“The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” by Christopher Moore

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"The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove" cover

Cover art by Ruth Marten

“The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” by Christopher Moore, 1999

Finished September 13, 2012

This one was recommended to me by a new friend that I met on a film set. We had HOURS to kill and I think it is safe to say we were both thrilled to find a like-minded nerd to hang out with. She raved about this book, and although I have long been aware of Christopher Moore I had never gotten around to reading him. This sounded like a good place to start. Sadly, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as my friend did. I mean, there is nothing wrong with it; it has its moments and there is no question it is original; but I didn’t find it terribly funny.

The setting is Pine Cove, California, and I understand Moore has used this fictional town a few times. There is some reference to earlier weird happenings that some of the minor characters lived through. We begin with local constable and pothead Theophilus Crowe getting called out to deal with a suicide, that of obsessive-compulsive wife and mother Bess Leander. When the town’s psychiatrist Valerie Riordan learns about it, she is overcome with guilt. She decides to stop taking the easy, drug-focused route to treat her patients, and unbeknownst to everyone but the pharmacist (also a patient of hers) she replaces their meds with placebos.

Several other things come together at this point, most notably the arrival of a large sea monster/dragon. A bluesman by the name of Catfish Jefferson pulls into town around the same time and gets a steady gig at the Head of the Slug bar. He has his own link to the monster, which is the story behind how he got his name. Blues turn out to be popular in Pine Cove now that everyone is suddenly off their antidepressants.

We also meet Molly Michon, a former B-movie queen and current local oddball. She has a habit of practicing her swordwork in her old costume, which happens to be a fur bikini. She is the second person to encounter the monster, after the fuel-truck driver who is burned to a cinder when the creature tries to mate with his truck. The sea beast is trapped on land as he heals from his burns, and he and Molly form…an attachment. She has anger management issues so she has few compunctions about feeding him a few people she is not fond of.

The monster has the ability to affect people’s moods, which leads to unusual amounts of amourous behaviour in Pine Cove. Theo finds he is no longer dependant on pot, which ruled his life and kept him in thrall to the evil Sheriff Burton. Burton has been running a meth lab on farmland near Theo’s home, and Theo is too much of a cowardly junkie to even want to know what’s going on. But his new found freedom from his addiction, along with his interest in the monster and in Molly, puts him right in the middle of the action.

There are many minor characters and they all have their own odd stories, so it is an enjoyable enough read. But I didn’t find it moved me or really grabbed my attention. I’ll give Moore another shot at some point, I’m sure. I don’t NOT recommend this book, especially if you want something a bit mindless to pass the time, but there is better stuff out there, in my opinion.


“Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig

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"Blackbirds" cover

Cover art by Joey HiFi

“Blackbirds” by Chuck Wendig, 2012

Finished July 2012

Miriam Black is a young woman with a very unpleasant “gift.” If she touches you, she sees how and when you will die. The worst part is, there’s nothing you, or her, or anyone else can do to prevent it. She has tried, and all her efforts only help the event occur exactly as she originally envisioned it. She developed this ability in high school, after a brutal beating and miscarriage, so as you can imagine, this girl has baggage.

Her life is unsettled and harsh. She is constantly moving, hitching rides to wherever and living however she can. In many instances this means finding someone she knows will soon die in order to rob their corpse. It’s a ghoulish life. She hates her ability, but exploring it is often a compulsion. When she shakes the hand of Louis, a gentle giant of a truck driver, she sees that he is soon to be tortured and murdered, and his last bewildered utterance is her name.

At first she runs, but everything leads her back to him, and she is desperate to know what role she plays in his death. She’s a compassionate woman, but also very hard to like. She has had to armour herself, and this takes the form of foul language, rudeness, sarcasm, and anger. She drinks too much and gets in a lot of fights, and even though she fights dirty, she doesn’t always come out on top. She is drawn to danger, which is why when she runs from Louis, she ends up with bad boy Ashley. He’s what gets her and Louis into the fatal mess that she foresaw.

Ashley has been following her. He seen how she is tied to several deaths, but none of them look like murders. He is intrigued, thinking she might be some sort of con-artist, like him. Unfortunately for all concerned, Ashley is also a thief, and the people he has stolen from most recently are merciless. When he blackmails Miriam into helping him out this starts them down the inexorable path to Louis’ death.

Wendig is a very entertaining writer, and there is a lot of humour in what could have been a very bleak book. Miriam has a darkly amusing approach to the world, and her wry observations set the tone. I don’t know how successful he is at writing a female character, because she has a lot of masculine qualities (is quality the right word for it? I don’t know), but she is entertaining nonetheless. And determined. Her perseverance is something to behold. And even though she isn’t likeable I ended up liking her very much. Recommended.

“Agent to the Stars” by John Scalzi

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“Agent to the Stars” by John Scalzi, 2005

Finished April 7, 2012

I read this one in three days, with “The Hunger Games” read in the middle. It’s a fun early book by Scalzi, whom I admire for his always intelligent, entertaining, and sensible blogs. Dude has a good head on his shoulders, no question. This was originally written in 1997, as “practice,” but seems to have some staying power, and Scalzi has updated a few references to keep it current.

Thomas Stein is a young Hollywood agent, with a knack for getting good contracts for the performers he represents. His boss handpicks him for a unique assignment: preparing humanity for first contact with an alien race that resemble giant gobs of snot and which communicate primarily through exceeding foul odors. They’ve been watching our broadcasts for many years and they realize they need someone to find an angle that makes them seem a little less loathsome and terrifying. Stein doesn’t come up with any brilliant ideas, but he is able to think well on his feet and thus is able to turn a dreadful situation involving the brain death of his best client into an opportunity for the gelatinous Yherajk.

The book suffers a bit from characters who are too clever and quick-witted. This is a problem I see a lot from sci-fi nerds who love a good in-joke and who harbour a quietly simmering contempt for non-nerds. As a nerd myself, I’m mostly OK with it, but it does get a bit tiresome sometimes. I haven’t read many of Scalzi’s books yet, so I’m going to assume this is merely due to this book being written very early in his professional career.

One thing that drove me a bit crazy was his description of a life-casting session in which an actress has her head coated in _latex_ in order to get a mould. Latex. And she has straws shoved up her nose. And she’s not allowed to move for THREE HOURS while it sets. *sigh* Maybe Scalzi got this idea from a tv show or magazine article written by someone who simply didn’t know what they were talking about. He name drops his copyeditor in the introduction so I’m just going to berate Arthur Hlavaty directly. I’m trying to imagine this process and I see a few little problems: 1) The latex appears to be be still very runny even half an hour after it was applied with a spatula. This would mean it would be puddling in her lap, not forming a usable mould on her head. 2) Latex is full of ammonia, and if you spread a thick layer on someone’s skin and left it to cure for hours they’d get a pretty nasty chemical burn. Not something you want on your lead actress a few days before going to camera. 3) It would rip out all her hair, in an excrutiatingly painful way. 4) She’d probably go blind at some point in the process. 5) Latex shrinks a lot, and warps. I’m a special effects makeup artist, so this really drove me nuts. I even berated Scalzi about it on Twitter. But I did go to a makeup school where I once overheard the owner giving a tour, and she was equally as ignorant of the process. Inexcusable in her, merely annoying in this book. But yeah, it distracted me. I’m trying to think how to rewrite it so it made sense, but since the story required that the actress be trapped in this mess for at least 40 minutes, and all real-world casting materials used for this process set up in no more than 10 minutes, I’m not sure how it could be done.

But that aside, I quite liked the book. Nothing serious or world-changing, but still entertaining. The aliens, despite their appearance, stench, and odd life cycle, had very human personalities. Plus there was a nice relationship between the main alien, Joshua, and a dog. Dogs make me happy.

“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins

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“The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins, 2008

Started and finished on April 6, 2012

I wasn’t expecting a lot from this book, After all, “Twilight” is a huge bestseller in the same market, and it’s HORRIBLE. This one however, even though it seems aimed at the same teenage girl market, is so much more interesting, intelligent, and engaging. The fact that I read it in one day proves how hard it is to put down. And that it is pretty short (374 pages).

The premise: the world has crumbled, and from the ashes rose the North American capitol of Panem, and 13 outlying Districts that supply the city with essentials and luxury goods. The Districts are hardscrabble, difficult places to live, so they rise up in revolt. But Panem is so much more technologically advanced that they easily beat them back down into the dirt, using conventional weapons and genetically engineered animals. District 13 is obliterated, and the Hunger Games are devised to remind the remaining Districts that they are under the heel of Panem.

Every year a boy and a girl from each District is chosen to fight to the death in an arena. It is televised, and required viewing everywhere. The survivor gets a life of luxury and their District gets a few extra comforts for the year. Our protaganist is Katniss Everdeen, a self-sufficient 16-year-old who hunts and gathers to feed her mom and little sister, Prim. When Prim, brand new to the draw in her 12th year, is chosen, Katniss steps in as “tribute,” volunteering to take her place. The chosen boy from her District is Peeta, the local baker’s boy. Unbeknownst to Katniss, he’s been in love with her forever. They are taken off to Panem and given a polish for the cameras. During the televised lead up Peeta reveals his love for Katniss, which she assumes is all part of the plan to win much-needed gifts from the citizens of the capital.

