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Nov. 9th, 2014 @ 04:21 pm BIG FAT RADIO LIST
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
Current Music: Blur - Song 2
Okay, so after that last post, I decided to just embrace my personal joy at making lists. I love lists. Making lists is calming. And since listening to things is also calming, I'm making the lists about listening things and putting them here so I can refer back to them for maximum calmness whenever I want to. Just look at them, nested behind cuts for everyone's convenience. Look how listy they are!

First up, the list of Doctor Who audio shows. This list is a monster; there have been radio shows for the Who franchise since the sixties, and a robust collection of dramas produced specifically for audio performance to expand the show's universe beyond the episodes presented for television. Which is pretty much an unending well to plumb; there are so many Doctors, and they have been doing things for so long, and their universe is so huge, and so many of them have room to be enlarged and embellished in ways they couldn't be in only a few episodes, that it's a giant world of possibilities and awesomeness. Of course, that means it gets completely out of control and half of it is canon only in the loosest sense, but let's be real, it's a show about time travel, it barely has a canon.

This list is for me, who is basically a baby when it comes to Doctor Who, so it includes only those audio sources that are actually featuring one of the Doctors, which leaves out a bunch of additional radio shows about UNIT, Torchwood, companions doing things on their own, and aliens in the same universe - so if you want a truly exhaustive list, this isn't quite it. Maybe I'll make that someday, but that would have to be years in the future after I somehow listen to all this mess first.

The list includes Episode Dramatizations, which are radio-adapted versions of stories that already aired on TV, but which are mostly "lost episodes" with film versions that were destroyed in the sixties and seventies so this is the only way you're going to get to experience them anyway; Radio Dramas, which are original stories designed for and aired via radio; Audio Plays, which are original and often very complex and long-running stories that are released as audio-only but not necessarily with radio in mind; Webcasts, which are released through net portals from official channels; and Audiobooks, which can be either adaptations of novels originally published in print form or original audio novels that have the same format but were never written. Note that the year is the year that the piece was released, not necessarily the year the original story was set - time travel issues aside, the episode dramatizations pieced together from audio sources were often released thirty or more years later, and the audio plays are still being produced for each of the Doctors regardless of their age.

Doctor Who Audio Dramas.

See? It's like a zillion. I kind of want to highlight the ones I've actually listened to because I like highlighting things, but I'm also intimidated by how slow my progress would be and how embarrassing the very unhighlighted list would be for a while still to come.

The reconstructed radio episodes are often available on YouTube, but the audio plays are mostly from Big Finish, which puts out a few new ones every month.  The radio dramas are sort of hit or miss, depending on how old they are, and I've heard tell that the BBC has some shows and even older radio dramas available on demand as well.

And then there's Star Trek, which has been around just as long but has a mysteriously much shorter list. Unlike Who, which is mostly radio dramas and audio plays with a few audiobooks thrown in for spice, audiobooks make up the bulk of Trek's list, which is significantly shorter and includes almost no made-for-radio materials later than the 1970s (and the ones that do exist are almost all for children, too!).  They do have film dramatizations for all the classic movies as well as the new two reboot ones, though, which is interesting since they didn't go that route with the episodes. (Then again, CBS didn't burn half the original episodes, so there was less need for "oops let's try to throw something together" emergency radio dramas.)

Star Trek Audio Dramas.

The 1970s audio plays are findable for free on YouTube for the most part (which is good, because other than finding the LPs on eBay I'm not sure where you would even try to buy them legitimately), and you can find several of the audiobooks there as well, which is good for the ones that can't be found by buying the cassettes and CDs on Amazon or eBay.

I have a baffling urge to make a collection of novels for checking off now, which is ridiculous because I'm sure that already exists and also it would take hours... but I don't always want reasonable things.
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Nov. 7th, 2014 @ 06:44 pm Sci-fi on the brain
Current Mood: geekygeeky
Current Music: Ricky Martin - Livin' La Vida Loca
I've noticed that in times of great stress, Mother Mary comes to me sixties science fiction tends to be one of my safe home-places to return to. I'm not sure why, except that maybe it's some of the oldest sci-fi I ever consumed as a wee young thing, and it reminds me of both more carefree times and the early wonder of exploring those new vistas of magical stuff.

When I'm working at home or just poking around in my room relaxing, it's been Star Trek and nothing but Star Trek lately, original series on into movies and then animated series. It's soothing, somehow, in spite of the sixties sexism and terrible special effects and occasional at-the-time-fresh writing conventions that we probably wouldn't ever use anymore (ah, remember the halcyon days when "It was an alien masquerading as a human!" was a shocking revelation that no one could ever have seen coming?). The older I get, the prettier Captain Kirk and his stunning eyeliner job becomes, and the more I enjoy daydreaming away at something else while Lieutenant Uhura and Yeoman Rand make faces of utmost space-lady disdain at their ridiculous coworkers.

When I'm at the office, since I obviously can't work and watch TV at the same time, it's Doctor Who instead - specifically radio dramas and old episode reconstructions, from back in the days when radio was still a robust platform for storytelling instead of the modern niche market it's become. (For a real brain-teaser, listen to Welcome to Night Vale new episodes, then switch over to Who for thought-screeching reversal of trope-inversion!) Again, it's comforting, that old-timey charm, and entertaining to listen to and think about the roots of both a giant franchise and the general shape of modern science fiction. It's also fun to contrast it with Trek - one show is very American and the other super British, and they also thus make a nice contrast portrait of different sci-fi trends in those two different places.

I spent like ten million hours the other day making myself a guide of all the Who radio shows and audiobooks, which was frankly more relaxing than most hot baths, and will probably set about doing the same for Trek resources. Because it's sort of an endless road of forever-comfort, like hot chocolate and blankets for my brain, and it's nice to look at it and know it's there, you know?

It's odd to me that Trek is old and worldwide beloved, but never had any official radio drama (although of course there are plethoras of fan-made ones. There's fan-made everything for Trek). Is that another difference between American and British consumption preferences, or just coincidence? I bet I can find something similar. The world is my oyster.

Maybe I'll just goof off and post giant guide/lists of things tonight. And I'll pretend they're for other people to share and not just for me to enjoy making!
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Nov. 3rd, 2014 @ 09:02 pm See, mom, I told you I'd use my degree for something
Current Mood: embarrassedembarrassed
Current Music: Damien Rice - The Blower's Daughter
Coping mechanism #483570 for stressbombplosion: screw around on karaoke site for an hour instead of getting anything done. Because obviously.

SingSnap is so dramatic. SINGSNAP PRESENTS!

I should probably go back to working, but it's hard to convince my stress-overloaded brain that I don't also have a serious duty to immediately cover the collected works of Dido and Scandal first.
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Jul. 28th, 2014 @ 01:28 pm The Phantom Project: The Phantom: The Secret of the Mask from Amigo Games
Current Mood: anxiousanxious
Current Music: Poe - Control
I haven't had the joy of reviewing a board game before this one, mainly because there aren't very many of them. But look! It's adorable!

The Phantom: The Secret of the Mask from Amigo Games, 1993
Grade: B+

This is a German board game (original title: Das Phantom: Das Geheimnis der Maske), and like a lot of German board games from the nineties, it's a little bit abstract, being more focused on good gameplay mechanics and replay value than on tying in closely to its theme. However, it actually does a pretty great job of giving the mechanisms of gameplay a neat connection to the source material it's based on, and the end result is a fun little game that will probably entertain folks who are into the Phantom story and Philistines alike.

By the way, you may notice some silver writing on my photos of the box, which includes a signature and a date. I am told by the powers that secondhand sold it to me that it was signed by the designer, although apart from a signature that looks like it does indeed start with the letter W. The designer was Wolfgang Kramer, who is a semi-famous designer of board games for companies like Ravensburger, as well as being a novelist and all-around badass.

Okay, the first and possibly most important thing you need to know about this game is that it has an interactive box, and that interactive box is delightful. Here's what our Phantom on the front of the game looks like:

He's obviously rocking a Webber-inspired half-mask, which is not surprising since that musical was still insanely popular at this time, although the red lipstick does give it a bit more of a Carnivale/Old World feel that might hearken back to some earlier interpretations. Everyone in my house (so John, and some cats) was very impressed by the Phantom's manly yet handsome appearance; check out that stubbled jaw, those chiseled lips, that bushy red hair! He looks like he should be a sailor named Seamus or Arthur or something, wearing a mask for Halloween after a long day out trawling and sweating. He seems like someone with whom it would be fun to eat a shepherd's pie and drink too much beer.

But then you realize that you can actually flip the mask up to see the face hidden beneath, and behold:

Okay, so, well, let's forget that whole "let's go get a drink" thing. I'm a fan of everything going on here; in addition to being a serious deformity that is having none of your lip (obviously, since he doesn't have lips, man you guys don't even deserve how hilarious I am), it's clearly drawing inspiration from much earlier versions of the Phantom, most likely including Leroux's original. The deformity of that half of his face is very similar to Leroux's description of the death's-head, including pale, grey, corpse-like skin, a total lack of hair and softer tissues such as lips, and large protruding eyeballs and a marked resemblance to a dead person. It looks very much congenital, skipping us past the versions of the Phantom that came by their ugliness due to scarring or accidents, and also brings to mind images of Frankenstein's monster, which this game's premise might also owe a slight debt to.

It's odd that the deformity of the right side of the face is completely at odds with the "normal-looking" left side; little obvious effort has gone into reconciling them, making it clear that the intent is to surprise and shock those who peer under the mask rather than to look all that realistic. The disfigurement of half of the face is so severe that I wonder why the game's creators chose to represent the Phantom with a half-faced deformity at all; all I can figure is that the popularity of Webber's first musical made using visually similar design elements a good marketing move.

By the way, there is no "secret of the mask" in this game unless it's the box's easily-discovered secret. But we can probably forgive it for these shenanigans. It's a pretty good box cover.

But what about inside the box? Well, the game is in German, so those without translations may have a little trouble making headway (for those of you who want to try it anyway, might I suggest the good volunteer translators over at A quick introduction to the game's premise informs us that the Phantom (who, like Webber's version of the character, is never named) has kidnapped a girl from "the village" and spirited her away to "Castle Zitterstein", from whence she must be rescued.

Alas for this poor girl; she also doesn't get a name, and the rules only refer to her as "the pretty one" when they talk about her, which I believe happens a grand total of two times. I don't know where the "village" she was kidnapped is or why the Phantom is living on a creepy castle on a hill abducting people instead of doing his normal Phantom stuff, and no one is going to enlighten me so I'm just going to have to imagine that the game's designers apparently wanted to mix some elements of the Phantom story, Shelley's Frankenstein and traditional German fairytales to give us a vaguely spooky setup for the game's events. They're clearly not trying to freak anyone out - "Zitterstein" means "trembly stones", for god's sake - but it's still a stab at ambiance.

The players, according to the rule booklet, are all fellow villagers, who are determined to break into the castle and rescue the kidnapped woman. It makes a point of telling us that all the players want to be the first one to do so, since this is not a co-op game, which helps prevent anyone from being confused about the object but also makes us all kind of jerkbags (seriously? she's been kidnapped and we have to wave our dicks around over who's going to save her first?). But at least someone is trying to rescue her, and the smallish mob of villagers coming to her aid recalls the angry mob that chased down the Phantom in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film as well as the angry ending chorus from Webber's 1986 musical.

The gameboard itself is a tile-map of hexagonal spaces, some of which are "clear" and available for players to advance through and some of which are blacked out and represent walls. We also see multiple "rooms" in the castle, which although they are off-limits to the players and can only be entered by the Phantom nevertheless tie into the game's theme - one has a pipe organ in it, suggesting the Phantom's famous usage of such, another is full of what look like costumes, another a large free-standing mirror suggesting his use of mirrors to communicate with Christine, another several drama masks, and one even a small rowboat on an underground lake, calling back to the Phantom's place of residence in Leroux's novel.

The kidnapped girl is in the last room at the end of the board, where we can see from her artwork that she is also a redhead (neat!), and the players have to navigate their way there to rescue her. They also can't get in to save her unless they collect various objects on the way; according to the rules, the door will only open "to the sound of a violin and the smell of roses." That's all the explanation that aspect of the game will get, but it's kind of refreshing that they don't bother to make a lot of sense with it. Look, the Phantom plays a violin, he gives the girl a lot of roses in some versions, you need both to win. It's magic. Deal with it.

The players' pieces are pawns wearing dapper little top hats, which make them look like gentlemen adventurers - and gentlelady adventurers, since the rules make a point of saying that the players represent men and women from the village, so we are all free to imagine ourselves as tiny Marlene Dietrich if we want to. The Phantom is also on the board, and is represented by a black piece twice as tall as the other pawns, with a white domino mask slapped on its face. It's interesting that the domino is fully face-covering where the box and gameboard art keep using the half-mask, but probably not relevant beyond someone in design reasoning that a mask is a mask is a mask.

Hilariously, while the roses are scattered all over the board, the Phantom himself begins the game hoarding all the violins. Everyone has to find his room and break into it in order to steal valuable musical instruments, which is pretty entertaining.

I won't go thoroughly into gameplay, but the basic premise is that you roll dice for the number of players in the game, and each one chooses a die result in turn, allowing them to advance that many spaces. One possible outcome, both on dice and on the board, is to receive a mask, which allows only limited movement but also gives access to board tiles and/or Magic cards, which grant special powers such as discovering secret passageways or being able to fend off others who might steal your hard-won items. The choosing-dice mechanics adds an interesting element of not only giving yourself the best advantage but also looking ahead to what advantages you might give your opponents, and the Magic cards are resources that everyone should always be reaching for.

The ability to gain board tiles is especially genius; the game has a modular board, meaning that you can change what areas can be visited or are blocked off by essentially rewriting the board as you add tiles to it. This allows players to in effect "find" secret passages through walls or spring "traps" on opponents by walling them up in their current location, which is a very neat way of alluding to the traditional ability of the Phantom to build and use cunning secret passages and locations as well as confounding others who try to follow suit. The Phantom himself also demonstrates these powers; each round, he moves around the board, menacing the players, and unlike them he is capable of walking through walls and frightening players away from wherever they were heading, illustrating his power as a master of his environment and perhaps suggesting a hint of the truly supernatural around him.

This isn't what I'd call a "perfect" board game; its exact-roll-only mechanic for landing on important board spaces is frustrating for players, and there were several areas where the rules were unclear, including whether or not Magic cards that moved spaces counted as "exact rolls", whether or not the half-spaces at the edges of the board could be stood on, and whether or not Magic cards that removed already-placed board-changing tiles could remove them while someone was standing on them. John, who dedicated half of a Sunday afternoon to testing it out with me because he is supportive and also a huge game snob, pointed out that it also tends to bottleneck halfway through; players can technically steal items from one another, but especially with low numbers of players, doing so is difficult and impractical so it's pretty easy for the first player to take a lead to retain it without the other players being able to do much about it, leading to everyone ending up having fisticuffs outside the door to the end room while the person they are supposed to be rescuing probably sighs and rolls her eyes within.

But it's still a nicely designed and functional little game, with a creative premise and neat Phantom-flavored touches, so it's a pretty good way to pass an afternoon if you don't mind giggling at yourself and anyone else who voluntarily plays it with you now and then.

(Cross-posted from The Phantom Project.)
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Jul. 22nd, 2014 @ 01:51 pm The Phantom Project: Le Masque by Narumi Kakinouchi
Current Mood: groggygroggy
Current Music: Lorde - Royals
This comic is weird. Not necessarily totally bad... but definitely weird.

Le Masque by Narumi Kakinouchi, 1994
Grade: C

I... guess this is a C grade? I feel like if someone turned this in to me, the Phantom Studies Professor, as a final project, I wouldn't really know what to do with it but I wouldn't think it merited failure, so I'd have to default to the average. It doesn't pretend to follow the Phantom story closely but also makes it clear that it's based on it, even going so far as to directly reference it in its text, so we're looking at a case of burgeoning creativity rather than an overzealous reviewer connecting dots that aren't there. (This time. Every day I get a little better about that.)

If you happen to be a manga buff, you might be interested to know that this is the same author responsible for the popular 1980s manga and anime series Vampire Princess Miyu. Ironically, this is not a vampire Phantom story, though.

We're about to get Freudian and we're going to be fabulous about it, too.Collapse )

So that's all she wrote, and as I said, it's hard to compare it to other versions of the story or grade it based on its content, which is clearly not intended to slavishly follow anyone else's story or incorporate too many of anyone else's ideas. It does make a firm stab (I am hilarious) at providing its own meaningful subtext, however, so while it's not the deepest story I've ever read for this project, I'm inclined to say it's a pretty decent way to pass a couple of hours.

(Cross-posted from The Phantom Project.)
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Jul. 15th, 2014 @ 03:21 pm The Phantom Project: Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber (part 3)
Current Mood: apatheticapathetic
Current Music: Meredith Brooks - Bitch
In the final installment of this musical's very, very long story, the truly poor plotting comes to a very messy head.

Don't get attached to any ladies in this show, is all I'm saying.Collapse )

While I never expected this show to become one of my new favorites - as I said way back in the beginning of this review, in spite of my efforts I'd already learned a little too much about its plot to think it was going to be a chart-topper in the world of Phantom-related works - I'm still disappointed by how dismal it really turned out to be. There were precious few original ideas or interesting devices used, and the show spent hours recycling tired old derivative-work cliches, giving me the feeling of watching a staged version of any one of a number of awful self-published sequels I've read over the years. The plot is tissue-thin, improbable and full of inconsistencies and unpleasant implications, the characters lack motivations for the things they do and seldom get any real development or emotional content to their lines or actions, and the fundamental concept of the show is yet another reward-the-underdog fantasy in which the Phantom has to be rewarded no matter how much doing so is inconsistent with his previous characterization. It's especially disappointing because this is Webber's own sequel to his own show, which is among the best adaptations of Leroux's novel yet produced and certainly the most popular, and his apparent complete misunderstanding of the reasons his first show was so beloved is a letdown after all the positive feelings we brought with us from it.

The music of the show, despite fits and starts where it lacks a really compelling way of tying itself together or dips into boring recitative for a little too long, is lovely in its own right and responsible for the musical's avoidance of a lower grade; in particular, "Beneath a Moonless Sky" and parts of "Once Upon Another Time" are signature Webber and as beautiful as anything his first show produced. But even they can't disguise this show as anything but what it is: trite, boring, offensive, and disappointing.

(Cross-posted from The Phantom Project.)
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Jul. 15th, 2014 @ 03:18 pm The Phantom Project: Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber (part 2)
Current Mood: exhaustedexhausted
Current Music: Matchbox 20 - Back 2 Good
I don't even have the wordcount to spare on extra introductory text, that's how out of control this thing got.

Songs About the Phantom's Boner: A MusicalCollapse )

And part three, in which the end of the road is reached, will be coming in a moment!
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Jul. 15th, 2014 @ 03:14 pm The Phantom Project: Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Current Mood: boredbored
Current Music: Love Never Dies - Once Upon Another Time
It's been a long time coming, hasn't it?

Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber, 2010
Australian DVD cast starring Ben Lewis, Anna O'Byrne & Simon Gleeson
Concept recording starring Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess & Joseph Millson
Grade: D+

Reviewing this musical was a journey even before ever cracking the jewel case. Because of the massive influence of Webber's musical version of the Phantom story, which has for many people become the definitive version and is without question the most well-known worldwide, easily overshadowing the book it was based on, Webber's decision to release a sequel to the show caused a tropical hurricane in the world of stage shows. Fans of the show were both ecstatic, hoping for more of the original musical's magic, and horrified, wondering what this story could possibly do without invalidating its predecessor. Musical fans in general, even if they weren't big on the first Phantom show, pointed out that sequel musicals invariably bomb and are almost always a terrible idea. Rumors ran rampant. It was a crazy time.

It was also 2007, which was right around the time that I started working on the Phantom Project, so the hurricane took me right along with it. It was impossible to turn anywhere on the internet without hearing about it; and while gossip is one thing, the show actually did indeed eventually come out in 2010, after which it exploded all over everything Phantom-related. Since I spend a lot of time trying not to read too many other peoples' opinions about things I'm going to review, so I can be as impartial as possible before I decide to hate something all by myself, I then had to basically instruct my browser to never ever show me anything on the internet with the words "love never dies" in it, which for a long time blacked out almost every Phantom haunt I was frequenting and large swaths of fanfiction and poetry sites. Every person even vaguely related to me in my life also decided simultaneously to buy the darn thing for me, so I had DVDs and CDs sort of stashed around the house, the way someone trying to diet half-heartedly hides truffles and pretends they'll never find them.

I was not entirely successful in spite of these measures; there was just too much shouting about the show to stay totally unspoiled about it, and now, four years later, there were not a lot of surprises for me in terms of the show's plot and style. But I have only just experienced the actual execution (I hadn't even listened to the sample tracks before this, because that is how dedicated I am to science!), so I have many, many things to say that are all my own.

And the first of those things is that it is a confirmed fact that this show was based on Frederick Forsyth's story for his 1999 novel The Phantom of Manhattan, on which he collaborated with Webber for a sequel way back in the 90s, and my friends, I hate that book so much. I would have been able to tell that this show is obviously based on the same premise without knowing that, but I would have expected someone on the show's PR team to suppress widespread knowledge of that fact, if only because of how universally hated that book is.

I want y'all to know that I dug out my copy of Forsyth so I could perform deep-text comparative analysis, though, and if that doesn't mean I love you, I don't know what does.

Since Love Never Dies has been through a LOT of rewrites - which, according to Webber's statements and press releases, is because it did not do particularly well in its first several runs and critics kicked it in the ass a bunch until it was reworked - it's hard to choose the version of it to review. I'm therefore trying something in this review I've never done before: a dual review, in which I'll talk about two versions of it at once. I'll try not to make it incomprehensible. I'll signpost my craziness.

I decided eventually to both listen to the concept recording, which was Webber's original vision for the show and features the original London cast that performed it, and watch the DVD release of the much later Melbourne production of the show, which includes all the changes made during edits and allowed me the opportunity to see the story play out visually instead of just guessing from inferences on an audio recording. Also, I mean, I had both already. For science!

I spent a whole lot of time not knowing how to grade this weird, weird weirdo of a show.Collapse )

It's another day of firsts; I think this may be the first musical review that needed more than one post to itself, unless Webber's previous show also did, and I know it's the first one to ever need three. Second part coming next!
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Jun. 30th, 2014 @ 07:27 pm The Phantom Project: The Return of the Phantom: Le Coeur Loyal by Etienne de Mendes (part three)
Current Mood: angryangry
Current Music: Martina McBride - Independence Day
In case you're harboring hope... don't. It's fruitless. But now that you know, you can get yourself a chocolate pie and be as ready as you're going to get to attack the rest of this thing.

There's no reason for anything else that's going to happen, just the endless sound of screaming.Collapse )

This book has a pretty egregious problem with inserting random violence, usually sexual in nature, into its narrative purely because the plot is not generating enough action and/or the characters do not have enough emotional investment, which is lazy writing at best and depressingly boring and disconnected for the reader at worst. But the fact that almost all of that violence is perpetrated by men and visited on women, some of whom (like Grace) exist for the express reason to have violence enacted upon them to give other people feelings, is an added layer of unnecessary grossness on top of a story already put together very poorly.

de Mendes has a decent command of writing and a part of me hates to fail this book when it's not so mechanically poor that the reader can't follow what's happening, but it's so chock-full of awful inconsistency, poor storytelling and outright misogyny that I just can't imagine ever reading it again or recommending it to someone else. This is only the first in a series by de Mendes, of which I have several to look forward to, and I can only hope that the next ones improve as the author finds sea legs and moves further away from Leroux's novel and closer to original material.

(Cross-posted from The Phantom Project.)
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Jun. 30th, 2014 @ 07:23 pm The Phantom Project: The Return of the Phantom: Le Coeur Loyal by Etienne de Mendes (part 2)
Current Mood: crankycranky
Current Music: The Dixie Chicks - Not Ready to Make Nice
In part two, we will discover a lot of ways that this book is the worst ever and makes me too sad to carry on without prodigious help from alcoholic beverages.

Everything is Christine's fault. And I do mean EVERYTHING.Collapse )

Sorry, there's a third part still to come. We all get out together or nobody gets out at all.
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