Percy Jackson #2: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Read: 13 November, 2015

Camp Half Blood is under attack. Thalia’s guardian tree has been poison, weakening the protective shield around the camp, and the only hope is to recover the Golden Fleece. With its healing properties, Thalia’s tree can be restored.

I found this book to be a bit simpler than The Lightning Thief, though I suppose that’s mostly because the exposition isn’t necessary. We get much less about Percy’s mother, less backstory, less mystery. Instead, Sea of Monsters is a very surface-level quest narrative: Percy arrives at Camp Half Blood, is charged with finding the Fleece, encounters a few perils on his way, finds it, comes home, the end. It felt very pared down, and rather short.

Don’t get me wrong, it did work as an adventure story, it just felt very straightforward. I always enjoy the way Riordan “modernizes” Greek myths, and Circe’s island was particularly interesting.

And the book does move the overall plot forward. The reveal at the end, which I won’t spoil, sets up a very interesting storyline. But it took a whole book to get there, and the story did feel very empty. I had fun, but it wasn’t very filling.

Buy The Sea of Monsters from Amazon and support this blog!

Continue reading

    Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

    Read: 2 November, 2015

    Shock Value tells the story of New Horror, the mostly independent movement in the 1970s to revitalize the genre, breaking from what had become the standard in horror: formulaic monster movies with the occasional gimmick (theatre seats with buzzers!) thrown in. The book tracks a few of the major players, like Wes Craven, Brian De Palma, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, William Friedkin, George Romero, and Dan O’Bannon.

    It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the horror genre – so much so that I rarely watch anything else. So much so that Netflix can’t keep up with my consumption habits, even when I’ll happily watch their 1-2 star selections. But I tend to stick to my role of consumer, and I often don’t know the histories or the names of the directors (the catalogue enthusiast part of my brain is already sufficiently occupied by other topics). So it was interesting to me to get a little of the backstory.

    Unfortunately, Shock Value felt a bit flat. The author hops around from figure to figure, and I think that I would have found it very confusing if I didn’t already know many of the names. Chapters just sort of meandered until they reached their page length, and I didn’t get the sense that they had focus or purpose.

    Generally, I guess my complaint is just that the book “lacks soul.” It throws out the information, but it doesn’t dig deep, it doesn’t tell a story. The closest it got was in the discussions with Dan O’Bannon, who seems like he could have justified a whole book himself. That’s where Zinoman’s passion peeked through, and I was intrigued enough to look up more information. But for the rest, the writing just felt very flat, telling anecdotes in a detached and almost haphazard way.

    For fans of horror, the book might still be worthwhile, and there were certainly bits and pieces of interesting information. But it could have been presented in a better way. It’s clear from O’Bannon’s sections that Zinoman does have passion, and I hope he let’s himself show it a little more in future works.

    Buy Shock Value from Amazon and support this blog!

      The Kingkiller Chronicle #2: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

      Read: 24 October, 2015

      Fair warning: This review contains a lot of spoilers. I’ve been trying to white-out spoilers from my reviews, but there were just too many here, and it was hard to get my thoughts down without constantly spoiling something. So I’m just going to go ahead and put a spoiler warning on the whole thing.

      Wise Man’s Fear takes place on the second day of Kvothe’s narration to Chronicler, in which he continues to talk about his days at the University and covers his travels to Vintas and Ademre.

      I’m really loving this series. It’s well-written, it’s interesting, and the pacing has kept me in its grip for over 2,000 pages so far. I love the meta-story of how myths are formed, and the banter between characters is usually a lot of fun (it does sometimes get a little over the top, especially with Devi and Denna, but it mostly works).

      Many have pointed out that the women in the series tend to be either invisible or too perfect, and I think there is something to that. We can explain some of it away by the fact that Kvothe spends a lot of his time at the University, where women don’t often get to study, but those were choices the author made (both in putting so much of the story there and in making the University like that in the first place). Then there are characters like Auri, who feel a bit like male fantasies of “strong female characters” rather than characters of substance.

      Still, I think it’s a much smaller problem than many critics make it seem, and we do have to keep in mind that we are getting the story through the interpretations of a teenage boy.

      There were, however, some details that started to get pretty painful – particularly around the final 1/3 of the book. When I was a teenager, I had several nerdy male friends (the kind who got together for D&D-style roleplay sessions, drew comics, and wrote fanfiction). Much of the final 1/3 of Wise Man’s Fear reminded me of their stories, and not in a particularly good way.

