Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Report 52 Project: Into the Night by Suzanne Rigdon

  Quick Programming Note: I like to read. I haven't been able to read much over the past year because I got lazy, and I like to make excuses as to why I can't read, despite the fact that I love to read. To challenge that, I've given myself an assignment: I'm going to read 52 books in 2015. That's one book a week, outside of Graduate School. And I'm going to hand over Fridays on Bad Shakespeare for my Book Reports. So welcome to the first installment of the Book Report 52 Project on Bad Shakespeare. 

   Vampire novels nowadays are hard. They've been examined, re-imagined, pulled apart, put back together, made scary, rebooted, made unscary, rebooted again, slayed by cheerleaders, loved by cheerleaders, turned human again (shang-shu to those who know), battled werewolves and zombies, parodied, defanged, refanged, loved, hated, time travelled, hunted by former presidents, young adulted, fan ficitioned, turned into movie after movie after movie... if you name it, it's probably been done. Except maybe in space. Have vampires been in space yet?

   Note to self: check and see if Vampires have been in space yet. If not, write a million dollar book idea. Ka-ching.

   It is with this in mind that I went into Into the Night, the debut novel by Suzanne Rigdon. The idea that Vampires were everywhere and new versions were hard. And on paper, it's there's not a lot new introduced into this novel. Girl meets hunky guy? Check. Girl goes on date with hunky guy? Check. Hunky guy turns out to be undead creature of the night? Check. Girl becomes vampire? Check. Girl becomes embroiled in classic underground struggle between the Vampire Queen, jealous lovers, and hunky guy. Well, check, but I guess that's less of a cliche.

  Into the Night tells that story... the story of Selina Baker, a coordinator for a Boston-based nonprofit, who goes out one night with her best friend, Jess, then meets James, goes on a date with him, and is attacked while trying to get ice cream. Turns out James is a vampire, and she's soon drawn into a fully realized vampire world, one that feels lived in... which is nice since most vampire stories tend to just say, "VAMPIRE" and then leave it at that. Selina finds herself at odds with the Vampire Queen, and drawn into a dangerous world.

  It should be noted at this point that I really enjoyed this novel, despite my initial fears that it was going to be "just another vampire novel." The best thing about this novel is that it doesn't attempt to really re-invent anything, but it expands upon it, and creates a fully realized world.

  The novel itself starts out kind of slow. Yes, when you know that there's going to be Vampires and supernatural stuff, there's an element of "When are they going to get to the fireworks factory?" type expectations, but what Ms. Rigdon is playing towards is her strengths, and that's not just dropping random characters into a Vampire story and trying to invent some kind of new Vampire or twist on it. It's a slow build, and allows the reader to really enter the world.

   I keep using the phrase, "Enter the world." That's important for me as a reader, and I don't think enough people focus on. There's going to be another novel I'm going to review on here that doesn't allow that entrance into the world, and just sort of expects everyone to think "hey... this is happening" and it works to the detriment of the novel itself. Ms. Rigdon works hard to establish a world that is at the same time realistic, but allows fantastical elements to co-exsist. Most of the main characters are fully fleshed out.

   The other standout feature of this novel (and this is standout) is just how creepy the Vampire scenes are. Too often, in other novels, the danger in these scenes is tuned down. I've never been sucked in (get it... sucked in... Vampire novel? Hey, they aren't all winners.) by the sheer creepiness of these scenes, or the danger associated with them. You want some good scenes where the main character actually seems in danger rather than, "oh, it's a novel, she's going to be ok?" Yeah, check this out. It's listed as "urban fantasy" but it's really more of a horror novel. Ms. Rigdon has some serious chops when it comes to writing truly scary scenes.

  My only real complaint is a little variation of what I said before, and that's the very start and the very end of the novel itself. The novel starts slow - like I said, Ms. Rigdon's strengths really lie in the horror aspects of the novel - so some of the earlier scenes where Selina spends a few paragraphs picking out an outfit tend to go on a little bit. There is a payoff when these details become important later on, but it can be a little bit to get through when you don't realize there's going to be a payoff.

  Also noted is the ending... it's a cliffhanger, folks! That's not a bad thing (I could have read 200 more pages with these characters, and when the sequel comes out I certainly will) but it is a bit abrupt. Thankfully, most of the main plot points are resolved, so the cliffhanger plays more like a preview for the next novel rather than a major continuation of this one. But I find it important for anyone going into a novel to know if there's a cliffhanger ending, because some people care. Again, this plays of more like a strength than an annoyance. Plus, it helps that the seeds for the cliffhanger ending/sequel novel are placed throughout this novel, rather than "hey, look... I'm going to end it here so you can buy part 2". It's a natural extension. You know, like what a cliffhanger is supposed to be.

