Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Hà has only known Saigon.  The sights and smells of the markets, her own papaya tree.  This is her home but the Vietnam War is encroaching upon her life quickly.  It’s already taken her father away to fight and it has come for her home.  Despite reservations of leaving, not knowing how their father will find them, Hà’s family is forced to escape the North Vietnamese army.  They board a ship, not knowing where their future lies.  Cramped on a stalled ship after several days at sea they are rescued and the refugees are taken to the US.  Hà’s family is sent to live in Alabama a strange world with no papaya tree   can call her own.  Together, Hà’s family become accustomed to their new life, learning the language, the customs, religion, all while enduring the teasing and distrust from their new neighbors, but never forgetting who they are or where they came from.

The cover alone is enough to make someone stop and pick this book up.  Add a well written verse, that is beautiful, at times heartbreaking, and you almost have a perfect book that you will never forget.  With just a few carefully selected words, Thanhha Lai makes you feel what Hà feels, which means keep the tissues close.  But she will also make you smile.

I can’t imagine what it was really like evacuating Saigon during that time.  I’ve only known moving across the country but to a new state with a shared language and coworkers who I had previously met.  To leave in a rush of panic and confusion with no idea what will become of you; it takes a brave person to experience all that and all throughout this book I kept wondering if I could be as brave and resourceful as Hà and her family.  I really hope so if such a situation ever arises and I admire anyone who has had to bravely leave their home not knowing what the future will be.

Hà is wonderful.  She’s a very real little girl with hopes and dreams.  You feel her frustration as she attends school in the United States, as well as her triumph when she outwits a bully.  She’s defiant and refuses to let the fact she’s the youngest or a girl let anything stop her.  She is also very brave.  With very little complaint she endured the hardships her family faced when they evacuated Saigon and then suffered the cramped living spaces of the ship they escaped on with little food, space or privacy.  She is someone to be admired and I think all little girls should read her story.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labor Day Catch-All

I have a couple of updates for reading challenges and other miscellaneous happenings, so I’m going to write about it all in this one post so hold on tight as I switch gears often!

First, Venessa and I have been enjoying the newly renovated Lake Jackson Library Branch.  We had been looking forward to this all summer and it was worth the wait.  The renovated building is larger, well lit and includes more shelf space, a lot more computer terminals and seating.  The children’s section has the best spot near the windows making it bright and cheery, the YA section has some comfy reading nooks and my favorite spot is the reading room.

On our first visit Venessa checked out the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and has watched it nearly every day (we recently renewed it for another week because she couldn’t part with it).  I think it’s cute because I recently discovered The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns is streaming on Netflix.  I grew up with both of those movies and watched them constantly, especially The Black Stallion Returns.  And do you know how I watched them so much?  By checking them out from the library!

Doctor Who: Asylum of the Daleks

Season 7 of Doctor Who premiered on September 1st, did you see it?  I bought it through Amazon and I think it’s an okay start.  Daleks are Daleks and I feel like we’ve been there done that with them and I’m more excited about next weeks episode with dinosaurs on a spaceship.  But if this season continues with more stand alone type adventures, I’m all in.  I’m also very curious how the new companion will work out because SPOILER ALERT she was a human turned into a Dalek who was destroyed in this episode.  How does she go from destroyed human-Dalek to companion?  We’ll see!  And another thing, am I the only one not on board this Amy-Rory divorce because Amy can’t have any more children?  This seemed odd considering Amy is smarter than that and should know Rory by now and remember that he did wait 2,000 years for her.  And I know they didn’t get to raise River but she’s still around, she’s still their daughter and it felt like she was forgotten in this episode.  They did make up but there's probably more challenges to come for those two so I guess we’ll see how this works out.  END SPOILER ALERT 

On the reading front, the Summer In Discworld reading challenge hosted by Tales of the Marvelous has ended and I was pathetic.  I only read two Discworld books which I don’t find as very impressive stats but of course, they were great reads and I know I can always count on Discworld to lift me out of a reading funk.  Check out the review site for the Summer In Discworld challenge to see what others thought of Discworld: http://www.blenza.com/linkies/links.php?owner=MarvelousTales&postid=27May2012a&meme=9886

And here are my two reviews:

Guards! Guards! (Discworld #8)
Night Watch (Discworld #29)

With the end of summer and Halloween just around the corner you know what that means... the R.I.P. VII reading challenge!

