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.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise Part 2

Usually this would include a video review with Venessa but she wasn’t in the mood to participate.  She did however read The Promise Part 2.  Twice.  And so have I.  That's how much we love this series.

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise Part 2 picks up immediately after Part 1.  Now that Fire Lord Zuko is reluctant to force the relocation of the Fire Nation colonists from Yu Dao, Aang and Katara travel to Ba Sing Se hoping for a peaceful resolution between the Earth King and the young Fire Lord, taking a bit of a detour when they visit Aang’s fan club.  Sokka decides to join Toph at her metalbending school and finds she has her hands full with a firebending master coming back to reclaim the building that had once been his before the Harmony Restoration Movement and which Toph has been using for her metalbending school.  Sokka, hoping for a calm resolution, suggests Toph’s metalbending students face the firebending master’s students.  The problem is, Toph’s students have not mastered metalbending.  In fact, they haven’t even been able to bend metal at all!  And while Zuko’s under a lot of pressure by both Fire Nation citizens and his promise to the Earth Kingdom, his relationship with Mai has been neglected and she stands up for herself in a very surprising way.

In Part 2 we get to spend more time with Aang and we see a bit of Zuko too but we’re mostly following Toph’s story.  I think Aang got short changed again.  I was hoping to see more of him and how he’s developed but mostly what you get is fan girls squeeing over him which was already done in Book 1 Episode 4 The Warriors of Kyoshi.  This time he is much more mature about the situation but I feel like we’ve been there done that, so let’s move on please.  Things get more interesting once he and Katara meet with the Earth King but that is brief, yet troubling, and I hope to see more of Aang the Avatar in Part 3.

This was, like I said, Toph’s story and I really enjoyed it.  She’s still herself, calling her student’s lily livers and yelling at them.  We learn that after her experience teaching Aang earthbending she found she loves teaching.  She believes in her students and it eventually inspires them to want to succeed.  Toph is full of confidence and self assuredness, the very opposite of her students; three individuals who have never been challenged before and have never had anyone expect anything from them.  Seeing the start of Toph's metalbending school is very interesting.  For her to go from just three students to the Republic City police force with a well earned statue that stands in front of the building in her honor is a treat.  I also really liked the moments between Sokka and Toph.  You see a deep friendship and respect for each other.  There are also some really great exchanges and comic moments as they conspire to trick her students into bending metal.

The end to Part 2 has a very unexpected twist near the end.  Zuko’s girlfriend Mai is not happy with the way he has been hiding things from her and she makes a very bold decision that leaves him reeling but to find unexpected comfort from Suki.  I don’t have any problem with this and I can't wait to see where this leads to in Part 3.  It’s still a very surprising turn of events though.

It ends with the Earth King feeling like Zuko has broken his promise and insists that all Fire Nation colonists leave the Earth Kingdom for good.  Or else...  Does this mean another war is brewing?  Will Avatar Aang be able to keep the peace?  I don’t know and we have to wait until September to find out!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Happy Birthday to my Blog!

Image courtesy of Will Clayton

I didn’t post anything yesterday, or last Thursday, like I usually do because I wanted to hold off and take a breather in order to celebrate my blog’s 1 year birthday!  Today, one year ago I started this blog with my first post, a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2:

(This also happens to be my sister’s birthday so Happy Birthday, Michelle!)

Early last year I had been keeping track of books I read with a Facebook app.  But I was only limited to so many characters when I wanted to express what I thought about a book.  Also, I don’t really like to consider them reviews.  I like to think of them as what I’m feeling about a particular book or movie.  Sometimes I'll have lots of thoughts and sometimes a book won't leave much of an impression.

So, here I am and as a 1 year birthday treat for my blog I created a Google + Page and a Facebook Fan Page for my blog.  In the right sidebar you’ll find direct links to both so can follow and like them if you want to connect.

It’s interesting looking back at the first 5 posts.  I really had no direction or schedule.  I eventually found my groove and remained focused on just sharing my joy and frustration with what I’m reading and watching.  I’ve been having a great time and look forward to another year and more.  And now, I’d like to share some of my favorite posts and reading challenges I’ve experienced so far:

As a thank you to everyone who has visited and commented I’d like to give away some bookmarks!  The cut off to sign up for some bookmarks will be Friday, July 20th.  After that we can connect through Twitter and direct message (you can unfollow me afterwards, I won’t be offended) so I can get mailing address info or you can email me at

Thank you again to site visitors, fellow bloggers, friends and family who have supported me!  Here’s to another year (and more!) of ranting and gushing over my favorite pastime!  I'd like to leave you with a preview of what to look forward to:

Monday, July 9, 2012

“In other words, crew deaths are a feature, not a bug…”

Ensign Andrew Dahl has been assigned to the xenobiology lab aboard the flagship, Intrepid.  Even though Away Missions are not necessarily part of his job description, there is always the opportunity for him to serve on one along with the famous Captain Abernathy and Commander Q’eeng.  But Dahl begins to notice something strange aboard the Intrepid: crew members scurrying out of the senior officer’s path, he is often left alone in the lab when Q’eeng arrives “unannounced” everyone having left for “coffee” or to “check inventory”.  There’s also the magic box that does impossible things and away missions that really serve no purpose but always end with the senseless death of a crew member.

