Shelfish: The Blog of Answers

Up From the Grave by Jeaniene Frost

“’Is that you, Reaper?’ a familiar voice drawled, dispelling that concern. ‘And if so, have you lost your mind?’”

Vampire, Cat Crawfield and her vampire husband, Bones, have faced many threats over the years, among them ghouls, ghosts, other vampires, and the U.S. Government. This last threat resurfaces in the latest Night Huntress novel, with a vengeance. Cat and Bones discover a diabolical plot involving genetic testing on humans and paranormal species, conceived and perpetuated with disturbing calculation by rogue CIA agent, Jason Madigan. Cat and Bones must stop these experiments in order to save the lives (dead and undead) of those they hold most dear. In the process, they uncover a horrifying super-secret project that brings Cat face-to-face with her deepest fears.

Bringing the Night Huntress series to a close with this 7th volume, best-selling Urban Fantasy/Paranormal Romance author Frost doesn’t pull any punches. Up From the Grave is sensuous, gritty, a little bit scary, and at times laugh-out-loud funny. Fans of the series will be pleased with the appearance of all of our favorite characters, including Tyler, the blasé medium, and ghoul queen Marie Laveau. While I am sad to see the series end, I must admire Frost, who felt that she had told all of the Cat and Bones stories she wanted to tell and decided it wouldn’t be fair to fans of the series to drag it out only for the sake of book sales. She intends to focus her efforts on her New Adult (meaning the characters are either college-age or in their early 20s) and her Night Huntress spin-off novels, featuring Cat and Bone’s co-stars. But that’s the great thing about vampires. They (almost) never die.

Find Up From the Grave in the library.

Soma by Windhand

“…Eight thousandgrayscale image of a barn-like structure in a field near tree cover years between the dusk and dawn…”

Soma is the gargantuan second album by Richmond, Virginia Doom Metal quintet Windhand who set themselves apart from the pack which represents the genre in a few ways but most noticeably via the utilization of clean, female vocals courtesy of lead singer Dorthia Cottrell. Other bands in the genre typically feature male vocalists who sound like they’ve been gargling with gravel nightly since they were pre-teens. Opening the set with a rumbling thunder toned guitar riff is “Orchard” which sets the stage for the sludge-fest that is about to ensue across this album’s approximately 75 minute runtime and has perhaps the albums most straightforward song structure albeit a song which is double the length of a standard radio Rock song. Bursting out of the feedback hum which closes out “Orchard” comes “Woodbine,” another similarly paced tornado of heavily distorted guitar chords and fluctuating drum grooves that ends with a dragged out, highly viscous and quintessentially “doomy” coda that spans the last 3 minutes of its 9 minutes and 22 seconds. The electrified guitar and drum driven sound that comprises the vast majority of this LP, which has such vastitude that it conjures images of endless skies riddled with storm clouds, is interrupted by acoustic/vocal track “Evergreen” in which Cottrell drones through three or four varied guitar chord progressions while complimenting the strumming with soaring vocal notes that are extended and exaggerated to wonderful, soothing effect. Elsewhere, in closing track “Boleskine” the overall heaviness is punctuated by soft acoustic strumming at the very beginning for a few minutes and then somewhere near the middle only to end up crashing back into the slow, oozing down-tuned fuzz riffing which informs the majority of the 30 and ½ minute opus. A few instances of lead guitar compliment the main riff before finally (and very slowly) fading out to the field recording sounds of gusting gales and other eerie, unidentifiable scratching sounds.

