Monday, October 20, 2014

Review: The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm + LeVar Burton signing

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm
by LeVar Burton and Susan Schaefer Bernardo
Children's Literature
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

When little Mica Mouse is scared by thunder booming outside her cozy home, Papa Mouse reaches for just the right story to comfort her. Hugging her close, he begins to read The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. In this poetic book-within-a-book, a happy little rhinoceros is overwhelmed by a storm that sweeps away everything he loves. Swallowing the storm just makes him feel worse, so Rhino sets off on a whimsical journey toward healing. Along the way, he meets many friends, including a kind spider, a brave kangaroo, a wise tortoise, and an uplifting whale. With their help, Rhino lets go of the storm inside and learns to see the light in a world turned gray. Mica Mouse is soothed by the story and Papa’s gentle reminder that even though bad things sometimes happen, the world is full of people who care.

Review:

This was a lovely and charming read with a heartwarming and uplifting message.  Since it's a story within a story, the Rhino's tale serves as a kind of fable for kids to reach out to loved ones in times of trouble.  I think the message is a timely one, and it made me feel a little emotional in the hope that it's a message that more people are able to take to heart.  The illustrations are bright and enhance the poetic story beautifully.  This is really a lovely read for children - and even better, it's a great book for parents and teachers to read to children.

I don't read a lot of children books now, but this is a nice book for me to look over every now and again for it's message and charm.

The Book Signing

The book signing was a lot of fun!  There was a good amount of Star Trek talk among the people waiting for the event to begin, so already I was entertained.  Someone who worked on the set of the TV show and some of the films was talking about their experiences!  And I got to talk to the lady next to me about Doctor Who, and she had some very interesting viewpoints on science fiction as a genre which was very thought-provoking for me.  But anyways.

For the event, LeVar Burton gave a little speech about Reading Rainbow and why he wanted to write a book - he wanted to write something that Mr. Rogers (from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood) would have written.  And then LeVar read the whole book to us and the kids who were seated on the floor in front of him - and that whole experience was a delight.  He did voices and gave a great performance of the book.  After, there was a Q&A and I was intrigued by a couple of answers he gave - one that his favorite book as a child was Captain Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, which was so absorbing to him that he felt depressed when the book was over, and that to this day, when he's reading a great book, he slows down to make it last a little longer.  Which is something I have a very hard time doing, because even if a book is so good I don't want it to end, I do want to know how it ends and get that closure!

The other answer was to the last question of the night which was - why a Rhino out of all animals?  And it's because Rhinos are strong and if even they are brought down by pain and grief, and yet can move past it, then anyone can.  And as the editor points out, there are a lot of stories about elephants.

The signing part went by in a blur of course.  He signed for most of the kids first, which was adorbs, and then when it was my turn I told him how much I enjoyed the reading he gave, and his performance which made me enjoy the book even more.  And I also asked him if he has any favorite books that are not children's books, and he said he usually says the book he's reading right now, which is Game of Thrones.  But one of his favorite authors is Octavia Butler.

And then that was pretty much it!  I was so happy I went (and managed to not ask him about Star Trek, haha).  I do wish I had asked for a posed photo - his people were saying there wasn't time, but I think a few people asked anyways and got it!  But itt was a very enjoyable evening, and well worth the traffic-heavy drive through downtown Los Angeles!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Suspense Sundays (120) The Beetle and Mr. Bottle

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"The Beetle and Mr. Bottle"
Air date: September 20, 1959
Starring John Gibson
>>Episodes here<<

Kind, sincere Mr. Bottle lives alone in a nice house with a garden he absolutely dotes on.  His daughter hints that maybe he might want to find a nice lady and re-marry before he retires, since he can't take care of his flowers all the time.  When Mr. Bottle goes to London for work, he bumps into a nice lady named Ethel, who is more than eager to get to know him.  Mr. Bottle doesn't know quite how it happened, but soon he marries her and brings Ethel to his little home to live.  Ethel however is not as nice as she seemed and is not happy with the house or the garden.  Or Mr. Bottle.

This is one of the top Suspense episodes I think - such an enjoyable and delightful story as Mr. Bottle is so sweet, and unfortunately marrying Ethel is a HUGE mistake.  It's fun to hear Mr. Bottle plot murder, and the resolution is absolutely perfect - a satisfying twist, given how nasty Ethel is to nice Mr. Bottle.  I highly recommend listening to this episode of Suspense, it's so good!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Review: Dangerous Girls

Dangerous Girls
by Abigail Haas
YA Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

It's Spring Break of senior year. Anna, her boyfriend Tate, her best friend Elise, and a few other close friends are off to a debaucherous trip to Aruba that promises to be the time of their lives. But when Elise is found brutally murdered, Anna finds herself trapped in a country not her own, fighting against vile and contemptuous accusations.

As Anna sets out to find her friend's killer; she discovers hard truths about her friendships, the slippery nature of truth, and the ache of young love.

As she awaits the judge's decree, it becomes clear that everyone around her thinks she is not just guilty, but dangerous. When the truth comes out, it is more shocking than one could ever imagine...

Review:

I rated this book three stars - not because it's a poorly written or executed book, but because my personal enjoyment of it was marred by the ending.  And a bit by my frustrations with the characters.  But really this is a great, suspenseful read and it's only because I personally did not enjoy the journey I was taken on with the story, that I felt like I couldn't give this a higher rating.  This is a wonderful book in every objective sense.

