Book Review: Ghost Hold, by Ripley Patton

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 4, 2013 by Sahar

I am extremely unhappy with author Ripley Patton, for I am forced to wait another couple of months before the third and last installment of the PSS Chronicles.  She hooked me with the first installment, Ghost Hand (read my review here), got me addicted with Ghost Hold, the second installment, and now, I have to wait for the third one to find out what is going to happen to Olivia, Marcus, Passion, Samantha, and the rest of the gang.

Just like with its predecessor, Ghost Hold captured me from the first page and was very hard to put down, even briefly. Those of us who read the work of independent authors know that oftentimes, independent authors only think they can write. Out of those who write well, some produce a great first book out of beginner’s luck.  But in Patton’s case, the quality of the writing in Ghost Hold demonstrates that Ghost Hand was a by-product of talent that manages to avoid many common, first time sequel author mistakes. For example, sequels can often be weighed down by unnecessary repetition. This is not the case with Ghost Hold, which manages to be just as fast-paced, to include as many tense moments and action packed sequences, to have as much dry humor, and to explore further the important social issue of accepting differences, in a manner just as fresh and engaging as its prequel.

PSS stands for “Psyche Sans Soma”, which I understand as the psychic presence of a missing body part.  In lieu of your typical human hand, seventeen-year old Olivia Black was born with one made of luminous, delicate, yet strong filaments of blue energy.  Just like with anything that is slightly different from the defined norm, a shady organization known as “Citizens Against Minus Flesh”, or CAMF, is still after Olivia and her friends, who also have PSS.  As the group of fugitives continues their mission, we find out more about them, including the potential that Marcus might not be as selfless as he appears to be.  His secretive behavior finally gets in the way of his relationship with Olivia; I will let you find out if the couple of makes it or not

The story brings both a deeper understanding of the characters by zooming in on them, and a broader understanding of the context by looking at the context within which the action is taking place. Zooming out from the group of teenagers brought together by Marcus, Ghost Hold touches on some of the societal forces acting on them. Ripley Patton manages to explain the broader context without incurring a typical challenge of sequels, that is to say, plot holes and contradictions.  We find out more about many things encountered in Ghost Hand, such as the circumstances around which Olivia’s father painted the portrait of The Other Olivia, Marcus’ childhood and the circumstances of the death of his parents, and Passion’s story, to name but a few.

Again like with the first installment, I see great potential for this book to be book club material. The exploration of the topic of “the other” that was started in Ghost Hand continues in Ghost Hold, and yet again, the author never adopts an authoritative or preaching voice. I also liked the concept of letting go of one’s fears to be able to embrace one’s powers fully.

By contributing yet another quality work of fiction aimed at a young adult audience that could, in its pages, find the inspiration often needed to navigate through sensitive years in a turbulent work, Ripley Patton is making good uses of the proceeds of her Kickstarter fundraising campaign. But seriously, have mercy on us, Ripley, and finish the third installment sooner rather than later!

Book Review: Far Forward, by C. F. Waller

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2013 by Sahar

Mild Spoiler Alert!

Far Forward, a book by independent author C. F. Waller, was published last month on Amazon.  I noticed a post about it in a Facebook group, and one sentence in the description captured my attention: “Awakening on a lazy Saturday morning, Anna Katz is greeted by an older version of herself making a pot of coffee.”  I love time travel stories, as they provide for wonderful opportunities for self-reflection, and I love puzzles; it is therefore no surprise that I decided to give this book a try!

I have to confess however that I almost immediately put the book away after reading only a few pages because of the graphic violence depicted.  But I was intrigued by the relationship between said violence and the abovementioned descriptive sentence, as well as the quality of the writing.  So I decided to give it another chance and forged ahead.

I am glad I did.  First off, the violence at the beginning of the book is as graphic as it gets.  Then there is the fact that Far Forward’s fast pace, various twists and turns, and unique definition of time travel, kept me reading long into the night.  I liked how the author worked in things like the extinction of the dinosaurs into his story.  I especially liked the character’s self-reflection, made in light of her meeting various versions of herself, of which I wish there had been more.  And while there were some mistakes (mostly typos), the writing flowed easily.

