Friday, October 30, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Postcards from Friends

I've been lucky enough to have some wonderful opportunities in my life. However, many of them--spending a summer in Maine, volunteering in the Peace Corps, attending a low-res graduate program--mean I meet a lot of amazing people who don't live anywhere near me. As easy as emailing is, I still take pleasure in keeping in touch with friends through old-fashioned letters and postcards. Most of the fun is hearing from friends, but I also love to see what they're up to and what beautiful places they've gotten to. So today, I'm sharing five of the many lovely postcards I've received over the years.

from Michelle, the Philippines for her second stint in the Peace Corps

from Megan, Kentucky

from Elizabeth, Turkey

from Darren, Rwanda, also his second time in the Peace Corps

from Elizabeth, Georgia

Thursday, October 29, 2015

SHORT STORY: Creatures of the Night Shift

Halloween is right around the corner! To celebrate, here's a free short story inspired by the holiday. Hope you enjoy!

Creatures of the Night Shift 
Dannie shifts into a more comfortable reading position—legs over the back of the armchair, head hanging over the seat edge. In her hands is The Historian, a little light research, something she meant to finish in her old life. Stoker, LeFanu, Polidori, and Rice sit on her ‘read’ pile, along with some nonfiction titles and even a poetry collection. Now, the books are more humorous than helpful.

Friday, October 23, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Fall Things

The Beauty of Nature

Don't even try to tell me there's a better time of year. I've been lucky enough to have the time to take Elphie to the park once or twice a week for the past month or so, and it's been an absolute pleasure watching the leaves change. If I could live in a land of perpetual autumn, I would.

Tea, Spiced Cider, and Other Hot Drinks

I'm not a coffee drinker, which is close to blasphemy for a writer, especially since we spend so much time in coffee shops (writing or just pretending to). So when fall rolls around with all its special seasonal drinks, I am a happy camper.

Sweaters and Plaid Shirts and Scarves and Hats

Seriously. I love them all. Not only are they comfortable, but there's something about the feeling of warm layers protecting you from the cold. Bundle me up and sit me in a comfy armchair. I will be happy forever.

Bonfires and Marshmallowy Treats

Sure, you can host a bonfire in the wilds of summer, but cold weather makes it much more enjoyable. Nothing like tasty treats fresh from the fire to warm you right up.

a selection of my jack o' lanterns from years past
Farm Trips to Pick Out Pumpkins and Then Carve Them
I'm not skilled at jack o' lantern carving, but I enjoy it. There's something so calming about pulling out pumpkin guts and something so satisfying about creativity, even imperfect creativity.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

MOVIE REVIEW: Superman Returns

Why don’t people talk about Superman Returns more? Is it because it came out nine years ago and I just missed the boat? Or do I have a new appreciation for it because I haven’t seen it in at least five years? Or is it because everyone’s hopped onto this superheroes-have-to-be-broody train? Now, I like those stories (some of them, at least), but it’s refreshing to see a superhero story that’s not all gravity and weight. 

There are just so many wonderful elements in this movie. Yes, the story’s kind of silly at times, especially Lex Luthor’s plan to create a new landmass, but Kevin Spacey brings such villainy to the role that you almost can’t help but be entertained. John Ottman’s score is absolutely gorgeous and expertly utilizes John Williams’s original themes. Brandon Routh is so doofily charming as Clarke and yet poised and heroic as Superman. There’s just so much that works.

Watching it with a fresh eye after so long, though, a few things struck me. The first is Kitty Kowalski, Lex Luthor’s girlfriend and henchman. She goes along with Lex’s plans and even takes part in distracting Superman at one point. Eventually, though, she realizes that the danger is very real. Around two hours into the movie, after seeing Luthor defeat Superman, she asks, “Are people really going to die?” like this whole time she was going along with Luthor’s plan for a bit of fun and never imagined he could be serious. Then, as they escape in a helicopter, she dumps the all-important crystals out into the sea, knowing exactly how angry Luthor will be.

