House of Salt & Sorrow – A Gothic, Murder Mystery Romance Dances Through Our Head and Hearts.

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The House of Salt and Sorrows (HOSAS) pulls you in and holds you captive in this fascinating world of gods and gowns, family tableaux and kingdom politics, and flawed familial characters. The proud traditions of the island hemmed them in as much as the sea does especially when dealing with loss.

I’m probably not its “target audience.” I’m a 60-year-old guy who reads more sci-fi and fantasy than anything else. That’s not to say I have no love for stories based on the brothers Grimm, Gothic tales or murder mysteries, I’ve just never come across one that combines them all in a “Twilight Zone meets Dancing with the Stars” episode (OK that’s a bit of a stretch). I could not help but love Annaleigh, Fisher, Cassius and all of the crew. HOSAS is clever with solid writing, multidimensional characters and surprises around every corner. Its milieu is moody-gothic but also one built on logic. Annaleigh’s reason often lives in tension with her experiences.

Erin A Craig 2019 Photo by Cynthia Whipkey

Phrasing/wordsmith: Ms. Craig’s dialogue is crisp, evokes each character’s personality, position, and age while moving the story along nicely. There are some clever uses of various techniques to provide exposition, but they’re done in such a way that you’re never pulled out of the story; she definitely has a penchant for showing more than describing. The writing moves the story along with providing a sense of place and time while not drawing attention to itself. It is the vehicle for the narrative.

World building: In a literary world populated with endless riffs on old fairytales, fantasy and paranormal galore, as well as thrillers of every shape and size, Ms. Craig pulls a unique rabbit out of her literary hat. Highmoor and the Salann Islands are intriguing in themselves, even if they were placed just in our world simply as working coastal towns. In HOSAS, the gods walk among the people, but it is rare and effects little of the day-to-day interaction of those in Salann. It does however deeply affect the rituals of death and life as well as thought patterns, language and most directly, the decor at Highmoor.  She cleverly uses a different pantheon of gods then either the Greeks or the Romans. To have so much of her world of the novel grounded in the prosaic and every day provides sharp relief for when the gods become involved in the story. I also how the flaws of most of the characters as depth, albeit some have more imperfections than others. I don’t know if Erin Craig is from a family of many sisters, but the familial life of the Thaumases seems genuine and, initially, genuinely lovely. We will find out that not all is as it appears to be and even appearances aren’t perfect, but through the backdrop of tragedy, family members show how much they deeply care for one another. Annaleigh is the least self-focused and most caring among them and this will ultimately change the course of events for the better. Love does indeed win.

There’s just the right mix of the influence of the gods, with an almost paranormal/thriller feel to the story, to provide the twist of originality. All of this is intermixed with the different geopolitical areas of the world. We mainly live in the world of salty waves, but we travel to high mountains and hot deserts as well. These are all people of place which affect the gods they follow, and their daily life of dress talk and decoration. Arcannia is a kingdom among many. Within it, Salann consists of 5 islands across the Kaleic Sea. Selkirk is northeast and tied to fishing. Astrea is full of shops, markets & taverns and then there’s Salten, the island on which Highmoor (the manor house of the duchy) is located. Finally, Hesperus an island with an important lighthouse. Each island has only one town.

Character: All of these categories intertwine, especially in the due to how entwined characters are with their location. Annaleigh seems nearly perfect. The Triplets are eerily one, Camille, oldest and most self-focused sister is but not actually a terrible sister. Fisher, a family friend, now lighthouse apprentice and, overall good guy who, at first blush, seems to be the “nice guy” that never gets the girl. Alas. Both Annaleigh and Camille had crushes on him when young.  Cassius is a good-looking mysterious guy for whom Annaleigh falls but is more than he seems. The Duke Ortun appears to be good Dad except for hints of an ugly (and arrogant) side. Rounding out the family circle it the new bride, Lysbette, a mysterious figure herself. As their backstories unravel through the tale, their relationships become more complex.

Narrative – I was totally caught up I HOSAS. Let me put it this way. I have access to Netflix, Prime Video, Spotify and all the local movies I could desire, yet I spent all my free time with The House of Salt and Sorrows. As I break down various parts of the story, I don’t fully do justice to the whole.This clever murder mystery embedded in a fantastical moody world with (mostly) full-bodied characters relating to one another in interesting ways wrapped in spot-on writing while creating something new and original brings is the alchemical bond of the novel that sparks magic. The pacing is nearly perfect with enough movement to keep you holding on and enough space to build characters and evoke its own special mood. It really is fabulous.

I went between the Kindle and Audible versions of HOSAS often listening to Emily Lawrence’s fine narration. Her pacing and annunciation throughout the story was spot on and her voice embodied Annaleigh whilst clearly demarking each character she took on.

Emily Lawrence

Phrasing: 4/5

World Building:  5/5

Character:  4.5/5

Narrative: 4.5/5

A Little Book Music (section wherein I recommend some background music to read by)

  • “Wreak of the Umbria” by Jakub Ciupinski performed by Anne Akiko Myers on Mirror in Mirror (Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Kristjan Järvi). In fact, go for the whole album.
  • Pretty much the entire soundtrack to Macbeth by Jed Kurzel
  • “La Sonnambula” (sleep walking) – try the Pavarotti version with Sutherland
  • “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” as well as the rest of the dance music from Tchaiikovsky: The Nutcracker – Simon Rattle conducts the Berlin Philharmonic
  • Die Fledermaus (“the Bat”) especially the Overture – NDR Radiophilharmonia, Lawerence Fosters conducts
  • “Six Bells Chime”, “Adventure” & “Goddess” – Crime & City Solution
  • Nightbook – Ludovico Einaudi

Spoiler alert section

Over time, it becomes clear that a goddess is messing with their view of reality. This goddess is inside their heads making them have experiences and see things that simply aren’t there. Leading them for her own ends, she relishes and enjoys their destruction. It’s very easy to lose an audience, especially me, when you mess with the protagonist’s ability to discern true from false. This especially causes difficulties when lots of the dialog is first person narrative. If you do it too much, the reader becomes un-invested in what’s happening because they no longer can trust that if they feel sorrow, it’s based on truly sad circumstances. Similarly, elation at saving someone may not, in fact, be saving anyone. You tend to simply shut off the connection because you’re not sure ever if your connection is to what’s genuinely happening in the story. Ms. Craig rides that fine line like a surfer holding on to a high wave. She’s able to morph the reality so that we join in and feel the sheer frustration and panic of not knowing what’s real while at the same time containing that that part of the storyline enough so that the frustration does not build to the reading experience. That balancing act was somewhat genius.

There are some logistical difficulties. Lysbette is already married to Ortun before he knows about having a child, but part of the reason she enters into the bargain is to have a child so he will have to marry her. Unless of course she lied to Annaleigh when she said he didn’t know and he acted as if he didn’t know. Their ravishing Morella together and causing her to have boys at the same time from two different fathers is a little bit weird and unlikely in our normal world. Also, it strikes me as a little challenging to get Ortun to be willing to join in the festivities with another although he apparently gave into his baser instincts much more readily than we would’ve thought at the beginning of the book. In both these cases, I think there’s plausible explanations you can put forward but they’re not ideal. Does this ruin the story for me? By no means. It remains a fabulous story.

Tracking Fitness for Non-Runners

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Running may be hard to do, but it’s easy to track. If you run for fitness, nearly any fitness tracker and fitness app will do. An exception is if you do high-intensity intervals, in which case you’ll need a chest heart rate monitor to capture your heart rate accurately. (Did you knw that optical heart rater monitor such as those in Fitbit basically evaluate the change in blood flow to determine heart rate? For more see: How wearable heart-rate monitors work, and which is best for you) However, any fitness app that can work with a chest-strap monitor will work well. If you cycle or swim, you’re pretty well covered as well. If, however, you do things where distance doesn’t play a role, such as using an indoor rowing machine or a circuit workout, it becomes much dicier to track your results and get actionable insights into your workouts. At least this is true for me, post-Microsoft Band 2; it’s true even though I simply work out for fitness. I’m not a competitive athlete or in pursuit of some killer goal of participating in an Ironman triathlon. I’m just a regular Joe trying to fight the long battle with gravity.

I loved the Band 2. It tracked everything I needed it to with no fuss. It provided insights into workouts (improving vs. maintaining) and sleep. It provided great workouts with ease. It just didn’t survive embedding some of the electronics into the band itself (as opposed to just in the central unit). (See more about the Band here and how it helped me drop over 50 lbs and become fitter). Alas, it is no more (Microsoft discontinued it), and mine recently died.

I already have an LG Urbane Wear OS watch that easily ties in with Google’s Fit app (I bought while dealing with a warranty replacement for the Band 2). I like the watch and the OS is fine (especially with the most recent update), but I don’t love either. The heart monitor on the Urbane is meh; it can be spot on and way off.  Its battery life is meh. Its performance can be mixed. Usually, it’s fine, but frequently enough it locks up or is sluggish. The last thing you want in the midst of a workout is capricious undependability of your fitness tech. Google Fit does an OK job at tracking workouts, but it doesn’t directly connect to an external chest-strap heart rate monitor and I don’t think any Wear OS watch has a great optical sensor. Also, the data is just OK and the insights are slight (surprising from Google who is usually so good about data; maybe they don’t bother because they haven’t figured out a good way to monetize it).

So, I figured I would try FitBit’s Charge 3 since I didn’t need much in the way of smart features (already have those on the LG Urbane) and I wasn’t willing to crank out the money for a Garmin Fenix. I really like the FitBit app and the insights it provides. It’s very well laid out. However, it doesn’t natively track rowing machine workouts or do a good job with the Freeletics-based). The device has an amazing battery life, can be used while swimming and the device does all that I need. Its heart rate monitor is quite good, but no optical heart rate monitor is going to be spot on with the kinds of workouts I do. Happily enough, my son no longer uses his Runtastic chest-strap monitor, so I was good there for awhile; eventually it died and now use Polar’s H7 Bluetooth Heart Monitor). The FitBit Charge 3 and its app get me to about 70% of what I need; combining them with the chest strap monitor pushes me to about 80%. However, I still need to track the workouts I actually do. Endomondo comes to the rescue. It can hook in with the chest-strap monitor (with the premium edition), handle every different type of exercise (including mine) and does a fabulous job of storing and displaying raw data. Presenting actionable insights based on that data? Not so much. It’s “Weekly Insights” amounts to summarized raw data. It’s nice to know I burned 3303 kcal’s this week. Is that good? More or less than average? You get the drift.) However, the FitBit app does a nice job of doing so, albeit it at a high-level (and it integrates with Endomondo).

Finally, I still use Lifesum to help manage the nutrition side of things. It provides recipes and tracks incoming calories against calories burned which is determined through Endomondo; it also hooks into FitBit but then I would be double-counting).   

Now Endomondo has the ability to track calories, but Lifesum does so much more readily. Freeletics has a nutrition app to provide receipes but doesn’t make it easy to count calories. Fitbit has a coaching app, but I never evaluated that since Freeletics emphasizes using your body as your main fitness equipment. So, there are other possible combos of these tools, but it’s really challenging to find an app that does it all especially if you don’t run as your main workout.

So, yes, I use 4 apps: Freeletics (tells me what to do), FitBit (tells me how I’m doing overall), Endomondo (tied into my heart-rate monitor and tracks my exercise), and Lifesum (tracks my nutrition, including calorie count and burn (from Endomondo) and suggest recipes); I combine these with 2 devices (FitBit Charge 3, Polar Chest-strap Heart Rate monitor) to manage staying fit. (I guess I shouldn’t leave out my Galaxy S10 since it’s the platform all the other apps and equipment use to communicate.) They synch well with one another and allow me to see when I’m improving or, if indeed, the workout was that hard or was I mearly being a whimp. While this is way more convoluted than I thought it would be, it works.

Coach-led Training: Person (Camp Gladiator) vs. A.I. (Freeletics)

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I’ve previously posted (here, here, and here) about becoming more fit and losing weight. A couple of years ago, I reached my weight goal. Since then I’ve done the same kind of exercises and very similar eating for the last couple of years. I think two things that happened: one is I given in more often to those moments when I allow myself to go over what I know I should eat (especially on any ”special occasion” and there are many of these). The other is I’ve allowed myself to do a bit more drinking than in the past. All of this is to say that while I’ve essentially maintained the same weight the last few years, I started creeping up a bit towards the end of 2018. So, It seems I needed to shake up my complacent routine once 2019 came around. That meant two things: tweaking down what I eat and drink with a focus maintaining good habits in those “special occasions” and mix up my workouts. (This isn’t to say that I’m adopting an ascetic lifestyle or becoming a gym rat, but simply using more disciplined moderation and venturing in new fitness directions.) The above-referenced workout routine that I’ve been stuck on is using rowing machine three days a week and then a mixed circuit training/dumbbell workout for two days a week. I do not have formal exercise on the weekends; typically, my movement usually comes through chores and walking the dog on weekends.  

I had to get out of my comfort zone of doing that with which I was familiar. Through some connections at my work, I decided to try Camp Gladiator. At least in the Triangle area (Raleigh, Cary & Durham), they have a bunch of sites (churches, parks) and schedule where you can join others in a guided work outs, typically requiring only some dumbbells, a mat, and some blood, sweat, and tears (just kidding on the blood and tears part). They are an absolutely fabulous group of people. The coaches are spot on and helpful. The other participants are some of the nicest people I’ve met, and everybody is very welcoming. One of the great things about this group is that nobody is made to feel second-class because they’re not super fit already. So when we do exercises, some do less strenuous variants of them, while others do a more strenuous version. Also, those who are fitter will typically do more reps during the same duration. Enthusiastic encouragement is rampant and shared equally amongst the participants, even to someone like me, who is a good deal older than the average camper. People are very polite and nice to one another. The coaches are jazzed (hey Zach and Karah) and dedicated to what they’re doing. For having a scheduled, location-based program, it couldn’t be any more convenient (at least in our area). There are lots of different times available with close by sites. It is about as easy as it can be to have in-person, instructor-led classes. I’ll say this again later, but if you’re the kind of person that either gets jazzed by being with others during your workout, needs the accountability coaches and a group offer or needs in-person, hands-on guidance, Camp Gladiator is a fabulous way to go. If you commit to six months to a couple of years, they’re pretty reasonable, while month-to-month is a little bit steep. 

However, I was used to the convenience of being able to work out in the gym at work on my schedule. I could walk down two flights of stairs, jump in for a focused half hour, be done and home. (I’m probably the least social creature in the gym – in and out is my focus). So, I have this big advantage to a convenient, free gym (we love you Builders Mutual) done on my schedule and within a short, focused time. I could get in a reasonable workout with 45 minutes maybe an hour for all of it – changing, “travel time” and cooling down afterward. Camp Gladiator has a warm-up, core exercise, and cool down activities, so they take a full hour. Now you’ve added travel time, as well as the typical recovery and changing and you’re looking at 1 ½ hours – not bad, just a bit more. I also have to fit their admittedly flexible schedule. Not a huge deal but just a bit less convenient.  

A couple of my quirks are that 1) I actually prefer working out alone (I don’t require the accountability to keep going) and 2) despite the niceness of everyone, I’m always going to go for the all-out version of the exercise which makes the Camp Gladiator sessions lean towards a little more intense than I prefer to keep up day-to-day, at least in the short term. Finally, I don’t have good visual memory – in other words, I don’t quickly pick up on an exercise move by watching it quickly once. While the coaches were helpful and patient, I initially messed up on some aspect of an exercise but improved with their guidance.  

Now that I knew that I had a great option in Camp Gladiator, I’d try one more thing. Several companies are using AI to provide a guided workout experience through an app. Freeletics is probably at the forefront of those, and I decided to give it a try. It had a few advantages over Camp Gladiator. First, I could do it on my own, on my own schedule, and it doesn’t require lots of equipment (which Camp Gladiator didn’t either). Part of the great thing about Freeletics is it will largely use your own body to do the workouts. There are some additional pieces of equipment that are nice, especially for strength training, but even those are minimal like a bar. So basically, with my mat and my phone, I’m ready to work out. Another benefit is that I can do this from home. If I happen to be taking a day off but am staying in town, I used to come into work to do my workouts (or, occasionally, end up skipping it). Now, I can unroll my mat at home and I’m good to go.  

Both Freletics and Camp Gladiator would allow me to break up my routine and do some new things. Freeletics provides coach-based recommendations for the week that I can then follow. And while there is a finite range of the kinds of workouts that it schedules, it’s more than enough variety for me. Camp Gladiator seems to have a larger repertoire, but Freeletics variation is currently working for me. Moreover, Freeletics periodically update their app with new workouts. It builds in a warm-up and cooldown stretching and other activities (similar to those provided by Camp Gladiator).  

One of the cool things Freeletics does is provide a video for every move that it includes any workout. Those videos are expertly done with clear visuals to the point where it’s super easy to follow. They show the exercise at a moderate pace, then slow it down while highlight ways in which you want to follow it. These directions are things like – fully extend your knees, keep your feet together and will show at the end the alignment of your body. When I used the Microsoft band, it too had videos, but these are even better. They take it to the next level and demonstrate every single move. They also provide alternate instructions if you’re not yet able to fully follow the exercise.  Freeletics also integrates nicely with Spotify (and they even have their own pumping playlists).

To assess where to start you, you answer a couple of questions on your current exercise level.  I started out probably a little bit easier than I should’ve, but you provide feedback to the AI coach on each exercise set and, trust me, they will ramp up the exercise to match your level. Just when I think I know the pattern for the week’s exercises, Freeletics throws me off and mixes it up. Nicely played Freeletics. I’m also using their nutrition app and have made a number of those meals. They’ve been great, some excellent and they’re relatively straightforward to cook. Since I already use Lifesum to count calories (I hate counting calories) which provides recipes designed for you, the nutrition piece, while nice, doesn’t make sense for me to continue.

Freeletics has reenergized my work out, made it fresh, and allowed me to get many of the benefits that I got out of Camp Gladiator, but in my schedule at my pace. If I were to have stayed in Camp Gladiator, I suspect I would have pushed myself a bit more and might be a bit fitter now. The point for me, however, is a healthy overall lifestyle with sustainable fitness. I’m not trying to ramp up for a particular event. The convenience and timing of Freeletics make sustainability just a bit more likely. The reduced cost doesn’t hurt either. Roughly a year of Freeletics + Nutrition is equivalent to a month of Camp Gladiator (paid month-to-month); to put it another a year subscription to Freeletics alone (no Nutrition) is equivalent to 1 ½ months of Camp Gladiator on the 2-year plan.  

If you’re the type person that needs the accountability of others, is energized by being with other people, or needs a more personalized touch, I would highly recommend Camp Gladiator. I think it’s worth the cost. Especially in this time of near epidemic-levels of loneliness in our contemporary society, Camp Gladiator may be just the excuse you need to connect with more people helping you become mentally and physically healthier. They have great people, great coaches, good work out, and about as convenient as any in-person class will be. The coaches also do a nice job of helping you execute the exercises correctly. If you are a taciturn, old-curmudgeon like myself, or even a gregarious person who prefers the convenience, Freeletics is a great way to have the benefit of a guide-workout at your own pace guided by an AI Coach that learns new ways to cause you pain.

