Hannibal Rising - Thomas Harris

February 14th, 2007

Hannibal Rising by Thomas HarrisHannibal emerges from the nightmare on the Eastern Front, a boy in the snow, mute, with a chain around his neck.

He seems utterly alone, but he has brought his demons with him.

Hannibal's uncle, a noted painter, finds him in a Soviet orphanage and brings him to France, where Hannibal will live with his uncle and his uncle's beautiful and exotic wife, Lady Murasaki.

Lady Murasaki helps Hannibal to heal. With her help he flourishes, becoming the youngest person ever admitted to medical school in France.

But Hannibal's demons visit him and torment him. When he is old enough, he visits them in turn.

He discovers he has gifts beyond the academic, and in that epiphany, Hannibal Lecter becomes death's prodigy.

Thomas Harris has done a great job through the series of writing an otherwise very likeable and respectable man. I know I was not alone in my excitement when it was announced that Hannibal Lecter was coming to us again in print.

It was a very ambitious task for the author to try to bring him back in a prequel, but the end of Hannibal did not exactly leave much room to tack anything on the end. Without being able to append new material to the end, Harris chose to start from the beginning and show us Hannibal Lecter's childhood and what led to...well the events that occurred in Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal.

I appreciate the attempt and I enjoy the star of the show, but I think the project just wasn't feasible. I liked how Harris stayed consistent with writing Hannibal in a very likeable fashion; he grew up as a very cultured boy, responsible and devoted to his family and he worked harder than most at schooling. The other books could be described as "suspense" novels and Hannibal Rising attempts to follow suit.

It is very difficult to write suspense in a story where the main theme is revenge. Ok I am generalizing too much. It is very difficult to find suspense in a story about revenge where the suspense is tied to whether the main character will make it out alive...when have three books already written as concrete evidence that he escapes relatively (physically) unscathed.

The book is short and easy to breeze through; the font is large and the page margins are wide. I think the book was actually too easy to read in some regards. I never felt the hook set while I read. I kept waiting to be engaged by Hannibal Rising like I was in earlier installments of the series. If you have read it, you may think I am crazy, but I just thought there was an absence of depth in character development and the progression of some scenes. I also don't like that in some aspects Hannibal Lecter was turned into a mild action hero.

Thomas Harris is a great writer and I wish he would not keep his fan base waiting so long between books. But I believe we have now established that, if he would continue to write (and I wish he would) it may be best to retire Hannibal Lecter.

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February 13th, 2007

Last.fmLast.fm is my latest obsessive project. It is, on the surface, a run-of-the-mill steaming audio site. What it offers, however, is much more robust. The majority of sites that feature streaming audio allow you to choose and rate artists and songs that are played. The site which I would imagine has market share is Launch.com and rightfully so since they let users rate artist, song and album on a 6-point scale. Last.fm only uses essentially a 3-point scale. You may "love" a song, "ban" it or simply let it play through. If you let it play through it is added to your music profile and future songs are catered to you based on it and others. If you "love" it, the same thing applies, though you have an option to select a radio station comprised of those tracks alone. If you "ban" the song, it will, in theory, never be played for you again.

This is not as accurate as Launch.com. I know that is what you are grumbling about now. And it isn't, but where Last.fm differentiates itself is in "scrobbling."

What is Scrobbling?

Scrobbling a song means that when you listen to it, the name of the song is sent to Last.fm and added to your music profile.

Once you've signed up and downloaded Last.fm, you can scrobble songs you listen to on your computer or iPod automatically. Start scrobbling yourself, and see what artists you really listen to the most. Songs you listen to will also appear on your Last.fm profile page for others to see.

Millions of songs are scrobbled every day. This data helps Last.fm to organise and recommend music to people; we use it to create personalised radio stations, and a lot more besides.

You download -- what I have noticed to be relatively benign -- software from which you may play streaming audio or run passively while you listen to music from your hard drive. While the software runs, each song scrobbled contributes to your online profile for future recommendations.

What I like most about the service, however, is that you may make recommendations to other registered users. Hypothetically say that you and I are friends and I know a decent amount about your music tastes and I listen to something (either on the internet or from my computer) that I think you will like, I can click "recommend" and type in your username and you receive an invitation to listen to that song on my suggestion.

Neat, huh?

My profile, under the name privatjokr (big surprise there, right?) is located here. Let's be friends...

(Edit: To listen to the Loved Tracks Radio and make customized personal radio stations you have to subscribe which turns out to be $3.00/month, sorry.)

January 30th, 2007
Tom Robbins - Still Life With Woodpecker - 50Now, tequila may be the favored beverage of outlaws, but that doesn't mean it gives them preferential treatment. In fact, tequila probably had betrayed as many outlaws as has the central nervous system and dissatisfied wives. Tequila, scorpion honey, harsh dew of the doglands, essence of Aztec, crema de cacti; tequila, oily and thermal like the sun in solution; tequila, liquid geometry of passion; Tequila, the buzzard god who copulates in midair with the ascending souls of dying virgins; tequila, firebug in the house of good taste; O tequila, savage water of sorcery, what confusion and mischief your sly, rebellious drops do generate!

