Tag Archives: 1990-1999

Madness Treads Lightly

Author: Polina Dashkova

Translator: Marian Schwartz

My rating: 4 of 5

When Mitya Sinitsyn is found hanged in his apartment, nearly everyone seems to arrive at the obvious conclusion that he committed suicide. But considering how strongly his wife denies the possibility of such a thing happening, family friend and journalist Lena Polyanskaya begins to pick at the threads of his death . . . and finds the obvious begin to unravel before her. The clues she discovers begin leading her on a dangerous trail going back fourteen years to a trip she, Mitya, and his sister Olga took as young professionals together. Because somehow, something that happened on that trip was significant in a way she never realized–if she can only figure it out before she ends up dead because of it.

Madness Treads Lightly is the first Russian psychological thriller/crime novel I’ve ever read. Actually, it’s one of only a few Russian novels I’ve read, period. I should probably remedy that. In any case, this was a worthwhile read, one that would likely be enjoyed by most people who enjoy crime novels in general. Plotwise, you’ve got an interesting story–not really a mystery, since it becomes pretty clear what happened and who committed the crimes. But it’s intriguing to watch Lena go all amateur detective while still being at heart a mom and a journalist–an ordinary woman, not some insanely skilled crime fighter or anything. There’s a lot going on, and a number of interlocking plot threads to follow, but it all comes together quite well. I honestly found the native look at everyday Russian culture and society in the 1990’s to be nearly as interesting as the actual plot, though. Things like the way capitalism and crime were interconnected, foods that were common, polite social customs, etc. are fascinating to see displayed in such a way that they’re clearly just a normal, unremarkable part of the characters lives. But Russian naming conventions, though; I still don’t understand. . . . One more thing of note is that, although I would certainly consider this a thriller of sorts, it has a pacing that wouldn’t fit with the typical Western conception of that genre. It’s more of a slow, steady unfolding of one plot element after another, which sounds kind of dull when I say it, but it actually fits the story and works. Recommended.

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My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 3

My rating: 3 of 5

Wally and his pals Wall Street and Opera get the chance to take a trip out to visit Wall Street’s older brother . . . which would be super cool and fun, except for the fact that her brother has forsworn the faith of his family and chosen a lifestyle that his family definitely doesn’t approve of. Which makes the whole trip just a bit AWKWARD. And of course, any given day isn’t complete without Wally’s notorious clumsiness and dorkiness getting him into some kind of trouble. So, naturally, when you expose him to great stuff like hot air balloon races, mad bulls, and the great outdoors, disaster is bound to strike. But somewhere in the midst of all the craziness, Wally and his friends may just find out what trusting God is really all about.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is a classic series that I’ve loved since I was a kid, and My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord definitely continues the trends of the first two volumes of the series. You’ve got a hilarious, slapstick story that’s just good fun but that has distinctive spiritual and moral undertones that are fleshed out through the experiences the characters go through. Plus, the tone of writing in Wally’s voice is just too funny. I think this particular volume isn’t my favorite just because there’s too much of a dichotomy. I mean, in this series, there’s always that contrast between the humor and the actual point the author’s trying to make. But in this book, between the arguments Wall Street’s family have and the weight of the whole turning away from the faith thing, it just gets pretty dark (for a light-hearted middle-grade story, I mean), and it just doesn’t seem to fit–or rather, the slapstick seems an awkward fit in comparison. Still, My Life as a Broken Bungee Cord is definitely a good Christian middle-grade story that I would recommend.

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The Atrocity Archives

Author:Charles  Stross

Laundry Files, vol. 1

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for language

At first glance, Bob Howard seems like a pretty typical IT guy–smart, sardonic, harried by the incompetence of the computer-illiterate in his organization and the demands of his managers. That is, until you consider the fact that he works for a secret government organization whose sole purpose is to protect the world from eldritch entities invading from alternate realities. And Bob’s life is about to take a turn for the weirder as he, bored with desk duty, volunteers to be put on active service. There’s no telling what horrors he’ll run into next.