The story takes an absorbing look at teenage friendships and experiences, as well as the horrible mania that can surround media publicity craziness.  It's really disheartening to know that people can make such blanket judgements based on biased media coverage.  What's also disheartening is the power of money over justice, and while it is true, this book can be so discouraging in that respect as we see people getting away with so much.

There are some moments of lightness as the author flashes back to tell Anna's backstory and that way of telling the story was so well done.  The whole book moves back and forth between what is happening in the present, and what happened in the past to get us to this point.  There's a real sense of joy in Anna and Elise's friendship which is dampened by knowing what has happened to Elise, but it's also wonderful to see such a strong and unique friendship grow between these girls.

But the real draw of this book is the mystery, which is very perplexing. There are so many threads that run through this, and so many possibilities that it's impossible to figure out until you get to the end.  And it is quite a twist.  I think because I was so disheartened by this book for the most part, I found it difficult to truly enjoy it.  It's really a personal issue, because this is a very well constructed mystery with some important and interesting commentary on our society.


[Spoilers]
For people who have read the book, I wanted to talk a bit about what I really found so disappointing about the story.  Really, I'm going to talk about the twist, so don't read this if you haven't read the book!  I feel like the twist was a bit of a cop-out since I was expecting something jaw-dropping, but I've seen this twist done before.  And almost expected it a bit before it was revealed.  It's disappointing to me that after all the time invested in believing Anna is innocent, she's not, and that there's still more injustice in the story.  And it seems extra unfair that Dekker, who is so awful throughout, was actually right.  I really don't like reading about blatant injustices that are not righted by the end, so for that reason really, I felt so dissatisfied with this book.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Review: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians #1)
by Rick Riordan
MG Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school... again. And that's the least of his troubles. Lately, mythological monsters and the gods of Mount Olympus seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy's Greek mythology textbook and into his life. And worse, he's angered a few of them. Zeus' master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.

Now Percy and his friends have just ten days to find and return Zeus' stolen property and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. But to succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves.

Review:

This was such a fun adventure read!  The story is told in first person, and Percy Jackson's humorous way of telling his story elevated this simple story because he has such a down-to-earth and sarcastic way of seeing things.  The way Greek mythology is re-imagined in this modern setting was fun to explore as well - I think knowing a good deal about Greek mythology helps with the enjoyment of the story because it's nice to understand the references and the nuances to the characters.

There's a bit of a mystery in Percy's quest to find out what happened with Zeus' master lightning bolt, but it didn't take over the story, because there was more interest in Percy learning more about his powers and limits, and in how the Greek Gods are a part of modern society.  They all have their quirks too, and it's fun to read how the author tweaks them.

The story as a whole, is a light read - I wasn't so caught up in the story that I couldn't put it down - I would categorize it as a nice read, with lots of potential in the characters and the world building.  I am looking forward to knowing more about Percy and his adventures in the next books in the series.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Refined Reader (29) Book Plates


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

(Many thanks to Romi from Where the Reader Comes to Write for the idea of doing a post on book plates!  If anyone has any suggestions or questions about bookish history they would like to know the answer to, please let me know anytime, and I'll try to do a post on it!  I'll do the research, so you don't have to! :D)

The earliest known example of a book owner marking ownership of their book comes from around 1391 b.c. during the reign of Amenophis III of Egypt.  But marks of ownership evolved to printed papers denoting ownership which is what book plates have become today.   The need for them probably arose from how expensive and rare books were at the time, and how important it was to mark the owner of a particular book. The earliest example we have of a printed book plate dates from 1480, from a German monastery.  At this time, the designs were simple, but usually presented an armorial quality or some symbol or monogram that represented the owner.  It's believed that the practice of using book plates first spread from Germany.

The term Ex Libris (Latin for "from the books" or "from the books of") is often associated with book plates, and that term started to become widely used in 17th century France.  As book plates became more popular, they also became more ornate, and a rococo style of fanciful scrollwork which originated in France, became a predominant style.  In the 19th century however, styles were less rigid and encompassed many elements of previous styles such as heraldic and pictorial.

Book plates are not as widely used today, although I remember using them quite a bit as a child for my books.  Maybe my Mom was afraid I would lose my books!  But now,  I don't really like the idea of marking up my books with a pasted label or my name - it's part of my general aversion to writing in books.

Do you still use book plates or other ways to mark that a book belongs to you?

Source:
Wikipedia 
King's College Cambridge

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Suspense Sundays (119) Death and the Escort

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Death and the Escort"
Air date: September 1, 1959
Starring ---
>>Episodes here<<

A young couple, Ed and Jan are having breakfast, and Ed, notices a picture of a racketeer on trial for murder in the newspaper and realizes that he's seen the man before and can place him at the scene of the crime thereby ensuring the man's conviction.  Ed decides to come forward, even though his wife is scared that the racketeer's men will come after him for testifying.  Ed is foolishly dismissive of her fears.

Because of course they are coming after him.  What's surprising to me is how unconcerned most of the people are about this in the beginning!  The police do nothing to keep Ed's identity secret - I mean, Ed's name gets into the paper and no one seems concerned that his name and address is out there.  Until they get the threatening phone calls.  Of course the wife is wrong in not wanting Ed to go to the police, but the police aren't very good at protecting Ed!  Especially when someone tries to impersonate a policeman.  It's just luck that it all turns out right in the end.  And the lesson here seems to be don't completely trust the police! 

