The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe – A Book Review

This particular book has been on my “to read” list for quite a while after I saw that Neil Gaiman recommended it.

The plot revolves around a man named Bax — a scholar many times over, a cheat, a sometimes fraud, and a recently released convict.  He has no money and so, after drifting a bit, takes up residence in what he presumes to be an abandoned house.  He soon discovers that the house has claimed him as its own, and so he must deal with all the sorcery, monsters, mystery, and family lineage that accompanies it.  The only question is to whom the title refers.  Is it the previous owner of the home … or Bax himself?

This book is unusual in that is is comprised of a series of letters written mostly by Bax himself.  Due to this method, we get to know Bax very well, or at least the persona he wishes to display to the recipients of his letters.  These letters make for a very fast, entertaining read.

However, because Bax is essentially a first-person narrator, I sometimes found myself distracted by his near omnipotence.  It’s a tricky thing to write a book in this manner, and, at times, Bax seemed to know too much which resulted in the letters feeling less like correspondence and more like actual chapters.

Even with that being said, I did enjoy the story’s trajectory.  It felt different in that it did not conform to the typical third act showdown.  Characters came and went without much fuss, which is how I would describe this book as a whole — it doesn’t make too much of a fuss.  It handles some rather epic concepts humbly and without much of a to-do.  I found that restraint rather charming, actually.

I’m glad Neil Gaiman, a literary hero of mine, thinks so highly of The Sorcerer’s House.  I apparently did not enjoy it as much as he, but if you think highly of Gaiman, I urge you to give it a try for yourself.

Image result for the sorcerer's house gene wolfe

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Advertisements

“Why We Won” – A Story About Football, Winning, and Brotherhood

Do you have football on the brain?  Do you enjoy short stories?  How do you feel about having your heartstrings pulled?  If you answered all of these questions in the affirmative, I hope you’ll check out my piece of flash fiction entitled “Why We Won.”  Just scroll down for links to Kindle and Nook and download for only ninety-nine cents!

WHYWEWONCOVER.jpg

Click “Kindle” To Download

Click “Nook” To Download

After five years of winning football state championships, a quarterback laces up for his last game. He and his team are brothers, and they know how much rides on each and every game. For them, winning is very much a matter of life or death.  (Family Saga/Sports)

Big Little Lies – A Satisfying Experince

Like all of you, my wife and I heard great things about this seven-episode HBO series.  At under an hour apiece, we figured we’d give it a try.

Guess what?  The rave reviews are accurate – this is an incredibly satisfying experience.

I’l describe the plot without spoiling any important revelations.  Madeline and Celeste, respectively played by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, are best friends in a very affluent town who befriend a younger mom named Jane, played by Shailene Woodley.  Jane is apparently a single mom and new to the community.  The three woman have children the same age who attend the first grade of the local school.  On the first day of school, Jane’s child is accused of abusing a classmate, but the child proclaims innocence.  Laura Dern plays the bullied child’s mother, Renata, and she is out for blood.  Battle lines are drawn between the parents of the children and tensions are running high.  It’s then revealed that, weeks later, a murder has occurred during a fundraiser on school property, one that obviously involved parents.  The only question throughout the series remains … who was killed?  … And who did the killing?

Of course, there are many subplots to the show as well.  Nicole Kidman is trying to navigate a viciously abusive relationship with her husband; Reese Witherspoon must somehow share her oldest daughter with her ex and his second–seemingly perfect–wife played by Zoe Kravitz.  Shailene Woodley is trying to keep her sanity as her child is vilified and she strives to reconcile her own tumultuous past.

The show somehow manages to balance several elements that normally shouldn’t fit together at all.  It is darkly funny, but it’s also incredibly tense.  At times the childish behaviors of the grownups will make you cringe, but they will also touch your heart as you watch their emotions get flayed.  The abuse Nicole Kidman suffers will shock you, disgust you, and make you angry.  Yet, throughout the entire series, the mystery remains as to who got killed, and who is the murderer?  As you probably guessed, the show gives everyone a motive to kill, and everyone has also upset someone else enough to kill them.

The real magic of Big Little Lies is the editing, though.  They edited each episode brilliantly in that they keep that mystery thriving, they give you just enough information to keep you guessing without giving it all away, and they offer little snippet after little snippet to keep you coming back for more.  Furthermore, while the big mystery is obviously the grand finale, each character also has minor mysteries that are built upon and revealed little by little, which proved very satisfying as well.

That’s how I would describe Big Little Lies — satisfying.  From start to finish, each episode left me riveted.  And when the events of the murder are finally revealed?  I couldn’t have asked for a better depiction of the moment.  The set up, execution, and resolution were perfect.

