R.I.P. Harper Lee

R.I.P. Harper Lee

Yesterday, the world of literature lost one of its giants, as Harper Lee passed away quietly in her small town of Monroeville, Alabama.

Lee is most famous for her seminal novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, one of the most read books on the planet, and a seeming right of passage for teenagers to read at some point in high school. The novel became more than a book for so many people, and the adventures of Scout and Atticus, growing up in the small, racist town of Maycomb, has become an integral part of the American fabric. It is a novel that exposed us to injustice, and justice, and fairness, and compassion, something that too few books have been able to do for us over the course of our lives. It is impossibly memorable to the millions who have turned its pages again and again.

While Harper Lee truly only wrote the one novel (despite the recent publication of Go Set A Watchman), she managed to change the way we look not only at books, but at ourselves. To Kill A Mockingbird is a timeless classic, and it will endure for the ages.

Being semi-reclusive over her life, and never writing again made Lee more of a legend, and had us respecting her for knowing that she would not be able to top her original work, and not chase dollar signs just by slapping her name on just about anything.

For me, Mockingbird changed the way I looked at books. No longer were they just means of escape; I knew that they could be so much more. They could make me think, and push me, and make me love characters, even decades after reading it for the first time.

Harper Lee will remain an American literary icon.

Rest in peace.

Man Made Boy (Book Review)

Man Made Boy (Book Review)

Here is a fun YA novel.

The story of Frankenstein’s son, pieced together over the years by the Bride, provides us with a fun story about a boy trying to escape his past, and the mistakes of his present, all the while hoping to fit into a world where he doesn’t belong.

Boy, the simply named protagonist, is a monster. Stitched together, he is a hideous creation that is faced with the common dilemmas of a teenager, but has to deal with them while being stuck in The Show, a carnival-like atmosphere filled with all types of legendary monsters: a vampire, fairies, trolls, a centaur, minotaur, Medusa. You name it, and The Show has it.

But Boy wants more than to be a part of The Show for the rest of his life: he wants to be outside, and live in the normal world of humans, something that is easier said than done.

It doesn’t help that his parents are the legendary literary characters created by the mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein. They are as would be expected, and over-protective to boot.

boy5Man Made Boy takes us on a pretty awesome adventure, as Boy tries to integrate himself in the real world. In New York, he is able to get an under-the-table job, and is eventually joined by his troll girlfriend, as they try to make it as people. Of course, there are innumerable complications, including her growing addiction to Glamour, a drug that enables her to appear as a beautiful human.

To make things worse, Boy is a tech genius, and has created an Artificial Intelligence that forces him to hit the road, in search of normalcy, and in search of a place that he can call home, with other monsters that are like him. This creates a fun road trip, and the meeting of other interesting monster characters, both from urban legend and from literature.

Man Made Boy is an excellent YA read. It provides a lot of fun, and a lot of literary allusions that could hopefully pique the interest of young readers to learn more about monsters from books past. It is also rich in teen themes that are explored in new and unique ways. In an increasingly bland and repetitive world of YA literature, it is always refreshing to have a unique take on the same stories, and Man Made Boy definitely provides that. The novel is about inclusion, and love, and coming-of-age, in a situation where none of these things seem possible. It is about wanting to find the place where you belong, and having to make the sacrifices needed in order to find your place.

Boy is faced with questions galore about his life, and where it will lead him. He will need to love and lose, run and hide, and face the world. He will need to deal with his family, and with their past. He will need to look at his own creation, and be forced to deal with the fact that perhaps he isn’t too unlike the Frankenstein’s a family he has nothing but disdain for because of what they did to his father.

Despite being a page-turning ride, Man Made Boy offers plenty of complexity within its characters and themes. It is a very good read, and highly recommended in the genre. While there may be some language, it is a book that could be given to adolescents 14 and up without any issues.

“1989” Ryan Adams (Music Review)

“1989” Ryan Adams (Music Review)

Now this is an interesting concept.

Ryan Adams, notorious mood rocker, has released a complete album that is a cover of the entirety of Taylor Swift’s massive hit record, 1989.

Not exactly what I would have expected.

What has been produced here, is an absolutely brilliant album.

