About Me

My photo
was sold to gypsies as a small child for half a tank of gas and a kitten. She was quickly, if not easily, retrieved by her mother after the kitten was revealed to be an Eldrich horror looking for a ride into the nearest metropolitan area to begin wreaking havoc. It's been a bone of contention between Maria and her family ever since, whether the Horror-kitten would've been more or less trouble than she grew up to be.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Abuse of Friendship & A Poll

Watch and vote please!

The Most Photogenic
Maria D.

PS - Emma, please don't hit me for anything! I'm on cold medicine! I'm not thinking straight!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jekyll and Hyde

Last weekend, I went to see the Pasadena Theatre Company's production of Jekyll and Hyde: The Musical.

As a whole, the production was largely what viewers might expect from all community theater. Confusing staging, uneven amplification, a mostly computer and synthesizer generated orchestra that overpowered the handful of acoustic instruments, and a vocally uneven cast.

However, the production definitely had some bright moments. John Scheeler and Michele Guyton, Jekyll/Hyde and Lucy respectively, were the two strongest voices in the cast; at the perormance I attended, Ms. Guyton has the distinguished honor of being the only female lead consistently on pitch. The Board of Governors, while a mixed bag vocally, produced a number of laughs.

John Scheeler was fantastic as Jekyll/Hyde, standing out with great distinction when compared to the rest of the cast. Even if the whole production had been a failure, his performance was worth the price of admission. Strong acting, a good voice, and he sure knew how to work his hair for "Confrontation."

Michele Guyton as Lucy was another shining light in an otherwise drab show. Her voice was lovely and a good match of Scheeler's. Her acting wasn't the best, but she portrayed Lucy as a sympathetic character, hard to do when one plays a whore, and there was obvious enthusiasm for her role. She even managed to make the somewhat humdrum song, "New Life" interesting to watch.

Playing Dr. Jekyll's friend, John Utterson, was E. Lee Nicol. It's hard to remember what his singing was like, but he was one of the better actors of the ensemble.

Barbara Hartzell was a disappointing Emma Carew. Her acting was stiff, making the character unlikable, and her operatic singing style was out of place and off pitch, marred by an overly wide vibrato.

The rest of the cast is a mix of vocal and acting quality. My biggest complaint about the show is the staging - particularly the umbrellas in "Murder, Murder." It was awkward and confusing, and came across as a poorly executed rip-off of old Broadway musicals.  Character singing too far upstage, and a silly scene where Hyde pops out of a frightened crowd left me wondering if I should laugh or not. To their credit, the cast did their best with it and seemed to be having fun. In short, for a community theater production, it was pretty good rendition of a show a little beyond their resources..

My rating: 3 out of 5 mushrooms

Jekyll and Hyde is still running this weekend through November 21. Go to the Pasadena Theater Company's website if you're interested in tickets.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Review: Black Bird

This cover should've been my first warning.

I've been seeing this manga, Black Bird by Kanoko Sakurakoji, advertised on the sidebars of a lot of webcomics I read. It was paired with Vampire Knight which I wholly acknowledge is junk, but is fairly well written and plot intensive junk filled with adorabe, emotionally scarred boys whose continued misery fills me with sadistic glee. But I digress.

This was not Vampire Knight by a long shot. It fills me with such annoyance and slight revulsion that I must share before I can forget it. Let's get this review over with.

There is a world of myth and magic that intersects ours, and only a special few can see it. Misao Harada is one such person, and she wants nothing to do with magical realms. She just wants to have a normal high school life and maybe get a boyfriend. All that changes one day when Misao is attacked by a demon. Her childhood friend Kyo suddenly returns to save her and tend to her cuts--with his tongue! It turns out Misao is the bride of prophecy, whose blood gives power to the demon clan who claims her. But most demons want to keep her power for themselves--by eating her! Now Misao is just trying to stay alive...and decide if she likes it when Kyo licks her wounds.
The Good: ...

The Bad: It's a Japanese version of Twilight, only with different clans of demons instead of vampires and werewolves/shape-shifters/whatever. Y'all know how I feel about Twilight, right?
Nooooo! It burns!
The Gory Details:

1. The main character, Misao, takes a page out of Bella Swan's book with the lack of personality, the waffling about what she wants, and oh yes - the klutziness. Misao is perpetually a victim, the prototypical damsel in distress in need of a strong man to save her. The only thing that makes her remarkable is the deus ex machina of her being the "Bride of Prophecy" which makes her the speshulist snowflake in all the land. Her tasty blood - peaches this time instead of freesia - inspires all the nearby monsters to want to rape and/or kill her. But lo! she's saved time and again by her childhood friend - who's also a demon - who would also like to sex her up and marry her for the good of his demon clan.

2. The love interest, Kyo, is domineering, controlling, bad tempered and manipulative. But he's loved Misao since they were children and he's just looking out for her best interests, so it's okay. Remind you of anyone? I will say that the author has departed from dear Edward's oh so neurotic character by making Kyo a complete pervert who tries to force himself on his true love at every opportunity, whether she's willing or not. Thus, Kyo is like pretty much every male character in popular shojo manga I've ever encountered: a perverted chauvinist asshat determined to sully the virginal heroine (but is really a nice guy underneath, though the closest we ever come to seeing it is his handsome brooding).

3. All this would bother me less if the story were actually good - or at least well presented. The characters are not compelling, utterly unsympathetic, and the story line is as original as bubbly pink haired cat girls. The scenes shift back and forth jarringly, and reading it, I was almost convinced at times that they were mixing up pages from entirely different chapters.

Conclusion: Look, I enjoy the occasional trashy romances as much as the next girl - my admitted love of Vampire Knight should attest to that, as those relationships are dysfunctional to a degree that would make Freud blush. But is it too much to ask that authors of all cultures present their unhealthy romances with some craft and charisma? Maybe a sprinkle of original ideas? Or at least stop ripping off Twilight so obviously? That's all I want from my book-fluff.

Rating: No mushrooms. None. The art might be good enough for 1/2 a mushroom, but I'm feeling unforgiving tonight.

The Enemy of All Romance,
Maria D.

ETA: On the bright side, should this manga is ever be turned into an anime, it'll make a most excellent AMV of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

School 33

Last Friday, my schools' art club paid visits to some of Baltimore's art galleries. I shared my experience at Maryland Art Place yesterday. Today, spotlight on School 33.

School 33 is a community art gallery which not only exhibits individual artists, but allows the community to become involved in the gallery as well. None of the students knew this going in, so imagine our surprise when we found out we got to contribute to the gallery.

The gallery, by local fiber artist Melissa Webb, was titled The Temporary Nature of Ideas.

"As a fiber artist, I love the process of making… of obsessively crafting an object, a costume, or an installation… then combining the fruits of these efforts to create entirely new realities through the use of performance and audience participation.  I tend to construct detail-oriented, otherworldly scenarios that can be viewed and interacted with in a casual manner, and where the performers are encouraged to react and improvise.

The work becomes fully realized through this continuous interaction between the performer, the viewer, and the surrounding environment. I am interested in removing the separation between the viewer and the work of art, as well as between the audience member and the performer.  I want to enable others to become directly involved with the work, and to give them a role in determining the ultimate outcome of each piece.  This concept is evident in The Temporary Nature of  Ideas, a series of large-scale, “living” installations that I began in 2009. Viewer / participants, using provided materials, are invited to delve into the process of making with me, and to be a part of the growth taking place over time within the space." -Melissa Webb
Walking into the gallery was initially overwhelming. There was so much to look at, so many contributions from the artist and from the public to take in and interpret. Without a chance to breathe, we were shuffled into an adjacent room, where buckets of cloth, yarn, and netting lined one wall, with hot glue guns on the other. The floor was strewn with pillows for us to sit on while we worked. We were supposed to make something, to use the cloth to express an instantaneous, fleeting idea.