Friday, October 10, 2014

20 Things You Might Not Know About Me

I was tagged by the awesomely kind Romi from Where the Writer Comes to Write to do this meme, so here are 20 things you might not know about me!  If anyone else would like to do this too, please consider yourself tagged!

One. How Tall Are You?
5'9" so pretty tall.  My Dad would sometimes say 'It's great being tall, just ask short people.'  He has a funny old sense of humor. :)

Two. Do you have a hidden talent? If so, what?
Hmm, not really no - I wish I had something more interesting to add here!

Three. What's your biggest blog-related pet peeve?
Overly negative reviews annoy me.  It's fair if you didn't like a book at all, but I don't like to see bloggers bash a book unnecessarily.

Four. What is your biggest non-blog related pet peeve?
Well, since I just got off work and have work on the mind, people not picking up after themselves in lab, really annoy me.  Mostly because I feel compelled to do it for them, and it seems so obvious to me that if you lay something down somewhere else, you should put it back when you're done.  But I know that's not obvious to everyone...

Five. What's your favourite song?
Maybe I'm Amazed by Paul McCartney.  Although at the moment I'm crazy obsessed with "Let's Face the Music and Dance" as sung by Brent Spiner and Maude Maggart.

Six. What's your favourite etsy shop that isn't yours?
Wonderland Contraband make these delightful clay miniature people as charms and things.  They also do custom orders, so they made me Jane Eyre and Rochester charms that are just adorable.  (And for the record, I don't have an etsy shop.)

Seven. What's your favourite way to spend free time when you're alone?
Besides reading?  Probably watching something on Netflix or a DVD.

Eight. What is your favorite junk food?
Chips.  Even though I have such a sweet tooth, when I snack, I more prefer savory than sweet, and chips are my favorite!  Though I've tried not to eat as much of it lately what with sodium levels!

Nine. Do you have a pet or pets? If so, what kind and what are their names?
I did - I had two dwarf hamsters named Lyra and Pantalaimon (from the His Dark Materials series) and before that I had a pet mouse I named Adele (after the little girl in "Jane Eyre").  No pets currently though.   I really want to get a dog someday!

Ten. What are your number one favourite nonfiction and fiction books?
Hmmm. lemme think... possibly "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Brontë for fiction?  I'm just picking that one off the top of my head. ;)  And for nonfiction, it's Derren Brown's just wonderful and humorous memoir "Confessions of a Conjuror."

Eleven. What's your favourite beauty product?
Right now, I really like Bite Beauty lipstick which is like a lip balm with color.  It goes on light and it's supposed to have antioxidants, so it's good for my skin I hope!

Twelve. When were you last embarrassed? What happened?
You know, I can't really think of a stand out recent moment, so I'll mention one that happened when I was much younger.  In eighth grade of elementary school I was in the student council and I had to help give morning announcements, so I would speak over the PA system.  One day I really needed to clear my throat, but for some reason I felt embarrassed to just do it when the whole school can hear, so I thought it was better to croak my way through the announcement...

Thirteen. If you could only drink one beverage for the rest of your life (besides h20) what would it be?
Tea.  It's so comforting and nourishing!

Fourteen. What's your favorite movie?
Discounting Jane Eyre (cause that's always my favorite everything) I'll say "All This and Heaven Too" which is an old black and white movie from the forties with more than a passing resemblance to Jane Eyre so...

Fifteen. What were you in high school?
Boring?  I wasn't very involved in extracurricular activities, but I did enjoy my classes and did well in them.  I also had a small circle of friends which made me feel very insulated from the kind of high school life I read about in YA books nowadays.  I would like to read before class, or while waiting for it to begin sometimes so that probably helped to isolate me.  But I generally enjoyed high school.  It was a good environment for me.

Sixteen. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
100% England.  I love it there so much.  It doesn't even have to be London... anyone who might want to give me a job over there...

Seventeen. PC or MAC?
Mac - I'm just Apple everything - unfortunately (for my wallet) I really like their design aesthetic and ease of use.

Eighteen. Last romantic gesture from a crush, date, boy/girlfriend?
Oh well, not really applicable.

Nineteen. Favorite celebrity?
I'm afraid he's not very well known in the States, but for his portrayal of Mr. Rochester in a 70's version of Jane Eyre, Michael Jayston immediately became my favorite actor.  I really love his portrayal and seeing him in many things after, I think he has a great talent for playing a character's nuances.  (link goes to my fansite for the actor!)

Twenty. What Blogger do you secretly want to be best friends with?
Well I would love to be best friends with all the book bloggers I talk to more frequently because they are all awesome, but best blogging pals is a thing, right? :D

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Review: The Winner's Curse

The Winner's Curse (The Winner's Trilogy #1)
by Marie Rutkoski
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions. One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction.

Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin. But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

Review:

To be honest, the premise of this book didn't draw me in at first.  The plot synopsis has slave culture and gambling which are two things I'm not really interested in.  But from all the fantastic reviews for this, I picked it up, and I'm very glad I did.  This story really was all about the characters, and it was a beautifully written fantasy drama.