The story is a little hard to follow at times, as it is a little confusing determining when the character is dreaming from where she is now.  I also don’t like that the punch line in the description above, regarding the main character meeting an older version of herself, happened almost halfway through the book.  However, Far Forward is, in my opinion, still worth reading, and I am happy at the hint, at the end of the book, that there just might be a sequel in the works.

Book Review: Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror, Edited by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2013 by Sahar

Having myself just published a collection of creepy short stories, my interest in this book seemed inevitable, as it brings together “bite-sized” stories one can read in a matter of minutes. A mixture of horror, terror, disturbing, paranormal, and just plain weird, the stories are, for the most part, well written. The strength of this collection comes from the sometimes disturbing exploration of taboo emotions from the unique lens of childhood innocence without the typical blanket of adult rationalization. Scattered amongst stories that were a little difficult to understand, or those with predictable endings, were highly polished gems, the ones that will keep you awake way into the night, wondering about your own darkest thoughts.

Book Review: Amelia’s Destiny, by D.G. Torrens

Posted in Book Review with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2013 by Sahar

Contributing to the betterment of our communities requires understanding experiences that are sometimes completely different from our own. In this regard, it is so important for people lucky enough to come from happy, stable homes, to know what it is like to come from abusive homes, and what a child from such a home can go through. Amelia’s Destiny is a story of survival and hope, conveying one survivor’s story of the struggle that is laying the foundation for a stable life on nothing more than hope and determination, after a childhood spent under the state care system. Amelia’s Destiny is also great in that it doesn’t exaggerate the negative and ignore the positive; the author tells both sides of the story, which makes this book inspiring rather than depressing.

Two things would have made this book better. One, there is a lot of repetition; the same information, in almost the same words, is conveyed twice, or even more. Two, the story gets a little convoluted at times. Fortunately, despite these flaws, the book is still a pleasurable and important read, and once you start, you will want to finish it to know what happens to Amelia.

TV Review: Season 1 of The Mindy Project

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2013 by Sahar

Do you remember Kelly Kapoor from The Office? I always looked forward to seeing her on screen and wished for her to be more present, despite the fact that I found her character so gratingly annoying. It reminded me of my love-hate relationship with George Costanza on Seinfeld. It was the acting made the character so realistic and annoyingly likeable.

Which is why I was excited to hear about The Mindy Project, a show starring none other than Mindy Kaling – who, in case you didn’t know, was also a writer for The Office. The premise seemed both promising and discouraging, describing the show as “follow[ing] a woman who, despite having a successful career, is unlucky in love and desperately needs to get her personal life back on track before her friends and colleagues are forced to stage an intervention… Mindy is determined to be more punctual, spend less money, lose weight and read more books – all in pursuit of becoming a well-rounded perfect woman…who can meet and date the perfect guy.”

My relationship with this show started off just as complicated as my relationship with Mindy Kaling’s character on The Office. On the one hand, I love the process of self-improvement that Mindy set herself on from the very first episode. After all, this is something I feel should be the basis of our life: to continually strive to improve both oneself and our communities. But on the other hand, the reason why Mindy embarked on this process, her life decisions, her obsession with romantic comedies and bringing them to life really annoy me at times.

However, other factors helped tip the balance solidly in favour of the show. First off, it is really funny and well-written. While there are some sexual jokes, the humour isn’t crass. I spend most of the twenty minutes smiling, if not giggling or outright laughing. Also, the writing is translated on screen by a great supporting cast.

Then there is the fact that Mindy is who she is and does not apologize for it. She is very comfortable in what she believes, and goes for what she wants in whatever way she can think of. At the same time, she is working hard on deconstructing the negative patterns in her life that keep her from her goal. Isn’t that what empowerment is about?

The fact that this is a sort of empowerment that everyday women can relate to – as opposed to say other empowered fictional women such as Fringe’s Olivia Dunham or The X-File’s Dana Scully – makes Mindy easily relatable, as she works on creating a work-life balance, deals with being single and trying to find that special someone, and, for those of us who are not Caucasian nor a size zero, with the particular challenges of being such in a society that prefers thin, blond women over anything.

The character has also been written in a way that balances being smart and a great doctor, with liking partying and celebrity gossip. I sometimes feel like it is one of the best portrayals of a real woman I have seen on television. She has become the friend whose lifestyle I do not understand, but whom I deeply appreciate.

