House of Reckoning by John Saul

To be honest, I expected more of this book. It seemed pretty interesting and as a teenager, I enjoyed John Saul. I remember reading Nathaniel and loving it (although if asked what it was about now, I’d be hard pressed to answer).

House of Reckoning was underwhelming at best. Basically, it’s the story of a fourteen year old girl named Sarah Crane who is the biggest Mary Sue that I’ve ever seen in a published fiction. Ever. Sarah’s mother died of cancer half a year ago and her daddy hasn’t been the same. He spends all of his time getting drunk and letting their farm fall into ruin. One night, he goes out drinking and he kills a man in his drunken rage. Driving back home–still drunk–he hits his own daughter with his truck, crippling her. Doesn’t this already sound ridiculous? I mean, this is stuff a newbie writer comes up with. I know I’m supposed to feel sorry for Sarah, but all I did was roll my eyes repeatedly. It only gets better.

So, daddy gets arrested and thrown into prison and poor little Sarah is pushed into the foster care system. I’m sure you can already see where this is going. Yep. Sarah gets stuck with a horrible, terrible, no good, awful family called the Garveys. The dad is an ass, the mom is a bitch, the kids are spoiled brats. They only want Sarah for the county money and they treat her like Cinderella. She has to cook and clean and barely gets any food and she has to feel “grateful” for everything they give her. Yeah. Seriously.

School is torture, where everybody makes fun of her being a cripple and as you’d expect, she makes friends with the other outcasts of the town; an art teacher everybody calls a witch and a crazy boy who hears voices (only they stop whenever he’s around her). The three of them are all tied together and it has to do with the house the art teacher lives in. Which was once a penitentiary for the criminally insane. As you can expect from a Saul book, it features troubled kids with issues who can use an ability. Well, the girl draws things that the boy sees. I’m not even really sure how the three tie in together with the house, other than the fact that it was always owned by the art teacher’s family and a sordid secret later divulged in the book.

The book was written well enough. A few times the POV shifted to somebody who wasn’t currently narrating, which was slightly annoying. But other than that, it wasn’t a badly written book. It was just the fact that the plot was contrived and the characters didn’t elicit any real attachment from me. All in all, I’d say this book was dull, as the whole first half of it read like a pre-teen’s roleplay character history and the second half was actually somewhat rushed and didn’t quite make sense (to me, anyway). I wouldn’t recommend this book to anybody but previous Saul fans and people like my mother, who eat this sort of thing up.

Read more here!

Boys Night Out – Trainwreck

urlBoys Night Out is a Post-Hardcore/Screamo band from Canada. They haven’t been around in a while, but I just rediscovered them a short while ago.

Now, a few years ago, my brother and sister were obsessed with them, particularly the album Trainwreck. At the time, I was very resistant to any music with screaming in it–even the tasteful, emotional screaming you’ll find on this album. I actually remember sitting in my sister’s old Mercedes (backseat) while they sang loudly to this album. I was pretty annoyed–partly because I didn’t know the songs and partly because I really wasn’t into the screamo scene at the time.

Now, several years later, I’ve embraced this band wholeheartedly.

I downloaded their discography some time ago and have had it sitting on my computer for a while. I added songs “It Won’t Be Long” and “Hey, Thanks” to my favorites playlist and listened to them quite a bit, but I got to wondering about Trainwreck. Now, I haven’t listened to a hell of a lot of concept albums, but the ones I have listened to were, frankly, confusing and incoherent. My old favorite was Silverstein’s A Shipwreck in the Sand. If you’ve listened to it, you’ll know what I mean by confusing. I’m not even sure what story they’re trying to tell, especially since there seems to be two going on at once and I don’t understand how they connect. (If somebody does understand, feel free to let me know.)

Trainwreck came out in 2005 and is the band’s second full-length album after Make Yourself Sick. They released a couple of EPs before that, but I won’t get into that. It’s obviously been a while since this album has been out, but it still carries with it a haunting and gripping message.

The story is easy to follow: it’s the descent of a man into madness after the murder of his wife. However, it can be argued that the man was already a little nuts to begin with. Now, I know many music fans don’t like track by track reviews, but I personally prefer them, so that’s how I’ll format this review. Also, as an aside, I greatly encourage all listeners to lie down or sit and close your eyes and listen to this entire album in one sitting. It will enhance the impact of the story as you spiral into madness with the Patient. Pick and choose favorite tracks later, but for best results, listen to the entire album at once–you’ll get what I mean once you experience it.

(There’s a reason people call out for this album to be made into a musical–it would make a much better one than ABBA’s shit.)