The individual conflicts for Kestrel and Arin were the best part of this story I think.  They both have such different backgrounds and goals, and yet they find themselves drawn to each other which causes them a lot of trouble.  It was easy to be sympathetic towards their plight, and the suspense of not knowing how their difficult situations would be resolved, made the plot very engaging.  The romance aspect - while appealing - was not as well drawn for me though.  I wish I understood clearer why they were so attached, after only a few conversations.  Especially for Arin who has so much to be bitter about.  It did make sense why they were drawn to each other in the first place though, as they were characters who didn't fit in with their roles and they did have some mutual interests.

The world-building was another highlight of this story.  The history and background was so vivid and realistic.  The Greco-Roman flair made it even more appealing to me as well because it made it even easier to imagine the elements of the culture and the architecture.  This was a very fast read for me, because I was so caught up in the twists and turns of the plot.  It's a perfectly-pitched drama with high stakes and heart-rending choices.  This was a fantastic read!

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Refined Reader (28) Book Illustrations


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!

1514 engraving by Albrecht Dürer
While there was a tradition of illustrated manuscripts going back into the beginning of the creation of books, book illustrations as we know them have their beginnings in the origins of European woodblock printing, and thrived as the printing press changed the accessibility of books.  With the printing press, woodblock printing was left behind and there were two predominant methods of creating book illustrations - etching and engraving.

Etchings were made by placing a "waxy ground" on a metal that was resistant to acid, and the artist would scratch off the ground with a needle to create the image.  The metal would then be dipped in acid, where the acid would eat into the exposed metal and would leave sunk lines in the metal plate.  The ground would then be washed off the plate, and ink would be applied which would fill the sunk lines.  The plate could then be applied to paper through a high pressure printing press to create the image.

Engravings have been around for much longer, but was harder to learn compared to etchings.  Engravings are the direct carving of images onto (traditionally) a copper plate, with practically the same methods used in transferring the image to print.  Sharp and precise tools, as well as artwork prepared in advance were usually more important for engravings.

In the middle of the 16th century, woodcut illustrations became less popular in favor of etchings and engravings.  Using etchings and engravings to create illustrations needed a different kind of printing press than for text, so illustrations were usually made separately which led to full page illustrations in books.  These methods also gave more defined, sharper images which aided in the printing of better maps.  Both methods could also be mixed on a plate to create the optimum print.  Mass production of book illustrations today have progressed much from these early beginnings, but it is incredible to see the amount of precision and detail in the old illustrations given the way they were illustrated.  The talent to create these on metal is very impressive.

What is your favorite illustrated book?  Or do you have a favorite book illustrator?

Source:
Wikipedia Wikipedia / Wikipedia

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Suspense Sundays (118) After the Movies

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"After the Movies"
Air date: September 6, 1959
Starring Kevin McCarthy
>>Episodes here<<

Al and his wife, Ann, take in a movie to relax because Al has been away on a jury for a big trial, and this is his first long break.  When they go to the drugstore for dessert, Ann finds an envelope of money on the floor.  With $10,000.  They take the envelope home and Al promises to call the police in the morning, but Ann insists he do it now.  Some gangsters come to the door soon after and get the money, and take Ann as well - making Al a threat that if he doesn't make sure the jury is a hung jury, Ann will suffer.

While the twist in this one was pretty obvious to me, I think the fact that this story does take a dark turn was surprising to me.  And because I think the twist is obvious, I'll just say it - that Al is the one who the $10,000 bribe was meant for, and he called the gangsters instead of the police.  Keeping that in mind, it was interesting to follow along with the story and hear how Al tries to cover it up along the way.  And if you do listen to this, there is still something more to the story!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Star Trek TNG - The Films

I finished watching all the films on August 31st, but this post is going up some weeks later.  I just want everyone to know I'm still in mourning over the death of Data.  There was a small part of me that was hoping there would be some ambiguity in his death so that he could come back (although I suppose B-4 is that way) but in addition to Data, the destruction of the Scimitar killed my hope.  Poor Data.  These were some fantastic films so that is my consolation.  It's interesting that Picard gets such a starring turn in all of these films.  Of course Patrick Stewart totally deserves it and contributes to really holding these films together.  But it's nice to think that there were no egos among the cast who might have objected to Stewart leading all the films like he does.  (At least I hope not!)

BTW, I just found out that six of the TNG cast members are appearing at the Star Trek convention in San Francisco.  It's in December, and I'm super excited to go!!  I want all the autographs and pictures my poor wallet can handle!

Like with the first six films with the original series cast, I'm ranking these from my least favorite film to the best (I don't need to even qualify the best film with 'my favorite', it's so clearly the superior film!)

4. Star Trek Insurrection


Even though this is my last ranked film, I really enjoyed this one for the most part - definitely there are great, humorous moments with the cast - like Riker shaving (!), Worf's puberty, and everything Data (when he wasn't being a total bad-ass).  It was also really sweet to see Riker and Deanna reconnecting, although I wonder what happened with her and Worf.  But the pacing is a bit slow at times, and the story itself didn't win me over.  I really enjoyed the exciting denouement, and the fountain of youth idea was interesting, but I found it hard to believe the Federation would condone the destruction of the whole planet - maybe they would relocate the people, but not destroy something so unique!  The romantic connection between Picard and Anij was just okay for me, though I was happy to see Donna Murphy starring in a Trek film!  I would have been much happier seeing Picard and Dr. Crusher reconnecting though!