Thankfully, The Mindy Project has been renewed for a second season, and I for one look forward to seeing what Dr. Mindy Lahiri will be up to next.

TV Review: Fringe, Season 5, Episode 9: Black Blotter

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2013 by Sahar

Fellow Fringe fan and my dear friend Monica was right; reviewing this episode was quite the trippy experience, for lack of a better word. Most of this episode was enhanced by Walter taking LSD giving this exploration of his guilt and fears a very unique taste typical of this sort of ‘special’ episode Fringe is known to produce each season.

The episode is named after a type of acid Walter took in the hopes of remembering his plan to defeat the Observers. Time is running out, as Walter’s old self is piercing through, tempting him to reach out to the Observers, where his intellect will be respected. The biggest irony perhaps is that while Peter, Olivia and Astrid were doing exactly that, i.e. finding yet another of the missing pieces of the plan to defeat the Observers, Walter, who had hoped to aid this process, was instead stroking the fire of his old self, through the persona of Carla Warren, his lab assistant who died in a fire in his lab in the late 1980s.

I have been a little mean with Walter in my recent reviews, as his self-absorption has been driving me up the wall. I have been having a lot of trouble accepting that someone supposedly so intent on saving the world could be so self-centered. I was expecting, after reading the preview, that this episode would yet again stroke the fire of my annoyance. But in a rather brilliant literary coup, the Fringe writers managed not only to portray the clash in Walter’s mind but also the terrifying consequences of Walter’s old self winning the confrontation. So a big kudos to Walter for fighting himself off for so long.

On a side note, the last scene, in which Walter relives the events portrayed in Season 2’s “Peter”, is visually stunning. I also loved the part where Walter was watching the rest of the Fringe team through a television screen, although they were right behind him. A big kudos must be given to the writers, to the director, Tommy Gormley, and, of course, to John Noble.

That the “ghost” of Carla helped Walter find the very reason why she died in the first place, i.e. the journal she had come back to the lab to burn on the night she died, was very symbolic. It also made the battle between “Old Walter” and “New Walter” a lot more interesting. No doubt, following the conversation between her and Walter we witnessed in Season 2’s episode “Peter”, the imagery of Carla represents Walter’s guilt (hence the glyphs spelling out G-U-I-L-T, the same that probably contributed to sending him to Ste-Clair’s. No doubt also that the imagery of Carla also represents that of his ego, the same kind as the one that made Bell choose his work over Nina, the woman he loved.

This is perhaps why this “stand-out” episode was a lot darker than those of previous seasons. And perhaps this is also part of the reason why the “bad” voice, i.e. Carla’s, was wearing white, whereas the “good” voice, i.e. that of Nina, was wear black. Perhaps it was also a hint as to Nina’s position; that while she might not always seem to be on their side, she is, ultimately, on the right side of the battle.

Her promise to Walter to remove the pieces of his brain seems to be another sign that Nina is on the right side of the battle. Her promise to Walter to remove the pieces of his brain seems to be another sign that Nina is on the right side of the battle. That she is willing to lose such an important asset as Walter’s mind, and one of her last links to the man she loved, Bell, is quite telling.

While I am more understanding of Walter’s battle, it doesn’t mean that I do not think that he isn’t self-centered. Quite the contrary. However well-intentioned both his request to Nina and his ingestion of Black Blotter, he once again made the decision on his own, without consulting the team he is supposedly a part of. I firmly believe that unless and until he truly reaches out to Peter, Olivia and Astrid, and even to Nina, he will not be able to fight his old self that is currently making an appearance.

After all, Walter says that he wants to get rid of the devil, and the devil is his ego that has kept him apart from those who could help him. I feel like Walter’s expectation, to be able to solve his dilemmas on his own, with such interventions as taking some Black Blotter, reflect a typical, modern day society attitude of wanting to solve every problem and treat every disease immediately and quickly, with a quick, magical pill. We often forget that these things take time, and do not want to put the effort into treatments. Getting rid of the ego is a long process, and Walter has both the volition to do so, and the support to do so (in the form of Peter, Olivia and Astrid). While there definitely is a bit of a crunch for time in the context of the team’s battle against the Observers, this is yet another reason for Walter to accept the help of those closest to him.

