A nerd before the birth of TOS Red Shirts, I share my thoughts on genre media be it books, movies, TV shows, etc

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Summer Of Not So Super Cinema Sausages

Sorry this post is going to a downer.  I much prefer to write about things that brought me joy but sometimes one gets buried under a deluge of depressing dross and the occasional venting is needed to clear the palette.

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Seen any of this summer's big blockbusters? Feel like if you seen one - you've seen them all? Remember any of them? Feel compelled to see any of them again?

Welcome to my world.

Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, The Lone Ranger, etc.  All feature scenes of mass destruction.  Most deal with an atagonist that turns out to be the front for a bigger one hiding in the shadows. All of them feel interchangeable. Like interconnected sausage links.

Movie studios have fully embraced comic book summer tent pole movies and the feeling of someone cranking a handle and churning out indistinguishable product has never been stronger than it has this summer. The products look great and sound great. Its all cinema sound and fury that assaults the senses for two hours only to drain away and leave no lasting impressions like an unexpected summer storm that wets the streets for a brief time. Only to be evaporated away under the light of an indifferent sun.

Most egregrious is the latest Superman reboot - Man of Steel.  When it was announced that this would be the most realistic Superman ever, a warning bell went off in my mind.  Most realistic how? In terms of characterization?  In terms of how Clark Kent would fit in to a world where nearly every big event moment is captured on video; how the artifice of simply putting on a pair of glasses is no longer a sufficient cover? Or would it be to use current SFX to showcase Superman's powers?

The warning bell was for the third point - because it was a given that showing Superman's powers with the latest SFX toolset was a no brainer - and that such depiction would overpower the other ones.  Which is exactly what happened with MOS. What was most disturbing about MOS is by the time the movie ended, the depiction of Superman's powers came across as pornography given the mass destruction and collateral damage.

Another Summer Movie Sausage Of Mass Destruction

I've never been beholden to the Christopher Reeves movies because they played like cousins of the Adam West Batman TV series.  Both far too goofy for my tastes.  Both did create memorable music with John William's superb Superman score the de facto Superman soundtrack.

I could go on with the myriad problems with the MOS but I'll leave this link to an excellent article by Hulk Film Crit that applies not just to MOS but to movie - and story - analysis across the board:

Hulk Film Crit -


I 'll add a few of my personal issues with the movie to what the article points out:

1)  MOS preaches actions has consequences through out the movie and then at the end of the climax with the biggest actions, there are no consequences whatsover.

2) This movie shows the world is a better place without Superman. His actions result in the crisis that the world has to face. In this movie if there is no Superman there is no crisis and the world continues on its own merry way quite nicely.  Thank you very much.

3) The other thing that saddens me about Man of Steel is that it brings Superman down to our level as opposed to the other movies which inspire us to try and reach his level.

I'm ready for the next reboot of Superman already.

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With that out of my system, I promise to return to writing about things that brought me joy in my next post.  And there are many such things!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

2013 - The Year Of The King Clan

This entry is sparked by a wonderful interview, where the logistics of getting all these very busy members of the King family in the same location must been immense, that appeared recently in the New York Times Weekend Magazine.

You can find it here - Stephen King’s Family Business

2013 may very well represent the apex of the Stephen King Writing Clan in terms of output.

By the time this year ends we will have had:

1) Stephen King:    Joyland
2) Owen King:       Double Feature
3) Joe Hill:             N0S4A2
4) Stephen King:    Dr. Sleep

and by extension of being Owen King's wife:

5) Kelly Braffet:     Save Yourself

Will this alignment of releases in the same year ever occur again within one family?  Hard to say.  We know S. King has two more books nearing completion - Mr. Mercedes and Revival.  His output the last few years has been amazing!  Can the kids keep up?

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With the imminent release of Stephen King's sequel to The Shining - Dr. Sleep, I decided to reread The Shining since it had been over 20 years since I had read it least.  Partly because I want to reread some of King's earlier books because it has been 20 plus years for a lot of those books.  And partly because the impact that Kubrick's adaptation of the book has had within pop culture is so pervasive- how events played out in his movie versus the book have become blurred. Writer & King expert, Bev Vincent, made this observation and I agree with him.

And I am very glad I reread this book.

The Shining by Stephen King

Well I'm all set for Dr. Sleep.

It's been over twenty years since I last read this book and as good I thought it was since then, it's even more powerful than I remember.  No doubt because in the twenty intervening years I have become a family man and father myself. My focus on this story has shifted from the horror elements to the characters.

Twenty years ago the visceral thrills that the Outlook Hotel gave have been dulled due to the ever expanding boundaries of what horror books/movies etc have shown and told us.

What stands out more in The Shining are the ghosts we carry around inside of us.  These ghosts have the potential to be far more damaging and/or terrifying than anything a possessed hotel can throw at us.

The Cover Version of The Shining I First Saw And Still My Preferred Version

Jack and Wendy Torrance are damaged goods trying to cast off the ghosts of their parents.  Jack fails and with Wendy it is unclear how she fares moving forward from the end of the book.

And Danny?  Ah, poor Danny.  With his gift, or curse, of The Shining - the weight of his ghosts is ever so much heavier.  Will his ability ultimately help him conquer his demons or will he crash even harder than his father?

Come Sept 24 with the release of Dr. Sleep, answers should be forthcoming.

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Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet

One feels guilty when you read in a day, a story a writer put a lot of work into. But it is also sign of a great book and Kelly Braffet has pulled off a particularly difficult feat.  She created a very sad world with characters beaten down by events out of their control. Yet Braffert writes the characters in a way that makes you empathize with them.  You may empathize with certain characters over others and that's perfectly fine. There are enough characters in the story that more than a couple of them will probably get their hooks into you.

The subtext of the unquenchable human thirst for the hope of being a better person flitters on the edges of every page. The only caveat is the characters end up where you think they will. The surprise is the price they have pay to get there.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Serial Smorgasbord - Final Serving - Dexter Dessert + A Map

Dexter - Season 8 - Final Act

Season Seven was seen by many as a rebound for everyone's favorite serial killer - I never found Season 6 as bad as the general consensus judged it to be.  The seventh season finale with Deb shooting LaGuerta to protect Dexter's identity was a shocker indeed.

