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E. A Solinas "ea_solinas" (MD USA)

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Last Days on Mars [Blu-ray] [2013] [US Import]
Last Days on Mars [Blu-ray] [2013] [US Import]
Dvd ~ Elias Koteas
Offered by Moref Designs
Price: 19.29

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Spiders... I mean, zombies of Mars, 24 Feb 2014
Dear Hollywood: Please stop making bad movies about Mars. The Red Planet alone is not enough to carry a movie.

The best example possible is "Last Days on Mars," which has no plot or concept beyond "there are zombies... ON MARS!" I can't imagine that anyone involved put any more thought into this movie than "zombies... ON MARS!", because there is literally nothing else to it. It's a mediocre, unscary zombie story transplanted into a shallow copy of "Alien."

And while it stars two actors that I adore, their good performances couldn't save this wretched pile of festering fetid celluloid -- it has no plot, no real climax, a third act that drags on forever, and characters with the depth of a shopping list.

Mankind has landed on Mars, and now scientists have gone there to do... stuff. Their goals are never really explained. Then a team finds a mysterious bacterium growing on Mars, but before they can study it further, one of the astronauts falls into a sinkhole and dies. Then he comes back as a desiccated mummy, and immediately power-drills one one of his crewmates... and no, that is NOT a euphemism.

Yes, the mysterious bacteria turns people -- living or dead -- into zombies, and it takes almost nothing to infect people. The astronauts frantically try to stop the zombies who (for some reason) are desperate to kill them, and must find a way off Mars before all of them are infected. And since this is trying to be "Alien" with zombies, they want to keep it from reaching Earth.

It is honestly difficult to summarize this turd. Here's how I imagine the conception of this movie went: two inept Hollywood producers were sitting together, having a conversation.
"Hey, I've got this idea. It's zombies..."
"Totally overdone."
"... ON MARS."
"Genius! It technically hasn't been done before! We're greenlighting it!"

That is the entire plot. No twists. No unexpected discoveries. No suspense about how they will stop the bacterium. It's just a string of zombie attacks that lead to nothing, placed in a third-rate "Alien" clone -- there is literally nothing to watch except the astronauts being infected and zombified one by one. It's not suspenseful, just depressing.

First-time director Ruairi Robinson just doesn't have the chops (yet) to pull off a full-length movie. Most of it is shot at night, where it is impossible to see anything except darkness and clouds of red dust, and the assorted astronauts all look identical in their suits. Even worse, the ending drags on forever. The final half-hour is the longest third act I've ever seen in a movie -- just a slow, climax-free drag that finally putters out when Robinson runs out of things to do.

It also has characters just deep enough to give you paper cuts. There's a halfhearted attempt to give Liev Schreiber's character a tragic past, by hinting at a disaster that has made him claustrophobic (for some reason). But the disaster is never expounded on, and it's just sort of dropped halfway through the movie. The rest of the characters can be summed up in one or two words -- Abrasive, Leader, Perky, Coward, et cetera.

And honestly, the actors deserved better. Liev Schreiber gives a sort of halfhearted but serviceable performance; Romola Garai seems to be pouring her heart into a thanklessly shallow role, but she does give the movie its only moment of real pathos. There are other good actors here -- Goran Kostić, Elias Koteas -- but they're pretty much cannon fodder. Tossing out a mention of a character having kids does not make them three-dimensional.

"Last Days on Mars" is just another dumb, inept zombie movie, and setting it on the maligned Red Planet doesn't really improve matters. Only die-hard fans of Schreiber or Garai should even bother.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2014 6:57 PM BST

Cell [Blu-ray] [2000] [Region A] [US Import]
Cell [Blu-ray] [2000] [Region A] [US Import]
Dvd ~ Jennifer Lopez
Offered by Moref Designs
Price: 9.68

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Locked in a cell, 24 Feb 2014
Imagine if you could use VR technology to enter the mind of another person... but if you lose your way, you will be imprisoned there. When it's a serial killer, things get nasty.

