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Book Review – Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Mysterious Destinations

Atlas of Cursed Places: A Travel Guide to Dangerous and Mysterious Destinations by Olivier Le Carrer

Atlas of Cursed Places

Oliver Le Carrer brings us a fascinating history and armchair journey to the world’s most dangerous and frightful places, complete with vintage maps and period illustrations in a handsome volume.

This alluring read includes 40 locations that are rife with disaster, chaos, paranormal activity, and death. The locations gathered here include the dangerous Strait of Messina, home of the mythical sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis; the coal town of Jharia, where the ground burns constantly with fire; Kasanka National Park in Zambia, where 8 million migrating bats darken the skies; the Nevada Triangle in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where hundreds of aircraft have disappeared; and Aokigahara Forest near Mount Fuji in Japan, the world’s second most popular suicide location following the Golden Gate Bridge.

I’ll admit, the description of this book tickled the same part of me that reveled in references like The Guinness Book of World Records or better yet The Book of Lists in my youth. Stuff that’s interesting for its novelty, obscurity, or rarity. Any touch of the grotesque, the forbidden, only increased my interest.

Here we have an anti-travelogue featuring places you might not actually want to visit. Maybe you’d even want to actively avoid them. But I can see some for of extreme high risk vacationing growing up around this kind of thing,

Atlas of Cursed Places is definitely for the collector of esoteric knowledge. The most densely populated place on Earth makes an appearance along with some of the most polluted, radioactive, and dangerous locales in existence. Humans tend to play lead roles in the dramas that make these cursed places what they are.

This is a great book for the casual reader. The selections are brief and concise, written with a hint of imposing authority and sly mystery. Unknowns are toyed with for effect but not exaggerated and facts are presented with disaffected urbanity. The result is vaguely ominous yet compulsively readable.

I was surprised by the lack of pictures. That’s my fault. The description is clear. Vintage maps. Check. Perdiod illustrations. Okay, check. But somehow I’d convinced myself that each entry was going to be accompanied by an image of the place being described.

They’re not. Take the example pages available of the Black Dog & Leventhal page for the book. This is the entry for Jharia in India.



Atlas of Cursed Places Jharia

It’s lovely. I could stare at the maps for a long time. Still, what does Jharia look like? I’m imagining Mordor as I read it. That’s actually not far from the truth, but I reckon I won’t be the only person reading with a search engine open or taking a wiki walk afterward.

In the city of Jharia and surroundings, an underground fire has been burning since 1916 - or even longer according to the locals. The fire probably started when abandon coalmines was not properly closed. The fire evolved in to more than 70 underground fires. The inhabitants use the fire to warm themselves on cold winter nights, to dry clothes and sometimes even cook food.

Atlas of Cursed Places is an armchair traveler’s most exciting journey around the world. A collection of hellscapes marked on maps. Here there be dragons. It’s also a great resource for writers. Hundred year subterranean fires or an annual plague of birds battering themselves to death in a remote village rival some of most unusual fantasies I’ve read this year.

Recommended for fans of vintage cartography, The Golden Bough, and Atlas Obscura.

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The Kingkiller Chronicle is Coming to Every Dang Where

Our schedule gets pretty intense around here sometimes. Case in point, last week was so chock full of new releases that we only squeezed our Once Upon a Time post in on Friday. And while we intend to make that the new normal, it meant that one bit of news got bumped.

Kingkiller Chronicle

Patrick Rothfuss “The name of the wind” © Bragelonne by Marc Simonetti

The Hollywood Reporter and Patrick Rothfuss himself simultaneously reported that Lionsgate had acquired the option for The New York Times bestselling series The Kingkiller Chronicle. Apparently without a hint of self consciousness, it’s a deal of three parts. The product will be developed simultaneously for film, television, and video games.

The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.

Studios have been approaching Rothfuss since before The Name of the Wind debuted in 2007. For years he declined to sell. However, in 2013 he apparently found some kindred spirits at New Regency Productions. Developed for television by Eric Heisserer, distributed by 20th Century Fox, and purchased by NBC in 2014, Kingkiller was billed thusly:

On the night of his sixteenth birthday, KVOTHE bears witness to the slaughter of his parents and the rest of the traveling troupe of stage performers that had been his family. The murderers are THE CHANDRIAN, a group of powerful villains straight out of folklore, hundreds of years old and thought to be nothing more than a myth. Kvothe’s need for vengeance is forged that night, but as he embarks on the long and arduous path of training and study to defeat the Chandrian, Kvothe learns there are no shortcuts to power, and his impatience for answers will make him hunted by the very forces he’s desperate to destroy.

Heisserer left the project in January of this year. And the option lapsed right before SDCC 2015. On his blog, Rothfuss talks about a series of meetings with major studios culminating in an amusing paraphrased exchange with Lionsgate.

Rothfuss: “If you came at me with a pitch that involved a television show AND a movie, I’d listen to that. I’d listen really hard, because something like that would let us be big-budget while still giving my story room to breathe. It would give people the ability to spend more time in my world. I can’t think of anyone who has really done that, but it seems like we could have the best of both worlds that way. And it seems to me that you guys are one of the only places that could realistically pull something like that off.”

Lionsgate:  “About that whole TV-show-and-a-movie thing you mentioned. If we’re going to do some sort of big narratively intertwined multi-platform development deal based on your books, wouldn’t it make more sense to do a video game along with the TV show and movies? Because seriously, why wouldn’t we want to do a video game too?”

Rothfuss: “What?”

They signed a deal. Nobody’s mentioned how long Lionsgate has to realize their plans, yet. Erik Feig, Jeyun Choi Munford, and Jessica Switch will develop the film. Chris Selak and Peter Levin will develop the television series and game respectively. Robert Lawrence (Clueless, Die Hard with a Vengeance) will produce.

Rothfuss spoke in 2012 and 2013 about breaking the books up into an episodic format. Heisserer created a series bible for the entire trilogy. That medium seems solid. The author has stated that he doesn’t believe the books can be made into films. So that might be a stumbling block.

On the other hand, he is involved in Torment: Tides of Numenera. He suggested when he signed on that its success would increase the chances of a Kingkiller game getting made. I’ll leave you with a link to the hilarious vision he and longtime collaborator Nate Taylor for Kingkiller Online in 2011.

Kingkiller Online by Patrick Rothfuss and Nate Taylor

Ars LudiPage 1 : Page 2 : Page 3 Kingkiller Online by Patrick Rothfuss and Nathan Taylor

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Top Ten Picture Books to Build Character by Anna Sedenka


We’d add some color to the list, but we’ve requested each of these from our local library.

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

At the beginning of the school year I always take a look at my collection of picture books and try to decide which ones I absolutely have to share with my class.  Of course I would love to share all of my picture books with my students, but there just isn’t enough time in the school year for that!  I usually pick the books that will help me to teach important lessons to my still very impressionable 4th graders.  Of course I will use many of my picture books as mentor texts during reading and writing, but at the beginning of the school year I am specifically looking for ones that will help me develop my students’ awareness, compassion, and self-confidence. Here are my top 10!

going places
Going Places by Peter and Paul Reynolds

Going Places is a story about a class of students who are each given a Going Places…

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References and Shipping in Once Upon a Time “Dark Swan”

Our turnaround is going to be little longer this season. The premiere is allusive. And Swan Queens get their first tear jerker.

Michael’s “Always… no, no… never… forget to check your references.” (now with a sound file)

I wanted to address a couple references that weren’t technically part of the premiere episode that nonetheless bear on the season and the show. These have mostly to do with the promotional materials both online and off. And they might provide some insight into the overall arc. Or not.

Black Swan

The imagery on the first promo poster draws heavily from 2010 Aronofsky film, but goes for a slicker, more stylized look.

Black Swan Dark Swan

The storyline requires Emma, the embodiment of good as the Savior, to portray her opposite, The Dark One. Oddly enough, there was another Black Swan in 1910 about a reformed pirate. Writers are nerds.

The Dark Knight Rises

This is mostly about color scheme and graphics. What you’re seeing below is clearly twister imagery but the particular monochromatic palette hollers Nolan’s trilogy. The word choice cinches it. Batman plays for the other team, but he can still function as an archetype. Modern Batman is always walking the knife edge between heroism and villainy and I bet that’s what we’re going to see in this story.

The Dark Swan Shall Rise


One of maybe three truly iconic caped crusader poses. It’s unbelievably convenient that it’s often depicted on a circular or spotlighted place. So not only do we get a knowing nod to 3×15 “Quiet Minds,” we get a secondary reinforcement of the whole Dark Knight thing.

Emma Circle Batman Circle

The Sword in the Stone

Full disclosure. I want missing MerlinMerlin to be in Bermuda. They’ve got a really sweet looking poster out with a beautiful blue robe and a serious looking Elliot Knight. But. But. Listen, Once, I never ask you for anything. Give me this.

Anyway, We first see stony faced prophesying Merlin the magician in Minneapolis at an unusual marquee rerelease of the classic adaptation of The Once and Future King. We get a good look at Merlin in the film and young Arthur drawing Excalibur from the stone

Sir Kay, the treacherous knight that tries to draw Excaibur in Fairy Tale Land and gets dusted Buffy style for it is a nod to Arthur’s thuggish foster brother in the film. Nice touch.

Speaking of foster kids, Emma. Merlin’s got a tic.

Once Upon a Time in Wonderland

A previous Dark One, Gorgon the Invincible, is or looks like a bandersnatch.

Gorgon the Invincible


Mickey conjures the want Merlin gave him on the day he became the apprentice with the now familiar broom music playing over the scene.

Star Wars

Emma Force chokes the traveling peddler with her uncontrollable dark magic. The fear, excitement, and comprehForce Chokeension in the scene mirrors Anakin Skywalker’s descent toward the The Dark Lord of the Sith. Kitsiss and Horowitz are all over Star Wars.

Killian references the old wookie prisoner gag, nicely grabbing the reference within a reference to “Operation Mongoose,” which was also about altered circumstances in Fairy Tale Land. So this is technically an Inception reference, too.

Not enough? Zelena slying slips in, “So, this is a Rogue mission?” It’s all about word choice in context. Right here, it’s more writerly nerdery.

Rumple’s evil ghost-of-Obi-Wan urges Emma to use her anger. Classic Sith move.

Beauty and the Beast

Ruehl Gorm: “This Rose is now linked to your beast, Belle. As long as it still has petals he lives.”

Beauty and the Beast Rose

Shut up. I’m not crying. You’re crying. Seriously, they do this just to incite fans of the original. The imagery is so powerful that catching it in other stories evokes an emotional reaction. Rumpbelle should be over, but it’s not. Look!


The Will o’ the Wisp and the Hill of Stones are repurposed to force Merida and Emma into conflict.

Her trailer, oddly enough, pulls a shot directly from the film; which was itself a reference to the classic Robin Hood shot. Here’s hoping we get to see them both at a tournament.


And, of course, she mentions transforming into a bear. Because she has to. And her people’s lack of confidence in her suitability. Because this is what we want out of Merida. But both an uncontrollable transformation and faithless fraternities are themes for the season. Turning throwaway lines into major points is one of the things Once does best,

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Henry finally makes Nurse Ratched an official reference rather than a sight gag bolstered by a doppelganger of Chief Bromden.

Goodnight Moon

Robin’s carrying a copy when Zelena stops by. I’m gonna pretend it’s all a subtle reference to the death of the Apprentice. Goodnight mouse.

The Wizard of Oz

Zelena summons a tornado to cross realms. Because of course she does.

Garden Gnomes

Emma turns Sneezy to stone, fulfilling some sort of apotheosis for Regina, who no longer would do that, but probably always wanted to.


Erin’s Happy Shipper Moments

emmakillianembrace5x01The tables keep getting turned. Villains turned heroes. Savior turned dark. But in the end, the enduring question remains: can love save us?

Captain Swan

Hook’s focus to get Emma back is unwavering. It makes him snarky, sexy, and stupid. He’ll scrap with anyone in his way, mostly Robin and Regina. His initial attempt to call her to him using the dagger fails, indicating she’s not in this world.

Then he’s willing to be all manner of sneaky and stupid to open a portal to get her, even trying to take Zelena’s heart, but getting hoodwinked while Zelena escapes.

When he does reunite with Emma, he talks her down from killing Merida. Emma is surprised they have reached her. Hook responds: “Has anything ever stopped me before?” And to convince her to return the heart: “We can find another way…together.” Aww.

They hold hands into Camelot.

Sadly, things are not so romantic six weeks later.

Outlaw Queen

Regina snarls at Zelena at mention of the baby.

Even more tantalizing is the fact that when Zelena glamours herself to look like Regina and kisses Robin, Robin knows it’s Zelena immediately. He might have been fooled by a faux-Marian, but Regina’s kiss is far more memorable. Zelena hangs a nice bell on that fact.


Rumple is still comatose. I can only assume he’ll awaken, but the point here is that his lack of consciousness echoes the end of Beauty and the Beast. Belle holds Rumple’s hand, not wanting to leave his side should he die in her absence. “If he goes, I want to be with him.” And to make all the shippers swoon, the Blue Fairy gives Belle THE ENCHANTED ROSE to let her know that Rumple is still alive. You should already know the drill: as long as the rose has petals, Rumple lives.

But has he survived six weeks?

Swan Queen

Regina is set up as the lynch pin to saving or destroying Emma, depending on what the situation calls for. Hook is not. Regina’s failure to wield the wand due to too much light in her heart is a testament to the effect Emma has had on her. Swan Queen OTP. Ignore how distracted Regina is by her (faux) romance with Robin. She uses Zelena’s affection for Robin to open the portal to Emma, despite the danger to Robin.

When they do find Emma, and they offer her the dagger (idiots), Emma only trusts Regina with it, knowing that Regina cares enough about her to use the dagger well, whether that means command or kill. “Someone needs to watch me,” Emma says. “I saved you. Now you save me.”

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Book Review – Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child

Stress-Free Potty Training: A Commonsense Guide to Finding the Right Approach for Your Child by Sara Au and Peter L. Stavinoha

Stress Free Potty Training

No two children experience the toilet-training process in exactly the same way. While some kids might be afraid to even go near the bathroom, others may master the actual act right away. “Stress-Free Potty Training” takes the anxiety out of this challenging rite of passage. The book differentiates the common childhood personality types, providing easy techniques to suit kids who are: goal-oriented, sensory-oriented, internalising, impulsive and strong-willed. Parents will find much needed advice to help them identify what ideas will work for their child’s temperament. This straight-talking guide enables readers to help any child make this important life transition free of worry, and in the way that’s right for them.

Filled with straight talk and practical advice, the second edition of Stress-Free Potty Training takes the anxiety out of this important life transition, helping you identify what approach will be most compatible with your child’s temperament. Starting with a simple quiz, the book provides easy techniques tailor-fit for all kinds of kids, whether they’re stubborn or willful, clinging to diapers, afraid to move on, or just late bloomers. The book shows you how to:

• Determine your child’s readiness to begin potty training
• Build on each success by gradually moving your child past his or her existing comfort zone (without adding undue pressure)
• Be a positive potty role model
• Handle accidents and temporary setbacks
• And more

Fully revised, the second edition includes brand new “Universal Strategies” . . . updated techniques for overcoming the common challenges and obstacles you’re likely to face with your child . . . ways to utilize the latest apps and websites that can be helpful during training . . . pitfalls to avoid on social media . . . and up-to-the-minute guidance on how to deal with interruptions and problems throughout the process.

This encouraging and practical guide helps you design a path around your own child’s needs, allowing you to say goodbye to diapers . . . with as little stress as possible.

So, if you’re reading this review, or any review, you’re probably wondering three things. Is it worth reading? Does it help? And does it free you from stress?

Stress-Free Potty Training makes good on its claim up there in the ad copy. Read at the right time, before your child starts potty training, this’ll reduce your anxiety about the process.

Is it worth reading? I think so. Again it’s probably a matter of timing. We went into potty training with what might generously be termed a smattering of book learnin’, anecdotal testimony, and assurances from every quarter that each child is different. We wouldn’t know our challenges, in other words, until we faced them.

That’s where Stress Free Potty Training comes in handy. First child? No experience? It’s got you. The information’s thoughtfully organized. What is potty training? What kind of child are you dealing with? What works for everyone? What works for your child? What are some common obstacles and how do you overcome them? Every child might be different, but you can enter into situation armed with good information and advice.

It might not be perfect. Our child is a textbook example of three of the types with some of the rest thrown in for good measure. But it’s possible to sort of triangulate even such a complex character and address specific concerns, even form a comprehensive strategy.

So, yes, it does help. I received a review copy well into our process and was able to apply some more effective techniques right away. I rather wish I’d picked it up sooner.

The most valuable part of the book might have been the skills acquisition chart. We learned that our child had mastered some simple and some advanced skills and sort of skipped over or entirely ignored others. It was both heartening and also maybe a little embarrassing. Needless to say we filled in the gaps and things began to run much more smoothly.

Obviously I haven’t read every potty training book, but I liked and benefited from another Au/Stavinoha book: Stress-Free Discipline. So this was a good fit. It didn’t eliminate our stress, but it’s helped reduce it. And instead of offering pithy advice, I’d recommend it and the time required to read it for parents with questions or concerns.

Recommended for parents who were only children, parents with the toddler/infant combo, and those motivated to be ready for challenges.


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‘Jem and the Holograms Outrageous Annual #1’ is an 80’s Mash-Up Delight

JemAnnual_coverJem and the Holograms Outrageous Annual #1

Written by Kelly Thompson
“Wired” Art and Colors by Amy Mebberson
“Jem Wolf” Art by Arielle Jovellanos and Colors by Josh Burcham
“Angry Aja” Art by Rebekah Isaacs and Colors by Joana Lafuente
“Shana Wars” Art and Colors by Jen Bartel
“Jem Babies” Art and Colors by Agnes Garbowska, Color Assist by Lauren Perry
“Previously” Art by Sophie Campbell and Colors by Victoria Robado
Letters by Tom B. Long and Shawn Lee
Edits by John Barber

Published by IDW on September 30, 2015

The title begs the question: Is it truly outrageous? Unequivocally, yes. Diverging in style and structure from the normal Jem and the Holograms issues, the Outrageous Annual takes our characters and delves into their psychology via pop culture mash-ups. This is the “Avenging Angel” of Farscape, the “Changing Channels” of Supernatural, or the “Restless” of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. By allowing the sisters to fall asleep and dream of their favorite films, the framed narratives explore anxieties of each character while playing in the sandboxes of other nostalgic genre favorites. The effect is an amusing riff on sisterhood and identity.

Outrageous Annual is overtly catering to, well, me. And all of the rest of the Jem readership who grew up watching the cartoon and also obsessing over other 80’s-era products. I crushed on Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf and religiously devoured Muppet Babies on Saturday mornings as a child, still consider The Empire Strikes Back as one of the greatest films of all time, and flipped my wig this summer over Mad Max: Fury Road. I suspect Kelly Thompson did too, since these are the texts adorably mashed into the Jem-verse. Each parody offers a humorous juxtaposition of the positive, fashion-forward, sisterly foursome with an otherwise disparate genre paired with a subconscious concern for a character. The overall effect is a touch shallow, but lots of fun. The comic version of a banana split–just enough nutrition in the flavor medley to alleviate a gut ache.

Read the full review on PopOptiq!

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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their “civilian” homes.
At first, this doesn’t seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one’s head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan’s life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

The Heart Goes Last began as an ebook serial with 2012’s “I’m Starved For You” and continuing in installments through 2013. These original releases are no longer available now that the novelization has come out. The story has been rewritten and expanded including introductory chapters.

That seems to have been scrubbed from the marketing and I think it’s a shame. Knowing that story of Stan and Charmaine and Positron was originally episodic contextualizes some of the eccentricities of the narrative. While one expects Atwood to be devilishly clever and darkly humorous, we tend to expect strong threads throughout her novels.

The Heart Goes Last lacks the latter. It’s a fast, fun read, but it rather distinctly fades to black and returns again in medias res like a stage drama or a television show. It’s neither abrupt nor disjointed, but it is episodic. So, I guess, know that going in. Don’t expect slow elaborate reveals and great mysteries. Expect pulp excess and jump cuts.

But is it good? Yes. Atwood has been imagining the end of the world for decades and she’s incredibly good at it. The financial collapse is as old as Marx and Engels. That it became tangible in the early years of yet another century has made it a staple of contemporary science, sorry, speculative fiction. Here an enterprising organization subverts another New Deal by dialing the for profit prison up to eleven.

Citizens in dire straights are enticed by advertising to essentially volunteer for permanent incarceration. The month in prison, month in postwar nostalgia town conceit makes a point about the formal freedom and practical compulsion of labor under capitalism. It’s a ridiculous plot device that is nonetheless somewhat easier to swallow than existing in a militarized police state or being rounded up en masse into work camps. The American Dream bought with madatory labor at the company store.

This would read as heavy handed if Stan and Charmaine weren’t despicable people. They don’t have it coming, of course. No one deserves this. But they are difficult to route for. Luckily for them, they’re out point of view characters, so we can’t help it. Their disobedience and rebellion exemplifies and reflects the corruption of the system and becomes part of it. Their collapse perfectly presages the inevitable breakdown of a sinister conspiracy and their attempts to escape mirror a concurrent cover up.

The Heart Goes Last could read as a precursor to the MaddAddam Trilogy or an update of The Handmaid’s Tale. Both previous stories are more intricate and better realized, but this one is more nihilistic. Some of the truths of Atwood’s fiction come out more starkly. The system tends toward misogyny, objectification, and compulsion. The body is commodified and free will is subverted via force.

Atwood takes privatization to its logical conclusions, explodes the wealth gap, and perhaps even implicates the consumer of fiction. And yet it reads like a science fiction paperback, full of action and amusement. If you’ve found some of her other work impenetrable or are just looking for a place to start, The Heart Goes Last might be for you.

Recommended for fans of Michel Foucault, The Truman Show, and Charles Dickens.


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