At this writing the show is halfway through the eighth season and the first big bad has been dispatched. Were those first six episodes of a stature one hopes for in a final season?  If you employ the metric that a hero is only as interesting as the villain he faces then those episodes were a bit of a bust.  The Brain Surgeon turned out to be a pale shadow behind the curtain.

On the other hand those episodes offered up great opportunties to explore Dexter and Deb's background with the introduction of Charlotte Rampling's Dr. Evelyn Vogel.  The show has done some retconning here bringing the Vogel character in the show mythology as a psychiatrist who helped Dexter's dad - Harry develop the 'Code' that Dexter has based his kills on.  While it somewhat undermines Harry as a character, because we have been led to believe for seven seasons that he was acting alone, the plausibility of Harry seeking professional help makes sense. Plus the introduction of Vogel has allowed for some interesting exploration into Dexter's and Deb's early years.

It intrigues that Deb has had the more interesting arcs the last two seasons. Her discovery of Dexter's Dark Passenger and then her decision to kill for him have led to some intense scenes between them.  Jennifer Carpenter has been given some meaty material to play with and she has definitely made the most of it.

Especially in Season Seven.

Charlotte Rampling has such interesting eyes - they give her the air of being in two different places at the same time.  This works especially well for Vogel because it invokes an air of uncertainty about her motives. Are her motivations proper and humane?  Is she really trying to help these sociopaths?  Or are these people irrelevant to her and nothing but guinea pigs that allow her to explore the darker side of the human psyche?

Now it appears that Vogel wants to continue the experiment by having Dexter become the mentor to a new serial killer.  Intriguing.

Hannah has returned and that looks like it will be the last major arc of the final season.  Not sure if that is the way I want the series to play out but with Hannah married and Dexter tutoring his heir apparent, Zack Hamilton, hopefully the last six episodes will bring all things to an unexpected conclusion.

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And that is enough serial killer postings for awhile.

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Time for something lighter!

The Map Of Time by Félix J. Palma - inspired by my Cemetery Dance Grab Bag in which was the second book in a series - The Map Of The Sky. Since the local library had the first book in the series, I decided to read that one first.

The concept is intriguing - late 19th England and a story that mixes historical fact with fiction.  In this book H.G. Wells plays the role of connective thread with three stories that are tied up with time travel.  Historical figures come in and out of the story - John Merrick aka The Elephant Man, James Joyce, Bram Stroker to name a few.  Also tied into this is a version of Jack The Ripper who is caught after just murdering his fifth victim.

The bulk of the book deals with alternate timelines that turn out to be false except for the one dealing with Jack the Ripper.  H.G. Wells turns out to be much more than just a writer about time travel but actually its father.

This is an interesting book on several levels beyond the ones just mentioned. Written in his native tongue of Spanish, I am very curious how much of the English translation brought the Old England tone to the prose.  The books also breaks several writing conventions including POV switches - sometimes several times in the same chapter - and on occasion invokes an omniscent third person viewpoint that knows and sees all -but is never identified. Perhaps that revelation lies in the sequels. It reminds me when Stephen King used the same conceit late in final volume of the Dark Tower.

I enjoyed it for all these elements - and despite some of them - and look forward to reading The Map Of The Sky which deals with The War Of The Worlds really happening and Edgar Allan Poe on an Antartic Expedition.

A very fun, genre bending book.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - Part 3

Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon

The third book in McCammon's Matthew Corbett series is the most gruesome to date.

The book synopsis:

The world of Colonial America comes vibrantly to life in this masterful new historical thriller by Robert McCammon. The latest entry in the popular Matthew Corbett series, which began with Speaks the Nightbird and continued in The Queen of Bedlam,Mister Slaughter opens in the emerging metropolis of New York City in 1702, and proceeds to take both Matthew and the reader on an unforgettable journey of horror, violence, and personal discovery.

The journey begins when Matthew, now an apprentice "problem solver" for the London-based Herrald Agency, accepts an unusual and hazardous commission. Together with his colleague, Hudson Greathouse, he agrees to escort the notorious mass murderer Tyranthus Slaughter from an asylum outside Philadelphia to the docks of New York. Along the way, Slaughter makes his captors a surprising—and extremely tempting—offer. Their response to this offer will alter the course of the novel, setting in motion a series of astonishing, ultimately catastrophic events.

Mister Slaughter is at once a classic portrait of an archetypal serial killer and an exquisitely detailed account of a fledgling nation still in the process of inventing itself. Suspenseful, illuminating, never less than compulsively readable, it is, by any measure, an extraordinary achievement, the largest accomplishment to date from one of our most gifted—and necessary—writers.

This book really crackles and dear Lord the price Corbett has to pay for a decision really made by his partner Greathouse but to which Corbett agrees to.  Damnably so for Corbett since he has found money which could be used for the altruistic purpose Greathouse, mostly, intends to use with the lure of what Slaughter is offering.

This book leads Corbett through a trail of innocent victims whose deaths are on his hands.  McCammon also deftly ties in the over arcing storyline of Professor Fell.  This book leaves Corbett a changed man for life and not in the best of ways.  It will be a long journey for him to find his way back out of the darkness.  A journey that Corbett will likely not be able to make on his own.  And that is a parallel internal journey to the ones that Corbett will face in each book.  The answer to the internal journey is within these books but based on where things stand in the series, it will be a long time before Corbett finds it.

Slaughter is a vile creature and a worthy adversary for Corbett.

For my money, this is the best book in the series.

You may never look at sausages the same way again.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - Part 2

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - Part 2


Desparate for some ratings traction NBC took a gamble with Hannibal and let TV show runner vet Bryan Fuller bring this grisly series to broadcast TV with the hope that the cachet that Silence of the Lambs - Hannibal the Cannibal Lectern has would bring some much needed eyes to the network.  And for the most part that gamble paid off.

Hannibal the TV series is a prequel to the events that take place prior to those from ManHunter and Silence of the Lambs.  The show has a great cast but no doubt the lion's share of the credit belongs with Bryan Fuller.  Fuller was a self professed Star Trek freak who won his way onto the show when there was an open call for scripts.  From there Fuller has worked his way up to producer gigs on such shows as Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Heroes, a Munsters remake of the 60s TV series and rejected pilot - Mockingbird Lane.  Throughout his various gigs, Fuller has shown himself a consummate story teller and all those skills come to play with Hannibal.