Introducing is the album’s first track. It is, no surprise, the introduction to the story. It comes in the form of a recording made by the Doctor. He tells us about the Patient and what he did: he murdered his wife while they both slept. I like how real the Doctor sounds, he even clears his throat and pauses as he speaks of the Patient’s lack of appendages (later explained during the story line). One of my favorite lines come from this track: “It’s loneliness in its most crippling form, the kind that no amount of love or human contact could ever mend.” That line alone fills me with emotion, gives me the chills. What would it be like, to be that lonely? I don’t think any of us want to find out. The music starts with the chant: “The lines I wear around my wrist are there to prove that I exist.” This line is threaded throughout the album and is very poignant.

Dreaming is the second track. It details the Patient’s habitual nightmares, some of which are worse than others. On this particular night, his nightmares are at their worst. He is wrapped up in her–they are inseparable–and what starts out as making love becomes the Patient suffocating his wife. It is indicated that these nightmares have been reoccurring–he wakes shaking or worse–but this night is “worse”. Nightmare and reality are now inseparable–just as he and his wife once were, because this time he wakes to realize that “something’s not right.” He calls the ambulance. This song has a fast tempo and definitely follows the Patient through his nightmarish landscape. It starts off with a menacing tone and a shouting verse that romps through the details of his nightmare–and grows softer when he awakes to his wife no longer breathing.

Waking is the third track, in which the patient is slowly waking from the remnants of his nightmare and starting to realize that what happened in the nightmare really happened. Shaking, he begins to imagine what it must have been like, his lover’s last moments of life. He tears through the house, breaking bottles of her perfume against the walls. He breaks down into a catatonic state–numb–as the paramedics and police finally enter the home. Though this song is probably the most pop-styled song on the album, the bouncy riffs are reflecting his denial and disbelief with sad lyrics. “Make this a dream because I really can’t believe that she’s gone. I’m not here and this isn’t happening. I’ll wake up and she’ll be next to me.” The Patient is desperately hoping that this is just an extension of his previous nightmares, hoping that he’ll wake to find everything back to normal again. This song is one of the catchiest songs and one of my favorites.

Sentencing is the fourth track, where the Patient is taken to trial for his crimes. He knows that he committed murder and that he should be thrown into prison, but as he sits there, remote and unresponsive, he hears the defense pleading insanity. He can’t believe it; there’s irrefutable evidence that he committed this crime, but he’s going to be let off to go to a hospital just because he can’t accept this evil act as a part of his sentient will. He was asleep, after all. “Nothing makes sense anymore, when murder’s just a mistake that you have made.” This song starts off ghostly–reflecting his catatonic state–but quickly becomes another catchy pop-style song. This is also a favorite of mine. Try not to sing along with the part I quoted a few lines ago. 😉

Medicating is the fifth track, in which the Patient is prescribed medication by the Doctor and begins to act more normally. The Patient believes that the sterile environment of the hospital is only making him sicker, so he begins to beg the Doctor to let him go. He doesn’t deserve to be here, it’s obvious that he’s no threat at all. The Doctor finally concedes and allows the patient to go. This song starts out with a catchy start, but a wistful tone by the lead singer. You can really feel the patient’s longing to get out. The chorus is sung with a powerful conviction. The music is lilting and hopeful, and you want to believe–as the Doctor wants to believe–that the Patient is harmless and repentant. This was actually the first song on this album that I liked.

Purging, the sixth track (we’re halfway there), is where the Patient has been released back into society. The Patient is unable to get any real sleep, so he instead wanders into the kitchen and draws lines around his wrists. His guilt is consuming him from the inside, so he simply has to get rid of what caused his wife’s death. So he dresses and goes to work like normal, passing by his disbelieving co-workers and to his buzz-saw. Here, he cuts off his hands so that he’ll never kill again. The music at the beginning reflects his growing insanity with discordant music and the chaotic singing of bleak lyrics. However, it takes on a soft, dreamlike quality as he cuts off his hands. Then it goes back into violent screaming, a descent into pain and madness as he falls…

Relapsing is the seventh track, where the Patient is back inside the hospital, having relapsed back into madness. One of THE most beautiful songs on the track, this song makes my hair stand on end and gives me the chills and it makes me want to cry. The lilting sadness in the girl’s soft voice at the beginning, joined by the male’s tired, jaded voice just gets me every time. He wants her to be with him again so badly, yet he cruelly separated them with his own two hands, the hands he thought cutting off would somehow, some way, bring her back to him. (Fueled by the irrational thoughts of a mad man.) The Patient sadly confesses to the Doctor that he doesn’t know how it all happened, that it’s something that runs deeper than even he realized. However, he knows there is a song in his head that needs to be let out and he believes it’s her. If he can let it out, he can bring her back. Slowly, he grows convinced that the song is the key, not cutting off his hands. You can hear the conviction in his voice, he will bring that song about. Now he feels he has a purpose.

