Friday, December 30, 2016

Reading Challenge Review (2016) and Preview (2017)

Here's the results from my personal 2016 reading challenge. I read almost everything. Poor Michael O'Brien didn't make it this year either (I planned to read two of his books last year and carried it over to this year but still didn't read him) and I left the hefty Concept of Woman tome to the end. I may start it in January or maybe for Lent? Otherwise, I've done quite well.

Women's studies
  • The Concept of Woman: The Aristotelian Revolution 750 B.C. - A.D. 1250 by Sister Prudence Allen--not read yet, alas...
  • The Flight from Woman by Karl Stern--Reviewed here.
  • The Wisdom of Hildegard of Bingen compiled by Fiona Bowie--Reviewed here.
  • Medieval Women Mystics edited by Elizabeth Ruth Obbard--Reviewed here.
  • Heloise and Abelard by Etienne Gilson--Reviewed here.
  • Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel--Reviewed here.
English-themed non-fiction
  • English Catholic Heroines edited by Joanna Bogle--Reviewed here.
  • Newton and the Counterfeiters by Thomas Levenson--Reviewed here.
  • History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth--Reviewed here.
  • Richard III by David Baldwin--Reviewed here.
  • Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage by Gerard B. Wegmer --Reviewed here.
  • The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer--Reviewed here.
  • Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages by Umberto Eco--Reviewed here.
  • The Art of Praying by Romano Guardini--Reviewed here.
  • The Journey of the Mind to God by Bonaventure--Reviewed here.
  • A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge by George Berkeley--Read but not reviewed due to Christmas time crunch.
  • A Letter Concerning Toleration by John Locke--Reviewed here.
  • On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life by Friedrich Nietzsche--Reviewed here.
  • Two from Michael O'Brien's end time series--Put off yet again.
  • Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.--Reviewed here.
  • The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J. R. R. Tolkien--I've always been interested in the Ring Cycle so I hope this fills in some holes. Reviewed here.
  • The Woodcutter by Kate Danley--a birthday present! Reviewed here.
  • Chasing the Phoenix by Michael Swanwick--a Christmas present! Reviewed here. managed to read 57 graphic novels/mangas this year, easily achieving my goal of 52. Boxers & Saints was my favorite of the bunch. Morning Glories showed a lot of promise at the beginning but got too bogged down in its own mythology. Captain Marvel is a fun new superhero for me. I'm looking forward to her eventual movie incarnation.
  1. Age of Ultron--reviewed here.
  2. Jessica Jones Alias Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  3. Avatar Smoke and Shadow Vol. 2--reviewed here.
  4. Morning Glories Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  5. Fantastic Four by Aguirre-Saca--reviewed here.
  6. Jessica Jones Alias Vol. 2--reviewed here.
  7. Morning Glories Vol. 2--reviewed here.
  8. Jessica Jones Alias Vol. 3--reviewed here.
  9. Morning Glories Vol. 3--reviewed here.
  10. The Guild Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  11. Jessica Jones Vol. 4--reviewed here.
  12. Captain Marvel Vol. 1--review here.
  13. The Comic Book Story of Beer--reviewed here.
  14. Serenity Vol. 3--reviewed here.
  15. Asterix the Gladiator--reviewed here.
  16. Morning Glories Vol. 4--reviewed here.
  17. The Walking Dead TP 25--reviewed here.
  18. X-Men: Dark Phoenix Saga--reviewed here.
  19. Chocolate: The Consuming Passion--reviewed here
  20. Alamo All-Stars--reviewed here.
  21. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  22. ApocalyptiGirl--reviewed here.
  23. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Vol. 2--reviewed here.
  24. Captain Marvel Vol. 2--reviewed here
  25. Tintin: King Ottokar's Sceptre--reviewed here.
  26. X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Vol. 3--reviewed here.
  27. Superman Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  28. Morning Glories Vol. 5--reviewed here.
  29. Captain Marvel: Higher, Faster, etc.--reviewed here.
  30. Asterix and the Banquet--reviewed here.
  31. Hellboy in Hell issues 7-10--reviewed here.
  32. Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser: The Cloud of Hate and Other Stories--reviewed here.
  33. Saints--reviewed here
  34. Boxers--reviewed here
  35. Suicide Squad Vol.1--reviewed here.
  36. Fantastic Four: Doom, Where's My Car!?--reviewed here.
  37. Captain Marvel: Stay Fly--reviewed here.
  38. Cowboys and Aliens--reviewed here.
  39. Captain Marvel: Rise of Alpha Flight--reviewed here.
  40. Pretty Deadly Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  41. Squirrel Girl and the Great Lakes Avengers--reviewed here
  42. Superman: Red Son--reviewed here.
  43. Saga of the Swamp Thing--reviewed here.
  44. Batman: Cacophony--reviewed here.
  45. Guardians of the Louvre--reviewed here.
  46. Secret Coders Vol. 2--reviewed here.
  47. Avatar: The Last Airbender: North and South Part 1--reviewed here
  48. Saga of the Swamp Thing Vol. 2--reviewed here.
  49. Neil Gaiman's Lady Justice Vol. 1--reviewed here
  50. Black Widow Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  51. Pretty Deadly Vol. 2--reviewed here
  52. Walking Dead Vol. 26--reviewed here
  53. Fairy Tail Vol. 1--reviewed here.
  54. The Mansions of the Gods--reviewed here.
  55. Fagin the Jew--reviewed here.
  56. Hellboy in Mexico--reviewed here.
  57. Fairy Tail Vol. 2--reviewed here.