Hannibal stars Hugh fancy as a mentally tortured profiler, Will Graham brought in by the FBI's Jack Crawford played by Laurence Fishburne, and in the titular role, Mads Mikkelsen.  There are other characters but their function is restricted to plot holders. Slightly more nuanced is psychiatrist Dr. Alana Bloom played by Caroline Dhavernas who is romantically attracted to Will.

The lead 3 characters are all great with Mikkelsen having the juiciest role.  The show's motif of naming each episode after a culinary serving tied into dinner scenes of Hannibal serving his guests meals of questionable origin never became tired.  They never failed to make me uneasy.

One of the pitfalls the show avoided that I expected was the episodes to be driven by stand alone murder investigations tied to an over arcing season long serialized thread. Instead the story was driven the other way around.  Each episode was part of the gestalt of the season long story behind which stood Hannibal manipulating everyone especially Will.

Given Will's tenuous hold on his mental state I pondered how the series would be able to go beyond this season with Will often seen in a state of not only mental but physical distress: disheveled and sweat soaked.  The toil on his character was not sustainable in the long term. There seemed to be no plausible story line with any longevity.

But Bryan Fuller brings the close of the first season to the only possible end point that allows for a second season.  A second season that I am very excited to see where the show goes next.  Will Graham is locked away and viewed as insane by the world but Will knows that Lectern was behind it all.  It's a stunning reversal of all the previous incarnations of the two characters.

Brilliant Bryan Fuller!  Brilliant.

In Part 3 we avoid the clutches of Mr. Slaughter.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Serial Killer Smorgasbord - 1st Course

Over the past few weeks my wife and I have been watching a couple of series that dealt with serial killers. (It's one of those strange confluence of separate events that happen around the same time.)   In this first visit to the Serial Killer Buffet Table I'll recount how are palettes responded to the presentation of two TV series.

One of the TV series represents the new model in TV viewing paradigm - instant access to all the episodes via Netflix to view at the viewer's leisure.  That was the case for The Fall which was a short 5 episodes and to my mind qualifies to be defined as the old style miniseries.  The other series, Hannibal, was presented in the tried and true manner - broadcast on a weekly basis on a major television network, NBC.  With only 13 episodes Hannibal, instead of the normal 22 episode run, felt more like a cable TV show on two counts: the shorter season run and the graphic nature of the show.

Two new TV series with different viewing experiences. Which one worked better?  Today our first course is one where we look at:


The Fall - a BBC Ireland production starrring Gillian Anderson & Jamie Dornan

Release in several distribution methods - TV in the UK, Netflix in North America this was an interesting series on several fronts.  First up is Gillian Anderson - who did double duty this year appearing in Hannibal too - as a hard nosed, no nonsense Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson from the MET who is brought to Belfast to investigate the details of a murder case.

This is the first big role that Anderson has headlined since the X-Files and time has been very kind to her in the time span between the end of the TV series and movies.  She owns the role of the outsider as Stella Gibson - a pretty generic name - who knows what she wants professionally and personally.

The series is more or less split between her and Jamie Dornan - who plays Paul Spector, the serial killer Gibson is pursuing. Over the first season, Dorman has the juicier role as we see his dual life as a married man with 2 children.  His wife suspects something is up and Spector who seems cool and collected at the start of the series quickly unravels as his compulsion causes him to become more and more reckless.

The pacing of the 5 episodes quickly caused my wife and I to perk up because it quickly became apparent the show was not going to resolve the duel between the two main characters unless the writers pulled a fast one. Thankfully they did not.

Close but no cigar is how the season can be summed up.  Gibson is thwarted but not down and the already announced second season will continue the chase in a new locale.  We both look forward to it.


Next, Hannibal tantalizes our taste buds.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Of The Macabre, Musicals, Magic, and Maslany

9 to 5 - Live Theater 

For my wife's birthday we went out for a dinner theater at the Mayfield Theater in Edmonton to a stage version of the 1980 film that starred Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, Lily Tomlin, and Dabney Coleman.  The movie examined the office politics and sexual discrimination that took place in the 1980s and in some ways seems dated though sadly not enough.  Now the movie is best remembered for the Dolly Parton songs that came out of it.

We had seen the Buddy Holly story the previous year and really enjoyed that performance.  9 to 5 was fun but the songs just did not grab us as much.  Still the food at the dinner buffet was good and the play did entertain.


Orphan Black - starring Tatiana Maslany

This 10 episode series came out of the blue and blew a lot of people away: critics and viewers alike.  Canadian actress Tatiana Maslany carries the premise of human cloning on her slight shoulders with great aplomb.  Her ability to create distinctly different personas for each of the clones - aided with wardrobe and accent changes and the advancement in technology that gets away from the old school locked down split screen shots used for doubling up the same actor in one shot - sells the series conceit.

Mix in the main clone's gay brother played with cheeky humor by Dylan Bruce, an over arcing mythology as the clones work together to find out who is behind their creation and why, the constant thread of humor in what could be a very dark and morose series, and the kicker of seeing the various clone iterations interact with one another.

Another kicker with all these clones was getting to know each of them and re-evaluating which version you liked best.  Sarah, the main clone, is the punk rocker version and initially seems the most rebellious, interesting, and engaging.  At the other end of the scale we had the uptight soccer mom - Alison who was off putting.  Yet by the end of the season because of the character arcs the clones have, Alison became my favorite clone and Sarah ended up being the more restrained one used to drive the plot.

A fun series and as an added note of attraction the series is shot in Toronto so seeing familiar landmarks ie Union Station and the tight shots of the Toronto skyline trying to hide the CN Tower bring an extra layer of verisimilitude to it.


Shadows & Tall Trees - Vol 5 - edited by Michael Kelly

I've read every volume of this small press collection that Michael Kelly has put out and this horror  series continues to explore the themes of alienation and loss.  This volume includes stories by Ray Cluley, Gary Fry, Richard Gavin, Claire Massey, Daniel Mills, Lynda E. Tucker, Kin Tidbeck, and D.P. Watt.