A band like Windhand is definitely a difficult pill to swallow for the casual listener or even for general fans of mainstream Rock music. What usually puts people off is the fact that most of the songs clock in at over 8 minutes, and a half hour long single song by itself is especially intimidating when you consider the common attention span that most modern music listeners have. However, the genre known as “Doom Metal” has gained a lot of popularity in recent years despite these facts and I would implore any fan of Rock music to attempt to consciously listen to Soma in full in one or even two sittings (I mean…its 75 minutes long. I understand you’ve got stuff to do). There is something infectious about the increased instance of repetition that comes with the territory of extended duration musical ventures like the songs featured on Soma and every few minutes there is usually a new element; either a guitar solo, an alternating set of drum fills or tempo shifts for example, which all tend to offer up a level of variation that can keep even the reluctant listener interested enough to continue the journey. The most notable purveyor of the aforementioned attributes being “Cassock” which, across its almost 14 minute duration, shows the band seamlessly shifting gears between half-time groove and almost moderate Rock tempos from one lyrical line to the next with multiple sections of the song structure being diced up and set in place by the command of seasoned drum wizard Ryan Wolfe. The overwhelming loudness and repetitiousness of the music gives a semi-meditative quality to the songs which lends itself nicely to the subtle nods to the Occult via song titles, pieces of lyrical content and a particularly dreary set of images in the album artwork. Soma will absolutely test a listener’s patience for a number of reasons but going into the listening experience with an open mind and a focused ear can be incredibly rewarding... you know, if you’ve got that kind of time. This review is 666 words long. Doom.

Find Soma at the library.

-Brian, Answers

Man Made Boy by Jon Skovron

“After all, you’ve spent the past several months grieving for what you thought was the failure of your life’s work…and here I am, telling you that, no, you didn’t fail. In fact, you have created a being that far surpasses your wildest dreams.”  -VI in Man Made Boy

The young adult novel, Man Made Boy tells a tale of trolls and nymphs, robots and dragons, living throughout the United States, and having to hide from the non-magical public. The story looks from the point of view of 17-year-old Boy, who is the son of the Frankenstein Monster, and his Bride. Boy is a tech geek living in an underground commune of monsters in the heart of New York City, who make a living running a unique Broadway show. In the show the creatures display their powers as though they are merely special effects and makeup.

Boy feels cramped and unhappy living underground, performing these menial day to day tasks. He doesn’t fit in with the magical teenagers, he himself falling somewhere between magic and science. He spends most of his free time in his room, talking to his tech geek human friends online, and developing his AI virus. When he learns what his father has in store for his future, he leaves the commune to live with an internet friend in the city. With no legal identification, and only barely passing as a human, Boy does not have an easy time living in human New York City. Not to mention the fact that his AI creation (who has named herself VI for Viral Intelligence) has come to life, and is on a murderous mission of world domination! Boy somehow finds himself in an action packed adventure with the daughters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (who take turns in one body, just like their grandfather) trying to find a place call home, and figure out how to defeat his maniacal creation.

Man Made Boy is a unique, fast paced, and attention grabbing story. Instead of focusing on vampires and zombies, as so many of the recent young adult novels do, it takes all of the other fantastical monsters, and then weaves them into a city setting. At times, this story can get a little bit overwhelming with the action; what with Boy running away from home, his troll girlfriend hiding her appearance with drug-like glamour, the electronic rampage of VI, and not to mention Jekyll and Hyde’s brother chasing the girls down to rip them apart and kill Claire Hyde.

There is a fair amount of character development throughout the story for Boy. He realizes that he has to take responsibility for his creations, and that things may have turned out differently for his AI if he had shown her the way, and considered her side of things, instead of merely trying to push her out of his life. There are parallels drawn between Boy, and his father’s creator, Dr. Frankenstein, and how their fear and neglect of their confused creations caused a great amount of unnecessary peril. Boy is forced to face the fact that things are not always in simple black and white.

Overall, this story is a great one,  and it sends out a message of family, friendship, love, and not only accepting, but flourishing in who you are.

Find Man Made Boy at the library.

-Becca, Answers

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Drawing of a large hotel set in a mountainous landscape.How a movie is marketed can work against the unprepared moviegoer who just wants to watch the film. For me, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel is a good example of this. The film is being marketed as a comedy. Maybe that’s what Anderson’s fans expect, so the producers wanted to make sure they came prepared. From the earliest moments, it became apparent that the initiated members of the audience came to the theater ready to laugh. They laughed and they laughed, as if the things they found funny were all inside jokes. An actor they recognized appeared on the screen. They laughed. Another actor they recognized appeared on the screen. They laughed. If you know Wes Anderson’s films, you can imagine how often this happened.

My problem with all the laughing was that the movie was not funny. Not really. Is Billy Murray funny? Sometimes. Is Owen Wilson funny? Sometimes. But just because an actor who is sometimes funny appears on the screen is that cause to laugh? Apparently.

