Book Review: Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim

Anne Rice
Knopf, 2009
288 pages
hard cover


I've loved Anne Rice's work for a long time, ever since I checked Interview with the Vampire out from my high school library. And not just her vampire books, though there are more of them than others: I enjoyed The Witching Hour and Servant of the Bones and Feast of All Saints, too.

I did try to read Rice's Christ the Lord books, but I couldn't get into them. It's not a religious thing; I grew up religious enough and have no particular disdain for religion or spirituality or any of that sort of thing. A lot of people do, and then a lot of people don't think about it one way or another, but I do. Which isn't the point, of course. The point is: I have no bias for OR against such stories and works.

Still and all, I couldn't immerse myself in Rice's Christ the Lord books. But angels! I love angels, too, and was hoping for something really great in the kick-off novel of Rice's planned new series.

Alas, I fear my expectations were set too high.

Angel Time isn't terrible. It just isn't as good as some of Rice's other work. Something about it suggests she might have been in a hurry while writing it. And it's more like listening to Rice tell a story than having her characters do so.

What I mean is, all the characters in the book sound the same to me. I find little distinction in their voices. It seems to me that a hardened assassin should sound somewhat different from an angel, and that they should both sound different still from a Medieval Jewish woman. And yet . . . here, not so much.

The story itself is good enough. Pretty simple and straight-forward, which may be why the book is not especially long. But I still had some trouble digging in, as I found the characters more likely to tell me what to think and believe than show me through their actions or dialogue. For some characters, such bravado works (hello there, Lestat); for some situations it works (interview any vampires lately?). But here again . . . not so much.

Maybe Angel Time is just a weak start to something bigger and stronger? Maybe the main character--assassin Toby O'Dare--will develop into someone more interesting than the seemingly colorless person he starts out as. (On the flip side, assassins do need to blend as opposed to standing out . . . but Toby's lack of personality goes a bit too far in that the reader has a tough time caring much about him.) I'm hoping for a better outing next time.


Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

Starring: Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent, Christoph Waltz
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino
Written By: Quentin Tarantino
Universal Pictures, 2009
R; 153 minutes
5 stars (out of 5)


In film school, we were required to view Reservoir Dogs. I hadn't wanted to see it, but I ended up really liking it. Which surprised me, since I generally dislike anything with gratuitous bloodshed.

That said, there haven't been many other Tarantino films that I've seen and enjoyed. I disliked Jackie Brown and found Four Rooms uneven at best. I didn't even make it through Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill; they bored me too much. Sacrilege! But how can I apologize for personal preference?

I was beginning to think Reservoir Dogs had been a fluke. But I did want to see Inglourious Basterds. All the Academy Award hubbub, PLUS: Brad Pitt! Whom I've loved since Interview with the Vampire. And I'm pleased to say that this movie did not disappoint. The violence was not so over-the-top as to disgust me, and the grimness of Laurent's turn as a vengeful Jew was nicely balanced with Pitt and Waltz, who added an odd, offbeat humor to the whole affair.

In short, Pitt plays Lt. Aldo Raine, who helms a small band of American soldiers known as "The Basterds." They stalk Nazi-occupied France and ambush Nazi squadrons. Meanwhile, Laurent plays the sole surviving member of a Jewish family that was massacred at the hands of Waltz's SS officer Landa. She has changed her name and now runs a cinema, and when her venue is singled out for a Nazi film premiere, she decides to use her dubious windfall as the jumping-off point for some serious payback.

It all comes together in the end, and I won't give it away. But Pitt is fun to watch, especially with his thick accent. I only wish he'd had more screen time. Waltz is surely the shoo-in for his Oscar category; he plays Landa with the perfect mixture of light-minded delight and megalomania, wrapped in self-assured narcissism. The viewer simultaneously wants to (a) invite him to a dinner party, (b) lock him in a cage and force him to perform like a trained monkey, and (c) put a bullet through his head. That takes talent. I'd be glad to see this movie win the whole kit 'n' kaboodle, but I'll take a trophy for Waltz at the least.


