Friday, February 28, 2014

Book Review: The Stuff of Legend Omnibus Two by Mike Raitch et al.

The Stuff of Legend Omnibus Two written by Mike Raitch and Brian Smith, illustrated by Charles Paul Wilson III

See my review of Omnibus One here!

The adventures of a group of toys who enter into the Dark to save their Boy who was kidnapped by the Boogeyman continue in this book. The group has splintered. Max the bear is the leader of the animal tribe hiding in the jungle from the Boogeyman's army. The Jester is chasing after the Indian Princess, whom he loves and who was captured by Indians. Percy the pig is leading the rest of the group back out of the Dark since they have admitted defeat.

Max decides he still wants to find the Boy and defeat the Boogeyman. Old legends tell of a light that shines at all times (the Night Light), which would be an invaluable aid in fighting the Boogeyman. At the top of the mountain where the light is hidden is Story Land, where characters from the child's books (mostly fairy tales) live.

The Jester is mistaken for his twin, the Laughing Ghost. The Boy received two identical jack-in-the-boxes once but one was broken almost immediately and hidden in the closet, where he passed over into the Dark and became a marauding thorn in the side of the Boogeyman. The twins eventually meet but it isn't a happy family reunion.

The Boy, meanwhile, has escaped from his jail with the aid of another boy. They flee to the Indian Nation hoping that the Indian wise man will be able to tell them how to escape. Percy the pig also heads to the Indian Nation for just such information. Naturally, the Jester winds up there too hoping to recover his lost love.

The book does a great job expanding the story begun in the first volume. New, interesting places and characters are introduced and the plot develops nicely. The writing is great and the art is stellar. I can't wait for more.

Movie Review: The Wolverine (2013)

The Wolverine (2013) directed by James Mangold

Another film I meant to see last summer (along with Pacific Rim, World War Z, Much Ado About Nothing, Evil Dead, Man of Steel, The World's End). I like the character and Hugh Jackman is usually reliable. 

Wolverine followed in Superman's footsteps last summer. Both characters had a disappointing solo outing a few years ago (X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Superman Returns) followed by a much better, though not great, film this past year. Superman's reboot left him a bit unsure of himself as a moral hero (not his usual Boy Scout self); Wolverine's new film drains out his healing factor (not his usual immortal self).

Wolverine's movie starts with his memories of World War II, specifically when he was in a prison camp just outside Nagasaki before the atomic bomb was dropped. He saved one of the Japanese soldiers who eventually became a highly successful businessman. In the modern day, the businessman sends one of his workers with a gift for Wolverine and a request to come say goodbye to his dying friend. The businessman can afford the best of care but he's an old man and doesn't have much longer to live. Unless, of course, he could get healing powers like Wolverine's...

The plot moves on from there in fairly predictable but not unenjoyable fashion. Almost every Japanese stereotype is in the film (seppuku, yakuza, bullet trains, martial arts, samurais, family honor, ninjas, etc. etc.--except I didn't see any sushi or Godzilla*). Logan's loss of healing is a little bit inconsistent but is a good way to make him vulnerable. Hugh Jackman gives a good performance as a tortured soul dealing with a tortured body. And fighting like a crazy, one-man army.

Like Man of Steel, The Wolverine is a big step in the right direction for the character and a lot better than I was expecting.

*Godzilla vs. Wolverine is a movie I would definitely make an effort to see in the theater.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic fantasy novel published in the 1950s. It was published in three volumes and is often (understandably) mistaken for a trilogy. It is one continuous story and is available nowadays as a single volume.

The story follows the adventures of Frodo Baggins, nephew to Bilbo Baggins, the title character from The Hobbit. In that book, Bilbo found a strange magic ring that made him invisible. In this book, he reluctantly passes on this treasure to Frodo. They are both friends with Gandalf, a wizard who passes through their home town of Hobbiton every now and again. Gandalf suspects the ring has more to it than the hobbits know; through research he discovers it might be the one ring forged by Lord Sauron in Mount Doom to give him power over the other races of Middle Earth. The ring was lost for hundreds of years after Sauron lost a battle to an alliance of men and elves. Something must be done with the ring now, so Gandalf sends Frodo on an epic adventure to dispose of the ring.

The novel is an amazing work of world-building. Middle Earth is a vast expanse populated by a wide variety of races who all have distinct histories, qualities, and languages. The history of the land is long and bits of that history keep coming out as the adventurers continue their journey. Middle Earth is a fully-realized other world.

The moral imagining of the world is also impressive. Though God is never mentioned, the characters (especially Gandalf) often note the providential nature of events. When Frodo arrives in Bree to meet Gandalf, the wizard is not there. In stead, Frodo meets Strider, a northern ranger, who helps them on their way. Gandalf had left a note to be forwarded on to Frodo instructing him to hurry along but it was never delivered. Gandalf is kidnapped right after leaving the note. If it had been delivered, Frodo would not have found Gandalf or Strider. It's a case of dumb luck or divine providence. The characters acknowledge providence even if they never mention God.