3. Star Trek Generations


I talked about this film before, and I did not rewatch it after I finished the TNG series because I was just so eager to watch First Contact.  I think putting this film in context with the others, it shows that in this one they were trying to find their footing in placing the TNG crew in a cinematic setting.  They did a great job overall though with giving every crew member their moment in the story, and with bringing Picard and Kirk together in an exciting mission.  And pretty much the very fact that Captain Kirk is brought back in this makes me like this more.  Malcolm McDowell, and the really intense Enterprise crash were also highlights of this for me.  Oh yeah and Time is the fire in which we burn.

2. Star Trek Nemesis


While the whole Picard clone thing was a little weird to me, Tom Hardy was amazing in the role, and having such an absolutely chilling and intense villain in Shinzon really helped focus this film.  And I think the most exciting Star Trek stories come from when everything seems against them and they only have each other to win the day.  The last half hour or so of this film was unbearably suspenseful to me! (And devastating in the end of course).  That ship battle was amazing and intense.  I thought the discussion of how alike Picard and Shinzon are was interesting as well, especially because it is a very difficult argument.  I love that Data was so sure that B-4 would be completely different to him though, despite the fact they share the same makeup and memories.  Data always brings clarity to a situation.  This was not a perfect film, but it built to a terrific finale.  Oh yeah, and Riker and Troi got married!  Finally!

1. Star Trek First Contact


I've heard this was a great film (particularly from fellow Trekkie Amy) but I really was not prepared for how much I would love it!  The Borg are back as the utter villains they were always meant to be - because they are so good in that role.  And this film really captures the horror of the Borg's intentions which contrasts nicely with the hopes and aspirations of humanity which are embodied in Cochran's invention of warp drive.  Even if Cochran is such a drunk and lovable scamp.  The heart of the Enterprise crew and of Picard's courage elevates this to an even more intensely moving story with the crew fighting back despite the hopelessness of the situation.  This was a gorgeously made film with great acting and directing (thank you Jonathan Frakes!) and wonderful moments of humor and lightness to balance the dark despair of the fight on the Enterprise.  Picard's Ahab moment was incredible by the way.  So completely different and yet true to his character and what powerful acting!  And I did do a few fist-pumps when Data turned on the Borg Queen - I don't know why it's so satisfying to me to see Data fierce, but it totally is in a major endorphin rushing way.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: Emma

Emma
by Jane Austen
Classic Literature
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

'I never have been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.'

Beautiful, clever, rich - and single - Emma Woodhouse is perfectly content with her life and sees no need for either love or marriage. Nothing, however, delights her more than interfering in the romantic lives of others. But when she ignores the warnings of her good friend Mr Knightley and attempts to arrange a suitable match for her protegee Harriet Smith, her carefully laid plans soon unravel and have consequences that she never expected. With its imperfect but charming heroine and its witty and subtle exploration of relationships, Emma is often seen as Jane Austen's most flawless work.

Review:

I have to say that I didn't enjoy Emma as much as I thought I would.  I'm familiar with the story and some of the adaptations, but the character of Emma on the page came off as more haughty and presumptuous than I was expecting.  She is very flawed, and it was sometimes hard to like her as a character.  I found the same for Mr. Knightley, who can be just as haughty and presumptuous, with the important fact being that he was usually right.  But even though these characters drive the progression of the story, there are many more interesting characters and a drama filled plot to help make this a charming read.

The character drama is a high point in this story because the plot revolves so much around the romances of the characters.  I found it very interesting how clearly Jane Austen can show the truth of a situation while also making it clear why Emma makes the wrong assumptions.  It's also fun, as the reader, to know more than the main character.  This aspect of the book was very engaging to me, because the moment when the main character realizes the truth has that extra bit of satisfaction.  The cast of characters in this novel are also engaging - there is such a wide variety and so many interesting quirks and character traits.  Mr. and Mrs. Elton were especially fun for me, because they are so awful, and yet it is not overdone.  They are just so perfect for each other.  Harriet was the most sympathetic character for me, even if not the most memorable.  She's nice and pleasant, and with so many characters in this book who are not very nice or pleasant (or at least not always), it was great that she got a happy ending.

With Austen novels, my biggest problem is usually how the romances are culminated, and Emma really surprised me with how abruptly Emma and Mr. Knightley came to an understanding.  It definitely didn't seem very romantic to me, and was more disappointing since this was really a moment I felt the book was building up to.  But Austen writes these characters with so much detachment, that I suppose it was to be expected, so I can't really fault the book because Jane Austen is very consistent.  I can't help feeling disappointed though.

Because I know this to be one of Austen's more well-regarded books, I feel like expectations made me think this would be a more enjoyable and satisfying read than I really found it.  But the story is solidly engaging, with a wonderful cast of characters.  The drama is resolved very neatly as well, with some good lessons included for some of the characters.

Sixth book read in the Classics Club Challenge
Also part of the 2014 Jane Austen Challenge

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Refined Reader (27) Movable Type and the Printing Press


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!


Movable type is similar to woodblock printing which was the subject of last week's Refined Reader.  In this case, instead of using wood for each character block, metal is used, which is more durable and created better looking letters on the page.  Movable type was first invented by Bi Sheng in China, around 1040 A.D.  However, movable type was not as practical in China because there are thousands of letters in their alphabet.  In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg, of Germany, further developed the idea of movable type when he invented his printing press.  Movable type was not widely used in Europe at the time, despite having been invented in China centuries before, but Gutenberg changed that by creating a method that was easier and more efficient in manipulating the movable type pieces.

