Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

In typical (and awesome) Sanderson style, the creation of the alternate world for this book is deep, layered, fascinating, original and full of surprises. It's also written as though you already know about all of it, rather than building everything in the first few chapters. This is what he did with "The Way of Kings", too, and I felt the same slow draw to get into the story with that book. Once I did get into the story, however, I was hooked. Particularly at the end. (In both cases!)

Fortunately, Sanderson's worlds are excellent, and his characters feel very real. Joel feels familiar, like I've talked to or known him before. His friend, Melody, is unique, but not in a crazy, inauthentic way. I appreciated that the bad guy wasn't who I suspected, and I liked the ending, which left many questions unanswered and set up the next book nicely. 

The steampunk, gear and gaslight world is kind of fun, and allows for the chalk-based mysterious magic to work well. Clockwork crabs cut the grass, and lanterns have to be wound up to work, and people wear cloaks and bowler hats. 

The drawings in the book are lovely-- very well done, though I couldn't begin to tell you which rithmatic defenses are which (Sanderson loves a complex magic system!) even though they are well described and diagrammed. My brain can't hold on to that kind of information for very long. 

Overall, a good Youth Fantasy Fiction book. I took a lot longer to get into it than I expected to, but once there, it was quite a fun read.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Case Against a Female Doctor

This has been the summer of Doctor Who at our house, as most of us have been watching all of the current episodes (well, except Series 1...) that Netflix has to offer. We spend many meal and car-ride conversations discussing the show, the actors, the writers, and the future of it all, now that Matt Smith has confirmed he is leaving. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Did You Miss This? Ken Burns

Some years ago, I became aware of Ken Burns' incomparable talent for making not only interesting documentaries, but politically neutral, educational and fascinating documentaries. I love a good documentary, but, frankly, much of what's out there look like bad copies of the 1960's filmstrips we grew up seeing in school. You must remember such classics as these:

I'm teasing, of course, but watching documentaries lately has brought to mind the nature filmstrips of my elementary school years... nothing too amazing to remember there!

There have been some great documentary films over the years, but nothing to match Ken Burns' incredible ability to layer music, photography, personal letters, documents, sound effects, historical footage and narration to weave a story that touches your heart and leaves an emotional afterimage that lingers. 

I've watched bits and pieces of his documentaries in the past (most notably, "Jazz", which is phenomenal), but I don't think I've ever watched an entire series-- some of them are very long. We decided to start watching those that are on Netflix, and it has been educational and fascinating. I've learned more about these events in just a few weeks of watching than I ever did in all those years of public school education history classes.

We started with "The Dust Bowl", partly because it is only 2 episodes long. Then we moved on to "Prohibition" and last night we started the 9-episode "The Civil War". It's daunting. These historical events are heartbreaking; I find myself continually amazed at the evil that we humans perpetrate toward one another, and grateful for those good people who have shifted the world (and our country, in particular) to a better place.

If I were homeschooling my kids, I would be thrilled to have such a rich resource such as these documentaries, to take segments from and use in American history instruction. What a great gift to the world. Burns deserves every award he's ever been given.

I highly recommend you watch these documentaries, if you have access to them through Netflix or your library or some other source. I consider them masterpieces. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I don't read a lot of Stephen King. Though I do enjoy a good scary story and fantasy novel, he always uses rough language. This book is no exception, but it is so unique and the story is so interesting that I mostly didn't care. Time travel is a tricky business, so the story of a modern-day high school teacher who goes back in time to try and stop the Kennedy assassination didn't really interest me at first, but my sister suggested it for our book club, so I gave it a go.

A few chapters in, I couldn't put it down. Even with the expected fictitious teacher cliches-- he corrects students' grammar, all the time-- whether in class or alumni; he is mild-mannered but tough; he catches kids drinking at a dance and lets them off the hook after a stern talking-to; and the one that seemed ripped out of so many other things (Glee, High School Musical, and I'm sure there are older references I'm forgetting) when he casts the High School football star in a play and everyone is astonished by the kid's depth and level of talent, the kid gets crap from his teammates and coach and nearly quits, blah blah blah...

In spite of that, though, the story really worked. The character development was believable and the adventure of him changing the future was intriguing. Above all else, Stephen King is a storyteller-- a really good storyteller.

I especially enjoyed the 1958-1963 stuff. My dad, who is coincidentally reading this book also, said it's been nostalgic for him. For me it's history brought to life. I haven't ever really pondered what the common public felt and experienced during the Cuban missile crisis, or the ongoing racism and anti-semitism of the time (though I am WELL aware of it, I hadn't really felt or "experienced" it, but through the pages of a good story, magic happens). I found those elements so much more educational than any history book I've ever slogged my way through for school.

I loved the mixture of the picture-perfect past (the root beer is full of flavor, people are very friendly and trusting, kids still say "sir", etc.) and the underbelly-- the cruelty of bookies and racists, the multitude of abusive husbands (though this book almost makes me think they were in the majority-- were they?), and the heat and stink and day-to-day happenings. I wonder, though, if so many people in the early '60's used the f-word so freely...

Would I recommend it? Well... mostly. If you don't mind some mild sexuality and a lot of cussing (as though everyone talks like that???), yes. It is a really good story.

Book Review: "Let's Pretend This Never Happened" by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson, if you don't know, is a very well-known blogger called "The Bloggess". She is very well known because she is very, very funny. Her twisty view of the world makes for some hilarious misadventures, which she shares in this book. 

I would heartily recommend this to everyone I know except for one glaring problem: Jenny has an extremely foul mouth. And, by extension, writing voice. She unabashedly throws the f-word onto nearly every page, often multiple times. She talks without a hint of shyness or caution about... everything. EVERYTHING. At least that way, you know she's being honest and there is no confusion about what she might mean. No innuendo-- it's just all stark and in-your-face. Some of that made me a tad uncomfortable. I really don't like so much cussing and I normally don't read books with that much cussing, but she is just so dang funny that I kept going in spite of myself.

I found myself laughing out loud many times and when my kids wanted to know why I was laughing I couldn't tell them to read this book... 

She is very honest about her mental health, her former anorexia, her current RA, her heartbreaking miscarriages, and her very unusual childhood. Lawson has a talent for making almost anything funny. Her arguments with her husband (which tend to include death threats), the odd behavior of her dog, her former job in HR, and many of the basic things that happen in life are situated just right for humor and comedy. 

The book reads just like her blog. It is not narrative in any way; it's more a jumble of stories and experiences put into mostly chronological order. Some chapters were taken right from her blog. 

If you can handle her language and her lack of reverence about religion, (particularly about Jesus), you will enjoy this book. (To be honest, I skipped the chapter where she used Jesus' name a lot, so I don't know if it was sacrilegious or not... I wouldn't be surprised, though.)

It is really, really funny.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Still Alive

I've been super-insane-crazy busy the last few weeks, preparing my son (and myself!!) for his church mission. He will be gone for two years, and there was a lot to do, not to mention that I have three other kids with needs and stuff. 

Anyway, now that he's on his way and things are quiet, I'm out of entertainment budget money for a few weeks, while we catch up, so no movies for me. I really want to see "Man of Steel" and Joss Whedon's "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Despicable Me 2", but it will have to wait. It's not like I get paid for this stuff.

In the meantime, I've been watching WAY too much Doctor Who. I'm into Season 5 (revival, not classic) and I'm getting to know Matt Smith. I'm not as enchanted with him as I am with David Tennant, but I'm giving it time. My son seems to think he's better, so I promised to watch them all before judging. 

But so far, I like Tennant better. 

I'm also trying to get some reading in. I've been posting short reviews on Goodreads, since nothing I'm reading is all that amazing or current. I started this month's book club book, Stephen King's "11/22/63" and Brandon Sanderson's "The Rithmatist". If I ever finish them, I'll post reviews. 

What else...

Not much. Been killing a lot of brain cells on Pinterest and Youtube, trying to de-stress, so not much of great interest. I'm actually trying to take it easy as I recover from the emotional roller coaster of the last month, so it may be another week or two until I get to anything new.

Thanks for sticking around, though. I'll get back to my normal frantic pace soon. 

In the meantime, here's that song from Portal that is STILL stuck in my head now and then: