Friday, August 29, 2014

Review: Hollow Earth

Hollow Earth (Hollow Earth #1)
by John and Carole E. Barrowman
MG Fantasy
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Lots of twins have a special connection, but twelve-year-old Matt and Emily Calder can do way more than finish each other’s sentences. Together, they are able to bring art to life and enter paintings at will. Their extraordinary abilities are highly sought after, particularly by a secret group who want to access the terrors called Hollow Earth. All the demons, devils, and evil creatures ever imagined are trapped for eternity in the world of Hollow Earth—trapped unless special powers release them.

The twins flee from London to a remote island off the west coast of Scotland in hopes of escaping their pursuers and gaining the protection of their grandfather, who has powers of his own. But the villains will stop at nothing to find Hollow Earth and harness the powers within. With so much at stake, nowhere is safe—and survival might be a fantasy.

Review:

This was a fun, light-hearted adventure read, but the world-building and the characters were not as immersive as I could have hoped.  This may be due to it being more for a Middle Grade audience, but I couldn't connect with the characters as much as I wanted to, and sometimes it was hard for me to imagine just how the power of the animares and the guardians worked.  It's still not very clear to me why the two need each other and why they have such a strong connection.

The main characters, Matt and Em, are intriguing enough though to keep me interested in their story.  The novel blends in some mystery, fantasy and action for a very fast-paced read with many twists.  However, even though the story does move at a fast pace, because it was difficult for me to get into the world and the characters I thought the beginning was a bit slow going.  But it does get better as you read on.

The ideas behind the world - of being able to animate a drawing to life is a great one, and one that I think would be fantastic to see in a film or TV show.  In fact, I often thought this book would make a better story in a visual medium because the action is so visually exciting.  It would probably help too if I was more familiar with some of the artists mentioned throughout.  Even though I rated this book as more average, I really think with the right person it's a wonderful read, and as the start of a new series, it could be very exciting to follow Matt and Em to the end of their story.  Some of the mystery still remains at the end, although there is a satisfying conclusion.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Thoughts on Doctor Who: Deep Breath


It's been too long since I've had my Doctor Who fix - oh how I've missed it!  The episode that aired last Saturday was an extra special event though because it introduced the new Doctor and was quite a spectacle of an episode.  I will just say now though, that I feel like no first episode introduction to a new Doctor will beat "The Eleventh Hour" for me.  That was such a spectacularly written piece.  But there was still lots to love in this season opener.

[[Beware of Spoilers]]

It was lovely to get Vastra, Jenny and Strax again, they are always fun.  And the Victorian England setting really helped to make the most of the creepy steampunkish robots.  The whole time traveling dinosaur bit did feel like too much of a gimmick though, even if it looked very cool.  But there didn't seem to be much of a point to it, unless you count it mirroring the Doctor's thoughts/situation.  Which is done again later with the robots made of spare parts anyways.  I think the first half of this episode was too filler for me.  The Doctor was confused, random and not himself, and that didn't endear this new version to me at all.  There was a moment when I was really worried that I wouldn't like Capaldi as the Doctor at all (but that's all done away with now, so don't worry!)  It's just that I didn't like seeing the Doctor so irrational - although there might have been sense in his opening speech about how Clara and Strax looked the same in that it's important to look past appearances.  That seemed a particular point in this episode as it comes up again and again.

It's only when the Doctor and Clara wind up in the cellar of the restaurant that things started looking up in this episode.  First because their whole predicament was pretty scary, and second we find out more about what is going on with these robots.  This episode finally hit its stride.  And the moment when I became completely on board with the 12th Doctor was when he made his glorious save of Clara by taking her hand.  It was so funny because I had such a moment of relief and happiness when someone took her hand, and then a gut-wrenching fear when it didn't look like it was the Doctor, and then joy returned when he took off his face. Thanks for the roller coaster ride 12 and Moffat.  Definitely this was what I wanted to see from 12, and I was very happy.  The stand off with the head robot guy and Clara just prior to this scene was so perfectly done by the way - just the right amount of tense fear in not knowing just how everything will be played out.  And Clara keeps her head despite her fear which was incredibly strong of her.

Now that the Doctor has really shown up, I am very intrigued by him.  There's a great mystery to him and the ambiguity of whether he would throw the robot guy to his death really added a lot.  Everyone says he's going to be a new, darker, leaner, meaner Doctor, whatever, and I am interested in a change, but I'm also afraid because he can't be too different!  At least I'm really not sure how I will end up liking 12 ultimately - I want to love a newly reinvented Doctor, but I don't want him to lose too much of what I already love and respect about him.

There's also some concern in this episode over why he chose his face, which is curious.  I feel a bit sad that the Doctor seems so upset that he looks older actually - it doesn't seem like it should bother him.  I guess maybe Vastra's point about his appearance being for other people can be valid, but I was hoping the Doctor would be past that!  For now, this episode really seemed to stress that we give Capaldi's Doctor a chance - that we look past his face and see him for the Doctor he's always been.  I haven't really seen much of people disliking Capaldi because he's older, so I am a little surprised by how much this episode seemed like a message to the fans.  But if it works, then that's great, because by this episode's end, I just felt completely happy to have the show back on the air and that's how everyone should feel.