After enjoying Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi I was excited to read his latest, Redshirts; especially when I learned what it would be about.  If you are familiar with Redshirts in the Star Trek universe, you know they don’t always fare well on away missions.  I was curious where he would go with this and I was looking forward to the great dialogue I liked so much in Fuzzy Nation.

In Redshirts, I got the dialogue and while I think I understand what Scalzi was going for, I felt a little let down.  I was hoping for something a little more sinister behind the demise of the poor redshirts.  What I got was a silly premise straight out of a bad sci-fi show, with bad science and someone saying something very dramatic .  The characters didn’t feel fully fleshed out; a little too one dimensional where any of them could have come and gone without much notice.  This is what I think Scalzi wanted to present but it wasn’t what I was looking for.

I was able to take something away from this as a wannabe writer so it’s not like this book is a waste of time.  There are some funny moments that make you laugh out loud.  There are also some sentimental moments contained in the three codas at the end.  So even though I was disappointed it was still a good read and there are lots more Scalzi books out there I'm sure I'll really enjoy.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Did Not Finish: The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett

Normally I wouldn’t write about a book I didn’t finish reading.  Earlier this year I attempted Count to a Trillion and The Difference Engine.  But with both of them I only got about 50 pages in and decided they were not for me at the time.  I still intend to return to them.  The Company Man, however, is a different matter.  It has joined the club along with Anna Karenina and Quicksilver: books that started out interesting, that I got more than halfway through, then gave up in frustration.  With The Company Man I read up to page 361 of a 454 page book.  I think I’ve earned my right to talk about it.  And this is how mad I am at it.  I can’t even be bothered to write my own summary so I’ll include the one from Goodreads:

The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built the guns that won the Great War before it even began. They built the airships that tie the world together. And, above all, they built Evesden-a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer.

But something is rotten at the heart of the city. Deep underground, a trolley car pulls into a station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the victims were seen boarding at the previous station. Eleven men butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. All are dead. And all are union.

Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this. There is a dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton and with a war brewing between the executives and the workers, the truth must be discovered before the whole city burns. Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, Hayes must uncover the mystery before it kills him.

This is an alternate history.  The McNaughton Corporation brought a lot of advanced technology to the world that they prevented WWI and there are now airships in 1919.  This book is also a thriller, with union workers and whether they are sabotaging factories on their own or on the orders of some mysterious union leader named Mickey Tazz.  It’s also a murder/mystery with an unsolved murder in the beginning, as well as the trolley full of dead union workers that shows up.  There’s also a paranormal element with Cyril Hayes and his special talent and some strange, shadow/ghost creature that appears and a mysterious red object that falls from the sky.  And there are the secret inventions McNaughton is working on... I think we've got genre overload here.

And I guess we’re supposed to care about the following three people:  Detective Donald Garvey, the street-wise, divorced detective.  Samantha Fairbanks, the ingenue brought in my McNaughton to work with and rein in Cyril Hayes.

I really don't know what I'm supposed to think about them with what we're given about these three:

Hayes, is “The Company Man”, who uses his talent to spy on McNaughton workers.  Apparently his motivation is to fix a mistake he made earlier where he blackmailed some executive who was so scared and stressed about the dirt that could be used against him he committed suicide.  So Cyril is trying to bounce back from that but instead of being Mr. Fixer he just causes more of a mess, dragging Samantha and Garvey along with him.

Garvey’s story is all mixed up.  He’s trying to solve a murder that occurs in the beginning of the book, but that gets ignored when the trolley full of dead union workers shows up.  The first murder victim may or may not have had ties with the union workers, who are then ignored because Garvey ends up shooting some other union worker - who was attempting to rape Samatha (don't even get me started why this even had to be added to the story) - so then it turns into a story of trying to clear his name.  He’s also divorced and I guess that’s supposed to give him some depth but I think being a detective frustrated with his job would have been enough.

Samantha is just dragged along for the ride and she’s basically there to prove herself.  To who?  I don't know.