      It starts when Kvothe meets Felurian, who is basically a Sex Goddess who inflicts death by snu snu. I think you can see where this is going. If Kvothe simply bested her with his cunning and got his magical gift, it’s be fine. Better if she weren’t the Snu Snu Fairy, but whatever. Those aren’t exactly uncommon in myths, so it would at least fit in with that aspect of the story. Unfortunately, Kvothe then decides to spend many more pages with her (one reviewer totalled Felurian’s story at around 60 pages), during which he learns to be The Best At Sex (because it wasn’t enough for him to be The Best At Music, The Best At Artificing, and The Best At Learning). That’s pages upon pages of Kvothe just sitting around learning sex moves named like the swordplay manoeuvres from The Wheel of Time.

      But it doesn’t end there. Kvothe leaves Felurian only to draw the attention of a tavern waitress known for rejecting patrons’ advances, and spends several days with her in marathon snu snu.

      When that is finally over, Kvothe heads off to become The Best At Fighting. A bit much, but I did really enjoy learning about the Ademre culture, and the Sword Tree was really cool. Unfortunately, Kvothe The Sexer was still in full swing, so he had to spent a fair amount of his time around the Adem having sex with his teacher (!!) and the character who is presented as basically the best fighter the Adem village has to offer (!!!). He might as well have bed Shehyn just to complete his collection!

      Aside from how juvenile this all was, it was frustrating to finally see a matriarchal Amazon society only for every major character of appropriate age who was not set up as an antagonist become Kvothe’s sexual partner.

      I’ve always liked Denna as a character. I know a lot of people don’t (to quote a few reviews: She’s “shittily written”, a “cardboard cutout”, a “bitch”, “bland”… you get the idea), but I really do. I’ve known people who consistently made poor choices, sometimes involving their relationships, and I’ve felt the same urge to try shaking them out of it or rescue them from the latest situation they’ve found themselves in. Denna is one of those – Kvothe enjoys the time he spends with her, she’s a talented musician, her sense of humour matches his, she’s beautiful, but she also makes terrible life choices. But you can’t save people from their own choices. Try and you’ll just drive them away, and then they won’t even have your friendship.

      Kvothe understands this, and his decision to just drop it and be her friend is exactly the right one. It gives her a respite from all the crappy things in her life, and it gives her something to contrast them against. And by not acting like a condescending, judgemental hero-in-waiting, Kvothe gets to be a safe place for her. That is exactly how we must act around loved ones in abusive relationships.

      Kvothe messes this up quite a bit, though. He keeps putting his romantic feelings ahead of their friendship, and the last thing Denna needs is to deal with yet another man’s romantic feelings. He has no right to keep poking them in when she has been so clear in establishing the boundaries of their relationship. For now, I think Rothfuss has done a fairly good job of making it clear that Kvothe is in error when he behaves this way, and that’s a good thing. I’m a little scared, though, that he’ll fumble the relationship in the last book by giving Denna to Kvothe (at least for a while – we know from the narrative set up that they won’t have a Happily Ever After), and I will just scream if they come together just in time for her to die of whatever her lung troubles are.

      Except for two passages. The first being their big fight. Kvothe says some truly nasty things in that fight. I get that he was hurting, and that he was terrified for her safety. Heck, there was probably some PTSD in the mix there. But he behaved abominably. That’s forgiveable since he’s 16 and a character who always makes the right choices would be insufferable, but I felt like there needed to be a bit more introspection. I know it’s hard, since it’s a very fine line between introspection and wallowing, but I feel like Kvothe needed to think about what he said during that conversation more, and perhaps display a better understanding of what he had done wrong. I also feel like there should have been more of a consequence. When Kvothe and Denna find each other again, they just avoid talking about it and have a few awkward pauses in their conversations before they get back into the rhythm of their relationship. I don’t think it’s good for Rothfuss’s younger male readers to see so little consequence for such abominable behaviour, and I don’t think it fits Denna’s character to gloss over the incident so easily.

      The other passage is when Kvothe rescues the Denna look-alike from bandits. This lets him play saviour to a Denna (even if she isn’t the original) and get her appreciation. Denna, despite falling into a good number of tropes, is interesting, and part of what makes her interesting is precisely that she doesn’t conform to Kvothe’s Knight In Shining Armour fantasy. Letting him act it out anyway with a pseudo-Denna felt gratuitous and absurd.

