Friday, August 31, 2012

the incident of the contentious eggs

My mom, who has dementia, got mad at me at lunch out the other day. She usually has me order for her, as her ability with words has become limited. Performance anxiety is also a factor for her. She'll point at an item on the menu and I'll answer all of the waiter's or waitress's questions, like "Do you want fries with that?" We tend to go to a lot of the same restaurants, and she usually has a favorite item at each one, so it is usually a pretty easy process. Until the other day.

We went to a local diner that my daughter loves, where they know us. My mom pointed at the eggs section on the menu, so I ordered her favorite form of eggs — two eggs sunny side up, with bacon, home fries, and rye toast. It wasn't what she wanted, but she didn't let me know that until she had already eaten what arrived. She was pretty ticked off by that time, and wanted to know why I hadn't ordered her "regular thing." "Regular thing" is her catch phrase for everything these days. A sort of fill-in-the-blank noun substitute. I can usually figure out what she is referring to when she says that in context, but I'll be damned if I know what other "regular thing" she meant to eat when she pointed at the egg dishes on the diner menu.

It's hard for both of us. Printed words must all look like gobbledygook to her these days. I am constantly forced to play a guessing game. It's actually impressive how often I guess right. It's just no fun when I don't.
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Thursday, August 30, 2012

wtf target?

Target has become our go-to store, instead of the -marts, K and Wal, for household stuff like cleaners and paper towels, last-minute groceries, and especially children's clothes. Target has been trying a "Macy's Lite" approach with kid's clothes recently, inviting designers and personalities like Gwen Stefani and Shaun White to sell up-market lines. But they also continue to have their own house brands, which are inexpensive, cotton, and usually pretty colorful and cute. We have found a lot of great clothes and bargains there for a rapidly growing eight year-old.

These skirts are cute, versatile and completely appropriate

At the start of the summer I bought my daughter four or five "scooters," a kid version of the skort, with ruffles and built-in shorts that were great for everything from going out to eat to bike riding. But the last time I was in the store I was in for an unpleasant surprise. Target has recently seen fit to redesign the scooter and the results are disastrous. Instead of the cute little skirt she wore all summer, we are now being offered a micromini that barely covers a kid's underwear. These are sized for girls 6-10. They are a pedophile's dream.

This skirt looks like they just cut off the lower ruffle of the top skirt and ran out of fabric. It's way too short.

What the hell is the thinking behind this? It's hard to believe that Target has run out of cotton fabric and had to shrink the skirt. That they redesigned to make them cheaper to produce, yes. They certainly look cheap. The skirts are so so short teens and adults would hesitate to wear them. What idiot thought these would be appropriate for little girls to wear? The Shirley Temple look went out of style a long time ago, and was never such a hot idea in the first place.

Don't bend over, Shirley.

I am extremely disappointed in Target and hope these are a resounding flop. I am not looking forward to seeing elementary school kids sporting these items. Bring back the old design. Let kids dress like kids.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

mary shelley's stepsister

Every generation tends to think it lives in more freewheeling, liberated times than its ancestors, but after reading about Mary Shelley (née Godwin) and her stepsister Claire Clairmont and their exciting lives it's clear that the Romantics put the free in free love. Mary was the strongest character in Gideon Defoe's latest Pirates! romp, the comic novel The Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics, which featured Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and his bride-to-be Mary Godwin. As funny as the pirates were, I decided I'd like to learn a bit more about Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, and that quickly led me to her stepsister, Claire Clairmont.

Miniature portrait on ivory of Mary Shelley, based on a death mask, by Reginald Easton, ca. 1851–93. Oxford, Bodleian Libraries

I know what most people do about Mary Shelley. She began writing one of the most famous gothic novels, Frankenstein, on a dare while vacationing in Switzerland with Byron and Shelley. But how did she get there? The answer was Claire Clairmont, who was also at the Geneva house party. Claire's mother and Mary's father, had married in 1801, when both girls were three. Mary's father, author and philosopher William Godwin, was an inspiration to many free thinkers, and one of them, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, started spending a lot of time at the Godwin's home (the girls were 16 by this time.) Claire, who was a strong believer in free love, helped and encouraged Mary in her romance with the married Shelley. Shelley abandoned his pregnant wife Harriet and young daughter and ran off with Mary in 1814. Claire also ran away with them, and the trio traveled together throughout Europe.

