Thursday, May 30, 2013

Ender's Game

It's been many years since I first read "Ender's Game", which is kind of nice, because I had forgotten nearly everything about it, except the big reveal at the end (how could you forget that?!) This is a book that holds up very well, in spite of it having been published originally in 1977. I loved it as much this time around as I did the first time I read it. Ender is the perfect leading character-- he's lovable, but flawed. He's an unwilling hero, a natural leader and soldier and besides being brilliant, he is very sympathetic. We all know the feelings such as not being as "good" as some might think we are; feelings of shame or discouragement, loneliness and despair. 

The story is exciting, compelling and fascinating. There are many books that I would recommend you read without first reading a synopsis. Just trust me. It's worth your time. This is one such book. The science is believable, the aliens and space battles and technology aren't so far-fetched that the sci-fi-ness takes over the story and distracts you by making you realize that you're reading Science Fiction. Which, as we all know, only nerds do, right? Riiiiiight....

Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: The Chronicles of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (and Various Authors)

"The House on Maple Street"
25 years ago Harris Burdick walked into the office of a former children's book illustrator, Peter Wender,  handed him 14 incredible, seemingly unrelated, black-and-white sketches with cryptic titles and captions. Wender loved them. Burdick promised to return the next day with more illustrations and the stories to go with all of them. He was never heard from again. Years later, Wender's children began writing stories to go with the illustrations, and that spread into schools, where teachers assign their students to write stories to accompany the pictures, too. Recently, the pictures were shown to Chris Van Allsburg ("The Polar Express", "Jumanji"), who recruited 13 other well-known authors, including Stephen King, John Scieszka, Louis Sachar, Kate DiCamillo and Lois Lowry (among others) to write stories for the pictures. They are all included in the volume "The Chronicles of Harris Burdick"

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness- Brilliance on the Big Screen

I really liked the 2009 Star Trek film, and knowing this was the same cast and director, with the perfect addition of Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain, I expected to like Star Trek: Into Darkness just as much. I was not disappointed. I seldom see a movie that I walk out thinking, "I would go see that again." Even when I really like a movie, I very rarely want to go again. But this one? Yep. I would go again. It was that good.
From Empire Online
I am also unusually being tempted to write SPOILERS online about the movie!! Which I try to never do. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

Book Review: Alacatraz Vs. the Evil Librarians

I love reading anything by Brandon Sanderson. His talent for creating fantasy worlds and
unique and never-before heard of magical abilities is unparalleled. I'm continually amazed-- every book series of his is completely different than anything else I've ever read-- just fantastic. I think he's quickly become my favorite author. 

His first youth fiction book, "Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians" is a quick, funny read, packed full of adventure and glib, self-aware narration, and the witty, layered remarks from the cheeky title character keep it moving along at a good pace. 13-year old Alcatraz begins by warning the reader that he is not really a very nice person, then launches into the first story of his adventures battling the evil librarians, who have been secretly enslaving us "Hushlanders" and teaching us false history, science and geography.

Being a librarian myself, I found the premise of a world controlled by secretly evil librarians (the "Hushlands") hilarious and intriguing. I knew I had to read this book. Of course, the evil women librarians are all horn-rimmed glasses-and-bun-wearing women who prefer things (especially books) to be in order and to "avoid making an incident".

There are some very funny sideways references to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", "Harry Potter" (in a scathing and very funny exchange between Alcatraz and his grandfather in the last scene) and other other works of fiction-- little, hidden Easter eggs for fantasy/sci-fi fans. I laughed out loud at those. Alcatraz also lampoons authors, reading, literature, and readers of fantasy with his snarky commentary. 

I also enjoyed that the heroes' names are all names of prisons: Alcatraz, Leavenworth, Sing-Sing,  Bastille and Quentin. And I thought the talking, harmless dinosaurs was genius.

The very best thing about the book, though, is the first of two surprising "magic" systems. The second (Occulation- the use of special lenses for specific purposes by special people called Occulators) isn't really fully understood in this book-- I can only assume books 2-4 will address them both in more detail. The first magic is very amusing and completely unexpected. The talents of the leading good guys are things such as "the ability to fall down" or "always arriving late" or, in Alcatraz's case, "breaking things". This may not sound like much, but the way the characters use these talents is brilliant and unique.