Yes, it’s back and this will be the second time I will be participating.  I think Carl can see my bookshelves from his part of the country.  Last year I participated in the group read of Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman because I happened to have a copy.  This year there will be a group read of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and I also happen to have a copy too.  I’m hoping Venessa will finally let me read it aloud to her.  She says it’s scary but this is the same little girl who would cover her eyes while watching Doctor Who  but would then sneak out of bed to watch over my shoulder.  So, back to the R.I.P. Challenge which runs from September 1st through October 31st.  This challenge, or rather, experience, has different levels to participate and can include any book/short story/movie/TV show that fits within these categories:

Dark Fantasy

Visit Stainless Steel Droppings for more details.  I’m not going to commit to a level this year.  I’ll just see what I read and watch.  I’ve already started reading The Orphan’s Tales: In The Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente which fits in nicely as a Dark Fantasy and it is absolutely wonderful so far.  Other books I have on my shelf that I’d like to read for R.I.P. are:

World War Z by Max Brooks
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (for the group read)
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Hell by Robert Olen Butler
The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Pötzsch
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
The Orphan's Tales: In The Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente (Currently reading)
The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson (I asked for this book because it was a group read last year)

We’ll see what movies I’ll watch.  I’m going to try and get a viewing of Army of Darkness in and Evil Dead 2.  I’ve also been watching Dark Shadows off and on over the last three months so I’ll probably watch some more.  So if you want to see all the action here’s a link to the review site: http://ripviireviewsite.blogspot.com/ and blog or not, everyone is welcome to participate.

So that’s it!  Hope everyone has been enjoying their three day weekend!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Night Watch by Terry Pratchett (Discworld #29)

Commander Sam Vimes is about to be a father.  But he has been forbidden from his wife’s side.  What’s a good copper to do besides wear a hole in the carpet pacing?  Catch bad guys!  And Carcer, known murderer, bad guy extraordinaire, has been spotted and the Watch has him surrounded.  Joining the hunt is the best thing Sam can think of to keep him occupied.  But a harrowing encounter with Carcer atop the Unseen University Library during a freak magical storm sends Vimes and Carcer back in time.  Their presence alone disrupts the thread of time but when Carcer murders John Keel, the man who mentored a young Sam Vimes, the older Vimes must assume Keel’s identity and mentor himself if he is to be the Sam Vimes that he is.  Even if time has been disrupted certain events must take place: teaching a young Sam how to be a copper, being the face of a revolution and grabbing hold of Carcer to bring him to justice and back to the timeline they belong in.  If Sam fails, the life he knows, will never be or have been.

Oh time travel what a tangled web you weave and Pratchett handles it wonderfully though there were moments that confused me but I think that’s just the nature of time travel and this is Discworld after all.  Night Watch is also quite dark and gritty, and I’m often surprised by this at times because the humor and fantasy elements are hilarious and outrageous.  Pratchett doesn’t shy away from violence and the truth and motivations behind the mob mentality, rebellions and class warfare.  There’s also plenty of light moments and comedy.  I don’t know how Pratchett is able to balance everything out but he does.  There are moments that make you cringe, nod your head in agreement, stifle a laugh; his books are very engaging.