   I'm a fan of vampires, and I do enjoy seeing some of the interpretations that are out there. The bottom line is I would highly recommend this novel to people who want a mix of things familiar, but told in an amazing way with some excellent writing, and world-building that never seems forced or phony. Check this novel out, you won't be sorry.



Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bad Shakespeare Takes London: Culture Shock

  One of the recurring jokes I used to make before my little jaunt across the pond was that it was going to be difficult to assimilate to the English Language. The joke, of course, is that I already speak English because Benjamin Franklin didn't get his way all those years ago and we aren't speaking German. Lucky us, right?

  And yes, I fully understand that there are some differences in the language. For instance "elevator" is "lift." "Chips" are called "Crisps" and "French Fries" are "Chips." Also you don't ask for the restroom, you ask for the toilet, and pub is pretty much any place that serves alcohol, along with some token amount of food.

  What I wasn't surprised for was the sheer culture shock of it all.

  Oh, I've been overseas before. When I was younger, my parents alerted me to the fact that I'd be moving to Korea for two years. And move there I did, because, well, I was 10 and probably not allowed to go live anywhere else at the time. Plus, it was Korea, back when going to the end of my block was a big deal. So I was aware that not every country is "America" and not every country is the same.

  But still… for it to be that different was a bit of a shock.

  The biggest thing to get over was the whole "driving on the other side of the road" thing. We don't really think about how much that affects us. Mostly, when we're walking along, we tend to gravitate towards what we're used to, and that's being on one side of the road or another. Oh, yes, some people have issues with it, and have to walk, salmon-like, down the opposite side of the road, wreaking havoc on a perfectly good system. But for the most part we drive on the right side of the road, and we tend to gravitate towards that when we're walking.

  So, yeah, when there's a large group its easy to play "spot the American" as they are racing, salmon-like, through a crowd of unamused Londoners.

  Let's also talk a little bit about tipping. There are Americans who have strong feelings about tipping. Some feel that no one should tip, ever. There are also those that feel that people shouldn't tip, but then we should try paying our servers a livable wage. Then there are those that think they should tip, no matter what. A majority of people are in that category, that we should tip, no matter what. I, personally, am in that category that unless I order a burger and you bring me an entire cow with a loaf of wonder bread on top of it and then tell me "some assembly required", I'm probably going to tip you. (Even if you bring a cow with a loaf of bread on it, I still might tip, if that's what I ordered.)

  Not so in England. Sometimes they have pre-added the "service fee". In some instances, if you try to tip they'll stare at you blankly, wondering who this odd person is trying to foist their change upon you is. I only really encountered one cabbie that seemed to expect to be tipped, and really then I believe it was because I was American, and especially lost at this point. No, really, my destination was only about five minutes away.

  There's also the fact that they really seemed to love their Big Bang Theory over in London. Maybe it's that they feel they can take us if we're all like Sheldon. Not that I spent much time with my television on, but seriously, every time I turned on the television there seemed to be a mini-marathon of the best Big Bang Theory from the past couple of seasons. Not so much as a culture shock but a surprise. Off the top of my head I can think of about 80 or so other television shows I'd rather represent America than Big Bang Theory. Seriously, London, we can be a lot funnier than that.

  I was also in London to study theatre, and this was the biggest shock: London loves it's theatres. I'll write more about this later, but one of the biggest shocks was the fact that on a given night, the theatre was going to be sold out. This included weeknights. And if you wanted to get something on the weekend, good luck. Especially if, for instance your professor really recommends you try to check out a version of Merchant of Venice that's sold out and you think "I'll just charm my way in." You won't charm your way in. My American charm isn't as charming as I thought overseas.

  Everyone thinks about the big things when it comes to culture. Language. Customs. Religions. Food. And we'll be talking about food in a little bit. But what gets overlooked, often, is are these little things that you just don't think about when headed to a new country. In some ways, it may have been easier to study up on some big culture change, rather than tiny little things, like tricks of the language. But when it comes to little things, that's when the big shocks can really start to affect you.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Getting There is Half the Fun

  Recently, I took several trips across the pond, then back again, because apparently telling a certain travel-based website that you want to extend your trip makes them ask you for three times what the trip itself would cost. This meant that I had plenty of time on airplanes. Which is essentially a long metal tube filled with people you don't know who are going to spend the next 8 hours with you. I did this four times in the span of a month. I realize that people do it more, but this is my experience with it.

  Note: I know I said that I'd be posting stuff about London on Wednesdays, but this isn't really so much about "London" as it is about the trip there, which was a… we'll call it a less-positive experience, so I'm going to post this one separately. Plus, I've been away for a month, and I'm just getting back into the swing of things. You know how it goes.

   I used to take a lot of plane trips over the years. My father being in the military and my previous job requiring travel all over the country to the wilds of Seattle and wherever we're currently keeping "Texas" so flying isn't all that new to me, despite the fact that I haven't been up in the air in about four years. I figure it hadn't changed that much, and probably won't until we invent some kind of transporter device like they have in Star Trek. And for the most part, I was right. 

   The line for security was pretty much the same, as the TSA Agents directed you to where you were supposed to go with all the enthusiasm of a TSA Agent directing you where to go to have all of your possessions scanned by an X-Ray Machine. I was fortunate that I didn't have to take off my shoes for any of these times, I just had to stand there as I giant machine took pictures of my entire body. Which I guess is Star Trek like?

  Of course, then the real fun started when I was actually on the metal tube that, for the next 8 hours, was going to defy every law that Newton gave us and suspend itself in air, over an ocean and parts of Canada, and then somehow land safely in an entirely different country. Here's where I would throw in some joke about my ancestors fighting hard to get away from it, but to be honest with you, no part of me is really "English" and we didn't come over until way after the first colonies had been established.

  Also, for time's sake, I'm going to leave out the nearly three hour delay for my first flight. Yup. Three hours. On the one hand, it's pretty annoying to be delayed for three hours. I mean… that's three hours you're sitting on the tarmac, then they make you get off the plane. Plus you're flying into London Heathrow, which has a curfew, which means they stop letting planes into their country after a little while. But on the other hand, when it has to do with the mechanical parts… the stuff that keeps this multi-ton piece of metal aloft in the air, I'm going to have err on the side of, "sure, whatever it is you need to do."

  No, I'm going to discuss some of the fun involved with my fellow passengers. It is often said that "Hell is other people." Sartre obviously wrote this after a trans-Atlantic flight, and he didn't have to take his shoes off at the gate.

   I'd like to start with, of course, the boarding procedure. There's the pre-boarding in which people who legitimately need to get on the plane first rush forward, along with a few people who claim to be confused and then just saunter on up, hoping to be the first one on the plane to sit for a few hours while everyone else gets on the plane. Then they have "boarding zones" which I'm familiar with, but once again is less organized than "hey, let's all just smoosh forward because apparently they won't let us all on the plane. Yes, I'm in an aisle seat. Good luck to whoever is sitting at the window."

   This was less of an issue when I took my flight on New Year's Eve. If you want to have some real fun, take a flight on New Year's Eve. Giant plane, less than half full. I got a row to myself and it was magical.

   There's also the issue of the seats "reclining". Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I realize that you want to be as "comfortable" as possible in what the airlines lately have been generously referring to as "seats." But the recline feature doesn't really go back far enough to make you any more comfortable, it just sort of makes things annoying for the person in the seat in front of you. For instance, every seat on some flights now have a touch screen television right in front of you! That's attached to the back of someone else's seat. So, by reclining, for the whole flight, this now means the person behind you has to readjust literally everything so you get that one inch of pure, unadulterated recline. Must be magical.

  This also interferes, of course, with meal time.

  What's that you say? Airlines have stopped providing food? Well, I'm here to bring you the good news that we live in a brand new golden age when airlines don't expect you to subsist on water and peanuts, and provide actual what they refer to as "food." It wasn't terrible. Wasn't great. But eating it while someone has decided to recline part of their seat right onto your food makes life all that much difficult. Yes, kids, when a flight attendant gazes into the eyes of the person sitting behind you and has to tell you to move forward to make life easier for that poor person, maybe you move your seat forward for a few minutes. Just a few.

  The last issue is a little more touchy. Because it involves kids.

  Yes, I know as a non-kid having person this forbids me from speaking about kids in some instances. I mean, after all… I don't have kids, so I don't understand a lot of what parents go through. Plus, many think piece articles that are floating around will let future historians know that there was a brief period in the 2010's when people with kids were not allowed to speak to people without kids, and vice versa, lest they offend people to the point that soon no one will speak to each other. Thus led to the great Kidless vs. Parent War, in which the Parents come out looking a lot better than the kidless, only because they don't have ancestors speak kindly about them.

  Actually, my issue is less than that, because 90% of the kids on the flight were well-behaved, and even if they did cry or fuss what was anyone going to do? They're infants. If you get mad that an infant is crying on a flight, get over yourself. That's pretty much what infants do, especially when they're sleep patterns are being messed up and they sense they are no longer on the ground.

  No, my issue is actually with the older kids that decided to play hide and seek on the plane, running up and down the aisle during my second flight. Many parents wouldn't let their kids run up and down the aisle, keeping everyone awake by banging on their seats. Many parents would make their kids sit down, especially following the flight attendant saying "please, sit down and stop banging on the seat" rather than getting angry at the flight attendant. I have to admire these parent's out of the box thinking. 

  Seriously, don't let your kids run up and down the aisle of the plane. Especially if they're hitting the seats. Or running into flight attendants. 

  Overall, the flights were just that… flights. They were part of the experience but overall not the best part, nor are they the part that is the real takeaway from my excellent experience. (I have to throw some positivity in this.) But I am saying, maybe we want to get working on those Star Trek style transporters sooner rather than later, because the whole "getting in a metal tube" isn't really working.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Back To America: Land of the Free, and Home of the Whopper

Citizens of the Internet and Beyond… Bad Shakespeare is back!

That’s right, after a month of being Bad Shakespeare-less, all new posts return… well next week, really. I suppose there’s a bit of cruelty that comes with teasing you all about the return of Bad Shakespeare, but hey, that’s what comedy is all about. But hey, regular updates will continue starting Monday of Next Week!

No, this is more of a housekeeping post, to give you all a sneak preview of what is going to be coming up over on the blog over the next couple of weeks. As you all know, or maybe you’re just finding out because you’ve just decided to start reading this blog based on your adventures with me, I have been in England over the past month, studying the inner workings of the theatre scene over there, touring the great venues, looking at the Actual Shakespeare’s house (and hoping he doesn’t mind how I borrowed his name for my blog. His ghost didn’t attack me, that’s as good as a “yes” as far as I’m concerned), drinking my way through Scotland’s fine alcohol dispensaries, and stalking former cast members of Doctor Who. Turns out, I saw two. Didn’t realize it, but I did. 

I had quite the adventure while over there, studying under the tutelage of the wonderful and talented Rick Davis, who I might add in addition to being handsome hasn’t put the final grades in the book in just yet. Just sayin’. And I look forward to telling you all about them, which is why (as I announced on Facebook… and if you don’t like Bad Shakespeare on Facebook, what’s wrong with you?) I’m announcing Bad Shakespeare Takes London, which will run on the blog Wednesdays for the foreseeable future. Marvel as I talk about:

Visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and the secret of Bubbles, the Shakespearean Cat.

I review the eleven (yes… eleven) plays that I witnessed, including Treasure Island at the National Theatre, which certain was a play as it was taking place on a stage, and featured one of the more uncomfortable kisses I’ve ever seen, ever. And I’ve seen people kiss Nicolas Cage.

Our class gets a visit from the cast members of the Scottsboro Boys!

Tours! So many tours.

The experience of visiting a laundromat in London. I’ll make that one more exciting than it sounds. 

Cardiff, Doctor Who, and Paddington Station… all in one day! (The Doctor Who Experience is in Cardiff, and I had to leave from Paddington Station. But it sounds more impressive this way.)

The totally true adventures of an American in a London Movie Theater. When commercials run for 45 minutes, you wonder why you’re the only one there for a little bit. Also, no butter.

My quest for a decent cheeseburger.

The Universal appeal of Zoidberg! You all have Zoidberg.
Kilt Buying for dummies. 

And much, much more. 

And that’s not all in the way of announcements. As you’ve all seen, the Oscars were announced, and you can bet your sweet bippy that Bad Shakespeare and Friends will be at the 2015 AMC Oscar Movie Showcase to enjoy all the showcase happenings, including guest appearances by Jerome the Steelers Dude and Cookie Queen Kim. (She’d better have cookies this year… she’d better.) Stay tuned for that as well!

And, of course, your usual assortment of general wackiness, including movie reviews, Book Reports, coverage of the Movie Dumping Ground Season, and of course, this whole Graduate School thing. I should probably work on that a little bit as I have two classes coming up.

My trip to England changed me in so many ways. I wasn’t prepared for the ways in which this particular trip was going to change me. I’m really looking forward to sharing that will all of you. I’m looking forward to recapping my adventures, and looking forward to the new year and all of the new adventures I have ahead of me.