Character-angst overload now?  And why didn’t Samantha get a dramatic backstory?

I don’t really know what I’m supposed to be caring about in this book.  It jumps around way too much.  And all these details I guess are meant to create a richly detailed world and characters but it just confused me.   I also was not able to get a real feel for the city, what the buildings look like, what the style of clothes were or the cars they drove.

And then there was this:

Andersson frowned into his beer mug.  “Tazz has said nothing about the trolley murders.”
“Really?  Nothing?”
“Nothing,” said Andersson.
“Not even anything about the Red Star?”
“He is not coming out anymore.”
"What?  Coming out of where?"
“Union men died, Andrew,” Andersson said softly.  “A lot of union men.  There is danger, they say.  He is in hiding.”


“Well, internally they say it’s marketing,” said Hayes.
Andersson frowned.  “Marketing?”


Hayes thought quickly.  “These machines…Do they have little crystals?  Are they like lamps, that light up blue?  Some big, some little?”
Lamps?” said Andersson, confused.  “No, they did not say they were lamps.”

See the underlined parts I marked; the repeating of a word in the form of a question.  In just one conversation it happened 8 times!  And it wasn’t just with certain characters.  I happened a lot.  I don’t know if it’s stylistic or what but it kind of drove me nuts because it just stood out way too much.

BUT despite some of my issues I was still enjoying it.  I still found myself curious and wanting to know what was going on, despite the weird leaps in time and logic.  I was still on board until I read this line:

“She was asleep on the bed.  He walked in carefully, moving as softly as he could.  Her thumb was just inches from her mouth, as if she were just a few years out of infancy.”

So instead of describing Garvey looking upon someone he loves, and glad to find her safe, Samantha is described as if she’s a child.  Huh?  I know she is young but so far at this point in the story she's proved capable of taking care of herself.  Maybe someone else would not have been bothered by this line and maybe I’m reading too much into it but it just pushed me over the edge with this book.  Sometimes I’m able to read through the bad.  I mean, look at Legacy.  But Legacy ended at 345 pages of plot holes and not making a whole lot of sense, where The Company Man just kept going and I couldn't take it anymore.

I’d read reviews for this author’s other books that sounded good so I was really looking forward to reading this one.  It is really disappointing to put in so much effort but then end up having to walk away from it.  I don’t like not finishing a book after investing so much time into it.  That’s why there are not many that I’ve done this with.  But I'm going to have to let this one go.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Summer Reading 2012

I wasn’t really planning on writing up anything about what books I plan to read this summer.  But Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings put up a Mr. Linky and I thought, why not, backlinks are never a bad thing.  This will also give me a reason to brag about Venessa.

Barnes and Noble has a summer reading program going on.  Read any eight books, record them in the reading journal provided by B&N, bring it it and get a free book.  Well, Venessa has already read eight books and is on to her second reading journal with two already added to that!  I’m so proud of her.  The free book she picked out was Half Magic by Edward Eager.  The library also has a summer reading program so she’s been keeping track of her books in the journal they provided.  The library gives out stickers each week to mark their progress.  She’s reading a mix of graphic novels like the Avatar series and Babymouse, along with some chapter books like the Ivy & Bean series.  I also have her read aloud to me.  Last week she read Father Bear Comes Home and Little Bear’s Friend to me.  These were books I grew up reading and I’ve handed down my battered copies to Venessa.  If you’re curious what books make for good reading for an eight year old, I created a shelf on Goodreads with the books Venessa has read so far this summer:

As for me, this summer I plan to read Night Watch and Thud! by Terry Pratchett.  They are part of the Discworld series so they’ll be read for the Summer In Discworld reading challenge.  Currently I’m almost done with Redshirts by John Scalzi.  I’m hoping to get to The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma and A Kiss of Shadows by Laurell K. Hamilton.  The other day me and a friend were bashing 50 Shades of Grey and it somehow led to how much the Anita Blake books disappointed me.  My friend suggested the Meredith Gentry series by Laurell K. Hamilton.  He said it’s completely crazy and trashy but no matter how nuts it was he couldn’t stop reading so I will see how that goes with the first book.  I will also try to squeeze in The Thief by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott and The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett.  The Clive Cussler book has a cover that caught my eye so when I saw it at the library it was an impulse grab.  I’ve never read any Cussler so we’ll see how that goes as well.

We’ll see how any of this goes since I’m a mood reader and right now I’ve been feeling like I’m in a reading slump.  I haven’t been blown away with my latest reads and it’s been disappointing.

So now it's your turn.  Tell me what you will be reading this summer.