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by Catherine Ramsdell

1 Feb 2010

Some people have summer and winter shoes; some people have seasonal homes or drinks. I have seasonal books. Some books are simply best in the summer, and some are best in the winter.

When Sarah Addison Allen’s Garden Spells was published in 2007, many reviewers noted that it was the perfect summer read: light, quick, fun.

I can see how Garden Spells works as a summer book. The horticultural references alone could make it a summer book. However, I picked it up again last week and found that it is the perfect book to chase away winter’s grayness. 

In Allen’s own words: “[Garden Spells] was supposed to be a simple story about two sisters reconnecting after many years. But then the apple tree started throwing apples and the story took on a life of its own ...”  In many ways, Garden Spells is still a simple story just with the added bonus of some magical realism. In the book, two sisters, Claire and Sydney, whose lives took them on very different paths, reunite in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina to form a family, create a home, and learn to trust and love. Two other characters, Evanelle, a wonderfully quirky cousin, and Bay, Sydney’s delightful daughter, complete the family and round out the cast of characters. 

Garden Spells mixes eccentric, but not stereotyped, southern characters with very believable magical realism to produce a wonderfully stress-free story. For better or for worse, you aren’t going to worry about how the story ends—you simply know it is going to end well. There is something of a fairy tale element to this book, which is probably one of the reasons many people classify Garden Spells as a summer (or beach) read.

The plot may not offer many surprises, but the characters keep the pages turning. They are crafted with care and creativity, and they are what makes the book so special. Each main character has a magical gift, and these gifts are both practical and whimsical. For example, Evanelle’s gift is giving gifts. She always gives people the exact gift they need. A cigarette letter, a brooch, a mango splitter—she just knows what people need (although she doesn’t always know why) and gives it to them. What reader wouldn’t be just a little envious of Evanelle’s gift, particularly after reflecting back over the holiday shopping season? Or perhaps we wish our friends and relatives might have just a little more of Evanelle’s magic.

Garden Spells is not just about magic; this book is also a type of magic. It can make people forget. It made me forget the cold, the ice, and the snow. It could just as easily make people forget about holiday weight gain, the latest bit of annoying (and overly reported) celebrity gossip, or an irritating boss/spouse/child, etc. And to me this is, ultimately, what makes it an outstanding winter read. Garden Spells, a cup of tea, and a big cozy chair. It’s the perfect way to spend a cold and dreary afternoon.

On the other hand, if you happen to be someplace where it is warm and sunny, think about picking up Allen’s second novel The Sugar Queen. It’s a great summer read.

And, since winter is still far from over for many of us, if anyone can recommend another good winter read, I’d appreciate it.

by Matt Moeller

31 Jan 2010

In my earlier post I highlighted what seemed to be a free online shooter that turned out to be less than a full game. Little did I know that there was such a game out there already that has been around since last year. If you weren’t already aware, video game developer DICE (in conjunction with EA Games) is out there with Battlefield Heroes, which is a cartoony version of their main franchise. Battlefield Heroes is played on your browser and you will not spend a dollar unless you end up falling for the silly things you can buy with real money in the BF Store. 

Why not cash in on the current sexy mythical monster craze that is going on at the moment and incorporate a new night-time Vampires Vs. Werewolves mode to three of the maps in the game.  Well, that is just what they did and it lasts for the next month, Check out the trailer below and play the game yourself at www.battlefieldheroes.com.

by Kevin M. Brettauer

31 Jan 2010

John Cale's

John Cale’s “Sanities” Lyrics Provide
Inspiration for the Title of This Blog Post

“Journalism is just a gun. It’s only got one bullet in it, but if you aim right, that’s all you need. Aim it right, and you can blow a kneecap off the world.”
—Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan

Right now, outside of Kabul, a young man has just had his kneecap shattered by a flying bullet, fired at him by another young man who doesn’t know they share the same favorite poet and that the two would become fast friends if they met in other circumstances. Neither one yet knows that the injured man will never walk again, and will probably need to have his leg amputated, lest he contract gangrene.

In London, a young woman has been caught on camera exchanging an envelope for money and is about to be arrested by undercover police officers from Leeds on suspicion of drug-dealing. The arresting officers do not yet know that she is actually an undercover Interpol agent whose cover they have just blown.

by Bill Gibron

31 Jan 2010

Parables are supposed to explain the world, not make it more complicated. We are supposed to gain insight and wisdom from religious allegory, not reel with confusion while suffering from heartburn and headaches. Yet this is the world created by Joel and Ethan Coen, the amazing American auteurs who continue to aspire to greatness while typically achieving same. Focusing on a Jewish college professor and his troubled life in the late ‘60s, what we wind up with is A Serious Man (new to DVD and Blu-ray), one long, masterful, misguided rabbinical fable as fairytale. When it comes to turning any subject - writing, parenthood, greed - into something both formidable and frightening, hilarious and hackneyed, no one does it better than the Coens. And with faith as their focus this time around, they deliver once again.

Larry Gopnik teaches physics at a small college. He is up for tenure and believes he deserves it. When an Asian student complains about a failing grade, the confrontation begins a surreal snowball of personal catastrophes for the mild mannered teacher. First, his wife leaves him for another man. Then, his useless brother is arrested for various crimes. Even worse, the Columbia Record Club keeps calling him, demanding payment. Hoping to gain some insight into his growing troubles, Larry seeks guidance from the local synagogues. Sadly, each rabbi is more perplexing than the next. With his son about to be bar mitzvahed and his interpersonal life falling apart, our hero hopes that God will show him the way. What the Lord has to offer, though, may be much, much worse.

by AJ Ramirez

31 Jan 2010

It won’t be long until the music industry hands out honors at the 52nd Grammy Awards ceremony. Sure, much of the annual hubbub surrounds the Best Song, Record, and Album categories (Will Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” trump both Beyonce’s “Halo” and “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”?  Discuss!). Let’s not forget that the Grammys have handed out an award for Best Short Form Music Video since 1984.  Music videos have been the one of the most important methods of disseminating new music to audiences for nearly 30 years (not to mention they’ve been works of art in their own right on countless occasions), but considering the award program structure the Grammys still treat them as mere afterthoughts.

//Mixed media

'Steep' Loves Its Mountains

// Moving Pixels

"SSX wanted you to fight its mountains, Steep wants you to love its mountains.

READ the article