That having been said, did I enjoy the film? Yes. Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori were wonderful as the hero and his sidekick. Visually, the film was spectacular, bringing the viewer into a world that no longer exists or, perhaps, never did. This surreal grand hotel experience with all its dark undertones might be Wes Anderson’s 21st century take on the Alain Resnais classic Last Year at Marienbad. Who knows what really happened? In this case, does it matter? Just go along for the ride. The ride is beautiful.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is currently in theaters, but find it here when it becomes available on DVD.

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando

Cover image of the book The Best Night of Your Pathetic Life with four teens stand next to a car with the sun setting behind them“I knew guys got erections. I was perfectly prepared to deal with it. When the right guy and the right erection came along.”

Mary has spent four years of high school as a nerdy good girl. Mary's last hope to do something memorable in high school is to win the Oyster Point High Unofficial Senior Week Scavenger Hunt. After a fiasco at prom and losing her spot at Georgetown to a football jock, she is determined to take first place. She cobbles together a squadron of her best friends in a race against the clock to chase down clues and strange objects sent via text. All throughout the race, Mary must confront her best friend Patrick’s raging crush and the feelings that she can’t quite return along with her own unrequited love for bad boy Carson. With the finish line in sight, Mary has to decide what's more important—her friends or winning.

The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life is an angsty humor laden rollercoaster that will have readers laughing at every turn. With each emotional turn and setback, Mary dishes out quick-witted commentary tinged with sarcasm. At times it is difficult to sympathize with Mary, but ultimately this keeps her human – and you’ll like her in spite of her flaws. Many flashbacks explain the events leading to the night in the book, while the issues the characters deal with fill in gaps.

Find The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life in the Library

Kathleen, Reference Services

Schooled: The Price of College Sports

“The NCAA is making money off the backs of students who are being told in a contract that they are going to play their sport and get an education. But the contract is false. They may have a degree when they leave school, but they are not getting an education”.

As the NCAA Basketball Tournament kicks off and “March Madness” sweeps the nation (while some of us eagerly await Opening Day), an antitrust, class-action lawsuit against the NCAA continues its progression through the court system, with recent news that several current athletes have added their names to the lawsuit as well.

Schooled: The Price of College Sports is a new documentary based on an e-book entitled “The Cartel” by Pulitzer Prize winning historian Taylor Branch (who also wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled “The Shame of College Sports”) and narrated by Sam Rockwell. The film examines the current economic environment of major college athletics, including the powerful role played by the NCAA and how that has impacted the rights of “student-athletes”.  In short, it is an intimate look into the inner workings of what is now a $12,000,000,000 (yes, that’s billion) dollar-a-year industry.

The film does an excellent job of outlining the history and development of the NCAA, which, as a result of a match-fixing scandal involving the Univ. of Kentucky's Men’s Basketball Team in 1951, was able to grow from a somewhat inconsequential role into the judge, jury and executioner for all matters involving collegiate athletics in America. Schooled also examines the coining of the term “student-athletes” by Walter Byers, the NCAA’s first Exec. Director, as a method of avoiding liability for either workman’s compensation or litigation brought on by the families and dependents of players.

Schooled also provides a revealing analysis of the concept of “amateurism”. Specifically how it developed in 19th Century England, where it was used to prevent the lower classes from participating in organized games and athletics; how the word itself has been expunged from the Olympic Charter by the IOC since 1986, and how this “myth of amateurism” has been so well-crafted and ingrained into the minds of the American public that many see it as a symbol of “purity” lacking in the professional sports world, while millions watch and millions are made in the process.  Several economists featured in the film note that the NCAA operates as a cartel (making an interesting comparison with OPEC's role in the steady rise of oil prices) and actively engages in what is essentially price-fixing (which violates both antitrust legislation as well as criminal law), in that universities and the NCAA work together to ensure no “student-athletes” are paid, thereby keeping their labor cost at $0.

