SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-Vitalogy (1994).
I always think of this as the “weird” Pearl Jam disc. Mostly that’s because the contents are certainly weird (in that it’s made up like an old book, including excerpts from the book in the liner notes). But also because it has some of Pearl Jam’s strangest songs on it, especially “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me,” easily one of the weirdest songs in their canon, and possibly the weirdest song on a major label. It’s 7 minutes of samples and scratchy guitars. And it’s more than a little creepy. The disc also contains “Bugs” an accordion-based rant about, well, bugs. and “Aye Davanita” a sort of Eastern chanting type piece.
And so I tend to let these oddities overshadow the fact that Vitalogy is an amazing album full of some of Pearl Jam’s classic tracks.
The disc opens with “Last Exit” a song that packs in everything that Pearl Jam is known for: rocking guitars, a great chorus and a great guitar solo. It’s followed by PJ’s ode to vinyl singles, “Spin the Black Circle,” a fast and furious punk song, not unlike “Whipping.” Next is “Not For You” a slow builder that ends in some raucous screaming. And “Tremor Christ”, whatever that means, continues in this rocking vein.
Then we get to “Nothingman” the first ballad on the record. I never really cared for this song all that much, although after rocking out this record, I’ve been singing “Nothingman” for the last few days. I guess I do actually like it. I think the live version tends to have more oomph, though.
“Corduroy” is another classic Pearl Jam song, it opens slow, but builds to an infinitely singable chorus…no idea what corduroy has to do with the sing though.
“Better Man” is a wonderful ballad and is one of Sarah’s favorite songs. It’s always a crowd pleaser . The album ends with “Immortality” (except for “Foxymophandle…”) a great song of longing that really comes alive live.
And so, Vitalogy really is an amazing record. The eccentricities of the disc do not overshadow the great music at all, and it is easily one of the best.
[READ: May 2007 & April 21 & 22, 2009] Ulysses Moore Books 1, 2 & 3 & 4
I started this series almost two years ago. In the midst of Sacred Games, I needed a break and this little series seemed ideal. It’s a suspenseful mystery about three kids on the island of Kilmore Cove. I had intended to read the third book, but it didn’t come out until a few months later, and, believe it or not, my library never got a copy of it.
I had intended to write about the series back in May of 2007, and yet I didn’t. Now that I’ve finished the fourth book, and will continue to read the series, I’ll start the write ups now. (According to Wikipedia, there are eight [UPDATED: 11/16 there are now NINE] books in the series already, although only 4 have been translated into English at this point).
Scholastic doesn’t seem to know what to do with this series, which is a bit of a shame. In fact, there’s very little about this series online. I couldn’t even find a cover picture of books 3 or 4 that matched the style of 1 and 2. (Leading me to believe that they were never released in hardcover). It’s marketed as a good series for fans of Spiderwick, and I guess that’s true, but they are not doing much to gain an audience for it.
Ulysses Moore is listed as the author of the books. The editor Michael Merryweather stumbles upon the missives from Moore (not unlike the way Lemony Snicket found his manuscripts). The first three books contains email communication indicating that more information was found just before publication…but they stopped that with book 4.
The premise of the series is that Ulysses Moore has left a series of clues in his house for, presumably, these children to find. There are a number of interesting quizzes and challenges for the kids to solve. [I read a critique that the kids figure things out too easily, and that is somewhat true in the first book; however, it is a kids’ book, and honestly who wants to see people fail and fail over and over]. By book three the challenges are tough enough that the kids have a lot of pieces of the puzzle without any real sense of how to solve it. And by book 4 the pieces start to fit together nicely.
And so, a brief summary of the books:
Book One: The Door to Time (2004, translated 2007).
Book one sets up the story: 11 year old twins Jason and Julia Covenant move with their family to Argo Manor in Kilmore Cove. Their parents immediately leave the house to deal with problems with their movers, conveniently leaving the kids alone to explore. There is also a caretaker of the Manor. Nestor is standoffish and a little scary, but he ensures they are fed and looked after. The kids quickly befriend a local boy, Rick Banner, who proves essential to their sleuthing.
Argo Manor sits on the coastline of Britain, standing right on the edge of the water. It is an isolated mansion in an isolated town (the train station was shut down from lack use). Argo Manor proves to be a house with many secrets, including a door that was hidden behind a wardrobe. Since I don’t recall exactly what happens in each book I can’t remember if the kids open the door in this book or not (that’s not a spoiler, as it is the fundament of the rest of the series).
I must have enjoyed the series enough from here to want to read the second book. So I did.
Book Two: The Long-Lost Map (2005, translated 2007).
In this book, when the kids open the door, they find themselves on a mystery that unravels outside. In fact, they find themselves aboard a ship, the Metis, which they sail all the way to Ancient Egypt (even though they only sail a few hundred yards). The bulk of this story is set in Ancient Egypt, where the boys (for Julia has inadvertently been locked out) meet an Egyptian girl who assists them in their quest. And in this book the quest is for the long lost map of Ulysses Moore.
Also on the trail of the map is the woman who promises to be the villain for the remainder of the series: Oblivia Newton. Lest you think that Julia is out of the adventure, she and Nestor get entangled with Oblivia’s henchman, in a very real fight in the rain outside of the Manor. This book was a lot more intense than the previous one. And the ancient Egypt stuff was quite cool.
It also upped the ante in terms of puzzles. The sleuthing was quite good, with a variety of different puzzles to solve.
Book Three: House of Mirrors (2005, translated 2007).
This book has really picked up the excitement in the series. Whether it’s the specifics of the mystery, whether it’s the awesomeness of the titular House of Mirrors–easily the coolest construction I’ve read about in some time–or whether the author has just really hit his stride, this book soars above the rest and had me looking forward to Book 4.
Of course, it’s very difficult to discuss a mystery without revealing precious information regarding the mystery, and therby ruining the book. So, I’ll try to be discreet. The kids travel throughout Kilmore Cove in search of clues. Initially, they hope to find Oblivia herself and confront her about the map. However, their other stops reveal more clues about other places on the island that they should investigate, including Peter Daedalus’ clock shop. Rick had been to the shop once when he was young and had always remembered it fondly. But it was boarded up with no way in. If only they could get in and find out what is inside.
They also learn that Oblivia is a lot closer to finding the secrets to all of the keys and doors throughout the island. As the book reaches its end, we also learn that Nestor knows a little bit more than he had been letting on…not about Ulysses Moore himself as Jason suspects, but about the nature of the Argo Manor itself, and the previous owners.
This book offers a difference from the others in that the kids are not separated. In Books 2 & 4 one of the kids winds up on a solo adventure, but in this one, they all get to work together. The House of Mirrors was also awesome, and I hope it comes back into play in later books. The house is mechanical, and it rotates. I just wish we had seen more of the inventions inside.
I was totally hooked by this book and immediately started Book 4.
Book Four: The Isle of Masks (2006, translated 2008).
Book four is the most exciting book in the series thus far. The suspense has built, the villain, Oblivia, comes very close to solving the puzzle, and there’s a wonderful twist of outsiders using the magic doors to their own end. Plus, the dramatic twist/cliffhanger is pretty exciting, and one that I didn’t see coming.
So book Four sends the kids off on a quest to Venice. The clues that they gathered in book Three suggested that Peter Daedalus fled Kilmore Cove for eighteenth century Venice, where he believed he would never be found by Oblivia. Although he left enough clues that he might be found by Ulysses.
The kids set off aboard the Metis, and when they arrive in Venice, they are accosted by two beggars. The beggars do not harm them. However, through Jason’s carelessness, the beggars arrive back in Argo Manor. This allows for another chance for the kids to be split up: Jason returns to help Nestor get rid of the beggars and Rick and Julia stay in Venice to figure out the puzzles.
The Jason story introduces him to Leonard, Nestor’s friend, who is a very tough guy. Leonard is instrumental in getting rid of the beggars and he journeys with them back to Venice–a trip he has taken before. Leonard was part of the group of friends: Ulysses, Penelope, Peter and “Black” the only friend unaccounted for. Leonard has a lot of stories about their adventures, although he is not a chatty person.
Meanwhile, back in Venice, Rick and Julia have met the current owners of Penelope’s old house (the revelation of time travel at this point is pretty fun). The new occupants are Illuminati (where did THAT come from, and how will it pay off?) who have unknown ties both to Peter Daedalus and Oblivia Newton. They work to track down Peter at the same time as Oblivia does.
There is also some revelation about how Peter and Oblivia know each other, and how Oblivia knows so much about the secrets that Ulysses, Penelope and Peter shared.
The ending is quite surprising and rather exciting. The cliffhanger of this one sets up for a very exciting Book 5 which has not been translated yet [taps foot impatiently. Just knowing the book has already been written makes the wait worse somehow].
As I said, this was my favorite book of the series so far, the excitement was great, the addition of Peter’s machines being all over the story was a nice idea. And having Oblivia right on their heels brought a lot of suspense to the story.
The only thing I found foolish about the book was that the kids took SO long to figure out the DEDA puzzle. I know there were a lot of puzzles I didn’t figure out, but there were SO MANY clues as to how to solve the DEDA puzzle! And they’e usually so quick to figure these things out that it frustrated me. But hey, not everyone solves puzzles (and having Jason not with them was a good excuse, I guess).
This book also ends with the return of the Covenant parents. How will they possibly be able to conduct their adventures now that their folks are back? And how will they explain the messes that they have made while their folks were gone?
We’ll have to wait until Book 5: I guardiani di pietra [The Stone Guardians]
I wanted to throw in some overall thoughts about the series as well:
The author is Italian and yet the series is set in England (although Book 4 does feature Venice). The twins are from London, and there is much made about England being the location. That’s a little weird, no?
In addition to the title character’s name, there are an incredible amount of names from Homer’s Odyssey. His wife is Penelope, there’s Peter Daedalus, there’s Cyclops construction. Book 4 also saw the introduction of Homer Moving. And, in another mythical allusion, the main character is named Jason and the manor is Argo. I’m not sure if all of these names are significant to the story in terms of calling back to the classics, or if the author just likes the theme of Ulysses (a long tale, involving travelers). Maybe all will be revealed in the end.
I just can’t figure out Leonard’s last name Minaxo which is very unusual and doesn’t fit at all. Oblivia Newton’s name is also usual; I see the obvious relation to oblivious, but I wonder if something else is going on with that name.
It’s too late for Scholastic to really push this series, since it’s already at least half way done. But I do hope they’ll try to get the word out more. It’ a fun series that fans of adventure will enjoy.
Check out this new post for some sad news about the future of the series, but check out the comment in that post from Sydney who is considering translating the books herself!