Despite my musical taste being more towards classic rock and metal, I acknowledge, and unabashedly, adore Taylor Swift’s 1989. Say what you will about the current state of music, but there is no denying her ability to write catchy hit after hit, and create songs that have more depth than the infectious hooks may have us originally think.

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And Ryan Adams’ reconceptualization of the entire album enables us to see it, and hear it, in a whole new light.

I thought that perhaps this was one singer/songwriter making fun of another, but it never comes across that way. Adams treats Swift’s work with respect, and does a marvelous job of stripping down the music, and getting to the true heart of the songs. And he does a very impressive job of it.

The covers on this version of 1989 range from soft and moody, to upbeat and electric, and they are all very good. It would seem difficult to transform “Shake it Off” into anything other than what it is: a catchy pop song with a ton of repetition that you can’t help sing along to, but he manages to do it, transforming it into something dark, capturing the essence of the lyrics that Swift has created.

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The true strengths of the album lie in the hits. They are the best songs on Swift’s version, and the updates are the best songs on Adams’ version: “Bad Blood”, “I Wish You Would”, “Style”, “Welcome to New York”, “Blank Space”. They have already become significant pop hits, and Adams takes them to another place, making them wholly new songs that are very listenable, and very good.

With the stripped down versions, it is easier to see the very strong songwriting abilities that Taylor Swift has. And it is easy to see that there is depth to her lyrics, despite what we may initially think about her, that she just breaks up with boyfriends in order to write cheesy breakup songs about them. There is so much more there, and for those who haven’t seen it, Adams brings it to the forefront on his cover album. There is actual pain there, longing, below the lipstick and beats that T-Swizz produces.

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Adams takes care with each of the songs, and breathes a different life into each and every one of them. He was created a very listenable album, for someone who is a Taylor Swift fan or not. Each of the songs is unique enough that you don’t have to have ever heard the original version to like the Ryan Adams version. What he has created with 1989 is a very good album of songs. To be honest, this is the first Ryan Adams album I have ever purchased, so I can’t pretend to know what his normal sound is all about in detail. I don’t know if 1989 is different for him, or much of the same. All I know is that it is good.

It just so happens that the songs aren’t his, that they belong to the biggest pop star out there at the moment.

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It could be argued that Taylor Swift’s 1989 was one of the best albums of 2014-15 (I would argue this). With over 8 million albums sold, it is tough to say that others disagree. While she produced a fun batch of songs that will get you tapping your fingers, Ryan Adams has produced something deep, gloomy, and very listenable with his version of 1989.

Even though this album may primarily appeal to either Adams or Swift fans, it very much has crossover appeal, and should enjoy greater success that it probably will. This version of 1989 is one of the best albums I have listened to in a long time.

Well worth checking out.

R.I.P. Lemmy

R.I.P. Lemmy

You know you’re some kind of monster in your given field when you can go by one name.

I was saddened to hear about the passing of legendary Motorhead bassist and singer Lemmy the other day, and felt I needed to write a few words about him, and what he meant to me.

I got into Motorhead because they were a seminal influence on my all-time favorite band, Metallica, and when I love something, I love it hard, and want to know everything about it. So from Metallica, I ventured into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands of the late 70’s and 80’s, which eventually got me to Motorhead.

And I never looked back.

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Over the years, I would dabble with the band, going on all out binges of their raw metal sounds, even bringing some of their music to the most recent band that I played in, crushing cover versions of songs like “Hellraiser” and “Rock n’ Roll.”

There was something about Lemmy, and Motorhead, that was undeniably different. It was raw, unlike anything I have listened to before, or since. It had the speed of punk, the edge of metal, and in the end, it could only be described as one thing: Motorhead. The man behind the band, Lemmy, deserves all the credit, as the consistent piece to the band, over the course of tons of records and endless tours, and as the main songwriter.

Lemmy was prolific.

And he was great. He was just a badass, a throwback to a different time, when rock stars lived hard and left behind throngs of ringing ears behind them. Lemmy was a monster of rock, and it goes beyond the iconic symbolism of Motorhead.

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Despite the niche style to their music, he should be remembered as a legend in not just the metal genre, but all genres. He has influenced rock acts for decades, and his influence will live on.

It is a sad thing to see any great musician go, but the loss of Lemmy is one that I truly felt in my gut.

It pains me to say it, but Lemmy, Rest in Peace.

The Last Leaves Falling (Book Review)

The Last Leaves Falling (Book Review)

There are some pretty horrific and sad diseases out there. It is unfair that children anywhere have to go through the hellish trauma of any kind of disease. Recently, YA novels have undergone a trend of featuring sickly children as their focus, creating instantly heart-breaking novels. There are some that are great, and some that are average, and some that are blatantly trying to jump on to the “sick lit” bandwagon.

The Last Leaves Falling would fall into the first category: this is a very strong novel, and it tackles the truly heartbreaking and incurable disease of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

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Typically, ALS is a sickness that befalls the elderly, as it slowly shuts down the body of the person who has it. There is no cure, and it is not a good way to go. After the legs and arms slowly shut themselves down, the disease begins to work on the internal organs of the sufferer, until they are barely able to breathe. People essentially become trapped in their own bodies, able to think clearly, but unable to do anything about it. ALS is brutal, and it doesn’t stop.

It is not happy material.

The Last Leaves Falling takes this disease a step further, giving it to a young man, who must face his imminent death as his body begins working against him. With his amazing and dutiful mother at his side, he withdraws from the world that he no longer feels a part of: he has grown tired of the sympathetic stares, the judging, and growing feelings of uselessness that comes along with the disease. Leaving school, Sora shuts himself inside, rarely wanting to leave the apartment he shares with his mother. He reads books, and he goes online to be a watcher in an online chat forum.

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Here, he is able to do something he didn’t think was possible: he made some friends.

Online, and eventually in person, Sora is able to be himself, to the best of his abilities, with his new friends, and they spend some amazing times together, having fun, as kids should do, but at the same time dealing with the issues that come along with ALS.

As Sora worsens, the novel takes a turn when he makes a decision that will impact not only himself, but all of those who know him and care for him.

It is gut-wrenching.

The Last Leaves Falling is such a strong book for several reasons. The characters come across as real, and the situations that Sora must be a part of are described perfectly. We feel his pain, and understand his sentiments towards those that look at him in his wheelchair. We want to tell him that people aren’t so bad, that they will accept him however he is, but we can’t truly know this, no matter how much we wish it to be true.

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The sadness of the novel is ever present, always looming over our likable protagonist, but first time author Sarah Benwell doesn’t smash it into our faces. The disease is there, and always present in Sora’s life, but there is more to this novel than disease and sadness. It is a skillfully written tale of someone trying to come to terms with the hand that life has dealt them, no matter how brutal or unfair it may be.

Sora struggles, and his friends struggle, and his mother struggles.

But there is a conclusion, and one that is worth pouring through the 350-odd pages to get there.

This is a good read, albeit not a terribly happy one. We know what happens with ALS: there is no remission, no remedy, no way to delay the inevitable.

The Alex Crow (Book Review)

The Alex Crow (Book Review)

Andrew Smith has a knack for being one of the more original, and interesting, YA authors out there. His works may always be borderline for a younger audience, but despite some language and very frequent sexual references, his books offer readers something unique and original, which may be the most difficult thing to find in the copycat industry of Young Adult novels.

Coming up with a plot summary of Smith’s latest novel, The Alex Crow, is fairly difficult, as he weaves together a handful of story lines that remain blurry until all of the pieces begin to fall into place. There is the story of Ariel, a refugee new to the small town of Sunday, Virginia, after a harrowing escape from attacks in his native village. We get multiple perspectives of Ariel’s life, both during his incident of hiding in a refrigerator, his terrible life in a refugee camp, and his move to America. Then we get Ariel in the present day, at a camp for boys who are addicted to video games, along with his new brother, Max, who is pretty funny, if overly obsessed with masturbation (the names he comes up for the act are pretty impressive and hilarious). Here, the boys befriend Cobie, and the three of them are tied together by the work their parents do on something called the Alex project, which tries to de-extinct animals and creatures from the past, while creating some kind of killer drones. Throw into the mix some journals from Arctic explorers from the past, and the multiple voices and personalities of the Melting Man, an experiment gone wrong, and you may get an idea as to what The Alex Crow is about.

alex3It is a bit of a mess, until it isn’t.