Some of the innovations Gutenberg came up with included a specific metal alloy for the letter pieces which made ink transfer better, a hand mould which held the letters, a mould that could create the letter pieces more easily, and an oil-based ink which was more durable than previously used water-based inks.

Gutenberg's printing press revolutionized European history and is thought to be one of the main factors in the beginning of the Renaissance.  Mass production of books made the spread of books, information and new ideas much easier in Europe and it also led to the invention of the newspaper.  Because of the printing press, printing output in 1600 could be around 3,600 paper impressions a day, while in Asia with printed paper done manually, the output was at most 40 pages a day.  This also meant that with large copies of one book available, certain books could become true bestsellers.

But there were other changes to reading habits - over a long period of time reading moved from predominantly oral to silent, authorship became important and profitable, and it helped to standardize spelling and syntax.  It also led to the need for copyright laws and of course a rise in the literacy rate.  It's truly wonderful to think how such a simple invention - the main idea of which was just a better way to press the shapes of different letters to paper - could so change the course of history for the better.  And even though I learned about the printing press in school, I didn't realize how much it has impacted the way we read and our relationship with books!

Next week: Etching

Source:
Wikipedia / Wikipedia

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Suspense Sundays (117) A Matter of Execution

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"A Matter of Execution"
Air date: August 30, 1959
Starring --
>>Episodes here<<

Burton gets the sad news that his impending execution won't be overturned.  He's devastated because he knows he's innocent.  Meanwhile, a kid witnesses a man's car skid on wet pavement and hit a lamp post.  The kid goes over to the man who is badly injured but the man manages to make a confession.  Burton is innocent, the man killed the pawn broker, and the murder weapon is under the back seat of his car.  Now all the kid has to do is tell someone so they can stop the execution.  But no one is listening to him.

This type of story is the worst to listen to - not in a bad way though.  Just in the suspense of the kid trying to tell people what he knows, and everyone dismissing him.  You just want to yell at these people!  Not that the kid is very good at explaining matters.  It's so predictable how this story goes though - there's no surprise that the kid will eventually get his story out.  It's just so ludicrous how long it takes him to make someone listen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Kiss Me, Kate

Last week I went to see a musical called Kiss Me, Kate.  This musical is based around Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, so yay for a bookish connection!  I've not seen this musical before, or heard much of the music (except I adore the song "So In Love" which was used in a biopic film based on Cole Porter's life called "De-Lovely- great movie!  And soundtrack!)  But because of the Shakespeare connection and that song, I've been wanting to see this show for awhile now.  Bonus that it's starring Wayne Brady too - who I love from Whose Line is it Anyway?.  And while I'm digressing all over the place - my favorite cover of a Beatles song is Wayne's version of "Can't Buy Me Love".  It's all smooth, and jazzy - so gorgeous!

First off, my friend and I got there early to grab dinner before the show, and who should I see sitting outside at an outdoor cafe, but Wayne Brady talking with another actor!  OMG. I dithered sooo long over whether or not to go up to him and say hi and ask for a picture, because it was likely I would see him after the show, but what if something happened and I didn't get to see him?  But when he and the other actor got up to leave, I darted over.  And they were very nice, and let me take a picture.  And I'm glad I did it before the show, because after was a bit awkward since a lot of friends of the actors were hanging around and talking with the cast.

Now about the musical!  It's great fun - slightly silly and campy - with some catchy songs and great dance numbers.  The show has a jazz influence and I think this production gave it an extra bit more - the title number "Another Op'nin', Another Show" alone had this brilliant soft and sultry beginning as one of the characters wanders through the set.

The musical has a show within a show set-up because the characters are putting on a musical production of Taming of the Shrew, and backstage relationships kinda mirror the relationships in the play.  Which is to say, the whole dynamic between Fred/Petruchio and Lili/Kate is still a bit uncomfortable to me.  The whole you-must-be-a-dutiful-wife thing is not a great message, and the musical doesn't do much to temper that by changing up the dynamic in the actors' relationship.  I also didn't understand why Fred and Lili made it up so quickly since they are divorced so presumably there must be problems they are not addressing.  Um, but I'm probably taking this too seriously though since this as this show is supposed to be fun!

My favorite parts of the show were the songs "I Hate Men" (sung by Kate with ALL the vitriol), "Too Darn Hot" (which had a great tap dance number and so much humor in the lyrics - the ensemble really pulled out all the nuance from those lyrics), and "Always True to You in My Fashion." Bianca/Lois was sooo funny in this - she presents her best face to her boyfriend when he's around, but shows her other side to the audience.  And the actress playing Lois has such a fantastic voice.

The whole cast was excellent in this - this was only the third night of previews, but they seemed very comfortable with each other.  And the two stars - Wayne Brady and Merle Dandrige - well I'll just gush more here - they are excellently cast, and perfect for pulling all the humor out of their roles.  The romance part was well done, but I was not as invested in that - given my problems with the dynamic between the characters mentioned already - but I think they brought the characters and the story perfectly and vividly to life.  I really enjoyed seeing this and hope to see this again at the Pasadena Playhouse before it's run is over!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: The Man Who Was Poe

The Man Who Was Poe
by Avi
Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

The Old City Lay Dark And Cold...It is night. And Edmund is alone. His mother is gone. His aunt, who went in search of her, is dead. His sister has disappeared. Edmund has no one. Except for a stranger of the night.A dark, mysterious stranger who flees from demons of his own...who follows Edmund with grim determination through the cold and shadow city, promising to help, but often hindering. A stranger who needs Edmund for purposes of his own!


Review:

I read this more for the nostalgia of reading a book like the ones I read in my youth.  They were usually simple, absorbing and suspenseful stories and this book fit that bill completely.  The character development is light, it's mostly about the plot and the mystery.  Edgar Allan Poe is a character in the story - and the story spins him into a character with many flaws as an alcoholic and a man consumed by his art and his imagination.  It sounds true to the idea of Poe, but it also makes the character unlikable in the story.  I'm not sure how I feel about that actually.  Not because I'm outraged on behalf of Poe, but because with a story that pairs him and a young boy with a mystery that needs solving, it would have been nice if they made a good team, instead of consistently suspicious and angry at each other.  It does work on some level in the story though, to create more suspense and tension.

The mystery itself was well done.  It seemed simple, but gradually many red herrings were thrown in which made it difficult to figure out what was really happening.  The story also honors several aspects of Poe's works, especially his Dupin mysteries which was nice to see.  As a mystery this is an engaging story that is crafted very well but I unfortunately didn't feel all that enamored with the characters which probably means this won't be a very memorable read for me.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Refined Reader (26) Woodblock Printing


The Refined Reader aims to take a look at the journey to where we are as readers today.  It's part history, part commentary - providing a brief, conversational summary of various aspects of our bookish past and comparing it to how it has affected us in modern times.  I love history, but I am no historian, and while I plan to do my research, if there are any errors, please let me know!  This is as much a learning venture for me as I hope it is for my blog visitors!


I'm going to start a small series on The Refined Reader on printing, starting with the oldest known method of printing called woodblock printing.  Printing in this case is the reproduction of text or images using a template.  Woodblock printing originated in China, around 200 b.c. and is basically like using a stamp to reproduce the text.  This could be done in two ways however - by pressing the block to the paper or cloth (like a stamp) or by rubbing - placing the paper on top of the woodblock and rubbing the back of the paper with a smooth flat item.  The idea of using a stamp for making marks was not new at the time - many clay tablets in ancient times had markings made by stamps or seals, but woodblock printing was on a larger scale.

The origins of woodblock printing is strongly associated with Buddhism, because sutras, or manuals, of Buddhist teachings were more widely circulated through these printings.  The earliest known print is the Mugujeonggwang great Dharani sutra which is a Buddhist text.  At the time, 1 million copies of the sutra was printed for distribution.

Woodblock printing traveled to Europe some centuries later and became more common in the 13th century.  Soon movable type and the printing press would become more widespread in Europe, but woodblock printing would continue to be used in Asia mostly because the language has thousands of characters, and it was easier to make the woodblock as each character came up as opposed to creating them all on a woodblock.  Woodblock printing is still used in Asia (which is exciting since I love that such an ancient technology is still useful.)

Next week: Movable type

Sources:
Wikipedia (Many thanks to Wikipedia for having these kinds of printing grouped together on the site!)
Asian Education

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Suspense Sundays (116) Room 203

Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.

"Room 203"
Air date: October 4, 1959
Starring Ellen Burstyn
>>Episodes here<<

Chris and Toni Stewart are celebrating their anniversary by returning to the hotel of their honeymoon.  Through a window, Toni sees a man strangling a woman in Room 203.  The manager checks, but no one has been in that room for the past 48 hours and there's no sign of any disturbance.  Toni still maintains she saw something, but she has a secret.  She had been in a hospital some years ago for a mental breakdown.

While the whole mental hospital was a bit of a twist to a story that I feel is pretty common of a someone seeing something that couldn't have happened, to only have that thing come true - this story does make the most of the concept with even more interesting twists.  I did think the title Room 203 was just innocuous enough to indicate that this would be a properly scary or unsettling story, but that's not really the case.  This is a pretty straightforward suspense tale.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Review: Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery
Children's Classics
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

As soon as Anne Shirley arrived at the snug, white farmhouse called Green Gables, she knew she wanted to stay forever... but would the Cuthberts send her back to the orphanage? Anne knows she's not what they expected -- a skinny girl with decidedly red hair and a temper to match. If only she could convince them to let her stay, she'd try very hard not to keep rushing headlong into scrapes or blurt out the very first thing she had to say. Anne was not like anybody else, everyone at Green Gables agreed; she was special -- a girl with an enormous imagination. This orphan girl dreamed of the day when she could call herself Anne of Green Gables.

Review:

Although this is definitely a book I should have read when I was younger, I feel like this was also a great book to read for the first time as an adult.  Because Anne's character is so bright and full of life, and that's something I wouldn't have appreciated as much when I was younger when I wouldn't have recognized how important it is to have that zest.  It's sort of remarkable how much Anne's character fills up the narrative.  It's glorious really to immerse yourself in this story and feel like you are in Avonlea with the beautiful scenery and these characters that feel so real and familiar.  This was a beautiful story, with so many poignant, funny and heart-warming moments.

