Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post is fiction at its finest.  Beautifully told, the story is poignant, funny, and heart-wrenching, with a powerful embedded social message. 

Told by twelve-year-old Cameron in the first person, the novel’s compelling first line introduces her amazing story:  “The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.”  Cameron’s grief, mixed with confusion, guilt, and youthful rebellion are understandable, given her parents’ accident and her emerging realization that she is attracted to girls.  Her adolescent sexual experimentation eventually leads to her being outed, with painful results.

An ultra-conservative aunt who becomes her guardian arranges to send Cameron away to a gay/lesbian youth camp called God’s Promise, where she is counseled to give up her sexual orientation and choose to become straight.  Her significant friendships with the camp’s other “disciples” and Cameron’s resistance to the strict, controlled atmosphere there make for a delightful story in spite of its tragic elements.

Set in Miles City, which is the author’s hometown, and the Bozeman area, Montana readers will recognize familiar place names and events.  The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a current One Book Billings selection; discussions are scheduled for the first week in November.  -MS

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)

“Lizzie Borden Took an Axe,
Gave Her Mother 40 Whacks.
When She Saw What She Had Done,
She Gave Her Father 41.”

Every October, I pull out all the DVD’s I own that help me get in the Halloween spirit. One of my favorites is “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. This TV movie was originally released in 1975, and shocked audiences everywhere. I purchased a copy of this movie years ago on Ebay, and the quality is not the greatest. Imagine my delight when I discovered that it has finally been released in better quality this month, and the library has purchased it for our collection.
This is not the fun loving Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched. Elizabeth plays Lizzie cold, detached and slightly off-kilter, acting completely normal one moment, and flying off the handle the next. From the opening scene, in which Lizzie is seen at an open door, calmly and without emotion telling her neighbor that her father has been killed, the audience is kept completely unnerved. There is little to no gore, but it doesn’t need it. The movie sails into the court case against Lizzie pretty early on, and the incidents leading up to the murders are told through flashbacks inside Lizzie’s mind. As the sordid details of her relationship with her parents come to light, we as the audience are made to feel empathetic towards Lizzie, almost wondering if maybe the parents deserved what happened to them.
There has been much speculation over the years about what really happened to Lizzie’s parents. Many films and books have been written on the subject, with most theorizing that Lizzie did indeed murder them. Unfortunately, this is one of those mysteries of which we will probably never know the answer. But for those who would like to know more about this legend, definitely check out this movie. -LT    

Friday, October 17, 2014

The General Danced at Dawn, and Other Stories by George MacDonald Fraser

This series of stories is told from the point of view of a very junior British officer in the years just after World War II, assigned to a Scottish regiment in Occupied North Africa.  All the stories are hilarious, one way or another.  Dand MacNeill gets selected for officer training in the first story by way of an obstacle course, gets acquainted with his new regiment in the second story, and from there things get even funnier.  You meet the regimental characters, and learn a lot about Glaswegians and football (soccer).  You find out that dancing is required of officers in Scottish regiments, and how passing a general’s inspection is the easier if you have good dancers.  You also meet Private McAuslan, the dirtiest soldier in the world.  
Fraser is best remembered for his Flashman books, but I like McAuslan and MacNeill better.  -LP

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher

Now Princess Leia to her home doth flee,
Deliv’ring plans and a new hope they hold:
Of bringing freedom to the galaxy.
In time so long ago begins our play,
In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.

So begins the first installment in William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope.  Penned by modern bard Ian Doescher, and written entirely in iambic pentameter, this is Star Wars (and Shakespeare) like you’ve never read it before.  -JW

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

True Detective (2014)

The latest television phenomenon from HBO is a deft blend of police procedural tropes and Southern Gothic archetypes, given weight by its cinematography and performances.  Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) and Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) were poorly matched partners in the Louisiana State Police back in 1995.  Their lives became forever entwined after they were assigned to murder investigation of a young prostitute whose ritualistically arranged body was found under a tree in the midst of a field of burning crops.  Seventeen years after closing the case, ten years after Cohle left the police department in the aftermath of an explosive fight with Hart, they are brought back to the station to be questioned about the case.  The murder was only one of a string committed by a serial killer, and he is still out there. 

I'm going to be upfront here:  this is not a tale for the faint-hearted.  And, given its subject, its pacing is slower than you might expect.  Those looking for heroic cop action or genius detective work might also be disappointed.  Cohle and Hart are heroes and good detectives, don't get me wrong, but they are also deeply flawed men whose strained relationship forms the backbone of the story.  With all its horror thriller trappings and scenarios that veer between occult intimations and depictions of life on the fringes of Southern respectability or take a brief dive into the aftermath of Cohle's experiences as an undercover operative, what truly is at stake here is their struggle to find meaning and pay the debts they feel they owe.  That struggle adds a philosophical edge to the story, making this series a compelling experience in eight short episodes.

Of course, the best story improves when told well, and I can't close this recommendation without mentioning that Harrelson's and McConaughey's performances are absolutely stellar.  While Cohle might be the mesmerizing center of the story, and McConaughey handles some heavily introspective dialogue with aplomb, Harrelson's flawed Hart drives the emotional side of things through his irritated reactions to his partner and sudden bursts of righteous anger or pity.  The filmmakers have also successfully set the tone of the piece and offer us some memorable set pieces and images, such as an intense action sequence which is completed in a single six-minute tracking shot.

Highly recommended.   -BR

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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the ultimate collection volume 1

As a rabid fan of TMNT, I was extremely excited when I found out that the original black and white comics were being reprinted and collected together in a series of hardbound graphic novels.  While I had a few of the originals growing up, most of my TMNT comics collection consisted of comics appearing later on in the series (in the 90's).  I was appropriately exhilarated for the chance to go back and see where it all started.  And thankfully, the collection did not disappoint.

The stories themselves are worthwhile reading for any comics fan.  TMNT started at a time when the comics industry was really starting to morph into something more mature, with more mature tastes.  TMNT is a great example of this shift.  The stories range from darker, violent tales to alien-filled, almost whimsical sci-fi adventures.  The writing, meanwhile, runs the gamut from stark clarity to complete silliness, with lots of cheesy one-liners thrown in for good measure.

But the real pull of this collection is not the stories or the artwork.  It is the annotations at the end of each issue from the original creators, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.  They offer general thoughts on the stories contained in the collection, and then offer a panel-by-panel reconstruction of how they put each issue together.  It's kind of incredible to have the authors offering personal insights into the creation of the stories and talking directly about how other influences (especially Frank Miller) helped shape TMNT.  I also found the panel explanations to be incredibly interesting as they show how comics are put together from a conceptual standpoint.

There are a lot of different ways to enjoy TMNT these days.  But however you were first introduced to the story, whether it was through the glorious cartoon series from the late 80's, the comics, or the movies you will find something to love about this collection.  And if you don't really know anything about TMNT but enjoy hearing a good story anyway, then you might as well start where it all began. -CA

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Death Takes up a Collection: a Sister Mary Helen Mystery By Sister Carol Anne O'Marie

A pleasant little jaunt to San Francisco, and a murder mystery solved by two dear old nuns. Everybody had a reason to kill the monsignor, but who actually did the deed? Sister Mary Helen and her buddy, Sister Eileen, figure it out in the end.   The author has written a number of mysteries with Sister Mary Helen as the sleuth; it's nice to see an investigator who is not in the prime of youth (she's 77 in this book). The police department characters are in their forties or thereabouts, and their interaction with the nuns is very entertaining.

The characters are engaging, the victim really won't be missed by anyone, and the story should not take long to read.  This is mystery light, and there's just enough intrigue to keep you engaged through the book.  -LP

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