According to Comic Vine, Kitty doesn’t appear in the DC universe except for this movie and a cartoon prequel. Here’s the background info on her: “Kitty worked as a prison nurse in the prison where Lex Luthor was locked up. At their first meeting, Kitty watched him killing another prisoner. He tried to kill her too, but Kitty told him that she is his biggest fan and she can help him.” Talk about a character who knows how to survive! And then she gives it up that need for self-preservation and risks Luthor’s wrath when she decides all those people are more important than she is. For a genre that’s so focused on male-centric stories, Kitty’s presence and character arc completely surprised me.

Next up is Richard, Lois’s husband/boyfriend (it’s unclear exactly what their relationship is). Richard is kind of perfect. He’s a pilot. He’s a great dad. He goes and grabs dinner for the “intrepid reporters.” He doesn’t hesitate after he rescues Lois and Jason when she wants to go back for Superman. He drives Lois and Jason to the hospital to see Superman. Like, he’s such a good guy, and yet he’s always second-best to Supes. The movie could have easily villainized him, but writing him as a good guy is just another way the movie upholds Lois’s character. She’s smart and makes good choices, not just in her job, but in her personal life, too.

Which brings us to Lois Lane. Gosh, let’s talk about Lois Lane. I have so many feelings about her. She wins the Pulitzer Prize for her article “Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman.” She raises a young son like a champ, always ready with an extra inhaler. She saves herself by faxing her coordinates to The Daily Planet. She jumps into the ocean to save Superman. Let me say that again. She jumps into the ocean to save Superman. I think the plot—Superman returns to Earth after five years to discover he may have fathered Lois’s son; Lois is appropriately angry about his prolonged absence—naturally lends itself to the old “Superhero is manly and stoic; his not-quite-girlfriend is basically in the background for him to win her (back)” narrative that characterizes the genre, which is why getting to see Lois as proactive both in her career and in relation to Superman is lovely. (I am aware of how long that sentence was. I’m not sorry.) It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s refreshing.

That’s not even delving into the themes and imagery, but I think that’s enough for tonight. At one point, this movie was in my donate-to-the-library box, but I’m glad I revisited it. I’ll be putting it back on the shelf for future movie nights.

Friday, October 16, 2015

FRIDAY FIVE: Books in my TBR Pile

First of all, an explanation for my rather sudden silence and my lack of Month of Classic Horror updates. I've been dragging my feet for a few months as I decided whether I wanted to apply to grad school again. I was hesitating because I wanted a literature program with a creative dissertation, but I couldn't find more than one program to apply to. So I finally looked at regular lit programs, found ones I liked, and decided last Monday to apply. And that's what I've been up to for the past two weeks--getting my application materials together. That means I probably won't watch many more horror films, but I will try to keep up with my Friday Five posts.

This week, I chose five books I'm looking forward to reading from my To Be Read pile. My TBR pile is ridiculous. Unmanageable. This is compounded by how slowly I read. I accumulated a lot of unread books during grad school, so there are a lot waiting for me as soon as I have some time.

State of Wonder, Ann Patchett

I adore Ann Patchett, though I've only read two of her books so far (The Patron Saint of Liars and Bel Canto, which is wonderful, one of my favorites). I can't wait to get to this one.

Gameboard of the Gods, Richelle Mead

I really enjoyed the first book in Mead's Vampire Academy series, so I'm looking forward to seeing how she tackles an adult series.

The Word For World Is Forest, Ursula K. Le Guin

Although this is the sixth in a cycle, I'm fairly certain it can be read as a standalone. The only Le Guin I've read is A Wizard of Earthsea, which I loved. Not only am I excited to read more of her work, but I promised myself I'd read more science fiction because my reading taste leans so heavily toward fantasy.

Freedom's Landing, Anne McCaffrey

McCaffrey is another sci-fi writer on my list because of recommendations from friends. I picked this one over any of her others because the premise reminded me a lot of The 100, another thing I love.

Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie

Another author I've heard a lot of good things about. The premise sounds so intriguing, and I've been starved for some non-urban fantasy with a female protagonist. I've really only stayed away from this one because of its size. That'll have to change soon.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Traveler 120 Photos

Back in March, my grandma gave me this Traveler 120 camera:

I only recently got time to clean it up a bit and try it out. I took one roll (eight pictures) with 100 speed B&W film. In retrospect, faster film would have been better. An obvious problem that I knew about while I was out was that I couldn't quite keep the camera steady. The shutter button itself is rather heavy, and pressing it automatically nudges the camera. I'll have to brace the camera better for future photos.