The book is made up of a series of events in Anne's life as she's growing older.  It seems like she does grow up so fast too - I felt just as affected by it as Marilla.  It's powerful writing when such a seeming simple story can be so moving.  The setting is such a strong character in itself too.  Anne's descriptions and her enthusiasm for Avonlea makes the place come alive.  As does the author's way of painting a character's portrait in well chosen words that show off particular character traits.  While the story is a simple coming of age tale, it's the brightness of the setting and the characters that sets off the imagination and really makes you fall in love with the story.  I'm so glad I finally read this book!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Star Trek TNG Season 7 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

The last season!  Although I still have the films, I felt this one was more of an ending - probably because of how much the final episode was so much of a wrap-up and a goodbye to the series.  The Original Series didn't get that luxury.  So I was pretty sad when I got to the last episode.  But there's still so much more Star Trek to explore, so I will shake that off now, and talk about what episodes I really enjoyed this season!

5. Sub Rosa


This episode was a refreshing surprise, since I wasn't expect what felt like an old-fashioned ghost story on this show! Of course it has a logical explanation but with the setting of a planet made in the image of Scotland, and the fear that Dr. Crusher needs some serious help because she's being controlled by this apparition-like entity, this has the feel of a good old-fashioned Victorian ghost story.  It's pretty creepy as well, because Dr. Crusher is so changed and so dependent on this ghost, and it's very unsettling to see her this way.  I did enjoy how Picard seemed especially upset with Dr. Crusher and her new beau too - they really need to be a couple already!

4. Lower Decks


They did something really different in this episode by focusing on four junior members of the Enterprise crew.  This story revolves on their perspective and I really loved seeing this new side to the Enterprise and how the other officers saw their command crew.  This episode works on so many levels, because we see a bit of how the bridge crew must have been as junior officers - trying to work their way up in Starfleet - and we see how insular our view of the show has been with just the bridge crew as our perspective.  There really is a lot going on in this ship.  Just as a little thing - I was surprised that junior officers shared quarters!  I thought there was enough room for everyone to have their own quarters!  I do love it when there are glimpses into the mundane realities of working on a ship like the Enterprise, and it was a bonus that this episode created such well-rounded new characters to carry the whole episode.  Not happy that this episode had a sad ending by the way.  I can see why they did it, but I don't have to be happy about it.  

3. Gambit Part 1 & 2


This episode begins with Riker and company thinking Picard is dead.  And from a fate that seems pretty final.  So that's a nice shocking opener.  Of course that is not the case, and the investigation into what happened to Picard makes for a wonderful spy thriller story when Riker is captured and has to pretend to not know Picard.  This two-parter episode changed up the usual formula of the show in a great way because Picard has to be such a different person, and the introduction of new characters and shaky alliances made for some great suspense.  Even though we know that Picard is a formidable person, I love that there are still more ways to reinforce that.  And normally a resolution like the one this episode had would seem hokey or even a cop-out to me, but it was so well done in this - the clues were all there, and it made complete sense.  

2. All Good Things


This was the feature length series finale, so they had to make it very special.  There's time travel in which we get to revisit the first episode of the series (so cool!) and also a future where all the crew have settled into separate lives.  I definitely wanted to know more about why Picard and Beverly didn't make it as a couple, but there are more important issues in this episode.  Unfortunately it's the return of Q, and while I love everything that this episode did in terms of revisiting and examining the past seven years of the show, I just don't like Q.  Him or his people - I don't see why humans need to be extinguished when no one is bothering to do away with the Borg?? Hello Q people there's a bigger problem!  Talk about small minded.  And for a being that is timeless, why is 7 years the absolute limit for a whole species to advance?  That doesn't seem like a long time at all. Their logic is specious.  I will say Q made me laugh for like the first time ever when he showed up as an old man which I guess was making fun of Picard being old too.  ANYWAYS.  I loved this episode for it's intricate plot, for the three different timelines and for seeing Picard have to work for respect in one timeline, have it in the second, and have it gained back in the third.  Picard is such a remarkable captain - and it's good to see the crew trust so much in him.  This was a lovely send-off episode.

1. Genesis


This episode was super creepy!  The crew is being devolved into different stages of their evolutionary past, and that already is a terrifying concept.  Just to see Picard's face when Data tells him it will happen to him was scary.  I do wonder why some people stop devolving at certain stages.  But the way the Enterprise is this safe port when Picard and Data leave, and then becomes a dark and threatening place when they return made this a wonderfully atmospherically creepy episode for me.  Especially when characters that we know and love are dangerous and out of control.  Also I realize Picard and Data as a team is kind of my favorite thing.  (Which means I super love Star Trek First Contact, but more on that later...)  The effects, directing and lighting in this episode was on point I thought - it contributed so much to a great, tense episode.  By the way, I thought what Troi was turning into was the most disturbing thing... until we saw Lt. Barclay turning into an arachnid.  I'm with you Picard, I would freak out too.  

Star Trek The Next Generation Series Break-down:

Favorite season: Season 6
Favorite episode: The Best of Both Worlds 1 and 2
Favorite character: Data!
Favorite aspect of the show: The character development and interpersonal drama

Update on Q: I was watching this reunion video of the cast at a convention on youtube, when John de Lancie showed up and I got all emotional that Q was joining them.  So I guess I reluctantly accept him now?  Geez, Q is so annoying though.