Wednesday, May 29, 2013

3 Books

There are 3 books I’ve read recently that by happenstance seem to fit nicely together.
The first is Full Dark House: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler. The second book is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and the third is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.  The genres of these three books are different, but they all seem to kind of fit together for me.

Full Dark House is a mystery featuring detectives from the Peculiar Crimes Unit. The Unit tends to get cases that seem like they will never be solved, and so it is punted to this unit. Not really a cold case unit, the murder that begins the story is quite recent when the Unit receives it. The book flashes back and forth between a mystery in present day and the first case the two detectives worked in the 1940’s, during the London Blitz. Arthur Bryant is the lead detective, he is also very young, but most of the older detectives are away fighting the war. Bryant reminds me a little of Richard Castle, he just lets his imagination run and sometimes that gets him to the answer. His partner is John May, a perfect more logical foil to Bryant’s flighty-ness. Full Dark House is very British and full of some very British humor, which I love.

Life After Life is the story of a girl, Ursula Dodd, who lives her life over and over. Sometimes she dies at birth, sometimes she lives through two wars. Ursula was born in 1910 and WWI and WWII both fall within at least some of her lifetimes. The book does spend a good amount of time dealing with the London Blitz in WWII. Ursula lives out WWII in a few different iterations and I hate to post spoilers, but there are a few here if you want to go into the book with no real knowledge of it. 

Spoilers here!
Ursula spends the war in one of the government offices that collates data on casualties and damage to buildings in several of her lifetimes. She also volunteers to help rescue people after bombings in a couple of lifetimes. Sometimes she dies in the bombings herself. One time she lives out WWII in Germany, in close proximity to Hitler. It gives an interesting view of what Germany was going through during WWII.

It was interesting to see the difference of the Blitz portrayed as a backdrop of someone just trying to do their real job, like in Full Dark House, versus something that is lived everyday, like  Life After Life. Ursula’s life was the war, whereas Bryant and May viewed the war and the Blitz as something that hindered their ability to do their job.

Good Omens is the third book that I am lumping in here. The reason I feel it fits is that it is a book about the apocalypse. Good Omens is funny, and features a couple of great characters in Crowley the demon and Aziraphale the angel. Also, how can you not like a book with a character named Anathema Device? I think this fits in with the Blitz because as the apocalypse begins, people were feeling much like they did during the Blitz. I would think that to many people living through WWII in Europe, it felt like the end of the world, and it was the end of the world for many people. As a side note, I am pretty sure that Crowley in the TV series Supernatural is based on Crowley from Good Omens.

I would recommend all three of these books, although I admit to being a little disappointed in the ending of Life After Life, but the book as a whole was a great read and hard to put down.

I’m going to give Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, 4 stars.

Full Dark House was a great mystery with shades of Phantom of the Opera.

Full Dark House by Christopher Fowler gets 4 stars also.

Finally, Good Omens was a funny book, but with some thought provoking elements too.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett receives 5 stars.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What Kind of Adult Collects Dolls?

I spent last weekend at the Tonner Doll Convention in Chicago IL. Tonner makes dolls for the adult collector, although they are starting to branch out into toys as well. I have collected dolls since i was young. I first received some of the holiday Barbies, then I received a few other collector dolls including a couple of Madame Alexanders. One of my favorites is a porcelain doll that was made for me by a friend of my mom’s.

I attended a couple of doll shows with my grandmother when I was young, but once I got older I didn’t really attend those. I never had attended a doll collector convention, even at the height of my Barbie collecting.

I first heard about Tonner around the time that Tyler Wentworth came out. I was aware of Gene and some of the other fashion dolls, especially once I lived in Orlando and there was an FAO Schwarz nearby. I decided not to branch out from Barbie, I was afraid of opening a Pandora’s box, and I was right!

I really started looking at Tonner dolls when he began doing Harry Potter dolls, they looked really amazing! Luckily I was only seeing them online, so it was easier to resist. After lurking on Tonner’s website for awhile, I finally broke down and ordered some of the Fashion Zombie dolls when they went on sale. I could not believe how beautiful they were. I hadn’t really played with a 16 inch doll, but the fabric and the detail were just incredible.

