Saturday, April 17, 2010


One of the links on Pajiba Love yesterday was to Kittehroullette, (obviously inspired by/a spoof of Chatroullette) which shows random cat videos, and this is one of the ones that showed up. I wonder if this would work on Caesar?

What do you think, Mom and Dad?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book 58: Small Favor

Small Favor by Jim Butcher

After reviewing the other nine novels of The Dresden Files, I've decided to take a cue from Pinky McLadybits and her approach to the Sookie Stackhouse novels by saying there is no way to really discuss this novel without spoiling the rest of the series. So if you're interested in the reading the series and haven't finished the first nine, it's time to turn away.

Winter has come early to Chicago and since this is Harry's world, that means there is probably an unbalance in the supernatural world. Soon Mab, Faerie Queen of Winter, shows up and asks him to complete one of the two remaining favors he owes her, and find the missing mobster Marcone.

While being targeted by agents of Summer, Harry soon discovers that Marcone was kidnapped by the Denarians, possibly because they resent his involvement in the supernatural world since joining the Accords, or because they hope to seduce him into picking up a coin and joining their ranks. Since the Denarians are fallen angels, the Knights of the Cross quickly become involved in the struggle as well, and Harry contacts Ivy, the Archive, in order to have a neutral power help him negotiate with the Denarians. Having Ivy around, of course, means Kincaid, Murphy's occasional lover and mercenary hellhound also makes an appearance.

As can be expected, Harry spends a lot of time in the dark, being manipulated by higher beings. While in the first few novels, this happened to Harry a lot as well, he has in the last few years realized that the plans are never as simple as they seem and always expects to find hidden motivations and designs that aren't obvious upon first look. I definitely enjoyed this one, and I definitely was surprised by some of the occurences at the end. I love the large cast of characters and friends that Harry has in his support system and who make appearances throughout the novels - of course, some of them are more like frenemies (okay, I'm sorry for making a Sex and the City reference on a Pajiba sponsored reading challenge). Even the recurring villains are always a joy to see. Especially Marcone - then again I don't think of him as a villain, that's just Harry's view.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Book 57: The Likeness

The Likeness by Tana French

Given how much I enjoyed French's previous novel, In the Woods, I have to say I was a little disappointed with her follow-up, especially since I had read that The Likeness was the stronger of the two. I did not agree with this assessment.

Following the fall out from the case from In the Woods, Cassie Maddox began dating Sean, and transferred to Domestic Violence. She is therefore surprised when he calls her and asks her to come to a murder scene. Of course when she gets there and discovers that the murder victim looks exactly like her and was using her old alias, Lexie Madison, from when she was an undercover agent it makes much more sense. Her old undercover boss, Frank, convinces her to use this as an opportunity to find the murderer when there are no clues or obvious suspects. Frank tells her friends and roommates that Lexie did not die, that she was in a coma so intense that her pulse was basically undetectable and that she had survived the assault. With this set-up, it is up to Cassie to fake it well enough for all her friends and acquaintances to believe that she is the murdered girl. She doesn't have a family or much background to worry about because Lexie obviously was hiding something and living with a false identity.

Cassie quickly becomes seduced by Lexie's life, especially since she is still dealing with the personal fall out from the case from In the Woods. She lost her best friend, Rob, and she can see their closeness reflected in Lexie's four roommates. She has also lost much of her former self-confidence.

I guess my biggest problem is that I felt like Cassie glamorized the four housemates a bit too much, and I just thought the whole idea of the operation was a little bit too far-fetched. I just kep wondering, really? Would they really invest this much money, and 24 hour surveillance for this long to solve the murder of one random woman? I could see where it would have been fun to live in the house where Cassie was undercover with all the other literature grad students, and how it would have made for some fun discussions but something about the plot just seemed more on the ridiculous side rather than intriguing. Mostly I think it was just a little to slow to really start investigating the murder much, and also, Cassie's mindset irritated me. In French's last novel, Rob kept making stupid mistakes and assumptions due to his past. In this case, Cassie was dealing with too many of her demons, and had similar issues.

I really enjoyed the idea of the housemates and reading about their dynamics was interesting, but overall, the execution seemed slightly lacking. Part of the reason I enjoyed In the Woods is because it reminded me of other novels, such as Mystic River with its basic set up, and this novel didn't have that going for it.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Book 56: The Zombie Survival Guide

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

I quite enjoyed Max Brooks's World War Z but this is a much more humorous look at zombies. Given the popularity of survival guides and the popularity of zombies at the moment, it makes complete sense to have a book that combines the two. Having read his follow up novel and seen a few zombie films, his advice was mostly obvious but it was still a fun read. There were a few parts were he contradicted himself but it wasn't anything huge (at one point he said zombies can't climb, at another he said not to do something because zombies can then climb up - maybe he just meant that eventually there'd be so many of them they could basically walk on top of each other to the top).

While it is of course fiction and humorous, the whole "zombies as a result of a highly contagious disease" definitely makes the idea seem not completely impossible. Of course, everyone who thinks about such things as the zombie apocalypse naturally assumes that they are going to be the ones who survive it when it is of course rather likely that that wouldn't be the case at all. Still, I think it's a fun genre on occasion, though I tend to be more partial to vampire stories (although it is kind of interesting that between those two genres the focus is completely different - some vampire movies make people identify with the humans fighting against vampires while others make them identify with the vampires; how many people actually want to be zombies though? Everybody wants to be on the side that's killing them).

