Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It I Kissed a Zombie, and I Liked It by Adam Selzer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Even though a 30-year old male is not the target audience for this satire of the vampire/paranormal romance novels that seem to be spontaneously appearing on the shelves of bookstores everywhere, I found I did enjoy this novel for what it was – a light, humorous take on the subject matter that is sure to be engaging for teens and genre-fans who can take a little good-natured ribbing.

Eighteen year-old Algonquin “Alley/Ali/Gonk” Rhodes is the self-proclaimed Ice Queen of the “Vicious Circle” – a clique of close-knit friends who not only run the school newspaper (blog), but somehow are allowed to turn the escapades of their classmates into gossip-rag fodder for mass publication. One of their favorite topics of ridicule is the excessive efforts teenage girls at the school make to try to nab a vampire boyfriend; in Alley’s school, dating the undead appears to be the epitome of cool.

Alley acts above all of that, clinging to her reputation and her independence like a badge. But when reviewing a band at a local venue for her paper’s music column, she falls head-over-heels in love with Doug, who, she belatedly realizes, is not really a really-cute goth boy, but rather a zombie hipster who shares her eclectic taste in music.

Selzer’s world is intriguing – vampires, werewolves, and zombies do exist, and they live (mostly) peacefully alongside humanity. Of course, there was that whole issue with Mega Mart raising and enslaving zombies for a cheap workforce, but now that the lawsuit has been settled and all those zombies are free to live their lives coexist, people have pretty much accepted the “post-humans”, and aside from all the vapid teenage girls wanting to date (and eventually become) “post-humans”, things are pretty normal.

I had a little bit of trouble believing in the character of Alley – here’s a bright young teenager with the scathing wit of a college junior who appears to be able to psychoanalyze her own motives in staying single, yet it takes her a couple of dates (and 60-something pages) to discover that Doug is a zombie. She explains this incongruity near the end of the novel, but by then I’d already written it off as something just to get past and treat the novel as a fluffy, witty (but not sparkly) book that will surely be snapped up by teenagers anxious for a novel take on both teenage romances and the paranormal. This isn’t a book I’ll be hanging on to myself, but if you know someone 13-18 in your life, they’ll probably enjoy giving it a read.

Note: I received this book as part of a contest giveaway.

View all of my reviews on Goodreads


The Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper
Perfect Steeper (Glass or Polycarbonate Model) – $29.99
Perfect Steeper Gift Set (Steeper with 3 tea samples) – $39.99

Serious tea lovers will tell you there’s no substitute for brewing with loose teas. But although loose teas will brew up into a more flavorful, less bitter cuppa, they require extra equipment (usually some combination of teapots, infusers, strainers, and mugs) that would make it difficult (if not impossible) to carry around everything you need for a good-quality tea on the go.

The Eight Cranes Perfect Steeper is an innovative product hoping to change the mindset that loose teas cannot be brewed while on the go. The Perfect Steeper does a good job living up to its name – providing a compact, drip-free, and most of all, convenient means to brew loose tea on the go – all that’s needed is access to hot water.


In my family, I am notorious for choosing the worst movies for family movie nights.  It's almost a sure thing.  In fact, it happened so often over the years that I almost consider it my superpower to be able to choose to watch, out of all available selections, the worst movie possible.  Here are some of the "gems" I selected over the years:

Now granted, most of my worst choices were back in the days before internet rating systems and review sites were in place.  We'd usually wander around in a Blockbuster video store and pick movies that looked like they might appeal to the family.  I just know, if left to my own devices, I tend to choose films on the crappier side of the scale.

Given this knowledge, how can I best use my powers for the good of all mankind? By simultaneously warning and entertaining others of the perils of these crappy movies!  And what better way to do it than in the most succinct format known to humanity today – the 140 character tweet!

