocuously between two covers but also to look outside myself, to forge new friendships and rebuild what had become of my life. These books even helped form one of my most lasting friendships. You know how finding someone who likes the same book as you is like a recommendation for that person? Well I recommended this series to my friend Jess early in our friendship and her embracing of them was like a gold star next to my name saying that I would make a good friend, which I hope I still am! But having our friendship founded on books, and I will add Buffy the Vampire Slayer, has lead to me finding more and more friends through the love of literature. I guess, as I write this, I never really grasped how much this one book changed me. The Golden Compass isn't my favorite book, but it is a formative book and all these years later I still enjoyed sinking back into Lyra's world.

Though this time I saw Lyra's world very differently. It's not that the book has changed in the least since I first picked it up or even since I re-read it before the movie came out, it's that I have changed and my world view has expanded. This of course not only makes sense but also is part and parcel of the book. The Golden Compass is all about growing up and becoming a part of the adult world. Learning about all the things, all the innuendo that slipped past you for years. Losing your innocence. It's like having the blinders taken off and what struck me forcibly this time was how much The Golden Compass is like an adult version of The Wizard of Oz. Now I'm not talking Wicked territory, though having read those books probably helped me to see this book more clearly. I mean all the elements are here, though slightly distorted. There's Lyra's daemon standing in for Toto, there's the Wicked Witch, Mrs. Coulter, there's bears and balloons and misunderstandings and and and... I just found it so interesting how the themes and the imagery from L. Frank Baum's book seemed to have so much influence here. Yet while it mirrors it it's not a carbon copy. While The Wizard of Oz is a classic, it's a flawed classic that's too saccharine and too condescending. Here we are given a new classic, it has all the elements there but is better. More adult, more adventure, and more, dare I insult a Tin Man and say heart?

The heart of this series is not our heroine Lyra, but the relationship between Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon. I had a daemon once. He was black and white and furry and was quite literally my soul. When I first read The Golden Compass I had just lost his brother and at the age of fourteen Spot became an indoor cat. Over the next eight years we became even more inseparable so when the inevitable separation came I was gutted. It has been almost nine years of feeling like I'm not all there. Feeling as if a part of me is gone. On my previous two readings Spot was alive and well and with me and our parting was a thing never to be contemplated. Yes, it would happen, but one didn't dare actually think about it. This time though he is no longer with me and therefore all the emotions that Lyra feels at the possible severing, of the intercision between her and Pantalaimon devised by Mrs. Coulter to stop Dust settling wasn't hypothetical to me, it was a reality. My soul has been split and I can well see why those who actually survive this horror become ghosts or zombies. The pain is almost unbearable. Yet to never have had the connection would be worse. Philip Pullman captures the connection between humans and animals so exquisitely that while I was hurting all over again the fact that someone else out there gets it. That someone else out there knows the power of that connection, a power to literally unlock worlds, is something of a comfort.

Yet there were also discomforting thoughts that this book brings up, questions about the Church. The school my mom was a librarian at actually banned these books when the movie came out because of Philip Pullman's beliefs. Though I think reading the books and having a discussion over the content would be far more productive than slamming a book because its author is an atheist. But the parent to lodge the initial complaint kind of has a point in that the church is depicted very badly. No that doesn't mean I'm in favor of banning any books, it just means that I am open enough to see that they have a point. The church, through the process of intercision, wants to maintain the innocence of children by not allowing dust to settle on them. And yes, they are willing to do this at the expense of their young lives. This brings about a lot of questions. Mainly, if their daemon is their soul and it is cut from them how exactly do they enter heaven? The soul is what is most important, not what happens here on earth and yet they are forfeiting their souls through this procedure. I just don't get the church's backward thinking. Of course I believe all this is addressed in the proceeding volumes, I haven't read them in awhile and this is something my mind kept coming back to while reading The Golden Compass. What's more just look to the church in our world, with all the molestation and sexual assaults. These scandals clearly show that the church itself is one of the greatest risks to children's innocence and yet in Lyra's world they are all about protecting it? Yes, these are heavy thoughts that perhaps need more time to be addressed than in this review...