In 1816 Claire began an affair with the poet Lord Byron. Byron quickly lost interest, but Claire pursued, some might say stalked, him to Switzerland, dragging along Shelley and Mary, ostensibly to introduce Shelley to Byron. When Claire and her party arrived at the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva, where Byron was staying with his personal physician, John William Polidori, the reluctant lover soon realized she was pregnant with his child. He was not happy. [Clara Allegra Byron was born in 1817 and Byron, although not fond of Claire, took custody of his illegitimate daughter and raised her in Italy. Tragically she died of a fever at the age of five.]

Claire Clairmont
The Geneva summer of 1816 was wet and dreary, and the five people amused themselves by discussing philosophy and reading ghost stories. Byron suggested they each write their own supernatural tale. After a dream, Mary began to write her now-famous story:
"'How I, then a young girl, came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?' ... I busied myself to think of a story, — a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror—one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. ... I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion." — from the introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein.
To add even more drama to the unconventional ménage, were Claire and Shelley involved? In 1817 Shelley wrote "To Constantia, Singing," to Claire. Throughout his years with Mary, Shelley formed relationships with other women. One of the most notable was Jane Williams, who he wrote many poems to. But he was also consistently rumored to have been more than close to Claire, and may have fathered a child with her in 1818, while they were all living in Naples, Italy. The novelist Henry James based his novella The Aspern Papers on Claire and her niece, fictionalizing how the pair closely guarded possessions they had of Shelley's. It certainly appears that her friendship with the poet was closer than just a sister-in-law, as he named her a major benefactor in his will.

Mary gave birth to four children by Shelley; the first three died young. The first, a daughter, was born prematurely in 1815 and died just a few days later. Mary was despondent and had to not only cope with her tragic loss but with Shelley's joy at the recent (legitimate) birth of his son Charles by his wife Harriet. The teenager was soon pregnant again and gave birth to a son, William, in January of 1816. Harriet was found drowned, on December 10 of that year, an apparent suicide. After his wife's suicide, Shelley was advised to marry Mary, or he might lose custody of his two children by Harriet. Shelley and Mary married in December 30, just twenty days after Harriet was pronounced dead. Not the most fairy tale-like conditions for a marriage for these Romantics.

Throughout all of this familial drama Mary was revising Frankenstein. The Shelley's continued their nomadic life, traveling from England to various cities in Italy, and Mary's novel was finally published, anonymously, in January of 1818. Shelley was at first assumed to be the author. How did Mary feel about that? 1818 and 1819 were sad times for the couple, as their two children both died, Clara in September 1818, and William in June 1819. Mary gave birth in November of that year to Percy Florence Shelley, their only surviving child. She became pregnant one more time, in 1822, but miscarried.  The next month Shelley drowned in a boating accident, along with his companions Edward Williams and their boat boy Charles Vivian. Their bodies were found washed up on the coast of Viareggio.

After Shelley died, the stepsisters separated. Mary returned to England, while Claire continued an itinerant existence in Europe. She either lived with family or worked as a governess, in such diverse places as Vienna, Russia, Dresden, Pisa, and Paris. She eventually settled in an expatriate colony with her niece Paulina in Florence and died at the age of 80 in 1879, outliving Shelley, Byron, and Mary. Claire, although neither a poet nor a novelist, of all of the Romantics, seems to have embraced its lifestyle most fully. But she was no stranger to writing. I am currently trying to track down a copy of The Clairmont correspondence letters of Claire Clairmont, Charles Clairmont, and Fanny Imlay Godwin. I'm looking forward to reading her impressions of Shelley, Byron and Mary and their romantic lives.
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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

marilyn, in her own words

In 1954 Marilyn Monroe, at the height of her fame and popularity, was persuaded by friend and publicist Sidney Skolsky to publish her autobiography. They enlisted screenwriter Ben Hecht (The Front Page, Monkey Business, A Farewell to Arms) to ghostwrite, and sat down for a series of interviews which they intended to have published in a magazine, not in book form, in The Ladies Home Journal. The interviews focused mainly on her rough and tumble childhood. Hecht's agent, without his or Marilyn's knowledge or approval, sold it as serialized articles to the London Empire News, who ran it between between May 9 and Aug 1, 1954. In 1974, twelve years after her death, photographer and former business partner Milton Greene produced a copy of the manuscript and had it published in book form.

