Thursday, April 30, 2015

I'm At Book Bloggers International Waxing Poetically Over Doctor Strange

If any of you guys are interested in reading how much I love Doctor Strange and why I think Benedict Cumberbatch is an odd choice to play him, head on over and give it a go.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Sooki the Saggy Baggy Elephant

I don't think it's possible to grow up without having body issues.  I don't care what you look like, none of us are completely comfortable in our own skin.  Between thinking we are too fat, too scrawny, not cute enough, too gangly, too whatever, it's hard to be like the way we look when we look in the mirror.  It's why so many of us have eating disorders, or get obsessed with working out, building our bodies into muscle bound temples.  It's the reason why plastic surgeons rake in the money.

There aren't a lot of characters who make it okay to like the way you look, regardless of what others think.  The Ugly Duckling is one that comes to mind, but for me, that story was about how our bodies will change as we get older, how we grown into our looks.  It's Sooki, the Saggy Baggy Elephant who is a better example of a character who comes to realize he is fine just the way he is.

Sooki doesn't know that he is supposed to look a different way, that is until a parrot makes fun of the way he looks.  At first, the poor guy is heart broken.  Nobody likes to be made fun of, and Sooki is no different in that regard.  But as the book progresses, as he starts to see all the different body types that animals come in, he starts to realize that maybe his body is the way it's supposed to be. It's when he sees himself, reflected in others that look just like him, that he truly realizes he is beautiful the way he is. 

I would like to say that I took Sooki's lesson to heart as a kid, but I was that typical scrawny guy who was always wanting to have more muscle, to look like what I thought a man was supposed to look like.  As I got older, as my metabolism finally started to slow down, I had the opposite problem, I didn't like the way I looked as I started to gain a little weight.  It's really within the last few years that I've started to understand that my body is my body.  Yeah I can obsess about changing it, and I do think I can lose 10-15 pounds, but I'm pretty okay with the way I look.  I'll never be model material, but I'm okay with that.  Like Sooki, I think I'm perfect the way I am.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Learning Curve By Kaje Harper

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Mac is afraid he'll never recover enough to go back to being a cop, while Tony is afraid he will.

Three months after being shot, Detective Jared MacLean is healing, but he's afraid it may not be enough to go back on the job.  He won't give up, though.  Being a cop is written deep in Mac's bones, and he'll do whatever it takes to carry his badge again.  Tony used to wish he could have Mac safely home, but watching his strong husband battle disabilities is farm from Tony's dream come true. When Mac is asked to consult on a case involving one of Tony's students, both men will have to face old demons and new fears to find a way to move forward together. 

All good things must come to an end, and unless Kaje Harper writes a fifth book, which I'm praying for, I have to say goodbye to Mac and Tony.  That doesn't mean that this won't be a series I continuously go back to, because I will, but I'll miss getting to see where their lives take them after what proved to be the most life affirming book of the series.

Mac is struggling to not only go back on the job after his near fatal shooting left him battling aphasia, but he is having to figure out who he is as a person, a husband, a father, and as a cop.  Before he met Tony, and formed their family, most of his identity was wrapped up in his career.  If he can't go back to it, which I'll relieve your fears here, he does, he isn't sure how to go about redefining himself.  He loves Tony and the kids, but he is his job, it's who he sees himself as.

Then you have poor Tony who someone has to come to terms with the man he loves, the husband he almost lost, going back to a job that almost killed him. I can't imagine being the spouse of a police officer.  I would be terrified every time he went to work that he wouldn't be coming back, it's not a situation I envy anyone, especially in today's climate.  I think the author does a wonderful job balancing Tony and Mac as individuals, as well as a couple.  They both need different things, in both of those roles, and it's not always easy to reconcile them.  Tony's fears, and Mac's need to be the man he sees himself have are two vastly conflicting issues, and the two of them handle them in a very affirming way.

We also get to see more of Mac's background in this book, and after meeting his siblings and dad, it's very easy to see how he became the man we met in the first book.  The fact he was able to overcome, and accept a life with Tony, after his childhood is amazing, and speaks to the inner strength he has. And when you compare his family to Tony's, it's even more apparent that Tony completes Mac in ways that I don't think another man would have been able to.

Challenges: Men In Uniform

Friday, April 24, 2015

Wordsmithonia Radio: Windy Days

The wind is blowing like crazy right now, but with living in Kansas, I should be used to that by now.  I love the wind.  I love listening to the trees rustle, the house creak, and the sound it makes coming in a window.  I love the way it feels on my skin and in my hair.  I love the way it heralds in a storm, and the way it lifts a kite into the sky.  So for the next few minutes, I hope you enjoy some of my favorite "windy" songs. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Poky Little Puppy

I'm pretty sure that at some point in our lives, we have been just like Poky Little Puppy.  There are always those moments when something catches our eye, and we get distracted.  It may be a really cool shirt at the store, you stop to look at it, and the next thing you know, your friends have disappeared on you.  I find myself copying Poky Little Puppy every time I'm in a bookstore, record store, or an antique mall.

You see, Poky Little Puppy just can't seem to turn his curiosity off.  He finds himself being left behind by his brothers and sisters all the time.  At first, it keeps him out of trouble, but after a while, he starts getting so behind, that he ends up in trouble.

Now I don't know about you, but when I get in a bookstore, I'm always in trouble.  I go in, thinking I'll only be in there for a 10 to 15 minutes, before I know it, I've been in there for an hour or two.  I would see the bargain stacks, get distracted by the new paperbacks, and get stuck in the cafe, staring at the cheesecake.

Poky is my hero in a way.  He doesn't allow himself to feel guilty over his curiosity, he lives his life the way he wants to, and doesn't let those around him dictate the speed he lives life.  He enjoys his life, and doesn't stress out when plans don't go quite his way, well unless he misses dessert. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Anniversary by Amy Gutman

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

It's been five years since the execution of Steven Gage, a devious, charming psychopath who took the lives of more than a hundred women.

In those five years, three women connected with his case have moved on.  His attorney has rid herself of the stigma of defending Gage.  A true-crime writer has started a new project after her bestseller about his rampage.  And Steven's ex-girlfriend has made a new life for herself - one where she won't be reminded that she once shared her home with a monster. 

But someone hasn't moved on.  On the fifth anniversary of Gage's execution, each of the three women gets a private note... a chilling message that lets them all know they haven't been forgotten, and that in someone's dark imagination, Gage's legacy of terror lives on. 

At the time of his sentencing, Gage issued a terrifying edict that all three women hoped was meaningless.  As threats against them turn deadly, the past explodes into the present.  And one woman is in the fight of her life to uncover who is responsible - a killer who is determined to start up the string of murders right where they stopped. 

Before I go on a semi-rant, I should probably let you know that I don't dislike this book.  For what it is, a typical thriller, it's well written and I really do enjoy the characters.   There was nothing about it that surprised me, but it kept me entertained enough to finish reading it.  Who knows, I may even reread it at some point in time.

After reading this book, and comparing it to the various thrillers I've read over the years, I think I'm finally figuring out the problem I tend to have with them.  When I say "them", I'm really talking about the books that feature a female protagonist, who just happens to have a deep dark secret in her past.  They all seem to use a particular plot point, and it's getting rather old.

I'm trying to figure out why, when the female protagonist starts to have their lives fall apart, they start to suspect their boyfriend/husband.  Whether it involves people around them getting killed, harassing phone calls/letters, or odd occurrences, the suspicion ends up falling on the man in their lives. Normally the man tends to be a second husband, or the first serious boyfriend after whatever traumatic event happened in the past.  I will have to admit that the suspicion seems to come naturally to the women, normally because it was at the hands of a previous relationship that the bad thing happened to them.  But that doesn't excuse the laziness of the author, and I do think it's lazy.

I think plot points that are as predictable as rainfall during a hurricane hurt a book.  Is there really no other red herring you can throw in there?  It rarely ends up being that the new bad guy is the new man in the protagonist's life.  In these books, the new guy is really just a stooge thrown into the book to divert the woman's attention away from the real threat.  Just once, I would like to read a book where the new guys is a fully drawn character, integral to the woman's life, and never comes under suspicion.  I'm not going to be holding my breath, cause I think I would suffocate before it ever happens, but a guy can dream.

Challenges: A-Z Mystery

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Out of the Madhouse by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder

Synopsis From Back Cover:

Werewolves, Trolls, Sea Monsters, Rain of toads, Skyquakes.  Sunnydale is being besieged by dark forces.  But even with Buffy providing her unique style of damage control while Giles is hospitalized out of town, it's more than one Slayer can handle - especially since the abominations are coming from a centuries-old portal through time and space. 

Somehow, the hell-hole must be found and corked at it's source.  For Buffy, Angel, and the rest of her gang, that means a road trip to Boston where an ailing Gatekeeper resides over a supernatural mansion that has been, until recently holding the world's  worst monsters at bay.  Once there, Buffy discovers the catastrophic truth: the magical structure houses thousands of rooms, all of which are doorways to limbo's "ghost roads," and all of which may bring her face-to-face with the most nefarious forces in hell and on earth - forces bent on horrific plans far worse than the Slayer ever imagined. 

You guys know that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is my favorite show of all time, so it should come as no surprise that I loved the tie in books that were being published while the show was on the air.  I stayed away from the novelization of actual episodes, and loved the books that were original story lines.  I used to own at least twenty of the, but a few moves ago,  I had to make a decision to let them go.  I owned too many books, of course I still do, so I'm not sure what I was thinking.  Over the years, I've only managed to repurchase three of them, the three books that comprised The Gatekeeper Trilogy.

There were a ton of authors that tackled the Buffyverse, but Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder were the two that, for me at least, seemed to actual the actual feel of the show the best.  When they got together and wrote this trilogy, I was in seventh heaven.  I always thought if they ever made a movie based of the books, this was the way to go.

The first book, Out of the Madhouse, introduces us to a whole other dimension of strangeness.  Much like The High House by James Stoddard, the Gatekeeper in this trilogy oversees a supernatural prison, that form the outside, looks like a grand Boston mansion.  Locked in it's rooms are ghouls, shapeshifters, ghosts, and monsters straight out of legend; among them, Springheel Jack, the Leviathan, and the Mary Celeste.  It's also home to the family that has been charged with keeping the world safe from them.  They have managed to accrue a few helpful tools to help them with their charge; the Spear of Longinus and the Cauldron of Bran the Blessed.  The current Gatekeeper is weakening, and his heir has been kidnapped by a cabal of sorcerers, bent on allowing chaos to reign free over the earth.

Sunnydale, because it sits on a Hellmouth, has been dealing with the side affects of the house failing. The residents are starting to escape from the house, even if for a short amount of time, and the Hellmouth draws them in, allowing them to run amok.   Buffy and her friends, after some serious research, travel to Boston to figure out what's going on.  Upon their arrival, they quickly agree to help the Gatekeeper get back the heir, and the best television tie-in of all time is born.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Scuffy the Tugboat

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only adult who remembers the The Little Golden Books with a lot of fondness.   Many of the stories were written years before I was born, but there was something so wonderfully innocent and magical about them, that they have endured long after many thought they would.

I can still remember sitting on the floor, paging through a few at a time, asking one of the adults around me to read them to me.  If I couldn't get anyone to read them to me, I would just stare at the pictures, getting lost int he visual adventures.  Once I started to read for myself, they were some of my best friends, never leaving my side.  I probably read them long after I should have stopped, though I doubt I'm the only one.

So for the next few weeks, I'm going to be sharing with you guys some of my favorite characters from those books.  They are probably not going to be long posts, mainly because they weren't long books.  They will be characters that have stayed with me over the years, characters I hope that you guys remember with just as much fondness.

Growing up in Two Harbors, MN, tugboats were a natural part of my childhood.  For much of it's history, Two Harbors has been an important shipping port for iron ore.  Rail cars would bring the ore to the docks, and that ore would be placed on giant freighters bound for the manufacturing centers that sprang up around the Great Lakes.  Tugboats were used to help bring in the freighters, and the Edna G., which was in operation until 1981, is the oldest coal fired, steam powered tugboat on the Great Lakes.  It's now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and is still sitting in the harbor, open for tours. 

As you can see, I love tugboats, and Scuffy the Tugboat was one of my favorite Little Golden Books. Scuffy, for those of you who don't remember, was a toy tugboat, who longed to see the world outside of the bathtub.  One day he gets his wish, and like most things in life, it's way more than he bargained for.  At first, when his young owner, the son of the toy shop owner, puts him into a small brook, Scuffy is about as content as he can be.  It's not too long though that the current carries him away, and before long, he's seeing the world in all it's glory.  As the waterway continues to grow, Scruffy starts to realize he may be in over his head, and by the time it looks as if Scuffy is about to get lost int he great big ocean, he's ready to go home. Luckily, his young owner rescues him in time, and Scuffy is content to remain at home, in a world that he knows is safe. 

Looking back at the book, you have to wonder if the owner was trying to warn kids to not grow up too fast.  Scuffy, as an adult, has taught me to enjoy what I have, and not allow myself to wish for something that in the long run, could be bad for me.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Hunger by Whitley Strieber

Synopsis From Dust Jacket:

Miriam Blaylock, rich and beautiful, lives life to the fullest - a house in Manhattan's exclusive Sutton Place, a husband she adores, priceless antiques, magnificent roses.  But then John Blaylock, like all Miriam's past lovers, suddenly beings to age.  Almost overnight, his body reveals the truth: he is nearly two hundred years old!

Fearing the terrible isolation of eternity Miriam stalks a new lover.  She is Sarah Roberts, a brilliant young sleep researcher who has discovered the blood factor that controls aging and thus may possess the secret of immortality.  Miriam desperately wants Sarah, for herself and for her knowledge.  But to win her, Miriam must destroy Sarah's love for Dr. Tom Haver, who learns that his enemy is like no other woman who has ever lived... now or forever 

You know the old adage that the book is always better than the movie?  This is one of those times where it comes really damn close to being false.  I fell in love with the movie adaptation of The Hunger the first time I saw it.  It stars the gorgeous Catherine Deneuve as Miriam Blaylock, David Bowie as John Blaylock, and Susan Sarandon as Dr. Sarah Roberts.  T he movie is about as sexy and horrifying as a movie can be.  The tension, of all kinds, oozes off the screen, all of which can be attributed to the way Catherine Deneuve embodied the character of Miriam Blaylock.  It's a beautiful movie to watch, and my love for it, is what kept me putting the book off for as long as I did.  I didn't want to fall in love with the book, and have a movie I love, suddenly start paling in comparison.

I finally picked a hardcover edition up at a used bookstore for about $5.  It still took me a few months before I was willing to read it, but once I did, I fell in love with Miriam all over again.  The sensuality of her character, which is nailed by Catherine Deneuve, is a bit subtler here, but just as effective.  This is still a story about lust and love, and how those two things can become so twisted and blurred, that it's hard to tell them apart.  It has vampiric wrappings, and after Lestat de Lioncourt, she is about the sexiest vampire to ever be dreamed up.  She is not afraid to draw blood and to use violent means to get what she wants.  But outside of that, and sort of hidden among the obsession, is a story about a woman who is trying to find a home.  More than anything Miriam Blaylock wants that forever home, just in her case it would really be for forever.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Wesley Wyndham-Price

When I'm in a bad mood, I have a few things that I can drag out to make me feel better. There are times I will watch The Women or Auntie Mame, getting lost in two of my favorite movies.  If I'm cranky, and in the right mood for something scary, I put The Haunting in the DVD player in, and get lost in Hill House.  If I'm not in the mood for a long movie, I may watch an episode or two of Scarecrow & Mrs. King, Angel, Supernatural, or my favorite TV show of all time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Buffy is one of those shows I will never get tired of, I could watch every single episode 100 times, and I would always go back for more.  It was a character driven show in a genre that normally goes for special effects, over character development.  I should add that while Buffy and Angel were two different shows, because of the way they were structured, they are one show in my mind.

Wesley was one of those characters that moved from Buffy to Angel, and he was one of the more interesting characters. He started as this pompous know it all, who seemed so out of his element.  Nobody liked him, well Cordelia seemed to have a crush on him, but I think that had to do with his accent more than anything else.  He grated on everybody's nerves, and just didn't seem to understand why.  In his head, he was doing what he knew was right, but his approach was all wrong.  

By the time Angel was over, the man he ended up being, had nothing in common with the sniveling little boy he started off as.  He was a strong, confident man who was willing to cut corners in order to get the job done.  He was the one who was willing to make the hard decisions, even if they were a bit on the darker side.  He was the character that embodied the stereotypical definition of masculinity, and he was damn sexy for it.   

Monday, April 6, 2015

When Do You Decide It's Time To Let Go?

My dad wasn't a very nice man.  Actually, I should strike that statement, because truth be told, I'm not sure who my father really was.  I know he was an alcoholic.  I know he had some severe anger issues, and took them out on the walls, the furniture, and my mom.  I know that 90% of my memories of him are negative.  I know his full name was Michael Allen Groff, and I know that he is dead.

I still remember the day I found out that he had died.  My mom had divorced him, and we were no longer living in Minnesota.  We were actually visiting family in Wyoming, and my grandparents, who still lived in Two Harbors, showed up.  I knew it was an unexpected visit, and at six years old, I wasn't sure what was going on, but I knew something was wrong.  My Aunt Jenny actually took me for a walk, and let me know that my father had killed himself.  I still remember that I really didn't react, I didn't cry, and I'm not even sure I felt much of anything.  As a matter of fact, I did not cry until I was a Freshman in high school.   At one point in time, we had moved back to Two Harbors, and I walked by, on a weekly basis, the cemetery he was buried in, and never thought about him.  The idea of visiting his grave, which is still unmarked, never occurred to me.

As I got older, I became really damn angry.  I couldn't understand how he could do the things he did.  The strongest memory I have of him is the day he took my mom out to the back yard, threw her against a brick shed, and hit her, repeatedly, with a 2 x 4.  I can still see myself, standing by my younger brother, crying and feeling powerless.  I don't know if I tried to stop it or not, but I couldn't understand why it was happening.  I remember coming home and there would be fresh holes in the wall, and broken records on the floor. He was the man who took a shot at my mom, and actually did shoot my dog.  He never laid a hand on me, or my brother, but what those memories did to me as a teenager, was almost worse.

By the time college rolled around, some of that anger dissipated, and I entered a period of time where I really wasn't sure what I thought of him.  I started to think of the time he took me fishing, and I got pulled into the lake because I wouldn't let go of the pole.  I can remember being in the car with him, and loving the time I was spending with him.  He was my dad, and despite everything I saw him do, I loved him.  College was the first time I visited his grave, and for years afterwards, I put him and my feelings behind me.

That's not such an easy feat for me anymore.  At 38 years old, I'm still wanting my dad's love and approval.  Even if he couldn't deal with the fact that I'm gay, even if we didn't have a relationship right now, the fact that I will never know eats at me. Like any kid, I want my dad's approval, I want to know that he would be proud of the man I've become. The fact that the option of having a relationship with my father was taken away from me, and in the matter it happened is something I'm still struggling with.   He allowed alcohol, anger, and the shitty childhood he had at the hands of my grandfather, influence the man he became.   He chose to deal with his issues the only way he knew how, instead of getting help when my mom, and others, begged him to do so.  He made the choice to not be a father when he was around, and he made the choice to leave two young kids without a father for the rest of their lives.  I know it's not that easy, that he was probably suffering from depression, and when you  mix in depression with his other issues, there isn't a lot anyone can do if he's not willing to get help.

