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Shadow of the Waxwing

“There's more to life than just books, you know. But not much more...” - The Smiths

Updated: 2018-03-06T03:45:51.679-07:00


Books I Almost Couldn't Finish: Death Comes to Pemberley (but not fast enough)


I'm not a fan of Jane Austen. Archaic courtship rituals and Regency attire just don't butter my skillet, and aside from Northanger Abbey (a delightful send-up of Gothic novels), I haven't enjoyed any of her work. Frankly, I read P.D. James's Death Comes to Pemberley solely because homicide and Jane Austen seemed like a damn good combination.
Wandering Coyote has already written an excellent review of this book, so I'll restrict myself to the main beef I had with this "mystery" novel. Yes, the characters are about as interesting as lettuce, and the pace is sluggish, and you have to suffer through a rehash of Pride and Prejudice.  But the real problem is this...

The key questions:

Who slaughtered a man in the forest near Pemberley? How did they do it? And why?

The questions that are actually asked:

Whatever will the neighbours think?
Are there enough savoury tarts to satisfy Sir So-and-so and Viscount Such-and-such?
Shall we take the the coach, the carriage, the barouche, or perhaps a hackney chaise?

Fresh start


It's time to pack away the winter blahs, 'cause I'm back to school tomorrow for winter term. Aaaand...
we have a new addition to the household! Her name is Becky, though she already has quite a few nicknames. She's a 3-year-old who isn't crazy about other cats, but loves teh hoomins.

Hoping this year will be one full of cat cuddles, doodles, good grades, new opportunities, and new friends. Happy 2014, everyone!

A Humourous Facebook Exchange With An American Friend


MM: to teh sims!
SME: Once more into the fray!
Er, once more into the adorably simulated neighbourhood. Whatever.
MM: that is IF I can get it to load after this update
also there is no u in neighborhood
SME: I favour the use of the "u" in neighbourhood. It adds colour.
MM: now if only there were a u in color
you should start writing the dictionary checks for all the extra vowels you're buying
SME: I'll grab my chequebook.

Books I Simply Couldn't Finish: 77 Shadow Street


I decided to lift my personal ban on Dean Koontz novels when this list told me his 77 Shadow Street is a quality read. Every neuron in my brain started screaming as I slid the book off a shelf at Coles. I'm not sure exactly what they were trying to say, because neurons can't talk, but it was probably something like

Struggling not to twitch, I paid for the book and took it home, handling it much like one should deal with plutonium. I was really fighting my body on this one. My sick, deluded brain was reassuring me, "It will be better this time! This is totally not Phantoms! Koontz just gets better and better with age! He's practically Peter Straub these days!" But my physical instinct was still to carry this thing to the nearest high bridge (in a tightly sealed container, of course) and lob it into the river with my all my strength.
This conflict made for an interesting reading experience. I may have looked calm as I sat in my chair, reading the first nine chapters, but on the inside my internal organs were threatening to mutiny.

So, what's wrong with 77 Shadow Street? Well, what's wrong with every other Dean Koontz novel? Let's review:

1. There's absolutely nothing new here. A dreamhouse built on cursed ground? The Shining, The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist. Mysterious deaths among the construction crew that built it? Rose Red. The house drives people crazy? The Shining and Amityville again. Not one original thought exists in the pages of this book.
2. Characters? What characters? Koontz's characters are the flattest, least memorable people in the realm of pop fiction. To call them stock characters would be an insult to stock characters. We have an elderly man who pieces together the grim history of the mansion (*cough*Mary Sue*cough*). We have a divorced country songwriter who is - not even joking here - a coalminer's daughter. Then there's a somewhat traumatized Iraq vet, an investment banker, and...oh, who cares? By the third or fourth chapter, I wanted them all to get eaten by the elevator, like the drunk ex-politician was in the first chapter. Just die already.
3. Not scary. Good horror fiction is about subtlety. The masters start out slow and build up to a sustained eeriness that explodes into terror. Koontz starts out with explosions, so the rest of the book is just some fizzing and spluttering. It's like watching an action movie backwards.

To make matters worse, Koontz's publisher decided to get all gimmicky with this book, and they created a ridiculous "immersive experience" that is basically just a hidden-objects game. In other words, Koontz is so certain you won't feel his story that he has to show you pictures of it.

Nine chapters in, my body finally defeated my brain. I couldn't handle the nausea, the twitching, or the continuous yawning for one more minute, and I stopped reading. I haven't pitched the book into a body of water yet, but I will be marching it down to the used bookstore at the earliest opportunity. In a sealed container, of course.