There are several great tales here with the standout being Moonstruck by Karin Tedbeck which has a Gaimanesque quality as the moon gets closer and closer to earth. Other tales range from the sublime - Casting Ammonites by Claire Massey to the outright horrific - Laudate Dominium (for many voices) by D.P. Watt.

As Peter Straub is quoted on the cover - 'A beautiful and courageous journal.'  I agree and will continue to follow the journey Michael Kelly is charting with it.


The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman

A wonderfully lyrical book.  Gaiman makes magical seem so.... magical.  To put specific words down to describe the story would dilute it's charm because it would put limitations on the ginormous ideas contained in this slim novel.

Read it. Treasure it. For Gaiman is indeed a Wizard Of Words.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shining Some Light Into The Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness

Two years too late describes how best I feel about this sequel to the highly enjoyable 2009 reboot of the adventures of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock.  Two years earlier and my expectations would not have been as demanding.  Two years ago another exploration of these characters before they started their 5 year mission would have been something agreeable.

But 4 years later, my expectations were higher.  A highly polished script and a brand new adventure to go boldly once again were want I wanted - and I suspect a lot of the fans of the Trek franchise before this reboot started.  Instead we get a perfectly serviceable summer blockbuster that the general movie going public and critics have found enjoyable.

As a summer blockbuster movie I found it enjoyable.  And instantly disposable.

As a long time Trek from when the original series aired I found this a mediocre Trek movie that recycled elements from the original series and the second movie.  The recycling lacks the impact from the original iteration because the events that take place in The Wrath of Khan work so well because of what transpired in the original Space Seed TV episode.  Khan works as a threat in the movie because he and the crew of the Enterprise have a shared history.  In STID, Khan means nothing to these new versions of Kirk and Spock et al.  So their moments together have no way of carrying the same dramatic tension.

I remain hopeful the next movie will finally deliver some new and original ideas.  The cast is fantastic and they really deserve their own adventure.

It's time for them to see what's out there.


 Black Hills aka Paha Sapa by Dan Simmons

This book totally caught me off guard and blew me away. Plain & simple. Partially because it does not seem to garner the same attention Simmons's other recent books do.  And partially while I enjoy reading Simmons's books, he favors world building to that of character and I always find his characters somewhat cool and aloof.  Not so with Paha Sapa. What a remarkable character and what a remarkable story Simmons tells about and through him.

I found the integration of his story with the history that was taking place during his life, plus the glimpses into other times, the most compelling of any book Simmons has done to date.

In some aspects, and I mean this in the most complimentary way, this is like Simmons's version of Stephen King's - The Dead Zone. The tragedy that Paha Sapa endured for the majority of his life was heart breaking and I loved how Simmons handled his life after meeting his granddaughter.

The recounting of the construction of Mount Rushmore, the Chicago World Fair of 1893, the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the exploration of George Custer and his wife, plus the glimpses of the world past, present, and future; all so engrossing and fascinating.

Just looking at all the research material and people Simmons conversed with is staggering.

And it all comes together so seamlessly to so poignantly tell the life story of this Sioux, or Lakota or Natural Free Human Being.

This is now my favorite Simmons book.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Family Fueds

Fast & Furious 6

What can one say about this franchise?  It maintains the kinetic car carnage and mixes a team of misfits that form a family to tackle the next set of baddies. Round it out with a likable cast with liberal sprinklings of humor and this has become a franchise built to last.

Too long by 20 minutes, there is a whole section where Paul Walker's character goes off his own to prison to find out some information, that could be excised from the movie with nary a beat mixed.  Vin Diesel growls his way through the movie, and performs one death defying feat that exceeds even the loose limits of physics established within the franchise framework.  The Rock is suitably pumped up but his cop character could be played by anyone.

The franchise is already revved up for a sequel with the ending sequence revealing who the big bad for the next installment is.  And the reveal is a biggie.  Fellow action star Jason Statham will lock horns with Diesel in FF7.


Ghost Brothers of Darkland County - Stephen King, John Cougar, & T. Bone Burnett

My hardcover edition has been in the house for awhile and after several listens of the 17 tracks there is a lot to like in this album.  I rate at least 10 of the tracks very listenable and actually they stand on their own with no knowledge of the play needed to enjoy them.

Overall I'm happy with this edition - gorgeous sleeve to hold the book, which is a soft, dark brown pebble that looks like a photo album.  Wish it was hard cover too though.

The major knock I have is there is no full version of the play on either the DVD or the CDs.  Disappointing.  The minor knock I have is the discs are stored in cut out pockets on the inside of the back cover.  Would have much preferred jewel cases. A matter of preference.  

The book is much larger than I expected, it's 11 x 11 inches - thought it would be more disc sized - which is great because it makes reading the Libretto so much easier with the larger text.  Reminds me of a LP album.

All in all a very nice package with 2 fumbles.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Magical Carnies

My, my how time flies.  It has been over 3 weeks since my last update!  Wow.  Been doing a lot of things, saw a couple of movies, read a few books, and have been writing!!  WooT! Finally got an idea that excited me and looks like it has some legs that will allow me to write a short story first with an eye towards a novel(s) later on.

So, I'll make up for the lack of posts by stringing together a series of them over the next few days which will allow me to go into more detail about the various items I want to post about.


Now You See Me

This was an unexpected gift.

A combo heist/revenge/magic illusion movie with a great cast: Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, and Isla Fisher.

My wife and I saw this free as part of one of the Cineplex Scene promotions and turned out to be an excellent surprise.  We both love magic and the premise of the movie is based on it.  Of course with the cinematic trickery available today the line between it and sleight of hand is even more blurred. So a bit of buy in is needed to accept that certain tricks would not be possible in a live show. With that in mind this is a fun story that explores the concept that real magic does exist.  Something that most of the characters in the film are searching for, especially the magicians.  Which is great since they know the tricks behind the supposed magic they are practitioners of.

This is a fun romp with the actors obviously having a lot of fun with their roles and each other.  The story is well written with many twists and turns and moments of triumph, comeuppance, and for certain characters - unexpected payoffs.  

The pleasant surprise of the movie was Mark Ruffalo, an actor that's been around for awhile and made a big splash as Bruce Banner/Hulk in Avengers.  In Avengers, Ruffalo demonstrated his ability to create an empathetic character with limited screen time.  He pulls off that same trick in this flick but with a much more complicated arc; starting with a character that cliche strictures dictate will be the antagonist.  His character of FBI agent Dylan Rhodes is the cop in pursuit of the Four Horseman - the illusionists who are using their shows to pull off big scale heists.

The first heist, in which a man is seemingly transported from the US to the inside of a Paris bank vault from where the money makes the reverse journey to be dispersed to the crowd is the coolest one.  Especially when Magician Buster Morgan Freeman shows Rhodes how it was done.

A movie we probably never would have seen if not for the promo that allowed us to see it for free.  A very pleasant surprise.



My favorite writer, Stephen King, delivers the goods again.  A breezy 283 pages, especially for a King novel, this Hard Case Crimes paperback edition starts and ends far too quickly.

King and Carnies are something that go together naturally and it is a bit surprising he has not used such settings more often.  In Joyland the story takes place in 1973 at the titular amusement park which went out of business just a few years later; a victim of the Disney Worlds and other corporate theme parks that spelled the end for most independently owned amusement parks.

This is a story of a 63 year old Devin Jones, King's age when he wrote the book,  looking back on a summer job at the North Carolina amusement park.  At the same time Jones is grappling with the realization that his first real relationship is breaking down and rejection is coming his way.  Throw in an unsolved murder that happened at Joyland and a mysterious woman with a wheel bound young son and all the ingredients for a King novel are there.

This novel marks the perspective that only an older man can have and the tale King weaves around Jones and the people he meets at the park is another example of his ability to create characters you come to care about.  There are some slight supernatural elements to the story.  In a way, I wish King had written the story without it because it comes across as a story telling convenience.  

That minor quibble aside, the story is so engrossing because the writing so transparent as it is crafted to service the story and not call attention to the writer's talent.  It is all over before you know it.  I read the book in two days and it felt like I had read a short story instead of an almost 300 page novel.

Joyland is a captivating story from the bittersweet perspective of a character, and writer, who has the life experiences to put things in their proper context.  

Now the wait for Dr. Sleep - King's - The Shining sequel - begins.  Since the accident back in 1999, the amount of work King has produced is incredible.  And at age 65 now, King does not appear to be slowing down.  If anything, he seems to be gathering momentum.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

N0S4A2 - King Dynasty Is Established

Blue November by Brian James Freeman

This was a quick read - a novella length story about a shared dark secret between 5 men who are High School Football Buddies known as the Lightning Five.

This bears much similarity to King's DreamCatcher. I would have preferred a longer book length version of the story to flesh out the characters and their back story more.  Great illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne.


Iron Man 3

Is Iron Man3 better than Iron Man2? Yes but that's not saying much. And not by much.

Both possess half baked and overstuffed plots and the drive to turn the Iron Man suits into a toyline continues unabated.  Really dislike the change on the fly suit stuff too.  Didn't buy the PTSD storyline either.

Movie's strong point is how much Downey is in the flick.  And the interaction between Pepper and Stark. Mandarin turned out to be a Bane-Bust and apparently the driving motivation to become a ubervillain requires nothing more traumatic than to be left out on a cold rooftop.

At the end Tony Stark declares he is Ironman.  Too bad that declaration came at the end of a movie that just demonstrated that any videogamer with decent skills would make a better one.


N0S4A2 by Joe Hill

I loved this book!

This one does what the best books do - connects with the reader emotionally.  N0S4A2 creates an inscape reading reality inhabited by characters that you care about more and more as the story goes along.  Joe Hill continues to create quirky, flawed characters that makes me feel positive and negative thoughts.  By the time the story ends, my negative thoughts are forgotten.  The Brat is one of the most interesting and flawed characters I have run across in a long time.

While Manx is the story's titular antagonist, it is his sidekick - Bing Patridge - who is the most revolting and terrifying.  For he is a simple fellow that has managed to built his own complex inscape that allows him to carry out atrocities all the while believing he is doing good works. Scary.

This is my favorite type of story - bittersweet triumph tinged with sadness, gratefulness, and hope.

These are great days indeed when there are books to be read from not just Stephen King but his sons - Owen and Joe - too.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Endings - Or New Beginnings?

This past week I have run across a trio of items that in one way or another deal with the ending of something.  Be it a book series, stories about the end of a life and/or lives, and the conclusion of season long story lines.

Even though all deal with endings they all also contain either the hint of new beginnings or in the case of Arrow - definite new beginnings.


The Dark Tower Companion

Besides a personally guided tour by Stephen King himself, no one could do more a more insightful overview of The Dark Tower saga, and by extension the body of King's works, than Bev Vincent.

Long acknowledged a master of King lore, Bev uses that acumen to succinctly tie everything together. Not only does the book include a handy reference guide to the major characters, places, themes and tie-ins, but in typical Vincent fashion, Bev raises interesting possibilities beyond the material itself.  Some are conjecture. Others of an insight that only comes to those mastered in their subject.

I'll leave exactly what those possibilities are for yourself to discover in the book.

Bev Vincent demonstrates his King acumen with this book.

I'm doing a podcast interview with Bev about the book today and it should be up in couple of weeks.  Keep an ear out for that!  I'll post a link here when it goes live.


Pork Pie Hat
Peter Straub is a gifted writer who knows not only what to put into a story but what to leave out for the reader to ponder over.  This is another example of that unique talent in a novella length ghost story.

What starts out as a story about a man's curiosity about a jazz saxophone player turns into a ghost story which became the catalyst for the sax player's career.

Adroitly done.



Now that's how do you do a season finale!

Whew!  So many great moments for each character.  Quite a feat.

I am loathe to give away story/character specific spoilers but suffice it to say the show does not drag out arcs but continually reconfigures them or finishes them off so that new ones can be introduced.  Nothing gets stales on this show.

The capper is the main threat may have been thwarted but the backup one was not and the town still ended suffering a major blow.

Well done Arrow show runners, cast, and crew.  Well done.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Red & Blue Planet Changes

Blue Planet Gets Red Hot

As expected, given the lateness of winter, we skipped spring and went right into summer.  The temperatures literally went from 28F one Sunday to 28C by the next one.  Snow didn't just melt - it all vanished. Like ninjas into the night.

Now the good times can start rolling with daylight sticking around past 09:30 pm already and humidity-free.


Red Planet Blues

Incorporating the first 10 chapters of Robert Sawyer's Identity Theft into this book, the story continues in this book answering all the dangling threads.

This is a fun SF/mystery/noire mash up that pays hommage to stories like The Maltese Falcon. The ability to transfer bodies to artificially constructed bodies keeps you guessing until the end who is whom. And who will live or die.

This is a change of pace from Sawyer's previous novels as it does not contain any big idea concepts and is focused mainly on human motivations.  It sounds like Rob's next book returns to the big idea concept and a very fascinating one at that.  I eagerly anticipate that one but until then this is an excellent change of pace.

Will we ever get to see Alex Lomax again?  I wonder as his story does not seem finished...


NBCs Hannibal continues to impress.  The show has avoided being a serial killer of the week show and is deeply exploring the psyches of not just Will Graham but Jack Crawford too.  The exploration of Lecter is at a much slower and more subtle pace.  The glimpses into his mind are only seen through whatever killings that take place in an episode.

This week's installment entitled 'Entrée' - each episode is named after some item of French cuisine - made many callbacks to the Silence of The Lambs and served up a Clarice Starling-like FBI trainee - Miriam Lass played by Anna Chlumsky - that Crawford employs to help in the search the Chesapeake Ripper.

There is an inmate at the Baltimore State Hospital ensconced in a cell down a hall very much like the one from SOTL. The Ripper has been silent for two years and Lass has been missing that long.  The inmate is another doctor - Dr. Abel Gideon played by Eddie Izzard - who has just killed a nurse in the same ritual as the Ripper.  

Graham and Crawford are not convinced that Gideon is the Ripper and we learn through flashbacks that Lass inadvertently discovered who the Ripper was when she visited the recently retired surgeon - Hannibal Lecter.  Her discovery and the sight of a sock footed Lecter - he had just removed his shoes to sneak up behind her - happens with a shocky swiftness.  Well done.

And the scenes with Hannibal serving guests meals - has yet to get old.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

No Bones To Pick With Hannibal

There are many things our family loves about living out in Western Canada - the open spaces, the mountains etc but the weather can be a bit trying at times.  The last week of April saw spring like conditions finally arise only to have it all undone by snow the last two days.  It is very deflating to wake up to see snow falling at this time of the year.


Hannibal  - really enjoying this atmospheric and intelligent take on Thomas Harris's characters.  Especially the show's serialization of story - not killers! - carrying the impact of Graham's shooting of serial killer Hobbes in the third episode.  The show has done a great job of avoiding the case of the week syndrome that the CSI clones do.

The sub-textual handling of Bella Crawford's - so nice to see Gina Torres again -  cancer and Graham's  realization of it during the questioning of a suspect was wonderfully played. Both actors gave very controlled but amazingly poignant portrayals.  Highlight of the episode.

And a wonderful example that what is NOT being said or is only being intimated, can be just as powerful, even not more so, that what is being shown or told.


Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka  - literally a real page turner.  I knocked off over a 100 pages in my first sitting.  This is a Michael Crichtonesque style thriller.  The prose is lean and clean - complex emotional beats and ideas reduced to tight single lines of writing.  It all revolves around a unique find of ancient human bones and the book is filled with much scientific jargon around genetics but never becomes dull or boring.  The book dwells in the same conspiracy theater that books such as The DaVinci Code do.

The interesting thing about the author is that he works as a writer for the videogame company Valve - maker of the classic Half Life series and Portal games.  He writes the same brisk pace and economy of words employed with video games.  Not my normal cup of tea but I enjoyed.

The major caveat with the book - as with most books of this type or TV shows - Hello Lost & X-Files - the buildup surpasses the payoff.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wool & Double Nickels

Finished Hugh Howey's - Wool.  Howey is one of those "overnight success stories" self-published writers on the wave of a new publishing path paradigm.

A good book.  A very good book.  No signs of this being a self-published book in terms of edit checks and proof reading.  The book hangs together very well with only a slight sag in the last quarter where the pacing is a bit off.  Things drag a little in that section and then rush few some big moments in the last couple of chapters.

Howey has built up a very interesting concept in a dystopian future and peopled it with engaging characters most notably the protagonist - Juliette or Jules. And she is a jewel..  There are many touching moments. All of it takes place in the small 140 level world of the Silo. Where society classes are built based on level location and function.

I look forward to further tales in the world of Wool.



Wow.  Time flies.

Freedom 55 as the London Life marketing calls it.  

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Slow Spring

Spring continues to snooze.  Third week of April and finally the snow has begun to recede.  Most of it was lost due to overnight/early morning rain late in the week.

Now the outdoors look like a great sandstorm has blown through.  Gritty streets and sidewalks bear witness to the amount of sand that is used during the winter months.  Soon the street and sidewalk cleaners will be out gathering it all up for reuse next year.


Not much new on the TV front. Still processing the conclusion of Spartacus.  It's been a while that a show has engaged that emotionally and just been pure entertaining from start to finish.  What a great cast of memorable characters.

Been watching the latest superhero show - Arrow - in big gulps.  The show moves quickly and is not afraid to shake things up.  The cast is uniformly good.

I don't feel the show has adequately explained Oliver Queen's modus operandi with him dispatching the bad guys with arrows.  If the focus was kept squarely on the names in his book hit list - after giving the victim of the week a chance first to turn themselves in - it would be more palatable.

The problem is the bulk of his dispatching occurs with the hired hands.  Yeah they are bad guys but Queen never gives these red shirts the same consideration that he gives to the named offenders.  A bit of a conundrum the show just skates around.

The real delight has been in the guest casting the show has pulled off.  Actors such as Seth Gabel from Fringe, Manu Bennett as Craxus from Spartacus, James Callis and Rekha Sharma from Battlestar Galactica, and Ben Browder from Farscape.  None of them get a real chance to develop their characters as its usually a one and done deal. The exception has been Manu who has had a recurring role playing an Australian Secret Service Agent - Slade Wilson in flashbacks from Queen's time on the island where he was shipwrecked for 5 years.


Been reading self published author Hugh Howey's Wool which hit a chord with readers where it was available as an e-book in the Amazon store.  From there it has been picked up by a traditional publisher and sold in paperback.  Howey is on the vanguard of a new publishing path that is now possible with the continuing rise of eBooks which bypass traditional methods.

It's still takes a lot of luck to get a book published and noticed that way and you have to have the skills to back it all up.  So far from the reading I have done of Wool,  Howey has proven himself to be able to let his work speak for himself.  The book is well written, technically and artistically.  It's a page turner peopled with engaging characters all taking part in a bigger story that has interesting twists.  Some characters, especially the bad guys, are a little two dimensional but there have been traditionally published books with far worse examples.

Wool is an enjoyable and entertaining read which I highly recommend if you like dystopian/mystery/thriller types of stories.


Went to my second meeting of the Edmonton Writer's Group and have been enjoying myself.  It is very interesting to listen to other people's feedback from the same story.  Opinions vary widely and I am constantly amazed at the differing reactions to story points that I either had no problem with or even considered.

It's also evident that there is a great support structure here as the group keeps each other apprised of upcoming writer/book events.  It is also been helpful from a motivational perspective too.  Glad I checked it and I will continue to attend.  One more meeting and I will be considered a full time member.

Does that mean I earn my first letter?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Double Feature Victory

My, my.  Where does the time fly?

It's been over a week since my last blog entry and the time gap is due to how busy I have been keeping.  Finished reading Owen King's wonderful novel - Double Feature, saw the last two episodes of Spartacus - wonderful end to an emotionally engaging series, and have been nursing a sore back back to health.  The back injury was perplexing - was out walking the dog, felt something shift in my spine which caused the muscles in my lower back to seize up and then leave me with intermittent spasms over the rest of the week.  Each day the muscles relaxed more.  It has taken over a week for the spasms to cease.

It's looking like Mother Nature didn't make the mailing list for this year's calendar. Mid-April  and we are still getting snow. Not just here but all over the country. Climate change is a much more apropos term than the more popular global warming tag bandied about these days.  Anyhow, time for a bit deeper dive into...


Double Feature is a true delight! Congrats to Owen King. I am left with the conclusion that he is a man wiser than his years.

DF is a book filled with great characters, great life insights. It covers the spectrum of emotions and several set pieces that made me laugh outright at several passages.  There are some great ruminations on the nature of life as well.

What more can one ask for in a book?

Did anyone figure out who Bea's boyfriend is?  I inclined to think it's - GASP! - Tom.


To die a free man is a noble thing.

Spartacus: War Of The Damned - Series Finale - Victory

To all involved with Spartacus I only have one word - GRATITUDE! 

A tip of the hat to the creative team behind this series - Steven DeKnight ignored the naysayers and took this bloody, bawdy, no holds barred approach to the series - including same sex partnerships; all done in an operatic style that conveyed the immediacy of those times in contrast to the largely sheltered life most of us live today to dramatize the cost and pursuit of freedom.  This was done on the macro scale thematically throughout the series and in parallel the character arcs of the major players mirrored that struggle.  Spartacus, whose real name is lost, the Roman name given to a Thracian slave became more than a name.  The name became legend and a symbol for freedom.   At the start of the rebellion Spartacus driven by revenge for the death of his wife at Roman whim. At the end he had grown beyond his own concerns and forfeited his life so that the woman, children, and the less fortunate unable to protect themselves could find freedom.  In this way he honored his wife's memory.

Contrast that with Gannicus, a fellow gladiator who had won his freedom as a slave and had reluctantly joined the rebellion out of guilt at having slept with his comrade's - Oenomaus wife.  While he pledged his sword to the cause, he kept a distance too, constantly refusing Spartacus's entreaties to accept a leadership role until the very end when he became touched by the plights of the lessor.  He and Spartacus ended up at the same place but by widely divergent paths.

The finale played with expectations by constantly providing moments of hope where even though the outcome is known in history books.  So when Spartacus finally fell after several close battles with Crassus and Gannicus had the expected return engagement rematch with Caesar; gaining the upper hand only to be thwarted in delivering the killing blow when overcome by other Roman soldiers,  their outcomes were more difficult to take while feeling even more worthy because of those tantalizing moments of possible victory.  Gannicus being crucified and seeing Oenomaus and the cheering crowds of the arena once more were a fitting end for him.  Just as Spartacus lay dying waiting to see his wife once again.  And to hear her speak his real name.

It was a thematically interesting approach for the show to take where the major characters were often defeated by unseen attacks from the back.  Crixus, Spartacus, Tiberius, and much later, and more famously - Julius Caesar.  The irony of Caesar's derivise jibe to Gannicus after he has been hoisted up on the cross - 'Such an ignoble ending.' - is replete with irony.

What a great end to an outstanding series.  A series that was criminally under watched.  The nod to the original Spartacus - Andy Whitfield - at the end was well done too.

I shed a few tears as this one played out.  This series entertained with the best of them.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Red Planet Blues / Green Planet Glory

On Tuesday, April 3rd I went to Audrey's Book Store in downtown Edmonton to see SF Writer - Robert J. Sawyer do a reading from his new book - Red Planet Blues - a mystery noir set on Mars.  I haven't been able to attend on of Rob's readings since we moved out west so it was a real treat to see and hear him again.

We chatted for a few moments - he actually remembered who I was! - and compared notes as to what we had been up to lately.  His reading was excellent.  Quite funny in fact.  Rob joked around that he had learned that the best way to entice readers was to make sure his reading selection included nudity and action.  I thought he was just kibitzing with the audience but Rob was telling the truth. His reading contained both and a lot of humor too.

There was a question period afterwards which was interesting. His nex project is based on, 'The Psychomatic Zombie.'  Sounds like Rob is trying to tap into the serial killer/zombie craze.  Fascinating stuff.

I have his latest book on my To Be Read pile.

RJS entertains with his reading.

So we went west for Easter Weekend and stayed at an inn in Lake Louise.  The trip was gorgeous and the roads were practically deserted.  The first shot below is typical of the both scenery and traffic.

If you scroll back to my previous post you can see what Lake Louise looks like in the summer.  This is what it looks like in the winter.  Truly gorgeous.

We ate very well - too well for me, I felt like the 10 pounds I have lost since the start of the year all came back that weekend.