I look forward to reading the rest of the books. Sanderson wrote on his blog that this was intended to be a 5-book series, but as of today, only 4 have been published, so it will be interesting to see whether it's wrapped up in 4, or left hanging. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

"Dad is Fat" is a funny book written by a very funny man. If you've never heard Gaffigan's standup comedy
routines, you need to check out "Beyond the Pale" or "Mr. Universe" or "King Baby". Great stuff. His Hot Pockets and cake stuff is hilarious.

So now he's written a book about fatherhood. Gaffigan and his wife, Jeannie, live in a 2-bedroom walk-up apartment in New York City with their five (5!) kids, all ages 8 and younger. They have all sorts of misadventures-- trips to the park, subway rides to preschool, cab rides to various other activities, bedtime shuffling routines, insane vacations and weekly Catholic church attendance, just to name a few. He touches on a variety of areas of parenthood and adulthood, on the struggles of raising a family in New York, on his own childhood as the youngest of six kids, and things like taking his brood "camping" in a tour bus, plus so much more. The book is varied and chapters are short, so it's easy, light reading, but still compelling enough that I found myself drawn back to it.

I liked this book a lot, it was funny enough that I laughed out loud quite a few times. There's a lot of typical Gaffigan-style self-deprecating commentary and a lot of crazy scenarios he and his family get into (I can only imagine living the way they do-- no yard, no car, downstairs neighbors... I shudder...) and it's all very entertaining.

The best thing about the book is how much of it is filled with genuine affection for and appreciation of his wife, Jeannie. She sounds like a saint. His praise and adoration of her is sweet and endearing, but in no way takes away from the humor of the book.

It's a fun read, perfect for summer.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Book Review: Gone Girl

This book gave me headaches. For four days. Headaches. And made me feel a little nauseous.

Why did I finish it?

I don't know the answer. 

In my defense, the mystery is compelling, and though the characters aren't remotely likeable, they are fascinating in the way road kill is fascinating. But... ugh.

You can read a full synopsis of the story here, I don't want to rehash it. Suffice it to say that the main character, Nick Dunne is accused of murdering his wife, Amy, but things aren't all what they seem to be. 

I appreciated the setup, the trading points-of-view, from Nick's first person to Amy's diary entries for the first half of the book, and I appreciated the half-expected, but still interesting twist right in the middle, but, again, I didn't like any of the characters.

And the foul language and lewd, nasty sexual chatter is just... beyond disgusting. 

Normally I put down a book with this much f-word in it. 

Why didn't I put it down?

And everyone in the book talks this way-- vulgar and curse-laden, as though everyone living in Nick and Amy's world are junior high boys in a locker room. Junior high boys who have only recently discovered the inner thrill of talking like gutter trash. 

Someone, please inform Gillian Flynn that:
  1. Profuse swearing does not improve a story. Nor does it make you a better writer. If anything, it's a cheap, low, easy way to inject "passion" into dialogue-- expletives instead of expression or intelligence. Not pleasant.
  2. Filling a book with sexual vulgarity does not make you a better writer. You are not a 13 year old, dirty-minded little boy. Don't assume that you will sell more books by pretending you are.
  3. Most people living in America don't talk like we lick dumpsters for kicks, so writing ALL your characters that way doesn't make us want to read more of your books. Although, judging from the number of reviewers who didn't even comment on the vulgar dialogue, maybe more of America licks dumpsters for fun that I think... I don't know anyone who talks like these people do.
Ugh. I should have put it down. I feel like I need a shower, now. And that's only partly because of the trashy language-- the end of the story left me feeling sullied and disgusted. And dissatisfied. It was a weak, non-ending that, frankly, made no sense.

I won't read any more of her books. 


Monday, May 6, 2013

Summer-to-Christmas Movie Season 2013

Can you feel it in the air? The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the blossoms are... blossoming, school is almost out... that can only mean one thing! Time to go to the movies!! Summer movie season seems to start earlier and earlier. And even though there is usually a cinematic lull in the fall, we have some wonderful shows to look forward to at Christmas this year, too!

Movie season 2013 kicked off last weekend with "Iron Man 3" (or, arguably with "Oblivion", back in April) and continues at top speed for a few weeks.There are an inordinate number of superhero sequels and dystopian worlds-end stories, along with a handful of unique, stand-alone features to look forward to. 

Here is just a sampling of what's coming up next:

Next weekend, on May 17th, the much-anticipated sequel to 2009's "Star Trek" opens: "Star Trek Into Darkness". I'm super-duper-geeking-out excited about this, as one of my favorite actors, Benedict Cumberbatch of BBC's Sherlock (which is my favorite TV show), is playing the villain. I really enjoyed the 2009 movie, too, so I'll be getting tickets to see this on opening weekend!

Will Smith's presence in summer seems like a tradition, hearkening all the way back to "Independence Day" from July of 1996, and including the "Men In Black" franchise and "I, Robot" and many others. So it comes as no surprise that he'll have a big sci-fi adventure this year with "After Earth" on May 31st. His son, Jayden, gets second billing, and it's directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Not sure what to think of that... Jayden gave a mediocre performance in 2010's "Karate Kid" re-imagining, and Shyamalan hasn't had a hit in many years, but maybe this will be a pleasant surprise. And I'll see almost anything with Will Smith...

"Now You See Me" is a heist thriller, where a group of illusionists commit heists during performances, giving the money to their audiences. This movie looks so good, I'm actually as excited about it as I am about any of the superhero films coming this year. If nothing else, it's one of the better trailers I've seen this year. And who doesn't love Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman? Plus Jesse Eisenberg, who is very good at the fast-talking smarter-than-everyone character rounds out a promising cast. This one comes out on May 31st.

On June 14, "Man of Steel" resets the Superman story, with a new version of the caped hero's origin story, starring Henry Cavill. The trailers look enticing-- hopefully this will be one the whole family can enjoy. Superman has always been such a great role model of truth, justice and doing the right thing.

June 21st has two movies opening, one for kids and one for... not kids: "Monsters University", the sequel to the beloved "Monsters, Inc." and the literal zombie-apocalypse horror/thriller "World War Z", starring Brad Pitt. You'll probably find me with the kiddos and not the zombies... Sorry, Brad.

In spite of concerns over racial insensitivity, Johnny Depp as Tonto in the July 5th's "The Lone Ranger" doesn't seem any more over the top than any other Depp character, and Armie Hammer appears to fit the big, white hat and the mask of the title character. I suppose the quality and potential offensiveness will remain to be seen, but it looks like a fun western adventure.

Also on July 5th, the sequel to 2010's "Despicable Me", simple titled "Despicable Me 2" hits theaters, and I'm sure it will be filled with more of Steve Carrel's signature shtick and the goofy minions that we all loved in the first movie.

Hugh Jackman returns as the title character on July 26th as "The Wolverine". Apparently a sequel to the 2009 film, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine", it takes the title character to Japan to encounter an old enemy. So many superheros, so little time...

I wouldn't mention "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" except that geek favorite Nathan Fillion surprised me by appearing in the trailer-- he's playing the god Hermes. I will probably see it just for him.

On November 1, I will be right there with all you other geeks, nerds and wanna-be's standing in line to see "Ender's Game". This is one of the most beloved sci-fi books of all time, and if you haven't read it, do so before you see the movie. I don't know whether they will slaughter the story or stay true to it, but the end is one of the best twists ever, and even if you see it coming, it's better to read it yourself than to have it spoiled online or onscreen. Seriously. Read it.

One week later, on November 8th, the hunky Chris Hemsworth returns as the title character in "Thor: Dark World". 'Nuff said.

And on the 22nd of November, Chris' brother, Liam Hemsworth, returns with the great Jennifer Lawrence and the adorable Josh Hutcherson in the second "Hunger Games" movie "Catching Fire". Fans of the books will show up in droves. Others? Maybe not so much. 

Probably THE most anticipated film of the year arrives on December 13th, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" starring the great Martin Freeman (I also love him-- he plays John Watson on the aforementioned "Sherlock"). You and I both will be in line for this one, right? 

It's looking like one of the best years in superhero and sequel history. Hopefully there will be more great films than duds this year.

What did I miss? This is a VERY condensed list of films I'm excited about, but what would you have included on this list? 

All images used are from

Friday, May 3, 2013

Iron Man 3

I was nervous. I expected Iron Man 3 to be more of the same that we've seen over the last few years with superheroes-- you know, the fallen man loses everything, teeters on the edge of despair, girl gets kidnapped by the villain and hero rises to the challenge, like the phoenix, from the ashes he becomes stronger, better and more heroic. The villain would be dark and wicked and detached, predictable in his motives and wickedly uncaring.