Another person went down that path already, perhaps the only person we can compare Walter to, is, of course, William Bell. This comparison is becoming all the more palatable as we find out jut how much of what was attributed to Bell, was directly related to, or even attributable to Walter himself. In this episode, that the idea of creating his own universe and start from scratch was Walter’s is confirmed.

While Carla’s assertions that “you’ve been him longer than you’ve been you… I represent all of the things you are trying to keep buried,” that “it was a surgical procedure that made you the Walter you are clinging to. But you can’t hide from who you are,” are indeed scary realisations for a Walter desperate to rid himself of his old self, it does not mean that the real Walter is, indeed, the Walter that he was for the largest part of his life. For true identity is not who we are, but who we can be, who we have the potential to be, and, most importantly perhaps, who we strive hardest to be. And to a certain extent, Walter knows this, asking “Nina” to back him up in proving “Carla” wrong.

That Walter is giving his old self a chance to resurface, by wanting to take a “quick peek” and, ultimately, not burning it, is frightening indeed. Can he be trusted, in the context of a war against the Observers, and the fact that he holds something very precious indeed to them, that is, his own intellect? Even more frightening is that he listened to the impulses related to his old self, to his ego: he did take a quick peek at the journal, and he didn’t burn it in the end.

Does this mean that he is tempted by Carla’s assertion that the “Walter [of yore] would think nothing of going off on his own to New York on his own right now. He’d share all his secrets with the Observers, demonstrate his unequalled brilliance… A man of your staggering intellect and vision would be recognized by the Observers, valued, revered even. Grab your coat and hat”?

I am tempted to say that because he cracked and kept the journal, Walter cannot be trusted. But then again, maybe he can be trusted now more than ever, because of the strength of the battle he waged against himself in this episode, and the fact that despite the temptation, he still has not cracked.

The turn in Walter’s internal battle makes it all the more timely to have Peter back. But while it does seem like Olivia managed to touch him in a very deep way, removing the tech has not necessarily removed the anger that made Peter self-inject the Observer tech. Peter’s remorse and his appreciation for Olivia was touching, and make me hope that things are falling into place for them to work on their relationship. It was also nice to see a little bit more of the old Olivia, the active, clear-minded investigator. Her giving Michael hot cocoa just like she did with Etta when she was young was a beautiful, touching moment. Hopefully we will see more of the old Olivia in the upcoming episodes.

The search and retrieval of what turns out to be the Observer child, Michael, turned up some interesting information and moments. We find out that Sam Weiss, in this timeline, was as involved in the lives of the Fringe team as he was in the previous timeline. There is a good chance that he and Donald were working closely together. We find out that Donald has not contacted the couple that adopted Michael in years, which means either he is in deep hiding, or dead.

Now that we know what the technology that make an Observer such, I can’t help but wonder if Michael has it, and what would removing it do to him. I also wonder if the Loyalists who were at the waterfront, who intercepted the Fringe team as they were trying to get to the island where the signal was coming from, were there out of coincidence, or if they were told that the fugitives would be at that location.

Of course Walter’s LSD trip made way for some funny moment, such as his opening line, addressed to Astrid: “Your hair. Your hair is beautiful.” The animated sequence that jogged Walter’s memory at the end of the episode was out of the blue, artistically amazing and no doubt filled with clues and hints. Particularly noteworthy is the umpteenth Wizard of Oz image in the series. There was also one particularly creepy moment, when Carla tells Walter that “You’re burning up – and I know how that feels.”

There are only four episodes left, and things seem to be shaping up pretty well for a pretty amazing show finale, which leaves me both looking forward to and dreading 18 January.

TV Review: Fringe, Season 5, Episode 10: Anomaly XB-6783746

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2013 by Sahar

More frustrating than looking for the pieces of a puzzle is having the pieces and not knowing what to do with them. This pretty much sums up the 10th episode of the fifth and final season of Fringe, as the team, having found the child Observer now known as Michael, tries to figure out how to communicate with him in order to find out what he knows about the plan – which hopefully will be more than what Walter remembers. Thankfully, Nina Sharp has more than one trick up her sleeve and is able to provide the team with more high tech gadgets. Unfortunately, this proved to be her last one… Although death never kept William Bell from playing some of his own tricks.

