Tuesday 28 February 2023

Book Review: Mary Magdalene: A Visual History by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

Pros: lots of photos, highly informative

Cons: a bit repetitious

Mary Magdalene is a fascinating saint. From simple origins, a few mentions in the New Testament, to becoming amalgamated with other New Testament Marys, to having a variety of stories about where she spent her later years (Ephesus or France), being a sinner, a penitent, a preacher, a feminist icon, her story is constantly evolving.

The book starts with an introduction before separating into two parts. Part One: Towards a Visual History, consists of 7 chapters (Scripture Sources, Patristic Sources, Eastern Christian Narratives & Traditions, Western Christian Narratives & Traditions, Symbols & Devotions, Mary Magdalene through Christian Art, and Coda). This part examines what the scriptures say about the various Marys that were amalgamated into the story of Mary Magdalene and how ‘her’ story was depicted in art through the years. The second part, Motifs, consists of 10 chapters that analyzed specific aspects of Mary Magdalene, and how those were depicted in art (Sinner/Seductress, Penitent, Anointer, Weeper, Witness, Preacher, Contemplative, Reader, Patron, and Feminist Icon). These are short chapters, of 3 to 5 pages each, with 1 to 2 photographs highlighting their subject. The book concludes with an afterward that mentions exhibitions focused on Mary Magdalene and a select bibliography for further reading.

I found the introduction fairly repetitive and a bit harder to parse than the rest of the text. Part one had some great foundation information about how Mary’s story began and developed. It was really interesting seeing how parts of her legend came about. The chapters were thorough and easy to read. While each chapter in part 2 was short, the author packed a lot of great information into them, including mentions of her in early Christian and apocryphal writings. There’s some repetition here as well, though I suspect it’s so each chapter stands on its own. There were occasional page notes with sources for other articles and books to read for more information and a few explanatory notes.

The book has a lot of excellent colour photographs that demonstrate the points the author is making. They cover the variety of motifs Mary Magdalene was used to represent, as well as the various periods during which she has been worshipped.

If you’re interested in Christian saints in general or Mary Magdalene in particular, it’s a fantastic book.

Thursday 23 February 2023

Shout-Out: Seven Faceless Saints - M. K. Lobb

Discover what’s lurking in the shadows in this dark fantasy debut with a murder-mystery twist, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kerri Maniscalco.

In the city of Ombrazia, saints and their disciples rule with terrifying and unjust power, playing favorites while the unfavored struggle to survive.

After her father’s murder at the hands of the Ombrazian military, Rossana Lacertosa is willing to do whatever it takes to dismantle the corrupt system—tapping into her powers as a disciple of Patience, joining the rebellion, and facing the boy who broke her heart. As the youngest captain in the history of Palazzo security, Damian Venturi is expected to be ruthless and strong, and to serve the saints with unquestioning devotion. But three years spent fighting in a never-ending war have left him with deeper scars than he wants to admit…and a fear of confronting the girl he left behind.

Now a murderer stalks Ombrazia’s citizens. As the body count climbs, the Palazzo is all too happy to look the other way—that is, until a disciple becomes the newest victim. With every lead turning into a dead end, Damian and Roz must team up to find the killer, even if it means digging up buried emotions. As they dive into the underbelly of Ombrazia, the pair will discover something more sinister—and far less holy. With darkness closing in and time running out, will they be able to save the city from an evil so powerful that it threatens to destroy everything in its path?

Tuesday 21 February 2023

Book Review: Meru by S. B. Divya

Pros: interesting characters, compelling drama

Cons: takes several chapters to learn necessary vocabulary

Centuries ago humanity nearly destroyed earth and made a hash of terraforming Mars. Since then, they’ve been confined to earth while their distant offspring, alloys, exploring the universe. When a human habitable planet is discovered, a vote to decide whether humans should be allowed to expand into the universe again is proposed. Jayanthi wants to be more than a human raised by alloys, confined to earth. When she discovers that her sickle cell disease makes her suitable to live in the higher oxygenated air of Meru, she petitions to be allowed to live there for a year as an experiment. Only a newly graduated alloy pilot agrees to bring her there. But some alloys remember what humans did the last time they were allowed to expand past Earth. And they’ve got plans to make sure this experiment fails and the vote goes their way.