That scene near the end with the 11th Doctor was precious though, and it did make me tear up a little!  I do miss Matt, but I think I was more emotional because we got a glimpse of the Doctor's perspective of how jolting and scary his regenerations can be for him.  I loved getting that vulnerable glimpse of him!  And now there is another mystery brewing for this season's arc - I can't wait to find out more about that lady who appeared in the end.  Although I feel sure she'll have something to do with Clara's exit from the show...  I don't know why the whole world isn't watching this show.  It's the best! :)

And for an interesting post with more thoughts on this episode check out Those Who Geek!  They will be talking about each new episode as it comes out!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Refined Reader (23) Origins of Poetry


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!

Poetry as a literary form uses rhythm and aesthetic to enhance meaning  - it's a creation that depends on language in ways that are different to the requirements of literature.  It requires precision in sound and meter as well as in meaning.  And it is thought to predate literacy because in ancient times poetry was a useful way to remember oral history and genealogy.  Our oldest works of fiction are often in epic poem format including The Epic of Gilgamesh.

However there is an older Ancient Egyptian poem that we are aware of, titled Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor which is possibly 500 years older than The Epic of Gilgamesh.  In the Tale, a merchant returns from an unsuccessful sea voyage, and is afraid of how the King will receive him.  One of his servants tells him a story of his experiences on a doomed journey to give him comfort.  On that journey the servant was the sole survivor of a shipwreck, but was saved by a god, and given food and treasure to take back to his land and his King.  It's a pretty short text and you can read it here.

In Classical times, the form of poetry was made a study, and was divided into three forms -  epic, comic and tragic.  Later the categories were redefined as epic, lyric and dramatic - dramatic included comedy and tragedy.  It is also conjectured that poetry had its origins in songs because it's form that emphasizes brevity, rhythm and condensing words might have come about as a way to fit it to music.

Poetry is about sound, emotion and the beauty of language even if it's origins were more as a useful method of remembering histories.  I'm not a particular poetry reader, but there are some poems that really captivate me with it's expression and beauty.  I love the sound of language, and poetry can heighten the experience of words.

What are your favorite poems?

Sources:
Wikipedia / Wikipedia
Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Suspense Sundays (112) The Man Who Couldn't Lose

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 Man Who Couldn't Lose"
Air date: September 28, 1944
Starring Gene Kelly
>>Episodes here<<

Leonard Snell needs some money to pay off his debts, but his nagging wife is not about to give him any of her savings since he'd mostly likely squander it at the races.  So Leonard has no choice but to strangle her.  Leonard has a plan though - write a suicide note to the police confessing to the murder, and then find a homeless man, whose body would be identified as his, when he crashes his car.  Leonard goes through with his plan, but then starts getting extremely lucky.   A client wants to buy insurance annuities from him and the bet he placed on a horse wins big.  But that bet was in his name, and Leonard Snell is supposed to be dead.

This twists in this episodes are relentless!  You keep thinking Leonard can't get any luckier and he does... until the very end of course.  It wouldn't do for him to get away with murder.  The irony of the last few minutes when Leonard finds a way to to claim his winnings from the horse race was actually delightful to me - it was so outrageously lucky and it's really not til the very last second is the final twist revealed.  This was a great episode with the added bonus of Gene Kelly as Leonard.  He's such a nice guy in his films, it's fun to hear him so devious.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Star Trek TNG Season 6 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

With this season, I had a hard time narrowing my list down to five.  In fact, I had eight episodes which I had to painfully whittle down.  And even then there are several other episodes that were excellent.  This was such a quality season overall and it made me that much more depressed to know that there's just one more season after this.  I'm naming five episodes here, but the other three honorable mentions were: "Face of the Enemy" (Troi plays Romulan!), "Frame of Mind" (truly mind-twisting as we wonder if Riker is going mad), and "Timescape" (Picard, Troi, Data and La Forge are stuck in a temporal disruption).

5. Schisms


Some of the Enterprise crew are suffering from fatigue and a shared vision (dream?) where they are strapped down and experimented on.  This episode was so chilling and eerie - I loved how gradual the reveal of the truth was, and how Riker quickly overcomes the horror of the situation to be the one to stop the aliens from taking members of the crew.  Not only was the story excellent, the visuals of the aliens and the way they shot the other world was fantastic too.  It made me realize that we don't often see really visually unsettling or scary aliens on this show.  And I think it is a great thing that Star Trek teaches us not to fear aliens because they are different, but because of what they do.

4. A Fistful of Datas


I'm fast becoming not just a Data fan, but a Brent Spiner fan, so I'm sure there will be some terrible consequences from that when it comes to how I spend my free time.  This episode was pure fluff as Data's attempt to connect to the ship's computer has some unexpected results.  Namely now Data appears everywhere in the holodeck where Worf and his son are just trying to playact in a western.  I loved seeing a western (of a sort) unfold on the Enterprise, and having Brent Spiner playing all these different characters was icing on the cake.  I was so full of glee at seeing Data in so many different costumes and personalities.  This was a fun and highly enjoyable episode for me!

3. Relics


I'm pretty sure the explanation they came up with for why Scotty is kept in 'stasis' is ridiculous, but I don't care.  Scotty is here!!  And I think this is what I wanted from the Spock episode of last season - something that was lovingly reminiscent of the Original Series.  But they did do that very well in this episode.  And having the holodeck recreate the bridge of Enterprise 1701 (no bloody A, B, C or D!) for Scotty practically made me tear up.  The episode also had a great message about the worth of people you might dismiss too easily, and a great moment for the two head engineers of the Enterprise to save the day so I completely adored this nostalgic, lovely episode.

