Monthly Archives: March 2010

“Horns” by Joe Hill

Horns My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Horns” starts with two of the most ingenious opening paragraphs I’ve read in a long while about Ignatius Perrish waking up from having spent the night before doing horrible things and getting ready to do a lot more. Also, Ig (as he’s called) has a pair of horns growing out of his head.

Joe Hill sets the hook early (again, two paragraphs) and then never lets go of your attention for the rest of “Horns” as we learn more not only about the night before but the complicated past of one Ignatius Perrish. Ig was the prime suspect in the murder and rape of his girlfriend Merrin. The night before Ig is set to leave for England for six months, Merrin announces that she wants a bit of a break from Ig during his sojourn in England. Ig leaves is a fit of fury and the next day Merrin is found dead in the woods. Ig is the prime suspect but was never charged due to a lack of evidence.

Now a year later, he’s woken up with horns and is estranged from most of his family and friends. And the horns have an unusual power–they make anyone Ig comes in contact with tell him their most subconscious and repressed desires, emotions, thoughts and feelings. It’s amusing at first, but soon takes a darker turn with Ig finds out exactly how his family feels about him and discovers some clues about what happened the night Merrin died.

At times, “Horns” feels like a lost story by Richard Matheson while at others (especially in the last half of the book), the story feels like vintage Stephen King. Joe Hill shows the influences of both horror masters here, but also comes into his own as a writer with this superb story. Going back and forth, following events across Ig’s life, we get a complete character study as well as a superb set-up of what happened to Merrin and why. The story gives us just enough clues to keep things interesting without telegraphing all of the novel’s final few revelations. And when the final page is turned, you’ll walk away feeling satisfied like you’ve just enjoyed a great meal.

Joe Hill builds on his work in “Heart Shaped Box” with “Horns,” delivering on the promise he showed there in spades. You don’t have to have read “Box” to enjoy “Horns” (each is stand alone), but if you missed it, you’ll definitely want to check out one of the most promising young writers on the market today. “Horns” should only win him over a legion of new fans.

One of the best books I’ve read all year.

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Booking Through Thursday: Grammar

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In honor of National Grammar Day … it IS “March Fourth” after all … do you have any grammar books? Punctuation? Writing guidelines? Style books?

More importantly, have you read them?

How do you feel about grammar in general? Important? Vital? Unnecessary? Fussy?

Is anyone else feeling the pressure of National Grammar Day with this post to make sure all our grammar and spelling is correct?  Or is it just me?

I do own a copy of the AP Style Guide.  I was a communications major in college and I still use it from time to time.  Several undergrad courses required that I read the entire Style Guide cover to cover and we even had quizzes on it. Not the most exciting reading in the world and some of the rules don’t make much sense…

I will admit I try to use good grammar whenever possible, but it doesn’t always happen.   I sometimes get irritated when people can’t use “can” and “may” properly when asking a question…and I will jokingly (at least I try to come off as jokingly) correct them.

I do think that spelling and grammar are important in  professional situations.  I had a boss who used to send out e-mails that included text abbreviations.  It just didn’t come across as all that professional.

But maybe that’s just all that time reading and memorizing the Style Manual rearing its ugly head…

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“Secrets of Eden” by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets of Eden: A Novel My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Chris Bojhalian’s “Secrets of Eden” is a deceptive novel. I’ve heard it described as court-room thriller without the courtroom or trial. And I can see that, but in many ways it’s a lot more.

The novel centers around the death of Alice and George Hayward. The long-married couple are found dead–she strangled and he of a gunshot to the head. The first ruling is that George killed Alice and then ended his own life, but, as always, the truth is far more complex than just that.

The story unfolds through the point of view of four different first-person narrators. Bojhalian first lets us see the events surrounding the deaths from the point of view of Reverend Stephen Drew, a single minister who, at first, it appears Alice’s death has been the straw that broke the camel’s back in his disillusionment with the ministry and his faith. Drew seeks solace in the arms of Heather Laurent, a best-selling author of books about angels and her own experience when her father killed her mother and then took his own life.

But Steven may know more than he’s telling or lets on. In fact, his desire to leave the town may be more due to his having an affair with Alice while she was separated from her husband. And as the evidence begins to mount, it appears that George could not have taken his own life that night. He killed Alice, but did he kill himself?

The second section unfolds, revealing the investigation through the eyes of a local D.A. Catherine. Hearing her relentless desire to find out the truth and her take on Drew will alter your perception of the characters we meet in the first section.

Again, all is not as it seems and there is a twist in the novel’s final section which is fairly well foreshadowed. It’s not a huge shock, but it’s one that is set up well and that I was able to figure out before I got to the final few pages and it was revealed.

Bohjalian’s story is one that unfolds well and the story told in sections from four different points of view is fascinating and compelling.

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“Jaws” by Peter Benchley

Jaws My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The back cover of the audio book teased that if you’d only seen the movie version of “Jaws” but had never read the book, you were missing out on a lot of interesting subplots and characters that didn’t make it into the final script.