There has been much debate about the authenticity of the book. Some of the stories may have been embellished or streamlined by Hecht, but the overall feeling rings true to Marilyn. Marilyn was well-known for telling and retelling the stories of her life, frequently heightening the drama. She was a born actress. According to Monroe biographer Sarah Churchwell (The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe), "Hecht reported to his editor during the interviews that he was sometimes sure Marilyn was fabricating. He explained, 'When I say lying, I mean she isn’t telling the truth. I don’t think so much that she is trying to deceive me as that she is a fantasizer.'"

Norma Jean in 1946, photographed by Andre de Dienes
Marilyn may have pumped up some of the pathos in her early life and Hecht may have cleaned up the text, but of all the books on Marilyn Monroe that I have read recently (and I have been reading a lot) this is the best. Is it the most well-written? Absolutely not. But does it come closest to capturing the woman who fifty years after her death is still an icon, a movie goddess? It actually does. So many of the other books, by authors good and not-so-good, have quoted liberally from My Story, but somehow have missed Marilyn's voice and personality in their desire to catalog her inevitable road to death. When read in full, My Story gives a far better impression of Marilyn, how she talked, how she thought, than any picked-and-chosen snippets could.

The articles were clearly originally intended as a Cinderella story, cataloging Marilyn's "orphan" childhood to her fame and marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. With all of the emphasis on the waifdom, a palpable sadness does comes through. After reading My Story the reader learns that Marilyn could never forget her youth, her deprived existence as Norma Jean. "My own costume never varied. It consisted of a faded blue skirt and white waist. I had two of each, but since they were exactly alike everyone thought I wore the same outfit all the time. It was one of the things that annoyed people — my wearing the same clothes."

It may have been intended as a publicity piece, but Marilyn and Hecht don't hesitate to touch on the seamy underbelly of trying to get ahead in Hollywood, "I've never heard anything about the Hollywood I knew in those first years. No hint of it is ever in the movie fan magazines. ... The Hollywood I knew was the Hollywood of failure. ... We ate at drugstore counters. We sat in waiting rooms. We were the prettiest tribe of panhandlers that ever overran a town." A story about trying to cash her last paycheck, a mere $40, after her [first] firing from Twentieth-Century Fox, points to the easy availability of drugs, "After doing my shopping, I stopped in a doctor's office. I had a cold, and I had not slept for several nights. The doctor gave me a sleeping pill. 'I don't usually recommend sleeping pills,' he said, "but you been having hysterics too long. A good sleep will not only be good for your cold but cheer you up." She shares an amusing story of her first Hollywood feud, with Zsa Zsa Gabor, apparently as a result of husband George Sanders's love of "pneumatic" blondes. Reading My Story gives the impression that Marilyn had a lot of Hollywood stories to tell and would have been very amusing company.

Marilyn in 1954
On her changing her name to Marilyn Monroe, "When I just wrote 'This is the end of Norma Jean,' I blushed as if I had been caught in a lie. Because this sad, bitter child who grew up too fast is hardly ever out of my heart. With success all around me, I can still feel her frightened eyes looking out of mine. She keeps saying, 'I never lived, I was never loved,' and often I get confused and think it's I who am saying it."
Marilyn may have been one of the first well-known women to talk publicly about childhood sexual abuse. She claims her first sexual encounter happened when she was nine and was molested by a man named Mr. Kimmel, who rented a room from the foster family she was living with. The incident had ramifications on her dealing with the casting couch later in Hollywood, "Maybe it was the nickel Mr. Kimmel once gave me ... But men who tried to buy me with money made me sick. There were plenty of them. The mere fact that I turned down offers ran my price up."

The only bum note in My Story is the introduction by Andrea Dworkin, "She kept trying to hold on for dear life with a man, some man, who had his feet solidly planted in achievement. Instead, they had their feet solidly planted on her neck or other exposed flesh." Although she tries to cast Marilyn in a good light, Dworkin regurgitates lots of unsubstantiated gossip about Marilyn in her introduction, including the rumored affairs with both Kennedy's and 20 abortions. Disappointing.
"I didn't think of my body as having anything to do with sex. It was more like a friend who had mysteriously appeared in my life, a sort of magic friend."
Marilyn's own observations about her sexuality are far more interesting and revealing. Her discovery of her own beauty and voluptuousness seems to have been as much a revelation to her as to everyone around her. "Why I was a siren, I hadn't the faintest idea. ... The truth was that with all my lipstick and mascara and precocious curves, I was as unsensual as a fossil. But I seemed to affect people quite otherwise." She developed early physically, but was unprepared emotionally, "My admirers all said the same thing in different ways. It was my fault, their wanting to kiss and hug me. ... I always felt they were talking about someone else, not me. ... I not only had no passion in me, I didn't even know what it meant." An early marriage at the age of 16, to neighbor Jim Dougherty, "Was a sort of friendship with sexual privileges. I found out later that marriages are often no more than that. And that husbands are chiefly good as lovers when they are betraying their wives."