Fiction Time


As some of you know from Facebook, I'm preparing to go back to school soon. Hence, not much time for blogging. But right now it's full-on winter, and I think it's about time to dip into the massive stack of fiction I've been hoarding for blizzardy days. Yesterday I snagged the second-to-newest House of Night book and A Lion Among Men at a secondhand bookstore. I also have the Gormenghast trilogy, a pile of Peter Straub novels, Mockingjay, and the new reprint of John Crowley's Little, Big.

On the nonfiction front, there's Errol Morris's book about the MacDonald murder case, and two books about the Meredith Kircher case.



"What do you eat on Thanksgiving?"


Happy Thanksgiving, Canadian peeps! Needless to say, there won't be any turkey or bacon 'round here. So, what do vegetarians eat on holidays?Well, the ever-popular Tofurkey kit seems like an obvious choice, but we tried that a few Christmases ago and found it about as tough and tasty as charbroiled boot leather. Werner Herzog has nothing on us. Luckily, we live close to Chinatown, where wacky Buddhist foodstuffs are plentiful. For the past five years, we've been enjoying seitan chicken that even (sorta) looks like chicken. Or like the Play-Doh version of chicken. Don't let the goofy appearance fool you, though - this stuff tastes like tender, white-meat chicken! A year or two ago, my fave Chinese grocery stopped carrying seitan chicken. Since then, we've been eating a soy-based "chicken ham" product every holiday. Its pasty, tubular appearance wasn't too promising, but I was relieved to find it tastes almost exactly like the chicken-shaped stuff. As for why it's called "chicken ham" or "ham chicken", I still don't know. My brother once pointed out, "That's way too many animals for something that has no animals in it."This is today's "chicken ham", nicely defrosted and waiting to be cooked for about 45 minutes. That's one lovely thing about being veg: Holiday dinners are not day-long ordeals involving arcane equipment, gigantic knives and rubber gloves."I'm not a ham, I'm a chicken ham!"Side dishes will be old-school: My own traditional stovetop stuffing made with veggie broth, mashed taters, wild mushroom gravy, scalloped corn, and mixed greens. [...]



I have been emotionally and creatively blocked for several months now. The death of our friend, and my mentor, Marlene, left a larger space in my heart than I could have anticipated. And though I try not to fret over the declining mental and physical health of my grandparents - as they have firmly refused any help from me, and there is very little I can do from a distance - I do fret. I also feel tremendous emotional distance from some other members of my family. I love them as I always do and I realize that they love me as they always do, but there simply isn't the time or the space to connect in real ways very often. At times, with only Richard and a few friends as my anchor, I feel adrift.

Creatively, I have so many ideas and concepts for fabulous, exciting projects. But putting them into practice? I don't feel the energy or will needed to tackle even one of them at this point. My blogs languish, my notes gather dust. I've collected a tremendous amount of material during this "downtime", which is good I suppose, but it needs to be shaped and shared to be meaningful.

I know this is all a temporary stasis, but at times it feels like it's going to be permanent. It would help somewhat, I think, to have the support of family and close friends when it comes to my writing and other projects. But that can be too much to ask of people who are grappling with their own, extremely serious, issues and commitments.

This post is really just a venting exercise, so feel free to not comment. Or maybe I should call it "ventilating" - letting in fresh air and kicking out of the some of the dust. That's what I'm trying to do, anyway.

Interesting Christmas Present


Haven't tried this yet. I'm guessing it takes somewhat like saltwater, semen, and bitter bitter tears.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