Let's move onto other topics, how about worldbuilding? Philip Pullman has built this amazing and parallel world to ours with steampunk elements and animal familiars and then he ever so slightly slips up. There's the scholarly world of Oxford, the glamorous world of Mrs. Coulter, which I picture very 1920s, the rough and tumble like of the Gyptians, all fitting together into this very British world view and then there's the Bolvager facility. A facility that just doesn't fit into this written world. I'm not talking about what they do at the facility, that is very much of this imagined world, I'm talking about the building itself with it's tunnels under the snow and the ceiling tiles that can admit a girl who is rather small for her age into it's secrets. It's just too Michael Crichton. I felt like I was reading the description of the facility built at the bottom of the ocean in Sphere. Or like I was about to watch the episode of The X-Files "Ice" which was clearly an ode to Michael Crichton with it's alien parasite living in the frozen tundra. Yes, the book regains it's momentum after this bump in the road, but it's still a bump that could have been fixed! This one little section takes you out of the story and makes you feel like you're visiting your own doctor's office. Yes, facilities like this the world over are very similar, but did this facility a world away have to be? Couldn't it have had some of the vast imagination that fueled the rest of this book? Pretty please? Make the connection to itself NOT to us.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Tuesday Tomorrow

Death in St. Petersburg by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After the final curtain of Swan Lake, an animated crowd exits the Mariinsky theatre brimming with excitement from the night’s performance. But outside the scene is somber. A ballerina’s body lies face down in the snow, blood splattered like rose petals over the costume of the Swan Queen. The crowd is silenced by a single cry― “Nemetseva is dead!”

Amongst the theatergoers is Lady Emily, accompanying her dashing husband Colin in Russia on assignment from the Crown. But it soon becomes clear that Colin isn’t the only one with work to do. When the dead ballerina’s aristocratic lover comes begging for justice, Emily must apply her own set of skills to discover the rising star’s murderer. Her investigation takes her on a dance across the stage of Tsarist Russia, from the opulence of the Winter Palace, to the modest flats of ex-ballerinas and the locked attics of political radicals. A mysterious dancer in white follows closely behind, making waves through St. Petersburg with her surprise performances and trail of red scarves. Is it the sweet Katenka, Nemetseva’s childhood friend and favorite rival? The ghost of the murdered √©toile herself? Or, something even more sinister?"

Lady Emily and St. Petersburg! Can you think of a better fit for Tasha's character?

Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan
Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The first book in a classic Golden Age mystery series perfect for fans of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot.

When Mordecai Tremaine arrives at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame on Christmas Eve, he discovers that the revelries are in full swing in the sleepy village of Sherbroome―but so too are tensions amongst the assortment of guests.

When midnight strikes, the partygoers discover that presents aren't the only things nestled under the tree...there's a dead body too. A dead body that bears a striking resemblance to Father Christmas. With the snow falling and suspicions flying, it's up to Mordecai to sniff out the culprit―and prevent anyone else from getting murder for Christmas.

Murder for Christmas is a festive mystery for the holiday season: mulled wine, mince pies... and murder."

The holidays and murder just go together so well... 

Nine Lessons by Nicola Upson
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Called to the peaceful wooded churchyard of St-John’s-at-Hampstead, Detective Chief Inspector Archie Penrose faces one of the most audacious and unusual murders of his career. The body of the church’s organist is found in an opened grave, together with a photograph of a manor house and a cryptic note. The image leads Archie to Cambridge, where the crisp autumn air has brought with it bustling life to the ancient university and town.

Mystery author Josephine Tey and Archie's lover Bridget Foley have each recently settled in Cambridge, though both women are not equally happy to see him. One has concealed an important secret from Archie which now threatens to come to light. Meanwhile, the change of seasons has also brought with it a series of vicious attacks against women in town, spreading fear and suspicion through the community.

Soon, another body is revealed, and in the shadow of King’s College Chapel, Archie uncovers a connection twenty-five years old which haunted both victims―as well as some of their living companions. As Archie and Josephine each grapple with savage malefactors intent on making their victims pay, they must race to stop another attack in this beautifully written, intricately plotted mystery."