Though it wasn't said, it felt like we'd been shown just a glimpse of the gallery to inform us what we were creating for, but then left to our own devices and our own ideas. It was slightly staggering and most of my art club companions were sharing looks of confusion; our college does not offer courses to deal with spontaneity. But at some point we all got swept up in creation. There were plenty of ideas, tenuous and incomplete, and by the end, all but the most uninspired of us had something to add to the gallery. 

My little contribution (pictured left) got me into a discussion with the artist herself, about ideas that come out of nowhere and the bits and pieces of our lives and experiences that somehow coalesce into something coherent. By the way, Melissa is really nice. Just FYI.

I will refrain talking about my piece in this blog, but if anyone is really curious, leave a comment and I'll explain there.

As it was, this exhibit was unusual, unexpected, and totally worth the hot glue I spilled on my jeans. I'm a little sad that I won't get my little doll pictured here back, but there's a wonderful sense of satisfaction in contributing and knowing that others can see and enjoy your creations.

The Temporary Nature of Ideas closes this week, on the 30th. There's a free closing reception Friday October 29th, 6-9pm. But please check out upcoming exhibits. The gallery is free and open to all ages.

The exhibit gets an B+. It's a little cluttered and confusing, but getting to contribute adds a lot to the experience.

The gallery gets a B-. While the mission is fabulous and the galleries interesting, the building is tight. And whereas the Maryland Art Place is impossible to find because of the surround structures, School 33 is impossible to find because the last thing you'd identify the building as would be an art gallery.

Critically Yours,

Maria D.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maryland Art Place

Friday of last week, my colleges art club visited two Baltimore art galleries: Maryland Art Place and School 33.

Maryland Art Place is a small gallery on Market Street, hidden between Rams Head Live and Power Plant Live, two of the largest, most popular clubs in the downtown (though they're moving to a larger, more visible location in a few weeks. More on that next month). The gallery is small and at times slightly sterile, but unorthodoxly charming. Their current exhibit, Art and Film, seems at first like a very stereotypical modern art exhibit. However, by the end, it was probably my favorite of the galleries we saw. The first two rooms of the gallery are devoted to Glenda Wharton, an animator whose film, "The Zo and the Invisible Friend" was at this years Sundance Film Festival. On display were 16 original cells from the movie.

Glenda Wharton's style reminded me of a more sophisticated version of the drawings in one of my favorite children's books, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Her illustrations provoke gut reactions; the imagery is not comfortable or especially beautiful, but it is captivating. The movie is hypnotic, keeping your eyes glued to the screen even as you're dragged through a nightmare. It's a fabulous show for fall, evocative of the decay and gloom we naturally associate with the shortening of days. The fact that Halloween is also fast approaching adds a disturbing appropriateness to the show.

The rest of the gallery is devoted to the videos of four other artists. Sadly, we had to move on to the next gallery before I got to really see them, so I don't have much to say. However, the one video I did get to see some of was LoopLoop by Canadian filmmaker, Patrick Bergeron. On a trip to Seoul, Korea, Bergeron videotaped a train ride through the city. The video loops sections of the ride over and over again, focusing on the details revealed in the video that were missed in real life. His concept statement and the video itself were maybe not art, but they were certainly interesting and thought-provoking. How much life do we miss while trying to survive?

The exhibition gets an A from me. It was interesting, thought-provoking, mostly unpretentious, and I want to go back.

The gallery itself gets a B. While I love the curator and the space is nice, it's nearly impossible to find. I'm eager to see the space they're moving to.

Tomorrow On the Blog: School 33. With photos!

Aesthetically Yours,
Maria D.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where Is October Going???

I had PLANS for blogging this month. They were GLORIOUS plans! Things of BEAUTY and PERFECTION! They are obviously not to be.

This semester midterms are not at the middle of term, but instead are terrible things that stretch from the 4th week of school to the week before finals start. The online writing lab won't send back ANY of my assignments with edits and one of my teachers is grading us in part on whether we follow instructions of the lab editors. The on campus student writing lab is never open anymore, and the new libraries grand opening has been pushed back AGAIN I've heard, so I have no where quiet to study. This is not including my work with the BVAF, my continuing job quest, and personal work on Nevermore and other assorted projects. And I lost my good hat with all my pins and buttons from BEA. Someone kill me now, please.

I'm going to try VERY HARD to do at least SOME of what I was planning in these last two weeks of October. I was such a good idea and I was looking forward to it SO much. *sob* I DO have an editorial I was planning to submit to the school paper, but which I can also publish here. And I have some movies and books I've been meaning to review. And I wanted to tell you all about my very first RPG. But OH GOD WHERE HAS THE TIME GONE???? WHERE???????

Hopelessly Yours,
Maria D.

ETA - the library, at least, is still opening as scheduled. And I just found out that it's a Green building! Totally eco-friendly! And it has a cafe! And seats that haven't been jizzed on! Oh happy day!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Ethan Frome: Book Review

"Classic" literature is my bread and butter and on occasion my jar of Chivers bitter marmalade. And some YA lit has the power to add to this culinary tour de force by acting as the slice of sharp cheddar that, when added to the rest, helps me gain ten pounds in the course of a morning. Om nom nom books.

But even the classics can leave you with a bad case of diarrhea. Actually, a LOT of the classics can do that. My Darling My Hamburger, anyone? But I digress and cut short my food and gastro-intestinal comparisons. For now.

I've heard wonderful things about Edith Wharton ever since I could read. During my epic move this summer, when half the family library was relocated to my room, I suddenly discovered that, lo' and behold, I owned an Edith Wharton novel: Ethan Frome. I jumped, eager for some early twentieth-century writing I'd never seen before.

I- I tried to get through this book, you guys. I tried so hard.

The Good: Everything wonderful you may hear about Edith Wharton's writing is true. Her style is what got me as far through Ethan Frome as I did. It's beautiful, eloquent, and stands strong with her male contemporaries.

The Bad: But the story ran into the fundamental problem that I can't stand any narrative set in New England and related areas that doesn't include eldritch gods, the vengeful dead, and/or other Lovecraftian horrors that strike well-deserved terror into the cold, suspicious, puritanical hearts of New Englanders.

The Rest: If you like John Updike stories but want better writing set a little earlier in time, this may be the book for you. I, for one, will be looking for other Edith Wharton writings that don't make me cringe. As it stands, I have to grade Ethan Frome on two different levels.

The Writing: 5 Mushrooms

The Story: 2 Mushrooms

Friday, September 10, 2010

September Sleep

Hey everybody! Maria checking in.

School has started up and I'm taking a larger load of classes than ever. In addition to that, Nevermore is chugging along at an exciting clip. What this means is that most of my reading time is going to be devoted to text books, and any time away from homework and papers is going straight into Nevermore.

But I'm not abandoning you forever!

First up, I'm scheduled to guest blog over at Bri Meets Books next week for Roald Dahl Week! Then, I have PLANS for October. *insert crack of thunder and insane laughter here* I promise, it'll be great. I have a couple of reviews to get to, not the least of which being Mockingjay, Archenemy, and Juliet(still!) and maybe even some movie and event vlogs.

So feel free to keep ignoring me this month. Just check out Bri's site and come back for October!

That's all folks,
Maria D

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mockingjay Release Party!

Exciting things are happening at Casa Maria this week! Aside from the usual hustle and bustle of getting ready for the new school year - five classes this semester and I'm excited about each and every one of them - I'm also getting ready to spend some time with Cassandra Yorgey at the book release party of the year. That's right, I'm going to Books of Wonder for the release of Mockingjay. Friends and a fabulous new book; what more could I ask for?*

ETA: Part 1 of my journey is documented on Youtube! Maria's Journey Part 1

*A pony

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TBR 8/18/10 - War of the Witches

Outsider Anaíd leads a solitary life in a small village in the Pyrenees with her mother Selene. She does not suspect there is anything particularly strange about her family, aside from her mother’s personal eccentricities . . . until one day Selene disappears without a trace and Anaíd is confronted with a shocking truth, her mother is a witch, prophesied to be the chosen one to end an ancient war between two feuding clans.
I read this book in ... 2007? 2008? Sometime around then. I loved it. I finally ordered it on Amazon (because I couldn't find it anywhere else) and I'm expecting to have it in my hands soon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Book Review: Zombies Vs Unicorns

In February of 2007, the YA world was rocked when writing rock stars Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier got into the mother of all absurd arguments. Lines were drawn, sides were taken, the YA community was ripped in half as everyone rushed to proclaim which team they were on in the epic battle to decide which was cooler: zombies or unicorns.

Since then, fans have eagerly awaited the release of the Zombies vs Unicorns Anthology, a book which would, hopefully, settle the matter once and for all. Holly(Team Unicorn) and Justine(Team Zombie) spent months collecting the creme de la creme of YA authors to their sides. And on September 21, 2010, readers will at last get to see the final battle in print.

But I've got an ARC sitting all nice and tidy and signed on my shelf. Why yes, I am pretty darn smug about it.

I struggled with this review for a bit, trying to decide how I wanted to go about it: did I want to review each story individually or the book overall? Of course, I've decided to do a little of both.

The Good:

There are no bad stories in this anthology. None. Readers are free to discern which stories to read based on interest, author, and team preferences. Of course some stories shine more than others. "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Alaya Dawn Johnson seems to be a Team Zombie favorite, while Diana Peterfreund's "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" - a spin-off of her Rampant series - is raking in the praise from Team Unicorn. When I said that Holly and Justine had used the creme de la creme for this anthology, I wasn't kidding. Sure, the individual stories have trip ups - Carrie Ryan's "Bougainvillea" has some pacing and organizational issues, while Meg Cabot's contribution to Team Unicorn irritated me (though I consider that a reflection of my own personal tastes since I haven't liked anything by Meg Cabot) - but the anthology starts strong and finishes the same.

The Bad:

Sadly, the only part of Zombies vs Unicorns that consistently detracted from the book was Holly and Justine's introductions of stories. In the forward, their bickering was amusing. It set the tone, and reminded readers that this was done in fun. But from the first story on, I noticed a trend: Holly would talk about the merits of the story while Justine would toot her proverbial horn in favor of Team Zombie and leave it at that. This was still funny for the first few introductions, but three stories in, it lost it's charm.

If Holly had mirrored Justine's behavior once or twice and simply said "Team Unicorn" over and over again, or better yet, if Justine had talked about the merits and pitfalls of a story beyond 'it has unicorns, it sucks' or 'it has zombies, it rules', - I think there would have been a much stronger sense of equality between the anthologists. As it was, I began entering each story wanting to hit Justine with something or hoping that Holly would on my behalf.

The Left-overs: 

Maureen Johnson, "Children of the Revolution" has MORE than made up for my disappointment with "Law of Suspect" in the Vacations from Hell anthology. Congrats.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Mushrooms

Team Unicorn Forever,
Maria D.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

NYT Failed Interview Fails

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled blog to bring you a review of this monstrosity: Mona Simpson Quietly Embraces Art

(Go ahead, read that first. All of it. I'll wait.)

(Done? Awesome.)

What the HELL is this, New York Times? Okay, I don't read you often and this may be the standard of writing you publish. But if that's so, then my complaints are the least of what you deserve if you consider that pseudo-intellectual garbage worthy of publication.

The purpose of all mass communication is to inform, entertain, and/or persuade. Can anyone tell me which, if any, purpose the article above serves? This type of writing is what every journalism, creative writing, and ANY English class I've ever taken has taught me to avoid. And seeing an example of it, I have to agree; this is terrible writing.

From an informative perspective, I learn that this woman, Mona Simpson, is an author and has a new book coming out. Normally, I'd expect this article to include somewhere details about this authors body of work, what the new book is about and when it's coming out. But The New York Times is too avante garde to include any of that useless twaddle in such specific terms. We do learn a bit about her upcoming novel, but it's lost in a lecture about the Matisse exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Instead, I learn that she currently lives in the uncultured, illiterate slums of California and misses that paragon of civilization known as the Upper West Side. She's divorced, Steve Jobs' well-connected sister, hates Starbucks, and her teenage son won't read her books. In essence, I've read the most prosaic Wikipedia page in existence. Any useful information is lost in a maelstrom of gossipy, irrelevant factoids.

As far as entertainment goes, it failed there as well. It proposes to be a Day-In-the-Life type piece (I assume. It's listed in the fashion section. I suppose it could be a piece detailing how to be a fashionable writer? Martinis, snobbery, and famous siblings are the keys to success?) but it's unfocused and tangential and I'm left disliking an author who, based on this interview, is so condescending and elitist that I'm devoid of any desire to read her books.

From a persuasive angle, how am I to be persuaded? Should I go see the Matisse exhibit?

Fashionably Yours,
Maria D

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

On My iPod 7/25/10 - Crash Kings

Brothers Tony and Mike Beliveau and Jason Morris make up the trio known as the Crash Kings, a high energy rock band...sans guitar. Keyboard, bass, and drums make up a kicky, aggressive, and potent sound. Their self-titled debut album was released over a year ago, but only started getting radio play in West Virginia* a few months ago. Which is why I'm talking about them now instead of sometime around May 2009 when it was more relevant.

From their website:
The Crash Kings’ radical new sound is huge to say the least. Of their vision, Tony is quick to point out, “We wanted to create a band that once and for all could be ‘The Big Rock Sound’ without guitar.” One might wonder…rock without guitar, how is that possible? Well, the Crash Kings have gotten a bit innovative in their quest to create rock with just keys, bass, and drums. With tube overdrive and multiple amps Mike’s bass brings heaviness to the band’s sound. On top of that Tony plays a clavinet (a keyboard with guitar strings), which has been customized with a large whammy bar allowing him to bend notes like a guitar producing an entirely new sound. Having these two very unique elements makes the Crash Kings’ music feel raw and full at the same time.

Their lyrics are solid, but nothing to write home about. They switch from the standard hard rock fare to the sentimental and sweet. What holds my attention is the music. I love me some guitar, but never once did I miss it on any of the tracks. On "You Got Me," the bass pulls no punches, while the keyboard plays a haunting riff. On the other side of the spectrum is a song like "Come Away" which is reminiscent of The Fray minus the Emo. Musicality and lyricism have not been sacrificed for the sake of edginess, and the sound is stronger and more unique for the compromise.

Part of what appeals to me about the Crash Kings is that they allow themselves to branch out within the album. While many rock bands put out albums with essentially three songs replayed with modified lyrics in different keys, every track on "Crash Kings" is memorable, with structures and moods that are entirely individual. It's a smallish album with only 10 tracks, but the size works in the bands' favor. Listeners get a taste of what the group can do without running the risk of running out of ideas on the first album.

Final thoughts: If you like Ben Folds, Foo Fighters, and Keane, this is a band you should check out.
Two of their songs, "You Got Me" and "Mountain Man", are already on the Crash Kings Youtube channel.

Grade: B

Live Long, Rock Hard,
Maria D

*They were playing "Mountain Man." Some states should never be allowed a sense of humor.

Monday, July 26, 2010

What Are You Reading 7/26

It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?

- from Goodreads
 I got my hands on this long awaited anthology at BEA. I love it. I'm almost finished with it. But even having not finished it, I can tell you with great authority that you should go out and get it the DAY IT IS ON SHELVES. Or you can pre-order it. That works, too.

Eat (brains), Love (unicorns), Pray (for bigger guns),
Maria D


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel

After centuries of terrorizing Europe, Lenah Beaudonte, with the help of the handsome Rhode, has been able to realize the dream of all vampires – to be human again. Now as a raven-haired, sixteen-year-old, Lenah believes her greatest challenge is fitting in at her new school. But the challenges have only begun. The vicious coven Lenah once ruled is threatening the new-found pleasures of her human life, including the one guy who makes her feel most alive, Justin. Can this ex-vamp survive in an alien time and place, or will her past come back to haunt her…forever?
Infinite Days is one of my BEA books that I picked up without much enthusiasm. The editor promoting it did a wonderful pitch and it interested the heck out of me, but the bottom line was and still is that I am officially vampired out. I can't even bring myself to read the latest Sookie Stackhouse book! But Emma of Booking Through 365 was reading it and tweeting her reactions and asked me to give it a try and see if I agreed with her. What was supposed to be a quick skim to get a sense of the writing and characters, turned into me reading the whole book. And as soon as I'm done writing this review, I'm clicking the "delete all" button on that memory; because I'd much rather devote that people-ram to things like Zombies Vs Unicorns and Inception. You know, things that don't suck.

The Good: The Premise

Rebecca Maizel takes the vampire genre the next step further and explores what would happen were a vampire to regain her humanity (though I realize while typing this that the sixth Vampires Diaries book beat her to the punch a bit). Through Lenah, we see her rediscover humanity for the first time in 500 years. But more importantly, we see the collision of her previous existence with a new, normal, human life.

The Bad: The Execution

I think I said it all whilst "Tweeting While Reading:"


    I somehow expect a 500+ year old to be deeper than "I hope that jailbait guy in the next room is thinking about me cuz I'm thinking about him" 11:59 AM Jul 20th via web

The Voicing

Maizel's writing is better than much YA I've seen, but when it comes to Lenah's voice, she tries to strike a balance between old-world-vampire - ala Anne Rice - and contemporary teenager and fails at both.

Final Thoughts: I can't judge this book objectively because, as I said above, I am tired of vampires. And this book, while having the potential to be really interesting, trips up so much, in the voicing, the characters, the basic plot (when you're writing about subject matter - like vampires - that's going to be compared to another popular book - like Twilight - don't actively court those comparisons) that I have a sad now because of it.

But a few points that I couldn't file under Bad because it's strictly things that bothered me and which bother me in other novels as well.

How is shoving a girl who's been asleep for 100 years into high school supposed to help her adjust to modern living? Set her up with a laptop and digital tv, and we spare her the horror of cliques. By the way, why are all high schools in YA filled with 'Mean Girl' cliques? I know I was only in real high school for a year, but that was long enough to notice that we had no such things. Sure there were some popular kids and some less popular kids but we weren't The hills or Melrose Place or anything so stereotypically stupid. And friends who demand the group dress alike and have matching accessories; what's with that? Why is high school used as the standard of humanity? I promise all you people still trapped in high school that it's not.

Infinite Days by Rebecca Maizel is set to hit book stores August 3, 2010

My Rating: 2/5 Mushrooms

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Live Review: Cendrillon

The Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation debuted this past weekend with a little known operetta, Cendrillon by Pauline Viardot.

Cendrillon is a French re-imaging of the classic Cinderella story. Written by Pauline Viardot and performed in Paris in 1904, Cendrillon has fallen by the wayside over a century. But recently, it's been enjoying a bit of a renaissance with productions on both coasts of the United States occurring over the past ten years. Baltimore Vocal Arts Foundation performed the work with a brand new (and in my opinion), hilarious English translation by founder and Garcia scholar, Dr. Robyn Stevens. This new organization aims to give students and inexperienced performers the opportunity to develop their talents and get working experience in a transitional environment: not quite as safe as a school production, but not as hard core as a professional opera company.

Viardots' Cendrillon takes the original Cinderella story and turns it on its head. Marie, better known as Cendrillon(Cinderella), is not the stepdaughter of a wicked stepmother, but the illegitimate daughter of Baron Pictordu, a former grocer who lied about being aristocracy to marry money. He scorns Cendrillon as evidence of his less than pristine past. Instead of evil step sisters, Marie has half sisters who use their father's disregard for Cendrillon as an excuse to abuse her and treat her as a servant. The Prince is not some fop who's throwing a ball just to find a wife and get it over with; but as a master of disguise, Prince Charming has been casing the neighborhoods of the blue bloods, finding out which girls are sincere and which are social climbers. Barigoule, the Prince's royal chamberlain, has history with the supposed Baron Pictordu, which may or may not interfere with his ability to help the Prince with his charade of exchanged identities. And rounding out the cast, Le Feé, the fairy Godmother, is not only a fashion maven, but also has a way with animals and gourds.

In the Sunday performance at Baltimore Theatre Project, Taleesha Scott was Cendrillon. Her sweet, soulful voice was paired with expressive and convincing acting – nervous and frenetic around her abusive family, excited and jittery upon the arrival of her fairy godmother, and jubilant as she finally gets to be with the Prince. This is an extraordinary vocal talent, and I deeply hope I get to hear more from this truly unique musician. Playing Prince Charming was Andrew Spady, who hit a nice balance between aloof, annoyed, and love struck depending on who he was interacting with. He and Ms. Scott worked and sang well together. Spady had a pleasant, if somewhat typical, tenor voice. He sounded good, he looked good, he was worth the ticket.

Nearly stealing the show were Michael Rainbow and Juliana Marin. Michael Rainbow made the most of his role as the Prince's chamberlain, Barigoule, sporting a hilarious fake French accent, reminiscent of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and shooting wise cracks and one liners at every opportunity, as if his arias weren't chuckle-worthy enough. Juliana Marin played the sweet, kooky fairy godmother, La Feé. Her acting was a little unsure at times, but her singing ranked a close second to Cendrillon's in my book. Marin's voice is lovely, even though her technique is not entirely solid.

The one sour-ish note came in the form of the step sisters, played by Dwan Hayes and Tyson Upham. Lethargy and apathy were the orders of the day, contrasting strangely with the frenetic staging in some of their scenes. Even worse, they were vocally the weakest of their cast-mates. Tyson Upham as Maguelone, was hard to hear, while Dwan Hayes as Armelinde, tended to belt. The result was a rough, often flat sound that jarred with otherwise vocally seamless ensembles. In what I've dubbed "The Quack Heard 'Round the World," Miss Hayes hit a very loud and jarringly flat note in the second act ensemble. Both singers seemed distracted throughout their performance, giving a flat delivery of what may have been very funny roles. To say I was underwhelmed is an understatement.

Daniel Gorham seemed to follow the lead of the sisters when it came to acting - a little lazy, a little unmotivated - but he got better as the show went on. Regardless of the acting, he'd still get a pass for his gorgeous singing. A full, resonant baritone voice held its own in his solo's, while blending beautifully in the chorus'. His best scenes were the ones where he and Barigoule got to play off one another, culminating in a fabulous moment where they dueled with their canes while discussing their shared past and the quality of gingerbread the Baron used to sell.

The unsung hero of the performance was pianist Michael Angelucci who kept playing despite sweltering heat. (If the venue had air-conditioning it was well hidden or perhaps prehistoric – like a pile of ice blown by a fan.) Did I like this opera? Hmmm. A little part of me would like to hear the music performed with a small orchestra – but no. Viardot wrote it for piano and I think in the end, piano is what works best. It's a small, charming opera, meant for small, charming spaces to be performed in. And I really doubt an orchestra could've been fit into Baltimore Theatre Project while still leaving space for the actors to, well, act.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

On My iPod 6/17/10 - La Roux

A new feature here on the Meep. I've actually been wanting to do this for a while but haven't had the time/internet connection to explore new music. Let's hear it for NOT living in the god forsaken mountains of West Virgina anymore!

To Break in my new little featurette, I'm talking about my new nostalgia trip, La Roux.

La Roux is an electropop and synthpop duo out of England, made up of singer and co-producer Eleanor Jackson (pictured right) and co-producer Ben Langmaid. To learn more about the duo, check out their myspace page,  http://www.myspace.com/larouxuk, - wow, myspace pages, amazing that people still have those - or you could do what I did: Google them and randomly click links until you find something interesting.

The first song I heard was Bulletproof, catching a rare moment of radio play. On first listen, I wasn't entirely sure whether I liked it or not. But it was catchy and I wanted to hear it again so I could at least say definitively that I loved/hated it. On to the Youtube!

Bulletproof Video (oooh shiny!)

Where I found some of her other videos:

I'm Not Your Toy (Hurray for androgyny!)

In For The Kill (The 80's called; they want their car back)

Tigerlily (My new stalker theme song)

IMO: I love La Roux with the understanding that this is not music everyone will enjoy. Hell, I was surprised when I realized I liked it. But why do I like it?

La Roux is a complete nostalgia trip for me. It hearkens back to the days of my childhood, in those distant years of the early 90's, when my brother and I would watch awesome/terrible/hilarious movies from the even more distant years of the 80's and I'd rewind the credits over and over and over again to listen to the ending song. The music is bouncy with a bite and the lyrics are a little more clever than most of what I find from young female musicians - not good, but clever.

Eleanor Jackson's voice isn't my favorite, but it suits her songs, and in the meanwhile, she's crafted an image that's a refreshing change from the over sexed themes of sexy rocker chick, sexy R&B singer, sexy poptart, etc. that I see everywhere. Instead, she showcases an unconventional look, making androgyny more appealing than it's ever been since David Bowie started cross-dressing.*

Overall: I like the music, I like the front-woman, I get that it's not something the whole family may enjoy. Give it a shot and see how you feel. Honestly, you're bombarded with enough crappy music on the radio, in movie and TV soundtracks, in elevators: what are one or two more songs on Youtube in the grand scheme of things? And how knows, you might even find something you like.

*No, I don't count Marilyn Mason's woman suit as attractive androgyny. You do? That's very nice for you. I'm going to be sitting way over here now, kthxbai.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

TBR 6/8/10 - The Emperor of All Maladies

Among the books I go at BEA a few weeks ago (have I blogged about BEA yet? I haven't, have I? Bad Maria. I'll fix that. Promise) is The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. Normally, I stay away from nonfiction. With some notable exceptions, I find most of the popular stuff dry and uninteresting. Give me ghosts and bloodshed with my internal turmoils, please and thank you.
 But The Emperor of All Maladies really caught my attention at BEA. The book is presented as a narrative of the history of cancer, with cancer treated as a character and antagonist, not just a disease, an unfortunate side effect of life. Mukherjee gathered the questions about cancer which he's been presented with as a doctor and asked as a student, and tried to answer as many as he could in this novel.

The Emperor of All Maladies interested me on two levels. First, there's a history of cancer in my family - two grandparents were claimed by it - , and judging from the pitch the editor gave a the BEA panel, this book may have some of the answers to questions I was too young to ask when my grandparents died. Second, it has history. I love history. I love history so much, I plan on being a history major. History is awesome and the only form on nonfiction you can give me with a guarantee that at some point I will read it. Also, history.

I have no clue when I'll get around to reading this - sooooo many books from BEA to read - but my interest in it will boost it higher in the pile after I finish Juliet*.

 -Maria D

*Yes I'm still reading Juliet no my mom won't give it back she hides it when she's not reading it and THIS IS WHY I CAN'T BRING NICE THINGS HOME

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

WAYR 4/27 and TBR 4/28

Back again with a new What Are You Reading. It's a day late thanks to raging storms in West Virginia yesterday, knocking out the internet connection in my Secret Lair. I miss DSL y'all.

This week, I've been reading the Vampire Diaries. (Peer pressure, I cave to it.) I finished reading the first book, The Awakening, I'm working on the second, The Struggle, and skipping ahead to peek at various scenes in later books, of which there are many. We've gone over my bad reading habits before, right? Right.

(Prepare yourself for the inevitable Twilight comparisons)

The Awakening introduces Elena Gilbert, the cool, aloof, uber popular Ice Princess of Robert E Lee high school. She's the girl every guy wants to be with and every girl wants to be. And most guys HAVE been with her, at least on a date. But Elena wants more out of life, though she doesn't know what that more is yet. All she knows is that popularity ain't cutting it, and while she jumps from date to date trying to make a connection, she remains lonely and unsatisfied. Until Stefan Salvatore comes to school.

Elena has never wanted anything or anyone as much as Stefan; dark, handsome, foreign, and irresistible. An easy conquest she thinks: nothing that she's ever wanted has eluded her before, certainly nothing male. But Stefan defies her attempts at even civil conversation.

As Elena continues her seemingly futile quest to gain Stefans attention and a date, all is not well in her town of Fells Church. Her childhood friend Caroline is suddenly out to get her. Another friend, Bonnie, has discovered she's psychic and begins prophesying some scary shit. People are being attacked by an unknown and possibly non-human assailant, a strange crow has been following Elena around town, and another young man of unknown origin keeps popping up whom Elena is alternately drawn to and repulsed by.

What is going on in Fells Church and why does it all seem to be centering around Elena?

We don't really find out in this book. What we DO find out: Stefan is a vampire. Kind of a whiny one too. His brother may or may not be bad-ass and awesome and a real vampire. Elena and her friends Bonnie and Meredith MIGHT have personalities and depth but we can't be sure from the first book. Likewise, Elena might be a Mary Sue, though her almost whoring tendencies help keep it in check.

Twilight comparisons begin ... NOW:

To generalize, I like it better than Twilight. That is not a glowing commendation by any means, but that's what you get.

+10 for having something resembling a plot and effective -if glaringly obvious - foreshadowing.


Elena is not QUITE a Mary Sue yet. Sure, she's beautiful and sweet and smart and the queen of the school, but when she acts like a brat she gets called on it, WHICH I GREATLY APPRECIATE THANK YOU VERY LITTLE STEPHENIE MEYER. She's beautiful, shallow and self absorbed, though not so much on purpose as she tends to forget other people have problems. When she remembers, she apologizes and tries to make up for it. In most cases she tries to be considerate to others and is apparently loyal to her friends. I can't think of any examples of this offhand, but it's mentioned.

In the very first chapter, as Elena is writing in her diary (oh I see what you did thar), we see that this is a very lonely and lost girl at heart. She's trying to find home, a place she hasn't felt since her parents died, and she's looking - misguidedly in my opinion- for that home in another person. But that misguided search is part of what makes Elena a more believable character than Bella in my opinion. She is not "an adult trapped in a teenagers body." This is a teenager with all the foibles and flaws, mistakes and misadventures one has when one is young and dumb and infatuated. In my opinion, all this adds up to a character who may not be entirely likable, but is one who's more believable and slightly sympathetic.

Stefan is the prototype for Edward McEmopants. Wah, I'm a vampire and I don't want to be one I just want to try have a normal life blah blah blah. Thank God he's not a perfect marble cupcake Adonis* or else I'd have to smack a bitch. His avoiding Elena and related infatuation is better explained than just 'she smells so om nom-able and she's so purely good I must protect her and klutz-adorableness even though she can never love me in return woe.' Elena looks almost exactly like Katherine, the vampire who turned Stefan in Renaissance Florence and whom he and his brother loved (mmm kinky) and who died because Stefan and his brother Damon couldn't get their shit together and because she was, well, retarded.

But Stefan grows to love Elena NOT because she's like Katherine, but because she's DIFFERENT from Katherine omgwtfbbq. Elena is strong and opinionated and knows what she wants (totally unlike wishy-washy fickle Katherine no Katherine you can't have both brothers no you cannot NO YOU CANNOT PUT ONE BACK WE CAN ONLY AFFORD TO FEED ONE).

Also cool, there are actual explanations for why Stefan and his brother can go outside in the daylight, how they eat (fangs! Yay!), what they eat (Stefan continues to throw his hat in the ring of Biggest Vampire Pussy Ever by eating bunnies even though eating people gives you awesome Powers which allow you to ...not...be a...vampire pussy...*headdesk*)


They have more personality than just about every side character from Twilight rolled together with the possible exception of the werewolves. Seriously, the Quilloute wolves need a reality show. I'd watch it over and over and over and over and over and over again. Carrying on: ROLL CALL!

Meredith: She has a brain and routinely calls Elena on her spastic self absorbed shit. For this, she has my eternal love, even if she isn't precognitive and steals cars.

Bonnie: Flaky, psychic, a little creepy but largely comic relief and plot mover and shaker. She's an adorable ball of magical fluff who's rightly terrified of her own growing powers. I kind of love her.

Matt: Elena's latest spurned love, and yet he's SO NICE. He also calls Elena on her self absorption but then rolls right on over and lets her kick him like a retarded puppy. Matt has issues. I want to hug him and kick 'im in the balls at the same time for competing with Stefan for the Wussiest Wuss Award of the year. I hope some nice girl takes him and rides him like the beast of burden he's determined to be.

Damon: Holy shit it's a man with a spine....aaaaaaaand he's a douche. A stalker douche. A stalker douche who's at least HONEST about his desire to wet Elena's panties EDWARD. Seriously Wardo, either you want the girl to jump your bones or you don't. PICK ONE. Damon is, as mentioned above, Stefans brother. Stefan's OLDER brother. And he takes serious issue with Stefan being such a girl. I'm kind of waiting for Damon to give Stefan a box of tampons for Christmas...if he doesn't kill him first. +3 for killing people, +3 for holding a grudge, +4 for shape shifting and other vampiric abilities, and +5 for being an all around bad-ass evil hottie.

Is that everybody? Probably not. Did I forget anything? Probably so. Do I care? Definitely not.

Can you tell what's on my To Be Read pile? ONWARD TO FINISHING BOOK 2 THE STRUGGLE!

I Vant to Suck Your Blood,

Maria D.

*All credit goes to Miss Cleolinda Jones.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Path Less Trod

The sky opens up before me
An untrod path and pilgrimage
Bring me the horizon in a cup.

The stars trace roads and hignways
No one has ever traveled
And their stories go untold night after night.

A million miles lay between me and destiny
With only old songs for company
And the challenge of an endless summer sky

Stars spin and burn and shine rudely on sleepers
They dance without a thought or care
How can I not follow?

With every step I leave a little more of my life behind
The fire burns hotter in me, scorching away all traces of my past
And with every step I'm a little more myself, a little more alive.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

To Be Read 4/13

Today on the To Be Read pile is In the Night Garden: Orphans Tales #1 by Catherynne M Valente.
Goodreads description:
Secreted away in a garden, a lonely girl spins stories to warm a curious prince: peculiar feats and unspeakable fates that loop through each other and back again to meet in the tapestry of her voice. Inked on her eyelids, each twisting, tattooed tale is a piece in the puzzle of the girl’s own hidden history. And what tales she tells! Tales of shape-shifting witches and wild horsewomen, heron kings and beast princesses, snake gods, dog monks, and living stars–each story more strange and fantastic than the one that came before. From ill-tempered “mermaid” to fastidious Beast, nothing is ever quite what it seems in these ever-shifting tales–even, and especially, their teller. Adorned with illustrations by the legendary Michael Kaluta, Valente’s enchanting lyrical fantasy offers a breathtaking reinvention of the untold myths and dark fairy tales that shape our dreams. And just when you think you’ve come to the end, you realize the adventure has only begun….

I've wanted to read this book since it came out, but I've had the hardest time finding a copy of it. I DID manage to find part of an audio book for it on iTunes, and what I heard only made me more determined to read it. Sadly, audio books and I don't mesh. I get so caught up imagining what's being described that I fall behind the pace of the story being read.

Lyrically fantastic,
Maria D.

Monday, April 12, 2010

WAYR and Other News in No Particular Order

First, I am deeply chagrined that I have only NOW discovered Sigur Ros. How did I miss this awesomeness before? The mountains of West Virginia are currently alive with the sounds of Icelandic rock blaring out my open windows.

Packing up my room for the move yesterday progressed to that unhappy place where everything is chaos, the movement has stirred up so much dust that I can't stop sneezing, and I can't see my bed anymore. Today I made even more progress, so now my closet has added to the clutter. On the plus side, I can now see parts of my bed and most of my carpet. Sigur Ros has been kind in helping me deal with this.

And what do I have to thank for introducing me to Sigur Ros? How To Train Your Dragon! It's going to be my favorite animated movie for a while now. As I said before, dragons are my favorite mythical creatures. And not only does this movie have dragons, it has dragons that act like cats. Originally I wanted to see HTTYD because Toothless looked and acted a lot like a giant, winged version of my late cat Shadow. I was right. Imagine a smaller, scalier, de-winged version of Toothless and you have Shadow. Shadow was every bit at crazy, destructive, bad tempered and loyal as the dragon in that movie. God damn I miss that cat.

On to WAYR before I start crying.

So what am I reading? Elephants on Acid by Alex Boese! I'm nearly finished. I love this book. I'm actually going to have to cave in and buy it I love it that much. EoA is a collection of experiments so crazy and off the wall that you'd think they were made up. But no, all the experiments described within the contents of the pages were actually done. I hesitate to use any one word to encapsulate this book. It's hilarious - at times. At others, it's horrific and slightly nauseating. But if you're interested in mad science or psychology at all, this is a great book to pick up. It really makes you think about a lot of things.

Finally, update on Nevermore. Chapter 4 is at a standstill right now. It's an important chapter with lots of foreshadowing and planning for the finale, and I'm over-thinking it to the point where nothing is working. So to continue making some progress, I've moved on to other important scenes that WANT to be written. Having a LOT more success with those. So Nevermore is carrying on, just not in a way I can show you without major spoilers. Sorry!

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to Baltimore we go!
Maria D

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My "In-Process" Pile

At the moment, I have several books which I've been able to read a little of, but haven't gotten to finish yet. Here they are.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray
Eyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Vacations from Hell anthology
The King of Elfland's Daughter by Lord Dunsany
In the Woods by Tara French
Gone by Michael Grant
The Wastelands by Stephen King
Cell by Stephen King
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

There are more I'm forgetting, I'm sure. But these are the most pressing and important to me to finish this year (this is not taking into account all the books I'm probably going to pick up at BEA. O_o). Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

To Be Read 4/6

To Be Read is a meme by Korianne Speak, which I pilfered from Emma.

This week, I got a copy of Elephants on Acid: And Other Bizarre Experiments by Alex Boese.

I have to thank Anna for lending me this. I'll try not to damage it by accident...or design.

The Goodreads description:

When Tusko the Elephant woke in his pen at the Lincoln Park Zoo on the morning of August 3, 1962, little did he know that he was about to become the test subject in an experiment to determine what happens to an elephant given a massive dose of LSD. In Elephants on Acid, Alex Boese reveals to readers the results of not only this scientific trial but of scores of other outrageous, amusing, and provocative experiments found in the files of modern science.

Why can’t people tickle themselves? Would the average dog summon help in an emergency? Will babies instinctually pick a well-balanced diet? Is it possible to restore life to the dead? Read Elephants on Acid and find out!

I'm soooo looking forward to this.

Maria D

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Are You Reading 4/5

It's Monday! Time to implement my schedule, starting with What Are You Reading, a meme hosted by One Person's Journey and which I found out about and filched from Emma. (I am the epitome of original.)

This week I've been reading a couple of things. First, since I'm coming out of spring break, I've been reading Vacations from Hell, an anthology of horrific vacation tales, written by five young adult authors. Libba Bray, Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, Claudia Gray, and Sarah Mylnowski.

So far, I've only read two of the 5 stories all the way through; Maureen Johnson's Law of Suspects and Libba Bray's Nowhere is safe.

These stories show what a mixed bag anthologies can be quality wise, and also the differences in writing that can appear when comparing an authors short stories to their longer works.

Maureen Johnson: Law of Suspects

Personally, this story left me feeling room temperature. It was an excellent premise in my opinion; trapped in the French country side, the victim of a cursed story, with no clue who the murderer will be. The idea of it excited me then and now. It's one of those stories which I think someone else could flesh out into a full novel. But I digress. Overall, I liked the idea. Execution, however....

I like Maureen Johnson's voice. Devilish is one of my favorite YA books, and I recommend The Bermudez Triangle to everyone. But it's a voice that doesn't always work in every situation. It fell a little flat in this one. Whenever I was getting involved in the suspense, something, a throwaway sentence or just the phrasing of the narrators thoughts, would rear up and drag me back out, and I'd hope she died. Maybe this wouldn't have bothered me as much if the story were longer and I had more time to get used to the main character. Also, do make outs have to be in EVERY short story? Are they really THAT necessary? Or am I just not feeling the love? Discuss.

I really liked the ending though. Overall, good bones of a story. Needs a hell of a lot of elbow grease to make it as awesome as it could and should be.*

Moving on the Libba Bray.

Libba Bray: Nowhere is Safe

This was the first story I read, even though it's at the end of the book. This story had a lot of modern day Poe and Lovecraft feeling to it. She even named the main character after Mr. Poe (a giant plus in my book). Basic premise is that four friends from high school go backpacking across Europe the summer before they start college. However, when the group moves off the beaten tourist track, they find themselves involved in the centuries-old practices of a town on the brink of destruction.

Yes, it's a plot you've probably seen a dozen times on SyFy channel, but Libba Bray pulls it off with a lot of class and genuine fear. The dynamic of the relationships between friends, watching them shift and deteriorate as the situation gets more extreme, is fascinating and powers the story nearly as much the plot. Also, I loved reading about a male protagonist, and a multi-ethnic one to boot (YA authors, more of this please). The romantic drama was appropriate; mentioned often enough to establish it, but not so often we want to hit Poe for not making his move.

The twist at the end, when we discover the villains, is a little predictable but not in a way that hurts the story. The ending itself is mostly satisfying in how it ties things up, but makes me want to hear more about Poe and his adventures.

My biggest complaint was the writing itself. It's not bad by any means, but I love Libba Bray and am used to the shining, sterling quality of The Gemma Doyle Trilogy and now Going Bovine. In Nowhere is Safe, you can tell that it was rushed, especially when paired with her longer works.

This gets to the roulette aspect of anthologies. It's hard to tell what you're getting. Even if you know and like the authors whose works are included, there's no guarantee that they'll hold up quality wise to other stories you've read by them. Some authors excel at short stories while other need 400 pages to really make it work and express themselves completely. And it's hard to know whether an author will fall into one category or another until you read both types of writing.

I just started Cassandra Clare's story. When I get around to finishing all the stories, hopefully I'll sit down and write a full review.

The other book I started reading this week is A History of Violence by John Wagner, illustrated by Vince Locke. More on this later in the week. Until tomorrow.

Planning your untimely demise,
Maria D.

*MJ, if you ever find this blog and read this post, I still love you long time. Promise.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Schedule? What's That?

Happy Saturday!

In a valiant/vain attempt to add some structure to this blog, (and maybe, just maybe, make it more book and writing related) I'm going to start scheduling weekly posts.

Mondays will be What Are You Reading (a meme hosted by the Story Siren)
Tuesdays will be TBR (To Be Read) (a meme hosted by Korianne Speaks)
Wednesday will be Wednesday Writing Prompts (someone else is probably already doing this, but I don't know them so this one's all me as far as I'm aware)

So, yeah. We're going to see how long this will last before I'm distracted again. I give myself a week...though even that may be too generous.

Stupid, unreliable, shiny laptop owner,
Maria D.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Romance: I Read It

A year or two ago, I was one of those women who looked askance at romance novels. That wasn't real literature. But then, brain fried from studying for finals, I found myself wandering the aisles of my college library and stumbled upon a rack of donated novels. Among them were some Nora Roberts books. They were cute and funny and I didn't have to think too hard. It was what I needed when I needed it; literary fluff.

Since then, I've explored other romance novels by other authors. Some of them are absolutely terrible: perfect examples of why people say they rot your brain. But others have become some of my favorite books, not just because the romance aspect makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Many of them have well thought out plots, interesting characters, and often include insightful commentary on society and people's places within it.

And let's not forget that some of what we consider great literature are romances. Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Ivan Turgenev and countless others wrote fantastic, life changing books which are, to a great degree, romances.

The danger of romance novels, i.e., stupidity and narrow-mindedness, is a danger inherent to all genres provided one genre is the only thing someone reads. People who only read war novels or science fiction exclusively are mocked for that self-same narrow-mindedness. The 'danger' attributed to romance novels is because it revolves around gender. Even the best romance novels I've read seem to fall prey to gender stereotypes, or fall into ruts of one partner saving the other from themselves, their past, or a contrived outside situation. Book by book, this can be okay. But when almost every book a person reads follows those patterns and reinforces those ideas in readers without a break or contrasting point of view, then the dreaded brain rot rears its' ugly head.

But a little romance is a good thing. It can be a nice break from other thought provoking reads. Of course, we love those best, but even the most intellectual persons head gets heavy after a while. Romance can be the equivalent to television in its ability to help us decompress from life, only we still get to read and there are no commercials.

So if you're like I was, someone who looks down on romance novels, get over yourself and give them a chance. You might surprise yourself and find some really enjoyable and well written books. And if you're one of those people who never reads anything BUT romance and harlequin, put down the friggin' Gail Dalton and read some Gaiman or Wilde or Dumas. And drop the Nicholas Sparks; he doesn't count either way.

Variety is the Spice of Life,
Maria D

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Review: Pet Sematary

A few weeks ago, I stumbled into a Starbucks with free books. After a moment of stunned ogling - and eyeing the suspicious old man 'sleeping' by the shelves - I squealed like some sort of silly young person and rushed over to see what they had. My attention was immediately caught by a collection of Stephen King paperbacks. 'Hey, I don't own Pet Sematary yet! I want to read that and the public library is still out for my blood.' Don't ask about the library. Just. Don't.

I'd been warned about Pet Sematary. When I began my Stephen King obsession, back when I was a comparatively younger and far more mature Maria, mom let me know that it was an amazing book which was too tragic for her to finish. I decided then and there that someday, somehow, I would read this book. Flash forward 13 years, and viola! it is within my grasp (and I have a few weeks before school starts up again in which time I can read it).

By the time I got to Pet Sematary, I'd read a LOT of King. I had what I considered to be a fair idea of what I was getting into.

I should never have doubted my mothers warning.

Pet Sematary tells the story of the Creed family. Doctor Louis Creed, his wife Rachel, and their children, daughter Ellie and son Gage. When the family buys a new house as part of their relocating for Louis' new job, the never suspect that they are purchasing a path to immortality...and Hell.

What was so tragic to me about this story is that, unlike in The Shining, or really any other King novel, this is a fairly normal family. There is no marital strain. Louis is a good father and husband. Rachel has her weird thing about death, but it's nothing that puts considerable strain on the marriage. Ellie is a happy and well adjusted little girl and Gage is a happy, sweet and silly toddler. They have a pretty house. Louis has a good job. They have a sweet elderly couple as neighbors. There are no irredeemable stains on this group of people. They are good. And by the first chapter, you know that they will be destroyed.

Inevitable. It's a word I couldn't help but think of constantly as I read. Everything that happened to Louis and his family seemed so inevitable. While reading, I had the constant sensation of being in a movie theater, watching the protagonist open the door which led to a murderer or monster. There were so many other, better choices available for the characters to make. And yet, reading, you knew that in the end there were really no other choices to make but the awful ones they did.

Stephen is at his best with Pet Sematary. The writing captures everything - every emotion and every moment - with crystal clarity. And even when you want to stop, when you think you can't take anymore, he keeps you reading. With the same surety that Louis and his family sink into chaos, you'll keep reading. It spirals in towards its' inevitable conclusion, just like the graves. And as you get closer to the end, that spinning, that inevitability, will make you feel as though you're losing your mind with Louis.

The history of the sematary itself was fascinating as well. A flaw of Kings' is that he rarely gives an explanation in his novels for why something supernatural is the way it is. Don't get me wrong; conjecturing your own explanation can be great fun, and I usually enjoy it. But King can at times become a little too J.J. Abrahms. Here, however, he strikes a perfect balance. He draws on the history of his setting and the supernatural traditions of the Native Americans to create an evil that rivals any Judeo-Christian demon. The Wendigo is something which is used not nearly enough in horror. Native American stories and spiritual traditions are still sorely overlooked sources of inspiration for novels or any genre.

Final thoughts: I loved this book. It was not an easy read. It was hard and uncomfortable and so very sad. But it was wonderfully done. I'm probably going to be like my mom, who read it, loved it, and has no desire to ever read it again. I'm okay with that. But I hope to get other people to read it. It's too good a story and such excellent writing; it would be a waste to exclude it from your to-read pile.

My Rating: An easy 5 out of 5 Mushrooms

Inevitably yours,
Maria D.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Spirit

Returning to the feelings of 'meh' induced by Wicked: Witch and Curse, I begin my review of Spirit by J. P. Hightman.*

Spirit tells the story of teenage ghost hunters and husband and wife duo, Tobias and Tess, on their way to investigate claims of the paranormal in Salem Massachusetts in the Victorian Era.

Things which endeared me to this book:
  • Ghost Hunters- this is an immediate selling point for me on almost any book. It's incredibly difficult to go wrong with ghost hunters in your narrative. Possible, but difficult.
  • Romance- fine, I'll admit it. I like a little romance. My cold, robot heart is not immune to the warm fuzzies and Tess and Tobias had some morbidly sweet moments.
  • Same First Initial- Okay, this is just a weird thing about Maria brought on by my peculiar upbringing. I like it when pairs have the same first name. Matching initials are cute to me. My brother and I are both M's, my parents were R's, my cousins are R's and C's respectively, some of my favorite couples in anime (both cannon and non cannon) share first initials. It's just a thing about me. Ahem. Moving on.
  • Salem Witch Trials- While writing about the Salem Witch Trials is NOT an automatic 'Pass Go' story wise, it is a rich source of literary potential. I can think of a lot of dumb books that used the trials as a stepping stool, but I can think of a lot of good books that used them too. In short, it caught my interest.
  • Paranormal- Yeah, I'm a sucker, but I've found many an awesome book based solely on my interest in its being paranormal.
  • Cover- the cover looks cool, doesn't it?

This book is one of the reasons I do NOT adhere to the "If it's good three chapters in, it's going to be a good book" rule or any stupid rule like it. Up until the fourth chapter, I was really involved in this story. Then, something fizzled out of it. The spark seemed to go out of the writing and the characters. The plot seemed to be drawing towards a cliche and I just couldn't take it when it had started out so good.

Even so, it wasn't a bad book. I flipped to the end since the middle was starting to bore me (bad reader, I know. Sue me) and was surprised by where it landed. I have Spirit on my list of books to reread. I'm not sure if it's the book that was really bad, or if I was just reading it at a bad time, or what. Overall, the book left me a little cold and mostly unimpressed. But there were enough elements that to interest me that I really want to give this one another shot. I'm kind of hoping that I was chemically nuts at the time of reading and that I'll appreciate it better if I'm in a saner state of mind. Now we just have to wait for the stars to align for me to get to that saner state. Stay tuned for further developments. Breath holding is optional.

My Rating: a tentative 3 out of 5 mushrooms

Undecidedly yours,
-Maria D.

*This was a library book. I didn't buy it. I didn't receive an ARC. I'm poor and no one likes me enough to send me free stuff. Except for Emma. HAI EMU!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

(Belated) February Horrorscopes

Aquarius (January 20 – February 18)

You mistakenly thought that it would be fun to get snowed in with friends during the blizzard. None of those people will ever speak to you again.

Pisces (February 19 – March 20)

Because you work at Best Buy, you’ll still have to go into work, even though there’s two feet of snow on the ground. No the economy is still not good enough for you to quit this joke of a job and get a new one. Sorry.

Aries (March 21 – April 19)

The zombie squirrels have built a mighty snow fortress outside the cafeteria. From the ramparts, they will pelt you with slush balls and icicles. There is no escape.

Taurus (April 20 – May20)

Kiss your vacation plans good-bye. The stars foresee that spring semester classes will run to July to make up for the blizzards. Hope you got some good snowball fights in.

Gemini (May 21 – June 21)

You ate the yellow snow, didn’t you? Go away. The stars have no fortune for you.

Cancer (June 22 – July 22)

All your fish in Fishville are going to die over the weekend while you write a paper for class. Boohoo.

Leo (July 23 – August 22)

The stars foresee that your decision to give up social networking for Lent, while admirable, is doomed to failure. Try something easier, like quitting smoking.

Virgo (August 23 – September 22)

Your astronomy class is trying to turn you against us. Come to the dark side. We can tell you which classes you’re going to fail this semester.

Libra (September 23 – October 22)

Feel bad about being dumped on Valentines’ Day? Don’t worry. In a few months, your former date is going to end up on the wrong side of an episode of Cheaters, face-plant into a parking lot while trying to escape, and desperately need some rhinoplasty when it’s all over.

Scorpio (October 23 – November 21)

We know that sledding down the driveway hill on Catonsville’s campus seems like a good idea, but it really, really isn’t. For starters, the campus won’t cover your resulting hospital bills.

Sagittarius (November 22 – December 21)

The stars foresee a whole generation of tweens who believe “Wolfman” ripped off “New Moon.” Start building that underground bunker and storing provisions now.

Capricorn (December 22 – January 19)

Your Canadian girlfriend will break up with you next month after bitter arguments over some unflattering comments you’ll make over the Olympics on your Facebook page.