Thursday, December 31, 2015

Of finer sensibilities

I often claim that I was raised by/with books which I think is the most accurate description I could ever come up with. From as early as three years old, I’ve always felt that there is an enchantment that engulfs the words written across the pages of any book. I would also listen to my parents take turns reading to me growing up, and neither of them knew then that these simple bonding moments with their eldest daughter will inspire her to become a storyteller someday. For two decades since I devoted everything that I am as a person by finding it in books, as well as building who I will become through the authors I admire and characters who became childhood heroes. I was a prolific reader on a quest, challenging myself to acquire phenomenal, innovative and eye-opening literature until one day two years ago I realized that I was able to amass a collection I’m very much proud of. I decided that the time has come to share these books with you.


"This case has become a conspiracy of lies"

I started my Book Diet novels 2015 by reading four Sherlockian anthologies during January, which is also the said Great Detective's birthday month, so I thought it only appropriate to finish this year with a Sherlock Holmes novel once more, and this time it's something written by writer Larry Millet. It's the first time I encountered his Holmes series. In fact, I purchased this book by luck while sifting through boxes of a second-hand bookstore months and months ago. I'm always on the look-out for any Holmesian story I can get my hands on so I immediately bought this and knew I had to read it soon enough. And it wasn't a disappointment. Millet's series, from what I can tell, are focused on Sherlock Holmes' travels and subsequent cases in America, and The Rune Stone Mystery is no exception. 

Once again chronicled in the first person by his constant and faithful friend Dr. John Watson, this story takes readers into Minnesota where a farmer uncovered what could possibly be a Viking rune stone that would prove that the Vikings themselves have arrived to America before Columbus. If proven true then this could be the biggest anthropological discovery in recent years. Disguised under assumed names of London museum curators, Holmes and Watson traveled to the states, but before they could authenticate the rune stone, the farmer who discovered it had been brutally murdered and the said stone can't be found in his possession! Afterwards, more disconcerting facts and theories begin to surface among the townsfolk, especially the Swede residents. And thus began a thorough police investigation (and Holmes' own deductive process on the side) where certain persons of interest have more to conceal than anticipated, and the key in solving this disturbing mystery might just lie in the late farmer's daughter, the fragile Moira "Moony" Wahlgren who may have a developmental disorder, and whose life is endangered because of her connection to her father's presumably hoax of a rune stone. 

If the rune stone is indeed a hoax then who could possibly benefit from it? Who could be held liable if the artifact was discovered and proven false? What lengths would concerned parties will go just to ensure it's not revealed to the public? What happens if the rune stone is indeed the true thing--why kill for it? Holmes and Watson try to unravel this tangled web of conspiracies as best as they could, only to find more threads that don't make sense and even mislead.

With a daring and riveting narrative that definitely captures Conan's own style, this novel also has enough memorable characters to keep readers very invested in the resolution of the case and the sideline conflicts of its characters, but of all of them, Millet also included a unique character of his creation named Shadwell Rafferty, an inquisitive and charismatic Irish saloon owner who knew is way around America, and has assisted Holmes in other cases featured in Millet's previous novels. Rafferty's rapport and chemistry with both Holmes and Watson is refreshing and enjoyable, and he provides a great contrast to Holmes' own brand of cleverness. Rafferty is also a talented investigator, and his insights and warmer approach to things and people lend a more human touch to the art of deductive reasoning which even Holmes welcomes, seeing as Rafferty definitely assists than hinder. I liked how he  made passages of chapters very entertaining and humorous at times.

Another intense and curious character is the villainess Mary Comstock whom Holmes even compared to Professor Moriarty which is both the highest and most perturbing compliment the great detective could ever assign to anyone. She's essentially a female arch-enemy, a rare type of woman whom Holmes described succinctly, "has no need for men in her life but finds uses for them every now and then". She's portrayed to be wicked and without remorse, and her interest in the rune stone is a puzzling one, something that Holmes was determined to find out before she ends up a few more steps ahead of him in the game. Their interplay as detective and criminal is noteworthy and even Watson is mesmerized by it. I was also heavily invested in the child Moony's involvement since from the beginning I knew she had a critical role to play in the events later on.