There’s quite a learning curve as the book throws a lot of new vocabulary and concepts at you with no info dumps. It takes a few chapters to get a real grip on this future world and how humans and alloys co-exist. It can feel overwhelming, but once you understand the background and have been introduced to the characters, the plot kicks in and the story moves on to the titular planet. The world-building is astonishing.

The plot centres around the personalities of Jayanthi and Vaha and their developing relationship. It’s a forbidden romance that faces a lot of complications. Though young and full of self-doubt, they’re both delightful and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them try to solve various problems.

According to the acknowledgements, the story is based on the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. I’ve never read it and so cannot comment on how the author handled the source material, but I did appreciate all of the Indian inspired names, scents and foods used throughout the book. Each chapter is named after a Sanskrit word.

There are variously gendered entities, which can take some getting used to and adds to the alienness of the alloys.

After the first few chapters, I found this a quick, compelling read.

Tuesday 14 February 2023

Movie Review: The Blob (1958)

Directed by Irvin Yeaworth, Jr. (and Russell Doughten Jr.)
IMDb listing

Pros: good acting

Cons: kind of boring, cheesy monster

A crashed meteorite unleashes a blob that begins amalgamating people from a small town, while a group of teenagers try to warn them.

Steve McQueen stars in his first role, as a teenager who witnesses a death by the blob but no one believes him. It’s a strange movie with very little plot. The teenagers are all played by actors who are clearly in their late 20s and early 30s. Similarly, the actor who plays Jane’s younger brother was 6 but seems to be playing a much younger child, which just feels bizarre.

When Steve finally does convince a couple more teens that there is danger, I was left unsure whey they believed him. There’s one scene where a guy has to call the cops because they won’t listen to Steve anymore, and he complains he doesn’t know what to say. Because he hasn’t seen a monster or any trace of a monster.

The monster looks comical rather than scary, not helped by the fact that all the deaths are off screen. A character comments towards the end that the monster must have killed 40 or 50 people, but only 4 or 5 people are shown vanished and presumed eaten. I guess we’re supposed to assume a lot of people got eaten at the movie theatre.

The ending is rather exciting, with some tense moments. Spoiler warning: We’re left with the creature - unable to handle cold - sent to the arctic with the message that so long as it stays frozen humanity is safe. The film ends with a question mark on the screen. Makes you wonder if the director, or someone involved in the project, was already aware of the effects of global warming.

If you’re interested in 1950 SF/horror films there are much better ones out there (Invasion of the Body Snatchers is brilliant). If you want a good Blob movie, check the one from the 80s, which is surprisingly well done.

Tuesday 7 February 2023

Book Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

Pros: interesting characters, intriguing family drama, good mystery

Cons: historically accurate slurs

Fired from the police after being found during a raid on a gay bar Andy Mills is prepared to end it all. He’s offered a detective job, to determine if Irene Lamontaine was murdered or if she died in an accidental fall. Lavender House, the family estate, is a haven for the family, all of whom have reasons to love and hate the victim. As the case progresses, Andy is forced to consider his life and choices, and what makes a family.

The book is set in San Francisco during the 1950, when gay acts were criminalized, and makes use of historically accurate slurs and derogatory language, which may be distressing to some readers. It also includes a beating by cops and thoughts of suicide.

The book evokes a lot of strong emotions and there are several affecting scenes. I’m not familiar with the historical period, but the author did an excellent job of making it come to life.

The interpersonal drama of the family was interesting and complex enough to keep me intrigued about the case. It had a satisfying ending.

While not for everyone, this is an interesting historical mystery. I’m hoping it’s the start of a series.