Marilyn photographed by Philippe Halsmann
Much of My Story is written in hindsight, with Marilyn telling what she currently thinks and feels about her past, and trying to remake her future, "[When married to Dougherty] the thought of having a baby stood my hair on end. I could only see it as myself, another Norma Jean in an orphanage. ... I feel different about having a child now. It's one of the things I dream of. She won't be any Norma Jean now. And I know how I'll bring her up — without lies. Nobody will tell her lies about anything. And I'll answer all her questions. If I don't know the answer I'll go to an encyclopedia and look them up. I'll tell her everything she wants to know — about love, about sex, about everything!"

As much as her youth as Norma Jean haunted Marilyn, My Story is a very hopeful read. Marilyn's dreams and her never-ending desire to improve herself come through loud and clear. Everyone knows how her story ended, which is the focus of most books about the star. My Story is how her story started, with hints of how it might have gone differently.
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Monday, August 27, 2012

copper is off to a great start

Article first published as TV Review: Copper on Blogcritics.

Copper, BBC America's first original scripted series, is set in 1864 New York City. The "copper" in question is Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones), an Irish immigrant and Civil War veteran who is a detective in the rough Five Points neighborhood of Manhattan. Copper features enough nudity and violence to give HBO a run for its money. The series, created by Tom Fontana (Oz, Homicide: Life on the Street) and Will Rokos (Southland, Monster's Ball), may be set in 1860s New York, but it has a Wild West feel.

Corcoran must not only battle crime on the streets, but deal with friction from the uniformed police who aren't impressed with his "war hero crap." Copper utilizes a sepia-toned look for the scenes set in Five Points. When the show goes "uptown," and features Corcoran's wealthy Civil War buddy, Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), the world is more colorful, with clothes and surfaces in jewel-like tones; the lighting more crisp and vibrant.

L-R: Dr. Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh), Robert Morehouse (Kyle Schmid), and Detective Kevin Corcoran (Tom Weston-Jones) of Copper
In the first episode, "Surviving Death," Kevin "Corky" Corcoran and his fellow detectives go from a bank robbery, which ends in violent death for all of the thieves, to a little stress release at the local brothel with Corcoran's lover, Madam Eva (Franka Potente), to being pulled right into another case, this one involving the death of a young girl, Annie (Kiara Glasco), whom Corcoran had met earlier that day. But all is not as it seems, and the victim isn't who he thinks she is.

In the tradition of great but unconventional detectives, Corcoran is haunted by his past. He returned home from the Civil War to find his wife missing and his young daughter dead. In his day-to-day police work he chooses to get help from unexpected sources. He takes the dead body of the murdered girl to his friend — freed slave, African-American physician, and CSI-in-the-making — Matthew Freeman (Ato Essandoh) for an examination before taking her to the official police surgeon. Matthew and his wife are about to flee Five Points, as they are fearful of the escalating violence towards African Americans in the district, but the doctor is intrigued by the case, and hangs around to perform some experiments to determine exactly what sort of weapon was used to kill the girl.

In the second episode, "Husbands and Fathers," Corcoran risks life and limb (literally) while still trying to protect (the apparently quite alive) Annie, who suddenly seems to have a lot of people after her. With Corcoran sidelined, it appears that Annie suddenly has no one to protect her. The show doesn't shy away from the Pretty Baby-like reality of child prostitution or Corcoran's need to take the law into his own hands.

The injustice resulting from the stark class divisions is likely to be a recurring feature of the show, as Corcoran seems to have acquired not only dangerous uptown adversaries, but a possible ally in Morehouse's friend, the lovely Elizabeth Haverford (Anastasia Griffith). So far Corcoran's detective buddies are pretty indistinguishable from each other, in their similar scruffy period get-ups and hats. But Corcoran is a compelling character, and Copper is off to a great, atmospheric start.
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Sunday, August 26, 2012

third grade: first week wrap-up

She loves her teachers and is happy to see so many of her friends again.

This year she's in intermediate violin, which is three days a week. She'll even have a tutor in class to help her.

