Posted in Book review, Reading

Book review: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, #6)Song of Susannah by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2016 Re-read

The sixth volume in The Dark Tower series begins moments after the events that end the fifth volume. Our heroes and the townfolk of Calla Bryn Sturgis are weary, shell-shocked, and uncertain of their future. Susannah has disappeared, Eddie is frantic, Jake is grieving, and Roland is desperate to discern their next steps.

Roland, Eddie, and Jake eventually figure out they must separate: with the aid of the Manni, Roland and Eddie will go through the door in the Cave of Voices to 1977 Maine, contact Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, and make arrangements to protect The Rose; Jake and Father Callahan (and Oy) will use the same door to journey to 1999 New York in search of Susannah.

In New York, Susannah and Mia struggle for control of their shared body while Mia’s pregnancy advances at an accelerated pace.

Also in New York, Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan are hot on the trail of the combined Susannah-Mio, hoping to find them before the baby is born.

In Maine, Roland and Eddie encounter good guys, bad guys, bullets, and Stephen King.

Even though its subject matter may be more suited for a melancholy folk ballad, Song of Susannah is a techno dancetrack that unfolds at a breakneck hellbent-for-leather pace. In the end, new life and more than one death follow our heroes into the final volume.

Again, I’m glad to have re-read this, because once more I had forgotten not only the details but the main events of this novel, including the extended metafictional encounter with Stephen King. For reasons that spoilers prohibit me from revealing, King wrote himself into his own novel, not as a measure of vanity but as a unique plot twist that won’t make sense until much much later. (EDITORIAL NOTE: This review was written after finishing Book VII. So trust me on this.)

Author King views Character King with the dispassion of distance, and does not shy away from a frank discussion of his younger self’s shortcomings. In truth, I found this section of the book weirdly therapeutic. How many of us now in late middle age would NOT jump at the opportunity to speak to our younger selves with the benefit of experience and 20/20 hindsight? Metafictional therapy aside, Character King’s presence serves rather than detracts from the plot and sets up critical events for the final volume.

2016SFFChallengeNicely done, Author King.

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This review was written for the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between. Click the badge to learn more about this challenge, and maybe even join in! There’s still plenty of time left to read some award winners of your own.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

wolves-of-the-calla2016 Re-Read
2016 is the year I decided I was actually going to finish reading the Dark Tower series. Since I hadn’t read this book in at least five years, a re-read was deemed necessary. And that was a good thing, because I had completely forgotten ALL of the events of this story, including the insertion of ‘Salem’s Lot character Father Callahan, who somehow managed to fall into Mid-World after his humiliation by the Vampire Barlow.

Immediately after encountering “Oz” in Topeka, Roland and his fellow travelers Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy continue on the Path of the Beam, eventually realizing they’ve left a plague-ridden Kansas behind and re-entered Mid-World.  Soon afterward, they are approached by the citizens of the farming community Calla Bryn Sturgis, who ask for their help in defeating marauders known as the Wolves.  Said Wolves raid their community once a generation and kidnap roughly half of the children, returning them severely brain-damaged several weeks later.  The people of Calla Bryn Sturgis want to put an end to the raids, and view the gunslingers as their only hope.

The gunslinger code to which our heroes have ascribed means not turning down such requests for assistance; thus they are honor-bound to take on this task, provided the majority of the town supports the endeavor and is willing to help themselves.  The townspeople do, and the ka-tet begins its preparation for battle, while simultaneously hatching a plan to return to Jake’s New York and protect the Rose.