I highly recommend you watch this show if you haven’t yet.  My wife and I both loved it.

Related image

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Locke & Key: Heaven and Earth by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez – A Book Review

You may remember that I did not care for the price of Locke & Key: Small World in relation to the amount of pages.  (Click HERE if you’d like to revisit my angst.)  Heaven and Earth, like Small World, is a collection of three very short stories involving the Locke & Key mythology.  Short stories may be an overstatement.  One of them is short.  The other two are downright minuscule.

The first short involves the family introduced in Small World.  It is an excellently executed short story that will have you tearing up before you know it.

The second short, which is far shorter, focuses upon the children in the first after they’ve reached early adulthood.  Some gangsters come their way with rape and murder on their minds.  Let’s just say the gangsters receive poetic justice.

The third will be over before you blink, but it will bring a smile to your face, guaranteed.

The book also contains photographs of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez exploring the island they used as a model for the book.  They are candid, interesting shots with the guys joking around.  There are a few alternate covers that use actual crafted keys to replicate those found in the stories, which are actually very cool.

Now that I’ve accepted the price point of these little additions to the Locke & Key story line, I’m not quite so upset.  As a Locke & Key fan, I would say that both Small World and Heaven and Earth are required reading.  I appreciate that they tried to fill in some space to better justify the price, but I personally would have much preferred one more story instead.

Image result for locke and key heaven and earth cover

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Star Wars: From a Certain Point Of View – A Book Review

This collection of short stories will satisfy every Star Wars fan alive.  The premise is genius.  It takes small, seemingly unimportant moments from A New Hope and zeroes in on them.  It provides names and backstories, tragedies and victories, motivations and inclinations.  It satisfyingly adds to a universe already well developed.

One of these stories in particular proved among my favorites.  Do you remember the guy standing lookout in the crow’s nest of a pole?  You saw him as the X-Wings took off to intercept the Death Star?  His story is written by Will Wheaton, entitled “Laina,” and it is absolutely heartbreaking.  There is another called “Time of Death” which features Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final moments and thoughts as he faced certain death at the hands of his former apprentice.  Speaking of such, Claudia Gray wrote “Master and Apprentice” which explores Qui-Gon Jinn’s spirit visiting Obi-Wan on Tatooine.  Still another is called “There Is Another,” and it’s about Yoda living on Dagobah and wishing he could train one last Jedi–someone he believes has great potential.

Of course, as you can see, not all stories are directly related to a moment in A New Hope.  Such as with the Yoda story, some of the stories check in on characters technically not introduced in the original 1977 classic.  Boba Fett, for example, offers a first-person account during a bounty hunt.  We have a story starring Lando trying to swindle someone.  We have another with Doctor Aphra, a relatively new character, in the lead.  Yet another stars the Emperor himself.

However, these are all pretty big names in the Star Wars mythology.  Most of the short stories actually utilize characters that are essentially unknown.  Remember the red R2 unit that Luke and Uncle Owen almost bought?  He’s got a story.  Do you recall the Tusken Raiders who knocked out Luke?  Yep, they have a story, too.  That bartender who told Luke to get the droids out of his tavern?  You guessed it.  Even one of those little mouse droids in the Death Star has a story.

Are all forty of these short stories great?  Not in my opinion, no.  However, those that didn’t speak to me personally may very well be your favorite.  I will say this, though, the vast majority of them were exceptional.  The writers’ ability to take seemingly irrelevant characters and develop them into engaging, charismatic figures proved uncanny.

I highly recommend this book for any Star Wars fan.

Image result for From a Certain Point of View

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

 

Phantom Thread – A Movie Review

Surprised I’m reviewing this movie?  I’ll watch anything starring Daniel Day-Lewis.  It’s really that simple.

My wife and I have not been together to see a movie in quite some time, so we figured Phantom Thread would be a nice “date” movie for us to enjoy.  In the end, I’m not sure we “enjoyed” it, but we definitely “appreciated” it.

Let’s get this out of the way — Phantom Thread is not a “date” movie.  I wouldn’t even consider it a “mainstream” movie.  It’s very slow, very quiet, very long, and very understated … until it’s not.  More on that in a minute.

I’d also like to say upfront that, had we watched this at home, my wife probably would have fallen asleep and I would then probably have turned it off.  I’m glad we saw it in the theater because that guaranteed we’d give it our full attention.  We were fully engaged and fascinated the whole time, even if we did occasionally check the time.