So, I’ve heard some really mixed reviews about this book, and honestly the author in general. I have to say, for myself, I enjoyed The Atrocity Archives a great deal and plan to read at least more of this series–probably some of Stross’s other series as well. It’s this delightful cross of eldritch horror, office politics, techno-thriller, and spy story, all told with this delightfully sardonic sense of humor. Personally, I enjoyed Bob’s outlook and found him an interesting character to read. And just the ideas behind this story are fascinating . . . higher maths being summoning rituals and opening doorways into other realities, programmers accidentally stumbling on said summonings, secret organizations specifically designed to deal with these. Plus just the whole office drama of the organization and Stross’s presentation of it. I have heard some folks complain about the “technobabble” used in this story, and yes absolutely this book makes me wish I actually understood more higher math and programming . . . but on the other hand, I’m not sure how much more sense it would make even if I did have more context for all the terms. It seems kind of like magic spells used in fantasy novels; like, if you understand Latin, you’ll get a bit of a heads up on what the spell does, but it’s mostly flavor text, and even if you don’t understand, the effects will become pretty clear pretty quickly. I never felt lost because I didn’t understand a term, put it that way. In any case, I found The Atrocity Archives to be a truly engaging and enjoyable book–recommended for those who enjoy something a bit more off the beaten path.

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My Life as Alien Monster Bait

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 2

My rating: 4 of 5

It’s every kid’s dream, right? Get chosen to be in a movie, and instantly transform from all-school reject to everyone’s new best friend? When uber-klutz Wally McDoogle manages to land a role in an up-and-coming monster movie, his life certainly undergoes an extreme transformation. About the only person who doesn’t treat him differently is his best friend Opera . . . only Wally’s pretty sure he’s too cool to be seen around Opera anymore. The nerdiness may be catching, after all. But when the filming goes haywire (as it is so prone to do around him), Wally finds out just how valuable true friendship is–and how fleeting  those “friendships” based on fame.

As with the first book in this series (My Life as a Smashed Burrito with Extra Hot Sauce), My Life as Alien Monster Bait is a great Christian middle-grade story that manages to teach important lessons without being stuffy or “preachy” in the slightest. Between Wally’s escapades, the offbeat stories he writes, and the quirky first-person writing, you’ve got a story that’s absurdly funny (even to an adult, but even more so as a kid). But in the midst of the humor, you’ve got some excellent lessons on pride, true friendship, and that more challenging concept to nail down–not treating people differently just because they have more fame or money or coolness points or whatever. Myers brings us a blatantly Christian story with solid life lessons . . . that’s also immensely enjoyable and laugh-inducing. Definitely recommended.

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My Life as a Smashed Burrito With Extra Hot Sauce

Author: Bill Myers

The Incredible Worlds of Wally McDoogle, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

Wally knew his summer was going downhill as soon as his dad started throwing around phrases like “great outdoors” and “think manly thoughts.” He just didn’t know how bad it was going to get until he stumbled onto the bus to “Camp Whacko” (as it was fondly nicknamed) and into the bad graces of notorious bully Gary the Gorilla. Somehow (yes, his ego tends to be his undoing), his fellow campers convince Wally to stand up to Gary in an all-out camp war–pranks in the middle of the night, traps on the trail, that sort of thing. Only, all of that doesn’t go very well with all this teaching on wisdom that Wally’s been hearing from his camp leader, and at some point he’s going to have to make a defining choice.

I discovered Bill Myers’ Wally McDoogle books back when I was still in, like, middle school. They were fabulous then, and they continue to be a joy even today. They manage to be distinctively Christian middle-grade fiction, with solid teaching (in this volume, focusing on making wise choices, choosing good friends, and even loving your enemy), while still being relatable and impossibly funny. Wally is just so utterly clumsy and has such an over-the-top sarcastic sense of humor (and yes, everything’s told from a first-person perspective, which in this story definitely works), that you can’t help but laugh. The collection of circumstances as a whole is so improbable as to be basically implausible. And yet, the attitudes Wally has, the bad choices he makes, and the hard decisions he’s faced with, are completely realistic–they’re the sort of challenges that real people are faced with on a everyday basis. Which (besides the gut-wrenching laughter) is what makes this story so great; it equips kids to face real choices and helps them think through things so that they are more ready when they’re faced with this stuff in real life. Definitely recommended.