I really loved seeing the younger versions of Sam, Colon, Nobby and Vetineri.  A skinny, street urchin, pickpocket Nobby is the cutest, filthiest thing ever and Vetineri is just as sly and smart as an assasin just as he will be a sly, two-steps-ahead-of-you patrician.  And of course, Sam is Sam, always the copper, always determined to do what is right and he has become one of my favorite characters, not just from Discworld, but also from the fantasy genre altogether.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David Levithan is about A.  A wakes up in a different teenager’s body every day.  A is not sure why it happens, A just knows it does and there is nothing A can do about it.  So A lives the life of that particular teenager for a day, trying not to disrupt their routine.  That is until A ends up in the body of Justin and A meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon.  Forgetting the rules, A will do whatever is possible to be with Rhiannon, even if it means exposing A’s unusual ability.

I’m not really sure what prompted me to read Every Day by David Levithan.  The cover didn’t really speak to me and I’ve been wary of young adult books for a while until I read Railsea.  Maybe because I enjoyed Railsea so much that I was willing to give YA another chance.  Whatever the reason, I requested it from Net Galley and decided to give it a try 4th of July morning.  I ended up getting sucked into it and spending 3 hours reading in bed.  While I still like Railsea better I did enjoy Every Day very much.

A having no gender was hard to relate with at first and I couldn’t help but feel that A was male because in the beginning of Every Day, we meet A in Justin’s body.  Over time, though, as the story developed and I got to experience A living a day in the life of different teenagers, it became easier to see A as this non-gender consciousness who is still a person, who can feel and love and was just as comfortable in female bodies.  It was interesting to read over time how comfortably A was able to occupy male and female bodies without being troubled with how to behave in their bodies.

The romance between A and Rhiannon was not really my favorite part which were the experiences in the bodies.  The writing is simple enough to breeze through this but it leaves an impression as each experience is described, such as A’s experience as an overweight boy and the effort of carrying so much weight around, the young immigrant girl who worked all day cleaning houses to the point of exhaustion and there was also a young girl who was so depressed I was moved to tears.  Just the description of what it feels like to hate living in your own body; that disconnect between the body and mind that even A was affected by it is just heartbreaking and gives you just the smallest peak at what it's like to experience such depression.  

Then there was Zara and her girlfriend.  The two of them together was just so beautiful and uplifting.  I just loved their hidden romance, which was so tender and their friendship side that they showed to the world was filled with understanding and respect.  They were not ashamed of their feelings and even Zara’s mom, though never saying out loud that she knew about them, expressed in her own way how she was completely accepting and supportive.  It was a very refreshing read and my favorite part.

Though I didn’t care much for the romance, it did help drive another interesting part of the story, such as A using the body of one teenage boy who ends up believing he was possessed after the experience and is determined to find out what happened to him and why.  This storyline, along with the other experiences really made Every Day very interesting and one I would likely read again.  Also, as far as I know, this is a standalone, but the way it ends leaves it open for the imagination but also leaves a little something for a sequel.  If a sequel does happen, I will be reading it to find out what happens to A.

* Every Day by David Levithan will be available on August 28th, 2012.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What’s going on?

Oh, just being a slacker.  I've taken an unscheduled break from blogging and it’s not that I don’t have anything to write about.  In fact, I have several books lined up.  So instead of making excuses, I’ll give a reading update and hopefully this will get me back to my blogging schedule:

Every Day by David Levithan
Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Night Watch (Discworld #29) by Terry Pratchett

Currently I am reading The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and I’m also reading aloud to Venessa, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.

Also, here are my new library picks:

The Hemingway Hoax by Joe Haldeman
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Camouflage by Joe Haldeman
Goblin Quest by Jim C. Hines
Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days by Alastair Reynolds

This weekend I have plans to visit our local library branch.  For the past three weeks it’s been closed as they move into their renovated location, right next door and today was their grand re-opening.  We’ve been watching their progress as we drive by and have been anticipating this move because they will have a lot more space and the plans looked great.  Venessa and I are really looking forward to seeing their new space because this is the branch that’s closest to us so we’ve been regulars there all summer before they closed for the three weeks.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Singin' in the Rain at the All Saints Hop Yard

Last Saturday, the All Saints Hop Yard hosted an outdoor movie night. The movie of choice and one near and dear to my heart: Singin’ in the Rain. On a warm night under the stars, with some beers and lightning flashes miles away we spread out our blankets on the grass to watch this amazing movie. We had a blast and we were even part of the entertainment as my daughter and her friend were up and dancing throughout most of the movie. They even got some compliments after the movie from a group of attendees who said they were enjoying their dance routines more than the movie.

It had taken me years before I finally got around to watching Singin’ in the Rain. I had always loved musicals, watching Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Grease dozens of times with my mom and sister. But it wasn’t until the AFI’s list of 100 greatest American films did I finally get around to watching it. I was on a mission to watch every movie on that list and while I haven’t completed that goal yet, I did watch all the movies in the top 10 and Singin’ in the Rain was one of them. I remember when I watched it for the first time with my sister and how this movie had us laughing til we cried. Since then I’ve seen this movie dozens of times and since I own a copy on DVD we watch it constantly. So if I own a copy, why did I pay a cover charge to see it? I wanted to experience this movie with others and see their reaction. From what I could hear from the laughter and the humming, my family and I were not the only one who were enjoying it.

Singin’ in the Rain has so many iconic scenes it’s hard to pick a favorite part. All the dance routines and songs are fun and full of joy and you can’t help but tap your foot and sing along. Gene Kelly is dreamy, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen are hilarious, Debbie Reynolds is charming and don’t even get me started on Cyd Charisse with those gorgeous legs of hers and that sassy performance with her and Gene Kelly.

What’s also fun about this movie is its mini film history lesson as silent movie stars transition to talkies after the surprise hit of The Jazz Singer (which if you haven’t seen is an excellent movie too). I’m also big into behind the scenes stuff that goes into making movies and there’s some fun trivia that goes with Singin’ in the Rain:

  • Donald O’Connor, who smoked four packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day, was physically exhausted after performing Make ‘Em Laugh, but then had to to re-do the entire scene when the footage was ruined.
  • Gene Kelly was a tyrant and would yell at poor Debbie Reynolds because she couldn’t dance and Donald O’Connor was afraid of him too. But of course they gave their all and were true professionals.
  • Jean Hagen, actually dubbing Debbie Reynolds, whose character Kathy Seldon was actually dubbing Jean Hagen’s character, Lina Lamont! (Confusing I know but hilarious once you got it figured out)
  • Gene Kelly performing Singin’ in the Rain when ill with a temperature of 101!

This movie also gave me one of my all time favorite quotes from Lina Lamont (who is a quote machine!) “What do they think I am, dumb or something?

And while I love all the musical sequences when I think about it my two absolute favorites have to be Fit as a Fiddle and Moses Supposes. I was a violinist for five years in school and one of the most important things about playing in an orchestra is your bow movement and staying in sync with everyone around you. There are even notations on your sheet music telling you which way your bow should be going at certain points. So when I watch Fit as a Fiddle I’m even more impressed with that extra degree of difficulty when you watch Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly dancing together all while keeping the bow movements in sync. Also the song is super catchy.

In Moses Supposes, again, there’s that extra difficulty when Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor are dancing side by side on the desk. That is a small desk! And that is precision dancing there. Again this song is super catchy too (and these two are spiffy in their sweaters and slacks) and it’s not uncommon in our house that we end up humming a song or two from this movie, usually this one.

So count me as a fan for life of this movie and if you haven’t seen it yet, and are a fan of musicals, give it a try. You won’t regret it. And thank you to the All Saints Hop Yard for a great evening and I’m looking forward to more outdoor movie events.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Twelve year old Mary O’Hara is having a rough time.  Her best friend has just moved away and her beloved granny is in the hospital.  One day Mary meets a mysterious woman named Tansey who claims to be the ghost of Granny’s mother and she needs to pass on a message to her daughter.  Mary does not doubt this claim and with the help of her mother, Scarlett, they help Tansey to deliver her message to her daughter with an impromptu road trip to the past that strengthens the bond between these ladies, mothers and daughters.