I'd like to introduce to you my alter-ego, TheCrapCritic, who can be found anywhere that bad movies and media exist.  Through this account, I'll distill the essence of a crappy film, book, commercial, television show, or other media down into a pithy, 1-tweet "review".  I can't promise a regular schedule because even I won't voluntarily subject myself to these crappy products – but you can bet with my unerring ability to choose the crap that I'll have plenty to post.  Here a couple of my more recent "reviews":

  • SURROGATES: The actors portray surrogate robots. They do a great job – it's like a bad screenplay being read aloud by your computer. #crap
  • DEATH RACE: Where Jason Statham wears a metal mask and drives a Mustang with guns attached. Viewers are advised to wear blindfolds. #crap
  • If Jet Li spent as much time practicing his acting as he did his martial arts, Kiss of the Dragon might have been a better movie. #crap

If you're on Twitter, come follow TheCrapCritic for more along the same lines.  I'm just getting started over there so there's not much of a backlog, but the crap will out, so it's just a matter of time…

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Since I've still been couch-bound for the last couple weeks, I've watched a lot more movies than I normally would. I watched a lot of crappy movies, but did find a few diamonds in the rough. Here's some of the gems I caught:

The Hurt Locker

4.5 of 5 Stars
4.5 of 5 Stars

"Kathryn Bigelow directs this gripping drama (nominated for nine Oscars) following one of the U.S. Army's elite EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) teams operating in the ferocious war zone of Iraq. As the squad identifies and dismantles improvised explosive devices and other bombs, they must also contend with the frayed nerves and internal conflicts that arise from living in constant peril. Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse and Guy Pearce star."

An incredibly powerful film that came at me from a totally unexpected direction. The whole movie felt like one long, tense shot. The characters seemed a lot more "human" than many of the more recent war-time movies I've seen; the EOD crew is composed of individuals just looking to do their job safely and efficiently so they and the people they're trying to help (U.S. soldiers and Iraqis alike) can make it through another day safely. The film focuses less on the action the team sees while on tour (although there is certainly plenty of that), and more on the emotional and physical interactions of the  people affected by the conflicts that take place every day. Surprisingly, most of the big-named actors have very small roles in this film, and the lesser-knowns standing in the spotlight do an excellent job of portraying troubled and entirely-too-real human beings. The end result is a fascinating and gut-wrenching look into the lives of people who just happen to be soldiers, for better or for worse.

Paranormal Activity

3.5 of 5 Stars
3.5 of 5 Stars

"When Katie (Katie Featherston) and Micah (Micah Sloat) fear their San Diego, Calif., home may be haunted by a demonic presence, Micah sets up a video camera to document all the jaw-dropping, hair-raising action over a series of several nights in fall 2006. The paranormal occurrences increase in frequency and significance, leaving Katie more and more distraught — and determined to put an end to the terror."

I'm not usually a fan of the "handycam film" – you know, the shaky, intentionally "amateurish" handheld camera that "adds" to the action or suspense of the movie – but it worked pretty well for this film. Reminded me a lot of how effective it was in The Blair Witch Project. There were definitely some creepy moments to this flick. In fact, after it finished, my wife and I had to immediately start another movie because we didn't want to go to bed with the images the director leaves in your head at the end of the film. There were some points where I found myself wishing the pace of the movie would pick up a little, and I questioned the likelihood of the actions of the main characters at several points during the movie (is there one of these movies where you don't?), but overall, it was a pretty well-built film that will leave you wondering whether there really is something to all this paranormal activity stuff.


4 of 5 Stars
4 of 5 Stars

"An easily spooked guy, Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), joins forces with wild man Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) to fight for survival in a world virtually taken over by freakish zombies. As they destroy scores of the undead, they meet up with two other survivors, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) and Wichita (Emma Stone), and journey to a supposedly safe abandoned amusement park. Ruben Fleischer directs this horror romp."

This movie was easily the most funny and most gory movie I've seen in a while. Think Superbad meets 28 Days Later. Ditching traditional zombie-flick traditions from the very start, this film is a slaughter-fest of semi-witless zombies by the "last survivors in the world". Filled with subtle, sarcastic, and sometimes flat-out slapstick humor including some very hilarious one-liners, this film kept me smiling and laughing through just about every scene. Bill Murray joins in on the fun late in the movie as himself and steals the show in at least a couple scenes.

City of Ember

3 of 5 Stars
3 of 5 Stars

"Bill Murray and Tim Robbins head the cast in this sci-fi fantasy set in Ember, a city illuminated only by artificial light. When the town's generator begins to fail, two teens (Harry Treadaway and Saoirse Ronan) race to save Ember's citizens from darkness by solving an old mystery. Martin Landau, Toby Jones and Mary Kay Place also star in this eye-popping metaphorical tale based on Jeanne Duprau's best-selling novel."

