Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Screening of Star Trek Generations

Malcolm McDowell's new tag line:
"Two Captains. One Hairpiece."
Well I am only into the second season of TNG, but last week I went to a screening of the first Next Generation film Star Trek Generations (having not seen it before) because Malcolm McDowell and Michael Dorn were having a Q&A session in addition to the screening.  I really didn't want to watch the films and the show out of order but I obviously had to go to this! (And unfortunately there was no way I could finish 5 seasons in a couple weeks!)  Another draw was being able to experience a Star Trek film for the first time with other fans!  And it was so much fun!

When I got to the theatre, there was already a little line to get in, and I waited patiently while violinists dressed as Starfleet officers walked around playing Star Trek themes on their violins.  Oh and there were props from the film around the theatre.  Already this event was off to an AWESOME start.  And it was compounded by the fact that some Star Trek alumni were in the audience including The Nichelle Nichols - Lieutenant Uhura guys!!  I was super excited to see her!  And I was hoping some TOS alumni would be there, and it happened!  I wish I could have gotten her autograph!

Michael Dorn and Malcolm McDowell
The Q&A came first and Michael Dorn did a terrific job with asking Malcolm McDowell interesting questions while interspersing some of his thoughts and experiences working in Star Trek.  It was kinda hilarious too how much Malcolm "took the piss" out of William Shatner!  Michael Dorn didn't seem like he wanted to participate in that, but Malcolm was more than competent to do it on his own.  I've always liked Malcolm McDowell - I'm not sure why, I feel like I haven't seen many of his films, but what I've seen, I thought he was .... well nice to look at for one thing, and also sort of sweet and funny.  (I'm probably mostly thinking of the film Time After Time here.  I have not seen Clockwork Orange because I'm afraid to!)  But Malcolm is so wonderfully mischievous as well.  Probably at his age he feels like he can say anything he wants, and he should!  It was interesting how he was very set against doing a Star Trek film, but they paid up, so he did it and ended up really enjoying it.  His stories about Bill Shatner's massive ego was also freaking hilarious, but I'm sure it's not news to anyone.  There was one story where Bill was spotted by fans and he and Malcolm both made a run for the elevators, with Bill kicking at the fans through the elevator doors to keep them from getting in.  Malcolm was mock shocked at how Bill treated his fans.  I don't even know how much of that is true, but that's pretty hilarious!  (Maybe not for those fans though)

So the film!  Captain Kirk is in this so I was automatically sold on this film.  The opening scenes with Kirk, Chekov and Scotty just gave me a lot of feels because it was dear to see them together again.  I really appreciate how the crews from the different versions of the shows all feel like a family!  The first scenes with the Next Gen crew was a bit confusing though - only because I didn't immediately realize they were in the holodeck.  I almost thought they had time traveled!  But they all looked good in those uniforms!

For pure enjoyment, this was a fantastic film!  I loved how it felt intimate and also grand with all those epic special effects.  Seeing the Enterprise crash land on the planet on the big screen was so nerve-wracking!  I felt like I was in the ship with them!  But.  I was majorly confused by the timey wimey aspect.  The nexus causes temporal distortion from what I understood, so that time had no meaning while you were in it, but I didn't understand how the nexus could put Kirk and Picard back before the nexus was in place to prevent the nexus from shifting??  I thought the nexus was a place and not like a time machine.  Especially since when you are in the nexus everything you see is not real.  So how come it could send them back to the real timeline?  But at the very least, there should have been two Picards at that point before Soran shot the rocket?  Well the time travel aspect felt a bit like a cop-out to me and it was also curious how Kirk's death wasn't overly emotional.  Maybe because that would have detracted too much from Picard to dwell on Kirk's last outing.  But I didn't tear up at all, and I feel like I should have been more emotional.

But anyways, I do think this was an excellent film.  They managed to give all the main actors some screen time, characters continued to develop and the moments of humor were well placed.  Malcolm McDowell was excellent as the fanatical villain, and I think they handled having two Captains in one film very well.  I was really impressed by what they accomplished in this movie and now I get to go back in time and see everything that happened in the show before this film.  (TV shows and films - my favorite kind of time travel.)


The props in the theatre (there was also Klingon costumes) and Nichelle Nichols!


Oh and now I have a new favorite quote: "Time is the fire in which we burn."  I looked up that quote and read the original poem (Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day by Delmore Schwartz) - the last part of it is particularly affecting and beautiful to me:

What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Review: Finding Mr. Rochester

Finding Mr. Rochester
by Trisha Ashley
Contemporary Romance (Short Story)
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

In this fabulous ebook short story Trisha Ashley will whisk you away for a romantic treat on the Yorkshire moors.

Plus the first chance to read the opening chapter of Trisha’s new novel Every Woman For Herself and get your hands on some exclusive Trisha Ashley recipes.

Budding author and die-hard Bronte fan Eleri Groves decides to escape from her disastrous love life to a remote farm cottage in Yorkshire. Living in the land of the Brontes has got to be better than her life at home and she hopes that she’ll find some inspiration for her next book. But what she doesn’t expect is to find her own Mr Rochester and much more than she bargained for …

A warm, witty and romantic short story from Sunday Times top 5 best-selling author Trisha Ashley.

Review:

This is a very short story, and consequently I felt there was very little time or effort spent to really develop anything about the characters or the romance.  This story trades on the fact that you are already familiar with the novel Jane Eyre because that way the reader can fill in the details of the romantic hero's - Henry's - character.  I found there was little to interest me in this ebook sadly.  It was only because it was so short that I found it a quick read, but there is hardly anything unique about this story or any new light shed on what a modern Mr. Rochester would be like.