That's basically the entire plot of "The Cell." Tarsem's debut movie is absolutely stunning visually -- filled with color, sinister magic and spellbinding set pieces -- and he gets some decent performances out of Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn, but it also suffers from an ugly "feel sorry for the woman-torturing psycho" undertone that throws it off balance.

Psychologist Catherine Deane (Jennifer Lopez) uses a VR machine to enter the minds of coma patients, so she can try to wake them from within. But then the police capture serial killer Carl Stargher (Vincent D'Onofrio), and he conveniently lapses into a coma from a rare medical condition. Unfortunately, he's also hidden away his final victim in a tank that is slowly filling with water, and they only have a short time to find her.

So Catherine enters the warped wonderland of Carl's mind, and begins to witness both the horrors and the hint of his... well, literal "inner child." As she tries to protect his innocent side, she becomes trapped in Carl's mind. FBI Agent Novak (Vince Vaughn) enters the dreamscape to free Catherine, so she can deal with Carl once and for all.

First, "The Cell" is a truly gorgeous piece of work. Visually, this movie grabs your eyeballs and never lets go -- the brilliant colors, the swirling fabrics, the otherworldly sets and the eerie dreamlike visuals. These are the surreal, strange things that we see in our dreams, given richness and visual depth. Even the ugly, grotesque scenes are captivating in their use of color and light.

Unfortunately, this is not all about Tarsem's direction. Mark Protosevich's screenplay also has some truly ugly overtones. One of the characters is basically a guy who was abused as a child, and so he's become a woman-murdering psycho who gets his jollies by torturing them to death and masturbating over their corpses. His inner world includes women tied in barbed wire, tied to torture chairs and docilely brainwashed in collars -- in other words, everything is about hurting women.

Are we supposed to loathe and hate this character? Nope, we're meant to see him as an innocent victim of his own demons, and empathize deeply with him. No mas.

And frankly, Tarsem's visuals are all that keep this movie afloat, despite some bafflingly pretentious use of Catholic and/or S&M imagery. The plot is thin as a wafer and almost as crumbly -- the idea of entering a killer's mind and trying to find his victim is cool, but it's painfully slow and oddly detached. Not to mention kind of clunky (the nursery rhymes and cutesy in-jokes like "Mr. E").

I loathe Jennifer Lopez as an actress, but I have to admit that she does a very decent job here, while Vaughn gives a subdued, sober performance as a detective determined to save Carl's final victim. The biggest problem with trying to make us sympathize with Carl is not Vincent D'Onofrio's performance, but the shallowness of the character -- we see nothing OF him but his serial-killerness, so it's impossible to care about his poor wittle inner child.

Tarsem's intoxicatingly lovely direction and visuals are the only draw in "The Cell," an otherwise shallow and irritating thriller that wastes its cool premise. Skip this in favor of "The Fall."

Hannibal - Season 1 [DVD] [2013]
Hannibal - Season 1 [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Mads Mikkelsen
Price: 10.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nothing here is vegetarian (some spoilers), 24 Feb 2014
You know who Hannibal Lector is, even if you've never seen "Red Dragon" or "The Silence of the Lambs" -- a witty, cultured man who happens to be a cannibalistic serial killer.

He is also the sinister heart of "Hannibal: Season One," a TV show somewhat based on the works and characters of Thomas Harris. This is one of the smartest shows on television today -- a thorny, dark-hearted psychodrama, full of subtle manipulation and dangerous killers. It took a few episodes for me to fully warm up to Mads Mikkelson, but after awhile his quietly aesthetic portrayal really caught on.

FBI special investigator Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) has a special gift -- he is able to empathize with serial killers, understanding how their minds work. Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) enlists him to help in the most bizarre serial killing cases, and enlists forensic psychiatrist Hannibal Lector (Mikkelson) to keep Will from going off the rails.

And frankly, Will needs the help. His first case involves a cannibalistic serial killer known as the Minnesota Shrike, who kills young girls and almost murders his daughter Abigail. As Will struggles with the aftermath of this case, he is called in on a series of bizarre murders -- people turned into grotesque angels, mutilated into instruments, used as fungal fertilizer, missing children turned into murderers, an organ harvester, and a man who claims to be the notorious Chesapeake Ripper.

But Will suspects that a copycat killer is at large, using other serial killers as a smokescreen for his own activities. He doesn't suspect that the copycat killer is far closer than he thinks: Dr. Lector (this isn't much of a spoiler -- it's revealed in the first episode), who manipulates Crawford, Will, his shrink friend Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), and anyone else who falls into his orbit. Oh, and he eats people.

Bryan Fuller has always had a macabre streak (see "Pushing Daisies" or "Dead Like Me"), but in "Hannibal," that streak covers the whole canvas. Don't expect quirkiness or comedy in this -- it's all shadows, grey skies and blood, with only a few lighter moments (Will spending time with his dogs) to gently remind you that the world is not all horror.

It also doesn't have any supernatural quirks, yet it still maintains a dreamlike, almost mystical quality through Will's hallucinations, and the ghostlike elusiveness of the killers. Lector himself is almost like an elegant demon, conjuring complicated tortures and schemes while also listening to classical music and frying up gourmet meals of human flesh. His cultured calm seems almost inhuman, his cold sadism and elusiveness almost beyond human understanding.

It's also gory. Very gory. Admittedly you can't have a story about serial killers and cannibalism without some gore, but it has some truly grotesque, stomach-churning stuff that you wouldn't expect to find on network shows.

And while coming up with a bunch of one-off serial killings -- only some of which are successfully stopped -- the writers weave in elaborate subplots involving a potentially psychotic teenager, the Chesapeake killer, a murdered protege of Crawford's, and Will's increasing mental deterioration. Every episode creeps us closer to Will figuring out what is truly going on, and who is pulling the strings on everyone around him.

Dancy plays Will as a shaky, damaged man whose special talents are slowly destroying him, but who feels that he must continue to save others' lives. Fishburne is the steady rock at the center of the show, an essentially decent man who must sacrifice Will's well-being so that other people have a chance to live. And it has good supporting performances by Dhavernas, Gillian Anderson and Hettienne Park.

I have to admit, Mads Mikkelson annoyed me for the first two episodes -- he seemed very passionless and wooden at first. But his acting style began to grow on me as we see the few things that bring a sparkle to his eye (mostly classical music), and explore some of his cold, friendless world.

"Hannibal Season One" is a series as rich and dark as spilled lifeblood... and about as horrifying. Intelligent, grotesque and powerful.

Fruits Basket Collection [DVD]
Fruits Basket Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Akitaro Daichi
Price: 27.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A riceball in a Fruits Basket, 24 Feb 2014
Imagine if you moved in with a new family and friends... and found out they turn into animals when you hug them.

That's what Tohru Honda has to deal with in "Fruits Basket," the adaptation of Natsuki Takaya's hit manga. And the manga adaptation is a delightful one -- while the ending gets changed, it's still charming, quirky, slapsticky and sprinkled with darker moments.

Tohru is living in the woods, with only her late mother's photo for company. Exploring one day, she wanders down to a large house, and bumps into the owners: flirtatious Shigure Sohma, and his gorgeous cousin Yuki -- the school's mysterious "Prince." After Tohru becomes ill and her tent is destroyed, Yuki and Shigure take her into their home as their new housekeeper... especially since the place is a pigsty.

But Yuki and Shigure are keeping some strange secrets. When Kyo Sohma bursts in to fight Yuki, Tohru tries to stop him -- and the three turn into a dog, cat, and rat. Turns out the Sohma family is cursed with the spirits of the Chinese zodiac, and become those animals whenever they're hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Surprisingly, the mysterious family head Akito allows Tohru to stay with Yuki and Shigure, as long as the volatile Kyo also stays.

And soon Tohru becomes even more wrapped up in the Sohma family, and befriends many members of the zodiac. She, Yuki and Kyo must deal with crazed fanclubs, flamboyant brothers, school festivals, New Year's loneliness, Valentine's day woes, trips to the hot springs, visits to Tohru's mother's grave, and Yuki's band of loyal stalkers.