Anyone who would attempt to write a Holmesian novel should make sure it's always engaging and thrilling, filled with characterizations that ring true from the source material. It also has to branch out and include more details and depth to what was established by Doyle, always both mentally challenging and entertaining for readers like myself. Although at first I wasn't that intrigued with the rune stone case, the way the mystery unfolded and the players who are involved have acted or been disposed of had won me over eventually while midway through reading. Sherlock Holmes and the Rune Stone Mystery had been captivating and earnest in its portrayal of the Great Detective and the loyal doctor, and the mystery and detection were satisfying during the process of the case, and as readers reach that unexpected conclusion, they would be pleased that they stuck around long enough to see it all the way through the end. I'm certainly going to try and find more Millet books after this one.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

"The world opened up for me once I embraced who I am"

I stumbled upon Felicia Day almost four years ago when she first appeared in the CW's Supernatural during its seventh season. She played the role of the queer computer expert and all-around geek Charlie Bradbury, and has since continued to reprise that role in the subsequent seasons of the show. I absolutely enjoyed her portrayal because I found that I can relate to her as Charlie, so I researched about the actress online and found out that she has written and produced her own webseries called The Guild, a rather funny slice of life story concerning a bunch of gamers and their eccentricities and struggles both on and off their roleplaying games. I was instantly hooked by the first two seasons and utterly mesmerized of the confidence and talent that Felicia has displayed as herself and as the co-founder of her company Geek and Sundry that has a channel in YouTube featuring the most nerdgasmic content about gaming and other related stuff. 

As an independent woman who has made a profit out of her geekeries, Felicia Day is someone I found rather inspiring and so I have spent copious amount of time downloading and watching a lot of the G&S shows like Tabletop, Meta Dating, Sword and Laser, Co-Optitude, The Flog, Vaginal Fantasy, Written By a Kid and many more. I couldn't get enough of this lady and simply had to know more about her.

Luckily, she finally published her memoir and I eagerly devoured it the moment I got my hands on a copy. This was everything I expected it would be and so much more! I would recommend this to EVERYONE even if one does not know who she is because her journey to get to where she is now is astounding and enjoyable, written with a style and prose that exude warmth, teeming with humor and insight. Felicia Day certifiably makes her distinct mark recognizable and uniquely hers in every passage found in You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost), an autobiography that never ceases to be engaging from beginning to end. Day is sensible and humorous as she recalls her unconventional childhood and family ties, her studies to become a violin virtuoso while also earning a Math degree, and most importantly her introduction to the gaming world and how finding a community of like minds (and having a very supportive mother) has nurtured her individuality and confidence in herself. But Felicia Day is not always as self-assured and secure in her life no matter how much she thrives on her uniqueness. In fact, her amusing streak of neurotic insecurities fill the pages with stories about her daily freak-outs over the most minuscule of things, and her struggle to make it as an actress during her twenties. They are very realistically rendered and often very heartfelt and hilarious at the same time. 

It was only when she found a support group of other creative women and finally decided that she wanted to write a show about her experiences with game addiction that Day found her true calling in life. That being said, there are more battles to come that she needs to conquer to maintain her success, small and non-mainstream as it may be, but still very much hers to claim and be proud of nevertheless.

The memoir also reveals her creative process and the grueling and often disheartening ways she almost didn't want to write or act or do anything because she was overcome with fear, anxiety and the pressure of living up to people's expectations, as well as her built-in personality flaw of chasing after perfection. These are the most gripping portions of her book because it was her tell-all. Her crippling self-doubt is something we all can relate to. By showing her weakest points and allowing the readers to see how she challenged herself to get the upper hand over them, Day has also encouraged them to take control of their lives and pursue what they're most passionate about--regardless of how weird--no matter the pesky negative feedback from an unappreciative audience because sooner or later other people who share that passion will find them and make all the heartache and rejection worth it. 

Bravely and proudly, she writes to all of us:

"Create something they've always dreamt of. Connect with the people they never thought they'd know because there's no better time in history to do it...We need the world to hear more opinions, give glimpses into more diverse cultures... 
Everyone has a chance to have his or her voice heard, or to create a community around something they're passionate about and connect with other people who share that passion. Best of all, it rewards people and ideas that never would have made it through the system and allows the unique and weird to flourish." 

Felicia Day is the living embodiment of this example, and by establishing her Geek and Sundry channel, she has allowed other individuals who have the same vision about themselves and the world at large to come forward and bask in the glory of their geekiness; to never be ashamed of being labeled as weird, idiosyncratic or a little crazy. Day's memoir essentially imparts the message that once you accepted what you are and become fearless enough to show it to the world, the world will open to you and you can carve a place in it where you can belong. You can even help people build their lives around the things they love and want to celebrate with others. This is why she has a spin-off extension channel for aspiring vloggers who talk about whatever they want, however they want. That is what defines a nerd or a geek. It's the often obsessive but devoted ways we show how much we love and enjoy the books, shows, games and fandoms that have dominated our lives. Day simply found a very positive and constructive way of using it to reach to an audience who is interested to hear her story and point of view, and all of us could do the same, thanks to the power of the internet.