RIP 9 Peril the Second

During all this, Roland and Eddie keep a weather eye on Susannah, who exhibits signs that she is not entirely herself.  Susannah, while vaguely uneasy and at times on edge, is generally unaware that anything may be wrong.  It is, however, and greatly.  The demon she distracted with sex [edited to add:  I had forgotten the circumstances of this “distraction”; in actuality, the demon raped Susannah, violently, brutally, and repeatedly] while her men “drew” Jake into this world (see The Waste Lands for that story) left Susannah pregnant; Susannah’s subconscious mind created another personality, Mia, to deal with the unwanted pregnancy.  Mia is dangerous and unpredictable and fiercely protective of her “chap”, as she refers to her baby.  Roland and Eddie fear she may disrupt, even ruin, their delicately-timed operation against the Wolves.  And Mia’s is not the only betrayal they fear.

As Dark Tower installments go, this one initially seems like a distraction, a step off the Path of the Beam that in no way furthers the overall story or the quest for the Tower. On its surface, it’s a re-telling of nearly every Western ever written: the ordinary law-abiding folk just want to farm their land and live in peace, but the bad guys are intent on shooting up the town at every opportunity; let’s recruit the Lone Ranger to get rid of the bad guys and earn our eternal gratitude.  (King acknowledges his debt to the Western in an afterword, so he is fully cognizant of his influences.)

But.  But.  This superficial interpretation does the story a disservice.  There’s far more than a simple Little Town on the Prairie tale to discover here.  With this novel, King appears to be setting up his end-game, with the introduction of the Wolves (who are far more and at the same time much less than we think); the repeated appearances of North Central Positronics technology; the side-trip describing Father Callahan’s journey to Mid-World, not to mention the mere existence of Callahan himself in Roland’s homeland; and the tension between Susannah, Mia, and the rest of the ka-tet.

2016SFFChallengeIf I have a quibble, it’s the same quibble I’ve had ever since Susannah was first introduced, and that is calling her a “schizophrenic”.  Susannah does not have schizophrenia; she has a dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder).  Back in the mid- to late-80s, when King originally wrote the character of Odetta/Detta Holmes, who became Susannah when her personalities merged, it’s possible he didn’t know the difference.  The idea that schizophrenia means “split personality” is common, albeit incorrect.  And since King started out with that interpretation, I guess he must follow it through in subsequent novels, if only for consistency’s sake.  Still irks me.

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This review was written for two reading challenges:  Readers Imbibing Peril (affectionately known as R.I.P.) XI, hosted by Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings; and the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between.  Click their respective badges to learn more about each.

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Posted in Knitting, Work in progress

Look, actual knitting content!

Recent blog entries have been so focused on my participation in reading challenges that you may be forgiven if you forgot this was also a yarn crafting blog. Yes, I have been knitting as well as reading over the last couple of months.  I finished a cowl of my own design a few weeks ago, but (as usual) have yet to write up the pattern and photograph the finished item.  Someday soon.  Pinky swear.

After finishing the cowl, I started working on a Christmas stocking for a friend’s baby.  Here’s the progress so far.

davi-christmas-stocking-1

Yes, you’re right. That is indeed a crappy cell phone photo. I texted my friend with it to show her the progress, and then decided a blog entry was in order as well. And there you have it. Actual knitting content.

Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review, sort of: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

RIP 9 Peril the Second

Call this a testament to the reason I keep books I love and re-read them again and again.

1081372For R.I.P. XI, I intended to read, finally, The Dark Tower, the last volume of Stephen King’s epic Gunslinger* series.  I got 65 pages into it and realized I remembered next to nothing about its immediate predecessor, Song of Susannah.  Okay, let’s get that one down off the shelf.  41 pages into Susannah, I realized I remembered nothing about its predecessor, Wolves of the Calla.  I picked Wolves up, turned to the last few pages and recognized….nothing.

Oh bother.

So I went all the way back to Wizard and Glass, looked at its last few pages, shook my head in dismay and started at the beginning.  After re-reading the first section, the nightmare trip with Blaine the Mono, and reading enough of the middle section, the flashback to Roland’s teenage travels, to sufficiently reacquaint myself with the high and low points, I then skipped ahead to join up with the ka-tet once more, where they sit by the side of I-70 outside Topeka, after the end of Roland’s tale of young love, loss, and exile.  A quick trip to Oz later (read it: you’ll see what I mean), and now we’re back on the Path of the Beam.