The morality in the book is deeper and more complicated than it is often given credit for. Characters struggle to choose the right thing to do and sometimes they choose wrongly because of their own personal flaws or doubts. Boromir, one of the fellow travelers with Frodo, tries to take the ring to use it as a weapon against Sauron. That choice causes a lot of immediate problems (including dividing the group just as a band of orcs attacks). He realizes his mistake and valiantly dies fighting the orcs. He has a moment of redemption. Few characters are irredeemably evil or perfectly competent.

The Lord of the Rings is a triumph of narrative fiction and is, in my opinion, the greatest novel ever written.

For more commentary on the book, check out A Good Story is Hard to Find's discussion, Part One and Part Two.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes, England

The Dales Countryside Museum is the less famous attraction in Hawes, home of the Wensleydale Creamery (seen in yesterday's post). The museum is also the visitor information center for the town and thus has a shop and a self-service tea and coffee machine. We had a quick snack then got to exploring the museum.

The Dales Countryside Museum

The first part of the museum is the "Time Tunnel," where the ancient history of the Dales is explained in fun, interactive exhibits.

L ready to enter the Time Tunnel

Stone age items from the dales

The Romans built a wooden fort in Bainbridge in the AD 80s. Around 200 they rebuilt the fort in stone to accommodate a cohort of 500 infantrymen from Belgium. A settlement sprung up around the fort and eventually the fort was staffed with locals. 

Roman display

Model of Bainbridge Roman Fort

After the Viking raids of the 800s and 900s, the area settled down with the Norman conquest. The Normans brought four new institutions for the locals: castles, forests, market towns, and monasteries. Forests weren't just wooded areas (obviously the local area already had those). Forests were areas (wooded or not) reserved for the nobility to hunt, thus why it was forbidden to poach in the forest.

Medieval times they are a-comin'!

Soon after that we were out of the Time Tunnel and, indeed, outside where we saw the railway carriages. The first carriage is a "Creation Station" for children to do art, crafts, and activities. J and L said it was their office and adults were not allowed in. Readers might think we were annoyed at this, but it left us free to explore the rest of the train which had exhibits about life in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The front of the train (the tracks go nowhere)

Various crimes circa 1830 (note no penalty for adults going into Creative Stations!)

A fishing net and a rag rug

19th century church furnishings

Patient customers waiting for their stop

Near the train is a variety of sculptures inspired by the Dales.

A coveted chair

Owl by Andris Bergs

Lead Mining Landscape by Ewa Gorska

L and Wensleydale Vessel by Anna Whitehouse

Aurochs by Jennifer Tetlow

We went back inside to discover the Local Industry, Crafts, and Farming exhibit. Many different professions were included like shoemakers, miners, cheesemakers (naturally), and farmers.

Cobler's wares and tools

A faux lead mine

Molds for making fancy cheese tops!

Artificial hives were put in stone walls to attract bees to gardens

L dressed as a farmer

Nothing in my hat!

We enjoyed the museum very much. Maybe a little too much, because it became very dark driving back (we visited in November when the daylight rapidly diminishes) and J was worried we'd be late for dinner. Luckily, we had some rice and cashew chicken in the fridge ready to reheat. Not a typical Dales meal, but a satisfying end to the day.

View of the Dales before it was dark

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Wensleydale Creamery, Hawes, England

Wensleydale is most famous for the cheese produced there. Cheesemaking in the Dales goes back at least as far as the Christian monasteries and has continued to the present day. We visited the Wensleydale Creamery, the home of real North Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese. In addition to their cheese production buildings, they have a museum, a visitor centre, a shop, and a restaurant. We visited them all!

The working part of the creamery

Our first stop was the museum where we saw a bit about the history of Wensleydale cheese. The first cheesemakers in the area were French Cistercian monks who came in 1150.

Monastic tools of the trade

When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 1530s, the monks gave the recipe to the wives of the farmers who had provided the milk to make cheese. The tradition was preserved in homes for about 450 years.

A sample farm kitchen with a sample J

In 1897 Edward Chapman built the first creamery to make Wensleydale cheese on an industrial scale. He bought milk from the local farmers and made a success of exporting the cheese.

Cheese presses (to get extra liquid out of the cheese)

Various cheese making implements

In the 1930s, the Great Depression almost closed the creamery but Kit Calvert drummed up enough support to save it. The company changed hands a few times until May 1992 when the creamery was closed by Dairy Crest, then the current owners. Some of the laid-off managers got together and bought the creamery and reopened it in time for cheese to be sold at Christmas. The place is still making hand-crafted cheese from local milk according to the classic local recipes.