      That’s not to say that I disliked the whole sequence. Having Kvothe repeat what had been done to his family but with himself as the Chandrian was a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, the execution was a bit so-so. The lead up and the act itself were both great, but then it was dropped, as if it had just been yet another of Kvothe’s adventures. He only compared the two scenes for a single moment, and that was a bit of a waste. I feel like the episode could have been used to advance the Chandrian/Amyr plot, perhaps by showing how close Kvothe is coming to evil. Instead, we just get a doctor telling him that you cut off gangrenous legs, so of course it’s a good thing to murder a bunch of bandits. End of story, introspection over. And while he does seem a little disturbed that he had left one of the men alive but fatally wounded, he quickly comes to peace with that (even worse, he smiles to think of it). The only guilt that remains with him is that he also murdered women. Even after his experiences with the Adem!

      Instead of exploring the issue raised by the Amyr (the danger of “for the greater good”), the episode became little more than an opportunity for Kvothe to play saviour to a girl who reminds him of the girl he really wants to save. And that’s just annoying.

      There were several scenes where Kvothe really just doesn’t seem to get it. Even worse, he always does a little pontificating to show just how well he does get it, then proceeds to completely bungle the interaction. The best example I can think of off the top of my hat is when he reveals to Alvaron and Melurian that he is Edema Ruh. As narrator, he notes how delicate the situation is and the fact that he must proceed with extreme caution. However, he introduces the topic by telling them that he murdered the travellers, making them think that the Ruh have been kidnapping girls, then reveals that they weren’t actually Ruh and that he knows this because, as a Ruh, he knows that Ruh would never kidnap girls. All of this in a conversation with a woman who already strongly believes that the Edema Ruh are thugs and rapists. Does that really sound like proceeding with caution? Does that sound like handling the matter delicately? It is, literally, the worst possible way to explain what had happened. In fact, I’d say that his description of the events practically guaranteed Melurian’s reaction.

      How about, instead, he were to take the events chronologically: A group of Edema Ruh were murdered and bandits took their place for a) the writ of safe passage, b) access into towns, and c) the convenient excuse to lure girls away from their families in the middle of the night. He was staying the night with them on his journey when the bandits boasted to him of their ploy. When he found out that, in addition to stealing from communities as they pass through, they had kidnapped two girls, he killed them in order to rescue the girls, and he brought them home to their families. It isn’t nearly as dramatic, but that’s the point. Right from the beginning of the story, it’s clearly established that the people who kidnapped the girls were not Ruh, that the Ruh were as much victims as the girls had been, and that Kvothe’s actions were warranted. Melurian may still have gone into a rage, but at least then it would be because of her own prejudices rather than simply because of Kvothe’s inability to put the dramatics aside for a moment.

      And may I please mention that implying Melurian had had pre-marital sex with a Ruh to her husband probably doesn’t fit “handling the conversation delicately” either?

      There were a few scenes like this, and they were just painful to read. Not in the “oh no, this tension is building up and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop” sense, which would have been wonderful. No, it was in the “holy shit, Kvothe, can you please just shut your freaking mouth?!” sense.

      My final complaint comes right near the end, when Kvothe is trying to learn how to read Yllish story knots and he discovers that Denna has knotted a word into her hair, strongly suggesting that she may know how to read Yllish story knot (or at least may have some information that could advance things). Rather than talk to her about this, perhaps probe how much she knows, perhaps describe the knot inscription he’s trying to translate to see if she has any insight to offer, the subject is just dropped so that Kvothe can have some more awkward silences and then blurt out that he wants her to love him so that their relationship can get even more awkward. There was a perfect opportunity for her to have some actual involvement in the main plotline, and it’s like it just never occurred to Rothfuss. Maybe he had something else in mind for that interaction and he was too focused on his planned progression to see the natural progression forming under his nose. I don’t know, but it was frustrating.

      This review is getting quite a bit longer than I intended, so I’d better wrap it up! I’m really enjoying these books, and Rothfuss definitely has a way with narrative. Despite some pretty glaring flaws in this book, I did enjoy the ride – no small feat when the ride is over 1,000 pages long!

      There are a lot of loose threads that I can’t wait to see resolved, though I’m a little afraid that, given the hints we’ve seen so far, the story can’t possibly be concluded in a satisfactory way. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

      Buy The Wise Man’s Fear from Amazon and support this blog!

      Continue reading

        Series: Good Times Travel Agency by Linda Bailey, illustrated by Bill Slavin

        In each book, the Binkertons are transported by one of Julian T. Pettigrew (of the Good Times Travel Agency) back in time. In each adventure, the Binkerton family gets into trouble, meet some of the locals, and taste some of the various flavours of the culture. To escape back to the modern era, they must finish reading Pettigrew’s book, seen at the bottom of each page.

        My son is still pretty young (today was his first day of Kindergarten!), but I try to pick up educational books here and there so that I can have a good stock of suggestions to make when the time is right. While we do read educational books together now, they tend to be geared more for his age range and attention span.