Definitely meant for kids, this movie is a little too trite for adults to really enjoy.  In spite of that, City of Ember is a beautifully visualized film, and the premise is entertaining enough to keep you watching to see how it turns out.  I suspect the novel is excellent and may pick it up so I can find out if it is as good a piece of YA fiction as I suspect it is.  Bill Murray does an excellent job as the city's mayor, but look out for Saoirse Ronan (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for Atonement) – I suspect she's going to be tearing her way through Hollywood in a couple more years, based on what I saw in this film.

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Ancestor by Scott Sigler
Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Scott Sigler's writing style reminds me of a cross between Stephen King's and Michael Crichton's.  Sigler has a grasp on modern science and technology, and uses it to invest the reader emotionally in the well-being of his stories' characters, creating gripping tales that leave you wanting to read "just one more page" all the way until the end of the book.

Ancestor, one of Sigler's earlier works, definitely feels a little less polished than some of his later books (e.g. Infected).  For a book whose main premise is supposed to be about primordial, ravenous monsters, the "ancestors" don't really show up until about 2/3 of the way through the story.  However, Sigler spends this time weaving a web of plot, characters, and settings that play out beautifully once the savage killing-spree begins.

Overall, this is a really engaging story with just enough science to make things seem plausible without going overboard and making most non-biochemistry students' eyes glaze over.  It showcases the potential perils of genetic engineering WITHOUT preaching them, and ties it into a plot with decent characterization, engaging the reader and keeping him/her on edge right up until the last page.

Note: This review refers to the eBook version released by Scott Sigler and Dragon Moon Press in March 2007.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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Rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this novel.  This is one of those rare few young-adult novels that adults will be able to read, appreciate, and enjoy as much as its "intended audience".  Like Heinlein's "juveniles", just because The House of the Scorpion's main character is a juvenile doesn't mean the writing, plot, and characterization have to be second-rate.

This book paints a very interesting picture of a quasi-future where Mexico and the US have made "The Devil's Pact"; they have turned over a tract of land between the two nations to a group of drug-lords known as the "Farmers" who grow and harvest poppies for opium in return for curbing all illegal immigration between the two surrounding countries.  In the 100 years of their existence, the Farmers have created a civilization of their own, rich and isolated and abusive of its workers, most of whom have computer chips implanted in their brains that turn them into "eejits", or zombie-like workers who won't even take a drink of water without being told to do so.

The main character is a young boy who is a clone, but a very special one: he is the clone and heir-apparent of El Patron, the despotic dictator of the country of Opium.  And as he grows and begins to learn about what makes him different from all the servants and other clones in this repressed land, the household cook Celia (his adoptive mother) and El Patron's most trusted and faithful bodyguard, Tam Lin, help him discover some shocking truths about himself and the world into which he has been delivered.
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Doomsday Book
Connie Willis

I stayed up late last night to read almost the last 100 pages of this book to finish it off.  Doomsday Book is a very entertaining read, but it started off so SLOW that it took me almost 6 months of reading in fits and starts to get through it.  It wasn't until about halfway through the novel that I found myself drawn back into the book with a desire to put off doing other things to finish the novel.  This is the only reason I gave it 3/5 stars instead of a higher 4/5 stars rating.

In one sense, Doomsday Book could be described as the cousin of Michael Crichton's well-known thriller Timeline, but with less overt action and a far more introspective and thought-provoking study of human nature and emotion.

A historical researcher named Kivrin is sent back through time from 2048 to the Middle Ages, circa 1320.  An influenza epidemic sweeps through "present-day" Oxford, stranding her in the past just as she discovers that an error in the transport has dropped her into 1348, right before the Black Plague had started to kill approximately half the entire population of Europe.  The book jumps back and forth between Kivrin's struggles to survive and care for the family who took her into their home, and her colleagues in 2048 who are struggling with their own version of the plague while still trying to figure out how to rescue Kivrin.

Willis has a talent for imbuing her characters with a three-dimensionality and emotionally investing the reader in their lives.  The descriptions of the Middle Ages were fantastic, and it was interesting to see not only the range of wealth and poverty that existed even within a single village, but how Kivrin interacted with these people who had never been exposed to almost anything that denizens of the 21st century take for granted.  Willis holds up a mirror of human nature to contrast the behaviors and beliefs of present-day people with those of the past, with thought-provoking and sometimes surprising insights about ourselves and others around us.

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