After listening to the audio version of “Jaws,” I can see why some of the subplots and characters were dropped. Steven Spielberg was quoted as saying that when he read the book, he found himself rooting for the shark because none of the human characters had any redeeming qualities or characteristics. And he’s correct in that. Yes, there’s a huge body count of people eaten by sharks, but outside of two of them, pretty much everyone who gets feasted on deserved to die in some way or another.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t a good one. At times, Peter Benchley’s story is compelling, fascinating and really gripped my attention. Any time there’s discussion of the shark or the chase of the great white, the book works well. Where the book is a bit of a let down is in some of the characters, specifically Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper. Ellen’s background is filled in a bit and we find out that she comes from a well-to-do family and there are times she missed entry into the world of those who are well-off. Or, at least, better off than she and her husband, who is the sheriff of the small town of Amity. Enter Matt Hooper, who had a crush on Ellen when she dated his older brother a few years before and has been out pursuing the life of adventure as an ichthyologist.

The two begin a flirtation that turns into an affair. At least it’s a one afternoon affair, but Ellen eventually realizes she has it pretty good with Brody and decides to save her marriage. Of course, it helps if the guy you cheated with is eaten by said killer shark for being a dumb-ass. Kind of cuts down on your chances of succumbing to temptation again.

As I said, the characters in the story aren’t necessarily the most likeable. And I could have really done without the long conversation that takes place with Brody is relieving himself and then hearing Ellen’s thoughts on the nature of male urination. A bit TMI, there.

However, for all that, I can still see why the book was a bestseller and why someone thought it would make a great movie. By jettisoning the excesses, the movie hits at the heart of the man vs. nature theme. Those parts of the book work, as does the suspense of wondering if and when the shark will attack next. A sequence when a young swimmer takes a dare to swim out a hundred yards and the shark decides to pursue had me on the edge of my seat and really enjoying the story.

The other dropped plotline about the local mayor’s involvement with the mafia and a scam to lower and then drive up property values is intriguing enough but is the type of thing that works better on the printed page. Vaughn’s obsession with keeping the beach’s open makes a lot more sense here. (But again it’s been years since I’ve watched the movie, so that may still be there).

In the end, the book is entertaining and I don’t regret the time spent listening to it. I can see why it was the basis for one of the great summer movies of all time and, in many ways, I find myself yearning to find a copy of the film and watch it again.

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Monday’s Movie: “Avatar,” “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs,” “The Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939)

It’s been a while since I did a “Monday’s Movie.”  I’m not sure if the meme is still active, but I’ll post anyway…

“Avatar” (2009)
Finally got around to seeing “Avatar” over the weekend.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see it, but it’s just been finding the time.

I’ve read a lot of places that James Cameron spent the better part of a decade waiting for the technology to catch up to what he wanted to do in “Avatar.”  Looking back, I wish he’d spent a bit more time working on the script and not having it be a retread of “Dances With Wolves.”

Cameron has created a movie that is visually stunning but lacks any depth when it comes to story or characters.  Every plot point is clearly telegraphed well in advance and the characters rarely grow beyond their original character description.   Within five minutes of meeting everyone, I knew pretty much how their story would work out and be resolved before the final frame unfolded.  It’s a shame really that a movie that looks this good can be so empty.  It’s the Lays potato chips of movies.

I’ve also read a lot about how some audience members have returned to the movie multiple times because the world of Pandora is so immersive and they want to feel like they’re a part of the culture created there.   Looking beyond the environmental message that Cameron beats you over the head with like a two-by-four, I was reminded a lot of my recent experience watching “The Invention of Lying.  Both movies, on some level, deal with the question of how human beings find a greater meaning and order to the universe and their lives beyond just themselves.  Where “Lying” was a satire and offered up the viewpoint that religion is based on a lie, “Avatar” seems to say that we find meaning from how we’re connected to the world and each other.  On Pandora, all things are connected and can interconnect, which is a fascinating concept if one that isn’t necessarily all that well explored or thought out.

But we do see some moments where the natives do have their own types of religious expression, related mostly to the natural environment of their world, and how that has a greater meaning for them.  They worship and find meaning from a mother earth figure, which plays into the final act of the film and serves more as a deus ex machina than offering anything substantive to say about Pandora, the characters or the story.

The movie has some opportunities that it really fails to explore, including the fact that in the real world, Jake is paralyzed but in his avatar body he’s able to use all his limbs.

There are some interesting ideas that could or should have been explored in a better script and story.  Unfortunately, “Avatar” ends up being all style with little substance.

And I’d say that, quite frankly, if you were looking for a better genre film to put up for best picture, “Star Trek” was far more deserving…

“Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”
It was fun, it was breezy and it didn’t overstay its welcome.  Running just under 90 minutes, this animated feature is a real joy and I really enjoyed it.  I watched in on DVD and found myself amused the entire time.   It’s not “Up” but it still has a good heart.

“Hound of the Baskervilles” (1939)
The first pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson is a fairly faithful adaptation of the original novel.  The script does play up the red herrings as to who is behind the infamous hound and the story does seem to have a kind of gothic horror sensibility to it at times, esp. once the action shifts to the area surrounding Baskerville hall.   Interestingly, Rathbone doesn’t get top billing (the movie seems more a vehicle for the actor playing Sir Henry).

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the Rathbone and Bruce movies and I found the typical image we have of Bruce at Dr. Watson to both fit and not fit here.  Bruce, at times, seems a bit bungling or there in the role of a “Doctor Who” companion–around for Holmes to explain the plot to.  But here he has a more active role and despite one scene in the cave when he throws a tizzy about Holmes being out on the moor in disguise, his take on Watson works fairly well.

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