2. Rascals


Because of a transporter malfunction, when Picard, Ro, Guinan and Keiko are beamed back to the Enterprise, they are beamed back as children.  Whoever came up with this scenario should have been wined and dined for a month, because this premise is so much fun.  And it was so great to see how they individually highlighted how awkward it was for the characters to look like children, but still have their adult minds.  And not only do they explore that aspect, as well as give more insight into the characters, there's a great addition to the plot when the Ferengi unexpectedly take over the Enterprise.  Because you know the Ferengi overlook the kids.  Probably my favorite moment was when young Picard needs to see Riker and has to act like Riker is his father.  So funny!

1. Starship Mine


Some opportunistic criminals try to steal trilithium from the Enterprise while it is undergoing a routine, but deadly Baryon sweep.  Unfortunately (for the criminals) Picard is still aboard the ship.  I read on another blog that this is Die Hard Star Trek edition, and that is a pretty accurate description.  Almost from nowhere, Picard becomes this deadly, cunning force and after his boundless morality and compassion, it was surprising (but somehow satisfying) to see him kick ass, and pensively shrug off the necessary deaths that occurred.  The subplot of Riker and the others figuring out that something is wrong, and then overcoming their captors was just as enjoyable as seeing Picard outwit and outmaneuver.  This episode is a little different from the usual Trekkian fare I think, but I really appreciated seeing how all the crew members stepped up against the threat.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Review: Landline

Landline
by Rainbow Rowell
Contemporary fiction
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

Review:

There's something about Rainbow's writing that keeps me reading even if I pretty much know what must happen.  There's a predictable aspect to this story, but the journey is more important, and the way Rainbow gets you there is so engaging.  Her characters are always the most adorable people you'd ever want to meet, so getting to know them is the highlight of her books.  This book explores a mature perspective on marriage and love with a complicated relationship between Georgie and Neal.  I love how complex the balance of their relationship is.  It seems like in books, if a marriage is in trouble there's an obvious aspect to why there's a problem, but Georgie and Neal's issues are much more subtle and it's so easy to feel that their problems are relatable to everyone.  Especially if ambition or work gets in the way of doing what you really want to do.  Because of this, I had an extra level of sympathy with the characters because they could so easily be me.  And again that's another reason to love Rainbow's characters.

The story is a very personal examination of these characters' lives, with the bonus of wit and humor and a interesting perspective on Georgie and Neal's relationship from the beginning.  The way the author brings these two sides of the same character together was amazing!  Young and old versions seem the same and yet they have grown and are so completely realistic.  I love how the backstories and the present are intertwined.

It's the characters that really made this book an exceptionally compelling read.  There are so many wonderful moments between them - that really celebrate the beauty and variety of relationships, and also feels so real and grounded - I'm simultaneously relating to these people and wishing some of their awesomeness would rub off on me.  This story takes place around Christmas, and I think that feeling of Christmas pervades throughout - with the importance of family and love.  This is a lovely and heart-warming read!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Refined Reader (22) What is a Classic 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!

A classic book, according to the definition of the word 'classic' is a book that is "judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of it's kind."  No small feat then for a book to be called a classic.  But the exact merits of a classic book is pretty hard to define.  It can be a very personal opinion when it comes to certain books, but there are quite a few that are widely accepted as classics.  There are a few points or ideas that seem to commonly define a classic:
  • Stands the test of time 
  • Can bring new pleasure or knowledge with each reread
  • Open to reinterpretation
A literary critic, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve, wrote an essay in 1850 on this topic and stated that a classic is "easily contemporary with all time."  I thought that was a tremendous way to describe a classic.  It embodies the idea that it is easy to identify with the classic book, no matter what the time or person.  And for the most part, the classics that I have read really have fulfilled that timelessness that is so important to the longevity of a book.

This is going to turn into more of a discussion post now!  It is easy now to say a classic is an old book, or a well-received or applauded book, but I think it is interesting to think of a classic as a book that is deeply meaningful to humanity.  Books that really probe or test the way we think, or the way we live.  It doesn't need to be deep in itself, but it will continue to resonate with people far into the future.  And for people who are picking up a new classic book to read - it's great to go into it with the goal of discovering that meaning or the reason why it's meant so much to so many people.

P.S. After I typed up this post, I started seeing classics talk everywhere and noticed that Alyssa from Sunrise Avenue wrote on this very topic just recently.  So I wanted to link to her post so you can check out her very well-written thoughts on the subject.

Sources:
Wikipedia

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Suspense Sundays (111) Red Cloud Mesa

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.

"Red Cloud Mesa"
Air date: August 2, 1959
Starring Joseph Cotton
>>Episodes here<<

This story takes place on a Navajo reservation, and Mr. Bowman, a white man, is in charge of a trading post, and many of the Navajos regard him as a friend.  Mr. Bowman needs to help an Indian veteran Four Thumbs who killed a man while escaping from a psychiatric hospital.  Bowman pledges to help him but also promises to help the arresting officer find Four Thumbs, or at least make it look like he tried to do his job.  Unfortunately Mr. Bowman can't keep both promises.