I love Wizard and Glass.  I love it.  And I love it for all the reasons other readers of this series hate it:  that novel-length interlude where Roland tells the story of his trip West to the Barony of Mejis when he was 14 years old, where he fell in love for the first time, and how that love led to unexpected consequences and set his foot on the path that will lead inexorably to the Dark Tower.  I don’t want to say much more about it because of spoilers, but here’s the truth:  Roland is who he is because of that fateful journey and the story of the Tower couldn’t be told without it.

RIP 11This non-review was written for the R.I.P. XI Reading Challenge.  Click that badge to learn more about it.  You’ve got a few more days to join in, if you haven’t joined us already.

2016SFFChallengeAnd it’s also part of the Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge.  Click that other badge to find out about that challenge.  You have until the end of 2016 to join in.

*Yes, I know, it’s really “The Dark Tower” series, but I’ve always called it the “Gunslinger” series after the title of the first volume and the mythic characters King brought to life.

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R.I.P. XI Book Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

The Secret Place (Dublin Murder Squad, #5)The Secret Place by Tana French

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Holly Mackey, a 16-year-old student at St. Kilda’s School in Dublin, walks into the police station early one morning and hands a PostSecret type card to Detective Stephen Moran. The card — actually, a photograph — showing a candid shot of Chris Harper, a young man who had been murdered the previous year, had been pinned to a school bulletin board with the caption “I know who killed him.”

RIP 9 Peril the Second

Detective Moran immediately takes the card to Antoinette Conway, the detective who had been in charge of the fruitless investigation into Chris Harper’s murder. Conway reluctantly decides to include Moran in her renewed investigation and together they descend upon St. Kilda’s in the hope of turning up something more concrete than a blurry photograph and an enigmatic caption.

Once at the school, Moran and Conway quickly narrow down the list of students who had opportunity to place the photograph on the bulletin board to two sets of cliques: the “mean girls”, Queen Bee Joanne and her minions; and the “weird girls”, including Holly Mackey herself. Throughout a long day and well into the evening hours, the detectives interview the girls, one at a time, digging and probing and prodding, doing their best to penetrate a shield of teenage obstinacy and purposeful misdirection.

In between the present-day interviews, the story pops back in time to detail the events leading up to Chris’s murder, with a chilling countdown to death each time the young man makes an appearance on the page.

RIP 11Who placed the card? Who killed the boy? Tana French kept me guessing right up to the last moment, and did so in a spectacularly well-written fashion. I have yet to read one of her novels and be disappointed.

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Reviewed for R.I.P. XI “Peril the Second” Challenge. Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

Posted in Books, Reading

Banned Books Week 2016 — Better late than never, right?

Banned Books 2015 BannerI suppose there are some individuals out there who are NOT aware of the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. If you, dear reader, are among them — or if you’re not and want more information anyway — click the badge to the left to be taken to the ALA’s webpages and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the subject.

I was lucky. My mother read to me all the time, probably from the moment I was born. I honestly don’t remember when I learned to read myself. I know I was already reading by the time I entered kindergarten at age 4, although it must have escaped the notice of my kindergarten teacher. Mom told me once that my first grade teacher called her shortly after the start of school and asked her if she knew I could read. Mom said, “Of course.” Teacher said, “No, I mean really read, not in a halting one-word-at-a-time fashion, but easily? In flowing sentences?” Mom said, “Of course, why wouldn’t I know that? I taught her.”

My mom rocks.

This was the library when I was a kid. Now it's the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.
This was the library when I was a kid. Now it’s the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.

Every Saturday in the summer, when Mom went into town to do the grocery shopping, she dropped my sister and me off at the public library. I still remember running up the big stone steps and then down another set of stairs that led into the basement where the children’s section lived. Sissy and I would spend a couple of hours reading and picking out new books to take home. We always checked out as many books as we were allowed, devoured them through the week, and brought them back the following Saturday. During the school year, we had access to the school library and didn’t visit the public library all that often.