This was such a delightful book to read.  Mary is clever and very cheeky, despite her protestations that she is not being cheeky at times.  She has a very healthy relationship with her mother and grandmother and the three of them together were some of my favorite parts, despite most of their visits taking place in a hospital.  But you feel the love and respect they have for each other.  It's so refreshing to read their story without any resentment or past family dramas (which there are none, thank goodness) creeping in to overshadow their time together.

I also really like Mary’s musings regarding her changing relationship with her older brothers feeling she doesn’t really know them anymore.  I could relate in a way.  Growing up, my sister and I spent a lot of time with our cousins, three brothers, and we were all close in age and got along fairly well.  But as we became teenagers we drifted and started doing our own thing.  I could also relate to Mary and her minor annoyances with her mother.  It’s something that happens to all of us as we grow and begin to become our own person but they get along well and love and support each other.  The dialog between the two of them is fun and charming.

But this book was not just about Mary.  It was also about her mother, Scarlett, and Scarlett’s mother, Emer, and Emer’s mother, Tansey, the ghost.  Four generations of ladies who spend an evening together reminiscing and providing comfort for each other.  It's also about change, growing up, life and death.  This was a quick read but it definitely packed an emotional punch.  I found myself crying at the end and it made me want to hug my daughter, mom, and grandmother.  Don't let the possibility of tears scare you away.  This is still a book I would love to read again and highly recommend.

Monday, July 30, 2012

New On The Shelf: The Library Edition

All summer I’ve been making weekly visits to the library with Venessa.  It’s a way to get out of the apartment for a bit without spending money and to stay out of the Florida humidity as much as possible.  It’s also to help Venessa find books that interest her enough to want to sit and read on her own.  It’s helped but we’ve had to go through a lot of different chapter book series to find the ones that interest her, which have turned out to be the Ivy & Bean and Babymouse series.  She’s had a good mix of other books as well that helped her complete her second Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Log.  So this last Saturday we went to B&N to get her free book for completing the reading log.  She chose Underworlds: The Battle Begins by Tony Abbott and I also got her the Brave Junior Novelization.  I had planned the bookstore trip so we’d be there for storytime but unbeknownst to me, until I heard the announcement, The Cat in the Hat would be making a visit.  We ended up not bothering with storytime because suddenly my eight year old daughter has a phobia of people in animal costumes!  She wouldn’t even look at The Cat in the Hat!

We lingered for a bit then left.  The main library branch was hosting an event so we went to that and with no furries in sight, Venessa had a good time.  There were several stations with themes such as Scary Stories, Night Animals and The Night Sky.  They had snacks, stories and activities.  We ended up staying for the entire event, the whole two hours.  Of course I got in some browsing for myself while we were there.  When we first arrived we had a large sack of books to return.  I told Venessa we should probably take it easy and not check out so many.  Did I listen to my own advice?  Of course not!  I’m not ashamed to admit that some books I saw at B&N I made note of and was fortunate to find at the library (having a Goodreads app on your phone with easy access to your To Read shelf is not necessarily a good idea).  So basically what I’m trying to say is that my Summer Reading plans are out the window.

(Not pictured: Spoiled by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan, Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

Bunheads by Sophie Flack is the story of Hannah Ward, a nineteen-year-old dancer with the Manhatten Ballet company.  Hannah is a corp member but dreams of becoming a principal dancer.  Dancing is all Hannah has ever wanted to do; It’s all she’s ever dreamed about her whole life.  Then she meets Jacob, the cute musician who helps her see there’s more to the world than just ballet.  Competition is fierce at the Manhattan Ballet and this is what Hannah has always wanted... or is it?

First, let’s take a moment to admire that book cover.  It’s definitely one of my favorites and one I can’t stop looking at.  As a little girl I always wanted to take ballet.  I went through a phase of checking out every Satin Slippers book from our local library.  I love ballet: the music, the pointe shoes, the precision, the gracefulness... but this life was not to be for me and that’s alright.  There’s books such as Satin Slippers and Bunheads, as well as movies like Center Stage to get a peek at what it’s like to be a dancer in this world.

I really enjoyed Bunheads.  I loved getting this brief glimpse into the love, dedication and frustration a dancer feels.  Sophie Flack is a former dancer so all the details are there to make the backstage drama come to life.  The friendship/rivalry amongst the female dancers was very interesting too.  That was my favorite part of this book; that it did mostly focus on the female dancers friendship.  There was a love triangle with two men vying for Hannah’s attention.  Usually I’m not for love triangles but they were not the main force driving Hannah.  Dance was and eventually whether she would continue to pursue her dream as a principal dancer, so the love triangle wasn’t too big of a deal for me.

I feel like Sophie Flack could of delved deeper into what drove Hannah to be so devoted to dance and why she began to question that devotion.  But this is Flack’s first novel so I won’t criticize it too much.  Overall I enjoyed it as a quick read and its insight into ballet.  I’m looking forward to more from Sophie Flack and I hope she continues to tell us more stories within the dance world.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Black Is The New White by Paul Mooney

I don’t know why it happened this way but for some reason I bookended the reading of Black Is The New White by Paul Mooney with two YA books.  I had just gone from Redshirts by John Scalzi to Every Day by David Levithan, and I found myself at a reading standstill where I was not quite sure what book I wanted to read next.  I ended up skimming through the list of books on my reader and seeing Black Is The New White made me pause.  I remembered how the last non-fiction book I read was a refreshing break from fiction so I went ahead and started reading.  I’m glad I did.  Black Is The New White was just what I needed.  It was a good, heavy dose of reality after reading a book about secondary characters looking to control their own fates from the narrative and a consciousness that hijacks a different teenage body every day.  All very fantastical stories that I discovered after reading them that I needed something to reground myself.

Paul Mooney is a writer, actor, comedian who has worked on or appeared on several TV shows and movies such as Sanford and Son, Good Times, Chapelle Show, The Buddy Holly Story and Bamboozled.  He was also very good friends with the late Richard Pryor and it’s in Black Is The New White where we get a really good look into their friendship as well as Paul Mooney’s experience in Hollywood.

The insight into his friendship with Richard Pryor is very interesting and candid.  He doesn’t hide or make excuses for Richard’s drug problems and speaks openly about them.  But he also doesn’t let you forget how talented Richard was and the mark he left as a great comedian.  I think the hardest part for me was reading about Richard’s battle with MS.  My mom was diagnosed with MS and there were lots of late night ambulance calls when my mom’s legs would go numb and she couldn’t walk and she would spend weeks in a rehabilitation hospital to recover only to have to go through the entire process again six months later.  Even though my mom hadn’t deteriorated to the point Richard had it’s still incredibly hard to watch someone you love suffer when they can’t get their body to respond the way they want it to.   Reading about Richard Pryor and Paul’s thoughts brought back a lot of painful memories and I understood how hard it was for Mooney to see his friend go through such a debilitating disease.

What I found fascinating was seeing the different aspects of the entertainment industry on the West Coast in Black Is The New White, while around the same time as John Lithgow’s book, Drama: An Actor’s Education over on the East Coast.  Both books roughly cover the same time period and they both offer an interesting look into TV, movies, comedy clubs and theater.  But Paul’s experience is extremely frustrating to read about, to know how many doors were shut in his face because of the color of his skin.  It’s inspiring that despite his struggles he persevered and didn’t change who he is as a person in order to make certain people more comfortable.

If you’re easily offended or don’t like to made uncomfortable when someone points out what’s wrong with our society or makes fun of it, this may not be the book for you.  For me, I really enjoyed Paul Mooney’s honesty and thank him for it.