What are my plans for the new year? I am going to do another graphic novels challenge. Fairy Tail and Avatar are the only series that I am sure to continue with (though I will be picking up the occasional random Asterix classic ever now and then).

For regular books, I have some new focuses:

Great men
  • English Catholic Heroes edited by John Jolliffe--a companion volume to English Catholic Heroines from last year.
  •  Medieval People: Vivid Lives in a Distant Landscape by Michael Prestwich--a Christmas present!
  • Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick
  • Fearless: Stories of the American Saints by Alice Camille and Paul Boudreau
  • Robin Hood by David Baldwin
  • The King's Good Servant but God's First by James Monti
  • Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Pope Benedict XVI
Books made into movies
  • Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa--Akira Kurosawa put post-World War II Japanese cinema back in America with his brilliant adaptation of "In a Grove" from this collection.
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • The Children of Men by  P. D. James
  • The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawiz--made into "The Way Back" a few years back, following POWs escaping a World War II Soviet Siberian prison camp and making it all the way to British India!
  • Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence--You probably know this author as Lawrence of Arabia. 'nuff said.
  • True Grit by Charles Portis--so good those Hollywood folks made it twice! The courtroom scene was exactly the same in both movies, so I assume it will be the same in the novel.
Great Filmmakers
  • Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa
  • Serling by Gordon F. Sander
  • Alfred Hitchcock: A Life is Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan
  • This is Orson Welles by Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich
  • The Unseen Force: The Films of Sam Raimi by John Kenneth Muir
Also about movies
  • Monsters from the Id: The Rise of Horror in Fiction and Film by E. Michael Jones
  • Christians in the Movies: A Century of Saints and Sinners by Peter E. Dans
Oh yeah, and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens because of Fagin the Jew.

There's more I could add but twenty is already plenty. I'm sure I'll read other stuff, including the occasional A Good Story is Hard to Find book!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Movie Review: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) co-written and directed by John Huston

A young Marine, Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchem), washes up on the shore of a south Pacific island in the middle of World War II. The only resident is one Irish nun named Angela (Deborah Kerr) who had come to help a priest. The priest has died. The island has plenty of natural food and water, certainly enough for two people. Unfortunately, the Japanese arrive and set up a small base, forcing the soldier and the nun to hide in a cave and survive on the meagerest of supplies. Can they hold out long enough to get saved?

The story focuses on the relationship between Mr. Allison and Sister Angela. They come from very different backgrounds and have lead very different lives. Their initial awkwardness is overcome by an understanding of each other through the hardness of their vocations. Marine life requires tough discipline; a nun's vows leave off almost every earthly pleasure. Together, they experience both happiness and tension as they deal with the situation. The development of their friendship is very thoughtful, believable, and engaging.

The story has more tension than action. Allison sneaks around when the Japanese are there; he doesn't try to take them on Rambo-style, which is definitely good. American forces show up at the end of the movie and the action picks up. By that point viewers are so invested in the characters that they are more worried for the characters than they are excited to see some fighting. The balance between tension and action serves the story and the characters well.