My folks never questioned the appropriateness of any book we brought home from the school or the public library. We were reading and that’s all that mattered. And I read everything as I grew up: Walter Farley‘s horse books, abandoned children books (such as Island of the Blue Dolphins and Green Mansions), Mother West Wind stories, science fiction, biographies, horror, fables, fairy tales, books about science and rocks and dinosaurs and geology. I read the books my parents had read: mysteries and crime fiction, mostly, with the occasional steamy romance tossed in for good measure. I was forbidden to read a book only once. When I was 12 years old, The Exorcist was the hottest title on the bestseller lists. Mom bought it for herself. When she finished reading it, she told me, “You may not read this book until you are older.” “Okay, Mom,” I said, and never gave it a second thought. With the wide open freedom I had to choose my own reading material, being barred from one book in which I had only a vague interest was not a big deal.

So how is my being barred at age 12 from reading The Exorcist not censorship? Simple. My mother exercised her parental prerogative to control the reading material of her minor child within our family unit. And then she stopped. She didn’t try to prevent other people’s children from reading it. She didn’t mount a protest with the school or public library to have that book removed from their shelves. She and Daddy didn’t write letters to the editor of the local newspaper proclaiming that devil worshippers and Satanists were trying to indoctrinate the youngsters of San Luis Obispo, so stop them, stop them, stop them now!

Parenting. Yeah, they did it right.

That’s where the line gets drawn, you see. At the edge of the family unit. No one, I repeat, no one, other than my husband and me, has the right to restrict what our children (if we had any) will read. I applaud those librarians who tell the naysayers and it’s-for-your-own-good-niks to stuff it. I weep for the school boards who cave under the pressure of a very loud and vocal minority. I want to buy a copy of every book removed from a middle school or high school reading list for every student in that school. I want to tell every single one of those parents who object to any book their child brings home to leave their objections at the door of their house. They have no right beyond that. My goodness, if they’re that afraid of what their children might be reading in school, why are they sending them to school in the first place? Home schooling is an option in every state of the Union, you know.

Books are the best weapons

Books open minds, point in new directions, reveal different viewpoints, question received wisdom. Books encourage thought. Books are powerful. This power threatens certain individuals. I get that. But be afraid in your own house, and stay out of my library.

By the way, some 40-plus years later, I still have not read The Exorcist. Not because my mother still forbids it. In fact, when relaying this story at a family gathering several years ago, Mom said, “Well, you’re allowed to read it now if you want to.”

Thanks, Mom.

(NOTE: This piece was originally written for 2012 Banned Books Week, but I liked it so much that it’s now become an annual essay.  Even though this year it was posted late.  Oops.)

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Posted in Life in general, Miscellaneous, Movies and TV

R.I.P. XI Catch-up: Screen time

RIP 9 Peril on the Screen

How did I let two weeks go by without posting anything?  It’s amazing how quickly times runs past me these days.

The past couple of weeks, I’ve imbibed a few Perils On The Screen to quickly discuss.

longmireThe new season of Longmire came out on Netflix a couple of weeks ago.  This show was originally on some cable channel, got cancelled a couple of years ago, and Netflix picked it up to continue making new episodes.  It’s a contemporary Western that tells us the story of Walt Longmire, a widowed sheriff who, on top of investigating the murders that take place in his rural Wyoming county, deals with political maneuverings, shady businessmen, and tension with the neighboring Native American reservation.  Sheriff Longmire is played by Robert Taylor, an Australian actor with a pitch perfect American West accent; Katee Sackhoff plays one of his deputies; and Lou Diamond Phillips plays his best friend.  A host of other recurring characters and guest stars rotate through this well-acted series.  Highly recommended.