But Tohru also learns more about the curse -- the traumatic pasts that Momiji, Yuki and Kyo keep hidden, the little "tiger" girl who is bullied into silence, and Hatori's tragic romance. And finally Tohru discovers the horrific secret that Kyo is hiding, and the true role of the angry, violent Akito...

It takes a little while for "Fruits Basket" to get going, but after a few episodes it finds its footing and charges ahead like Kagura. Just don't expect it to really have an ending -- it doesn't end so much as stop, on a particularly moving story about Kyo and Tohru.

There's lots of romantic tension, slapstick fight scenes (usually involving Kyo and somebody else), quirky comedy (Ayame's kooky cosplay shop), and amusingly tongue-in-cheek dialogue ("Sometimes it feels like the whole world is conspiring to destroy my house!").

But while the anime is somewhat more lighthearted than the manga, there's also a melancholy side to the story, centering on a curse that is ruining its victims' lives. In the midst of the comedy, we get glimpses of Tohru's tragic past, the families torn apart by the curse, and the Sohmas' isolation from the rest of the world.

Tohru herself is the most lovable character of the bunch -- she has a lot of sorrow over her mother's death and the unkindness of some of her relatives, but she compensates with optimism and friendliness. She borders on Pollyannishness occasionally, but is balanced out somewhat by her oddball friends.

And the Sohmas rule as far as quirkiness is concerned -- there's the quiet "Prince" Yuki, the volatile loner Kyo, and the charmingly kooky Shigure. The rest of the family is even more eccentric -- the flamboyant, charming Ayame, Yuki's prodigal brother who is trying ineptly to mend fences. Not to mention the volcanic Haru, the tragic Hatori, and half-German, deceptively cheerful Momiji.

"Fruits Basket" is by turns hilarious and bittersweet, with plenty of wacky antics, sad backstories and quirky characters. Delightful from beginning to end.

The Iron Traitor (The Iron Fey)
The Iron Traitor (The Iron Fey)
by Julie Kagawa
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.24

5.0 out of 5 stars Uncle and nephew, 24 Feb 2014
Now that he's gotten back from his second adventure with the Fey, Ethan Chase just wants to live normally. Sadly, fate won't let him.

And in "The Iron Traitor," he must contend with the increasingly dangerous Forgotten, a strange prophecy and his own nephew -- leading to a conflict that may destroy him. Julie Kagawa ramps up the horror and suspense in the latest Iron Fey book, as well as a horrific cliffhanger that really, really needs to get resolved. As in, now.

Though Ethan has gotten back to his usual life, he's still got problems aplenty -- his rotten reputation has gotten even worse, the police suspect him, and Kenzie's father forbids him from seeing her anymore, and everyone thinks he did something horrifying. Then Meghan appears to tell Ethan some problematic news: Keirran has gone missing.

And then Annwyl appears in Ethan's bedroom, and reveals that she's begun to Fade. Keirran has disappeared because he wants to find some way of stopping it. To help Annwyl, Ethan and Kenzie decide to head to New Orleans in time for the goblin market, in the hopes that Keirran will be there. But then Ethan discovers that his fate is tied in with Keirran and the Forgotten, in a prophecy that no one has ever told him of.

Julie Kagawa has been building up the significance of the prophecy for the past few Iron Fey books, and "The Iron Traitor" is where it finally hits its high point. Ethan dives deeper into the Fey world as Keirran goes deeper into the darkness, and it soon becomes obvious that their mutual desperation can only lead to something catastrophic.

Most of the story is a slow buildup to the cliffhanger, with the heroes struggling to get to the goblin market in time. It gives the story a bit of a middle-chapter quality, since there isn't much to the plot except to drive the heroes towards Keirran.

But Kagawa's prose is pretty astounding. Ethan gives the story a blunter, more action-packed style, and there's more of a horrific bent amid all the fantastical fey stuff ("his mouth opened impossibly wide, like a snake unhinging its jaws, revealing a gaping black hole within"). And the entire story is haunted by the presence of a prophecy that Ethan doesn't know of.