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Love Hina (Manga)

Mangaka: Ken Akamatsu

Status: Complete (14 volumes/5 omnibus volumes)

My rating: 4 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, mostly for fanservice/nudity

Keitaro Urashima has devoted himself to attending Tokyo University in order to fulfill a half-remembered promise he made with a girl when he was just a little kid. But, being a bit hopeless in general, he’s managed to fail the entrance exams twice now. What’s more, his parents have kicked him out of the house. Lucky for him, his family owns Hinata Inn, which is actually fairly near the university, and he is able to stay on there as the manager . . . only it’s not actually being used as an inn anymore, but rather as a girls’ dormitory. So now, poor Keitaro–who has trouble even speaking with girls–finds himself living in the same building as five girls . . . which should be a dream come true, but with his luck, it’s likely to be more trouble than anything else.

By the author of Negima (which I love), Love Hina is also something of a classic shounen manga, although (in my mind) not nearly so much so as NegimaLove Hina is essentially a new adult romcom, at its core. And yes, the love story between Keitaro and Naru is cute and sweet and funny . . . but a huge part of the manga is these two trying to actually figure out how to tell each other their feelings. It’s kind of too much, especially with all the back and forth about Keitaro’s childhood promise and his insistence on making it into Tokyo University, even without really knowing what he wants to study or anything. Keitaro himself becomes a more interesting character as the story progresses, somewhat, but at the beginning he’s honestly a pretty stereotypical self-insert sort of character. Which I guess fits the ecchi harem sort of story that we have at the beginning. And fair warning, this is definitely an ecchi, fanservice-filled sort of story with lots of hot springs nudity . . . not particularly more graphic than is typical of a shounen manga, just lots of it. The girls in this story are what really makes it shine, though. They are quite the group of characters, with larger-than-life personalities and all sorts of quirks. They’re a lovable group though, and certainly fun to read. I would love to call this a slice-of-life story, and it really is at the beginning; however, the further in we get, the more fantastical things become. You’ve got island princesses and flying turtles and secret sword techniques . . . let’s just say that it gets more bizarre the further you get into the story. And yet, there is definitely content that makes this a proper new adult story as well–the challenges of dealing with complicated emotions, trying to figure out what you want to do with your life, accepting responsibility. These are the sort of things that make this story not just a self-insert harem fest or a quirky fantasy but also a relatable story about growing up. So yes, Love Hina has things about it that I don’t love, but at the same time, it’s still a really good story that’s worth the read.

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My Bloody Valentine (2009 Movie)

Lionsgate

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/Rated R for all the reasons–sex, language, nudity, blood and gore, violence, you name it, you’ve been warned

Tom Warden returns to the small mining town of Harmony after nearly ten years away to settle things following his father’s death. But it seems the past is coming back to haunt him as a series of violent murders sweeps across the rural community . . . murders that parallel closely those that devastated the town on Valentine’s Day ten years ago. And people can’t help but wonder, since Tom was in a way responsible for the previous murders, or at least for the mining accident that created the monster responsible for them.

My Bloody Valentine is a great reminder of why I don’t watch slasher films–but I couldn’t resist the awesomeness that is Jensen Ackles anymore, I just couldn’t. And I have to say that if this were my kind of movie, I would likely have given it quite a high rating. There’s more story to it that just a random collection of bodies building up, so points for that. The casting and acting are well done, too–and yes, I have to gush a bit over the great job Jensen did with this role. There’s a lot of subtlety and suggestion that goes into this part, and he pulls it off with his typical aplomb. But I have to say that the other actors did a great job with their parts, too, which again made the whole thing much more enjoyable. Having said that, there’s a lot of violence and just cringe-worthy, graphic murders–kudos on the CG, by the way–that are just kind of awful, even though they’re executed well. So yeah, fair warning and all that; this is likely to induce nightmares. I did enjoy the twist at the ending, even if it was a bit predictable. Of note, this is a remake of the 1981 movie of the same title, which I haven’t seen, so I can’t comment on any comparisons between the two. Recommended for Ackles fans and for slasher fans, but probably not otherwise. And I’ll always love Ten Inch Hero waaaaay more.

Directed by Patrick Lussier/Produced by Jack L. Murray/Screenplay by Zane Smith, Todd Farmer, & John Beaird (1981 screenplay)/Story by Stephen Miller (1981 story)/Based on My Bloody Valentine by George Mihalka/Starring Jensen Ackles, Jaime King, Kerr Smith, Betsy Rue, & Kevin Tighe/Music by Michael Wandmacher

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