        I had just finished reading Adventures in the Ice Age when I brought my son to the library to get Adventures in Ancient Egypt. My son saw it, and he asked if we could read it at bed time. I figured that we’d get a couple of pages in and he’d get bored. The adventures themselves (told in comic book style) are pretty interesting, but the Pettigrew book pages at the bottom of each page seemed a little too infodump-y for a four year old.

        But he loved it. We read the whole thing, and then he asked for Adventures in Ancient China the next night, which he also loved. Even more wonderful, he’s absorbing quite a lot of the information.

        What I really love about the series is that it doesn’t bother with trivia – with the names and the dates. Rather, each book gives you a little taste of the atmosphere. What did each culture feel like? What did people eat? What did they wear? What did their homes look like? What might it have been like to live in Ancient Egypt, or Ancient China, or during the Ice Age? That style gives kids a context into which they can slot the trivia later on, when they encounter it elsewhere.

        So today, my son was telling me about weaving silk, and chattering about children’s sidelocks.

        I was a little surprised that he took to the books so young, but in retrospect, I think that the quality of artwork and the entertaining action of the trouble the Binkertons get themselves into are well suited for a wide age range. If a kid is getting fidgety in the Pettigrew book portions, the books can still be read without them (though I found them to be a very good length, and to be very economical in the way they present information).

        I highly recommend the series starting at around 4-5 years old, with no upper cap. Even for older kids, even for 30 year old me, I think the books provide a wonderful sense of place and time into which information from meatier fare can be inserted.

        Buy Adventures in Ancient Egypt from Amazon and support this blog!

          Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

          Read: 13 September, 2015

          John Perry did two things on his 75th birthday: He visited his wife’s grave, and he enlisted in the army.

          Many (author included) have noted the similarities between Old Man’s War and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and the similarities certainly are quite strong. We begin with Perry’s enlistment, then his training, and finally his deployment. The major difference, in this case, is that all the soldiers are 75 years old (hence, Old Man’s War).

          I’ll start with the bad: Characters aren’t very fleshed out. They mostly have the same, snarky voice, and anyone who deviates from this is both a) an unlikable bigot, and b) going to die within a couple of pages. Seriously, Scalzi introduces a mean character, or a character who challenges the group in some way, and then doesn’t seem to know what to do with him and just kills him off. The only characters allowed to live are either Perry’s friends, or his superiors who come off as hard-asses but give him the respect he earns. *yawn*

          The characters don’t feel like 75 year olds. Except for the occasional revelation from someone with relevant past experience, they don’t seem to act or think like 75 year olds. This comes through as Scalzi has to keep reminding us, by explicitly telling us, that they are elderly, because otherwise it would be far too easy to forget. Rather than 75 year olds placed in young people’s bodies, the characters feel more like 20-30 year olds who have unidimentional and largely dispassionate memories of someone else’s experiences.

          This is made all the worse because there’s really no reason for them to be elderly. There’s a brief mention about wanting people with a lot of life experience so that they are in the right mindset to fight and die for humanity, but 20 year olds fight and die all the time, so the logic seems rather thing. The other reason mentioned is that 75 year olds have lived out their usefulness on earth. Okay, let’s say I buy that, why does the CDF care? Why not an open enlistment? Why only 75 year olds, and not 65 or 80 year olds?

          Overall, the age thing feels like a gimmick slapped on over the top of the story, rather than the integral part of it that it should have been. The only place where it really comes into play is with Perry’s wife, but Scalzi could have killed a 30 year old’s wife in a sudden accident and not needed to change the story – or his main character – by any significant amount.

          I was also a little bothered by how easily the soldiers adjusted to being green. It’s described as not chartreuse, but rather more of a greenish tinge, which sounds like it should make people look like corpses. Yet except for briefly mentioning their green-ness from time to time, no one ever seems bothered.

          And that’s really where my complaints end. The book is well written and a fun read. Even with the characterizations lacking, the action was entertaining enough to keep me turning the page. I also found the setting very interesting – the different intelligent species Perry encounters (and fights), the technology, etc. The BrainPal, in particular, is a wonderful idea, and reasonably well executed.

          I’ve seen a few complaints that Perry seems to be a little too perfect, in that he’s always figuring everything out way ahead of everyone and such. But what I liked about this is that he’ll have some epiphany, figure out some new strategy or piece of information that helps him in the immediate moment, then finds out that his superiors have known about it and been using it for a while. And that meshes with my experiences – a reasonably creative thinker will come up with many innovative ideas, but truly unique ones are rarer. The only time Perry is the first to come up with an idea, it’s in a brand new situation where someone was going to be first. That’s pretty inoffensive, as far as Mary Sueisms go, I think.

