Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday Lit Review: Pretty much everything by John Bellairs

Once when I was growing up, my mother bought me a book titled "The Curse of the Blue Figurine" by John Bellairs. Not sure what inspired her to buy it for me, but I think she also bought one of his books for my older brother. Turns out, the books were pretty downright scary (at least for me, whose imagination tends to run a bit wild) for kids. He's written a whole slew of book where children are the heroes, and the villains, well they range from evil sorcerer's to witches to mummies to ghosts to killer robots and even to demons.

The books for the most part feature one of three teenaged heroes: Johnny Dixon (hero of the Curse of the Blue Figurine and many others), Anthony Monday (first appearing in The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn), and Lewis Barnavelt (who first appeared in the first of Bellairs' young adult books, "The House with the Clock in its Walls"). Each of the respective heroes has their share of adult mentors and child peers who play roles that grow and diminish from book to book.

The subject matter of the books often includes references to the occult and to religious imagery. There are usually supernatural powers at play and some pretty scary stuff tends to happen (in my opinion).

Sadly, I learned while researching for this entry that John Bellairs passed away in 1991, but another author, Brad Strickland, was hired to complete two unfinished manuscripts and to write novels based on some brief descriptions Bellairs left behind. Since completing those Strickland has been authorized to write books with the same characters and has continued to do so with the latest book being published this year. I haven't read any of the Strickland penned books, and on the surface, I hate the idea of someone writing books about characters they didn't invent. Feels too much like fan fiction. But as I haven't read any of them, I hesitate to decry them at this juncture.

A few of the books that stand out most to me from the collection are:

bellairs curse blue figurine
The Curse of the Blue Figurine

bellairs house clock walls
The House with the Clock in its Walls

bellairs treasure alpheus winterborn
The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn

bellairs revenge wizards ghost
The Revenge of the Wizard's Ghost

bellairs eyes killer robot
The Eyes of the Killer Robot

That said, I think I enjoyed pretty much all of Bellairs' works and highly recommend them for young adults and adults who don't mind reading a book written for young adults (Harry Potter, anyone?).

Good References:
Wikipedia: John Bellairs

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

But my lips hurt real bad!

Napoleon Dynamite

I feel like lately I've let this blog kind of scrape by with my Friday features to help remind me to write a bit, and I've been trying to figure out what topic I could possibly find that would give me a forum to speak my mind. Well I finally found one: chapstick addiction. Now, I realize I am far from the first to address this issue (Lip Balm Anonymous seems to be the main hub for this topic.) But I feel like I need to add my voice to the others crying out "Put the chapstick down and slowly back away." Too many people I know (girls especially) are obsessed with their chapstick/lip balm/carmex/lip gloss/etc and are in constant need of re-application. If the anti-sun/skin cancer people could get people to reapply this obsessively they could stop cranking out weird commercials where the sun is chasing people. These lip products come in many shapes and sizes. Sticks, tubes, squeeze bottles, that thing that looks like a giant Q-tip. But they all share one common characteristic -- they all create dependencies in their users.

Now I'll admit up front that I am not a user of the products mentioned above and perhaps that would make me unqualified to give my opinion on the subject, but I don't smoke and am firmly in the anti-smoking camp, both for my own benefits as for those of the smoker. In this case, I think both of those topics apply. I personally am tired of seeing people bemoan, in Napoleon Dynamite-like fashion, the fact that they've forgotten their chapstick and does someone please have some they can borrow? People who won't share a soda can, have no problem sharing chapstick with another person. Not that I have some, but I get tired of the questions. And seriously, can you really need chapstick that bad? Some people even have those sleeve things that they hook on to their keys (don't get me started on the ginormous keychain conglomeration that some people carry) that carry their chapstick for them everywhere. I can conceive of people's lips getting chapped in the wintertime, but year-round, all-day, non-stop chappiness? I'm having a hard time buying that. Even people who are too obese to leave the house don't need to eat all day long. I never thought they would become our example of moderation.

I've heard (as yet unsubstantiated) rumors that some lip balm makers put shredded glass in their products that actually make your lips chapped, making users want to keep on using the product. Whether this is true or not, something's going on that makes people unable to function without their chapstick, and it needs to stop. Heaven forbid your lips not actually be greased up like the proverbial pig for a few moments. And if you really can't survive without the taste of cherry on your lips 24-7, you might just consider seeking professional help.

Are there any addicts out there who can offer me some kind of explanation for this obsession?

Friday, July 21, 2006

Friday Lit Review: The Dark is Rising Sequence

The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper

Over Sea, Under Stone

The Dark is Rising


The Grey King

Silver on the Tree

The Dark is Rising Sequence is another 5 book series that like the Prydain Chronicles draws on English and Welsh mythology for some of its setting. This series describes the culmination of a ages-old struggle between good (The Light) and evil (The Dark). The Light must seek out and acquire 4 separate artifacts (The Things of Power) in order to defeat the Dark. The main characters in the series are mainly children (some teenagers) who under the guidance of Merriman Lyon (Merlin perhaps?) who helps them to acquire the Things of Power and prepare for the final showdown.

I read The Dark is Rising first, and strangely, though it is the namesake of the series, it is not the first book, although the first two books could probably survive being read in any order, as they occur fairly separately, with the heroes of each coming together in the third book.

I like the classic formula of seeking out some mystical objects and preparing for a final showdown. Feels kind of like the plot for the upcoming Harry Potter #7, no? Find the objects (the Horcruxes) in preparation for a showdown with evil. Its a time-tested formula. The Dark is Rising (the book, not the series) actually has a mini object-gathering quest plot in and of itself, as one of the Things of Power is a set of 6 signs that each must be sought out by Will Stanton and joined together.

Just thinking about these books makes me want to re-read them, and luckily my parents gave me the whole set for Christmas one year, so I think they must be on a shelf somewhere at home.

Also similar to the Prydain Chronicles, one of the books, The Dark is Rising was a Newberry Honor book, and a later one, The Grey King, won the Newberry Medal.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Friday Lit Review: The Chronicles of Prydain

The Chronicles of Prydain is a 5 book series by Lloyd Alexander that few people probably know by name, but many more will recognize the 2nd book in the series, The Black Cauldron.

The books in the series are:

The Book of Three
The Book of Three

The Black Cauldron
The Black Cauldron

The Castle of Llyr
The Castle of Llyr

Taran Wanderer
Taran Wanderer

The High King
The High King

The main character in each of these books is Taran, Assistant Pig Keeper whose main task in live is taking care of a prophetic pig named Hen Wen. At least until one day the pig runs away and he sets off in search of her. So begins the tale of Taran who while young finds himself thrust into a battle between good and evil against the evil Arawn, possessor of the Black Cauldron that can create armies of the Undead.

Taran collects a crew of companions throughout his journey: Eilonwy, a girl with a few magical skills who tends to be the typical easily offended woman for the most part. Fflewddur Fflam, a bard with a harp whose strings break when he overexaggerates things, which is fairly common, and Gurgi, a hairy creature from the forest who is always eager to help out.

Taran's adventures provide a nice arc that include his growing up and seeking for the parents he never knew, along with the constant battle against the dark lord Arawn, all the while coming to know many of the magical and mystical peoples of Prydain. The High King, the culmination of the series won the 1969 Newberry Medal (given for the most outstanding book for children each year), and is a wonderful read, enhanced of course if you've taken the time to enjoy the first 4 books in the series. As you'll find is common with me, I was very sad to see this series come to an end.

The Book of Three and the Black Cauldron served as the basis for an animated Disney film titled the Black Cauldron.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

From the Draftbin: Dreams that seem real

In the draft section of my blogs I have a few topics that got started but never finished, or just titles for blogs that haven't happened yet. Among these, I had this title, "Dreams that seem real" and decided to tell you about it.

Do you ever have a dream that seems so real that you wake up and know it was a dream, but are uncertain if the things you were dreaming about were actually something that happened, but as a result you want to verify what the real truth is? This happens to me a few times a year, but the most memorable time in recent years was about a year and a half ago. It was early January and I had just returned from a New Year's trip to the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. I was in the middle of my first year of graduate school, but the new semester of school had not yet.

I dreamed that I had signed up for a semester-long internship doing informatics research in Brazil, and for some reason I really, really did not want to go. I don't remember the exact reason I didn't want to go, maybe something about not having a good project idea? I don't know. The point is, I was desperate to get out of going, and I was talking to my mom (the thing about dreams is that people seem to show up pretty randomly) about not going, and she was adamant that I go, because "you bought non-refundable plane tickets, so you have to go." And I was trying to get her to let me not go and just eat the cost of the tickets.

Now, I know that not all of the dream seemed real. For example, as we were boarding the plane, one of those planes that lands on water, there was a tiger in the water that was trying to eat me. I know that that never happened to me, and I know that the conversation I had with my mom wasn't real, but when I woke up I was feeling really stressed out that maybe I had signed up for a semester in Brazil and had completely forgotten about it. This dream is also a classic example of the kinds of dreams I have. Pretty much they are normal, everyday situations but with some kind of element of stress added in for fun. I don't dream of scary monsters or abstract symbols of my inner-psyche (as far as I know). Rather I dream that I've made some kind of social faux pas or have made a fool of myself, or somehow have been irresponsible regarding something under my stewardship.

Does that ever happen to you?

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Friday Literature Review

As promised, today marks the beginning of a new Friday feature. I'm not sure that anyone actually cares about this or not, although if anyone is out there, you probably prefer that I write something as opposed to writing nothing, and if nothing else, having a weely feature helps me remember to keep writing.

The new feature will be a Friday Literature Review (FLitR?), and my original thought is to focus mainly on series of books that I've enjoyed over the years. I should mention that growing up I had a pretty voracious appetite for fiction and would plow through most books in a matter of days. Now that I'm older I can still find this happy place, but time constraints and a more developed set of social skills tend to limit my reading time. Also, its been harder for me to find books that I like as much these days, so feel free to recommend books I might enjoy as you begin to see the kinds of things I've enjoyed to date.

That said, I haven't put a lot of time this week into blog prep, so lamentably (for you the reader) I'm going to hold off on a review until next week. But I will leave you with this quick meme (one of the most common ones I see) as a bribe to keep you coming back:

4 Things About Me

4 jobs I have had in my life:
-McDonalds crew chief
-College of Pharmacy Receptionist
-Computer Science T.A.
-Programmer/Analyst 2 (my official title) in the Temple Department at the COB.

4 movies I would watch over and over:
-Oceans 11
-O Brother Where Art Thou?
-Dumb and Dumber

4 places I have lived
-New Orleans, LA
-Grantsville, UT
-A large portion of southern Argentina (Patagonia)
-Salt Lake City, UT

4 TV shows I watch
-The Office
-Arrested Development (sniff)
-Umm...I don't have cable any more, so I don't watch much TV. Can I count Diggnation?

4 places I have been on vacation
-The Oregon Coast
-Washington D.C.
-Tempe, AZ (Fiesta Bowl, baby!)

4 websites I visit daily

4 favorite foods
-Cafe Rio Pork Salad
-Ham and Cheese Empanadas (fried if I can get someone else to make them, otherwise baked cuz they're easier to make)
-Wendy's Monterrey Ranch Chicken Sandwich (only available as a specialty sandwich)

4 places I would rather be right now
-Eating lunch
-Playing with my niece
-Someplace cooler (temperature-wise. How could anywhere else be cooler than SLC?)