A splendid time was had by all and we plan to visit Jasper in the summer.


Off to my first writer's group meeting with the Edmonton Writing Group tonight.  They meet twice a month and do group reviews of each other's writing.  Looking forward to hanging out with some other writers and sharing thoughts and feedback.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter Getaway

So having moved out west to Alberta in 2012, one of the allures was being able to head to the hills for quick vacations.  Big hills ie The Rockies.

Last year we made it to Banff and this weekend we are heading to Lake Louise.  Pictures of it look gorgeous such as:

Seeing it in person should be a stunning experience.

Another trip we plan to do this year is to go to Jasper and see the glacier field.


In the near two years we have moved from Ontario to Alberta things have been going very well.  Our son's school marks have improved drastically as has his attitude about school.  We are ecstatic on that front.  On the home front, we are mortgage free and very happy with our living space.  Finally, on the job front since moving out here, my wages have increased by almost a quarter. Very nice. Even better, the work is interesting and my work team is composed of a great bunch of guys to work.  The clients are also an excellent bunch.

It's been win, win, all around.


Things are on the writing front are pretty well stalled.  The mantra is to write everyday but without a mapped out story, I find such advice impractical.  It's not for a lack of ideas but for me the stumbling block is creating interesting characters to dramatize those ideas.  And that process always takes time for me.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Separate Paths

Spartacus S03E08 - Separate Paths:

Wow!  Is this the Tiberius that James T. Kirk was named after? What a despicable little shit he is!

Crassus asking why Caesar was not a horse was priceless.

Brilliant and bloody battle scenes.  In the picture above we see Crixus, who has broken off from Spartacus, exulting his cohorts to defeat the Roman force below before heading to Rome itself.  Which can be seen on the horizon.

Alas it is his last victory for a fatal battle looms right after this one.

8 episodes in.  Only 2 left.  Characters are starting to fall now.  Two(?) of the bigger ones were taken down.  Time runs out for the remainder.


Twenty-First Century King by Bev Vincent:

Many out there review King's works and Bev's voice is one of the most clear and perceptive.  I really enjoyed reading his takes on King's works since 2000 and on.  Bev's insights, at the least, crystallize concepts and themes King tackles; while often providing food for thought and new ways to view King's writing.

I treated this book like candy, reading one review a day and was really sad when I reached the end.

Congrats to Bev on a job well done and another welcome addition to my King library.

PS - WebTV indeed!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Giant Red Shirts

RedShirts by John Scalzi

A fun, quick read.

It niftily skewers the model of TV writing that grew out of shows of the original Star Trek and it's ilk. TV writing often operates under the dictum of, 'Don't need it good, need it Tuesday.'

Definitely a fun read but my biggest laugh was Scalzi's afterword where he boasts that Stargate:Universe, which he worked in, was a better written show than the Star Treks. S:U may have given its Redshirts more meaningful deaths but it had so many other writing problems.

Clever of Scalzi to take an oft discussed TV trope and turn it into a novel.


Ewan McGregor, Ian MacShane, Stanley Tucci, Bill Nighy, and Bryan Singer.  When you write it down, such a list of talent leads you to believe that this will be a project of some import.  But, alas Jack The Giant Slayer is an instantly forgettable 3D effort that retells Jack and The Beanstalk.  It's rather amazing that a well acted and polished effort can lack any sort of emotional spark.  Goes to prove that story telling is an art and not a science.


My short piece came back from my beta reader with great results and only a few minor suggested tweaks.  Sent the story off and thinking about the next story.My short piece came back from my beta reader with great results and only a few minor suggested tweaks.  Sent the story off and thinking about the next one.

To date, I've written a mirco-piece of 200 words and a flash fiction piece of 1000 words. Time to tackle a more traditional length of prose.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Winter Is Still Coming

 Our trip to Lake Louise this weekend got pushed back to the next one.  Last Sunday, after three days of constant snowing our patio view ended up like the first picture below.  During the rest of the week the weather improved and the roads looked fine for our upcoming 5 hour trip.
March 17, 2013

Then yesterday the heavens let loose again and a forecasted dump of 5 cms. ended up a much more substantial 20 cms.  As you can see in the second picture.

March 21, 2013

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, well there are guaranteed more than a couple of thousand here.  Not to mention the few thousand expletives I could add.

Fortunately the hotel we are staying at let us switch our reservations to next weekend.  With the end of March nigh, surely winter has to take and break and/or leave!

Doesn't it?

Stay tuned....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dresden Debts

Finished the 7th book in the Dresden series - Dead Beat.  Seeds laid in the previous book come to the forefront right away in this book.

The mystery of the sigil burned into the palm of Dresden's burned hand is craftily revealed and with it comes the promise of greater power in a time when Harry needs it the most badly.  Halloween Eve is coming and with it the bad guys - this time necromancers - are up to evil on such a scale that war on the Wizard Council is but part of a feint for a more devious plan.

Balanced against all of this and the lure of greater power is the certainty that if Harry goes down that path he will lose himself to fallen angel Lasciel.  She is also known as the Seducer, the Webweaver and the Temptress.

Harry's little dog is not so little anymore and guards his master well.  A new character, Butters - a timid one man polka playing band - is a techie that ends up becoming much more of a fighter than even Harry thought he could be.  

Handled far more slowly and carefully is the relationship between Harry and Murphy.  She takes off with the mercenary Kincaid from the last book; reading between the lines in an attempt to get some form of reaction out of Harry.  Even though she is absent from most of the book, all of Harry's actions are predicated on protecting Murphy.  During the course of the story Harry is forced by his half-brother to confront his feelings about Murphy even though nothing is resolved when the two of them meet at the end of the book.

But I can't wait to see Murphy's reaction when she finds out she was the reason Dresden took all the risks he did in this story.  If she does find out that is.  My money is on her finding out.

Really enjoying the character arc and growth for Harry.  His power has grown substantially from the first book and so too have the choices Harry has to make.  And the price he has to pay.


This Friday we are heading to Lake Louise out in the Rockies for the weekend.  It's a four hour drive from home and I was hoping by the end of March that the worst of winter was behind us.  But it's been the second coming of winter with snow falling on consecutive days and more in the forecast.  

This could be an interesting trip.