There's a third grade dance (!) but she's definitely not going, because one of her friends isn't either (uh huh, we'll see about that).

New year, new backpack.

She's only been in school a week and may miss Monday because of a potential tropical storm/hurricane.

This year she wants to bring her own lunch instead of eating the cafeteria food — except when they serve the tortillas she likes.

Sounds like things are off to a good start!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

eye on the storm

Tropical storm Isaac, which may or may not turn out to be a hurricane, is looking to give us a wider berth than was originally expected, for which I'm very thankful, but Isaac will still be dumping a ton of water on us over the next few days. The hurricane shutters are still open, but if things start to get crazy windy on Sunday we can close them. I just dread having to do that, not just because that means the bad weather has escalated, but because it will be so dark in here with them closed, and quite claustrophobic.

Hopefully the power will stay on and we can have a DVD party weekend. Worse case scenario, I can always charge the iPad and the phone in the car and we can get our digital fix that way. I have tons of water and batteries and got the kid her own flashlights, so we should have some fun making shadow monsters, too.
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Friday, August 24, 2012

where did john malkovich go?

My mom has dementia, and thankfully, at least so far, her deterioration has been gradual. Sometimes I don't even notice that some new word or thing is "missing" for her until it is pointed out to me, situationally.

The other night we were watching the movie Johnny English, starring Rowan Atkinson (who mom loves) as Britain's most inept spy. John Malkovich was playing the super-villain, complete with an outrageous French accent. Mom recognized him, but as she usually does these days when we are watching a movie, she asked me what his name was. I usually tell her and she nods, as it sounds familiar to her. But when I said, "John Malkovich," she shook her head. It was a complete blank. It was gone.

John Malkovich and Rowan Atkinson in Johnny English
Now to be fair, it's hardly essential that she recall Malkovich's name, no matter how much of a movie buff she used to be. But I couldn't help but wonder, where did his name go? Where do all of the things that she is gradually forgetting go? Do they just shrivel up and die? Do they evaporate "into the ether," as in one of her favorite expressions. One of her past favorite expressions, that is, as I highly doubt she would know what I meant by "ether" these days. So many words, so many nouns, so many names. All gone.

Au revoir John Malkovich. Your name may be gone, but at least for now, your face still seems familiar.
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

we're living in a black and white world

The kid pointed out recently that almost every movie we see has something bad that happens, or a bad guy in it. I thought about it and I think she's right. Even The Parent Trap and Alvin and the Chipmunks have ersatz villains in them. Most Disney movies have evil witches or other creatures (Snow White — The Evil Queen, Sleeping Beauty  Maleficent, 101 Dalmatians  Cruella DeVille, The Little Mermaid  Ursula, The Lion King  Scar) in them. Even the Muppets have to put up with being kidnapped (The Muppet Movie), accused of theft (The Great Muppet Caper), fight pirates (Muppet Treasure Island), or someone trying to shut down their theater (The Muppets). I guess most children's stories need to have conflict or someone for a child to root for  or against. And of course there are so many more. Here are just a few of the best:

Margaret Hamilton as The Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz
The Wicked Witch of the West (and Miss Gulch) in The Wizard of Oz
Voldemort and many others in the Harry Potter series
The Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Principal Ed Rooney in Ferris Buellers Day Off
Biff Tannen in Back To The Future
Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Darth Vader (and his minions) in Star Wars
The mean kids who gave The Karate Kid such a hard time (in both the Ralph Macchio and Jaden Smith versions)
The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Captain Hook in Peter Pan
The Grand High Witch in The Witches

There are a few children's movies that come to mind with no bad guy:

Hayao Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro has some suspense, as little sister Mei goes missing temporarily when she goes to visit her mother in the hospital, but the entire spirit of the movie is loving and gentle.

Totoro and the gang hang out
Disney/Pixar's Finding Nemo features a bratty kid in the doctor's office and some scary sea creatures, but no bad guy or girl  again, just suspense  will Nemo's dad and Dory be able to track him down?

Disney's Mary Poppins has an out-of touch father, but even he comes around at the end, as Mary Poppins' charm and magic is irresistible.

Kiki's Delivery Service, another wonderful Miyazaki film, features apprentice witch Kiki getting into lots of scrapes, but there are no villains to speak of.

Suzanne Pleshette with her canine friends
Disney's The Ugly Dachshund features some pretty naughty little dachshunds, but they're so adorable you don't mind.