Eleri feels very taken with Henry very quickly - and mostly it seems it's because he bears a resemblance to the description of Mr. Rochester in the novel.  There's hardly any backstory on these characters lives given, with the only drama between Henry and his cousin over their inheritance.  Which was all rather lackluster.  The writing is fine, and there were some ideas in this story that I enjoyed, but ultimately this was a disappointment because I felt it had very little substance.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Refined Reader (6) The Library of Alexandria


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!

Artist reconstruction of the Library (source)
The Library of Alexandria, commissioned by Alexander the Great about 200 b.c. in Egypt, was one of the greatest libraries of ancient times.  At the time, there were no bound books, so the library may have housed as many as 400,000 papyrus or parchment scrolls.  It was a center for learning and enlightenment in the flourishing city of Alexandria.  It also housed an astronomical observatory, dining halls, study rooms, and even a zoo with exotic animals.  Many great writers, scientists, mathematicians and philosophers of the age would come to the Library to learn and exchange ideas.  This was a culturally significant turn in our history as the preservation of knowledge and ideas was an important step in our development as a species.  Unfortunately it was ultimately lost hundreds of years later and it's loss was perhaps a factor in the intellectual regression suffered in the Dark Ages.

There are many things we don't know about the Library of Alexandria, like the exact nature and the number of all the scrolls it contained and how much ground-breaking knowledge, stories and science were lost.  The exact nature of why we lost the Library is not clearly known either.  The destruction of the library is conjectured to have been a gradual event, precipitated by destructive wars and Christian and Muslim conquerors who believed the knowledge contained in the library was against God.  But it was a terrible loss, and many believe that if we had kept that knowledge we would be a much more advanced civilization today.  Aristarchus, an ancient Greek astronomer, was the first to propose a heliocentric worldview, that the Earth revolves around the sun - 1800 years before Copernicus!

I find the history of the Library of Alexandria so interesting because it shows how advanced people in ancient times were.  And how they valued books, and the knowledge and the entertainment it contained.  The library was open to both men and women because knowledge and scholarship was open to all.  Such amazing values and tolerance that we had to find again over the course of hundreds of years.

There is no easy answer to the question I'm coming up with for this post but it's something I wonder about sometimes - you don't have to pick one book though, or you can just go with your first thought:

What in your opinion is one of the most culturally significant works of fiction?  Something that speaks of our humanity and captures an important aspect of our existence?  

For instance a book we would send into space for aliens to get an idea of our society -  my first thought was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Sources:
Wikipedia / Wikipedia
Website of the Librarian of Alexandria
The Straight Dope

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Suspense Sundays (93) The Signalman

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 Signalman"
Air date: February 15, 1959
Starring Ellen Drew
>>Episodes here<<

In this adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic short story, an enterprising female reporter visits a train signalman to interview him about his work.  The signalman was very surprised to see the reporter because as he explains to her, for the past week he's seen her on the hill waving at him and crying at him to get out of the way.  The reporter calmly explains all the reasons he could have only thought he saw her before.  But she doesn't find out the true reason until the end.

This is an excellent suspenseful story - perhaps the listener can guess what is going to happen, but the horror of the ending still carries a lot of impact.  I haven't read the Dickens' story in awhile - in the beginning of this episode the announcer suggests reading the story to compare it to this adaptation which changes some things - so I don't remember any changes.  But Suspense did a great job adapting this story judging from the effect of listening to it!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: The Shadow Throne

The Shadow Throne (The Ascendance Trilogy #3)
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

One war.
Too many deadly battles.
Can a king save his kingdom, when his own survival seems unlikely?

War has come to Carthya. It knocks at every door and window in the land. And when Jaron learns that King Vargan of Avenia has kidnapped Imogen in a plot to bring Carthya to its knees, Jaron knows it is up to him to embark on a daring rescue mission. But everything that can go wrong does.

His friends are flung far and wide across Carthya and its neighbouring lands. In a last-ditch effort to stave off what looks to be a devastating loss for the kingdom, Jaron undertakes what may be his last journey to save everything and everyone he loves. But even with his lightning-quick wit, Jaron cannot forestall the terrible danger that descends on him and his country. Along the way, will he lose what matters most? And in the end, who will sit on Carthya's throne?

Review:

After two books of pretty daunting odds against our protagonist, this last book throws the worst at King Jaron.  It's absolutely heart-breaking what he has to go through to struggle to survive and save his kingdom.  Even though I am used to Jaron getting away with everything, I was on the edge of my seat reading this, because I couldn't imagine how Jaron could surmount the insurmountable.  But wow, does he throw everything he has at it.

While reading these books, I think there isn't a strong sense of character development with Jaron - he definitely grows a bit, but he remains very true to who he is since the start of the series.  But this book does peel away many of his layers, because we see and understand what really motivates him.  It's also so tear-jerking to read how much he cares for his friends and how much they care for him.  Everyone is so willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for each other that it emphasizes why Carthya must win over their neighboring lands - because they are such a force of good and Jaron is a truly good and compassionate ruler.  There were many times when things got so dark for Jaron that I wondered if it was really so bad to let King Vargan take over as long as it meant peace.  But everything about Carthya is so different from King Vargan's Avenia, and it is because of the rulers.

