Saturday, April 22, 2017

Going In Style

+++ FILM REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++
This is the poster for the 2017 movie starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin.

This is a still from the 1979 movie starring George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg.

Magician's Gambit

Magician's Gambit
by David Eddings
Recommended Ages: 12+

+++ REVIEW IN PROGRESS +++

Please be patient. I'm going through some stuff at the moment, that has been requiring all the time I normally spend blogging.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

214. A Silly Hymn About Pets

I'm a little ashamed even to be going here, but one of the ideas I had for another round of "useful hymns" was a hymn dealing with the problem I've seen several Christians struggle with - how to move on after the death of a pet. I decided the approach to take would be something like the following, though I'm only about 40-percent satisfied with how it turned out. There's an irreducible silliness about the whole subject, in my opinion. And I say this as someone who has seriously mourned the death of several pets. The last stanza has me especially worried, because it's the one that confronts the matter head-on, and it must somehow strike the right balance between a not-too-pedantic, but somewhat polemical admonishment and a tone of compassion and comfort - while, at the same time, not offering any comfort God's Word does not authorize in this case. Also, I didn't want it in any way to encourage the whole "blessing of the pets" craze, or the placing of "rainbow bridge" tracts in churches, both of which I consider abominable in more ways than I want to go into at this time. So, with apologies in advance for its shortcomings, here is:

A Hymn of Thanksgiving for Animal Friends
Tune: GOTT DER VATER, WOHN UNS BEI
("God the Father, be our Stay")

Thank you, Lord, for furry friends,
And fanged, and finned, and feathered!
Though they live in tanks or pens,
Are harnessed, yoked, or tethered,
We but borrow from the wild
These gifts of Your creation;
With care and moderation,
We place them in their station.
Help us, then, with them be mild
And husband their well-being,
To all their comforts seeing,
From pain and terror freeing.
Should we as their god be styled,
Of this, Lord, make us worthy!

Thank you, Lord, for beasts that serve
On leash, or under saddle:
Guides that out of danger swerve,
Or guards no threat can rattle;
Friends that hunt, or search and save,
Some evil thing detecting
And innocents protecting,
But scant reward expecting.
Oh, that we were half as brave
And faithful in our labor,
Devoted to our neighbor,
Dependent on Your favor!
Of how rich a gift you gave
Through them, Lord, keep us mindful!

Thank You, Lord, for pets that cheer
Our hearts with sweet devotion,
Soothing sadness, calming fear,
And cooling hot emotion!
In their trusting, pleading eyes,
You try our hearts, to render
Unto the weaker member
Both faithful love and tender.
Who that feels their due, denies
Your mercy’s greatness, serving
Mankind, though undeserving,
Poor, weak, and inward-curving?
Through their fleeting, little lives,
Lord, lasting lessons teach us!

Thank you, Lord, at last, for grief
Felt at our darlings’ dying;
May it strengthen our belief,
On Your pure word relying!
Let no answers to unknowns
Use heartache to mislead us;
Nor let our sorrow cheat us
Of what You died to deed us.
Though we have no certain stones
On which to stay our weeping,
We leave, Lord, in Your keeping
Our creature-friends, now sleeping.
Let Your vow to raise our bones
Suffice to give us comfort!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thrift Store Book Buys

Yesterday, I took advantage of some comp time the old salt mines owed me and punched out of work early. Then I walked across the town square to pay a utility bill at City Hall. On my way back, I ducked into a thrift shop to get out of the driving rain and cold, stiff wind. I found my way back to the book shelves, where there were paperbacks on sale for 35 cents each. I made quite a haul for less than $2.50, plus tax. Here are the seven books I took home:
  • Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
  • The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
  • Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • The American by Henry James
  • So Big by Edna Ferber
  • A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
  • Ice Station by Matt Reilly
All of these are books I have never read, but have reckoned I probably should someday. (Well, except the last one; that's just for entertainment.) Here's my chance!

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Boss Baby

Sorry to have been so slow finishing this review (and those of two books I read around the same time), but we had a busy week at the newspaper for which I write, including a local election, and any given day during the last week I've had either no energy or no time to spare. It's been about a week since I saw the 20th Century Fox animated film The Boss Baby. But I think can still fulfill my current movie-reviewing objective of recalling the three moments that made this movie for me.