This movie is a hidden gem among the glut of World War II movies.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

TV Review: Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil

Doctor Who: The Mind of Evil written by Don Houghton and directed by Timothy Combe

The Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) travels with companion Jo Grant (Katy Manning) to Stangmore Prison to observe the latest in correctional technology--the Keller Device. The machine is used to remove all the evil thoughts and impulses from whoever is subjected to it. Professor Keller has used it over a hundred times in Switzerland and this demonstration will be the first use in England. The machine goes horribly awry and the Doctor begins to investigate.

Meanwhile, U.N.I.T. (the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) takes on two missions. First, they are providing security to a world peace conference in London. Second, they will escort a Thunderbolt missile to its destruction. The Thunderbolt is armed with chemical weapons and is illegal, so they plan to dump it in the ocean so it can't be put to ill use. The conference has problems with the Chinese delegation, causing no end of problems for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He recalls the Doctor to help the situation, leaving Jo to cover the creepy problems at the prison.

The various threads take their time coming together but of course they do. If you know classic Doctor Who, the DVD cover spoils who the main villain is (though he is also mentioned on the back). He takes his time showing up, which fits the pacing of this six-part series. Only a few of the scenes look like padding to make the 146-minute running time. The story moves slowly but methodically to its conclusion in a satisfactory manner.

Pertwee isn't my favorite Doctor, his performance is uneven. The villain is very good. He doesn't have the over-the-top cheesiness that often comes with being a Doctor Who baddie. Jo is a competent, self-reliant, and compassionate companion--the sort of solid support the Doctor needs. Overall, the acting is good.

The production values are pretty high for Doctor Who. Since the villains are the machine and a person, there's no rubber suits or dodgy special effects constantly popping up. Only a few times the show looks dated and under-budgeted. They used Dover Castle for the prison exteriors which looks great and makes a good setting for drama and action. The synthetic music score is a little annoying and definitely dates the show.

Another fun adventure with the Doctor!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: Fairy Tail Vol. 2 by Hiro Mashima

Fairy Tail Volume 2 by Hiro Mashima

The mystery of Everlue Mansion is wrapped up in the first half of this manga. The ending is sweet and satisfying, except for Lucy, who was expecting to get more out of the mission.

On returning to their guild hall, Fairy Tail, a big fight breaks out between Natsu and Gray. The fight expands into a bar room brawl involving most of the wizards at Fairy Tail. The fight is broken up by the arrival of Erza, a very powerful wizard. She uses Requip magic, that lets her switch weapons and armor instantly. She is highly feared by the other wizards (except the Master, of course). She asks Natsu and Gray to investigate something with her. Quaking in their boots, they agree, even though they are often at each other's throats. Lucy is persuaded to go along as a peacemaker. She is reluctant but excited.

The new job involves hunting down a dark guild, Eisenwald. Erza heard a rumor of some bad things they are planning to do and wants to stop them. The four are off on an adventure with Happy the talking (and flying) cat.

The plot is still the same as the anime series (which I've found on with one or two small details or jokes that I either didn't remember or are new. The back of the book has some supplemental material explaining some of the jokes and cultural translations, as well as info about character names and the creative team behind the series. I am still watching the anime series and am debating if I should continue reading the manga. Will the stories diverge? Will I catch up? Is the supplemental material worth the time (the price is negligible since I'm getting my copies from the library)? I haven't figured out these answers yet, but will soon.

Monday, December 26, 2016

War of the Christmas Novelty Ales 2016

Another year, another sampling of seasonal servings! For previous wars, see below:
Here are this year's contenders:

Naughty Egg Nog Ale by Flying Dog (8.4% Alcohol/Volume)--Flying Dog Brewery usually puts out a Naughty and a Nice ale for the Christmas holiday season. The Nice ale is called "Holiday Milk Stout," which sounds a lot less interesting than Egg Nog Ale, so Naughty wins out this year as far as sampling. The label's description is not very impressive: "Ale brewed with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla with natural flavors." The spices come out quite nicely but not a noggish taste (except for some strong bourbon flavor). The bold flavor makes it more of a "drink by itself" rather than a beer to pair with food. Makes a nice, spicy dessert drink.

Scaldis Noel by Brasserie Dubuisson (12% Alcohol/Volume)--This Belgium seasonal ale has a short description on the label: "Brewed especially for the Christmas period, Scaldis Noel, is a brilliant red amber ale that will delight the most demanding connoisseurs." Well, I'm not a demanding connoisseur. Nevertheless, I am delighted with this ale. It has warmth and spiciness with a smooth aftertaste. Belgium does it again!