Vargan is such a dastardly villain - he functioned very well in the story, because I was just itching for him to be defeated.  The secondary characters - mostly Jaron's friends and found family were just as wonderful as in the last books.  They are a solid cast of characters and I was happy to see them develop individually as they each reached their potential.  What was, at the end of the first book, a potential love triangle was resolved very well in this book - I think everything that happened was understandable and the author pulled off what was a difficult situation.

There are lots of surprises in this book, as well as tear-jerking and poignant moments that really do justice to the appealing sincerity of all the characters.  Jaron's journey has been pretty rough, but I was deeply satisfied by this adventurous, exciting series.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Star Trek TNG Season 1 - Top 3 Favorite Episodes

It's time to talk about The Next Generation!  I started this series still a little biased for the TOS crew, so let me get a few things off my chest.  First, I wish Captain Picard would put Riker in his place!  Riker's tut-tutting every time Picard wants to beam down is a little overbearing!  I get the reasoning, but he is the Captain!  And there is quite a bit of focus on Riker, which I guess is because he's young and handsome?  He totally is, but it is interesting that the first officer doesn't quite feel like second fiddle to the Captain.  The character of Spock was somehow perfect at not pulling focus from the Captain (just the right amount of deferment and respect) but never fading into the background.  It's just a little adjustment for me with Riker.

And am I alone in thinking the romantic relationships in this are really frustrating?  What the heck is Riker doing that he's interested in Troi, pulls a sad face when she's engaged, and then is making out with some other girl every other episode.  Riker you need to stop.  The Picard/Dr. Crusher feels are a little more palatable, but I feel like it's silly that they can't be together just because he's the Captain.  Can't he do his job and have a wife?  I'm sure that will be fixed in time ... right??  And one more thing - Q is the worst!!! I just couldn't stand his smugness and his character and I wanted to throw things when I saw he had another episode!

Things that I did like though - the crew is varied and there are lots of potential there with all those personalities.  And they all have such unique aspects as well which gives the group such different dynamics.  Data is kind of my favorite character right now so I look forward to seeing more of him.  McCoy's cameo and the little nods to TOS made me very happy as well!

I didn't really enjoy this as much as TOS, so I decided to pick only three favorite episodes for this post.  That might change in later seasons, as I'm really hoping I will love this series as much as the original. With so many characters in this, there was a lot of time spent on the drama in their dynamics and character development, and less on the adventures I think.  So hopefully with the characters firmly established in season 1, the next seasons will be much more adventure-focused!

3. Datalore


I've already admitted my soft spot for Data, so an episode with 'evil' Data was bound to make it in my top 3 list!  Even though I was hoping they would do something different and NOT have Data's copy be evil, I was really impressed by the episode in general.  Especially in the resolution because Wesley, after being so marginalized by the crew, was right and he was able to help Data.  It was also great to learn more about Data's past - though I find it odd that he is the only one of his kind, it seems like the Federation would have looked more into how Data was created and try to replicate it.

2. Skin of Evil


In an attempt to rescue a downed ship pod, the crew come across a creature with no traditional life readings, yet it is intelligent and dangerous.  And also super gross.  I was mesmerized by the creature in this - how much was practical effects, and what did they use as all that black goo?  Interesting.  Also interesting that it's like a Hyde version of whatever alien race left it on that planet.  I liked how Picard handled the thing, and how he was firm and cautious unlike Lt. Yar who met with a very unexpected fate in this episode!  Even though the eulogy/farewell speech in the end was a little too long, I thought her words and the attitude towards death were pretty profound, so I think this was a great episode overall.

1. Conspiracy


Ok, this was far and away the best episode of the season for me!  It was creepy and sinister with some pretty shocking moments and super creepy visuals!  A small group of Starfleet Captains are afraid something is infiltrating the higher ranks of Starfleet, and while they have mostly circumstantial evidence, it is when the Enterprise comes across the debris of the USS Horatio does Captain Picard start to do something about it.  The parasites are really unnerving, especially because they can take over the host and the host looks and acts so naturally.  When they no longer care about keeping the secret is when things really start getting crazy in this episode.  An old man is throwing people around, they are eating meal worms for dinner (yuck) and the scene when one of the officers lets the parasite crawl into his mouth was so gross!  But this episode has such a great story, and it's even kind of scary so I think it fully deserves my first place pick!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Review: The Runaway King

The Runaway King (The Ascendance Trilogy #2)
by Jennifer A. Nielsen
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

A kingdom teetering on the brink of destruction. A king gone missing. Who will survive? Find out in the highly anticipated sequel to Jennifer A. Nielsen's blockbuster THE FALSE PRINCE!

Just weeks after Jaron has taken the throne, an assassination attempt forces him into a deadly situation. Rumors of a coming war are winding their way between the castle walls, and Jaron feels the pressure quietly mounting within Carthya. Soon, it becomes clear that deserting the kingdom may be his only hope of saving it. But the further Jaron is forced to run from his identity, the more he wonders if it is possible to go too far. Will he ever be able to return home again? Or will he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his kingdom?

The stunning second installment of The Ascendance Trilogy takes readers on a roller-coaster ride of treason and murder, thrills and peril, as they journey with the Runaway King!

Spoilers if you haven't read the first book!

Review:

I don't think I will ever get tired of characters who, no matter how terrible the odds against them are, will always have a trick up their sleeve, or plans that no one saw coming.  Jaron walks the fine line between doing reckless things on the spur of the moment and doing reckless things that are well thought out and planned from the beginning.  He's always unexpected in that way, and reading about his adventures is just so entertaining!