aftermathI watched the pilot of SyFy‘s new show, Aftermath, the other night.  Oh dear God, what a jumbled mess.  According to the show’s blurb, “When people start disappearing and disasters start to indicate the end of the world is at hand, the Copeland family – Karen, Josh, Dana, Brianna and Matt – must fight for their survival while piecing together clues on how to save what’s left of humanity.”  Mom (Karen, played by Anne Heche) is a badass ex-military pilot; Dad (Josh, played by James Tupper) is a wimpy academic; and the kids are one-dimensional.  To be generous, perhaps the idea was to plop the viewer right down in the middle of the apocalypse with the Copeland family, who themselves have little idea what’s going on, but this was done better in Cloverfield — and that movie had at least some exposition or background chatter (in the way of TV/radio snippets) that gave the viewer a vague idea of the circumstances.  I’ll give episode two a try, because it might get better.  But I don’t have much hope.

slitherLast night, spouse and I watched Slither, a worthy addition to the “Bad Movie Night” list.  It’s bad, but it’s fun bad, because it’s just so absurd AND it doesn’t take itself seriously.  A meteor crashes to Earth somewhere in North Carolina, a creepy crawly from that meteor takes over the body of a human being, and then multiplies itself in an effort to take over more humans.  Featuring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, and Michael Rooker.  And a number of gross-out scenes, so if you’re sensitive to that, beware.  (I watched a couple of them through my fingers, but mainly turned my head and closed my eyes.)

maltese-falcomFinally, the 1941 classic The Maltese Falcon graced our flat-screen a few weeks ago.  Humphrey Bogart is at his snarling sardonic best as the world-weary private dick Sam Spade; Mary Astor is luminous and beguiling as the damsel in distress; and Peter Lorre plays as sniveling a criminal character as he can muster.  Great fun to watch, but set aside any modern feminist sensitivities when you do.

RIP 11Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

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Posted in Movies and TV

Video review: The Day of the Triffids (BBC mini-series)


This 1981 BBC mini-series wasn’t what I intended to order from Netflix.  I had intended to order the 1962 B-movie starring Howard Keel, which I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager camped out in front of the television watching Bob Wilkins host Creature Features on Saturday afternoons.  So when the single-disc mini-series, comprised of six 26-minute episodes, arrived, I was somewhat puzzled until I looked at our Netflix account and realized “Oh, yeah, the 1962 film isn’t available, that’s why I got this one.” (IMDB indicates there’s yet another version, a two-part mini-series made in 2009, also British.)

No matter.  I watched it anyway, the day after I finished the book.  And the show is a faithful adaptation of its source material, which much of the dialogue coming straight out of the book.  It’s been updated so that it takes place in the early 1980s, so the chauvinism and sexism are somewhat lessened — omigosh, there’s an actual female who speaks from a position of authority — but the basics of the plot are fully intact.  I was fascinated by the depiction of the triffids in this version.  Keep in mind the only triffid I had ever seen on screen was that from the 1962 film — to the best of my recollection, they looked vaguely like walking asparagus with flailing “arms” and a kind of a dandelion-type “head”.  But the 1981 version looked a great deal like a titan arum, also known as a corpse flower.

PerfumeHere’s the titan arum my husband and I visited when it flowered at UC Davis in 2007. It’s huge. And it stinks.  Imagine this plant on a six-foot stalk, with the ability to walk — well, shuffle — and sting and eat carrion flesh.

Absolutely terrifying.

I didn’t make the connection until seeing it on the screen, but that first episode, set in the hospital where Bill Masen awakens to a silent world, vividly reminded me of the first episode of The Walking Dead.  Same eerie quiet, same vacant streets, same desperate effort to find other living human beings and discover what happened.

So, set aside the cheesy early 80s fashion — sheesh, did we really wear our makeup like that? — and the horrendous videotape production quality so common in early 80s TV (on both sides of the Atlantic), and prepare yourself for about two and a half hours of post-apocalyptic fun and games, dodging deadly triffids and ruthless press gangs and militia groups intent on enforcing their version of law and order.