Ethan himself has to finally come to grips with his connection to the Fey -- they're an inextricable part of his life, whether he likes it or not. And his relationship with the sprightly Kenzie, who is dying of leukemia, provides a nice parallel to Keirran's relationship with the Fading Annwyl, which drives the naive young prince to strange and terrible places.

"The Iron Traitor" adds a shocking twist to the tale of Ethan Chase and the Iron Fey, and leaves you really wanting to see what will happen next.

Horde (Razorland Trilogy)
Horde (Razorland Trilogy)
by Ann Aguirre
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Bring the pain (spoilers), 24 Feb 2014
After getting burned by "Allegiant," I felt some trepidation at checking out the finale to Ann Aguirre's Razorland trilogy. A good final book is hard to pull off.

Fortunately, "Horde" is a magnificent ending to a solid dystopian/post-apocalyptic trilogy -- a gory, action-packed sci-fi story that never bogs itself down in contrived drama, and brings the overall story arc to a smooth ending. The biggest source of bitterness is the fact that it's all over, and we shall ne'er again see more of these dynamic characters.

The Freaks have changed -- they're acting with intelligence and cunning, and this may give them the advantage over the humans. They're forming a horde (title!), which is swarming over human outposts, and can only be countered by a human army. It sounds a lot easier than it is, since humans are both unwilling and ignorant of battle.

But Deuce knows that this is what humanity needs to survive. So she begins building the army -- known as Company D -- herself, with the help of the mentally-scarred Fade. They tear a bloody swathe through the Horde, but their greatest battle is still ahead of them: the battle to eradicate the Freaks from the world completely.

The Razorland trilogy is in a world of grime, blood and terror, and Aguirre doesn't soft-pedal the ending -- it would simply lessen the impact of the ending, and all that the characters do. Mistakes are made. Lives are lost. Blood is shed. There is a segment of the plot -- mostly in the middle -- where it slows down and spins its wheels, but soon it picks up again.

Aguirre's prose is muscular and no-nonsense ("Her eyes were bright but sunken in her swollen face"), and she never shies away from the ugly or grotesque. But she also has a talent for finding the little poetic moments woven into all the ugliness ("his skin washed red by the sunset"), which seem to shine out like beacons. It makes you want the heroes to win just so those moments will become the norm rather than the exception.

And the Huntress is one of the rare heroines with the strength to pull that off. Deuce is not perfect -- she makes mistakes, but not stupid ones that make you dislike her. It's her fierce will and passionate determination that make her such a vibrant heroine; she won't give up, no matter what is thrown at her. And while the focus is ultimately on winning the war against the Freaks, her relationship with Fade is a truly exquisite one, especially since he is working past his traumas while also trying to help her lead more effectively. This is a true partnership as well as a love story.

And the ending has a quality that reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien -- the appreciation of simple, ordinary lives, with love and peace as the ultimate goal rather than glory and power. It makes a beautiful capstone to this trilogy.

"Horde" is a brilliant and very final ending to the Razorland trilogy, and while it's a bittersweet farewell, it's one that doesn't fail to satisfy in any way.

The Lone Ranger [DVD]
The Lone Ranger [DVD]
Dvd ~ Johnny Depp
Price: 5.00

7 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A ranger alone, 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Lone Ranger [DVD] (DVD)
In all honesty, I know very little about "The Lone Ranger." He wears a mask, he lives in the Old West, and he has a buddy who keeps calling him "kemosabe," whatever that means.

So I had few expectations of "The Lone Ranger," which Disney attempted to set up as the natural successor to "Pirates of the Caribbean" -- director Gore Verbinski, Johnny Depp being goofy, lots of over-the-top action. Instead, it ends up a colossal flop that frantically tries to appeal to everyone, but ends up appealing to no one.