There are great secondary characters in this story who contribute to truly touching friendships.  Jaron surrounds himself with people who care about him, even as they are exasperated by his actions, and seeing that kind of loyalty in their group made me tear up more than once actually.  The romance aspect with Imogen is really touching as well because their relationship is born of actions and not words and it is particularly emotional I think that they feel a certain way for each other but never say it.

I think it was nice to see Jaron on his own and relying on his wits again in this - as there was a danger now that he is king that he would be so mired and hindered by the politics and his need to prove himself to his country.  The reader sees still more of his cleverness and resourcefulness as he comes up against some very daunting odds.  It's incredibly satisfying really to read every moment when he comes through on his claims despite how outrageous they may seem.  I just love characters who deliver on their promises, and Jaron always does.

This is such a fun book and a fantastic series so far, if you haven't had a chance to pick it up yet, I highly recommend you do and save it for when you need a diverting story where everything is possible as long as you have the will and the spirit to accomplish it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Refined Reader (5) The Very First Book


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!

The Epic of Gilgamesh is often thought of as the first book ever written.  Although it is not in book form but written on tablets.  And we will probably never know for sure whether or not this is the very first book ever written, but it is the oldest work of fiction that we know now.

It was written four thousand years ago, in the style of an epic poem and chronicles the life of Gilgamesh, a great ruler of Babylonian times.  It seems that there was a real person named Gilgamesh who was a king in Mesopotamia, but the Gilgamesh of the story has god-like powers and consorts with other gods in accord with the polytheistic beliefs of the time. In case you don't know the plot - this is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A great king, strong as the stars in Heaven. Enkidu, a wild and mighty hero, is created by the gods to challenge the arrogant King Gilgamesh. But instead of killing each other, the two become friends. Travelling together to the Cedar Forest, they fight and slay the evil monster Humbaba. But when Enkidu is killed, his death haunts and breaks the mighty Gilgamesh. Terrified of mortality, he resolves to find the secret of eternal life...


That sounds like a good read, right?  It was written in cuneiform on 12 tablets and was first discovered by archaeologists in 1853 with the first modern translation published in 1870.  There was considerable damage to the tablets when they were found so there are many translations that take liberties with the story.  But what I find the most interesting is that this story contains some parallels to the Bible.  It was written almost 1000 years before the Old Testament Bible and features striking similarities in their versions of the stories of Adam and Eve, Noah's flood and Samson and Delilah.  Obviously, that can mean different things to different people - for some it might validate the events of the Bible as true history, and for others (myself included) it seems to indicate that the Bible is a collection of stories and can not always be taken literally.  But that's a whole other discussion.

I think for most people it is hard to imagine what these ancient dates really mean.  It's hard to picture just how wondrous it is (at least I think it is amazing) that we have such an ancient story preserved.  So I made this little (hopefully accurate) timeline to visualize just how ancient this text is:


(As a complete aside - I came across this in my internet research and was just delighted by this ancient picture of a bookworm!  From Pompeii, AD 79)

Is anybody interested in reading The Epic of Gilgamesh and seeing what life was like in c 2000 B.C.?  Do you like to read books from our historical past and imagine what it was like for the author to actually live in that time?

(The translation by Andrew George is commonly thought of as the best.)

Sources:
Wikipedia
Exploring Ancient World Cultures
Chronology of Ancient Literary Works

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Suspense Sundays (92) Star Over Hong Kong

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.


"Star Over Hong Kong"
Air date: February 22, 1959
Starring Marie Wilson
>>Episodes here<<

Randolph Smythe, press attache, is assigned the task of easing visiting American actress Celestine Mayhew into the culture of Hong Kong.  Celestine is the absolute embodiment of empty-headed female - but she's so pretty! - so that even though Randolph seems a bit annoyed by Celestine and her very pushy press agent, he is more than happy to escort Celestine around Hong Kong.  Randolph soon becomes concerned when Celestine goes off with a nice Asian man who may be a criminal and Randolph is afraid she has actually been kidnapped.  The police aren't jumping to as many conclusions as Randolph so it's up to Randolph to find Celestine.

The beginning of this episode already states that this is more of a humorous story, and there's not much danger, so the potential for this episode to have played up a darker edge and then reveal things to not be bad at all was lost, because I was mostly just shaking my head at how silly the characters in this story were.  This wasn't a very memorable episode sadly, but I did really enjoy a commercial in the middle that basically equated road rage with childishness and pleaded for drivers to act their age while on the road.  How interesting to think of road rage in the 50s!

Friday, April 11, 2014

Incredible Things I Learned From Cosmos

My copy w/ post-its (Thanks Tory for the post-its!)
I reviewed Cosmos by Carl Sagan on Wednesday, but there were so many fascinating facts in the book that I wanted to share them in another post - especially since I went through the trouble of post-it noting all the really mind-blowing parts of the book for me.  It's not enough that I'm learning, but I also have to info-dump on everyone around me. :)  So here's a selection of quotes from the book with my brief commentary in italics:

  • "The rabbit was not domesticated until early medieval times (it was bred by French monks in the belief that newborn bunnies were fish and therefore exempt from the prohibitions against eating meat on certain days in the Church calendar.)"   p17
Haha, WHAT?  It shouldn't surprise me though how we set up these rules for ourselves and then try to find every way to circumvent them.  But really, fish??

  • "Have you heard gold is made in supernova explosions? " p35
Nope!  Although gold is just any other metal I suppose, it's just that we place such importance on it that I find this extra cool!

  • "Harold Morowitz has calculated what it would cost to put together the correct molecular constituents that make up a human being by buying the molecules from chemical supply houses. The answer turns out to be about ten million dollars” p106
Perhaps not incredible, but interesting that a price can be placed on a human being.  But I think this price reflects the chemical supply market from the 80s, so I assume we are worth much more now!

  • "[Hera] married Zeus, the chief of the Olympian gods. They honeymooned on Samos, the old stories tell us. The Greek religion explained that diffuse band of light in the night sky as the milk of Hera, squirted from her breast across the heavens, a legend that is the origin of the phrase Westerners still use – the Milky Way."  p139-140
Wow, all the Greek mythology I've read and I never heard of this!  There are few other instances in "Cosmos" where Carl Sagan links the words we use today to obscure Greek/Roman translations and I find all of that fascinating.

  • "Space and time are interwoven. We cannot look out into space without looking back into time." p165
This is probably my favorite fact from this list - I did know that the light from the stars takes many light years to reach us, but the succinctness of this quote and the beauty in the idea of looking back into time really appeals to me!

  • "The electrical impulses in modern computers do, however travel nearly at the speed of light." p168
I find this so fascinating because nothing travels faster than the speed of light, and it's interesting that we can make something that can come close.  (Now just to harness that somehow to make time travel possible - or maybe make it possible to send some thing into the past!)  

  • [Atoms are mostly empty space so why do things feel solid?]  "The answer is the electron cloud. The outside of an atom in my elbow has a negative electrical charge. So does every atom in the table. But negative charges repel each other. My elbow does not slither through the table because atoms have electrons around their nuclei and because electrical forces are strong. Everyday life depends on the structure of the atom. Turn off the electrical charges and everything crumbles to an invisible fine dust."  p180
This is just something I've never really thought about - I know atoms are mostly space but not quite why things feel solid if that is so - and of course Carl Sagan clears it up.  It's still very hard to conceptualize though.

  • "Fire is not made of chemical elements at all. It is a radiating plasma in which the high temperature has stripped some of the electrons from their nuclei."  p183
After detailing the molecular components of what was believed in the past to be the most basic materials (earth, air, water, fire), I was surprised to learn that fire has no chemical elements! (Like hydrogen or oxygen or something)

  • "[Whales] are the largest animals ever to evolve on the planet Earth, larger by far than the dinosaurs." p224
Okay, I feel like this might be something people already know - but I was shocked!  I've seen the skeletons of dinosaurs and whales are bigger than that?  Incredible!

I hope this post had some surprising information for my blog readers!  My last quote to share comes from a part of the book where Carl Sagan talks about books and I thought this quote was especially heart-warming for the book lover:

  • "Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic."  p232

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why I Love Shakespeare, Or A Plea for the Classics


This is another "New Post" alert for something I wrote on The Duchesses - it's just a little fangirling over Shakespeare specifically, but I think my comments also apply to Classic Literature in general as I feel an appreciation of the Classics is so important and can be so rewarding.  And in case you are wondering, the use of Star Trek gifs are totally appropriate, because I mention The Next Generation series in the post! :)

Please check it out here if you are interested!  -- Why I Love Shakespeare


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Review: Cosmos

Cosmos
by Carl Sagan
Science Non-Fiction
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Sagan explores 15 billion years of cosmic evolution and the development of science and civilization. Cosmos traces the origins of knowledge and the scientific method, mixing science and philosophy, and speculates to the future of science. The book also discusses the underlying premises of science by providing biographical anecdotes about many prominent scientists throughout history, placing their contributions into the broader context of the development of modern science.

The book covers a broad range of topics, comprising Sagan's reflections on anthropological, cosmological, biological, historical, and astronomical matters from antiquity to contemporary times. Sagan reiterates his position on extraterrestrial life—that the magnitude of the universe permits the existence of thousands of alien civilizations, but no credible evidence exists to demonstrate that such life has ever visited earth

Review:

If you are interested in reading about life - nearly every aspect of it - then you should probably pick up this book.  Although it is not lengthy page-wise, the information and the concepts introduced are so dense and thought-provoking that it feels like this book contains more than it's deceptive page count reveals.  Carl Sagan weaves in so much history, science, astronomy, and philosophy, while keeping a very readable writing style, and making the concepts as clear and lucid as possible.  I do think having some basic science knowledge is helpful though, because there aren't many illustrations to help visualize some of the more esoteric concepts.

I love science, but I think I was most excited by all the instances in this book where Carl Sagan talks about historical precedent and the evolution of our thinking in various matters.  Religion is touched on in a very respectful way, and I feel like the point which is made on trying to understand God through our physical surroundings instead of stories written so many years in the past is particularly valid given the scope and awe of the universe.  There were also many moments when I was reading that I just had to stop and digest after coming across a particularly eye-opening bit of information.  I just loved learning so much through this book.  Towards the end, the book starts to delve more into theoretical ideas and personal thoughts which, while interesting, was not as compelling a read for me, but of course this is such a small issue compared to the overall achievement in the breadth and scope of this book.

Even though this is a non-fiction book heavily steeped in science, this was a truly exciting read and full of information and ideas that everyone can find benefit from.  And I've never had must interest in astronomy, but this book has given me such an interesting perspective that I feel like visiting the nearest observatory!