I know he didn't fight the divorce, that he didn't fight for custody or visitation, that he didn't pay child support, and that he really didn't spend time with me or my brother that much after my mom left him.  When I talk to my mom about him, she says it was because he didn't care enough, or that he didn't love me.  And maybe he didn't, maybe she's right.  I would like to hope that wasn't the case.  I would like to think he thought he was doing the right thing by giving us up, that he knew what he was putting us through was wrong.  I would like to think that he was trying to get his act together, that he wanted to be a father, but the truth is, I really don't know.  And that uncertainty, is what's keeping me from letting go.  More than anything, I want to ask him why I wasn't enough, why I wasn't good enough for him to get help.  I want to know why he chose alcohol over me.  I want to know why he didn't pick me.

This is the only picture I have with me and my dad.  As far as I'm aware of, it's the only picture that exits of the two of us together.  That's my mom and little brother on the outside of the picture.  I'm not sure who took it, but they obviously sucked at it.  I look at it, and all I see is what I've lost out on.

I don't have a picture of my dad teaching me to ride a bike, or him showing me how to drive a stick shift.  I don't have one of him at my high school graduation, or when I moved into the dorms.  I will never have a picture of him in a tux, attending my wedding, assuming I ever have one, and assuming he would have come.  I don't have pictures of the two of us together during the holidays, or even of us taking a nap on the couch.  I don't have any of those pictures, but even worse, I don't have any of those memories.

I have the memories of a six year old who loved his dad, and was scared of him at the same time.  I have the memories of a teenager who could only remember the bad, and did everything he could to convince himself that he hated his dad.  I have the memories of a twenty-something who was just started to deal with his conflicting emotions, and wasn't quite sure what to think.  And now I have the memories of a 38 year old man, who would give anything in the world to have his dad back.  It may not be the relationship of my dreams, but at least it would be my choice, not his.  He may not accept the fact that I'm gay, he may not be proud of the man I've become, but if he was still here, it would be a decision I had a hand in.  I would be the one to walk away if he couldn't accept me, but even then, I know I would always be hoping for the day he would come around.

So maybe the question I should be asking is not when do you decide it's time to let go, but rather how do you let go?  How do you let go of the fact that the choice wasn't yours, that someone else made the decision for you?  How do you let go of what might have been and what should have been?  How do you let go of the pain and anger?  But most of all, how do you let go of that want?  How do yo let go of the need to have your father's love?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Favorite Fictional Character --- Clifford the Big Red Dog

I'm a natural dog person and it's not that I hate cats.  Okay, maybe I do just a little bit, but not enough that I would ever wish harm on one.  I actually don't mind them when they are around me, but I would never go out and purposefully bring a cat into my home.  Dogs are just nicer.

Now I know there are always exceptions, and I know a lot of you adore your cats, but in general terms, dogs are better.  They tend to be better friends.  They, at least the impression I've gotten from every dog I've ever owned, are more expressive than cats, and are way more sympathetic to their human's moods. They show their love more, and tend to be more protective of the humans in their lives as well.  They also seem to enjoy our company more, where cats want us around when we are needed, but could do without us.

With that inborn love of dogs, it's pretty obvious that I feel in love with all the fictional dogs I was exposed to as a kid.  I've featured a lot of them over the years, and I'm hanging my head down in shame that I haven't let you know before this,  how much I love Clifford the Big Red Dog.

I don't know how it would be possible to not love Clifford. You would have to hate all dogs for that to be true, and I can't understand how anybody would be of that temperament.  Even though he is 25 feet tall, he's so friendly.  I think a lot of that has to do with his owner, young Emily. When she got Clifford, he was the runt of the litter, but because of her love and care, he grew up big and strong.  He just got bigger than anyone could have anticipated. 

Even though he is so big, he is a gentle puppy at heart.  He is always ready for a good romp around his island home, or in the ocean for that matter.  He loves to play with his friends, and he understands that because of his size, he is normally the playground equipment.  He is always the first one to help someone out, but the poor guy is easy to fool.  He often gets into trouble, either because of his size, or because he tends to go with the flow when it comes to his friends.  But when he does something wrong, regardless of the reason, he is always quick to fix it.  The size of his heart is proportional to his body, and to do this day, I think Emily was one lucky girl.