Lawyer John Reid (Arnie Hammer) returns to the town of Colby, determined to bring law and order to the lawless West. But then his brother is murdered (and partially eaten) by the notorious outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), and John is left for dead. Fortunately, he's found by Tonto (Johnny Depp), a Comanche who believes Cavendish is a wendigo (despite that not being a Comanche belief, to the best of my knowledge).

But with the guidance of a spirit horse (don't ask), Tonto brings John back to life to battle Cavendish, and the two men join forces, despite John being kind of a weenie. And when John finally takes up the mantle of the Lone Ranger, he and Tonto soon discover that Cavendish's scheme has national implications... and yes, they are glaringly obvious.

There is one damning problem with "The Lone Ranger" that sinks it as a film: it can't figure what it wants to be. It wants to be a gritty, dusty slow-moving drama, but also a buddy comedy. A realistic depiction of the Old West, but also full of goofy over-the-top action. It wants to include the plight of the Indian populace in the 1800s, but it also wants Tonto to wear a birdcage on his head.

There is literally no scene in this movie that doesn't give you mood whiplash of one kind or another. Example: a scene where John sees his brother eaten alive... is followed by Tonto having an argument with a horse. It's also littered with all sorts of bizarre things that are never explained, including an infestation of vampire rabbits or a steampunk madam with a gun in her ivory leg.

But the story is a bloated mess even without those oddities. Large portions of the movie seem like they were inserted to pad out the running time (the frame device, the brothel visit) because they don't add anything to the plot. And there are plot holes you could drive a space shuttle through, such as HOW Tonto escaped from the jail cell. Even worse, the narrative actually brings up that plot hole... and never answers it. It's the laziest writing outside of a literal deus ex machina.

It feels like Gore Verbinski knew there was something wrong with "The Lone Ranger," but not WHAT. So he simply flung more action and quirkiness at the story until it becomes an incoherent mess.

I will say that most of the actors do a passable job, even though the material is betraying them. Arnie Hammer tries his hardest with the masked vigilante, even though John comes across as a naive twit. Ruth Wilson -- whom I've observed since "Jane Eyre" -- gives a performance far too passionate and deep for the cliched "old flame" role she's playing.

As for Johnny Depp as Tonto... really, I don't even know what to think. This character is the embodiment of everything wrong with the movie. There are a few moments where Depp gets to shine, showing the long hard road Tonto has been on, the horrors he's seen, and the guilt he feels...

... but more frequently, we get to see Tonto acting like an idiot, doing loopy things purely for the comic relief. It honestly becomes hard to tell if Tonto is being portrayed in a racist manner, or if the Disney executives stupidly decided that they could do the exact same thing that they did with Jack Sparrow. Either way, it cheapens the character and his backstory to have him being an out-of-touch loon.

"The Lone Ranger" has a few bright spots, but the overall effect is of a messy, bipolar movie that careens around like an out-of-control roller-coaster. It's got a lot of action eye-candy, but the substance is a melted mess.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 13, 2014 9:39 PM BST

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea
by April Genevieve Tucholke
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate bad boy, 24 Feb 2014
When you first start reading "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," it's truly bewitching -- April Genevieve Tucholke has a magical way with words, and there's a haunting gothic undertone to the story.

Then you encounter the protagonist, and it all falls apart. Yes, like many a paranormal romance in recent years, "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" crumbles because of its heroine -- a pretentiously snotty little brat ("I can't get a job. If you come from old money, you have to run through it all and then drink yourself to death in the gutter") who becomes more annoying the longer you read about her.

Since her parents are carefree irresponsible "artistes" bouncing around Europe, Violet and her brother Luke live alone in a rambling old mansion. To make money, they advertise for a guest-house boarder -- and get "panther-hipped" River West. Of course, Violet immediately becomes preoccupied with him, even as her supposed-friend Sunshine sees something strange in a nearby tunnel.

And then worse things happen -- a girl is abducted, and messing around with a Ouija board leads to a message from the devil. Of course, River knows something about it... which Violet is too dim to realize until she literally stumbles across his secret, and discovers that River is not even truly human.