Milking implements through the ages

A display on butter making, which they also do at the creamery

The museum includes an activity area for children which naturally drew J and L. A telly in the corner shows Wallace & Gromit animations (which caused a resurgence in people's interest in Wensleydale). They were more distracting for L than for J.

Children's activity area

After the museum, we went across the way to the Cheese-making Viewing Gallery, a grand name which I did not make up!

People go left; cars go right

The gallery has nice views of the men and women (about 200 people are currently employed by the creamery) making cheese. The windows were a little foggy so it was hard to get good pictures. The children were fascinated by the large tubs in use.

Gathering cheese ready for molding on left; draining large slabs of cheese on right

After the tub was emptied of cheese, one man started washing it out with a power washer. At one point he playfully shot our window which got a good laugh from us.

Stirring the proto-cheese

This area had a few items on display, including an old-fashioned delivery vehicle.

The cheese express!

The next building was the visitor centre with the cheese shop and a restaurant. The restaurant was rather full so we were unable to have a snack. We went into the cheese shop (a room with a controlled environment--cool enough to store cheese in the open!) where we sampled a good variety of their offerings. They make not only Wensleydale cheese, but cheddar and Gloucester and other combinations of flavors. My favorites were the Wensleydale with cranberries and the other with pineapple and the smoky cheddar. It was so delightful I forgot to take pictures!

We browsed a bit in the rest of the shop but did not buy anything (though L was pretty insistent that she needed a small stuffed sheep). It was a great visit though the whole place wasn't as large as I was expecting.

The surrounding hillsides are quite beautiful!

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Walking Dead Ep. 411, Claimed

The Walking Dead, Season 4, Episode 11: Claimed

TV rating


ZPAA rating

Teens and up

Offensive content

Plenty of zombie kills; fist fight between humans; rude language and attitudes.

Synopsis & Review

Glenn and Tara have joined with Sgt. Abraham Ford, his girlfriend Rosita, and scientist Eugene. They are on a mission to get Eugene to Washington, DC, because he knows what caused the outbreak and presumably can help with the cure. Ford is all about saving the world. Glenn just wants to find Maggie, so conflicts naturally arise.

Meanwhile, Michonne and Carl start getting along better, even going on a supply run while Rick stays at the house to rest. Michonne and Carl discuss more of their past and get closer together as persons, so friendships naturally arise.

Rick's nap is interrupted by some heavily armed scavengers. He has to find a way to escape undetected. He hides as best he can in hopes of escaping and warning Michonne and Carl before they get back.

The episode has some good, tense moments and character development. The group hasn't got back together yet but their paths are definitely starting to point in the same direction.

Book Review: Fanboys vs. Zombies Vols. 1 and 2 by Sam Humphries et al.

Fanboys vs. Zombies Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 written by Sam Humphries and illustrated by Jerry Gaylord

At the library, I happened across the first two trade paperbacks of Fanboys vs. Zombies, a recent series of comics put out by BOOM! Studios. Being a zombie fan they seemed like they'd be a natural fit.

The story follows a group of six friends who have been going to San Diego's ComicCon for years and years. They've dubbed themselves the "Wrecking Crew" and they have the typical dramas of twenty-something nerds. There's a love triangle; an overprotective older brother; geek obsession over certain guests at this year's con. Only this time the con is crazier than usual--a zombie virus breaks out with ensuing mayhem.

The premise is fairly interesting but the execution doesn't do it justice. On one hand, the gang spout plenty of lines from pop culture, which is fun to see. On the other hand, visual references are few and far between, something readers should get in a comic. The characters are a little too generic. I found myself not really caring about them as individuals in the first volume.

I decided to read the second volume to see if things picked up. The second starts a month later after the crew has set up a base of operations and have been hunting for two of their own who were lost along the way out of the convention center. New twists are added and new characters but still they aren't compelling to me. I feel like there should be more escapist fun than there is in the book. Or more horror. Or more interesting characters.

So I won't be reading volume three, even if I do run across it in the library.

If you want zombies at a sci fi convention, read Night of the Living Trekkies.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary, Pompeii

The Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii is a minor basilica in the modern town of Pompeii. The church was commissioned by Bartolo Longo, a local lawyer who had a devotion to the holy rosary. He was given a painting of Our Lady of the Rosary from a Naples convent. The painting became the centerpiece of the new church. The church was completed and consecrated in 1891. In 1939 it was enlarged to a basilica and is the cathedral for the bishop of Pompeii.

Shrine of the Virgin of the Rosary of Pompeii

The bell tower

Detail from the tower

The portico of the church has many fine statues of holy Italian men and women.

St. Frances Cabrini

Ludovico da Casoria

Luigi Guanella

Leonardo Murialdo

The inside of the church is fantastically ornate. We went to Sunday Mass here. The schedule of Masses is hourly so there wasn't much time to wander around and take pictures. We could have spent a lot of time here.



John the Evangelist with Pope Francis below!

The organ

Our Lady of the Rosary painting from Wikipedia