-- For Friday's post, I will feature a collection of fascinating facts from this book!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
Science Fiction/ Time Travel
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

The extraordinary journey of one unforgettable character - a story of friendship and betrayal, loyalty and redemption, love and loneliness and the inevitable march of time.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. 'I nearly missed you, Doctor August,' she says. 'I need to send a message.'

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

Review:

This was an exceptional book.  The premise is complex and intriguing - I loved how the author didn't go through Harry August's lives completely in sequential order, but moved back and forth to better detail Harry's character development.  There are things that Harry learned in his past lives that have repercussions into his later ones, and seeing how that all fit together was so thrilling.  It gradually opens the reader's mind up to all the possibilities of having this kind of regenerative existence, and it keeps the pace of the plot moving quickly.  Just as it was tedious for Harry to relive his childhood over and over (with the mind of an adult) it would have been tedious to go through each of Harry's lives as he lived them.  Instead we get Harry's reminisces over his past lives as we need it.  Crafting this story alone was a great feat of storytelling.

I'm a little unsure over how I feel about the character Harry August.  I usually love to really root for the main protagonist of any book, but I sometimes felt Harry was an anti-hero, although he did have many difficult decisions to make which had some terrible consequences.  But the way in which Harry perseveres with his goal was admirable, and I was definitely rooting for him to fulfill it, especially when it came to the nail-bitingly suspenseful last few chapters.  And the plot alone is well worth any small issues I had with what Harry did.  Harry is a complex character though, and I understand that he should be more than just good or bad.  His understanding and his motivations are beyond the views of the "linears" (as they term people who don't re-live their lives) but there is still a lot of humanity in him.

While the prologue foreshadows the events in the end, we only really get to know the danger the world is in in the last half of the book.  The first half mostly details Harry's experiences and how the Cronos Club works.  The Cronos Club by the way is such an ingenious idea (it's their way of passing messages on to the past and the future) and overall I was really impressed with how well the author worked out the logistics of this world.  It's all so fascinating, but the book really picks up when Harry needs to stop one of his kind from doing something terrible.  The suspense really kicks in, and I think this book is mostly memorable for how well it portrayed this contest between two equals.

The Fifteen Lives of Harry August is a real roller coaster of a read.  It has thought-provoking drama with intelligent, clever storytelling.  It also has a high level of realism, with some darkly humorous quips. This is a book I would highly recommend if you are looking for something imaginative, distinctive and different.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)

BTW, after I finished this book, I went to find out more on the author and found out Claire North is the pseudonym of a highly regarded published British author.  But no clue about who that author is!  I hope it is revealed soon, I would like to read more of his/her books! (If I haven't already...)

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Refined Reader (4) The Dual Meaning of Romance


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!


If I asked you what your favorite romance novel was, what would your answer be?  Something by Diana Gabaldon, Julia Quinn or Georgette Heyer maybe?  But if I meant instead the older meaning of a romance novel - a more plausible answer might be Le Morte d'Arthur or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Back in Medieval or even Greek times a romance novel did not center on people falling in love but on an idealized lifestyle of heroism, chivalry and adventure.  Love often did have an important part to play but it was not the focus of the story, it was more the motivation.  I'm not exactly sure why the genre of a romance novel changed from something quite specific in tone and scope to the much broader type it is today.  It makes sense though that the genre today (with it's many sub-genres) branched out from the older form of romance which was more fantastical because it included elements of magic and was otherwise much less realistic.  There was a sense of wonder and idealized history in the world of an "Old Romance."

While modern romances can also be pretty unrealistic - mostly because the actions and the circumstances of the characters' story can be too idealized - the stories are still based on the thoughts and emotions of people and not on daring undertakings and chivalrous pursuits so modern romances are a little more relatable to the average person.  But modern romances can be a part of so many genres from fantasy to historical that it can still maintain a flavor of the old romance.

I do love a good romance (or love story) in the books I read, but when I find it the main focus of the book I sometimes find it a bit insipid.  I like something more to the book.  But old romance really appeals to me because I feel like it is a great escapist read - where people do heroic things for love or for justice and they face and conquer many dangers.  I just find it more exciting!

What are your favorite romance reads?  (Both modern and old romance if you like any of the chivalric classics)

Sources:
Wikipedia / Wikipedia
Washington State University
Understanding Genre and Medieval Romance

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Suspense Sundays (91) Donovan's Brain

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.


"Donovan's Brain"
Air date: February 7, 1948
Starring John McIntire
>>Episodes here<<

Eminent scientist, Dr. Cory, is working on keeping brain tissue alive and functioning outside of the body when a timely accident occurs and a ruthless Wall Street type entrepreneur is in need of some life-saving surgery.  Dr. Cory couldn't save the body though, but he did take out the brain and attempts to keep it functioning.  He does, and the brain starts developing the ability to communicate and then telepathically control the people around him.  Things definitely get worse after that.

This was a rare hour long adaptation of what I suppose was a very popular book at the time. I don't know about now - I think it is kind of dated.  Science gets a bad rap in this for sure. It is inherently creepy to have an out-of-body brain fully functioning and able to take over another person's body.  But it does seem a bit silly now, not to say impossible.  At least, I thought it would be easy to stop the brain when the brain became too demanding - like cut off power to the house, maybe?  And not try to sneak up on the brain in the laboratory.  Silly people.  This is a good listen though for the creepiness, and it is nice that they story is better developed because they have an hour to work with.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
James Bond novel #1
by Ian Fleming
Spy Thriller
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

In the first of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, 007 declares war on Le Chiffre, French communist and paymaster of the Soviet murder organization SMERSH.