There was an odd addition of an Indian who was intent on getting a "white man's education" because he no longer wanted to be a "dumb Indian."  That was uncomfortable.  This story was more sad than suspenseful or even very intriguing.  Which makes me very disappointed since I really like the actor Joseph Cotton and I wanted to enjoy this.  It was a bit surprising to learn this was probably set in the year it aired, as I was fully expecting this to be set in the 1800s.  There was something about the sentiment and vision of the Native Americans that felt very old fashioned.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

Review: One Plus One

One Plus One
by Jojo Moyes
Contemporary fiction
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

One single mom. One chaotic family. One quirky stranger. One irresistible love story from the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You.

Suppose your life sucks. A lot. Your husband has done a vanishing act, your teenage stepson is being bullied and your math whiz daughter has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you can’t afford to pay for. That’s Jess’s life in a nutshell—until an unexpected knight-in-shining-armor offers to rescue them. Only Jess’s knight turns out to be Geeky Ed, the obnoxious tech millionaire whose vacation home she happens to clean. But Ed has big problems of his own, and driving the dysfunctional family to the Math Olympiad feels like his first unselfish act in ages . . . maybe ever.

One Plus One is Jojo Moyes at her astounding best. You’ll laugh, you’ll weep, and when you flip the last page, you’ll want to start all over again.

Review:

Jojo Moyes's particular genius for tender, character-driven drama and romance comes through in this story yet again.  The personalities of all the members of this motley family and the Ed Nicholls mesh so well, and add dimension and believability to the character drama.

Each chapter of the story switches perspective between the four main characters, which worked very well in my opinion, and I usually don't like switching POV's in books.  The characters are all so different from each other and it was important to get their own perspective in certain scenes that it made what is mostly a straightforward road trip romance, very poignant and emotional.  And when I realized that the road trip portion only comprised about three days in the character's lives, I was surprised that I felt like I had gone through so much with these characters because I was so invested in their lives.  I was impressed by how much depth there was to their relationship, after so short a time.

Which also helped make me completely invested in the sort of whirlwind romance between Jess and Ed.  I believed that they could feel that strongly for each other after so short of time, because the development of the characters was excellent, and the intensity of being cooped up in a car for hours on end, with that forced intimacy, made it very convincing.

All of the characters have hardships to overcome in this story, and  the fact that they all help each other through their traumas made this a wonderfully uplifting story to read.  Even through the parts of devastating emotion.  There's a message that if you are a good person, things will come out right and it's a message I very much believe in, and was glad to see made such a particular point in the story.  This book is heartwarming, emotional and beautifully told, I would highly recommend it!

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Star Trek TNG Season 5 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Spock!!  This was the TNG season I was most looking forward to when I first started the series.  Spock returns in a special mid-season two-parter titled Unification.  And I watched it.  And Unification does not feature anywhere in my list.  The idea was great really - Spock trying to bring the Romulans and the Vulcans together, and obviously this provides some basis for events in the recent Star Trek films (continuity yay!) but I was mostly bored with all the filler when Spock was not on-screen.  And Spock was just so-so when he was on-screen.  I did love a certain scene involving some holograms.  And Data now able to wield the Vulcan neck pinch.  But overall, I thought the episode was just okay.  Maybe I had too many speculations and hopes and dreams for Spock's return.

And I should mention that "I, Borg" was a GREAT episode, but it didn't make my top 5.  I kinda feel sad that they de-villanized the Borg in this episode.  I mean, it's great for the Star Trek philosophy of tolerance, progress and acceptance, but sometimes you just want the bad guys to be the bad guys.  I guess that's what we have Romulans for.  (I felt the same about the Klingons and Worf in the beginning too - although of course now I really like Worf!  The Klingons in general, eh.  *shrugs*)

5. Disaster


What I love the most about this episode is how Picard and Troi are put in situations they are very uncomfortable with, and they absolutely own it.  There's been an accident that severely damages the ship and cuts off the bridge from the rest of the ship, and traps Picard in a turbolift with three kids visiting the Enterprise.  Troi is made the commanding officer and her inexperience is a hindrance, but her compassion helps her make the right decisions.  And Picard handles these scared children like a pro. It's so heartwarming to see him make them face their fears and act.  Even to defy his orders when he wanted them to go to safety and leave him behind.  

4. Cause and Effect


Timey whimey epsiodes will always be high on my list and in this one, the Enterprise is stuck in a time loop they can't seem to get out of.  Events leading up to the Enterprise's destruction keep repeating themselves until the crew finds a way to break free.  The intricacy of creating a story that has so many repeating scenes but with little changes to lead up to the reveal of the whole story seems very difficult to do.  In some ways this reminded me of the episode of Community called 'Remedial Chaos Theory' (although that had multiple timelines and not a repeating time loop).  I also enjoyed how they got out of the loop with some ingenious symbolism and the use of Data's unique brain.  And the repeated destruction of the Enterprise is chilling.  I do wonder though - was Kelsey Grammer's appearance at the end intended for some effect?  It was so surprising!

3. The Next Phase


Having just recently re-watched the movie Ghost (and the musical), it was really surprising to see this episode embody some of the same sensibilities.  La Forge and Ensign Ro are involved in a transporter malfunction and believed dead, however the two wake up on the Enterprise and no one can see or hear them.  And they can walk through walls.  This was an exciting episode, and interesting that La Forge was so sure they weren't both dead.  It's fantastic rationality in a situation that must seem pretty scary.  And the moment when it's revealed that there is a Romulan who is also in their same condition was sensational.  I was like Oh sh*t!  