Nina sealed once and for all her allegiance by making the ultimate sacrifice, but not before delivering a stinging insult directed at Windmark himself, an insult that hit straight home, one that only a person with her scientific expertise could deliver. Blair Brown yet again portrayed Nina as a strong yet sensitive woman, and brought to life a quality script courtesy of the Fringe writing team.

Walter’s reaction when he, Olivia and Peter found Nina dead in her wheelchair was heartbreaking thanks again in part to the writers, who kept the script uncluttered by unnecessary conversation or painfully cheesy one-liners. No doubt the script was left so in order to allow for John Noble’s acting skill to tell us everything we need to know: that his character is devastated. There is a chance that Walter did think, at least in part, about how Nina’ was now going to keep her promise to him, but the largest part of him looks shattered at this newest loss. This episode has yet again demonstrated where Fringe got its reputation for excellent writing from, and how emotionally charged moments become even more perfect for the acting skills the individuals portraying the characters infuse in it.

Nina’s death was much more difficult on fans than Etta’s death. The latter was difficult in the effects it had on Peter, Olivia and the rest of the team. The former is difficult because we have lost a character in whom we have invested so much during the last five years. No doubt the rocky beginning of fans’ relationship with this fiery redhead further cemented her in their hearts. I hope Broyles will be back in the next three episodes, and I hope that he is not going to die – that would just be too much for my Fringie-heart to handle.

The above-mentioned final insult did work on making the loss bittersweet. Windmark’s reaction at finding the dead Observers in the Resistance-led, Nina-supported Black Lab was the height of double standards; how can such a thing be considered the act of animals, in light of what he and his do? Nina’s final diatribe before she pulled the trigger was a wonderful bit of writing and acting. I know that more than one Fringe fan felt the intense satisfaction of Nina going down in a blaze of glory.

Of course the entire reason why Nina was in that Black Lab in the first place was to figure out how to communicate with Michael. The technology she provided the Fringe team with was of course reminiscent of the much more primitive neural stimulator used on him in Season 1’s fifteenth episode, “Inner Child”.

While the technology proves futile, we thankfully do find out much more about Michael in this episode. Some of it comes courtesy of Windmark, who calls him an anomaly meant to be destroyed. Coupled with the knowledge that Michael doesn’t have any technology implanted in him, one can’t help but wonder what the Observers were trying to accomplish. A chilling through is that they were trying to biologically alter humans so that they become Observer-like without the help of technology. Another bout of great writing was how, with a simple tear, we are shown what that anomaly is: that while Michael might have the high number of ridges characteristic of Observers, but he can still feel emotion.

The second biggest thing about this episode, after Nina’s death, is of course that we find out Donald’s identity: he is none other than September. We knew from before that September has helped Walter with developing the plan, so his involvement doesn’t come as a surprise. What does of course come as a surprise is the fact that he is a human in the memory Michael shares with Walter. How could that have happened? Perhaps September, curious about the feeling of love that humans feel, requested of Walter that he remove the tech that makes him an Observer. Or perhaps Donald was human before he became September the Observer. Of these two options, I would tend to think the former is more probable.

Another question is of course Michael’s relationship with September, and to that, I have no clue. Could Michael be September? Could he be September’s clone? And, again, what part is he going to play in Walter’s plan?

Fringe fans might have the experience of losing beloved characters (Charlie Francis, Alter-Broyles, Alter-Lee and Etta), but Nina’s death is much more jarring. Granted, the first two deaths were from a previous timelines, and the fourth we only knew for a short while, but each of them mark the increasing distance between how the show began, i.e. an investigation into fringe events, and what it looks like today, i.e a war.

This also marks yet another resemblance between Fringe and The X-Files. As all X-Philes know, the latter concluded after a bevy of central characters were killed off, leaving its main two protagonists alone to fight against an upcoming alien invasion. Is this how Fringe will end, with Peter, Olivia, Walter and Astrid left all alone to fight the Observers in a series of movies? There are only three episodes left before we figure that out, and the momentum was built in this episode, which did not do as much for the overall plot as the previous ones, helps increase my anticipation and look forward to the next episode with more gusto than throughout most of the last couple of months. I’m glad I hung in for the ride.

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