After a few days of training and schilling for sponsers they are dropped off into the arena and the bloodbath begins. The seemingly fabricated love story proves so popular that it is announced that if a couple from the same District are the last ones standing, they will both be allowed to live. After much suffering and death and fear only Peeta and Katniss survive. The Gamesmasters then announce that they checked the rules and nope, they can only have one winner. Gambling that a Games with NO winner would deeply unpopular, Katniss and Peeta attempt suicide to force their hand. It pays off and they are both fished out of the arena, treated for their injuries, and feted. The Powers That Be are enraged, however, and Katniss has to walk a very fine line in order to make it home alive.

The closer she gets to District 12 the more conflicted she gets about Peeta. After all, she has her best friend and hunting partner Gale waiting at home. And given the risk every child must face in a world where the Games exist, Katniss has no intentions of settling down and having a family. She is also disturbed by the realization that she is now expected to train the next pair chosen from her District.

Collins has created a rich and complex world and an interesting protagonist. No question the Hunger Games are evil, and Panem’s rulers are brutal and unsympathetic. But Katniss actually likes the people she meets in the capitol, and at no point does she pull back from what she needs to do to survive. She does not revel in it, but when she does kill another child she realizes it’s not so different from killing an animal for food, provided you don’t dwell on it too much. This is the terrible world she lives in: an unending struggle for mere existence, with starvation and the Games a constant threat. Now I have to pick up book 2.

“Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon” by Michel P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers

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“Over the Edge: Death in Grand Canyon” by Michel P. Ghiglieri and Thomas M. Myers, 2001

Finished March 9, 2012

I visited Arizona and the Grand Canyon in March, and I got the impression everyone who works in the area has read this book, which is subtitled “Gripping accounts of all known fatal mishaps in the most famous of the World’s Seven Natural Wonders.” Each chapter covers a different way people have died in the Canyon: falling, dehydration, flash floods, drowning, airplane crashes, rock falls, poisonous creatures and plants, lightning, explosions, suicide, and murder.

I started the book while I took a break from the winter weather (a huge disappointment for a Canadian such as myself who was just trying to get AWAY from ice and snow) in front of a fire in the lobby of one of the main hotels on the edge of the Canyon. One of the first stories in the book recounted a terrifying situation in which a woman fell to her death from the edge just in front of where I was sitting. It made me pretty cautious for the rest of my visit.

The authors make the point that many deaths happen because people seem to think that a National Park is kind of like Disneyland, where everything is made safe for them and they don’t need to exhibit any common sense. Hence the stories of people walking right up to the edge, or hiking without a map or water, or rafting without a life jacket in the icy waters. At my first stop in the Grand Canyon I went to a fenced in lookout. Beyond the fence was a spire of rock about 3 feet square on the top, and beyond that was another, slightly larger spire. There were footprints in the freaking snow on these freaking tiny little icy, sloping plateaus. Was the view 20 feet out really worth risking your stupid life? So yeah, that was proof enough for me, as if I needed it, that humans can be remarkably idiotic.

The book really is gripping and well-written. I bought it for my even-more-morbid-than-me sister, but I couldn’t put it down. I wish there were photos in it though, of some of the more famous people and incidents. Not piles of festering guts or anything, but at least a photo of the vanished couple from 1928, Bessie and Glen Hyde. The authors discuss the last photo taken of them, and it would have been nice to have seen it. Particularly since they describe the wife’s body language as “shouting despair and lack of confidence – or worse.” Very thorough, and oddly entertaining. Recommended.

A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin – SPOILERS

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A Feast for Crows, by George R.R. Martin, 2005.

My sister gave me a copy of this book way back in 2005, when it first came out. But when I picked it up and read the first chapter I was annoyed to realize I couldn’t remember ANY of the characters. I had already reread the first book so I could refresh my memory for the second book, and reread the first and second books before reading the third, and I was damned if I was going to reread them all again so I could read the fourth book. I decided to wait until George R.R. Martin had published all the books before trying again.

And then the fantastic tv show came out, and I started again. I had to buy a new copy, because the nice one my sis got for me has vanished into the ether. And now I realize that I was unfamiliar with the characters in the first chapter because they were brand new. Sigh.