2. Power Play


While investigating a distress signal on a seemingly uninhabited planet, alien beings take over Data, Troi and O'Brien.  And they attempt to take over the ship.  Now doesn't that sounds like a recipe for awesome?  Seeing the three of them as the bad guys was so much fun for me - especially cause Data can be a real bad-ass with his whole superior strength and intellect.  But it was nice to see Troi in a different light because she is normally so relentlessly nice and understanding.  And Picard does such an exemplary job of handling the difficult situation of trying to get the entities out of his people, while also keeping the hostages safe.  Lastly, it was really touching that O'Brien's love for his family was messing with the alien being inside of him.  The way in which everything came together - in character contrast and suspense - worked really well for me. 

1. The Game


So if I liked things taking over Data, Troi and O'Brien and making them into bad guys, then this episode was an absolute delight!  Because everyone gets taken over, except for Wesley Crusher until the very end, and Data.  This game is doing something to people's brains that's not just the good times of gaming, and it's up to Wesley and his new crush to figure things out.  The insidiousness of a game taking over all these characters I love, especially our always dependable Captain(!) was pretty shocking.  It's wonderful though that the young'uns - Wesley and Ensign Robin - were smart enough to know that something was wrong and were able to stay uncorrupted for so long.  And they were really the ones to save the whole crew.  I did kept mentally berating Wesley to fix Data already so he can help everyone, but then, at the last minute, Data has a serious hero moment so I was very happy with that.  This was the most satisfying episode of the season for me!  (I have to say though that game graphics really went downhill in the 24th century! Haha)

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Refined Reader (21) Banned 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!

The movement to read and support banned books is a great one (headed by ALA) and for this post I was curious to know the origins of this pretty ridiculous practice.  What were the first books ever banned, and how and why it was thought necessary.

Looking at the list of government banned books on Wikipedia - it appears that early banned books included many essays and political texts like the Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, written in 1791 and Mirror of the Polish Crown, published in 1618.  I suppose it's understandable (not right though) that governments feel the need to suppress politically controversial works.  Religion is another reason why books are banned.  The first book banned in America was in 1650 with a text criticizing the Puritan religion by William Pynchon.  Pynchon was accused of heresy and had to move back to England to escape religious persecution (irony!).

Books have also been banned for reasons based on morality - and for the most part, novels fall into that category.  Some early books banned years later on the basis of morality or inappropriate content include Candide by Voltaire, The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  I thought it was funny that the latter book was banned in Hunan, China because it features anthropomorphized animals which can give children the idea of thinking of humans and animals on the same level.  There's another frequently banned novel that I hadn't heard of before - Fanny Hill by John Cleland, published in 1749, which according to the plot synopsis features explicit descriptions of sex.  It's astonishing to me that this book was even published in 18th century England!

Obviously I think banning books as a practice is unnecessary or misguided at best, and manipulative and controlling at worst.  It is a step in the right direction that so many countries are a part of a globally connected world where ideas are not so easily suppressed, and individual thought and expression has a way of getting around.  And thankfully we do have movements that encourage people to broaden their horizons by reading books that are thought to be too controversial for the average person or child.

Reading up on the topic just now, it's difficult to really pinpoint the origins of this practice.  It's so different for every culture and government.  And there are many, many books that have been banned over the years - some very surprising choices too - but the practice does seem to have died down a bit recently, as some governments realize that there should be more limits to censorship.  Unfortunately it is still an issue today.

Does knowing that a book was banned make you more interested in reading that book?

Sources:
Wikipedia
ALA
Washington Coalition

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Suspense Sundays (110) Night Man

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.

"Night Man"
Air date: July 26, 1959
Starring Ginger Jones
>>Episodes here<<

Miss Rhodes visits the warden of a prison to let him know that one of his prisoners has escaped.  The man, Tom, was convicted of murdering her mother based on her testimony, and now Miss Rhodes is sure Tom is working as the elevator operator of her apartment building, slowly terrorizing her.  The warden attempts to calm Miss Rhodes down, but is she crazy or is Tom really out for revenge?

No matter how many times the warden tried to talk reasonably to Miss Rhodes and point out her mistakes, I 100% didn't believe she was crazy and thought it must be Tom.  And was I ever in for a few surprises in this story.  This episode is so clever and well-written!  Lucille Fletcher was the writer for this script, and I think she writes some of the best Suspense stories.  This one is a great one to listen to!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review: Self-Inflicted Wounds

Self-Inflicted Wounds
Heart-warming tales of epic humiliation
by Aisha Tyler
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

self-inflicted wound (n): a spectacularly humiliating, and often hilarious, incident entirely of one's own making.
see also: you did it to yourself.

Have you ever made a decision you instantly regretted? Humiliated yourself in a room of your peers, or shamed yourself in front of your massive crush? Ever blown a job interview, frozen during a presentation, acted like a total idiot on a date? Ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time, unable to keep your tongue from flapping out the stupidest words you've ever said in your life, ever? If you are a human being, the answer, of course, is yes. Take heart. You're not alone. This is known as the Self-Inflicted Wound, and every one of us bears a scar. Or several.

Here, Aisha Tyler, comedian, actress, cohost of CBS's The Talk, star of Archer, and creator of the top-ranked podcast Girl on Guy, serves up a spectacular collection of her own self-inflicted wounds. From almost setting herself on fire, to vomiting on a boy she liked, to getting drunk and sleeping through the SATs, to going into crushing debt to pay for college and then throwing away her degree to become a comedian, Aisha's life has been a series of spectacularly epic fails. And she's got the scars to prove it. Literally.