The battle begins with a fifty-million-franc game of baccarat, gains momentum during Bond's fiery love affair with a sensuous lady spy, and reaches a chilling climax with fiendish torture at the hands of a master sadist. For incredible suspense, unexpected thrills, and extraordinary danger, nothing can beat James Bond in his inaugural adventure.

Review:

I did enjoy this book overall, but unfortunately I had a whole lot of issues with the story, the writing and the characters.  I find it so weird how James Bond is not really likable.  Maybe admirable, but he's so cold-blooded and analytical that he has so little warmth and whenever he expresses any affection it seems very grudging and tempered by  irrational criticisms of another's character.  I'm mostly referring to his attitude towards women.  There's very little humor to make up for his lack of chivalry so I find it unbelievable when women fall for him.  But his personality is very distinct and he gets the job done, so I suppose there is an allure there.

The story itself is pretty flimsy and it's hard to really imbue drama in a card game.  The writing is very straightforward which doesn't help to lend any flair to such an uninteresting mission.  Of course there are a few twists to liven things up after the card game, however those twists are pretty predictable.  There wasn't as much evidence in here of Bond's cleverness and resourcefulness either to help make this story more exciting so that the only draw to the plot I think is the suspense of not knowing the Bond girl's secret.  Although I did have an idea of what it must be.

While my review of this book isn't glowing, I think there is a charm to reading the original books and comparing them to the film incarnations.  I'm sure this isn't the best Bond novel, but it is intriguing to see how Ian Fleming started off this iconic character and see how the world of James Bond can grow.

** This audiobook was narrated by Dan Stevens from Downton Abbey if anyone was curious!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Timey Whimsy - New Post!


Check out today's installment of my time travel feature Timey Whimsy at The Duchesses!

Today's post is titled Three Real Life Instances of Time Travel.  You have experienced time travel and may not have known it!  I'm really proud of this post because the content of it is so exciting to me - I hope you will feel the same!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Interview with Danielle Jensen, Author of Stolen Songbird


Website
@ dljensen_
At the end of February I read and reviewed a wonderful fantasy novel by Danielle Jensen.  Seriously, this is my favorite read of 2014 so far!  The book is finally available and to celebrate Danielle was kind enough to answer some interview questions for my blog!

~ Q & A ~

1. The Trolls in your story are very different from how we normally see them in popular culture. What inspired the changes you made to them and were you concerned with trying to make sense of their usual mythology in the world of your book?

If you actually look at Scandinavian and Norse mythology, there are quite a large number of variations on the myth of the troll. While they are sometimes represented as massive and stupid, that is not always the case. They are often human-sized with a human appearance. What they are very nearly always represented as possessing is a nefarious purpose, which is one of the reasons why I ended up using them as my monsters under the mountain.

I wasn’t too concerned about forcing my trolls to fit certain expectations, because I wanted them to be unique.

(Charlene: I definitely need to read more Scandinavian and Norse mythology!)

2. I am a *tiny* bit obsessed with the wonderful romance in Stolen Songbird, and I was wondering if there were any specific inspirations for how Cecile and Tristan's relationship develops? Who are your favorite romantic couples?

They were a little bit inspired by Will and Tessa in The Infernal Devices, but as you know, Stolen Songbird doesn’t have a love triangle, so there is no Jem ready to leap out in the sequel.

I really like Cole and Isabel, and I’m looking forward to reading Sinner when it comes out.

(Charlene: Oh yes, I keep forgetting that I need to check out The Infernal Devices - I've heard so many glowing comments on the romance!)

3. Cecile is a promising opera singer. Are you a fan of opera or musicals? Do you sing?

I adore the opera, and I also enjoy musicals. I have a terrible singing voice. Terrible.

4. If you could trade places with any character in your story who would it be and why?

That’s a tough question given that no one in Trollus has it easy. I’d probably choose Ana├»s, because she’s powerful, smart, badass, and has excellent taste in dresses.

5. I adore the book cover, and I was curious how much input you had on the design and if you had any ideas for the cover that did not make it to the final design?

My editor ran the idea they had for the cover by me, which was basically Cecile in a green dress holding the rose Tristan gives her. I was supportive of going that direction, so they put together a written description with inspiration images for the artist, and I was asked to approve it before they sent it off. Steve Stone then worked his magic and produced eight variations of the cover (all quite similar), and they asked me which one I liked best. I asked for a few small changes, and they were more than willing to make them. I got a lot more input than most authors do, which was awesome. I love my cover. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for the sequel.

6. I really love the secondary characters in Stolen Songbird! I'm sure you can't reveal too much, but can we expect some great new supporting characters in the sequel?

There are a few characters who only got a bit of stage time in Stolen Songbird who have much more important roles in the sequel. There are a few new characters. And of course, there are the characters everyone already knows and loves (or hates!).

7. Do you have a ritual before you start writing to get you into the right mindset?

I circle the Internet a few times. Check all my social media. Procrastinate a bit. Then I start writing.

8. Last question - which Hogwarts house do you belong to?

Ravenclaw.

(Charlene: Me too!! :D)

Thank you so much Danielle for your wonderful answers and the publisher Strange Chemistry for the opportunity to be a part of the book tour!  And everyone please go pick up a copy of Stolen Songbird if you haven't read it yet - there's romance, adventure, great characters and fantastic world-building!

