Book Review: The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

Hi all!

It’s been a while since I was motivated by a new author to read an entire book in the space of only a few hours over a couple of days. But it’s always an unexpected joy when it happens. The magic of being transported not only to new places or times, but new ways of thinking, is impossible to ignore.

Let me start at the beginning, but from a different direction than you might expect. Thankfully I was born into a family that not only appreciates music, but likes to play and sing together or apart. My mother played piano before her hands were twisted by rheumatoid arthritis. My father still plays guitar – a twelve-string Fender acoustic – with an ability to pick rich melodies from those taut skinny wires. And my sister and I played saxophones, guitars, and piano (she more than I). Between the occasional rag on piano, jazz or concert band practice, and a million folk songs on guitar, there was live music at my house pretty much every day.

That childhood of music has served me well long into my adult years and I still play my guitar occasionally and sing with my daughters, my wife, and the rest of my family at the occasional gathering. More than that, I’m always listening to music new and old. And over time I’ve gained a perpetual soundtrack running through my head with a mix of tunes from musicals, bluegrass melodies, folks songs, rock bands, a cappella voices, jazz licks, movie soundtracks, and much much more.

Why the long reveal about my musical childhood? The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe shows an appreciation for a life of music I’ve rarely seen in fiction, let alone urban fantasy from a new author. And Bledsoe’s tale weaves the magic of ancient songs and lyrics seamlessly into a world both touched and untouched by modern sensibilities and dangers. Most of those involved in the story are from a group of folks known as “The Tufa” – a secretive group living in the Appalachians. Though the question “Who are the Tufa?” is asked multiple times and eventually answered, how the reader gets to the answer is more important than the destination…

The story is about Private Bronwyn Hyatt, her immediate family, and their extended relatives in Needsville, Tennessee. Bronwyn returns from Iraq after surviving a horrific attack and heroic rescue, but her wounds need healing both outside and in. And as she returns to some sense of normal as muscle and flesh knit in the home she grew up in, she realizes there’s more going on she’s going to have to deal with. Can she figure out what the “haint” (ghost) wants her to do so she can avoid its ill portents of a death in her family? Can she find her song and learn to play her mandolin again so she can learn her mother’s song? Can she rediscover herself in the context of Tufa ways?

And tied into all of this are other characters. Craig Chess, a Methodist preacher, is trying to make inroads into Bronwyn’s community instead finding a solid resistance to outsiders. Dwayne Glitterman, Bronwyn’s former flame and bad-boy on a path to ruin. And newspaper reporter Don Swayback, asked to get an interview with Bronwyn the war hero, who starts to discover deep personal connections to the people of the town of Needsville he never knew existed…

Alex Bledsoe’s rich, nearly poetic prose in The Hum and the Shiver captured me at page one and didn’t let me go to the end. If you are a fan of urban fantasy, this is a book you need to add to your list today. There are secrets ancient and wild waiting for you to discover, and I enjoyed every moment.

The Hum and the Shiver hits shelves September 27, 2011, and I can hardly wait to see what’s next in the series from Bledsoe. For more about Bledsoe, check out his website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org. here.

–Fitz

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Trailer Time: Conan The Barbarian (2011)

Hi all…

Conan the Cimmerian from Robert E. Howard’s pulp fiction classics of the 1930s has seen his share of reinvention over the years. Whether in new stories, comic books, television, or movies, Conan has always been a force to be reckoned with.

After Arnold Schwarzenegger’s portrayal of Conan in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), it was tough for me to imagine anybody else in the role. Even bodybuilder Ralf Möller in TV’s Conan: The Adventurer paled in comparison in the late ’90s.

Now Jason Momoa (TV’s Stargate: Atlantis) comes to the role in the new big screen feature reinventing the classic. The film also brings in big names like Stephen Lang (Avatar), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), and Rose McGowan (Grindhouse). Will this incarnation of Conan stand up to the scrutiny it’s bound to get?

I’ve seen numerous stills of Momoa in the role, and was interested to see how he’d do. Now that I’ve heard him talk in this teaser, I have a sinking feeling about the film. Will I still go see it in August? Heck yes. But I’ll have lowered my expectations significantly.

Plus, what’s with all the smoke. It’s a cool way to give half-glimpses of stuff, but gets old by the time the teaser (about a minute long) is even half over… I suspect we’ll see more trailers during the summer movie season, but who knows?

Synopsis:

“I live. I love. I slay…I am content.” – Conan The Barbarian

The most legendary Barbarian of all time is back this Summer. Having thrived and evolved for eight consecutive decades in the public imagination- in prose and graphics, on the big screen and small, in games and properties of all kinds- Conan’s exploits in the Hyborian Age now come alive like never before in a colossal 3D action-adventure film.

A quest that begins as a personal vendetta for the fierce Cimmerian warrior soon turns into an epic battle against hulking rivals, horrific monsters, and impossible odds, as Conan realizes he is the only hope of saving the great nations of Hyboria from an encroaching reign of supernatural evil.

Deftly adapted from the original works of Robert E. Howard and faithful to the mythology and psychology of his iconic character, CONAN THE BARBARIAN stars Jason Momoa, Rachel Nichols, Stephen Lang, Ron Perlman and Rose McGowan, and is directed by Marcus Nispel.

Q: What do you think? Will you see it? Are you excited?

For more news about the film, be sure to check it out on its Facebook page here. Conan the Barbarian releases in theaters everywhere August 19th, 2011!

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Merlin: The Complete Second Season

Hello!

The myths and legends surrounding King Arthur have always fascinated me. Tales of honor, friendship, love, betrayal, swords and magic are woven into a tapestry filled with shiny knights, wizards who age backwards, and a sense of adventure. From Le Morte d’Arthur (Sir Thomas Mallory) and The Once and Future King (T.H. White) to The Sword in the Stone (Disney), Monty Python and the Holy Grail and even Camelot (the musical from Alan Jay Lerner & Federick Loewe), the stories have been told and retold through the ages.

So back in 2009 when Merlin was announced and started to air on NBC (after airing on the BBC), I was planted in front of my television and it didn’t take long for the rest of my family to join me. We were all drawn in by the antics of A young Merlin (Colin Morgan) working as a manservant for Prince Arthur (Bradley James) in a Camelot ruled by Arthur’s strict father King Uther Pendragon (Anthony Head, Giles from TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer). In another interesting twist, Guinevere (Angel Coulby) works as a maid to Morgana (Katie McGrath), the King’s ward. As we’re dealing with a Smallville-style revisiting of the Arthur myths, Merlin has a couple of mentors along the way – the wise old court physician Gaius (Richard Wilson) and the Great Dragon (voiced by John Hurt, Hellboy).

We tuned in regularly to see what kinds of trouble these characters would get into and how the writers would reinvent a younger Camelot. I was particularly interested in how we’d see characters from the older stories like Lancelot, Mordred, Morgause and Nimue show up as they inevitably would. And honestly I was quite surprised. The production crew did a great job of breathing new life into these stories.

When the first season ended, we were obviously hoping that the show would be renewed. And though NBC didn’t air it directly, season 2 aired on the Syfy Channel last year. Due to insane schedules last spring, we only watched the first few episodes and never got back to see how it ended up. As a result, we were very happy to see Merlin: The Complete Second Season appear on DVD at the beginning of 2011!

Picking right up where the first season left off, the second season starts out with Merlin almost losing his job as Arthur’s manservant to a thief and ends with Merlin saving the day and giving Arthur all the credit, which is a recurring theme on the show. Another recurring theme is the concept of destiny and Merlin’s fate being linked to Arthur’s. It’s something brought up by many shows of this style – from Smallville to Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Is a person’s fate decided or can the path change?

It ultimately comes down to the character’s decisions – their choices between what’s right and wrong – that shape their destinies. But like life, not every decision is easy and all have consequences that may ripple far into the future.

What I really loved about season 2 is that these characters are starting to come into their own. Sure, Arthur’s a Prince and supposed to do what his daddy the King says, but we start to see him rebelling a bit against policies he doesn’t believe in. He goes off against orders to rescue Gwen in one episode and on a quest in another episode to find the last remaining Dragonlord because it’s what’s right for Camelot even if it goes against the King’s wishes.

The other relationships really mature and change as well. Where there was a definite class boundary between Merlin and Arthur in the first season, we start to see them become more like best friends or brothers by the end. And the love triangle between Lancelot (Santiago Cabrera), Arthur, and Gwen starts to form. Arthur is recognizing the feelings he has for Gwen, but struggles with them because a relationship between a noble and a servant could never be. That really starts to come into question when he sees the budding feelings between Lancelot and Gwen. And finally we see the Great Dragon really push Merlin to release him as he agreed to. But when Merlin gets a glimpse of what the future could be like when the dragon is freed, does he really want to?

As with the first season, there are serious moments intermixed with some comedic moments. The difference in the second season however is the distance between the light and the dark. As Morgana begins her slide to the dark side, there are many tough choices for Merlin to make – but that makes the lighthearted banter between Merlin and Arthur that much more important to keep things from being bogged down in darkness too often.

All thirteen episodes of the second season are included on the first four DVDs of this five DVD set. The last DVD is a collection of great extras. Without question, the BBC has done an amazing job gathering a set of “Behind the Scenes” features for the season. Every episode has a thirteen minute look at the work that goes into filming, producing, and acting each show, which gives you something more concrete to watch than a longer feature that covers the entire season at once. In addition, there’s an introduction to the new season from the cast and crew, audio commentaries, a collection of photos, and a Making of Merlin documentary that covers the entire season. If you have a PC, you also have access to a set of Wallpapers you can use as background images.

If you were a fan of Merlin as it aired on the BBC, NBC, or Syfy networks, Merlin: The Complete Second Season is definitely a DVD set worthy of your collection. It’s been fun catching up on all the action in Camelot as Season 3 gets in full swing on Syfy!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up both seasons of Merlin on DVD below!

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