Recovering, the eighth track, details the Patient following his ordered regime by taking his pills–often times too many–and pretending to be all right by the Doctor’s standards so that he can get out again. This song is urgent and fast–the Patient has a goal and he can’t accomplish it until everybody thinks he’s normal again. He lies through his teeth, acts the part of a better man, knowing what he’s doing is wrong, but serene in his choice when he remembers the song that needs to be composed and shared so that his wife can come back. Near the end, the song goes back into insanity, discordant, slow, and violent–it’s obvious that the Patient isn’t well at all. This song has a catchy chorus and a rather shocking thought as we think about how easy it is for the insane to come back to society.

Composing is the ninth track (we’re almost to our grand finale!), is where the Patient is allowed out, and allowed visitors in his home. He invites friends and family to his home, where he poisons them, killing them in order to gain that dead audience that he needs to hear his song. This song starts with the slow, softly song line “It’s all about the song in my head, the one where the audience is all dead.” Then it quickly flies into a fast, optimistic song as the Patient gleefully awaits the fruition of the song; composing that song that he needs in order to see his wife again. There’s some controversy over this song. Some say that the band claims the events of Composing never actually happened, and only happened in his head, but I have yet to find an official source, just hearsay. So take it how you will. This song is chilling, nonetheless. It’s so hopeful and happy, but it’s such a grim realization that he feels he needs to kill in order to gain what he wants so badly. “Only through death our voices will join together.”

Disintegrating is the tenth track. As you can guess, this is where the Patient really breaks apart. This song starts out slow, but it quickly gains speed and desperation before mellowing again. The Patient feels her, smells her, but knows that they are forever separated and all because of him. Through an out-of-body experience, he says to his wife everything he would have said if he had been allowed to attend her funeral. Now he hears her, and she says to him “The Doctor has to go.” So when he comes back to himself, to his body, he decides that she’s right. The Doctor has to go. To fix everything, the Doctor has to go.

Healing is the eleventh track, where he realizes as he wakes up that the Doctor has to go. His nightmares, his wife, everything comes together and he feels that he’s finally hit on the true solution. He believes he’s about to taste what he’s been wanting all along, so he calls the Doctor to come to him so he can end his life, to finish the song, to end it all and finally, finally see his beloved wife yet again. This song is heavy, dark, and violent, filled with screaming. We know the Patient thinks he’s healing, but we know the reality; he’s fallen so far that he’s beyond rescue.

Dying is the final, chilling track on Trainwreck. It begins with the chaotic, broken, tired vocals and discordant music. We can feel the patient finally hitting the end, we can sense that he’s no longer with us and never will be. There’s an almost drunken quality to this part of the song, almost incoherent. Then the Doctor enters the building and narrates for us what’s happening. The Doctor regrets letting him out and observes a disgusting smell of rotten food and something worse (likely the dead friends and family, unless they were never killed). He smells the perfume that’s been splashed on the walls, sees the torn up home. The haunting melody of faint singing is heard behind his matter-of-fact narration, lending to the song a chilling quality that gives me goosebumps. The Patient is dying, bleeding from his mouth, nose, and ears, emaciated and smiling up at the Doctor. The Doctor observes that he’s whispering, and then realizes that the Patient is singing to him his final song, the one where he might meet his wife again, if only he had the strength and willpower to do what he called the Doctor for. “The lines I wear around my wrist are there to prove that I exist” is repeated and in the background, several different lines are repeated, chilling and melancholy beyond belief. This is the decaying mind and body of a man gripped by sadness and guilt and grief so great that he finally lost it and died. Softly, “We were inseparable” is spoken low and forlorn, so sad that it makes me cry. Dying is by far my favorite because it’s so gripping and emotional. A beautifully bitter end to a sad story.

So, over-all, Trainwreck is the best concept album I’ve ever listened to, and I encourage those of you who haven’t given it a chance to listen in. It’s a journey through a decaying mind, tortured and riddled with the guilt of his own sins. He never comes to grips with what he’s done and like real life tragedies, we never truly know why he did it.

A beautiful story if you enjoy sadness. Everybody should give this album at least one full listen-through. Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.

Buy the album on Amazon or iTunes!

Darker Than Black Review

There goes our hero.

Darker Than Black is a short 25 episode series (with a little OVA episode at the end, rounding it out to 26) about a mostly modern world with a very strange twist: due to an event 10 years ago, there is this enormous gate around Japan called Hell’s Gate. A matching gate called Heaven’s Gate resides in South America, where a terrible tragedy took place five years ago. That tragedy is believed to have killed many, taking a chunk of the world with it–but they really just don’t know what the hell is going on in there. In this world, people began to change. There are still normal human beings who make up the majority of the world, and these people have no idea what’s going on around them. Oh, they know about the Gates, and they’ve heard rumors, but that’s about it.