The opportunity to attend university and receive a college education is, for many, reason enough to justify the existing practices of the NCAA.  However, this is an overly simplistic analysis of the situation. As demonstrated by the numerous revelations of academic fraud at major universities over the years, including the 2012 scandal at the University of North Carolina (which is featured in the film), the main goal of coaching staffs and athletic departments across the country is to ensure player eligibility; not the attainment of knowledge. Notable high school athletes who are clearly not ready for college-level coursework are often admitted via special exemption, without serious regard for their long-term academic development.  In addition, the “student-athlete” has no security in their education due to the fact that scholarships are renewed on a yearly basis at the discretion of the coaching staff.

Whether you follow college sports, economics or American business and labor laws, you will find Schooled: The Price of College Sports both informative and entertaining.

Elias

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Skeletal hand reaching up from the grave. “There is a strange strength in secrets which can never be achieved by spilling one’s guts.”

The sixth installment in Alan Bradley’s award-winning Flavia De Luce series finds our heroine anxiously awaiting the return of her long absent mother, Harriet, at the train station. What she doesn’t count on is a whispered, cryptic message from a stranger who promptly ends up murdered. Flavia unravels this latest mystery with the help of some discovered film footage, a Gipsy Moth plane, and – of course - the magic of chemistry.

Flavia is an engaging character, at once intensely precocious and extremely child-like. The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches has a decidedly more serious tone than the previous volumes, and it works in the overall narrative’s favor, as Flavia sorts through her feelings towards the mother she never knew while she investigates the murder of the stranger at the train station. The murder mystery definitely takes a backseat here, with Bradley spending a good deal of time sitting with Flavia and examining her doubts about herself and her family. I appreciated getting to know this more sensitive side of Flavia. I also appreciated Bradley taking the time to flesh out some of the peripheral characters, like Flavia’s father, sisters, and their faithful friend, Dogger. Bradley manages to make the De Luce family more sympathetic without compromising the sketches of personality laid out earlier in the series.

 Find The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches in the Library.

Command and Control by Eric Schlosser

Title of book alongside a missile. Meant to look like a technical manual from the 1950s.The United States was the first country to develop nuclear weapons. It is also the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons against a foreign power. The arms race during the Cold War led America and Russia to build vast aresenals of nuclear weaponry. America currently has more than 4,500 warheads ready to launch at a moment's notice. It's estimated that Russia has more. Command and Control takes a close look at the history of these weapons and the men and women responsible for them.

Since the development of nuclear technology in the 1940s there have been dozens of accidents and near misses. The world's most powerful weapons are far more fragile than we think they are. There are rigurous security measures and safety procedures that are meant to prevent accidents, but that doesn't mean that accidents won't happen. The military can train missilers all day long but that doesn't mean they can keep a nuclear ship from sinking (Russian Navy, 1970), or prevent a nuclear bomb from getting lost (Georgia, 1958, lost at sea - that's right, I mean it is LOST

Last month's news reports about low morale, lapsed security and narcotics abuse at some of America's nuclear facilities got me interested in this book. Eric Schlosser gained national fame for his first book Fast Food Nation, his writing style is very approachable and informative. Anyone that liked Dr. Strangelove (how could you not?) would like Command and Control

Find Command and Control in the Library.

Dan, Answers

We Were There by Allen Childs, MD

We Were There front cover“You aren’t going to believe this, but the president’s been shot and they’re bringing him to the emergency room.”

As expected, the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy saw a flood of new material published on everything from his personal life and early political career, to the presidency as well as the assassination itself. This only serves to demonstrate how unquestionably difficult it has become to find anything new to write (or read) about JFK. However, among the many titles released this year, a handful of books have approached the subject with some originality. One of these is We Were There: Revelations from the Dallas Doctors who Attended to JFK on November 22, 1963, by Allen Childs, MD.

Just as historian Robert Dallek provided new insight into Kennedy’s numerous medical issues in An Unfinished Life, and retired Secret Service personnel provided their own accounts of the assassination in both The Kennedy Detail as well as this year’s Five Days in November, Dr. Childs (who was at Parkland Memorial Hospital that day) utilizes Warren Commission testimonies, oral history transcripts from the Sixth Floor Museum, as well as the personal recollections of the medical staff at Parkland to provide a detailed examination of their desperate attempts to save both President Kennedy as well as his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, just two days later.