I went to my first doll convention. Tonner hosts an annual convention in May in Chicago, IL, which is only about 4 hours away from me. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I figured if nothing else, I would meet some other people who were interested in dolls.

I met some really wonderful people, people that I have seen again at other Tonner conventions I have attended since the first one. People that are nice and friendly and love to talk dolls.

Many people who collect dolls don’t just buy a doll and set it on a shelf. Some people (like me) change outfits, and wigs to make the dolls look different. I change some dolls around with wigs and outfits, others I leave as they were when I received them. Some people sew and design their own clothes for the dolls, or knit or crochet clothes and accessories. Some people make elaborate scale dioramas to display their dolls. Some people repaint the doll’s face, or add glass eyes, sometimes they even manage to change the basic sculpt of the face.

At the Tonner convention, they have a competition room with different categories which vary from photography to costuming to crafting to support a theme. This year there were some really fantastic contest entries. The pictures in this post are all competition entries. None of them are done by me. The room below is scaled for a 16 inch doll.

So, when you ask what kind of adult collects dolls? I would say, some really kind, creative people who haven’t lost touch with the child in all of us.

As a side note, another great place to see fantastic doll photography and altered dolls is Tonner's Doll Duels site.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Is A Book Like a Hot Tub or an Air Conditioned Room?

I recently read the book Ever Shade by Alexia Purdy. The book was a little bit painful to get through, but ultimately the story won me over. At least, it won me over enough to finish it. I am even interested in reading the next book. I just hope the editing is better and the main character is a little less whiny and annoying.

The point in talking about Ever Shade, is that when I finished it I felt like I needed to read something I knew would be good. Do you ever find yourself doing that? You read a book that wasn't good, or was just ok. Or maybe you even read a book that is written well, but challenging or depressing or what have you.

I think sometimes what I read next is just as important as what I am currently reading. After Ever Shade, I decided I to read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. After just a few sentences, I felt this sense of relief. Like being hot and sticky and sweaty and walking into a nicely air-conditioned room, or easing aching muscles into a hot tub. It was almost a physical sensation of peace and relaxation.

There are a few authors that are go-to authors for me. One is Phil Rickman, I still have a few books left to read in his Merrily Watkins series, and there are other books he's written that aren't part of a series. Another author I have started to use as a go-to is Rhys Bowen, she writes the Royal Spyness mysteries, Molly Murphy mystery series, and Constable Evans mystery series. I have read all the Royal Spyness to date and am working my way through Molly Murphy. Neil Gaiman is another go-to author for me, now that I have finally started reading his books, I still have several more of his that I have not yet read. Christopher Moore is yet another author who always writes well and I have enjoyed everything of his I've read, and there is still more that I haven't read.

My go-to authors aren't only used to recover from badly written books. I also pick up a book by one of these authors when I have read something which was particularly good and well written. If I read something that is really sticking with me, it can make it hard to choose what to read next. You don't want to go from reading something really great to reading something that is potentially terrible. Which is why I again reach for something written by one of the authors above.

Who are your go-to authors? Have you ever felt like reading the first few well-crafted sentences of a book are like soaking your aching brain muscles in a hot tub? Do you prefer to re-read a favorite book rather than something new by a favorite author?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Spring Has Sprung!

Spring has finally come to Iowa. At least, we think it has. It is a little difficult to tell when the temperature swings from the 30s F to 90 F within a day or two. It is nice to throw the windows open and get some fresh air in the house. Our oldest cat, Ariel, is able to do some sunbathing in the fresh air now too.  I hope spring is coming to where you are too, and I hope it's bringing a lower pollen count than here.

My oldest, Andrew, was doing math homework the other day, and had to use the Pythagorean theorem. Which reminded me of the movie Merry Andrew. I remember the Pythagorean theorem thanks to this movie. Merry Andrew has been impossible to find for years, but it is for sale on as digital content, or as a print on demand DVD.