It's a cute, funny, warm-and-cuddly adventure featuring an imaginative seven-year-old boy whose jealousy of the love his parents are giving his newborn baby brother turns into suspicion when he catches the new baby chairing a meeting of local babies, planning some kind of corporate espionage against the company hero boy's parents work for - Puppy Co. Eventually, the siblings call a truce and agree to work together to halt a fiendish plot to use high-tech puppies to squeeze babies out of grown-ups' hearts, so the undercover executive baby can get back to his office at Baby Corp and little Tim can have his parents back. The upper management baby is voiced by Alec Baldwin. The boys' parents are played by Jimmy Kimmel and Lisa Kudrow. The villainous Francis Francis, CEO of Puppy Co., is played by Steve Buscemi, and Tobey Maguire narrates as grown-up Tim.

So, Moment #1: A madcap chase scene in the backyard, as Tim tries to deliver to his parents an audio cassette(?!) proving what the babies are up to, and the babies give chase. The stunts, explosions, and hairsbreadth escapes are hilariously over-the-top, but the five-second bit that makes it is when the parents look out the window and see Tim hanging onto the rear bumper of the boss baby's car-shaped walker as it rolls slowly across the lawn. This glimpse of the reality behind the kids' flights of imagination is simultaneously the weirdest and the funniest thing about an altogether weird and funny movie.

Moment #2: Tim accuses the boss baby of stealing the song his parents wrote for him - actually "Blackbird" by the Beatles - but completely misses the reference when the baby sarcastically retorts, "So, your parents are John Lennon and Paul McCartney?" Later, however, Tim sings the same song to the baby, who at the time is lapsing into pure babyishness, to coax him off a rocket that's about to blast off (long story). Kinda puts a lump in your throat.

Moment #3: There are some gags in the movie that only adults will get. Probably the one with the best payoff is the baby, who I repeat has Alec Baldwin's voice, saying, "Cookies are for closers."

It take a lot, these days, to get me to travel the distance to the nearest, or second-nearest, movie theater and to lay out the amount of money a movie ticket and a small popcorn costs. Moments like these are essential to making me feel it was worth the trip. There were other movies I could have seen, including a King Kong reboot, a live-action Beauty and the Beast. I guess the question this review raises is: What does the fact that I chose an animated movie about a suit-wearing baby voiced by Alec "coffee is for closers" Baldwin say about me?

Hades

Hades
by Candice Fox
Recommended Ages: 15+

In this opening novel of what has become (so far) the "Archer and Bennett" trilogy, Sydney homicide detective Frank Bennett immediately notices something about his new partner, the beautiful Eden Archer, that makes him want to dig deeper and find out more. By the time they solve their first mystery together, the impulse has led him into a bond of blood with a woman whose brilliance at detecting sociopathic killers stems from being one herself.

Not only is she one, but so is her detective brother Eric, who if anything is even more dangerous - to bad guys, to anyone who gets too close to the secret he and Eden share, and most of all to Frank. As he gets closer to being able to prove the siblings are moonlighting as murderers, hunting bad guys the justice system can't stop and making them disappear forever, Frank finds himself closer to becoming another of their not-quite-innocent victims. Meantime, he also gets too close to a victim who escaped the serial killer he and Eden are after. This sicko, by the way, has developed a gruesome procedure for sparing transplant patients a long time on the waiting list, provided they aren't picky about how the organs were procured.

A successful reader of this book will have a strong stomach, buffered against the grisly discoveries in store for the cops, as they chase a mad medico whose devotion to Darwin provides a rationale for many of his crimes. They must also have a strong heart, able to take being broken by the pain in store for the imperfect yet sympathetic main character. And they should also have a nimble mind, as the point of view shifts occasionally to that of the killer (the guy doing the organ transplants, that is), and also regularly flashes back to Eric and Eden's upbringing by the organized crime fixer whose nickname gives the book its title. No stranger to killing himself, it is ultimately Hades' heartbreak one feels, as he raises two orphans left on his doorstep by one of their parents' killers, and loves them even though he knows what they will someday become. It is a book that provokes thought about the line between justice and vengeance. It even tries - not entirely without success - for a little sympathy with at least one of the Archer siblings, as she struggles to master her own demons while fighting demons at large.