Book Review: The Hunger Games


I seldom read books that are trendy. At least, I don't read them while they're trending. But the hype around Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy sucked me in, somehow, and now I'm hooked.It seems I'm reading more young adult fiction in my thirties than I ever did as a young adult. I think that's because editors, parents, and educators have finally stopped talking down to older teen readers. Gone are the days when a mere mention of menstruation or masturbation in a book can lead to school library bans and PTA scandals. Gone, too, are the days when authors could keep teen girls happy by churning out tales of horses and chaste cheerleaders. It's time for what teenagers really want in their fiction: Sex, angst, heroism, tragedy, magic, and gore. I found myself wishing this stuff came out when I was twelve, until I realized that some of it is highly readable at any age.So, I gave the Hunger Games trilogy a chance, even though the books have a post-apocalyptic setting that normally wouldn't appeal to me much. A series of catastrophes has reduced the U.S. to twelve zones, governed by a fascistic central capitol ensconced in the Rocky Mountains. Three-quarters of a century before the story begins, some kind of armed rebellion so unnerved the Capitol that its leaders decided to introduce a terrible blood sport that will keep everyone in line: Every year, 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 are selected by lottery, given some rudimentary training, then thrown into a wilderness "arena" to fight for survival against the elements and each other. The sole winner returns home a hero, and his/her home district is showered with gifts. The event, known as the Hunger Games, is televised.Katniss Everdeen, a 16-year-old, narrates her own entry into the Games alongside a baker's son named Peeta. Each district offers up two "tributes" per year, one boy and one girl, and Katniss and Peeta are residents of the poorest, outermost district in the nation. Their chances of winning are slim to none, and their mentor/coach is a falling-down drunk (in the second book, Catching Fire, readers learn that many former winners have turned to drinking or drugs to cope with the emotional fallout of the Games).Katniss has been her family's sole means of support since her father's death in a mining accident. Using a homemade bow and arrow, she illegally hunts for small game in the woods surrounding her district in order to feed her mother and delicate 12-year-old sister (in the film, Katniss is played by the same girl who starred in Winter's Bone. Is this girl ever going to get a role in which she doesn't have to kill squirrels to feed her siblings?).My only real beef with the character of Katniss is that she's a little too capable and tough. Her vulnerabilities and flaws come out more in the second book of the series, Catching Fire, but throughout The Hunger Games we're dealing with a girl who can do no wrong. She's like the spawn of Joan of Arc and Robin Hood.The outermost district, #12, is Appalachia. It's still Appalachia as we know it now, full of desperately impoverished coal miners, but its population has been reduced to that of a single small town. It is implied that the other 11 districts, while wealthier, don't have much to offer, either. The Capitol, on the other hand, is a futuristic playground where residents eat well, drive cars, and sport wacky Fifth Element-style fashions.The author cites reality TV as one of the inspirations for these books, and that shows in the preparations for the Hunger Games. Each contestant gets an extreme makeover as soon as he/she reaches the Capital. Then stylists outfit them in extravagant costumes so they can be paraded and interviewed in high fashion before the blood sport begins. Project Runway meets The Road Warrior. Also, à la American Id[...]

Reason to Smile #21: Happy Videos


Going through a low-level funk at the moment. These three vids cheer me up immensely...

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Communique 2011


Last week we made our second trip west this year to be part of Communique 2011, hosted by the delightful Bad Tempered Zombie (who is not at all bad-tempered, and certainly not a zombie!). I finally got to meet one of my very first blogbuddies, Wandering Coyote, which was awesome. You just never know if "real life" meetings are going to be disastrous or not, but I can say that this experiment was wholly successful. The bloggers and "Blippers" blended with very little effort (not that it's hard to get along with folks who appreciate Radiohead and The Smiths even more than I do).
We had to deke out a bit earlier than the rest of the gang, but spent a night and a day enjoying the gorgeous autumn, the wackiness of downtown Vancouver, and some excellent company. We also had a chance to spend time with my friend Rebecca and her little girl, whom I hadn't seen since they departed Edmonton.
Driving through the Rockies in the fall is almost too gorgeous to describe. Our little Fiat handled the trip beautifully, without guzzling up the gas, and we thoroughly enjoyed Richard's iPhone playlist and the satellite radio. Our hotel rooms were excellent (artwork nothwithstanding), particularly the rustic Best Western in Vailmont. We shut our cable off a month or two ago, so of course I had to subject myself to SNL and gawdawful reality TV just to remind myself why we did that.
All in all, an ideal vacation. I'll post some pics soon. Right now I have to catch up on a few home-again tasks.



My Troy Davis post is up at Swallowing the Camel. It's not as detailed as I would like it to be, but I just don't have the time to devote to it right now. I did what I could in a week.

Oh, I'll just do a quick post on Troy Davis...



...or maybe I'll rip my hair out at the roots and run screaming into traffic.

For the past week, I've been working on a post about the Troy Davis case for Swallowing the Camel. It's stressing me out massively. I just wanted to give people an objective overview of the case that answers some of the most persistent questions and misconceptions that are floating about online, but of course to simplify something you have to know it inside-out, and I was not as familiar with the Davis case as I thought I was. To make matters much worse, court documents and other vital information are scarce.
So if I haven't visited you much on blogs or Facebook recently, or answered an email, that's probably why. I'm hoping to be done with this thing by the end of the weekend.
It turned out to be more work than it will be probably be worth, but live and you shall learn, right?

Princess Diana conspiracy theories make a lot of sense...


...until you think about them for a while.

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The Good & the Bad of Thursday


The bad:
Zynga, the monster corp that has been lowering the bar on gaming from its inception, has ended Scramble, the only Facebook game besides Scrabble that actually requires brain cells. I've been playing it for over 3 years, had a high score of 375, and was up to the level of "master scrambler" (whatever that means). Bastards.

The good:
Got the bunny booked for our trip to Vancouver for Communique 2011, organized by Barbara (Bad-Tempered Zombie)!

Bonus! The ugly:
Ron Paul.

My Friday


- Browsed the art gallery, finding nothing of particular interest.
- Returned monstrously huge library books and wondered why I don't read paperbacks like a sensible person.
- Considered cooking, looked at the temp, and grabbed a Subway sammich instead.
- Tried to lure the bunny out from her hiding place with bread crumbs, only to learn that even rabbits find Subway food less than totally appealing.
- Watched part of Synecdoche, New York not exactly because I wanted to, but because it was already in the player.

True Crime Binge


In a bit of a funk lately, so I've just been reading seedy true crime paperbacks instead of doing anything of any value whatsoever. Here's the first review:

Crazy bitch is crazy.

Like Amelie in reverse (they even have the same haircut!), Dr. Amy Bishop sowed death and discord everywhere she went. But because she was a successful, Harvard-educated researcher and a mother of four, her severe emotional problems were usually politely ignored by colleagues, friends, and superiors (even when they became the brunt of her anger).
In 1986 she "accidentally" killed her teen brother by shooting him in the chest, then attempted to carjack a neighbor and a garage mechanic before being disarmed (reluctantly) by police. Incredibly, no charges were filed against her at the time.
In 1993, right after Bishop was dismissed from a research project, the head of the project received a potentially fatal letter bomb. She and her husband became the prime suspects, but there simply wasn't enough concrete evidence to lay charges.
Last year, Bishop attacked a young mother in a screaming rage at an IHOP for "stealing" the last booster chair. The charges were dismissed on the condition she stay out of trouble.
Then, most famously, Bishop murdered three of her colleagues and injured several others during a staff meeting at the University of Alabama last year. She was enraged that she had been denied tenure.
A Professor's Rage
doesn't give us a great deal of insight into Bishop or her family dynamics, but McPhee does ably pinpoint flaws in the justice system that allowed a dangerously unbalanced woman to wreak havoc throughout her life.
It would be interesting to see a more psychological approach to the Bishop case. Why did her mother vouch for her in '86, when it was so painfully obvious that the death of her brother was no accident? How did she go through life without receiving any form of therapy? Why did colleagues tolerate her psychotic hissy fits, without once complaining about her behaviour? Was her desperation to gain tenure tied to guilt over her brother's death, as Bishop indicated in her unpublished novel? Most importantly, how can society help people who are blazingly intelligent yet profoundly disturbed, and prevent tragedies like these?
Hopefully, another author will pick up this bizarre story where McPhee left off.

Reason to Smile #21


Kawaii food erasers!

What to do on a Friday night?



1. Finish watching that Soviet miniseries.
2. Pop the last of the stale popcorn kernels and read creepypasta.
3. Go out for a refreshing evening stroll (translation: walk the gauntlet of Friday night bums who "just need a dollar for the bus", even though any Friday night bus driver in his/her right mind will let them ride for free just to avoid debating with their smelly drunk asses)

The WM3 are free


This is a beautiful day: The day that I remove the "Free the West Memphis Three" posters from this blog and Speak of the Devil. After spending the entirety of their young adulthoods in prison, Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, and Damien Echols have been freed after a plea deal. Sadly, the deal prevents them from suing for wrongful prosecution or anything else related to their false convictions, and it is incredibly unlikely that West Memphis investigators will ever admit their mistakes and search for the real killer or killers.
Not just three, but six boys' lives were destroyed by the murders of Stevie Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers. Now that the West Memphis Three have some justice, let's see some justice for the three boys who lost their lives. Enough time has been wasted.

I'm dismayed by some of the media coverage of this. For instance, ABC News posted a video with the sub-headline "Three men convicted of killing three boys in a satanic cult ritual are set free." Really? The prosecution couldn't present any evidence of a Satanic ritual, because there wasn't any. At all.

Sophie chillin' in the grass & soaking up attention


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Lazy Saturday Thoughts


Just reading, blogging, and watching pigeons do their thing. I wonder, who decides when it's time to fly around in circles and when it's time to land? Does one guy just take off on his own and the other pigeons think, "Hey, good idea", or is there an authoritarian pigeon in charge who tells everybody else what to do? Are there Nazi pigeons?



I'm mostly over my cold, but I'm still in reading mode. I decided to reread Reclaiming History in its entirety, which will take some time. I'm picking up on a lot of things I missed the first time.



I have one of those miserable summer colds. Time to dig into my stack of library books and unread magazines. I'm still picking my way through JFK and the Unspeakable (see my last post), comparing and contrasting passages with a library copy of Bugliosi's Reclaiming History (which is so heavy you can't really take it out of the house, without coming off as a pretentious my-book-is-bigger-than-your-book jerk).
I've also been digging into some strange witchcraft cases: The Timble Witches, the Paisley Witches (a tragic case - two young brothers went to the gallows clutching each other's hands).