Tim Pratt’s The Dreaming Stars Shines

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When describing a new book (OK, not that new, it dropped in September 2018) from an author you may not know, it’s often tempting to compare it to existing works in a mashup. I will lapse into that weak expedient – the Axiom series is a like a Firefly crew with the big, bad Alliance replaced by the secretive Axiom super-race spiced it up with an alien and augmented humans, and has the fate of the universe resting on the capable and endearing shoulders of Callie and her crew. [Full disclosure: I received a copy of The Dreaming Stars from Netgalley for an honest review].

Paul Scott Canavan’s lovely cover

The Dreaming Stars, book 2 of the Axiom series, takes all that we love about The Wrong Stars (read this first, if you haven’t already) and builds on it. All of the core characters are well developed and mostly likable so that you quickly come to care for them. The relationships seem organic and genuine, both those that are friendly and those that are less so. The world building is spot-on. Rather than populating the world with a thousand of planets full of humans and aliens, the Axiom series starts with a focus mostly on our solar system with politics dominated by Earth, the Jovian system and outer system (Uranus and vicinity) and one set of aliens with whom we have come into contact. While The Dreaming Stars expands that focus, it still is a relatively narrow one of a planet near a bridge (think artificial worm hole). This, too, seems like a natural organic progression to the stars. Tim Pratt’s dialog is crisp, sometimes snarky and evokes the perfect tone for the crew. One note: be prepared for a future where sexuality is quite fluid.

Tim Pratt

Mr. Pratt is adept at building out his characters, relationships and world through the storyline; he rarely falls back on mere exposition but drives the elements through the narrative nearly always showing us rather than telling us. He combines these intriguing characters and his intriguing world with a constantly moving and a clever storyline full of battles of wits, puzzles, subterfuge and an old fashioned mass uprising.  I highly recommend Mr. Pratt’s The Dreaming Stars.

World: 4.5

Story: 4.5

Characters: 4

Relationships: 4

Reflections on Anne Akiko Meyers’ Mirror in Mirror

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I was introduced to Anne Akiko Meyers back in 2012 when Air the Bach album released. I remember being pierced through by the first note and mesmerized by the entire album. This is a very different album, but equally mesmerizing. It is contemporary music (except for Maurice Ravel, who is still a 20th-century composer). While the music certainly challenges our typical listening habits, especially Wreck of the Umbria, this is some of the most accessible contemporary orchestral music around. It’s also some of the most beautiful.

You know going into one of Ms. Myers albums, you are going to get technically accurate and passionately played music; while it’s a serious effort on her part (as well as all those involved in the recording), it’s a given on our part that is going to be good. Her playing is lyrical, abrupt, stark, light, quiet, ethereal and lending itself to tell a story. In other words, she is the perfect interpretive vessel for these composers on Mirror in Mirror. So I thought I would place a more personal take on this review focusing more on how the journey through the album impacted me as I listened to it. While your reaction will likely be different, I hope this approach gives you a sense of the album.

The first piece, Metamorphosis II, is composed by Philip Glass. While I confess I’m not a huge Philip Glass fan, he may have won me over with this piece. While this doesn’t have a hauntingly piercing note from the start, it does have hauntingly piercing phrasing throughout. When I first started listening to it, I just rolled my eyes because it was so good. It simply took hold of me and swept me through the entire movement. The simplicity of the piano undertone highlights the violin’s runs. This, like most of the pieces on this album, has a narrative quality to it. It would be unsurprising to see it incorporated as part of a soundtrack. Some might think I’m dissin’ it as “background‘ music; rather I’m simply highlighting the almost story-like arc we ride through as we listen.

Arvo Part’s Frates strikes with intensity, coming at you a little off kilter in the beginning. The notes seem just outside of what’s expected even as it builds its edgy dissonance; it leads to a pool of serenity. We’re left in quiet and stately reflections and period, lyrical release.

Spiegel im Spiegel (translate – Mirror in Mirror) is simply lovely. Whereas Frates resolves to a driven, focused, quiet reflection, Speigel im Spiegel provides a wandering serene river of sound to guide us into a moment of reflection. The simple piano notes providing the constant undercurrent to the violin’s melody keeps this piece moving and avoids becoming lost in a phrase of string here and there. Of course to present such a pure and unadorned sound take maturity and practice as much as the fancy finger work of a complicated Bach rondo (CPE or JS).

Tzigane contrasts once again in an intense, directed focus using the solo violin for the first half to provide a stark simplicity to the sound. In the second half of the piece, the music of the luthéal provides a jarring contrast to the violin, then the roles reverse. The intensity reminds me of diamonds on a black velvet cloth under intense light. It’s stark but not barren.

We now return to a more lyrical and light piece. Ms. Meyers first album release for Lullaby for Natalie was The American Masters (see review). As I indicated then, don’t be fooled by the clean, lush and light performance of this piece. Listen carefully to the story as she walks us sonically through each phase of nestling in, settling in and drifting off to sleep. The very simplicity and progression could so easily come off sloppy and dull. Instead, each part of the progression is beautifully portrayed. Sometimes I think we’ve come to associate anything that is pleasant to listen as lacking depth. At least for me, sonic beauty is OK.

Edo Lullaby is a completely different story. I almost feel I’ve walked into the opening soundtrack of a dystopian SciFi thriller and, yet, this is an arrangement of a traditional Japanese lullaby.  It draws you in with an ethereal air of light, electronic bells and plucked strings and has a haunting allure to my Western ears, and would induce little sleep.

Now we come to Wreck of Umbria. What a marvelous story this piece presents. One moment you’re sailing along fine, albeit in somewhat dangerous, mirky and foggy waters and the next you’re dashed upon rocks and sinking. Seriously, when you finally come to the grating sound of bow upon string of the creaking timbers of the ship going down, the song has already taken you on a journey. At first blush, this seems the least accessible piece on the album, however as you listen to its story, it is, in many ways, the most impactful.

Finally, the lush and reflective O Magnum Mysterium ending the album with the most readily accessible piece that brings classical lush beauty with a contemporary sound. All of these pieces seem to tell a story; this one takes us on a contemplative journey into a sacred mystery.

Works on This Recording (courtesy of Arkivmusic.com)

  1. Metamorphoses (5): no 2 by Philip Glass 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Akira Eguchi (Piano)
    Period: 20th Century
    Written: 1988; USA
  2. Fratres by Arvo Pärt 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Akira Eguchi (Piano)
    Period: 20th Century
    Written: 1977-1980; Estonia
  3. Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Akira Eguchi (Piano)
    Period: 20th Century
    Written: 1978; USSR
  4. Tzigane for Violin and Orchestra by Maurice Ravel 
    Performer:  Elizabeth Pridgen (Piano), Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Jakub Ciupiński (Lutheal)
    Period: 20th Century
    Written: 1924; France
  5. Lullaby for Natalie by John Corigliano 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Akira Eguchi (Piano)
    Period: 20th Century
    Written: United States
  6. Edo Lullaby by Jakub Ciupiński 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Jakub Ciupiński (Electronics)
    Period: Contemporary
    Written: United States
  7. Wreck of the Umbria by Jakub Ciupiński 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin), Jakub Ciupiński (Lutheal)
    Period: Contemporary
    Written: United States
  8. O magnum mysterium by Morten Lauridsen 
    Performer:  Anne Akiko Meyers (Violin)
    Conductor:  Kristjan Järvi
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
    Period: 20th Century
    Written: 1994; USA

Chris Felcyn’s (WRCJ) interview Anne Akiko Meyers on Mirror in Mirror: https://soundcloud.com/wrcj909fmhd1/anne-akiko-meyers-august-30-2018

Kokoro Reviewed: Japanese Mythology meets Steampunk Travel

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Kokoro is the second of the Kojiki series. As a bit of background, Kojiki provides an interesting dive into a Japanese-flavored mythology that mixes current times with ancient gods and their guardians. (Note: in this review, there’ll be spoilers regarding Kojiki, but not Kokoro.) Keiko Yamanaka was led to follow a vague trail left by her father upon his death. This led to Tokyo and a gateway into the land of gods (Kami), guardians and epic struggles. While Keiko struggles with this new world, her new found friend, Yui Akiko, must find her place in it as more than just the daughter of a powerful Kami. Of course, all of this is tied to love, loss, babies, and power. (What else matters when you’re immortal?)

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Kokoro takes this a step further in the aftermath of the events of Kojiki where we journey to a new world, Higo. One interesting aspect of Higo is that the inhabitants originally met with their creator god and knew their own (partial) origin story, albeit through the haze of time and corrupted mythology. This knowledge colored all of the relations between the priesthood class, the Royal class, and the people. For the priesthood class, they don’t simply look through a glass darkly, they look through a smoke-smudged and besmeared pane of barely visible glass. Their own ambitions in the rivalry with the king as well as the limited knowledge they actually have of their origin, move them to build their own origin story. Some would say this is a bit like earth. I would disagree, but it does make for an interesting dynamic. [Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of Kokoro on Netgalley whereas I bought Kojiki on my dime. On a separate note, I read this book a long time ago but have had to take a long hiatus of book reviews. I’m glad to have finally had an opportunity to write this one.]

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While Kojiki focused on a sort of war of the gods and prevention of a second war, Kokoro focuses on the inhabitants of that world in the politics thereof. God’s will play a role but not nearly as fundamental a role as they have with Kojiki. While both novels take place in contemporary times, so much of the novel is taken up in either the god’s world which is semi-timeless or Kokoro’s world, Higo, where there technologies of a wholly different sort. Unless you’re back on earth, you feel like you’re in a whole other time for much of the novel.

World building: In Kojiki, Keith Yatsuhashi creates a detailed, richly conceived world loosely based on Japanese mythology taking the formal elements as its basis. Mr. Yatsuhashi does a great job weaving modern day earth with these elements and its history as well as describing the physicality of the world of Kojiki. While given a contemporary setting, like Kojiki, the time period plays less of a role in Kokoro since most of it takes place on Higo (the alternate world/planet created by Roarke, the Earth god, not the former Japanese province.) which has alternate technology and culture which combine to give a steampunk feel with fantasy overtones. Not only does he build a great planet, allowing its many features to unfold over time rather than skipping off to some long exposition, his political milieu, alternate semi-steampunk like technology and interesting mythology add depth and meat to the story.

Characters: In Kojiki, Kami and their guardians each have their unique personalities. While the guardians are bound to serve the Kami, these are no sycophant doormats. Some have a bit more sass than others, but they are certainly individuals with their own drive and focus. The different Kami, with their separate abilities and focus, provide for nice variation among the pantheon of gods. There’s also some good complexity amongst the relationships with each other and their unique skill sets. Adding to that complex richness is the set of rules that govern the Kami and their guardians. For example, no Kami ought to attack another’s guardian. There should be a one-to-one correlation between Kami and guardian. In Kojiki, Vissyus is a delightfully tragic figure whose descent into madness bears the mark of unrequited love and unbridled ego. In Kokoro, the ache Roarke has for his late love is palpable and flavors all aspects of Higo. As a more human story with both antiheroes and conflicted villains, the characters are well fleshed out. While they could be layered with more complexity, they’re certainly multidimensional and interesting. For me, the key becomes, at least for the protagonist, do I care about him or her? Am I invested in these characters in the story? And here I’d say yes. While I’m not totally sympathetic to the protagonist, Baiyren, he did get me to care. I particularly liked the way Keiko morphed and grew in the story.

Narrative: This story provides plenty of curves, pulls you in with additional interests and moves forward at a brisk pace. While there is plenty of time taken to develop the characters and the world, none of it slows the overall story down. And while some of it is fairly straightforward and relatively easily guessed, there are plenty of curveballs as well.

Word Craft: Mr. Yatsuhashi wordsmithing works and it works well. While this isn’t a book that mesmerizes you through the choice of phrasing, it fits the story. The dialogue pacing, description of the world, and the way in which it all hangs together really work well to build the story. They are well-honed tools to build the narrative.

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Keith Yatsuhashi

I highly recommend Kokoro for your reading pleasure. As a series, it strikes the perfect balance of some character carry-over and development within the construct of the overall mythology whilst furrowing new ground in Higo. Angry Robot Books have never let me down in publishing choices and that remains true with this series. (They also have the best book covers as the above gives evidence. Visual Signs Part 1 for more examples.)

Signia Pure 13 Nx – Pure Tech to Make Sounds Natural

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Recently I had an opportunity to be fitted with Signia’s Pure 13 Nx hearing aids thanks to the help of Ron McVeigh at Nutech Health and Hearing and Signia’s Bridget Covey. Those that follow this blog know that I previously used Signia Pure Primax 5’s as my first foray into hearing aids. That experience was both eye-opening and very positive. It brought clarity to conversations and a broader range of detail to music at reasonable volumes. (For more on my initial experience as well as more details on the importance of getting your hearing checked, see here ) So, what’s new with the Pure 13 Nx? Quite a bit actually. The main new feature presented in the Nx series is what Signia is calling Own Voice Processing (OVP). It will be helpful to step back before I try to describe the problem they’re solving. Have you ever heard your voice recorded? Typically, it sounds like a slightly higher pitched you. When you hear your voice without any hearing aid, you hear it through the resonating cavities of your bone structure which typically presents it at a lower pitch, especially for men. So imagine that higher-pitched you being magnified in your ears through hearing aid mics. Now you’ll recognize the problem they’re solving: your voice sounds artificially high and loud to you in conversation (and usually with a bit of echo). It’s as if you were listening to yourself recorded in a cave. To reduce this artificial sound of your voice, people would turn down the volume of the mics, but that also reduced your ability to hear others. So, Signia built in the ability to essentially detect and filter your own voice without having to suppress the sound of other voices. In other words, your own voice is filtered down to a natural level while continuing to elevate other voices in the conversation so that you can hear them better and with less strain. Signia, ironically, packs a ton of high tech into the device so you hear your conversations (especially your part in them) as completely natural as if you had no need of hearing aids and weren’t wearing any.  But then that’s the ultimate goal, isn’t it? Hearing at its best where the technology vanishes into the background.This would be called a nontrivial upgrade. So if you tried hearing aids (or were afraid to try hearing aids) because of things sounding “weird”, you ought to give these a try.

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Courtesy SigniaUSA.com

My own experience of OVP is that it essentially eliminates any artificial flavor to the sound of your own voice. That echoey nature of your own voice vanishes. Moreover, with the directional nature of the mics, your overall perception of sound direction seems enhanced. Note: the artificialness of your voice is mitigated immediately but, over time, essentially vanishes. The hearing aids learn your sound more over time and your voice sounds completely natural after a week or so (except under some profiles like “Recorded Music” where that processing is turned off; I’ll dive into that later).

[Full disclosure: Signia has supplied Pure 13 Nx, StreamLine TV and StreamLine Mic for review. While this does influence what I review, I do not believe it influenced my evaluation.]

There are other additional features as well. The app, now called myControl, has many more features including the ability to control the tinnitus therapy signal in the Universal program, better management of automatic spatial configuration, the ability to capture sound exposure data, the ability to change programs and mic direction based on motion and a much smaller StreamLine Mic (compared to EasyTec) for Android users (Apple phone users don’t require it). Along with new features, they also fixed some nagging inconveniences, foremost among which is the ability to change profiles (programs) without having to detach from a Bluetooth or headphone connection. So much easier!

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The myControl app works well, overall, with my LG V30 Android phone. Switching and staying between programs works really well. I don’t have any issues with it dynamically switching programs on me or switching out of a spatial configuration after some period of time (e.g., I have the mics pointing forward, then after some time they used just revert to the default setting). Roughly once a day during very heavy use (especially during this review period), it crashes and restarts, but everything works well. Finally, sometimes it’s slow to initially bring up the app, but now I’m nit-picking. I will say that this app shows Signia’s dedication to improvement. There are lots of fixes and features tied into the app such as reviewing your sonic history:

 

 

 

 

I’ve also had an opportunity to use the StreamLine TV. I can’t imagine how amazing this would be for somebody who has a severe hearing loss. Even for myself, who has a relatively moderate hearing loss, it simply sounds great. Certainly, movie or TV sounds fabulously crisp and clear with no need to crank up the volume. With my preferred ear domes, you don’t get a ton of bass (explosions or cannons won’t have the oomph you might expect) but Signia even has an answer for that: double closed domes. For me, they’re a bit too warm of a sound signature, so I’ll settle for a less strong bass. Listening to music via CDs or Blu-ray is great.

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Courtesy SigniaUSA.com

So let me dive into the music aspect. I love music. In fact, my initial desire for hearing aids was the fact that my upper register (and some lower register) sound had significantly diminished and to mitigate my tinnitus through the tinnitus therapy signal. I would have to crank the sound to harmful levels to hear some detail. It turns out, as my wife and children have been telling me, my ability to hear conversation was degraded as well. So, I was pretty excited to test out music heard directly through the hearing aids. What an experience! The spatial awareness, as well as the clarity and detail of music, is simply amazing. I listened to Diana Krall’s Turn Up the Quiet, Itzhak Pearlman’s Concert in Moscow which includes a Tchaikovsky piece and Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Take Five. In each case, the detail, clarity, and richness of the mids and treble are fabulous. Moreover, the range of StreamLine TV is just sick. I was listening downstairs in my den, had to a go do something, walked upstairs into the master bedroom and there was no a hesitation, let alone a break, in the sound. It was not until I walked outside the house, opened up my car, and started to get inside to grab something, that the signal was finally breaking up. So, it easily goes through walls, floors, and some pretty serious distance without missing a beat. The only problem you have is people start talking to you because they don’t realize you’re listening to anything and you have to pause what you’re doing and have them repeat again. But the sound is spellbinding. I was talking to a colleague of mine about this and I saw his eyes light up. He has a close relative who cranks the TV up to the point where it’s painful for him to go visit when the TV’s on. He really wants to get his relative into StreamLine TV.

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My LG V30 hanging out with my aids and StreamLine Mic

I’ve also had an opportunity to use the StreamLine Mic. This allows streaming to the hearing aids for Android phones (it’s native to iPhones). That means music, phone calls, Audible audiobooks and podcasts all can go directly into your ears. The sound is the same quality as the StreamLine TV. That is, astonishingly good for the mids and treble with subtle bass (again, unless you switch to double closed domes). To me, this is a game changer and one that I can see being adopted in the future in a more mainstream manner, even for those who don’t have hearing loss. This is not quite the future of implants, but close. I can be anywhere, without any bulky, separate headphones and listen to tunes or my favorite book.

Finally, a separate note on channel separation. I listened to a few binaural recordings, that is, where the recording mics are placed in, essentially, a mannequin’s ears so that it is recorded exactly how a human would hear it live. This provides the ultimate in stereo separation. For example, I listened to David Chesky’s Primal Scream: Jazz in the New Harmonic (a binaural recording). Words fail me. The channel separation is stunning. The placement of the drums in, for example, left rear while the sax is jamming in the right front is amazing. It really is as if I’m in the middle of the studio with the band around me going at it. While I listen mostly to jazz and classical, I love all genres. When I need a bit more thump, I pull out my Grado SR125e’s which are an open-backed headphone with a flat on-ear cushion that works well with my hearing aids and their mics.

One of the brilliant things the Signia Nx does is adjust the mic volume automatically based on environmental noise. For example, I was out on a walk with my dog, listening to Amor Towles’ audiobook A Gentleman in Moscow (I highly recommend it) when a car drove by my bit of the sidewalk. The volume pumped up automatically to adjust for the car noise. Very nice; the story continued and there was no need to rewind to before the car came by. Equally nice is that you can still hear some environmental noise so that you can avoid dangerous situations like a cyclist calling out “Left” as they breeze by you and you do not hear it because you have headphones that keep noise out. Phone calls are really clear on the receiving end and, I’m told, clear on the recipient’s end albeit you sound like you’re in a tunnel. Your words are clear but you sound a bit different. So, as I said, anywhere I go, I have instant access to my tunes, music, and phone without ever picking up a separate headphone, Bluetooth headset or anything else.

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As you can see, unless you’re at just the right angle, you don’t even notice 13 Nx’s

There’s so much more built into these things. Let’s talk programs (or profiles). So, working with your audiologist, you can set up different programs. Mine are Universal (this tech is smart so I leave it on Universal most the time and let it figure out what’s going on and adjust accordingly), Noisy Environment, TV, Recorded Music, Outdoor Sport, and Tinnitus. I’ll use Noisy Environment in a restaurant where the hearing aids will pull in the spatial signature to be closer in (reduces the sound of conversations, plates, and movement so you can focus on the conversation at hand). TV is used when I want the hearing aids to pick up the StreamLine TV device. Recorded Music kills the tinnitus therapy sound and opens wide the sound signature. Outdoor Sport more aggressively manages wind noise and Tinnitus focuses on the tinnitus therapy stream.  Here’s the kicker though; the Signia Nx’s are still smarter than you, at least when it comes to hearing. Let’s suppose that I go the Universal setting and manually configure the mics to point to my left so I can listen to my dear bride speaking to me from that side. OK, time to leave. As I’m walking, the Nx detects my movement and will reorient my mics forward. Pretty slick.

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Honestly, these are a stunning piece of tech. Prior to wearing hearing aids, the world sounded like I had a thick blanket over my head; I could hear conversations, music, and so forth. I could mostly distinguish all of the words, albeit, with effort. It was like hearing everything through the filter of mediocre headphones which muddied down the sound. Now, there is a crispness, sparkle, and clarity which was previously lost. All of this while retaining a more natural sound to my voice. I don’t have to focus as much to understand what’s being said. If that was all, these are worth it. However, I also have the ability to control my sonic environment more than ever. I can adjust the volume down for a loud movie or turn the right side up to hear my wife in the car. I have tinnitus therapy to mitigate the buzz in my head and, now, can connect to my media and phone calls everywhere.  Serious sonic seventh heaven.

A Reevaluation of Severus Snape (Again)

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There have been various evaluations of Severus Snape and his character (moral fiber) and as a character within the storyline. He has been vilified and his reputation has gone through a resurgence. (See, for example, https://www.cinemablend.com/pop/J-K-Rowling-Weighs-Harry-Potter-Great-Snape-Debate-101877.html for a nice summary of J. K. Rowling on Snape’s grey and tragic character – neither a full villain or saint).
I’m in the midst of doing something I’ve never done before; I’m going through the Harry Potter series back-to-back. I’m doing so via Jim Dale’s excellent narration. Due to my ability to listen while doing chores, take our dog for a walk, etc, I’m finishing each book in less than a week. This more compressed, focused view of the storyline allows certain features and themes to emerge that I might not see as readily or as fully as reading them across the years.

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Just to note, I started reading the Harry Potter series as an adult. (I believe the series what up to the Prisoner of Azkaban by the time I started). When I first started reading the series, I saw the world through Harry’s eyes and loathed Snape. Later, I came to see the pathos of his life and choices, his loss of Lily’s love and Lily herself and came to sympathize with him much more. I especially found his willingness to help Harry (and the Wizarding World in general) through peril leading to his own death as embodying much of the ideals of Gryffindor. Snape was not a coward.

However, I will say that Snape was an immature, vindictive man would couldn’t really get beyond himself; he could be quite petty. This “straight-through” reading of Harry Potter has really brought out how stunted he was emotionally. He was his locked onto that time, in his youth, when he so appreciated Lily’s kind treatment of him (even as he was unable to be kind to others). He never got past that phase of his life and it showed. How? In so many ways
• His dislike of Harry before he met him just because he was James’ son.
• His willingness to be surrounded by sycophants like Malfoy and crave praise from the likes of Fudge.

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• His clear favoritism of all things Slytherin and hatred of all things Gryffindor.
One of the scenes that stands out in my mind which illustrates his sheer pettiness is when Draco and Harry are at each other in the hall, their jinx’s ricochet off one another and hit Goyle and Hermione:

“Malfoy got Hermione!” Ron said. “Look!” He forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth—she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointing at Hermione from behind Snape’s back.
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, “I see no difference.”
– Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, p.99

Where is the adult here? While this is not the worst thing Snape’s done, it is knowingly unkind, immature and ugly. There is no excuse for this behavior. Not only can he not let Harry alone, he can’t even let friends of Harry alone. Grow up and man up.

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Perhaps even more tellingly is Snape’s inability to look past his hurt, his unwillingness to listen to anything in Shrieking Shack that would get in the way of his revenge:

“You fool,” said Lupin softly. “Is a schoolboy grudge worth putting an innocent man back inside Azkaban?”
– Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Chpt 19

To which Snape answers a resounding “Yes!” His schoolboy grudge is worth all the petty resentment he can throw at it.

Yes, Snape was ill-treated, not only by James and the gang but by others because he wasn’t the blond-haired blued-eyed, man-about-campus. His social awkwardness never fully left him. He did, however, make choices. He chose to be a Death Eater. He chose to give information that ultimately led to James and Lily’s deaths. He chose to harbor and nurse his hurts until he could no longer respond as an adult. He did much to make amends for his indirect hand in Lily’s death. It was, however, all about him. So, while it’s been cool for quite some time to extoll Snape’s virtues, he remains, in my evaluation, a ruined, stunted man who never grew to true adulthood or gained capacity to truly love.

Blade Runner 2049 – A nearly perfect sequel, a nearly perfect film

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Blade Runner 2049 is one of the best-executed sequel films of all time. Bold words, I know but recall that the original is one of those very few films that are as good as its source material, a.k.a. the book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I believe it’s also in that rarefied world of sequels that are as good as the original. Like the original, 2049 is based on the world and characters of the book but not the full narrative per se. One of the things I really love is that, while they paid loving homage to the original, the film makers did not mimic the story (I’m looking at you Star Wars: The Force Awakens). A sequel needs a raison d’être and repeating the original is not it (although I confess to enjoying Force Awakens). This a new storyline extends the Blade Runner universe by 32 years and does so in original ways that are all consistent with the world originally described in Blade Runner. While there’s an organic consistency, 2049 contains a number of surprises, not only in the narrative but in the characters as well. So it ticks all of the boxes in terms of the storyline; it doesn’t ignore what went before, but it’s also not a slave to it. That balance is rare in a sequel.

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Now let’s talk about the film itself. Wow, talk about checking the boxes. Nearly every role in the movie is superbly acted; the director uses that talent well. Even some of the relatively brief parts have a huge impact on the story and, whether it’s Dave Bautista as Sapper Morton, Robin Wright as Lieutenant Joshi, or Carla Juri as Dr. Ana Stelline (oh that scene with K), they nailed their piece. Ryan Gosling has really solidified his ranking among top contemporary actors in this role. Harrison Ford continues to be the bad ass we all know and love. Jared Leto remains the creepy dude that he even while being brilliant. There isn’t a weak performance among the cast.

Then there’s the camerawork. While this is a full, image-rich world, it’s a very run down one. It is shot perfectly. As with every element of the film, the world building and the camera work used to portray it helps convey the story. Some of it looks beautiful, most of it looks like a documentary of the results future entropy with rust and debris, just as it should. There are no gimmicks. There are no artificially long shots or no quick movement pans just to make things look action-oriented. There are no cheats. At all times, the camerawork highlights the drama and action embedded in the story. The lighting, angles, and movement are all used to tell the story and tell it remarkably well.

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I’m not sure how you could better reflect the original soundtrack while keeping things new and fresh than has been done with this soundtrack. There are riffs and whole parts that are reminiscent of the original whilst continuing to go off on its own line. There are more references to classics and pop where that makes sense. It just nails all of it. What a great soundtrack and what a way to bring the old to the new and back together again. Once again, perfectly acknowledge what went before it while merging in what’s new all while helping to convey the story. (I think you get the theme here.)

https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/0UWa0AdUscdQUI7mjjx6G1

So the world building is spot on, the narrative is fresh well done, the acting is executed flawlessly, and the music accentuates all of those elements to present a great story. I’ve read a few articles that suggest we contemporary moviegoers are lazy and so not willing to put into this film that active viewing it takes to really appreciate it. Apparently is not doing as well the box office as people thought it would. I don’t get this. It seems to me to one of those films that both entertains and challenges. Yes, it’s a film to make you think but it’s not just the cerebral exercise is just a great story.

And, oh that ending. No spoilers, but what an ending! So, a couple things to note about this film especially for families. There is nudity; a bit more than in the original. Some of it is more gratuitous than the original. There’s also some pretty solid violence, as would be expected, and none of that’s gratuitous;  It all makes sense. So this is not to be for the young ones this is adult drama for grown-ups that are ready to be both challenged and entertained.

It’s one of the best films of 2017.

Carvana – The Next Best thing to Used Car Buying Nirvana

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If you happen to follow this blog, you know I normally I review books, sometimes music or movies and tech (at least when I haven’t had a month-long hiatus of late). I typically don’t review services, and certainly not used cars sales service. This post will be quite different in that regard. By the way, I’m not going review the car; the Kia Sorento seems to fit our needs perfectly, but I’m really not equipped to review it. Rather, I’ll focus on Carvana’s service. So, let me step back a bit. For various reasons, we were looking for a newish, reliable, practical midsized SUV. We first turned to a local used car dealership with whom we’ve had previous dealings. We’ve got to the point where we paid to have a mechanic inspect the car prior to purchasing. It became pretty evident that attention to detail and willingness to negotiate were no longer strong points for that dealership which had changed hands since our last encounter. I continued my search and through that search ran across a car that looked good, met our criteria, was reasonably priced and was with Carvana of whom I’ve never heard. As I dived in a little bit more, I saw that this was a new way to buy used cars. Essentially, you check it out on the Internet through photographs, descriptions, and some data, like data from Carfax. At this point, you can buy the car on-line, and while I didn’t take advantage of this they do offer financing and the ability to trade in on the site. They’ll have it delivered to your home. Now you’re thinking: “Sight unseen? You fool of a Took!” Well, you have seven days and 400 miles to check out the car; even Gandalf could see the wisdom in that. If you don’t like it, you can return it and have your money returned. Alternatively, you can ask for a different car and switch them out (paying/receiving the price difference). Nicely enough for us, the very first car was the car that we wanted to keep. I initiated this process the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend. It was delivered to my door the next Tuesday morning (that is, the next business day) at 10 AM. I believe it came from a location 400 miles away. That’s pretty swift service.

Carvana Web Page

Courtsey Carvana.com

Delivery isn’t just fast. It’s scheduled and done with friendly flare; our driver was a tad early and called about 30 minutes ahead of arriving. The car comes all shined up on a nice, neat truck with a polite and helpful driver (no, I don’t think he’s a Boy Scout). The folks at Carvana are smart enough to have the driver be a notary public so that they can take care of all the registration for you. The only thing you’ll have to do after the fact is pay property tax. Nice. You can have 15 to 20 minutes of driving it before they drive away, but I didn’t take advantage of that either. I really like the idea of having a solid week for a test drive to really get a feel for the automobile. So, from your couch to your doorstep, a vehicle is available with very little hassle. (I did have to get on the phone with Carvana and my bank to let those guys know that funds were available in the account being used, but that was it.)

Here’s a video walkthrough of Carvana’s web experience:

You might think that with this kind of set up, Carvana would be tempted to just fly under the radar for the next seven days so that they make sure you are on the hook for your car. Nope. Day six they gave me a call to verify that everything was looking good and I was happy with it (along with spelling out what to do if it wasn’t). Day eight I got a thank you note from Carvell (the professional, helpful and polite driver) with Carvana Raleigh. This is not your daddy’s used car buying experience. While I am willing to negotiate, this service’s model is similar to Carmax’s without leaving your home (you pay a fixed price), with the bonus of a seven-day trial and without the salesman looking over your shoulder. Oh, and it appears to be about $500 less than most of the places around my area, at least through what I briefly surveyed, including Carmax for similar vehicles (I know it’s a little tough to compare apples to apples with used cars).

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The end result of our buying experience

So if your time is valuable, you don’t live to haggle, and you like a good deal with the ability to really check out a car before committing, this may well be the service for you. One caveat. They only sell relatively late model cars; it appears that the only go back four model years. So, if you’re looking for an older vehicle, it’s probably not the place for you. It is, however, the experience for me; the next time I need to buy a car, I will be looking at Carvana. I highly recommend the service.