This week is ALL about the cover lust. WANT!

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson
Published by: Penguin Classics
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 208 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"For the first time in one volume, a collection of Shirley Jackson’s scariest stories, with a foreword by PEN/Hemingway Award winner Ottessa Moshfegh.

After the publication of her short story “The Lottery” in the New Yorker in 1948 received an unprecedented amount of attention, Shirley Jackson was quickly established as a master horror storyteller. This collection of classic and newly reprinted stories provides readers with more of her unsettling, dark tales, including the “The Possibility of Evil” and “The Summer People.” In these deliciously dark stories, the daily commute turns into a nightmarish game of hide and seek, the loving wife hides homicidal thoughts and the concerned citizen might just be an infamous serial killer. In the haunting world of Shirley Jackson, nothing is as it seems and nowhere is safe, from the city streets to the crumbling country pile, and from the small-town apartment to the dark, dark woods. There’s something sinister in suburbia.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators."

October should just be renamed Shirley Jackson.

Ghosts of Empire by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the aftermath of the events seen in Ghosts of Karnak, and with the political climate somewhat eased, Gabriel takes Ginny to London by airship to recuperate. But he isn’t counting on coming face-to-face with a man who claims to embody the spirit of Albion itself, sinister forces gathering in the London Underground and an old ally – the British spy, Peter Rutherford – who could desperately use his help."

How long have I had this preordered? Since before it had a release date!

Sorcery for Beginners by Matt Harry
Published by: Inkshares
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Paperback, 300 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Five-hundred years ago, sorcery began to fade from the world. As technology prevailed, combustion engines and computers replaced enchanted plows and spell books. Real magicians were hunted almost to extinction. Science became the primary system of belief, and the secrets of spell-casting were forgotten. That is... until now.

Sorcery for Beginners is no fantasy or fairy tale. Written by arcane arts preservationist and elite mage Euphemia Whitmore (along with her ordinary civilian aide Matt Harry), this book is a how-to manual for returning magic to an uninspired world. It's also the story of Owen Macready, a seemingly average 13-year-old who finds himself drawn into a centuries-long war when he uses sorcery to take on a school bully. Owen's spell casting attracts the attention of a ruthless millionaire and a secret society of anti-magic mercenaries, all of whom wish to use Sorcery for Beginners to alter the course of world history forever."

Do you have shivers? Because I have shivers. And hopefully not just because I'm really cold...

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Here is a thing everyone wants:

A miracle.

Here is a thing everyone fears:

What it takes to get one.

Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado, is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect."

Right now, I'd take any kind of miracle. 

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Published by: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis.

Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

In his long-awaited return, John Green, the acclaimed, award-winning author of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, shares Aza’s story with shattering, unflinching clarity in this brilliant novel of love, resilience, and the power of lifelong friendship."

If the protagonist isn't all about the Terry Pratchett love I'm calling foul on this title. Yes, I KNOW Terry Pratchett doesn't hold the patent on the "Turtles All the Way Down" saying, but he should! It's implied that he has ownership of it.

Lumberjanes: Unicorn Power  by Mariko Tamaki
Published by: Amulet Books
Publication Date: October 10th, 2017
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Welcome to Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. The five scouts of Roanoke cabin—Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley—love their summers at camp. They get to hang out with their best friends, earn Lumberjane scout badges, annoy their no-nonsense counselor Jen . . . and go on supernatural adventures. That last one? A pretty normal occurrence at Miss Qiunzella’s, where the woods contain endless mysteries.

Today is no exception. When challenge-loving April leads the girls on a hike up the TALLEST mountain they’ve ever seen, things don’t go quite as planned. For one, they didn’t expect to trespass into the lands of the ancient Cloud People, and did anyone happen to read those ominous signs some unknown person posted at the bottom of the mountain? Also, unicorns.

This hilarious, rollicking adventure series brings the beloved Lumberjanes characters into a novel format with brand-new adventures."

Firstly, if they just got an editor to check all the typos I'll be happier than I am reading the comics. BUT there's a big secondly... no Noelle Stevenson!?! For shame!

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