Despite the stories being all over the place, and seemingly unrelated, the novel plows forward, and all of the stories are interesting on their own. This is a feat by the author, and each of the story lines is quite interesting and engrossing, leading us to question their inter-connectedness as the novel moves forward.

Ariel is a likable protagonist, and his rough life makes us sympathize for him, and his journey into a new life provides very good depth of his character, to someone we can see struggle, and change, and overcome his obstacles.

alexThe Alex Crow is full of fun secondary characters. From Cobie, to the pet crow named Alex, to the disgruntled camp councilor Larry, and all of the boys at the summer camp, Andrew Smith creates an interesting world that moves his story forward, and provides a ton of entertainment along the way. He has been great at doing this in his other novels as well, specifically Winger and Grasshopper Jungle. Even if the story isn’t for you, the characters always provide a ton of fun.

As for this being a YA novel, it shouldn’t be recommended to younger audiences, much like the rest of his work. He never hesitates to swear, and the sheer amount of sexual references makes The Alex Crow something that should only be given to high school students and older, for the time being. I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to a well-read Grade 9 student, but anything younger than that would be questionable.

alex4Over the course of his career, Smith has developed a very distinctive style, and I have found all of his reads to be very entertaining. He is a breath of fresh air in the world of YA, not focusing on the same old stories that we have seemingly read a hundred times before. If anything, you know that you will be in for quite a wacky ride when you pick up a Smith novel. He pushes the boundaries, and provides his readers with something that we are all striving for in a novel: something different.

The Alex Crow fits in with his previous works, and it continues on his path, of fun, original stories. A worthy read.

Jessica Jones (TV Review)

Jessica Jones (TV Review)

I am in the minority that found that the Netflix-original series Daredevil was dull, repetitive, and overrated. Therefore, I was somewhat leery to delve into Jessica Jones, another comic-book adaptation that exists in the same universe as Daredevil.

This one is one worth watching.

The titular character is a Private Eye with some unique powers, including super strength and the ability to jump/almost fly. One thing right off the bat that I liked about this TV series is that the superpowers aspect isn’t really thrown in your face too much, and it plays a subtle part of the story line.

The central conflict of the series is that Jessica is forced to deal with her past, and a powerful nemesis who has the ability to control minds. Kilgrave is a very cool villain, and he is definitely evil. His controlling of minds knows few bounds, and he isn’t cursed with something like a conscience to slow him down. His elaborate scheme is to do what it takes so that he can reunite with Jessica, the one that got away, as he once had her under his control. It makes for a compelling battle, between the two of them, and provides a full seasons worth of entertainment. His abilities play with the conscience and morality of Jessica, and he is always able to fight off her attempts to eliminate him by putting “failsafes” in place, just to be sure she doesn’t do anything he doesn’t want her to. Jessica Jones provides us with a fresh look at how mind-control can be used for the powers of evil, while at the same time making him a very difficult villain to best.

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Another strength of the show are the side plots. Oftentimes, the secondary story lines are dull or uninteresting, simply there to provide viewers with moments they wish they could fast forward until they got back to the good stuff. In Jessica Jones, all the stories are pretty interesting, including the love story with Luke, the sister relationship with former child star Trish, and the divorce story of Hogarth, the tough lawyer that Jessica works for on occasion. All of them blend together nicely, not making them frivolous side stories that get lost in the shuffle.

There is some cool fighting in the show, and thanks to the powers of Kilgrave, there are some pretty interesting deaths and ways that people are controlled, essentially torturing themselves, such as not blinking for hours because they have been told to do so.

Any show is defined by its acting, and Jessica Jones does a pretty good job of it. From all of the strong secondary characters, including a very good performance by Rachael Taylor as Trish, right up to the central protagonist and antagonist, the acting is pretty good and believable. There are a few slips here and there, and some clunky dialogue at points, but as the show gets rolling, it seems as though the writers really found their stride, and were able to provide something that we, as the audience, could buy into.

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Jessica Jones is definitely worth watching. For the many people who were fans of Daredevil, it is a cool continuation of that universe, where the two actually exist together. There is even a little bit of a cross-over later in the season, for those who are really into it. It is a dark, entertaining show, about troubled people just trying to be somewhat decent, and it is fun to watch.