Through it all, Aisha's triumphs haven't come in spite of the failures, but because of them. Because with every failure comes a lesson learned, a strength revealed, a fear overcome, or an adventure braved. Self-Inflicted Wounds isn't just about surviving failure. It's about embracing failure—pursuing it, even—on the winding path to success. And after you've failed a time or three, hopefully you'll have learned something. Or at the very least have a really killer story. Because to err is human, but to fail epically is hilarious.

Review:

Aisha Tyler's voice in this book is outstanding.  She's so witty and erudite, and everything she describes in each of her stories are alternately charming and horrifying.  And funny.  She walks that line so well.  Each of her tales of self-inflicted wounds (bad things that happen to you and are totally your own fault) are also a mix - of stories you can relate to, and stories you can't believe anyone would allow to have happen to them.  But they are all engaging, and the story a chapter format makes it very easy to keep reading, especially if you are eager to know what spectacular thing has happened to warrant the enticing sounding chapter title.

The truly great thing about each story though is how Aisha manages to turn it into a message - a learned lesson that for the most part encourages people to embrace what is different about themselves and also embrace that it is inevitable that we all will make mistakes.  There are some interesting insights into human nature that comes from being very observant, and throughout it all we get a glimpse of Aisha's childhood which is almost another story in itself.  Aisha's love of books and learning also made me very happy (although she had some very esoteric reading material sometimes) as I could completely relate to that.

This book is full of footnotes, which Aisha uses to add in little funny asides that add even more humor to her stories.  Even though I'm usually not crazy about having to read footnotes, I started to look to the bottom even before I began the page to see what funny comment or reference Aisha made there.  Although that didn't help me get into my reading flow.  There are times too when Aisha can be too wordy and excessive in her metaphors - even though everything she says is completely entertaining, I thought it sometimes slowed down the pace of the book.  This isn't a big deal though because she gets to the meat of her stories pretty quickly and this book is so entertaining, fun, thoughtful and intelligent.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Star Trek TNG Season 4 - Top 5 Favorite Episodes

The Next Generation continues it's awesomeness.  It's so funny how good this show is after such a lackluster first couple seasons!  I really wonder how it persevered, when now, if a show doesn't do well in the first half, they will just can the whole thing.  I don't really know the viewing figures at the time though so maybe it was decent and I'm sure the franchise really helped the show get to the third season.  Now for my top 5 episode picks this season, I'll start with-

5. Future Imperfect

This episode had such an interesting premise - Riker contracts a virus that will activate 16 years later, when everything he experienced between contracting the virus and the virus activating will be erased from his memory.  Essentially it's like he wakes up and he is 16 years older.  The premise allows the viewer to see what might happen to the crew in the future - and it's kind of sad to see Picard and Troi move on from the Enterprise, and even for Riker to be so downcast about his memory loss.  Riker is usually a gung-ho kind of guy, so it's interesting to see him so hesitant.  There is a twist to this episode though, which negates this future, but while the viewer believed in this future, it was fascinating to see all the differences.

4. Clues


The Enterprise crew, except for Data,  mysteriously lose 30 seconds of time.  Data assures them everything is fine though but there are indications that the crew actually lost more than a day in time.  But Data denies it!  And is acting really weird.  Now that I'm actually into season 5 at the time of writing this, there seems to be quite a few episodes where Data is sinister and untrustworthy (although he is generally not himself in that case) and it seems they go to that well a lot.   But it's very well done in this episode, because the mystery of Data's actions are so intriguing, and it is always interesting to see just how much the crew trusts him.  And even takes things about him for granted.  I think that is why it is so entertaining to see Data as a potential bad guy - because his character is incorruptible (except when it's easy to bypass his circuits!)

3. The Drumhead


This is basically a witch hunt on the Enterprise.  Just substitute witches for Romulan spies and conspiracies.  The gradual spiraling into suspicion and fear-mongering is upsetting to see on the Enterprise - especially when humanity is supposed to have made such progress in this future.  But of course, the point of this episode is to pull back the veil on inescapable human weakness, and it's always a timely message (unfortunately).  Picard continues to reinforce what a fantastic Captain and leader he is, and the brilliant script and power play between Picard and the investigating Admiral really elevated this into a chilling and thought-provoking episode.  I think it is technically one of the best in this season, but I found more enjoyment in my number 2 pick.

2.  Final Mission


I feel like this is not a highly regarded episode - partly because people find Wesley Crusher annoying?  and maybe partly because it is too cliche, but this episode really touched me.  And I should say that I do like Wesley.  This is Wesley's final days on the Enterprise as he is off to StarFleet Academy, so Picard decides to take him on a quick and easy mission.  That goes horribly wrong.  I think stranded-in-the-desert stories also appeal to me for some reason, as a way to expose the best of human nature and also to create very real and nerve-wracking danger.  Picard's faith in Wesley was so very touching, as was Wesley's respect and admiration for Picard and for Wesley to be the one to reason a way out of their dilemma was very satisfying.  It was a great farewell to the character for me, and I think it showed a wonderful new side to Picard.