This is the debut novel of an Australian writer whose name has lately been appearing, in smaller and less-bold type, below that of crime writer James Patterson - one of those authors who, like Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, etc., have such successful brand-names that they can afford to shelter less-successful talents under them. Why Candice Fox would need to do this is a question that mystifies me. She won the 2014 Ned Kelly Award for best first novel with this book - an honor bestowed annually by the Crime Writers Association of Australia, approximately the down-under equivalent of the Edgar Awards in the U.S. Its sequel Eden won a Ned Kelly for best novel the next year, and the third book in the series, Fall, was short-listed for the same award in 2016. Even in translation into U.S. English (ha, ha), I see nothing lacking in Fox's talent writing crime thrillers, certainly not such that she should be relegated to a footnote on the cover under marquee-sized bold capitals spelling out "James Patterson." I say this with no malice toward the American author, of whose work I have yet to read one page. I just think the author who actually did most of the work should get most of the credit, and if they truly co-wrote it, they should get equal credit. Also, I think this author - I mean Candice Fox - is good enough to have her own best-selling brand.

The Song of Glory and Ghost

The Song of Glory and Ghost
by N.D. Wilson
Recommended Ages: 12+

In the second book of the "Outlaws of Time" series, Sam Miracle - a boy destined to kill a time-walking villain named the Vulture, or El Buitre, before he destroys the whole world - finds himself playing second fiddle to his former sidekick, a girl named Glory. They've been caught in a blighted branch of time, following a disaster that turned the Seattle area into a post-apocalyptic nightmare, since their only ticket out - the time-traveling priest Father Tiempo, or the boy Peter who is meant to grow up to be him - is being targeted for John Connor-style termination by being erased from history, practically at the moment of his birth. Armed, at first, with only an hourglass that can create bubbles of faster or slower time, Glory must learn how to move forward and backward in time so Sam can end this, before the Vulture ends him.

Meantime, Glory, Sam, his sister Millie, and their group of "Lost Boys" have gotten crosswise with a gang whose leader, nicknamed Leviathan, and his daughter Samra have been brought up on a series of comic books depicting Sam as a traitor and a villain who must be stopped at all costs. It isn't hard to believe, when you see the kid with snakes for arms draw and shoot pistols with both hands, with deadly speed and accuracy, aided by Glory, whose growing ability to manipulate time actually enables them to ride a motorcycle, sidecar and all, across the surface of Puget Sound. But even bigger obstacles lie before them than Levi's gang, thanks to the Vulture's pact with a pair of ancient Mesoamerican demons and an army of skin-walkers - basically, undead people who have gained the ability to transform into werebeasts by murdering their own families.

So, this is a really out-there, strange, original, action-packed piece of young-adult science fiction/fantasy/adventure, populated by cosmic beings and paranormal mosnters, exploring previously uncharted hazards of time travel, and occasionally drop into speeches that hint at a triune deity moving mysteriously in the background. I think I have compared N.D. Wilson's youth fiction with that of C.S. Lewis in a previous review. The comparison this book brought to mind was to Madeleine L'Engle in such books as A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door. Maybe this is a consequence of the point-of-view character more often being Glory in this book, and the hero-girl type being more open to listening to characters like the Ghost (whom I'm afraid to try describing) rhapsodize about the spiritual side of things. With Sam at the center, the focus was more on the immediate dilemma of what to do and, at times, trying to pull together his confused memories of what he had already done. Perhaps unfortunately, Glory's step forward means the narrative cake is more thickly frosted with metaphysical talkiness. But without taking away any of the hard-hitting action and danger that livened up the first book in the series, it gives more thoughtful readers, especially Christian families, material to consider and discuss.

My review of this sequel to The Legend of Sam Miracle is based on a pre-publication proof copy. The book is scheduled to be released April 18, 2017. Wilson is also the author of several children's picture books, including some fictions based on Bible stories; the "100 Cupboards" trilogy and its upcoming prequel The Door Before (coming out June 27, 2017); the "Ashtown Burials" trilogy; Leepike Ridge; and Boys of Blur.