My only real quibble with the book is that I felt like Brooks had a few too many historic zombie attacks at the end. A few were amusing but I don't think he really needed as many of them as he included.

Book 55: From Demons to Dracula

From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth by Mathew Beresford

As part of the first phase of the course I'm in right now, I had to give an information brief on any topic of my choosing, so I decided to do "The Evolution of Monsters in Popular Culture" because I figured that would give a great excuse to talk about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Zombieland in class, and order books like this.

Beresford gives an overview of the evolution of the vampire myth over time, and how very different it has been over the past two thousands years. While there have always been stories of monsters and the dead rising with names that vaguely resemble vampire or werewolf, the idea that people currently have when they hear the word vampire is very much based on Hollywood. It makes sense - with the creation of film, there was one medium that was visual, and also somewhat permanent - it didn't rely on oral tradition and storytelling to explain the legends, so each viewer would get the same idea. And while many movies and stories have since been released that play around with the ideas and change certain things, Hollywood played an important part in creating a more unified version of the vampire myth. Of course, Hollywood owes much to Bram Stoker's Dracula, and it is his novel that basically began the idea of the modern vampire (there were two other novels that played important roles in the 19th century as well but they aren't nearly as well remembered in the modern day - however, they both could have slightly influenced Stoker and show different ideas that have come up since - one of them first introduces the idea of the tortured and sympathetic vampire, for example).

Beresford also discusses the history of Drakul, and tries to help the historic figure reclaim his actual legacy, which definitely had nothing to do with vampires. Obviously, I enjoyed the cultural and critical analysis of the vampire stories the most since those were also the things I had most familiarity with. He also mentioned his visits to various vampire tourist sites such as Romania and parts of England. The part of the novel I thought was weakest or could have done without was when he discussed more modern, "real" versions of vampires such as people running around on the streets biting people and saying they were vampires. I guess it shows that people are obviously influenced by the mythology but somehow I seriously doubt they are going to change the cultural views of vampires that currently exist.

In his conclusion, Beresford states that the vampire myth has changed much over time and there are many that have very little to no similarities - he believes that the one thing that connects them all is fear. Overall, definitely interesting overview, but I think if I were to read more on this topic, I would definitely want to focus on fictional portrayals from the 20th century onward. Still, it's good to know where it all started.

Book 54: The Alienist

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

I picked this up based on Dene's recommendation and I'm glad I did. As I told her upon reading her review, I had never quite realized what this novel was about and thought it was a slightly pretentious literary novel or something. However, once I knew of my mistake, it didn't take me long to pick up a copy.

I have read one other novel somewhat recently (in the last year) that dealt with a crime involving a psychiatrist's help, and I didn't enjoy it very much though I thought the idea was interesting - in that case, it was A Death in Vienna, and the psychiatrist was too much of an obnoxious know-it-all to make the story interesting. The crime was also rather simple, and boring. There's a fine line between being brilliant and condescending.

In comparison, while Dr. Kreizler is definitely the leading mind in this novel when it comes to profiling, the other characters are not made to feel stupid and they also had their own skills to bring to the table. The two detectives have technical skills and can be seen using early tools of forensic science, dusting for fingerprints, and using other various tools. There was also a female team member that helped add a different perspective to the investigation and whose dream it is to be the first female detective in the New York Police Department. On occasion, she seemed a bit naive but she was an upper class woman in the late 19th century so I'm sure her upbringing was a bit sheltered on occasion. The last team member was the narrator, John Schuyler Moore, a journalist and long time friend of Kreizler and Teddy Roosevelt's.

Dr. Kreizler and his team conduct their investigation in secret because there are a lot of politics involved in the investigation. Roosevelt has recently taken over as police commissioner and has caused quite an uproar as he has fired many cops to get rid of corruption. He also is a strong believer in science and has respect for Kreizler's profession as an alienist, or psychologist, but given the current state of affairs, cannot publicly have him work on the case.

Over the past few months, several young boy prostitutes who specialize in dressing up as women/girls have been found murdered and mutilated. Despite several corpses, no one has really made much of a connection between the murders, and since then as now, no one cares too much about the concerned population (immigrants, poor, prostitutes) so it went unnoticed. Of course, given the lack of data bases back then, that would probably be another reason certain crimes could occur without immediately being linked. It's kind of amazing how certain things could even be accomplished before humans had all these extra tools at their disposal.

Given little to work with besides the victims, the team begins to put together a profile of the killer, based on the types of skills he obviously must possess in order to do what he does and also on the types of victims he is drawn to and what he does to them. Obviously, this is not really a "whodunit" so it's not one where the reader can guess the killer from the beginning of the novel. Instead, it is a examination of how to create a profile that can help them determine where to even begin looking for a suspect.

Additionally, the city is shown as being on the cusp of changing - a more modern era is rapidly approaching, and it also appears the oppressed masses may be tired of settling. Carr mentions the journalist Jacob Riis, who first started raising awareness about the conditions in the tenements with his photography in passing as a character that Moore interacts with. I actually remembered the name from high school history class so I definitely enjoyed that. I also had no clue that Roosevelt had ever been police commissioner - I usually associate him with a certain amount of imperialism (the Spanish-American War) and parks.