1. The Best of Both Worlds pt 1 & 2

Usually with the TNG episodes I watch on my iPad, so I start and stop it whenever I want - I don't always finish a whole episode, but with this two parter, I could. Not. Stop.  I had to watch this one from beginning to end (and thank goodness I didn't have to deal with an actual summer-long cliffhanger!)  This two-parter is amazing!  The Enterprise encounters the Borg once again, and are unable to stop their advance towards Earth.  They take Captain Picard and make him their voice to tell Earth to surrender.  After the Borg destroys the Starfleet sent against them, Riker and the Enterprise are the only ones who can stop them.  I think these episodes advance Picard and Riker's characters beautifully, and  there was so much suspense and danger because the episode highlights what an utterly unstoppable force the Borg are - well until we get to the end.  The stakes were so high in this episode too, that it's just impossible not to feel afraid for the crew and for Earth.  And for Picard.  (I really enjoyed how they addressed what happened to him in the episode to come after this one by the way, it's just overall I didn't love that episode.)  This is such an intense showdown, and really highlights the best of the show, the characters and the world of Star Trek.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Refined Reader (20) The Origins of Science Fiction


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!


After reading about science fiction as a genre, it seems much harder to define than I initially thought.  It is not as rigidly defined as other genres, so there can be a lot of overlap, especially in it's origins, with fantasy.  Fantasy is probably one of the earliest genres of storytelling we have, so that makes sense that science fiction is a kind of offshoot from that genre, where things that can only be speculated on is now more structured by natural laws and science.

Perhaps the first work of  true science fiction (at least it was regarded so by Issac Asimov and Carl Sagan) is Somnium (The Dream) by Johannes Kepler, noted astronomer and scientist of the 1600s.  In the story, the narrator (Kepler) talks about a dream he has had after reading a book about a magician.  In the dream a boy and his mother are transported by a demon to the moon and the story details how the Earth looks from the moon.  It at first started as a dissertation on the planetary motion of the Earth, and the framework of a dream and the fictional circumstances was added later.

Other earlier examples lie in some of the tales in the Arabian Nights and a 2nd century story titled True History by a Grecian writer known as Lucian of Samosata, which features the first story about interplanetary travel and aliens but was intended as a satire of stories that see myths as truth.

However it was in the early 19th century that science fiction as a genre really took form.  Beginning with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which is sometimes argued as the first true science fiction novel, and later with the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, which helped to popularize the genre.  The inventions of new technologies also helped to reinvent the format and take it even further into the realm of rational and realistic speculation about the future.

Of course today, the genre is wildly successful in many formats and in many sub-genres.  And I have to mention that there is a wonderful blogger event going on in November - Sci Fi Month, which you can read more about by checking out this post!  I participated last year (but still have to decide if I can commit to it this year!) and had so much fun with it.

What are your favorite science fiction stories?  They can be novels or in any other format!

Sources:
Wikipedia / Wikipedia

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Suspense Sundays (109) Eyewitness

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.

"Eyewitness"
Air date: July 12, 1959
Starring John Lund
>>Episodes here<<

Newspaper reporter, Mr. Kelly, is at the penitentiary to do a story on the prisoners.  He has the unfortunate timing to be there for a prisoner revolt, and he's taken hostage along with three other guards.  Conrad Alan is the leader and makes some demands for better treatment.  The warden is unwilling to cooperate, but Mr. Kelly is willing to print the prisoners' story.  Conrad Alan threatens to beat a guard every few hours until his demands are met.  And if he runs out of guards, Mr. Kelly is next.

This story was full of suspense for me - it's pretty nervewracking to not know whether the prisoners' demands will be met or not.  The story has an interesting moral as well, because Conrad Alan is seen in a sympathetic light in spite of the things he does in the story.  I suppose it is because we are seeing things through Mr. Kelly's perspective.  I really enjoy stories that make you think just by changing the perspective.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Disneybound - The Little Mermaid

Today I am celebrating my birthday at Disneyland!  I go to Disneyland fairly often, so for this trip I wanted to do something different - I wanted to Disneybound.  If you haven't heard of this before, it is putting together an outfit based on a Disney character.  And for my first time doing this I needed to Disneybound as my favorite character Ariel.   This blog is by no means going to become a fashion blog (me = no sense of fashion) but for this post I wanted to Disney-nerd-out on the outfit I put together!


Starting from the top:

Lauren Conrad Starfish Earrings
So cute and minimalistic - perfect for me because I don't like huge, dangling earrings.  And the ones that I bought actually have a little gem in the middle of it, but I couldn't find a picture of that version online.  
- Bought @ Kohl's

Ursula's Seashell Necklace
Okay, this is supposed to be Ursula's but Ariel's voice is trapped within it, so kinda Ariel's too?  I needed a necklace and this seashell one would do as good as any other!
- Bought @ Hot Topic

Mason & Mackenzie Crochet Cold Shoulder Top
I was all set to buy a different purple top when I saw this as I was heading towards the register.  So. Cute.  I love how the crochet kind of reminds me of netting on a ship, and they have the fan shape of little seashells!  Ariel's top is a darker purple, but I really liked this shade.
- Bought @ Kohl's

Gloria Vanderbilt Amanda Capris
The color is called Pale Sprig, and it is a very pale, almost greyish green.  Not as accurate to Ariel's fishy side, but again, love the color! And I think it goes better with the purple top.  
- Bought @ Kohl's

Mad Love Canvas Flats
The color for the flats that I bought is a bit darker than the ones pictured (and I couldn't find a right shoe to match the left for the picture!  So I just doubled it.)  But actually I wish I had the flats pictured - I think it looks pretty good!  Hmm maybe I'll stop by Target again...
- Bought @ Target

Forever 21 Nail Polish
Forever 21 has some great nail polish at really great prices! (Hmm I sound like such a salesperson)  But really it's only $3 so I can try so many different colors!  I am using the sea green color for my outfit, though I almost chose a lilac one.  But the green color is my favorite.
- Bought @ Forever 21

Everything at Kohl's was on sale, so the price tag for this outfit was pretty reasonable.  If you follow me on Instagram (name is bookwhimsy not bookishwhimsy) or just check it out through the web link, I'm planning to post a picture of me in the outfit sometime today!