The Illusionist

January 29th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0443543/

The IllusionistUnlock the mysteries of the year's most spellbinding film from the producers of Crash and Sideways! Oscar nominees Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton lead an all-star cast in this "stunning" film (USA Today) that conjures an exhilarating blend of suspense, romance, and mind-bending twists. The acclaimed illusionist Eisenheim (Norton) has not only captured the imaginations of all of Vienna, but also the interest of the ambitious Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell). But when Leopold's new fiancee (Jessica Biel) rekindles a childhood fascination with Eisenheim, the Prince's interest evolves into obsession...and suddenly the city's chief inspector (Giamatti) finds himself investigating a shocking crime. But even as the inspector engages him in a dramatic challenge of wills, Eisenheim prepares for his most impressive illusion yet in this "mesmerizing" (Entertainment Weekly) and "beautifully acted" (Good Morning America) film that "teases you until the very end" (The New York Times)!

You may have heard and/or read the same mix of reviews that I had before I had seen The Illusionist. Some people could nod their heads at it and tell you it was entertaining. Others would hesitate, only to be polite, and say it just wasn't worth seeing. In my experience, not many people had very strong feelings one way or the other. And many people preferred to focus on whether or not it was better than The Prestige instead of discussing the movie on its own merits. I won't claim the moral high-ground, admittedly I have not seen The Prestige; all I have to go on is The Illusionist. And I liked it.

The casting is better than luke-warm. The movie features the on-the-rise career of Paul Giamatti and the long-overdue return of Ed Norton. Giamatti acted his way onto the map with a highly praised performance in American Splendor, though he is probably most well-known for his role in the Sideways. If you have read my reviews before, this may not be the first time you see me point to the movie Confidence. It is the movie to which I would say Paul Giamatti's role is most comparable (and one of my favorite movies). In both movies he toes the line between the moral and immoral, while bringing a strong breadth of character. In the Illusionist he has a larger part, so you are able to enjoy his very-likeable personality in greater supply.

Edward Norton has delivered some very noteworthy performances over his career. I can only wish for him to get more work; I enjoy what he does. He does not seem to work at the same pace as many in-demand actors today. Maybe he prefers more time off, or maybe I am the lone voice of support for his career. Either way, I thought he did a great job as lead in The Illusionist, where he brought the same "I'm better than you" arrogance that he gave us in Rounders. It seemed effortless as he settled into a character who is not too over-the-top. Knowledge is power, and his character knew what others did not.

The story was a new flavor of an old dish. The creators here took the often-used template for a crescendo of suspense which carries you safely into the heart of an exhilarating plot twist. What they added was magic, literally. (Sure it was good, but you know what I mean.) I really enjoy magicians and their craft. I liked the way the creative team for The Illusionist was able to bring this story to life. The only thing I longed for was more magic. A few more slight-of-hand tricks would have made me very happy, though I understand that there wasn't necessarily any good place for them to be added.

I hope that you are neither too proud of yourself, nor disappointed should you predict the twist. The strength of the movie is less in the surprise and more in the execution. The Illusionist is not a movie you will love, but I think if you give it a fair chance, you will be entertained.

For another movie (starring Ed Norton) similar to The Illusionist, click here.

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Next - Michael Crichton

January 26th, 2007

Next by Michael CrichtonIs a loved one MISSING some BODY PARTS? Are BLONDES becoming EXTINCT? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species? Humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes; is that why a CHIMP FETUS resembles a human being? And should that worry us? There's a NEW GENETIC CURE FOR DRUG ADDICTION -- is it worse than the disease?

We live in a time of MOMENTOUS SCIENTIFIC LEAPS, a time when it's possible to SELL OUR EGGS AND SPERM online for thousands of dollars and to test our spouses for genetic maladies.

We live in a time when one fifth of all OUR GENES ARE OWNED by someone else, and an unsuspecting person and his family can be pursued cross-country because they happen to have certain VALUABLE genes within their chromosomes...

Devilishly clever, Next blends fact and fiction into a breathless tale of a new world where NOTHING IS WHAT IT SEEMS and a set of new possibilities can open at every turn.

Next challenges our sense of REALITY and notions of MORALITY. Balancing the COMIC and the BIZARRE with the genuinely FRIGHTENING and DISTURBING, Next shatters our assumptions and reveals shocking new choices were we least expect.


Michael Crichton has been my favorite author for many years. It was his science fiction that has led me to the close-knit relationship I have with books today. He has written some of the most engaging fiction I have ever read. His stories have always interested me and I have become a devoted follower of his work. That means that even when a book comes out that I am afraid will be too much social commentary on an arguably growing global concern, I buy it anyway. And I read it with fingers crossed.

Next was the first Crichton book for which I had this ugly premonition. With the book he released before Next (State of Fear) the author delved more deeply into creating awareness in a "current event" as he taught the opposing view to global warming theory. In Next, Crichton teaches again; one thing he does so well is include a strong fact-base to his fictional story. The depth of his research is apparent even without flipping to the extensive bibliography at the end of the book.