Christmas Ale by Abita Brewery--This Louisiana brew is too modest to admit its alcohol content on the website or the label. As for a description, according to the label, "Each year at the Abita Brewery we craft a special dark ale for the holiday season. Then, Papa Noel harnesses up his team of gators and makes this special delivery. The recipe changes each year so that Abita Christmas Ale is always the perfect gift." The dark ale has the mild bitterness of many dark beers. I find it crisp but not very satisfying--the beer is just a shade too bitter with nothing (special flavor or spiciness) to make up for it.

Chanukah, Hanukkah Pass the Beer by Shmaltz Brewing Company (8% Alcohol/Volume)--The label says it all--"COME ON BUBBE, LIGHT MY FIRE! No matter how you spell it, you now hold the official Chosen Beer of this holiday season. Enjoy Chanukah, Hanukkah Pass the Beer while celebrating all the miracles of the 8 crazy nights. We hope our fermented creation will bring some light to the winter darkness and pair perfectly with the latkes, chocolate gelt, and the battle royale of dreidels. Pass some Hanukkah Beer over to your favorite friends and family and delight in the warming of the seasons. L'Chaim! Jeremy Cowan, proprietor." The golden ale is brewed with cocoa nibs, making it a nice with gelt or St. Nicholas chocolate coins. The chocolate flavor is just a hint, but enough to make this beer something different. I like it but it is not outstanding (other than the name).

Brrr Hoppy Red by Widmer Brothers Brewing (7.2% Alcohol/Volume)--According to the label, "Brrr is a one-of-a-kind winter warmer. Generously hopped, Brrr's citrusy hop aroma and smooth bitterness exemplify the northwest-style red ale. 'Tis the season to warm up with a cold one." Judging by this brew, there's not much difference from a northwest-style red ale and and an India pale ale, which for me means too much bitterness to be properly enjoyable. The drink doesn't have any wintery flavors about it, so it has nothing to compensate. As it is neither seasonally festive nor to my taste, this ranks very low.

Schlafly Christmas Ale by The Saint Louis Brewery (8.0% Alcohol/Volume)--The label is delightful straight-forward: "Schlafly Christmas Ale is a warming winter ale that blends the spices of the season with sweet caramel malt." It does indeed have have a festive spiciness that doesn't overwhelm the sweetness of the malt. The blend of bitter and sweet is masterful and makes this an excellent choice for a holiday beer.

Gouden Carolus Noel by Brewery Het Anker (10.5% Alcohol//Volume)--This bottle has the most long-winded of any: "Gouden Carolus Noel brewed exceptionally for Christmas by the Anker Brewery, established in Mechelen since 1471, and one of the classic Belgian breweries. This very special Belgian ale is brewed using traditional methods and a recipe with top fermentation. Its high gravity gives this ale its warmth and body. It improves with age and will charm you with its warm, coppery colour and its rich bouquet." In truth, the color is darker than copper; its bouquet is potent and spicy. The flavor is striking, with a good blend of bitterness and creaminess. It definitely stands on its own, meaning it is better as a lone drink rather than paired with food.

10 Degrees Below Ale by Scuttlebutt Brewing Company (7.4% Alcohol/Volume)--The label doesn't do any bragging about this beer. It's a fine dark ale with a hint of bitterness. I liked it but the brew doesn't have any holiday flavors or feeling. The scarf-wearing polar bear on the label is fairly charming.

White Christmas by Samuel Adams (5.8% Alcohol/Volume)--This label is much more expressive than the last one: "Ale brewed with spices." It does taste like a Sam Adams beer with a little spice thrown in, so you can't argue. As a beer, it hovers in between the Naughty and Nice list--it has no particularly great or particularly terrible qualities about it. A bit of a ho-hum ending to this year's war of the Christmas novelty ales.

It's a tough call this year, but I think Schlafly wins out over the two Noels.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Normally I start a book review with a plot synopsis or enough of the set-up to make the story seem interesting. Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol hardly needs that since it has been produced many times and in many various ways on television and movie theaters. Any number of web sites have ranked the various versions of the story, but what about the original text? Is it worth going back to?

It surely is worth reading the original text, for several reasons. First, the story feels much more personal since Dickens often intrudes with observations and asides. The book reads as if he is telling you the story directly, face to face. His frankness and humor make it delightful. Second, the text has much more detail in it. The ghosts don't take Scrooge to see one or two things. Often they see quite a few different scenes, as when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to see various Christmas celebrations. In addition to Bob Cratchit's and Nephew Fred's festivities, they visit strangers and even a ship at sea. The greater detail makes a greater impact. Third (and related), the text is much better at getting inside Scrooge's head, a natural difference between a written story and a performance. With the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge doesn't want to admit it to himself who the dead man is. The pathos of his cry, "Why show this to me if I cannot change it?" is all the stronger. Reading the original story is a richer experience.

Is the story worth all the repetition? Scrooge's conversion from a penny-pinching miser to a joyful philanthropist is an inspiring example and mirrors the promise of Christmas, when Christ came to redeem the world from sin and error. Scrooge seems to be almost universally flawed at the beginning of the story. When forced to confront his happier youth, slow decline, and the misery his current life is causing, his humanity is reawakened. Scrooge lets go of his former worldliness and strives to make the world around him a better place. As a late bloomer, he may not be a man for all seasons, but he is a man for the Christmas season.

A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast has a discussion of this book posting on December 27, 2016, which may be governed by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come or the Ghost of Christmas Past depending on when you see this, dear reader. If you are reading this on the 27th, then you're under the Ghost of Christmas Present, and in a paraphrase of Tiny Tim, "God bless you for being on the one!"

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Library Christmas Fun 2016

Our local library has its usual holiday-themed story times for the first couple of weeks in December. Frosty the Snowman was up first. My toddler and I went on Monday to story time but it was too crowded in the room and he asked to leave. Rather than insist on staying and making everyone unhappy, we headed out into the main part of the library and wandered around. About twenty minutes later, toward the end of story time, Frosty arrived and waited patiently outside the room. My toddler spotted him and was fascinated. We walked over. At first, he was too shy to go near Frosty. I suggested I high five, which got the desired result.

High fiving Frosty

The girl was another refugee from overcrowded lands. She was slightly braver. They both got a hug from Frosty.

Hug time!

The library staff took some pictures too. Frosty went in and we watched from outside as he danced. My son had a good time but was unwilling to wait in the line for an official photo with Frosty.

Tuesday night the library usually has pajama time, at which children can come in their PJs for some stories and songs. My wife took the toddler (the other kids weren't interested) and managed to get the whole program in, including the craft!

At the work station

Lovely final product

They did manage to get a good spot in line and have the traditional picture with Frosty.

Becoming good pals (with the block)

The next week featured Santa at story time. My son and I went on Monday, arriving late. We were so late that we could get in the photo-op line and not wait long, which is what we did. The short wait was enough for my son to pick a book out. When we went into the alcove where Santa was sitting, my son was nervous about approaching him. I again suggested high-fiving, which he was perfectly willing to do. He sat down with his book and we tried to get a picture of both of them looking at the camera.

Reading to Santa

Looking warily

We were unable to make it to a story time later in the week, so no Santa craft. Maybe next year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Return to Storyville

While Granny was visiting, we took the toddler to Storyville, a popular pre-schooler destination at the Woodlawn branch of the Baltimore Public Library. The older kids have been their several times. For my daughter's sixth birthday over the summer, Granny and Grandpa tried to take her to Storyville but were turned away because it is for the five and under crowd. This trip was much more satisfying. Here's some of the stuff my toddler enjoyed.

He knows his numbers but not his hop-scotch, so he just read from this mat.

Counting on fun

The grocery store was very popular with plenty of colorful items to buy and cash registers to check out.

Plastic produce picking

A favorite area for my boy was the little bit of forest. The back wall has several niches with stuffed animals inside. A button below lets visitors here the noise the animals make. The owl was very easy to identify by look or sound but we were less sure about this gopher/groundhog/whatchamacallit.

What's this one?

Going for a closer look

The forest has one upright tree with a small staircase winding up into a small playroom. This spot was also fun but crowded, with the occasional traffic jams on the stairs.

Almost to the top!

A fake fallen log made a good tunnel for crawling through, as well as a good spot for saving trapped animals.

Raccoon and fox in trouble

Inside the log

The small stone wall was a good spot for climbing, sitting, and relaxing.

Enjoying plastic rocks

My toddler had a great time and we will probably go back soon.

Camera selfie

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: Hellboy in Mexico by M. Mignola et al.

Hellboy in Mexico written by Mike Mignola with art by Richard Corbin, Mike Mignola, Mick Mahon, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon

This is a collection of stories written by Mike Mignola about the five months that Hellboy spent in Mexico back in 1956.

Hellboy in Mexico--Hellboy and Abe Sapien are stuck in the Mexican desert in 1982. They seek shelter in an abandoned gas station where Abe discovers a picture of Hellboy with some luchedores (Mexican wrestlers). Hellboy tells a story from his 1956 sojourn in Mexico. He went with two other B.P.R.D. agents to investigate some mass killings. Things were horrible and the other two left. Hellboy joined up with a band of luchedores who were already fighting vampires and other monsters. He doesn't know any Spanish but they manage to fight all day and drink all night, until the demons get the better of them. A bittersweet ending was in store, triggering a five-month stay in Mexico that is aptly described as "a drunken blur." The story is a great blend of horror and humor. The art by Richard Corben is distinct from Mignola's style but works very well for the story.

Hellboy versus the Aztec Mummy--Hellboy catches up to a bat-demon and has a big fight with it and a bunch of zombies. There isn't much story here, just plenty of atmospheric fun. The exposition dump at the end is probably unnecessary other than filling out the bottom of the last page.

Hellboy Gets Married--The drunken blur continues as Hellboy follows a mariachi band with a cute senorita in tow. He winds up marrying her though it turns out his beer goggles are exceptionally thick. Big fight ensues. The tale is a bit formulaic for Hellboy but Mignola includes lyrics from a few melancholic Mexican ballads to help set the tone. The weird talking wedding ring/snake is pretty cool too.

The Coffin Man--A small girl bursts into a bar asking help for her uncle. The locals say they buried him yesterday, so what's the deal? She's worried about the Coffin Man, a grave-robbing zombie witch. Hellboy, being a stand-up guy, stands up and head out to help the girl watch over her uncle's grave. This story showcases the weird, made up mythology that Mignola is so good at crafting.

House of the Living Dead--Hellboy has joined the luchedor circuit (mostly for drinking money) when he is called out by a mysterious doctor to fight the doctor's latest creation. That creation turns out to be Frankenstein's monster. The other classic Universal monsters (Dracula and the Wolf Man) show up, making a nice homage to the 1930's films. The story is both fun and melancholic, the classical Mignola blend. The art by Richard Corben follows the Hellboy in Mexico style and makes a nice conclusion to this book.

The book also contains one-page introductions by Mignola discussing the origins of the stories and weird details (who knew that Mexican vampires can turn into turkeys?). The back has various sketches by the artists working on the stories. They are almost all drafts of final art, which I find only mildly interesting. I like it better when they showcase different ideas or show the development of a character's look or style.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Fall Backyard Fun 2016

This fall we've had a lot of fun (and some work) in our back yard.

Leaf raking is still mostly a Daddy chore. We like to compost what we can, so I rake the leaves into the bottom corner of the yard. In order to mash them down, we enlist the aid of our children.

The falling part of Fall isn't just for leaves. We've had plenty of sticks and branches come down too. My kids were happy to use them, along with any other things they could find, to make some forts.

My son's fort is a collaboration between many neighborhood kids (including my son). They've had one or two collapses but are always glad to rebuild. The worst collapse was when the old shower curtain they were using for a roof accumulated too much rainwater and caved in! Building is half the fun anyway.

They even used the back yard gate, which means we can't close it!

Alternate view

My daughter was helped by Grandpa. They used some of the stumps left over from when we had to take down a couple of trees that were threatening the house. I'm not sure where the old railroad tie came from!

Another fort

The front view

The toddler did not build a fort. He had a fun time on our swing set instead.


Close up

At the top of the slide

Climbing up the rock-climbing side

Climbing up the ladder side

We have a wiffle-ball set (including bases and a pitcher's plate) that is used quite often for either a family game or when the neighborhood boys are over. It's big fun, except when we hit balls over the fence and then have to walk the long way around to retrieve them. We need a good old-fashioned English stile!

Ready to bat in the twilight hours of the day

The stile would be perfect for preventing other visitors from getting in.