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays a fussy dressmaker in the 1950s.  He is something of a mastermind and his house (brand) is always in demand.  However, he is obsessed with his work, and he will not tolerate anything or anyone that detracts him from his life’s meaning.  He soon falls for a waitress while on holiday.  He brings her back with him and then the meat of the story really begins.  He wants to continue life as it was before her–she’s supposed to just slide right into his established patterns.  But she wants to love him on her terms, not his.  Both are headstrong, sharp-tongued, and repressed … until they’re not.  I don’t want to say more because it will spoil a rather interesting development regarding their dynamic.

So, getting back to the thing I said about appreciating it but not necessarily enjoying it.  Watching Daniel Day-Lewis transform himself into this man proved amazing.  His character, Reynolds Woodcock, is contradiction personified.  He is so calm and collected until he loses his temper.  He is tough and cold until he’s an emotional mess.  He’s calculated and intelligent until he spouts angry gibberish.  He’s polite and sophisticated until he acts like a spoiled child.  He’s independent and self-reliant until he admits to being a mamma’s boy.  Day-Lewis delivered this character without apparent effort making him simultaneously believable, charming, and detestable.  As is often the case with Day-Lewis, I did not see the actor during the film, I saw only Reynolds Woodcock.

I believe this movie had a lot to say about relationships as well.  I think many of us can relate to the honeymoon phase of a relationship and then the unavoidable humdrum of routine and monotony.  His love interest, Alma, refused to fall into Reynolds’ regimen.  As I said earlier, she loved him, but she demanded to love him on her own terms, in her own way.  Again, I won’t spoil the actions she takes to make him completely hers, but it’s unexpected to say the least.  His ultimate reaction to her extreme behavior is something I would love to speak to you about privately.  I won’t write about it here, of course, out of respect to those who haven’t see it yet.  Needless to say, my wife and I had much to discuss during the drive home.

Though this movie takes place in the 1950s, I think it applies very much to the world today.  Woodcock works relentlessly.  He takes no time to enjoy those around him.  He does not derive pleasure from the simple things in life.  Nor does he allow life’s spontaneity to influence his existence.  He experiences the world completely on his own terms, even at the exclusion of his loved ones.  I think most of us will see ourselves reflected in Woodcock on some level.  Perhaps we will recognize our own irrational obsessions in him–whether it be that we our workaholics, addicted to social media, tied to our televisions …

In the end, I found Phantom Thread refreshing.  I don’t think a single special effect appeared in the entire movie.  The score rarely rose above the sound of a piano tapping.  This movie excelled purely due to story, production, dialogue, and performance.

While I wouldn’t recommend Phantom Thread as a date movie, I would definitely recommend it for those wanting a change from capes and laser swords.  I’m no film aficionado, but even I recognized the sheer mastery of craft unfolding before my eyes.  Phantom Thread is absolutely worthy of your appreciation.

Image result for phantom thread movie poster

 (Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

Manifest Destiny: Mnemophobia & Chronophobia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

Manifest Destiny is one of my favorite comic books running at the moment.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, Lewis and Clark are still exploring the American wilderness west of St. Louis, but in this alternate history, they are not merely mapping out the landscape and marking rivers, they are also analyzing any potential preternatural threats to the American pioneer.  Guess what?  There are many, many strange plants and animals ready to kill them at every opportunity.

There is also a larger plot at play from one volume to the next.  They keeping coming across arches, much like the famed St. Louis Arch.  However, these arches are made of natural materials and developed organically … or did they?  Whatever the case may be, they tend to serve as the epicenter of unusual, and deadly, occurrences.

In this fifth volume, Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea, and their band of soldiers and felons have founded a fort in order to survive the winter.  Soon, though, a strange fog rolls in, and this fog brings some of their past–and most horrific–threats with it.

This is a high-concept book, but such industrious titles tend to burn out by the time they reach their twenty-fifth issue.  I’m happy to tell you that Manifest Destiny shows no signs of slowing down.  Dingess has found the perfect balance of horror, adventure, and characterization to keep this title engaging and interesting.  Honestly, I thought this particular volume would end up boring me.  After all, a fog doesn’t sound terribly exciting, does it?  It became readily apparent that the fog wasn’t the real threat–the men’s fear, bias, and paranoia is the real threat, and those things burst free during their encounter with the fog.

Matthew Roberts also keeps this title driving forward.  His art appears historically accurate in terms of clothing, tools, weapons, boats, forts, and things like that.  He is also a master of anatomy and perspective.  There appears to be no animal, plant, or combination thereof that he cannot render perfectly.  But, even with that all being said, his most important quality is that he knows how to keep one panel moving into the next, and then into the next, and then into the next.  He realizes the importance of “sequence” in sequential art.

There are only a few titles currently being published that I consider “must-read.”  Manifest Destiny is one of them.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Image result for manifest destiny mnemophobia and

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)