The warped people come in a few different classes. First off, there are the Contractors. These guys possess very rational minds and are said to be nothing but killing machines. They all have supernatural abilities, like teleportation, gravity nullification, and blowing shit up. But, in order to use these oh-so-awesome abilities, they have to pay a price! Now, some of these prices aren’t so bad. You’ve got this one chick who just has to kiss people. There’s another guy who has to eat hard boiled eggs, and yet another who must leave shoes standing upside down. But some of these people are stuck with really cruel prices; drinking children’s blood, breaking one’s own fingers, even eating something and having to regurgitate it back up. These prices are really very random and have very little to do with the skill; one character’s ability is ice-based but he has to smoke a cigarette as his price.

Darker Than Black starts out with some weird guy throwing people around with his mind. He’s being chased by this mysterious dude in a mask who happens to always be carrying wire with him and wears a bulletproof trenchcoat. So basically, he’s stylish and practical at the same time. Bad ass. Anyway, once the masked man catches up with Mr. Contractor, he spews some exposition stuff–“Where’s the girl and the stuff, man?“–and then kills the Contractor by placing his hand over his face and electrocuting him: telling us that he, too, is a Contractor. Whoa, a Contractor hunting Contractors?! WHAT? The scene transitions to a loser that we already know is Masked Man, as he moves into a crappy apartment building run by a cranky old woman. As he’s entering his apartment for the first time, the girl next door comes out and the old lady tries very obviously to push them together. However, it doesn’t really work, since the girl is totally apathetic and the guy, going by the name Lee, is acting like a bashful loser.

Well, we skip on over to our other main character, the Chief of Police, Kirihara. She’s got two hapless idiots on her team, and they’re hanging out a strip club called Club Pinky. There, they’re spending quality time with the lady next door to Lee! Dun dun dun! She’s all smiles and flirts, but when she gets up, she whispers something to the club owners. The owners come over, threatening to call the police since they’re allegedly harassing their girl, but one of them whips out his badge shouting, “We are the police!” Off they go to chase the girl down. She ends up running into our boy “Lee,” who is star-gazing. Here we learn the stars in the sky are “fake.” They actually represent the Contractors–every time a star falls, it signifies that a Contractor has died. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee come looking for the girl, but Lee acts fast and starts making out with her and the cops move on. Then the girl runs off, too, because she’s a total idiot.

After a series of Lee bumping into the girl “coincidentally,” we find out that he’s with an organization himself, and he’s looking for the same thing the cops and a group of Contractors are looking for. The girl has it: information. Lee gets duped, the girl turns out to be a fake, and Lee gets a tongue thrashing from his boss, of sorts, an old warty-faced man named Huang.

Most of the episodes deal with “Lee”–who is known as Hei amongst his group–taking odd jobs so he can watch a target, then move in and retrieve some item or piece of information. There’s a couple of episodes where he goes into the Pandorum research program and works as a janitor, hiding his own Contractor-like abilities for most of his stay. The spy aspect, with several organizations vying for the same objects or information, was seriously interesting and the characters were all entertaining. I especially loved the black kitty with the communicator/radio masking as a bell around his collar. And yep, he’s a Contractor, too.

I personally found the ability system to be quite intriguing. I loved learning the prices people had to pay for their abilities, and I loved the way the abilities worked. There’s one character whose price is to cut himself. It actually does tie in with his ability, too. In order to use his ability, he must splash blood on the surface of his choice, and then he snaps his finger and BOOM, that shit is gone. So yes, if you have a bit of his blood on your face, say goodbye to your face. One of my favorites was this kid who needed to touch the surface of the objects he wanted to blow up; it’s sort of the same as the blood guy, but a little different–and holy crap! This kid’s ability was much more destructive. Where blood guy’s ability only effected the area where the blood touched, the kid’s handprints only acted as a detonator. He could blow up entire buildings just by wiping his hand on a wall!

All in all, I’d say that Darker Than Black is definitely worth a watch. If you like spies, infiltration, various organizations, a dash of mystery, and the supernatural, it’s the anime for you. It’s a little gory, and pretty much half the cast goes missing or dead, but that’s what I liked about it; I’m getting tired of watching the heroes die and then come back to life through the salty, sentimental tears of children. I watched the English dub by Funimation and was quite impressed with the voice work. The old men sounded old, the young men sounded young, the girls like girls, the women like women, and the children like children (with the exception of one–I’m not a huge fan of women playing little boys). Although there was one old man on the police force who constantly sounded as if he was choking on baloney.

If you have the time and haven’t already watched it, I definitely recommend Darker Than Black.