          It’s a fun read, a good way to waste away an afternoon. What it lacks in depth, it makes up for in creative ideas and entertaining action.

          Buy Old Man’s War from Amazon and support this blog!

            The Hallway Fight: Daredevil and OldBoy

            Before bed last night, I watched a couple of movie/show reviews on YouTube, including one for Daredevil. I’d watched a few episodes, but ultimately found it a bit boring and repetitive. Plus, I really like crime procedurals, and “beat the shit out of the guy until he reveals the next clue” is not a procedural, no matter what fans of the show seem to be claiming.

            But there was one scene in Daredevil that was absolutely wonderful, and that I will probably still be raving about years from now; specifically, the hallway fight scene in the second episode of the first season. It is just gorgeous, a joy to watch even without the context of the show around it, even if we don’t care much about the character or the context. It’s just a visual treat.


            This, of course, made me think of the gorgeous hallway fight scene in OldBoy, which it is clearly drawing from (right down to the green colour scheme), and what it is about those two scenes that is so attractive to me.

            So, of course, I rewatched both on YouTube and gave it some thought.

            The colours: This is an obvious one. Both make excellent use of a monochromatic scheme, which is just visually appealing in general. As an added treat, Daredevil puts a red light shining under the door where his goal is located, contrasting with the green and serving as a visual reminder, throughout the whole scene, of what he’s fighting for.

            The humanity: In both scenes, the characters are human. The main characters get tired, and we see them stagger, we see them pant, we see them lean against the wall or take longer to get up so that they can have a quick rest before the next hit. And that’s another important part – they actually get hit. In OldBoy, the main character is repeatedly thrown to the ground and we, the audience, don’t know if he’s going to get up again as the baddies crowd around to kick him. Heck, he goes through about half of the fight with a knife sticking out of his back. In Daredevil, it’s clear that Murdock is absolutely exhausted and hurt. By the end, he can barely stand. Yet in both cases, we see the triumph of will as they keep getting back up, over and over again, to fight on. It feels real, and it’s inspiring, and it’s so much more compelling than the Superman types who either never take a hit to begin with, or who plough on unaffected by them.

            The humanity, part two: Another important piece of this is that the baddies are human as well. None of this one-shot-you’re-dead business. They can’t just give a baddie one punch to the head and the guy goes down, unmoving for the rest of the scene. The baddies remain in the shot, moaning, in pain, and sometimes getting back up.

            The confined space: There’s something very intimate about the use of a hallway, so that the main character is crowded into a sea of enemies. This also means that the characters are always doing something, and attacks are coming from every direction. Visually, it means that there’s more opportunity for choreography, as the characters use the walls and each other to leap into the air, spin themselves around, and use every part of their body to land hits in many directions in quick succession.

            The steady camera: Another feature of the confined space is that the eye can take in the whole fight at once, aided by a steady camera and long take. It’s so much more satisfying than the up-close jumpcut technique that’s far more popular (likely because jumpcuts make it easier to use stunt doubles). I get that the jumpcuts are meant to convey the confusion of battle, but they do so at the expense of visual beauty (and, in my opinion, cause an overload effect where I am too confused to be able to worry about the protagonist’s safety). But in OldBoy and Daredevil, we see everything that is happening, and it lets us be both in the moment and out of it enough to appreciate the beauty of the movement.

            The off-screen: Not really something OldBoy does (except for the very wise choice to off-screen the elevator portion of the fight), but the use in Daredevil was exquisite. As the camera flows up and down the hallway in a beautiful, almost oceanic movement, the fight itself weaves in and out of our field of vision. I’m not sure why I enjoyed this so much – I guess I need to give it some more thought – but it was just wonderful.

            The music: In both movies, the fight scene has a very muted, tonal soundtrack. It provides a little extra emotional resonance (with a few heroic swells, as in OldBoy), but largely sticks to the background. This allows the energy of the visuals to dominate (not to mention the sickening thok-thok of the punches).

            I should also given an honourable mention to the spinning hallway fight scene in Inception (what is it about the hallways??). Again, we have the fixed camera, the confined space, the use of environment, and that flow of movement of battlers through the camera’s field of vision (in that case, of course, in a more three-dimensional sense). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Christopher Nolan got some of his inspiration for that scene from OldBoy, actually.

            An interesting difference between Daredevil and OldBoy that I noticed was the presence of a goal. In OldBoy, the field of vision is from the side, so that the main character’s goal isn’t seen at all until it is reached (making the fight seem endless, and raising the stakes when added to the main character’s expressions of fatigue). In contrast, the goal in Daredevil is specifically highlighted with the use of red lighting. I don’t prefer one over the other, but I did find the difference interesting.

              The Art of T-Shirt Buying

              Due to body image issues, I’ve tended to buy t-shirts at the largest size available, preferring shapeless bags that would hide my body. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve benefited from getting some perspective, and decided that I would slowly replace my t-shirt collection over the course of this year with shirts that I actually enjoy wearing.

              A strange thing happens when a habit like this is changed. At first, I felt self-conscious, and I crossed my arms over my stomach to hide myself in the way that my shirt was suddenly failing to. But then, I started to get used to the feeling of exposure, and it didn’t bother me any more. Even better, I started feeling better about myself. By no longer trying to hide my body, I stopped thinking about my body (at least in the inappropriate/intrusive sense). Just in the past year, and largely as a result of changing my dress, I have started to feel far more confident in my body, and even happy with it.

              This has had a pretty huge ripple effect. When I’m not thinking about hiding my body, I can think about running, about moving, about getting exercise. I can do that without worrying that someone is going to laugh at my flesh moving around, one beat off from the rest of me. It’s fantastically freeing, and quite a bit better for my health.

              All this is just to say that I’ve done a fair bit of t-shirt buying this year, and I wanted to share some of my experiences with different companies.


              The company that got me started when it forced me to actually measure myself rather than just pick the largest size. Owning a shirt that was properly fitted inspired me to get more, and set off my journey to feeling better about myself.

              Designs: LootCrate is a “mystery box” service. That means that you pay a fee for the month, and get a box with an unknown assortment of items. Sometimes that includes shirts. While the box themes are announced ahead of time, I’ve found the predictive value to be quite poor. So far, I’ve gotten a D&D shirt, two Transformers shirts, and a Power Rangers shirt – none of which are shirts that I would have bought on my own (although the D&D shirt has an interesting design that I actually quite like).

              Quality: The quality is variable, since LootCrate sources its products from a range of places. The D&D shirt, for example, is fairly thin and already (after just under half a year) getting a hole or two. While none of the shirts I’ve received so far have been really great quality, the others have at least been thicker than that. The designs are well printed, and aren’t fading or flaking.

              Fit: Every LootCrate shirt so far has fit me perfectly. That said, there are fewer larger options, (shirts only go up to 20.5″W).

              Value: I find LootCrate to be a pretty good deal, most months (there have been one or two months of disappointment, but also one or two months of happy surprise, so it evens out). At under $20 for the US, it definitely does come out to a good deal (a shirt alone will often cost that much). At close to $40 CAN for shipping to Canada, however, the price gets a little harder to justify, especially when you don’t know ahead of time if there will be anything you’ll like in the crate.

              Customer Service: I had an issue with one of the boxes a few months ago. When I contacted LootCrate about it, they responded fairly quickly and sent a replacement box within a couple of days.

              Conclusion: If you want to buy specific shirts, LootCrate isn’t the right place to go. On the other hand, it’s a decent value just to get a little surprise every month, and sometimes shirts are included. The shirts often aren’t what I would buy for myself, but the designs have been interesting and I’ve enjoyed them anyway. The only problem I have with LootCrate is that the billing can be tricky, particularly if you want to wait and see the theme for the month before ordering. There’s no way to sign up for a single month, only one month recurring, and the packages are processed well in advance of the “next billing date” displayed in your account. So if you want to order for only one month, you have to sign up for the one month plan, then check with your credit card company so that you can cancel it as soon as the charge comes in. Leave it too long, and they will begin processing your crate for the following month, and there’s no way to stop it if you don’t like that month’s theme. (I see that they’ve now added the option of skipping a month, but it only gave me the option to skip the month I wanted, not pre-skip the next month. So the downside of having to monitor and click the right button at the right time remains.)


              When I first wrote this review, it had been a month and a half since I had ordered the shorts, and three and a half weeks since they had been shipped, and I still hadn’t received them. Because of this, my review was mostly about their customer service, since I didn’t have much else to go on. But now, about two months since I placed my order, and about a month since they were shipped, I finally have them in hand and am ready to amend my review!

              Designs: TeeFury’s designs are fantastic, and they have tons of options (with more added frequently). It was the quality of the designs that made me risk TeeFury, despite its poor reviews. I particularly like the variety of fandoms (I was able to find a Monkey Island shirt, which was understandably far more of a temptation than yet another Doctor Who design).