Does Disneybounding sound like something you would like to do?  Which character would you dress up as?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: What Angels Fear

What Angels Fear (a Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, #1)
by C.S. Harris
Mystery
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

It's 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III's England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.

Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian's heart years ago. In Sebastian's world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, yet the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as to Sebastian's own salvation....

Review:

Sebastian St. Cyr is a very intriguing character to follow.  Throughout this book his noble attitude and secret feelings are hinted at but continually hidden by a veneer of studied self-interest and carelessness.  He's everything I find particularly appealing about darker, wounded main characters so it's no wonder that I really enjoyed this book!

The mystery starts off with a look at what happens to the victim, Rachel York.  The reader glimpses her personality and her hopes for the future which makes it even more disturbing and saddening as we get to know her better through the course of Sebastian's investigation.  The gradual and simultaneous understanding of the victim, the 'detective' (Sebastian) and of the truth behind the mystery was such an intriguing way to develop the whole story, and I really admired how well the author plotted everything out.  The mystery was pretty impenetrable - I tried so hard to figure out who the murderer was before Sebastian but failed utterly.  Even when some pretty glaring clues were dropped.  It made for a fantastic reveal though!

The story moves very quickly and has many seemingly suspicious characters to keep the reader always second-guessing.  There are so many secrets Sebastian has to unravel which made this a very engaging mystery and since Sebastian is also a puzzle in himself the story was that much more intriguing.  The historical setting added to the level of interest I had in the mystery as well - the state of England at that time was not very promising, and the undercurrent of civil and political change was a nice backdrop to place this highly complex mystery.

This book did have some darker, gruesome moments which made the story sometimes very thought-provoking and melancholy but it has a wonderful lead in Sebastian St. Cyr, with his uncanny sight, hearing and reflexes, and I enjoyed reading how his cleverness, his disguises and his persistence helped him unravel this mystery.  I look forward to reading more of this series!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

San Diego Comic Con 2014 - On the Sidelines

A view from the bridge (those white tents are lines for Hall H)
So let me start off with a sad story.  Back in March, I and a few friends hung out online early because it was Comic Con open registration day.  And if one of us got in to buy tickets we would all get tickets for each other.  But nobody got out of the 'waiting room' because after the better part of two hours all tickets to the convention were sold out.  Boo.

Some months later, my friend scored tickets to Aisha Tyler's podcast fan event during Comic Con (but not a part of the con) which included a meet and greet with Aisha to sign things and attendance at her podcast taping as VIPs of the Xbox lounge at the Marriott.  So since my friend's fiance had to work the days of Thursday and Friday, I got to go!  So now we are into the happy story.

I've never been to Comic Con, and was always a little wary of the crowds, but after having been in San Diego last week, it is definitely crazy crowded, but also worth going.  Although I don't think I'd go again if I didn't have tickets to the convention.  But to be there hanging out on the sidelines was so much fun.  There's actually quite a bit to see, and some great swag to score just walking around outside.

(Pictures and commentary below!)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Refined Reader (19) The Codex


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!
Source
People today debate on the merits of physical books vs. ebooks - a debate that is not so much about whether books will last (as in the actual art of writing stories - that will definitely last) but how do we cope with a new format?  And what are we losing in the transition?  This post isn't about that particular change however, but the transition people had to make many centuries ago when the most common book format was a scroll and bound pages called a codex began to gain popularity.

In the most important aspects, codices are very like the bound books we use today.  Scrolls were long parchments or papyrus with the text written down the front which could then be rolled up for storage.  Around the first century A.D., a codex started to come into use and featured a set of pages bound together on one end with a sturdy cover and spine easy for labeling.  The only real difference between the idea of a codex and books as we know them today, is that a codex was usually handwritten.  And sometimes a codex could be a folded series of pages like in the image above which is an ancient Mayan codex.  These were huge advances over the scroll format.  Codices were easier to carry, more compact, could fit more text because you could write on the front and back of a page, and the most important advancement - you could read text non-linearly.  You could skip and skim parts of the codex very easily and compare sections, while with a scroll it was necessary to keep what you weren't reading rolled up.

It would be interesting to think that there were some Ancient Times hold-outs who loved that they were able to roll up their books and couldn't accept that codices were an improvement on the reading system.  There's some speculation with historians that Christians helped make codices popular because they used them to write out the Bible (which was much more practical due to the Bible's length).  It is also speculated that Christians wanted to use the codex because scrolls were widely used by the Jews.  Indeed Jewish people sometimes still have Torah scrolls for formal ceremonial use.

By the sixth century, scrolls were completely obsolete, although the scroll was used longer in the Far East than in the West.  So if we look at the example of history, we still have some time before physical books are phased out! (But I don't want them to be!  I still love my physical books!)

Do you think physical books will become obsolete a century from now?  Or perhaps more of a collector's item for the avid reader?

Sources:
Wikipedia
The New York Times (much more informative on this topic)
The Book and Paper Group