So, to the forth book in this monumental series. Martin wrote this installment as a giant book which he had to divide in half. It is split along character and geography lines, so no Tyrion, Daenerys, Bran or Rickon, and very little Jon Snow. We get a lot of Brienne instead, some Sansa, Cersei (ugh), Jaime, Sam, Arya, and Iron Islands stuff. Plus the few characters we meet in Oldtown in the first and last chapters.

Brienne is by far my favourite character, and I so hope she has a happily ever after. Martin has a habit of killing the characters we love the most though, so I’m not overly hopeful. Her last chapter ends with her in an extremely precarious position, seconds away from an extremely unjust death.

Shall I point out again that this blog will be chock full of spoilers? It’s more a place for me to put down a breakdown of books I’ve read, so don’t read if you want to be surprised by the books themselves. And this is a fantastic series, so step away now if haven’t read this book yet.

I guess I’ll do up a little synopsis for each main character.

Pate: the Oldtown novice who steals his Maester’s key to earn a gold piece from a mysterious stranger. He wants to buy some girl’s maidenhead, and thus presumably put her on the prostitution market like her mom has planned. Pate hasn’t thought this through, methinks. He appears to die at the end of the prologue, but is there in the last chapter, chatting away with Samwell. So THAT’S sinister.

Aeron: aka Damphair, the prophet of the Cthulhu-like Drowned God of the Iron Islands, has a revelation. He’s going to call for a Kingsmoot to find a replacement for the recently deceased ruler, Balon (he was the grim dad of Theon and Asha). The whole place sounds grim, in fact. Cold and wet and grey. Just like home. Except the people here aren’t near as dour as these Viking-like islanders. Anyway, the gathering happens, speeches are made, and Damphair’s worst fears are realized: his brother Euron Greyjoy, called Crow’s Eye, carries the day. Damphair beats a hasty retreat, and Euron and the Islanders take their ships south and start kicking arse.

Dorne: This southern desert region was the home of Prince Oberyn, who was killed in the last book by Gregor Clegane. Clegane is still dying horribly from the poisoned weapon the Prince used. Cersei sends a skull south to appease the Dornish people, but it is suggested that the twisted former Maester and practicing necromancer Qyburn has in fact turned The Mountain That Rides into a giant, unstoppable, heavily-armoured zombie warrior. So that will be interesting in a later book. Anyway, Oberyn’s daughters, known as the Sand Snakes, are furious and want to wage war on King’s Landing, but his brother, the ruling Prince Doran, imprisons them. He seems ineffectual, and runs into big problems with his daughter Arienne, but we learn at the end that he has long term plans involving his son and Daenerys. Poor Arienne thinks he plans on passing his crown on to her brother Quentyn when it should go to her, by Dornish law. She hatches a plan to kidnap and crown (in Westeros) Princess Myrcella, who is betrothed to her other brother Trystane. Between Arienne, Myrcella, Cersei, Asha, and Daenerys, the rulers are leaning heavily towards the feminine. Even Sansa is part of Petyr’s plans for rule of the Seven Kingdoms. But most of this falls apart in this book. Arienne is caught, her lover, Arys Oakheart of the Kingsguard, is killed, and Myrcella get’s her head and face badly sliced by Ser Gerold Dayne, aka Darkstar. Arienne is imprisoned for a while but eventually gets an audience with her father. She learns that instead of doing nothing, he has been working towards vengence for years against the people responsible for the overthrow of the Targaryens and the slaugter of his sister and her children.

Cersei: Oh Cersei. Her own worst enemy and so tiresome. Her dad was killed by her brother Tyrion, so she has a bounty on his head. This is bad news for dwarves in the kingdom. She continues to rage and alienate everyone, from her brother/lover, her uncle, and everyone who could possibly make her position as Queen Regent at all secure. She thinks she is so clever with her little schemes, but she paints herself into a corner. Everything flies apart catastrophically, and she ends the book imprisoned by the now militarized (thanks to Cersei) church, accused of “murder, treason, and fornication.” She’s guilty of it all, of course. She writes a desperate letter to her brother, who is off ending the seige at Riverrun peacefully, but it seems he is done with her too. I can’t imagine any reader will feel sorry for her. She’s obsessed with a prophecy from her childhood, and everything she does to avoid it just makes it that much more inevitable.