I love the idea of breaking the system. The beauty of the internet is that it gives unrepresented voices, the opportunity to do a little breaking."
You need to be able to be proud of yourself. You are unique and good enough just as you are."

Of course, she also shares her bad experiences during the #GamerGate incident which was something that you could tell was hard for her to talk about, but she soldiered on anyway because she knew her voice as a female gamer has to be represented especially when she is a role model to a lot of young women who want to feel safe in their gaming community that has continued to become even to this day so vile, close-minded and sexist. Day expresses her concerns and wishes that this misogyny and discrimination not just against women to be put an end to because it damages the gaming community to the outside world, and fractures the relationships of these people within their own divided factions.

Felicia Day's You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is an unforgettable and inspiring narrative detailing a young woman's quest to find a fulfilling vocation that led to the creation of her own geekdom. It's funny, audacious, reflective and very much riveting. Pick it up, even if you don't know who this woman is because it's nigh time for you to get acquainted with the ferocious Felicia Day.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

"To the tolling of the bells"

No other writer evokes horror in its rawest, most human form like Edgar Allan Poe. Sometimes his stories are a blunt force trauma while others are drilled into the mind using precision instruments of terror. His themes and depictions of people's greatest fears are very diverse and uniquely constructed, more visceral in some aspects but also cerebral in execution for a select few. This anthology The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings is comprised of his finest works in short story and poetry forms tackling what is readily terrifying, certain terrors that elude the psyche, and the unfortunate ways human beings transform into the very monsters they fear.  

With seventeen gruesome tales and sixteen morbid poems, this anthology is a must-have for any aficionado of the genre. The prose that Poe crafts in each of his pieces is spellbinding; we get descriptive ramblings of mad men and women, psychologically layered instances and premonitions, and frightening yet subtle symbolisms plus debated interpretations of each work. Reading his short stories transport you right into the disturbed minds of irredeemable individuals who heed the call of misery and darkness, acting both predator and prey of their own machinations and failures. 

His best pieces are those that make readers experience paranoia and dissociation themselves and such stories have become a classic for that very reason. The titular The Tell-Tale Heart is a brief yet searing account of a man haunted by his macabre misdeed while The Black Cat and The Cask of Armontillado have characters who commit murders for reasons somewhat hollow and petty; the former was discovered in the most absurd way possible while the other was successful in concealing it but is forever tainted after the fact. We also have allegorical pieces such as The Masque of Red Death, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, and A Descent in the Maelstorm which evoke a series of unavoidable misfortunes, marking its characters in blood and death.

And then we have tales that have more non-conclusive interpretations and resolutions such as The Fall of the House of Usher, Ligeria, The Pit and the Pendulum and The Premature Burial. All four of these stories are imaginative and insidious, dealing with fantastical elements and spine-tingling primitive fears that plague as all, only if we allow ourselves to contemplate deeper about them. A few other stories deal with catastrophic, life-altering conflicts which are found in Ms. Found in a Bottle and Silence--A Fable. And then we have the character-centric baffling accounts of William Wilson, Eleanora, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, the last of which has the most trying length.

Before there was ever a more defined detective genre and its formulaic elements, Poe has created C. Auguste Dupin, the first crime reasoner who used deductive reasoning in solving criminal cases that later on inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with his more famous great detective Sherlock Holmes. Dupin only appeared in two stories, The Murders in Rue Morgue and The Purloined Letter which deserve multiple readings to be acquire a more nuanced appreciation for the groundwork and thought process that Poe has employed in characterizing his detective and resolving the plots.

After readers had their fill of his gripping short stories, they can move on to the assortment of his poems which offer a more economical way of slaking their interest and intrigue for the memorably horrific and sometimes even upsetting concepts regarding ailments and discord that people will always find themselves caught up in and often not overcoming. Poe's poetic style is refined and elegant in a lot of respects but there are moments of sporadic contemplations and truly intense retrospective epiphanies that will keep reeling readers in. I personally enjoyed Israfel, The City in the Sea, The Valley of the Unrest, The Sleeper, The Bells and Alone

With a vigorous and daring marksmanship in which he penned his works with, Poe's prose is very much alive--rustling, palpitating, throbbing, moaning and groaning and every other vivid ways that may drive weaker minds mad upon reading. His tales are cavernous places, buried deep in the recesses of our minds we never fully acknowledge. But every so often we can hear them calling for us--like a bell tolling from a distance--or the low, persistent humming of a heartbeat; whether concealed in a crypt, lodged inside a bottle in the middle of an ocean or has made itself comfortable right under our very beds where we believe we are most safe when we really aren't.