Amazon
Goodreads
My review

Danielle Jensen's Website

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: The Ring and the Crown

The Ring and the Crown
by Melissa De La Cruz
YA Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Princess Marie-Victoria, heir to the Lily Throne, and Aelwyn Myrddn, bastard daughter of the Mage of England, grew up together. But who will rule, and who will serve?

Quiet and gentle, Marie has never lived up to the ambitions of her mother, Queen Eleanor the Second, Supreme Ruler of the Franco-British Empire. With the help of her Head Merlin, Emrys, Eleanor has maintained her stranglehold on the world's only source of magic. She rules the most powerful empire the world has ever seen.

But even with the aid of Emrys' magic, Eleanor's extended lifespan is nearing its end. The princess must marry and produce an heir or the Empire will be vulnerable to its greatest enemy, Prussia. The two kingdoms must unite to end the war, and the only solution is a match between Marie and Prince Leopold VII, heir to the Prussian throne. But Marie has always loved Gill, her childhood friend and soldier of the Queen's Guard.

Together, Marie and Aelwyn, a powerful magician in her own right, come up with a plan. Aelwyn will take on Marie's face, allowing the princess to escape with Gill and live the quiet life she's always wanted. And Aelwyn will get what she's always dreamed of--the chance to rule. But the court intrigue and hunger for power in Lenoran England run deeper than anyone could imagine. In the end, there is only rule that matters in Eleanor's court: trust no one.

Review:

I honestly don't know what to think about this book.  On the one hand, I enjoyed the power play politics of the court, the soap opera-ish drama of all the different characters and the dilemmas they were faced with.  Each character had such a rich back story as well and I felt like a whole book could have been written on each one of them.  But the resolution of the novel was just awful for me.  I'm so unhappy with everything about it.

The plot of this book is much more than what it seems on the surface because of all the different important characters.  Each chapter is from a different character's POV, and they were all very well written and fleshed out.  Even though Marie and Aelwyn seem the main characters from the plot synopsis, I think the focus was on other characters more often than not which made the book feel very episodic.  The way the story moved between all of these characters didn't always gel with me, but the story as a whole had a lot of dimension because of how well written the characters were.  With the world-building, the magic element did not get enough action I think.  It played an important part, but I would have liked to know more about it and why, when science has given us so much convenience, magic has such a strong hold on this world.  Even though the book is set in our time, because magic has had such a strong influence there is a sense that the culture is stuck in the past, and has not had a chance to move forward.  The world-building is very interesting, but there's not much depth given to it.

I'm not giving away any spoilers, but the ending really had some strange developments for me.  Decisions were made way too quickly in my opinion and some characters' actions (or changes of heart) made no sense to me at all.  There are some major revelations in this book that could have been really effective emotionally, but because the book moved around among the characters so much there was little suspenseful build up, and I felt almost indifferent to everything.  And disappointed in a lot of the characters' fates.

I feel like this story takes a rather realistic, character-driven approach to YA fantasy that may appeal to some readers.  It does have a contemporary feel despite the magic and the anachronistic culture, so perhaps this book is more for readers who enjoy a more non-traditional YA fantasy.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review.  I was not compensated for this review.)

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Refined Reader (3) Commonplace Books


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!

So today happens to be my blogoversary!  I've been officially blogging for two years!  And it's still the best!  So for today's Refined Reader I wanted to talk about what blogs, and computers and the internet in general have replaced for us - the need for a commonplace book.

17th Century Commonplace book w/ a Shakespeare sonnet
Commonplace books historically were used to keep track of odd bits of knowledge and things that a person wanted to remember.  From quotes, poems, recipes and ideas - it was used by many famous authors, scientists, philosophers and regular people to remember every little thing.  This was not a diary or a journal, it was not always even an important item - sometimes it could just be a book of scrap paper for notes that you might need in the course of your daily life.  

Commonplace books are now seen as a valuable insight into what people in the past were interested in and what they found important.  But keeping a commonplace book (and a well-organized one) was also an important tool for scholars and students, and it was sometimes taught how to keep one at universities.  In 1706, John Locke wrote a book on the topic called A New Method of Making Common-place Books.  (I skimmed some of the book to get more perspective on how important commonplace books were back then, but Old English is rather difficult to read so I didn't get much out of it!)

Even though I have my blog, pinterest, and my computer for word documents, I was taken by the idea of keeping a commonplace book that would provide a snapshot of my personality and interests.  I've kept one since 2008, but I did change to a new notebook rather recently (it has words from Jane Eyre embossed on the cover!) so I had to copy all my quotes and poems to the new book.  I also like to have celebrities/authors autograph the book whenever I get the chance.  Just to make it more special to me.  Here are some pictures of my commonplace book:


This is my favorite autograph inscription by Joel McHale (from Community!).  I got his autograph before Community though, because I was a fan of his from The Soup.  The inscription made me laugh so much!  I didn't tell him it wasn't a diary though. :D

A few more pages from my book - one with Doctor Who quotes and the other with "The Mouse's Tale" from Alice in Wonderland.  I had to try to write it like a tail!  It's nice to decorate the pages with little drawings I think - again to make it more personal!  I also like to keep mementos in my book - like a sprig of heather from my trip to England, and a piece of confetti from a concert I went to a few years ago.

Do you keep something like a commonplace book - a physical way to note down favorite poems, lyrics, quotes, or anything special to you?  Or do you mostly keep track of these things electronically?

Sources: