Good Reads #6 – Illuminate

Title: Illuminate

Author: Aimee Agresti

ISBN:  9780547626147

I’ve totally been bitten by the YA bug. No doubt about it. I’ve been kind of a snob about it in the past, but as I’ve started exposing myself to it I’ve found there can be a lot to like. I’ve also found that there is some real crap in there too, just like any other genre, and that one must tread lightly when browsing the shelves (in the case, at the library).

Where as there are books that are guilty-pleasure kind of bad, like the Selection (The Bachelor, in novel form with an added backdrop of a dystopian future) there are books that are also just plain bad. Case and point. The set up of the novel is as follows:

Haven Terra gets selected for an internship she never recalls signing up for that the school district apparently just decided to set up. Said internship involves leaving school for a full semester and moving away from home to live 24/7 in a hotel and work “at all hours.” WHAT KIND OF SCHOOL DISTRICT GIVES THE GREEN LIGHT TO THIS KIND OF SHIT. Oh. Wait. The benefactor behind the internship is the creme de la creme of society and can do no wrong, so of course they’ll go along with it. And the notion that someone as powerful and important as her would really want a 16 year old girl to do her bidding. Right.

So anyway. She goes and starts working at this hotel and one of her first missives is to take photographs of “The Outfit” the amazingly beautiful but cold as ice cadre of hotel workers who won’t give our protagonist the time of day. She is commended for her photographs, as even though she had little skills in photography there is something eye-catching about them. Zipping ahead, we have an opening and the next day the pictures (which had been hung in the gallery) had all been taken down because of “vandalism.” If I told you that they had been reading “The Picture of Dorian Gray” in English before she got word of this internship, I bet you can guess what happened to said pictures, right?
We eventually learn that she is an angel and a “soul illuminator” whose pictures reveal a person’s soul and that if you destroy the picture you destroy the person. You shouldn’t be surprised that her own picture eventually starts having her develop a halo as that of her bosses gets more malformed and hideous.

Throughout this the second in command, Lucian (fallen angel guys, get it?) has been trying to seduce her, begging her to “sell [him her] soul,” while guided by a mysterious book Haven watches new recruits being inducted into The Outfit (i.e. selling their soul), overhears meetings between Aurelia, Lucien and The Prince (three guesses as to who that is and first two don’t count) and they have to find a way to save their classmates at Prom because the Outfit is planning on using said Prom to garner new recruits. Oh. And I forgot to mention her friend Dante (who struggles in his battle to fight off the influence of the Outfit) and the use of mind control toxins and…yeah.

I think it’s pretty obvious why I’m trashing this book. It was an easy read and on some levels it was a fun read, but fun in a “I can’t believe I’m actually reading this” kind of way. The only reason it doesn’t get an all out F is because quite frankly it is way better written than the likes of anything SMeyer or EL James could ever hope to put out.

This is supposedly the first in a series. I can only ask: why?!

Don’t spend money on this book. Teens that are the target audience of this book deserve good books and this simply isn’t one of them.

Verdict: Don’t Bother

Good Reads #5 – Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

Title: Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore

Author: Robin Sloan

ISBN: 0374214913

This book made me giddy. It made me happy. It gave me that warm and fuzzy goodness that most books just can’t elicit. The story itself is fairly simple: a Gen Y’er is out of work thanks to the Great Recession and starts working at the bookstore to make ends meet. He quickly realizes there’s a store within a store and soon sets out to solve the mystery behind it. And that’s about it really.

But that’s all you need when you have such great characters that are all interesting in their own way. That’s all you need when the book embraces the love of holding a book in your hand and the joy of technology and all the potential that it holds.

I don’t really know what else to say except I think this is one of those books that everyone needs to read, plain and simple.

P.S. I want to read the trilogy within a book that proves to be the secret to solving the mystery. It sounds fun. 🙂

Verdict: Buy it

Zero Dark Thirty

Generally speaking, one goes to the movies to be entertained, be that in the form of a tense political thrilled or fluffy popcorn fare.

Zero Dark Thirty is not an entertaining movie. But it is a very good movie and it is a movie well worth watching. In all likelihood, you will sit there are squirm at some of the action on the screen. You will be amazed that we ever actually caught Bin Landen since the evidence was circumstantial at best. And you’ll be relieved when the raid does go off successfully because there was basically no reason for it to have done so.

The big thing that keeps coming up is whether the movie glorifies torture or not. I’m not convinced that it does. The man who does it is shown to be burned out and affected by what he has done. The scenes are raw and difficult to watch – her discomfort is our discomfort. And most importantly, her insistence on following up this lead is born as much out of desperation and lack of any other leads as it is any certainty that the info was truly of value. If anything, the takeaway message here is that Bin Laden was caught out of a woman’s intuition and belief that it was true – the movie makes it very clear that pretty much everyone that wasn’t her thought we only had 60% chance of being right. Hardly the kind of intelligence you want when you embark on a mission like the one we did.

Jessica Chastain is fabulous here, and she’s quietly good in the part. She’s fiery when she needs to be, and you sigh in relief when she sighs. You don’t get to know the other characters that well, but that honestly didn’t bother me because she was clearly a creature of solitude and kept others at a distance. She didn’t succeed out of being super-social.

I wonder if one day the real-life operative will ever get the public kudos she deserves. As the film points out “once you’re on the list, you’re never off the list,” I wonder that even after she retires whether it will be safe for her to do so (unlike the operative behind Argo)

Regardless this is one of those films that needs to be seen and for a person to make up their own mind on the material. And that doubly goes for those demanding it be pulled without having seen it. For every good and noble deed that has been done in the name of our country, we have done some incredibly ugly things – and events like this are just the surface. Denying the past is dangerous, and trying to bury it doesn’t change the fact that it happened – and, realistically, will likely happen again.

My grade: A-

Comic Catch Up #3 (The Last)

And the final batch of comics. Woohoo!

Catwoman #14 – The cover – Catwoman surrounded by fake teeth grabbing at her- was just bizarre and didn’t give me much hope for the story inside. But I will say that I was pleasantly surprised overall by the quality of the issue. Joker is toying with Catwoman the entire time, trying to find new ways to “skin a cat,” bating Catwoman into becoming his enemy and not his friend. The ending ties nicely with Batman #15 and has nice symmetry as both Catwoman and Joker contemplate what the other can’t see. That said, I’m still not sure I’ll add this to my pull list. I didn’t care for the way that Nocenti had Joker use a child (not Robin, just an innocent child) in his games nor the way that it seemed like part of the game was to see just how naked they could get her. I’m sure it was fairly routine as far as comics go, but it isn’t something I can support or want to see on a regular basis.

Red Hood #15 – This one was another pleasant surprise. The Joker here isn’t over-the-top violent like he’s been in in some other titles and there was more contemplation on the part of Jason Todd. I don’t know his full backstory, but what I did see of his partners intrigued me and make me want to see more. I’m not sure I’ll put this on my pull list quite yet (I am trying to keep it at a manageable length) but I will keep an eye on it. I will say however that it is freaking impossible for that towel to have stayed on his body the way that it did during the fight. Funny how writers want to strip the women but have to keep the covered up.

Suicide Squad #14-#15 – Well. That was difficult. I remember reading the old Suicide Squad so I was actually looking forward to reading this. I’ve always liked the concept – a group of ne’er-do-wells teaming up and doing some occasional stuff that can come off as actually good. But ow. It was hard sitting through this. From Joker’s abuse of Harley Quinn (yes, it’s a subtext that has ran through their relationship as far back as Harley’s inception back on Batman: The Animated Series, but that doesn’t mean I want to actively watch it) to the way that the leader of the group is all willing to just let Harley suffer, and perhaps die at Joker’s hands just to get the information that is needed. Don’t get me wrong – the two issues were very well written, and among some of the best of what I’ve read during the catch up. But well written doesn’t equate to enjoyable. I will say that I do like seeing this side of Harley, the one that can stand up for herself and isn’t a total victim anymore and isn’t blindly devoted to Joker anymore. This might be added to my pull list. I need to let it digest as it were and decide later.

Nightwing #15 – I think this will be going on my pull list. I The use of Joker is clever and cruel but not over the top violent. I like that Dick has a circle of friends (that Joker is using against him) and this just feels right. I want to see more of this. It hit the right notes without going too far. Kudos.

Detective Comics #15-#16 These two were a mixed bag for me. I rather enjoyed #15 – you got several of the members of the Rogue’s gallery, Penguin, Poison Ivy and Clayface and they were all utilized well, so much so I actually felt sympathy for Clayface. #16 didn’t work quite as well for me. There’s a definitely The Following kind of vibe here where the Joker is developing a cult-like following and people are trying to kill in his name and I’m not sure that I buy that. In the upcoming the Following (which starts Monday) the killer is known to be incredibly charismatic and well learned. Joker has never been anything but a flat out psychopath with no end-game, no motivation other than chaos. In short, it’s hard to see what about it would inspire this kind of devotion. There is an a story being set up about the Joker being blamed for crimes of another group being set up, but this other part just kind of throws me off. Glad I read ’em, but no particular desire to continue reading them.

Overall – At the end of it, I do think the quality of the books that have made up the Death of the Family crossover are pretty high caliber. They aren’t all to my taste and I didn’t care for all the interpretations , but I suppose when you’re looking across this many titles with so many writers that something like that is bound to occur. I am glad that I did this though, it’s given me a chance to really look at all the Bat titles in a way that I haven’t since the start of the New 52 and I think that that is a good thing. You don’t try and you’ll never know what you’re missing out on 🙂


The crowd parted before them as they moved towards a sadly under-utilized St. Andrew’s cross. Some eyed them with speculative interest, others were too focused on their messy blowjobs to notice anything else going on around them.

When they reached their destination, it was time to see just how good of a prize they’d picked for the evening.

“Remove everything but the mask.”

The girl nodded her head in eagerness ,but he could spot the slight trembling of her fingers. He wasn’t worried though, he could already begin to smell her arousal as well. Who knew how long that would remain.

She had a lovely body that thankfully wasn’t overly thin like far too many girls were fond of doing in this day and age. It had born a child once, and her chest was in well proportion to the rest of her body and blessedly natural. He was pleased.

He pushed the girl to her knees, facing Scarlett. “I am inclined to give you what you what. I am not so sure that your Mistress is. Beg her to be used. Beg her to whip you. The Master is for show. We are not.”

Eyes wide the girl began to babble. “Please Mistress. Please use me..” her pleading was incoherent. She was definitely a novice.

Comic Catch Up #2

And part 2 of my catch up. 7 more down. 7 to go.

Charismagic: The Death Princess #1 – The original Charismagic arc lasted six issues. While not the most unique series out there, the set up – a Las Vegas magician who winds up having actual powers and a cat that can speak – was enjoyable and the main character was likeable. Now we have the new series Charismagic: The Death Princess. It’s still clearly set in the same universe as Charismagic, but I can’t say that I’m all that intrigued by the new characters, am disappointed that the villaininess is a typically under-dressed and over-endowed and the narration makes me have a booming voice my head and trying to sound Very Epic when it really is just rather uninspired. I just can’t recommend it and I’ve taken this off my pull list.

Mara #1 – Picked up on the recommendation from the guys at my shop. Although set in “the future” it’s clear that the future isn’t necessarily all that far out from the world we live in now, except instead of idolizing actors, we idolize sports stars and idolize them to a point that national pride is on the line in international match ups. One of the biggest sports stars in this world is Mara, a volleyball player. And she suddenly starts developing special abilities during a charitable match that’s being broadcast live across the world. Um…okay? I don’t mind the set-up – why not sports stars – but the rest? It should be making me feel curious about what’s going on and somehow it isn’t. It’s always nice seeing a female protagonist who isn’t displaying a ton of flesh and is known and recognized for a talent beyond looking hot in armor, but this just isn’t grabbing me. I’m all for creator-owned titles and will continue to find ways to support them. I just won’t be supporting this book.

And the next five are all part of the giant Batman Death of the Family crossover event. Normally I don’t follow that many Bat titles. Part of it has always been that I’m bad at keeping current (hence me having 19 issues of various comics to read this week) and part of it is because not all titles are created equal. Some aren’t as well written and others are just too violent for my liking (Detective was a turn off for me in that way). Still, I haven’t checked into the various bat titles since like issue 3 and thought that this event would be a good time to try….and I was immediately reminded why I don’t follow every title. The quality really does run the gamut. I’ve now taken myself back off subscription and will be continuing to follow bits and pieces. Thoughts on individual titles are below:

Batman #15 – The one title I’ve been following since the new 52 relaunch and still the gold standard across all of the Bat-series. Scott Snyder’s intellectual works fantastically well with a character like the Joker – and the Riddler who makes an appearance in a side story. His Joker is the kind of menacing threat Mark Hamil perfected, the Joker that you don’t even want to be on the same continent with let alone the same room. And the ending of the main story, with what Batman sees in Joker’s eyes? Guh. Wow. There is some weakness when trying to make the juggling of all the various Bat-characters come together, it’s a bit expository, but that’s to be expected. This is also a book that makes you wonder how continuity works in terms of what is happening when. But it’s still enjoyable enough that you stop thinking about those kind of things and enjoy the ride for what it is. I can’t wait for what’s next.

Batgirl #14-#15 – The strange saga of Gail Simone’s firing-then-rehiring aside (I still don’t get that), she really is probably second only to Snyder in quality of her writing of any of the Bat titles. Her Barbara Gordon is a complex character, her version of the Joker is satisfyingly creepy and not quite sane and the art is great. This is one of the titles I’ll continue reading on its own, even after the crossover ends.

Batman and Robin #15 – This isn’t going on my pull list. Tomasi isn’t quite at the level of the others and honestly, seeing a Robin this young going up against Joker alone just doesn’t feel right to me. He’s just too big a villain, too dangerous that I can’t buy it. I guess that one of the major conceits of this title that it IS from Robin’s point of view, but it’s just not working for me. It’s not a bad title (Snyder and Simone have huge shoes to fill) it’s just not one that works for me.

Teen Titans #15 – Nor this. This is not the issue to try and get into the book. I don’t know who these people are. The Joker is lacking that extra level of menace that the Joker demands and that has been seen in some of the Jokers in other titles. Again – a case of not a bad representation, just not as good as some of the others. Maybe one day I’ll go back and try again, but not feeling it now.

Comic Catch Up #1

Thanks to my recently re-discovered love of reading, I have been woefully neglectful of my comics. Seeing as how my to-read pile is probably approaching two-dozen issues, this cannot continue, especially because one of the things I can’t wait to pick up to read in February is the 2nd (and last) Rex Mundi omnibus. Therefore, I thought that before I get back to my non-graphic novels (which I have two on my nightstand to read: another Judge Dee novel and Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour bookstore) I better get caught up on what I do have.  So I figure I’ll post little blurbs of what I’m reading in case anyone else here is a comic fan 🙂

Talon  #3 – Brief bit of background. Scott Snyder, current writer of the main Batman title, wrote The Court of Owls arc as the initial arc (1-12) of DC’s New 52 Batman title. It’s a fantastic read if you have any interest in Batman at all. You don’t need to read that to understand this, but you’ll appreciate it more if you do. This series is all about a Talon who used to work for the Court but is now fighting against them. It’s well written, well drawn and it’s got action but not over-the-top or too violent. Scott Snyder is a fantastic writer and this is another great series from him.

American Vampire #34 – And this is the series that helped bring Scott to the position he’s in now. A creator-owned title, this is Vampire as you probably remember the genre once being. The vampires are not pretty when they fang-out and it is violent. The twists on the mythology are interesting, the main characters day walk, but are weakest when the moon is full and there are different kinds of vampires too, depending on when and where they are from. It has some fantastic characters, the art is spectacular and the book moves through time with the characters. It’s also a perfect time to catch up on the series. Scott is taking a hiatus from the comic (I believe for a year though end notes say it’ll be a “short” one) to focus on other comics (in addition to the previously mentioned Batman and Talon he always writes Swamp Thing and will have a new mini-series coming out) but it will be coming back and it’ll be a welcome return.

True Blood Ongoing Series #6-8 – I was totally prepared to be cynical about this cycle of books. The 5th book was pretty slow and uninteresting, and to be fair I’ve never been a fan of were storylines on the show. But, McMillian gets all the points for actually writing an intriguing storyline about a Ghost pack while also managing to incorporate other characters like Arlene and Lala in a way that feels natural and organic. I’d complain about the absolute lack of Bill, but the ongoing series is clearly pulling from season 5 cannon (Alcide is with Riki and packmaster) so it’d be pretty hard for him to be around. The art is still pretty bad although a bit stronger than past issues. Even though I’m actually really looking forward to the next issue now, I still feel this series is for dedicated Trubies only. The art is going to turn off most people (comic fans or not) and the reliance on show canon for set-up and knowledge of main characters means it’s not the most newbie friendly series out there. If you do like the show and you can get past the art though, it’s worth a read. 

5 down. 14 to go!

Good Reads #4: The Chinese Maze Murders

Title: The Chinese Maze Murders: A Judge Dee Mystery

Author: Robert Van Gulik

ISBN: 978-0-226-84878-5

Rating: A

And yes, the Chinese maze of the title is in fact Chinese, 7th century China in fact. The fact that the book was written in a Ming-style about a Magistrate who serves as detective, judge and jury in the Tang dynasty makes it one of the most unique mystery novels you’ll likely read.

These books are just refreshing. The action scenes aren’t big (but there are some), the pacing is very deliberate, the Judge himself never gets embroiled in a romance and the romantic subplots that do exist are always tied up in another crime (and not always in the way that you’d expect) and there is always an execution of some kind by book’s end. Always. The characters are interesting, the stories are interesting and it’s just a nice bit of fresh air. I’m not a huge fan of Western-style mysteries (at least not straight up ones) but I enjoy these because of the atmosphere they provide.

If you’re looking for something different, they’re worth a look, especially if you want a look into Chinese culture. Just look for them online or in libraries, they don’t tend to be carried by big box chains.



Good Reads #3: Mockingjay

Title: Mockingjay

Author: Suzane Collins

ISBN: 978043902351-1

I was a latecomer to the Hunger Games trilogy. I’d heard about then but didn’t sit down to actually read them until I started seeing the first trailers coming out and getting very intrigued. I absolutely devoured it. I read Catching Fire and I still enjoyed it…but was decidedly less enthusiastic. I’d heard that Mockingjay was very divisive to the fanbase so I just never got around to reading it. Then last week I was at the library and while I was off picking up another book I saw this sitting a top a row of books and figured why not.

I’m very mixed about this book. On the one hand, I do think it more successive than Catching Fire, but on the other hand, that’s faint praise.

First off, it took a full half of the book to grab my interest. If it weren’t a series I was familiar with I don’t know that I’d finished. Second, I personally hated District 13. If we were ever meant to sympathize with the District, I never did.  Personally, I found the to be only marginally better than the Capitol. Still using the Capitol’s tricks. I disliked coin from the start. Maybe we weren’t supposed to like them, but forcing Katniss to team up with Coin was like a choice of lesser evils. I didn’t really start getting into the book until 13 took a backseat and the action truly got going.

I do like the time we spent with the other Victors and the Capitol refugees. I did like seeing how damaged so many of them had become and hearing what had happened to them in their post-Victory careers. It was interesting in a way the world-building hasn’t been in ages.

I still didn’t care for the supposed love triangle. I’ve been Team Peenis the entire time. I never bought that Katniss loved him in Hunger Games – frateral love, perhaps, like a brother. But not as a romantic interest. Her mooning over him in The Hunger Games worked because it was in the context of the commentary on showmances, the satire element (sorely lacking from Catching Fire and only barely present here). It drove me nuts in Catching Fire because as far as arranged marriages go, it’s hard to beat a genuinely nice guy who risked his life many, many, many times over to protect he. I wanted to smack some sense into her. I still wasn’t a fan of him here, but at least he actually had a purpose beyond simple love interest, which gave him some redeeming value.

While I totally got the whole “propos” angle, the dialogue coming out of her mouth still sounded force-fed. No one talks that way unless you’re in the movies.

Others have mentioned Prim and yeah. That was just stupid. I did like the confrontation between her and Snow though and the ending. I was also disappointed by how Katniss chose to vote at the end. It’s like dude. She’s seen all that she’s seen, felt all that she’s felt and still wants to subject others to the same horrors? It instantly wiped all credibility for the character for me. Yes she’s been consumed with thoughts of revenge, but it felt incredibly misplaced.

Overall, I can’t get behind this book. When I read Hunger Games I felt like it was meant to be a stand alone novel, but it was left ever so slightly open ended for a sequel if it panned out. I wish it had been left alone. The following books weren’t nearly as strong and I can’t agree with where she went with these.

In the end, I’d only recommend the first book to a new reader. The others just aren’t worth it.


Jeopardy Try Outs Then and Now

Tonight was the first of three nights of try-outs for the normal adult Jeopardy. I think I did pretty well actually. Not sure how that makes me feel. It seemed easy enough that I wonder if everyone will do well and I’ll not do well enough. Not that I’ll never know. They’ll never tell you. But basically at this point since I have to wait and see if I get called in, I thought it’d be nice to reflect on the then and now.

My big try-out experience with Jeopardy dates back to 2000-2001 (gods this makes me feel old) when I tried out for the college version.

I sent in my postcard and was lucky enough to get an audition spot for Los Angeles. I went in and had to take the 50 question test. The paper test aimed to have questions at the $2000 level (which as hard as it is, is also nice – you don’t want to be embarrassed and they want good game) Like today you get a short period of time (probably 20 seconds since it was paper) per question and the category changed with every question. Like today, there’s no way you can study for it – someone actually was trying prior and missed the question she might have benefited from her last minute studying. When the test was finished you’re left to stew and compare answers as they graded the exams. They only kept the ones who did better than a certain percentage were kept. You’re not told what the cut off is and apparently it changes from exam to exam. You’ll also never find out how you scored. Ever. It kind of bites not know actually.

After the elation of making it past the first round wears off you’re down to the harder part. First you fill out a sheet with some info including 3 of those mini-conversation stories that they use in the middle of the Jeopardy round. Then you play a mock game and then they do a short interview. And that’s it. You’re dismissed and you wait your fate.

Unfortunately the year I applied the tournament was hosted at UCLA. That mean one UCLA kid was granted a spot. And you can’t have UCLA without USC …and that was it for the west coast kids. I feel like even had I done everything perfect I’m not sure I’d made it on, but c’est la vie!

Since then I’ve made a go of trying to get on the show again. Obviously they’ve gone digital since then. Usually I come out of it feeling like an idiot because the categories did not favor me that time. The process hasn’t changed much, but I do think it’s harder: now after you pass the exam they put you into a pool. IF you get pulled from the pool you get to take a SECOND 50 question test (guess they want to make sure you didn’t cheat!) and then do the interview and the mock-game. The wait is worse too. They have up to the next exam to call you!

Ugh. Well. Hopefully I’ll get a second chance at the in-person interview 🙂 *crosses fingers*