There is a great deal of information here for both veteran JFK “buffs” as well as others who may simply be commemorating the anniversary. Some of the highlights include: JFK wearing a back brace and bandage around his lower back and pelvis for support that day; the exit wound at Kennedy’s throat being incidentally obscured by doctors as they performed a tracheotomy; the doctors being so preoccupied with the President’s other wounds, they never turned him over to see the entrance wound on his upper back (later discovered at Bethesda Naval Hospital), as well as the standoff between Dr. Earl Rose (Dallas County Medical Examiner) and Secret Service Agent Roy Kellerman over the President's body and where the autopsy would take place, which caused a break in the all important chain of custody.

Although the writing can at times be a bit dry (they are doctors, after all), We Were There remains a book that clearly adds to our knowledge and understanding of the enormously significant but often overlooked events that immediately followed President Kennedy's assassination.

Find We Were There in the library

Elias

Peace by Vista Chino

hand drawing of a skull and snake.“…Rise from ground…”

Peace is the debut album from L.A.’s Vista Chino but the members involved are far from novices. The band is comprised of musicians who have spent at least 20 years in the underground rock scene and the album actually sounds like a hybrid of 90’s Fuzz Rock and 70’s Classic Rock. The overall production has a low fidelity feel to it which gives the recording some character though the drums suffer to a small extent from this choice. The drum tone sounds a bit stale on some tracks more than others but the actual execution of the drumming is done with great mastery by Brant Bjork who has perfected the art of “the groove” and also provides lead vocals on the first half of “Planets 1 & 2”. The very first track “Good Morning Wasteland” is merely a mock field recording with echoing, effected guitar notes that lead into the first actual full band composition “Dragona Dragona” which opens with an overly compressed distorted guitar riff that bends and mutates into multiple themes before settling on a song structure and  is a clear indicator of what this band is all about.  Lead single “Sweet Remain” comes out swinging with a pummeling juggernaut of a rhythmic synergy between the guitars and drums carrying some of the strongest and most caustic lead vocals on the album while the guitars on the following song “As You Wish” slither across the rhythmic framework during the verses then build momentum in the pre-chorus only to avalanche through the “hook” in a stop/start manner which perfectly resolves all tension throughout the song. Faux-closer “Acidize…The Gambling Moose” (“faux” because the record wraps up with two bonus or “encore” tracks) revs up slowly with a fuzzed out guitar riff laden with a smoother and cleaner vocal approach and runs the gamut from Space Rock to guitar Jazz then traditional Blues with accompanying harmonica for taste, finding parallels with artists such as Radiohead along the way before finally blasting into a Zeppelin-esque Blues/Rock jam session in an almost half-time feel until the end. The track lasts almost exactly 13 minutes and puts every second to impeccably good use.

This record sounds huge and expansive but almost suffocating at the same time, as if it is filling not only the seemingly infinite stretch of space for miles ahead but also the space directly in front of the listener’s face. The guitars are pushed up front in the mix but not overly aggressive in style due to the swagger of the groove set by the drummer and the hypnotically rhythmic sympathetic resonance injected by guitarist Bruno Fevery who also provides some of the most technically proficient yet tunefully unique lead playing I’ve ever heard.  Vocalist John Garcia still peels paint off the walls with his signature rugged, high pitched rasp but ventures into cleaner, prettier vocal territories as well which I would personally encourage him to explore further on future recordings. The album features bass guitar contributions from three different players including the band’s own drummer Bjork, Nick Oliveri (of Queens of The Stone Age, Kyuss, and Mondo Generator fame) and Mike Dean (Corrosion of Conformity) but you could hardly tell that there is more than one bass player throughout the record due to stylistic consistency. Granted the bass is not the most audibly prominent instrument for much of the album’s nearly hour long running time but it always blends in and helps set the stage for the vast expanse of the soundscape that Vista Chino is making and considering that two of the members of this band are founding members of the long-defunct “Desert Rock” powerhouse Kyuss with contributions from a third founding member, it’s no wonder the music sounds this big and is this good. Peace is easily a top five rock record for 2013 and comes highly recommended for anyone interested in hearing this type of music without the stigma of radio rock insipidity.

Find it in the library.

-Brian

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