              Quality: The shirts themselves look quite nice. The material is fine, and has some flexibility to it. I did notice that threads started coming out of one of the shirts the first time I wore it, which is pretty unusual (but could be a fluke). The printing of the design seems fine – you can see the weave through the design, which is a good sign (it means that the shirt can move around on your body without the design cracking).

              Fit: The sizing charts are rather unrealistic for women (being only half an inch larger than the equivalent youth size). So I ended up paying an extra $2 per shirt because, according to TeeFury, I’m so huge that I’m costing them that much in extra fabric, even though the same size is only a medium in men’s (and thus is $2 cheaper). This also means that women who would like larger shirts are plain out of luck. Adding a bit of insult to injury, it seems that they still skimped on fabric. While the shirts otherwise fit quite nicely, they are fairly short. I like shirts that come at least halfway down over my bum, and these end right at the bottom of my stomach. If I’m going to be charged extra for additional fabric, I expect there to actually be sufficient fabric for the shirt to fit properly.

              Value: At around $20 USD per shirt, the prices are pretty average, though the extra $2 for a shirt would only be M in men’s (a Girl Tax?) is a bit ridiculous. Shipping and currency conversion can make it a fair bit more expensive for Canadians, but that’s pretty normal as well. Until I find a local distributor with the same quality and selection of designs, I’m stuck ordering at higher prices from the US.

              Customer Service: Pretty bad. It took about two weeks to get a response, even though my credit card was charged as soon as the order was placed (which I find rather odd – most online retailers don’t charge my credit card until the item actually ships). Once I finally got through, the representative was apologetic and offered to send replacement shirts. Since I had finally received the original shirts on the same day, this wasn’t necessary. So I can’t say how long things would have taken if they hadn’t resolved on their own. It seems that this backlog for customer service is a chronic situation for TeeFury. The consensus online seems to be that they’re great if nothing goes wrong, but if things do go wrong, they go really wrong.

              Conclusion: I’m on the fence about TeeFury, and I think it will be a long while before I risk ordering from them again. While I did eventually get the shirts I ordered, it took about two months, and the customer service is extremely slow to respond if anything goes wrong.


              Designs: Most of the designs are YouTube channel branding. Which, I get it, that’s the niche they’re going for. But, personally, I don’t believe in paying to advertise someone else’s company. They do have a handful of nice designs, though, so it’s worth checking out.

              Quality: Really good. I believe they get their shirts from American Apparel, and they are very soft and quite thick. The shirts are clearly well made, and they feel great to wear. The designs are fairly well printed, and I haven’t noticed any flaking or unusual fading.

              Fit: I’ve had some trouble finding shirts that come in women’s sizes, which is quite a problem for me (my breasts are rather on the large side, so if I get a men’s shirt that fits my chest, it’s very frumpy around my waist, and a men’s shirt that fits my waist is obscene around my chest). But the shirts that do come in women’s sizes fit very well. I also noticed that, unlike TeeFury and LootCrate, the women’s sizes go up quite a bit higher than what I need. In fact, according to DFTBA, I’m only M (thank goodness I checked instead of just ordering XXL!).

              Value: At around $20 per shirt, the prices is fairly average. I’ve also been able to take advantage of a few sales, getting one shirt for $10 and another for $15.

              Customer Service: I haven’t needed to contact customer service, but so far my interactions with the company have been very pleasant. My orders have all been filled within a day or two.

              Conclusion: The shirts are really nice, and the price is reasonable. I also love what the company stands for, and the way that its owners hold themselves accountable. The problem is the lack of designs that I’d be willing to wear (or, in the case of branding, that I’d be willing to pay for).


              Designs: Since CafePress prints on demand, the designs are potentially limitless. There’s a bit of an overload factor, though, in trying to find something worth buying. The two times I’ve ordered from CafePress, it’s been for my own designs, and being able to customize what I wear to that degree is a pretty big draw.

              Quality: The shirts are pretty good quality. The cotton is nice and thick, so it takes a long time to wear them out. The design printing isn’t quite as good, I believe because it’s more cost effective when doing one-off printings. I ordered one shirt about four years ago and, while the shirt itself has held up, the image is very faded and cracked. The shirt I ordered more recently (this summer) has the same plastic-y feel to the design, and I’m sure that will begin cracking in not too long.

              Fit: The fit around my breast and waist is quite good, and the length of the shirt is nice (I can pull it partly down past my bum). The only problem is with the sleeves, which I find are a bit too tight. It’s not constricting or particularly uncomfortable, but it means that I’m aware of the shirt being there all the time, and I find that distracting. It wouldn’t take much for them to add half an inch or so, and the fit would be much improved.

              Value: Individual sellers set the prices for the shirts themselves, but they are almost always above the $20 USD benchmark (since CafePress charges the regular rate and, to make any kind of profit, sellers must go higher). I found the shipping charge to be quite a bit higher than normal as well. The result on my last order was a $45 CAD charge on my credit card for a single shirt that had only been priced at $24 USD. It can be worthwhile to wear your own design, but is far too much for regular shopping.

              Customer Service: I accidentally bought the wrong size shirt several years ago. When I contacted CafePress, they responded quickly and sent me a replacement shirt, even though the issue had been my own fault. This was several years ago, though, so I don’t know if the quality of the customer service has changed since then.

              Conclusion: There’s a lot of potential for finding (or making!) great shirts, but with so many options, it can take a while. This versatility must be balanced against the so-so quality of the fit and printing, as well as the higher cost.

                Petunia the Silly Goose by Roger Duvoisin

                Read: August, 2015

                We were visiting a friend who let us read this book, over and over again, while we stayed in her home. The edition she had, which I can only seem to find on AbeBooks, had several Petunia stories (Petunia, Petunia, Beware!, Petunia’s Treasure, Petunia’s Christmas, and Petunia Takes a Trip).

                My son absolutely loved these stories. In the week and a half that we were there, he asked for that book every night, and had even started memorizing several of the pages. Something about Petunia just really appealed to him.

                The illustrations are in block colours, which I’ve found tend to appeal to kids. The stories themselves have a repetitive rhythm to them that makes them fun to read aloud with kids (especially if the kids are asked to supply the odd line, in accordance with the pattern).

                Each story also includes a moral. I usually cringe at those, especially if they are overly heavy-handed or – as is often the case with older books – rather outdated. But Petunia’s morals have largely held up, and they gave us some matters for discussion, which I appreciated.

                Buy Petunia from Amazon and support this blog!

                  A Fly for the Prosecution by M. Lee Goff

                  Read: 28 August, 2015

                  Goff’s Fly for the Prosecution is about forensic entomology. It’s a pretty thorough book, while still being suitable for a lay audience, covering the full range of the discipline: the history of forensic entomology, determining short post-mortem periods, determining long post-mortem periods, the effects of drugs, the effects of different environments, plus some specifics to the forensic process itself, including how to cope and giving testimony in court. There’s even an index at the back, so the book can be used as a reference.

                  I imagine the intended audience being people who are into entomology in general, and thinking of going into the field of forensic entomology. I also think the book will appeal to many of the fans of murder/detective stories, though it does get a bit technical and some might find it dull.

                  My only complaint about the book – and it’s a very small one – is that the author comes off as a little full of himself. This is particularly the case toward the end, where he contrasts the poor practices of other forensic entomologists against his own, good, practices. I feel like he could have found a different way of covering that material, either by depersonalizing it entirely or, at least, by letting some of his colleagues serve as the good examples every so often.

                  But other than that, his writing style was quite good and, given the material, fairly entertaining. He’s no Mary Roach, certainly, but he did manage to make descriptions of various fly species seem interesting.

                  The material, being forensic, is by nature quite gross. But I’m generally okay with corpse stuff. I get that icky feeling, but it’s well within what interest can compensate for. The only chapter I really struggled with was the one where he talked about doing forensic entomology on the living (all children or senior abuse victims). That really tried the hardiness of my stomach, even as I appreciate the value of the work.

                  Buy A Fly for the Prosecution: How Insect Evidence Helps Solve Crimes from Amazon and support this blog!

                    Stiff by Mary Roach

                    Read: 24 August, 2015

                    I’ve had this author (and this book, in particular) on my radar for a long time, but never gotten around to reading it. This time, though, I was visiting with a friend who happened to own it, so I seized the opportunity.

                    And I’m glad I did! This book is hilarious, with a fantastic dark humour (fairly necessary, given the grossness of the subject matter). The subject matter, by the way, is corpses. Specifically, the many uses for them. This mostly includes research (medical, safety, military), but there are some other applications.

                    I found Roach to be very thorough in her investigations. Whenever I started to form a question, sure enough, she was answering it. I particularly enjoyed her bit of investigative journalism in the chapter about using the dead for food.

                    I did have a few unsettling moments, mostly through serendipity. For example, I was in the middle of reading about the rumour that a restaurant in China owned by the brother of a man who worked in a funeral parlour, had been serving dumplings made with human meat, when I was asked if I wanted to go out for Chinese food (we did).

                    All in all, a very enjoyable read. An interesting subject told interestingly.

                    Buy Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers from Amazon and support this blog!