Unfortunately I was disappointed with Next. The points that he made relative to the shocking ways in which large firms dealing in genetic research are able to exploit ordinary people were eye opening. As stated previously, his level of research was dazzling. It was only the fictional packaging in which he wrapped these nuggets of truth that fell short. I had hoped for a little more cohesion to the multiple stories he maintained concurrently in Next. There were many people in many different situations whose lives revolved around genetic research as characters in the book, but I felt that was too broad of a common element to unite these men and women in one story. It was more creative than handing out a stack of pamphlets alerting people to the growing concerns around genetics, but it was not very entertaining. This was just not the level of quality one should expect from Michael Crichton.

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Top 5 Movies: Starring Michael Caine

January 25th, 2007

2007 Edgar Award Nominees

January 24th, 2007
Edgar Awards

Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre...

Mystery Writers of America is proud to announce on the 198th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe, its Nominees for the 2007 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television and film published or produced in 2006. The Edgar Awards will be presented to the winners at our 61st Gala Banquet, April 26, 2007 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City. - Mysterywriters.org

- Best Novel -
The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard
The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin
Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris
The Dead Hour by Denise Mina
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
The Liberation Movements by Olen Steinhauer

- Best First Novel By An American Author -
The Faithful Spy by Alex Berenson
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
King of Lies by John Hart
Holmes on the Range by Steve Hockensmith
A Field of Darkness by Cornelia Read
...Complete list of nominees

Movie of the Month - February, 2007

January 23rd, 2007

Secondhand Lions

Secondhand LionsFor young Walter (Haley Joel Osment), being stuck on his "crazy" uncles' farm is the last place on earth he wants to spend the summer. First, shocked by their unconventional behavior, including ordering an African lion through the mail, Walter soon gets caught up in their mysterious past. The rumors that his uncles (Academy Award winners Robert Duvall and Michael Caine) were bank robbers or maybe even worse are hard to believe, but they do seem to have an endless supply of cash!

Little by little, an amazing story comes to life -- filled with adventures in exotic lands involving kidnapped princesses, Arabian sheiks and lost treasure. These tales not only bring him closer to his uncles but also teach him what it means to believe in something...whether it's true or not.

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Book of the Month - February, 2007

January 22nd, 2007

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth Reichl

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table by Ruth ReichlAt an early age, Ruth Reichl discovered that "food could be a way of making sense of the world. . . . If you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were." Her deliciously crafted memoir, Tender at the Bone, is the story of a life determined, enhanced, and defined in equal measure by a passion for food, unforgettable people, and the love of tales well told. Beginning with Reichl's mother, the notorious food-poisoner known as the Queen of Mold, Reichl introduces us to the fascinating characters who shaped her world and her tastes, from the gourmand Monsieur du Croix, who served Reichl her first soufflé, to those at her politically correct table in Berkeley who championed the organic food revolution in the 1970s. Spiced with Reichl's infectious humor and sprinkled with her favorite recipes, Tender at the Bone is a witty and compelling chronicle of a culinary sensualist's coming-of-age.

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Children of Men

January 18th, 2007

Link: http://imdb.com/title/tt0206634/

Children of Men is a science fiction story that could appeal easily to non-sci-fi fans. The movie is set in the year 2027 and portrays a very believable future. The twist is that by 2027, all humans have become infertile. The youngest person on Earth is 18 years old and when people stopped having babies, the world fell apart. Clive Owen delivers an incredibly realistic performance in bringing to life this book by British mystery maven, P.D. James. Owen stars as Theo Faron, the one-time activist who has lost his cause and seemingly his passion for life as well. An important part of his past catches up with him when he is confronted by an extremist organization asking for help. Does he help this woman find help, when it means risking her life and his? And does his decision become easier or harder when he learns she is pregnant!?

The movie has it all: action, humor, and a brilliant theme showcasing the relationship between faith and chance in our lives. The action was gripping and it keeps you on the edge of your seat. In Children of Men, they do not hold your hand through the story; things happen and they happen quickly. You will not get lost due to the speed, but be prepared. Things happen and you may not agree with them all, but by the end of the movie I hope you agree with me that everything that happened was necessary and well-timed.

The laughs come at odd intervals, but seem to be just when you need them. The performances by Michael Caine (Jasper) and Peter Mullan (Syd) added the right about of levity to balance out the serious nature of the story. I could talk all day about Michael Caine alone and his iconic career in film, but I will leave it at this: he was fantastic yet again. Any elaboration I make on that would mean divulging a detail of the film that you should experience for yourself.

Jasper even brings the theme (mentioned above) right to the audience. He tells a story about Theo's past and sets it up nicely. I love movies that can pull that off; I can't imagine it is easy.

I have never been in a war zone. I can only imagine what it would be like to be in such a hostile environment. From what I would imagine, Children of Men nailed it. I have seen movies with similar scenes, but they have never felt as real. Maybe it is the political environment currently that added to the feeling in the movie.

I liked Children of Men for many reasons. I will admit that there were a few moments that I felt the time passed too slowly, but they were brief. Clive Owen did wonderfully. The language was rough and there is a lot of blood shed. If those do not deter you from seeing other movies, you should see Children of Men.

For another Clive Owen movie you should see, check out Croupier.

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