That's right, eat the neighbor's grass

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two written by Jack Thorne based on an original new story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne

It's nineteen years later and Harry Potter is a grown man with three children ready to head off to Hogwarts. His eldest son, Albus Severus Potter, isn't that great at magic, gets sorted into Slytherin, and becomes best friends with Draco Malfoy's son Scorpius. Albus is lost in the shadow of his famous father and a bit of a disappointment to everyone around (except Scorpius). Harry is beleaguered both by Draco, who wants Harry to squash rumors that Scorpius is really the son of Voldemort, and by Amos Diggory, who blames Harry for his son Cedric's death during the TriWizard Tournament way back in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In an attempt to impress his dad, Albus and Scorpius steal a Time Turner from the Ministry of Magic and, with the help of Amos's niece Delphi, tries to save Cedric's life. As with most time travel stories, going back in the past to make things better inevitably makes them worse.

While the story itself is interesting enough (though average to poor by Harry Potter standards), the book suffers from being a script. A lot of the stage direction and action seems hard if not impossible to produce on stage. For example, Polyjuice Potion is used to change one character into another. There are a lot of locations and magical fights that are hard to picture as convincing on the stage. An early montage sequence where Albus ages a few years is less effective because I wondered how they could possibly pull it off convincingly. The experience of seeing a production and how impressively they handle things would be much better than reading and scratching one's head at the improbability of executing it well.

I would much rather have read the original story than the play version of the story. Reading a play is a lesser experience precisely because the play is supposed to be produced on a stage with actors, costumes, sets, et cetera. It's like reading sheet music rather than listening to a song. The full experience just isn't there. Of course, the execution of the song could be wonderful or horrible depending on the performer's skills (or lack thereof). A novel version of this story would be better for me because I'd rely on imagining the story rather than imagining it as a stage production.

My advice would be to wait around for a production to come to a city near you or wait for a novel version or the probably inevitable movie version.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wizards Basketball 2016

The kids' school had a special deal for the DC Wizards game against the Milwaukee Bucks. The ticket (which was in the nosebleed seats) included a free t-shirt from Custom Ink. We took the Metro into DC which was convenient as Gallery Place Metro lets out on the same block as the Verizon Center. The ride was half an hour, occupied by a DS.

Not playing a basketball game

We got their easily and avoided all the guys looking to buy and/or sell tickets to the game. We had half a hour before the start of the game, so we explored a bit. My son said he didn't have desert at home, so we bought donuts.

Some of the shopping available at the stadium

This particular night was kids' night, so a bunch of activities were set up. My son was not interested in trying any. Some of the tables were also trying to build buzz about the new Star Wars movie. Some cosplayers were in attendance too.

Not my son posing with the cosplayers

We took an escalator up to the 400 level and found our seats. The view lets you see everything!

View from our seats

We were still 15 minutes early. Munching on our donuts, some guy and his son came up to us and made us a offer. Their tickets were upgraded and they wanted to give us their original tickets further down in the stadium. We gladly accepted. The guy told me that one of the tickets still had $15 in concession credit that we could use (they used the other ticket's credit). We headed down to find our new seats.

The old ticket on top, the new one on bottom

On our way back down the stadium, we saw the concession stand giving out the t-shirt, so we grabbed our new shirts.

New shirt!

After finding the stairs (all the escalators were set to going up!), we were able to locate our new seats near the main floor. They were great.

View from our new seats

Looking back up at the old seats

The game began soon. To get the crowd excited, the announcer started naming the players as they entered. The announcement was accompanied by a massive flame burst for each player.

Firing up the crowd, almost literally

The game was fun and action-packed. The Bucks did well early on, taking a small lead over the Wizards. The lead never got large and our team was able to tie things up by half time.

Game in action

One of the entertaining activities at half time was the cheerleaders doing a Star Wars performance with light sabers! Our seats were on the side considered the back, so we saw mostly the backsides of the cheerleaders for most of the performance. Parts of the choreography had them facing different parts of the stadium.

Dance of the Light Sabers

We went out to get a snack with our ticket credit. A tub of cotton candy and bottle of water cost $11! We still had some credit left over, but not enough to get anything.

Another fun time-killer during the break between third and fourth quarter was a baby race. Three babies (who were up awfully late, if you ask me) were brought to a track and had 45 seconds to make it to the other end. Or as far as they could. For the first 30 seconds, only two of the tots put their hands across the starting line. It was not the most exciting race ever.

Tot race

The announcer thought it would be a good idea for the crowd to make some noise to get the babies going. It didn't work. One of the babies finally got going after about 35 seconds, cinching a victory.

We have a winner in lane 2!

The game ended with a Wizards' victory, 110 to 105. It was a very satisfying game and a happily uneventful trip home. The Metro wasn't too crowded and the car ride was traffic-free. We had a very fun night.