That's all that I can think of at the moment. Not too many. Any other movies without a bad guy out there worth checking out?

Related: kiddie catharsis
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

buffy lite

The kid has recently become enamored of a Canadian teen horror/comedy show that airs here on the Disney Channel, My Babysitter's a Vampire. It apparently started with a movie in 2010, which led to the television series, which so far, has had two seasons. I have watched a few episodes with her and what really strikes me is its similarity to Season 1 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The show centers around geeky Ethan (Matthew Knight), a freshman in high school who has visions whenever he touches anything or anyone that is supernatural. Ethan and his wise-cracking best buddy Benny (Atticus Mitchell), who can cast spells, and his little sister's babysitter Sarah (Vanessa Morgan), who also happens to be a (good) vampire, are a bit like the Scooby Gang, tracking down clues and trying to solve spooky mysteries. Two more teen vamps fill out the cast, Sarah's best friend Erica (Kate Todd), and the boys' goofy friend Rory (Cameron Kennedy). Apparently the movie explained how Erica and Rory became vampires, and a whole lot of other stuff, but we haven't seen it yet.

The idea of a bunch of teens trying to battle evil, and that more than one of them is imbued with special powers, is quite Whedon-y. One of the Season 2 episodes that we saw, "Say You'll Be Maztak," featured an ancient Mayan queen, who is not just pretty, but hypnotisingly so. All the boys are rendered helpless under her spell and help her in her scheme to free the Sun King, which will signal the end of  the world — very much like when Xander fell for his substitute teacher (and giant insect monster) Miss French in "Teacher's Pet." The girls save the day, as vamps Sarah and Erica team up with Benny's Grandmother, who seems to be the closest thing the show has to a Giles.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. My Babysitter's a Vampire, because it is from another studio, isn't a typical Disney teen comedy, with harsh sitcom lighting and sassy kids. We haven't seen any of the first season episodes yet, so it does seem sometimes as if we came in on the middle of a story. It's unclear how it all started, but my daughter doesn't seem to mind and finds the kids engaging. Are there any break-out stars, like Alyson Hannigan or Seth Greene? It's too soon to tell, but whether there will be a third season or not, it's fun for her to watch and it's making me want to revisit some old-school Buffy, too.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

the pirates! are at it again

Article first published as Book Review: The Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics by Gideon Defoe on Blogcritics.

Author Gideon Defoe’s fifth and latest Pirates! adventure, the soon-to-be-released The Pirates!: In an Adventure with the Romantics is as silly and amusing as his previous entries in the series.

The Romantics in question are Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary Godwin, who are bored out of their minds in a villa they are sharing in drizzly Geneva, Switzerland, and just raring for some adventure. Enter the Pirate Captain and his crew, including the Pirate with a Scarf (his first mate), the Pirate with Gout, Jennifer, the Albino Pirate, and all the rest. For a reasonable price, the hard-up Pirate Captain charges the Romantics for an adventure they'll never forget.

But there are complications. The Pirates don't exactly know how to produce an adventure, besides hoping one will turn up on their doorstep. And the Pirate Captain seems to be developing quite a crush on Mary. Is it possible that their shared interests in monsters might bring them closer together?

The Pirate Captain and his crew, as they appeared in the recent Aardman Animations film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits

As in his other books, Defoe peppers the story with eccentric notes to the reader. If it happens that one is unfamiliar with Mary Godwin, Defoe tells the reader that "Mary's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Her father, William Godwin, who was a bit better at titles, wrote Jack and the Beanstalk." Funny and informative.

Defoe's depiction of Byron, with a booming voice, reminiscent of British actor Brian Blessed, is always amusing. Mary Godwin comes across as smart and even sassy. Shelley fares the worst — possibly Defoe is no great fan of his poetry. He certainly casts doubt on why Godwin and Shelley ever managed to get together.

Their adventures take them from the Lakes of Geneva to the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and to a remote and ghostly castle in the Carpathian mountains. We learn a little bit more about the intrepid and always self-confident Pirate Captain, such as his flair for writing pulp fiction and a mysterious belly tattoo.

Defoe, who, as his bio states, "is a bit of a one-trick pony," is definitely onto something good with his Pirates! series. The books are a rollicking read, full of laughs and lots of fun for readers who spot some of his literary in-jokes. The Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics is most entertaining, and hopefully The Pirate Captain and his crew will continue their adventures for some time to come.

aargh!!! pirates!
animated pirates, yo ho ho!

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