Brienne: Big, ugly, loyal, determined, tragic Brienne. She helped bring out Jaime’s humanity and made him a likable character, unthinkable in the first book. They have a wary fondness for each other that I really hope is given the chance to develop. It’s sweet and sad how they defend each other when apart. Brienne contiues her exhausting quest for Sansa, but switches her focus to Arya when she learns that the younger Stark girl was in the company of Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound. Arya left him to die of a festering wound in the last book, and we are initially led to believe he has recovered and is rampaging in an insanely brutal fashion. It turns out that the savage Biter has claimed his distinctive Helm. He is killed by Gendry (I was wondering where King Robert’s bastard had gotten too), but only after he eats a good chunk of poor Brienne’s face. Man, her life is just so damn unfair. She and her companions, Ser Hyle and Tyrion’s former squire Podrick, are being strung up by followers of Lady Stoneheart when her chapter ends. The zombie Catelyn Stark only wants vengence after the Red Wedding (such a painful scene in the last book), and when Brienne refuses give up her quest (which Catelyn started her on!) in order to kill Jaime Lannister, they are condemned to be hanged. Hell. It’s just not right. It seems Brienne may capitulate with her last breath, mainly to save Podrick. On a side note, even though the Elder Brother told Brienne that Sandor was dead, I know he is the huge limping gravedigger living with the brothers. The Elder Brother was obviously speaking metaphorically. I hope Sandor is enjoying this little oasis of peace, because I suspect he’ll have to strap on a sword again when his zombie brother goes public. I was hoping he and Brienne would hit it off. But Martin is not about giving the readers what they want. He’s all about sticking the knife in and twisting it.

Samwell: How is this guy still fat? He spent the last two books tramping through frozen forests and fighting White Walkers and bad Brothers, and most of this book puking from seasickness. He says he’s a bit thinner near the end but everyone still calls him fat at first sight. Poor kid. Jon Snow sent him to Oldtown with ancient Maester Aemon, Gilly and her baby (although it turns out to be Mance’s baby instead, to save him from Lady Melisandre’s magic), and Dareon. The singer’s job is to recruit for the wall, but he decides to desert in Braavos. Sam does his best to beat the crap out of him, but Arya actually does him in at the end. Sam and Arya actually meet and talk, but she doesn’t reveal herself or seem too interested in what her half-brother might be up to on the Wall. Anyway, Maester Aemon, who is over 100, dies before they reach the Citadel, but he is cheered by the news of dragons and his niece kicking arse across the sea. Sam finally makes it and speaks to Archmaester Marwyn. Aemon wanted to send a Maester to Daenerys, and Marwyn decides to go himself, immediately. He tells Sam to become a novice, and to say nothing of what he has told him. Sam feels an instant dislike for Pate, who we know is supposed to be dead, or something.

Arya: What the hell is she up to? She arrives in Braavos, and takes shelter in the House of Black and White, home of the Many-Faced God, where people apparently go to commit suicide. She learns something of poisons from the woman she calls the waif. But she hides Needle from the kindly man rather than give up all that she used to be. She goes out into Braavos and works for a shellfish monger, returning to the temple during each new moon with three secrets to share. She has a knack for blending in, and is slowly picking up the language and the culture. But when the waif and the kindly man determine she is clinging to her old life, they put something in her milk that makes her blind.

Jaime: He trys and fails to talk sense into Cersei, before she sends him to Riverrun. He gets a gold hand made (sounds heavy. He’d do better with a spring-loaded jobby like Ash makes in Army of Darkness) and practices left-handed sword-fighting with the creepy tongueless executioner Ilyn Payne. And he punches a dude who says insulting things about Brienne. He’s a bit tortured about his sister, and the fact his brother killed his dad, but at the end he seems quite prepared to wash his hands of the mess. And he’s a better diplomat than the rest of his family combined. But everyone just keeps calling him Kingslayer. Hard to shake that off.

Sansa; She is still stuck at the Eyrie with Petyr Baelish, who shoved her crazy murderous Aunt Lysa out the moon door in the last book. He told her to pretend she is his bastard daughter, Alayne, and her chapter headings even go by that name later on. Her cousin, the sickly Lord Robert, is annoying as hell. She seems to be able to handle him ok though. Better than anyone else can, at least. Petyr seems to be continuing to weave his plans quite successfully. He has all the skill and awareness that Cersei so sadly lacks. In Sansa’s last chapter the household abandons the Eyrie because of the onset of winter, making the long trek down to  the Gates of the Moon. Petyr tells Sansa that he has arranged a marriage for her, and after a complicated explanation involving who begat whom he reveals that at the wedding he will reveal her as Sansa Stark, and she will claim Winterfell and the North.

I think that’s everyone. Wow. No shortage of characters and histories to remember in this series. Martin must have a good filing system to keep everything straight.

Plan for reviews and synopses

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Not so much a blog as an external memory resource. Basically I am just going to do synopses of books I’ve read, maybe a few movie reviews. There will be so many spoilers! You’ve been warned.

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