Reviewed for R.I.P XI “Peril on the Screen” Challenge.  Click the badge to find out more about this annual event.

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Posted in Book review, Books, Reading

Book review: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Day of the TriffidsThe Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bill Masen missed seeing the end of the world by sheer happenstance. He was hospitalized with bandages over his eyes on the night of the spectacular meteor shower that blinded everyone who watched it. Now he’s wandering the streets of London, one of the rare sighted individuals left, trying to avoid the gangs, the looting, the violence, and the triffids.

What are triffids? They’re a strange plant of unknown origin, with a sting of sufficient venom to kill a human being stone dead, and the perplexing ability to walk from place to place. But triffids had proved commercially useful and were cultivated under controlled conditions throughout the world. Bill Masen studied triffids before the meteor shower; he knew them and their habits fairly well, and in fact had begun to suspect they were not merely plants, but far more complex creatures. And now that nearly 100% of humanity was blinded and helpless, triffid containment failed: the plants were on the prowl.

Bill eventually joins forces with Josella, a woman a few years younger than he, and together they make their way through the city in search of a place where they can live safely. Danger and trouble abound; their road to security is neither smooth nor straight.

Some classic science fiction stories age well. Some do not. The Day of the Triffids falls in the latter category, at least in some respects. Reading John Wyndham’s tale through modern eyes means wading through the rampant sexism that permeates much of the story. For example, when our hero first meets Josella, she is described as a girl. It took me several paragraphs to realize the author was talking about a grown woman in her early 20s, not someone who had not yet reached her teenage years. There are no scientists who are women, no female leaders (except one, and she’s a caricature), and no women at all who had careers other than teacher or nurse, secretary or, in Josella’s case, author.

Still, if one can manage to overlook the male chauvinism, or at least accept the novel as a product of its time, the story itself is a rollicking adventure tale, full of frightful moments and feats of daring. Above all, it’s a survival story. One can only hope to fare as well as Bill and Josella and their band of adventurers at the end of the world.

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RIP 9 Peril the SecondThis post is part of R.I.P. XI Peril the Second Challenge. If you’re interested in knowing what that means, clickie the badgie to be whisked away to the blog post that explains it.

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Posted in Finished object, FO Fridays, Knitting

FO Friday: Kayson’s Blankie

100_4662-2By the time this post appears online, my family will have increased by one.  My niece expects to deliver her second son sometime between September 7 and September 14.  All new babies in my family get a special blanket made just for them, and Kayson is no exception.

Pattern:  My design, and it doesn’t have a name yet.

Yarn:  Bernat Handicrafter Cotton in Caramel, a discontinued colorway; 1.1 skeins for a total of 767 yards.

Needle:  US 9; I used Addi Turbos Circular.

Size:  34″ x 24″, after a machine wash and dry.

Satisfaction with end product:  It’s soft and absorbent and can be thrown in the washer and dryer.  That’s the perfect baby blanket as far as I’m concerned.  I hope my niece likes it.

The pattern came about because I couldn’t find a blanket that I liked among all the blanket patterns that I already have.  Let me rephrase:  I couldn’t find a blanket pattern that I liked that suited this particular yarn, and I was determined to use this yarn because of its easy care.  And so I fiddled around for a while with stitch patterns and finally settled on a classic basketweave, but with a twist: the small basketweave sections that bookend the center portion of the blanket.

This time as I made the blanket, I remembered to make pattern notes.  I’ll get the pattern written up and made available eventually.  I have to figure out how to upload PDFs to Ravelry someday, don’t I?

Here are a couple more pictures of the blanket, for good measure.  Click the pic to see it larger.  And you can click that large picture up top to go to the Ravelry project page.

FO Friday Avantaknits Badge (2)Do you have a finished project to show off? Please share it with us by linking up here. You’ll be glad you did!