A problem that I only found out about after I got them developed was that light is getting into the camera somehow. Either that, or I let some in while loading the film. Furthermore, I was following the exposure numbers as they appeared in the viewing window, and it looks like some shots didn't line up right. So, these photos aren't very good, but here they are! I took all of them along a park trail.

I think they're kind of spooky, although I wish just one would have turned out well. I've got four more rolls, so I think I'm going to try to use them on bright days and make sure to close up any potential holes. Instead of getting them developed right away, though, I'll probably save them until I can do them myself (not sure when that will be!).

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

AMoCH: The Screaming Skull

Title: The Screaming Skull
Year: 1958
Starring: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway
Summary: A newlywed couple returns from their honeymoon to the estate of the man’s late wife. The bride, a wealthy but extremely neurotic woman, uneasily settles into the home, walking the gardens of the estate that are meticulously kept by a strange gardener following the wishes of the deceased woman. The new lady of the house is tormented by the sudden appearance of skulls throughout the house and grounds. Is it the deceased woman coming back to drive her away or are there more sinister motives behind the skulls?

A few thoughts just from reading the synopsis: What could be more sinister than your husband’s dead wife trying to scare you to death? And what is it with the prevalence of newly married couples in horror movies? Is it related to the prevalence of female characters who have sex and then die? Also, this is basically Rebecca, yeah? I haven’t actually seen or read it, but it sounds awfully familiar.

It opens with a narration that says you might die of fright during this movie, but not to worry. The producers have reserved a coffin for you. Even from the opening music, this movie is trying hard to be scary. I’m guessing the effect would have been better in 1958. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. It’s the latest so far, but besides a skull bouncing down the steps, it’s ultimately forgettable.

AMoCH: One Body Too Many

Even though I missed Sunday, I actually did watch this yesterday but didn't have the time to post it before I left for work.

Title: One Body Too Many
Year: 1944
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Jack Haley, Jean Parker

Summary: A timid insurance salesman decides to place a call upon an eccentric recluse at his mansion only to find that he has just passed away. What he also finds is a home full of relatives who are, according to the will, all bound to remain in the mansion until the authorities arrive to claim the body. Seeing that the man’s niece may be in harm’s way, the salesman decides to remain at the mansion to protect her from harm while they discover who killed her uncle.

This movie starts off with two of my favorite tropes: the reading of the will, complete with squabbling relatives, and the clause in the will that binds people to stay in the deceased’s home for a certain amount of time. These characters are wacky, and I love it. Jack Haley easily steals the spotlight here. First of all, he played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. My sister used to watch that movie every day when we were much younger, and my first word that wasn't 'Mom' or 'Dad' was 'Tin Man.' That's how much she used to watch it. So I feel like I have a unique rapport with Jack Haley. He's an insurance salesman who also happens to be a grammar nerd, and I love it. Here's a conversation he has with one of the other characters (I'm bad with character names, sorry):

Tin Man: "I’d do it?"
Other Guy: "Him?"
TM: "He"
OG: "What?"
TM: "He, not him. It’s a common mistake. You see, ‘him’ is objective—"

I know that the suspense in these movies isn't going to keep me on the edge of my seat like some newer movies do, but I just didn't expect One Body Too Many to be this funny or cute. Jack Haley's character gets his bath towel stuck in the door. He gets hiccups while he’s inside the uncle's coffin and ends up getting thrown into the pool. He's reading from a mystery novel where a bad guy’s sneaking up on a good guy while someone is sneaking up on him as he’s sitting in the library reading it. Then he tosses the book aside, exclaiming: “Ah, things like that don’t happen!”

In addition, there were numerous one-liners that made me chuckle. After Jack Haley's character gets knocked out, he explains how it happened: "The lights went out then somebody hit me. Then the lights went out.” It's silly, but it's entertaining.

At one point, a character says this about the uncle: “He wanted to be interred in a glass-top vault so the stars will shine down upon him.” Sign me up for this! I never expected to find funeral ideas in a '40s horror film.