It's undeniable that April Genevieve Tucholke has writing talent -- her descriptions are full of sensual color and crumbling, gothic beauty. She also presents us with a paranormal romance whose answers are not immediately obvious -- it's clear something weird and "sexy bad boy" is up with River, but you're left guessing exactly what it is for quite some time.

But the story... is what you would expect from a promising yet awkward teenager. For one thing, Tucholke tries to eroticize some rather silly things. Let's face it: grocery shopping at overexpensive imports-only stores is NOT sexy. Yet there's a silly scene where Violet almost gets turned on by watching River fondle comestibles. It's like a bad commercial.

Also, he characters are named things like "Sunshine Black" and "River West" (no irony!) and Tucholke romanticizes the neglectful, irresponsible parents of Luke and Violet who don't "believe in rules." Why? Because they are "artists." After all, this allows Violet to do whatever she wants without any kind of supervision, while also giving her a giant rotting mansion to lounge around in (and despite supposedly being broke, they have no problem buying expensive imported foods).

Violet is also the sort of protagonist you'd expect that promising-yet-awkward teen to produce -- a pretty bookish blonde who is smarter than everyone else, and spouts a lot of faux-ironic hipster remarks and awkward literary references. She also drops mentions of her well-traveled, cooler-than-you life whenever possible, which kept snapping me out of the narrative. Please note: Actual cool, well-traveled people don't talk about feeling "European."

She's also the kind of post-Bella-Swan heroine who looks down on everyone with contempt (including her brother and her supposed "best friend"), with the exception of her smoldering love interest. There's also a nasty misogynist streak in Violet -- whenever Sunshine is around, Violet regards her as a skanky bimbo because... well, she's prettier than Violet. And she finds boys attractive. Ah, the smell of feminism.

In fact, the only person Violet seems to actually like is River, mainly because he's the only person with the right clothes, attitude and sophistication for her. He has to be worthy of her, after all! The fact that he has the personality and sexual allure of a Ken doll doesn't help.

"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" shows that April Genevieve Tucholke has a lot of writing talent, but she also has a lot of pretension and an obnoxious heroine. Skip this in favor of "Beautiful Creatures" or something by Maggie Stiefvater.

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two
by Catherynne M. Valente
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Being Necessary is food no less than cabbages and strawberry pies, 24 Feb 2014
September has traveled to Fairyland twice, and every time she returns to the mundane world, she finds herself longing to return.

But she has to take an unexpected route back in "The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two," the third novel in Catherynne M. Valente's Fairyland series. And those who enjoyed the previous two books will know what to expect -- a luminous, dazzling mixture of Narnia and Wonderland, with whimsical imaginings and lushly jeweled prose.

The war is almost over, September has turned fourteen, and she's begun to worry that she's becoming too old to travel to Fairyland (although she is constantly prepared to pop back over). But then she manages to hitchhike with the Blue Wind over the tattered Line between worlds -- and once again, finds herself in a bizarre little segment of the magical world. Not quite in Fairyland, though.

After getting labeled a criminal and acquiring a car names Arostook, September sets out for Fairyland -- and ends up on a strange odyssey with a Klabautermann (otter-mariner), a journey to the moon, the Almanack and the Black Cosmic Dog. But after being reunited with an old friend, she learns of a new sinister creature causing trouble -- Ciderskin, a Yeti who wants to conquer the Moon and cause destruction to Fairyland.

Compared to the first two books, "The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two" takes awhile to get its bearings -- the first half is just September meandering around, encountering wacky creatures. It's only after she encounters A-Through-L and Abecedaria that we find out what's ultimately going on -- and after that, it takes some unexpected twists (including one that will leave you frothing for the fourth book).

But few authors can make this sort of oddball whimsy as enchanting as Valente can. Her prose is exquisitely lovely ("The storm fell in silver streamers"), and her story overflows with whimsical imagination ("The skin of the bears was all folded envelopes; they stared out of sealing-wax eyes") and a wicked sense of punnery (Taxicrabs! A literal "Valentine"). And she even introduces some new ideas, such as the Line and the magical means of maintaining it, or the talking greyhound. Despite the rambling storyline, it just is so charming and odd.

But she also addresses a theme in many fantasy stories -- growing up and the loss of cbildhood's magic. September worries that she's growing too old (now that she's a teen) to venture into Fairyland, as often happens in such stories. But she's assured, "The whole point of growing is to get big enough to hold the world you want inside you." Exhibit A: The Wyverary.

And September's growth shows in the way she makes her way through Fairyland. Despite the heedless way she hops over the Line, she's becoming less childishly heartless and more sensitive and observant -- in short, she's growing up while maintaining the magic. It certainly makes you wonder where she's going to be by the series' end, and what kind of person she will be.

"The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two" rambles for awhile, but it's still full of whimsy, magic and a glimpse of our heroine's "growing up." And it leaves you dangling to find out what adventures in Fairyland are next.

by J. Lincoln Fenn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.34

4.0 out of 5 stars "He's coming for you...", 24 Feb 2014
This review is from: Poe (Paperback)
Before anybody asks... no, this novel has absolutely nothing to do with classic horror writer Edgar Allen Poe. It's just a code-word/name.

That said, J. Lincoln Fenn's debut novel "Poe" is an outstanding debut novel -- a wickedly-clever horror/urban fantasy that brings a new spin on gothic cliches (ghostly woman, haunted house, etc). Fenn's writing has a few rough spots, but it also a clever urban appeal reminiscent of Jim Butcher crossed with Neil Gaiman -- it' s a great blend of sardonic wit and skin-crawling creepiness.

Ever since Dimitri Petrov's parents died, his life went off the rails -- he dropped out of college, ended up in a miserable obituary-writing job in a tiny Alaskan newspaper, and his Rasputin zombie novel is a trainwreck. In short, sucks to be him. When he's assigned to check out ghostly happenings at the Aspinwall Mansion, things actually get worse.

Sure, he immediately falls for a clever punk-rocker named Lisa, but he he also is drowned by something in ice-cold water -- and wakes up in the morgue. His death/resurrection gets him a bit of celebrity, but now he's being haunted by a ghostly woman who warns him of someone coming for him (he nicknames her Poe), a mysterious symbol connected to his father, and a string of murdered people.

Dimitri enlists the reluctant Lisa to help him figure out what this all means, and what Poe is warning him of -- and at first, he thinks that it may be caused by her psychotic brother Daniel. But soon Dimitri begins to realize that something far more sinister is at work.

"Poe" is a gloriously witty, gritty little horror novel -- we have a haunted house, a psychotic musician, a mysterious female ghost, frozen de-spleened corpses, Rasputin, cursed numbers, old books and a supernatural threat that is coming for Dimitri. Somehow it all slowly coalesces into a single story about a depressed young writer.

And it's scary. Not the kind of scariness where things leap out at you, but the itchy, shadowy feeling that SOMETHING is creeping ever closer whenever you aren't looking. This grows steadily through the novel, steadily blocking out the mundane world with a silent nightmare.

But it's not as grim as it sounds. Fenn has a solidly sardonic sense of humor, and Dimitri's self-deprecating contemplations are genuinely funny ("Oh, the horror. I'm Shaggy"), especially his irreverent thoughts about his death. Her writing also doesn't feel like the work of a new author -- it has a pleasantly grimy surface, with moments of glittering icy spookiness sprinkled throughout.

The biggest problem is the insufficient foreshadowing. It feels like Fenn only really wove together the different parts of the plot in the second half, so some of the plot elements don't really appear until then.

But Dimitri is a thoroughly likable slacker anti-hero. He's a genuinely earnest, nice guy who doesn't realize how many psychological issues he's riddled with, and how much they haunt him, until he's forced to grapple with the weirdness. And Lisa feels like a punk-rock version of a femme fatale, a feisty beautiful woman who still seems remote at times.

"Poe" leaves the door open for a sequel, and here's hoping that J. Lincoln Fenn is given the chance to deliver one -- her debut novel is an eerie, spellbindingly funny one.

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