Book Review: New Moon

Stephenie Meyer
Little Brown, 2008
564 pages
trade paperback


Well, one thing makes New Moon markedly better than Twilight, and that's the absence of Edward throughout the entire second act of the story.

Otherwise, it's all still pretty bad.

New Moon reminds me of fan fiction, only the characters are original to the author. But the main character--Bella Swan, who narrates--comes off as some kind of Mary Sue for the author (and perhaps, by extension, for the tweenie readers). At any rate, the "production value" of the writing (characters, plot) is low. Which is what I tend to find in the fan fiction community as well, so maybe that's why New Moon reminds me of fanfic.

Loosely, the plot this go-round is: What does Juliet do while Romeo is away? Apparently she becomes even more obnoxious than before, if that's even possible. Or maybe she's just as obnoxious but in a completely different way. Bella (our Juliet) spends most of her time going on and on about the "hole in her chest" that Edward's leaving has left her with. She spends a lot of time clutching her chest and gasping for breath, thereby showing us that Edward's leaving has been physically painful for her. She starts doing daredevil stunts because in the midst of danger she's able to remember Edward's voice--basically he scolds her for being stupid and reckless. And she starts hanging out with a werewolf.

It would be one thing if Edward's leaving had been a true breakup. But of course, Romeo and Juliet must have TRUE love, and so we're not allowed to question their devotion. Oh, Bella does question it, but Bella is ridiculously insecure in that way of adolescent girls--especially those who have guys all wanting to hang out with them and date them. But Bella and Edward are required to have a pristine relationship, and so even when they're apart it's simply a matter of each of them suffering terribly without the other.

So what we end up with is a hyperbolic example of love and devotion, in which each party is SO devoted to the other that it passes realistic and reasonable and goes on to be stunningly stupid. And once again the same conversations occur over and over:

     Bella: I will love you forever! I can't live without you!
     Saber-Toothed Tiger: I will love you forever! And I can't live without you, either!
     Bella: Then turn me into a saber-toothed tiger like you, and we'll be together forever!
     STT: No. Instead I'll wait for you to get old and die, and then I'll kill myself and we'll be together forever in the afterlife!
     Bella: This is because you don't really love me and don't want to be stuck with me for eternity, isn't it?
     STT: Of course not! I will love you forever and can't live without you!
     Bella: Then turn me into a saber-toothed tiger.

And round and round we go.

The truth is, the "real" relationship here is between Bella and her best friend/werewolf Jacob. They have actual conversations and enjoy doing things together. Bella can pour her heart out to Jacob. This is more than we've seen in her interactions with Edward, and this relationship seems much more grounded. It has more chemistry. And maybe that's simply because we get a better look at it than we do the one with Edward, which we're evidently supposed to take at the author's word. What I mean is, we see Jacob and Bella associate in more organic ways (although we're still hounded by Bella's selfish and inane internal commentary as well). Meanwhile, in dealing with the chief relationship in the series Meyer presents us with only: Bella loves Edward; Edward loves Bella; they are meant to be. Really? Then show me. Don't assume I'm going to take it at face value. Because as it stands, it lacks the chemistry you're trying to force me to believe exists.

The one other really egregious problem with the book is the way characters are forced to explain things--either why something is the way it is, or the plot in general. Again, this is a flaw one finds in bad science fiction or fan fiction. It's clumsy. It's the author's way of answering potential questions the reader may have, as if to say, "I know you're wondering why or how, so my character will ask another character and you'll get this answer." There are ways to do this that work. Meyer's way of doing it . . . doesn't. It only underscores (a) how stupid her main character really is, and (b) that Meyer herself didn't appear to think through her own plot or faux world systems.

The sum total, then, of New Moon is that it's better than Twilight. That's about all I can say for it. Will the trend continue with Eclipse? We'll see.