Favorite line: “I can’t sell a dead man insurance!”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

AMoCH: Invisible Ghost

Title: Invisible Ghost
Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire

Bela Lugosi stars in this Monogram thriller as Charles Kessler, a man living with his daughter while hoping for the return of his wife. Upon seeing her peeking through a window, he falls into a trance and murders the maid. The maid’s boyfriend is framed for the murder and dies in the hands of the police. The man’s twin brother and Kessler’s daughter team up to clear the brother’s name and discover the true identity of the killer.

I love everything about that synopsis. Dude, this movie starts off with a bang—well, a character one. Bela Lugosi’s daughter informs us that his wife left him for his best friend, so he celebrates their wedding anniversary by pretending to have dinner with her. Every year. This is within the first few minutes, which means it took a few minutes for me to love this character. Why does he do it? Out of spite? Out of anger? Out of madness?

However, Mrs. Kessler hasn’t actually gone of her own volition. It seems she’s been kidnapped* and is living ala Mrs. Rochester. Where is she, though? It seems like she’s in the house next door, but does Kessler know? No, he doesn’t, because when she wanders through the shrubbery to appear at the window, he thinks she’s a ghost.

Oh, my goodness. Kessler is charming. This is Bela Lugosi at his best (even if half the time, he looks like he has eye problems and the other half, he stands like a surprised Dracula). He worries about his servant getting an infection from a cut, so he wraps his hand himself and then thanks him for dinner. When his cook wants to leave because his house is super-duper creepy, he convinces her to stay, and their conversation ends like this:

Cook: “Wait till you taste my apple pie.”
Kessler: “Apple pie? My, that will be a treat!”

I dare you to dislike him. This was easily the best film so far (I know it’s only day three). The sound quality was much better than the previous two, and the plot and characters kept me interested.

*Or has she?

Friday, October 2, 2015

AMoCH: Black Dragons

Title: Black Dragons
Year: 1942
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Clayton Moore, Joan Barclay

Summary: Just prior to the start of World War II, Dr. Melcher (Bela Lugosi), a world-famous plastic surgeon, is brought in by Japan’s Black Dragon Society as part of a secret plan. Dr. Melcher operates on six Black Dragon Society operatives and transforms them into exact duplicates of six high-ranking American businessmen who are replaced by these look-alikes. With their operatives in place, the Black Dragon Society’s plan to sabotage the American war effort appears to be set, but the FBI Chief and an agent begin to piece together the clues that hopefully will uncover this sinister plot.

Despite this movie being twenty years older than yesterday’s, the audio quality is actually better. I let this one play in the background while doing work for my sister’s baby shower, so I don’t have a ton to say about it besides the premise is satisfyingly creepy. I’m not down with people getting surgically transformed into other people. Bela Lugosi is always a treat, and some of the action even takes place in Pittsburgh, which is cool. I always get a kick out of Pittsburgh mentions.

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Banned/Challenged Books

In honor of ALA’s Banned Book Week, today’s Friday Five is five of my favorite banned or challenged books. I can’t say my top five, because oh, my goodness, there are a lot of challenged books that I’ve read and enjoyed!

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury.
The ultimate bibliophile’s book, a love letter to words. I’m probably due for a reread. Fun fact: I still don’t know how to spell “Fahrenheit.”

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson.
I read this when I was much younger, maybe in eighth grade, but it’s stuck with me. One of the wonders of literature is being able to explore important issues, and YA lit is especially necessary for giving them the language to talk about such issues, for being available when they don’t want to talk about them, and for teaching them to think critically.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
Another book I read for the first time in eighth grade. Can’t go wrong with this classic. And this reminds me that I still need to read Go Set a Watchman.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein.
Sometimes, you just need to read funny and whimsical kids’ poems. This will probably be one of the first books I buy my nephew. I’m going to buy him lots of books.

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson.
I actually didn’t read this until I was twenty-three or twenty-four, but it still had an impact on me. I grew up in a rural area, so it was my sister, the neighbor boy who was my age, and me. We spent our summers running around outside having adventures, and this book, even with its sad ending, reminds me a lot of my childhood. And yes, I cried.

See the full lists on ALA’s website HERE.