What I’m Reading: July to November

Since one of my goals for the year is to read 26 books (that’s one book every two weeks for those of you playing along at home), I thought it might be fun to share some of the books I’m reading and liking with the internet.

I think this is round four.  I’ve lost count.  I finally got myself an Amazon account and I subsequently feel like a much more grown up human.  One of my first purchases was a Kindle which I’ve been LOVING.  I’m devouring books at a crazy rate with this thing.  I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I think there something to do with not quite comprehending how much I’ve read on the electronic format.  Not knowing how far I’ve gone makes it easier for me to plow ahead.

Out of Oz by Gregory McGuire
The fantastical conclusion to the Wicked series, follows the journey of Rain, the granddaughter of Elphaba, more commonly known as the Wicked Witch of the West. Since we last saw the Land of Oz, the conflict with Munchkinland has grown into the beginnings of a full blown war. Rain joins the not-so-merry band of The Clock of the Time Dragon, and begins growing up on the road. Along the way we run into familiar characters such as Brr, more commonly known as the Cowardly Lion; Candle and Liir, Rain’s parents; Dorthy, the strange girl from Kan-sis; and eventually, Tip, a character new to the Wicked series, but recognizable to fans of the Oz-verse.
Just like the others in the series, Out of Oz is a complex book full of unexpected turns and a new way of looking at the traditional Oz-ian legend. It recalls on your knowledge of the three former books in the series as well as testing your memory of the Oz books you read as a child. As always, the Land of Oz is filled with strong characters and gorgeous settings. As the final book in the series, it does not disappoint.

The Shack by William Young
This book was heavy. There were a lot of good thoughts and a lot of hard ideas to think on wrapped in a narrative that was both supernatural and a little bit loopy. A lot of people think this book is the be all end all of explaining a lot of spiritual things (or at least, that was what I was thinking heading into it), but I wasn’t overwhelmed by it as much as I was expecting to be. It was good. It’s not a desert island book though.

Uglies by Scott Westerfield
I read this entire book in a day. Insane. To be honest though, I’m not surprised by that one bit. I’ve been meaning to pick this up for years, and it was the first book purchased on my Kindle. I loved pretty much everything about his book. Adventure, Utopian society, and YA romance. Pretty much perfection. My only qualm with it being that it took this long for me to pick it up. I feel like it would have been much more impactful when I was 16. I’m not sure that it was published when I was 16 precisely, but even a few years closer to Tally’s age it would have hit closer.

Daisy and the Pirates by JT Allen
This is more of a short story that I read for one of my internships, but I’m including it because it’s fantastic and it can be bought on Amazon.  It’s a Kindle-only book, but absolutely worth it if you have a Kindle.
It’s a little bit Swiss Family Robinson, where Daisy and her family are on a boat that gets taken over by pirates and wind up shipwrecked on an island, find pirate gold, and have to somehow take said pirates down.  Of course Daisy manages most of it on her own because YA and adults are stupid, but that aside, it was a really quick, really fun read.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
I love this book. So much. I was drawn to it at first by it’s title alone. I am a fangirl, but the idea of fangirls and specifically of fandom and fanfiction isn’t really acknowledged in media. Which is fine with me, but it was striking to see something acknowledging it at all. Secondly, I found out recently that it started as a NaNoWriMo novel. Can anyone say awesome? Because I can.
Besides the clear love of fandom, this is also a very real story. It follows a freshmen in college as she works through college, relationships, life, and fandom. She’s a famous fanfic author which I love. Not gonna lie, I kind of want to be Cather.

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A little bit slimmer on the reviews this round because a lot of what I’ve been reading is scripts that I’m not allowed to talk about.  Or maybe I am.  Honestly, I’m not sure, but to be on the safe side I’ll not.  Besides, I would rather save this space for prose books that everyone can buy as opposed to insider movies that wont be out to the general public for years if they ever make it past the production phase at all.  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any recommendations for me?

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What I’m Reading: March to May

Since one of my goals for the year is to read 26 books (that’s one book every two weeks for those of you playing along at home), I thought it might be fun to share some of the books I’m reading and liking with the internet.

This is round three, and I’m at 20 books so far for the year.  I feel like I’m slowing down, so maybe my goal of 26 wasn’t too far off.  The program I’m in right now is kicking my ass so I haven’t been able to read as much as I would have liked.  In fact, I had hoped to be done with at least one more book before this post went live.  Alas, it was not to be.

In the meantime (sort of) since I last did a book review round up I’ve joined Goodreads, a site that helps keep track of books that I’ve read and what I’d like to read.  Now if only that would sync to the public library and they would just send me stuff.  Like a Netflix for books.  That would be awesome.

Goodreads makes it really easy for me to make up this post because I review books as I read them and then to make this post I simply copy/paste the reviews into WordPress.  If you’re on Goodreads, let’s be friends.  You’ll also be able to see what books I’m currently reading (usually about three), and leave comments.

Fed Up with Lunch by Sarah Wu
I remember following Mrs. Q when she was blogging back in 2010. I was a regular reader all through the project, but got a little lost afterwards. I knew there was a book and I’d been meaning to read it, but never got a chance until I saw it on sale at my local bookstore. A really fun read, and a very insightful book about everything that’s not quite right with school lunches.

Fourth Comings by Megan McCafferty
I have adored the Jessica Darling Series for a long time, but somehow only just got around to reading this fourth in the series. I’m planning on reading Perfect Fifths soon too and I’m so excited. While the other books took place over years, this one is the thoughts and musings of Jess from only one week, the week the infamous Marcus Flutie has given her to think about weather or not she wants to marry him. As a life-long shipper and a big fan of Marcus, I had to quell my excitement over this development, somehow knowing it could never be that easy. This book is full of references and mentions of the previous books, but also brings in new characters and surprising stories that did nothing short of make my heart exceedingly happy. So exceedingly happy.

Maus by Art Spiegelman
Maus is the fantastically told, true story of a jew and his family in Poland during the rise of the 3rd Reich. Woven in between horrors, the narrator tells about dealing with his elderly father (the protagonist in the WWII story). Both stories are ripe with depth and honesty. The artist uses personified animals to show the different races and sects of the characters. I was moved by this telling of the Holocaust like i had never seen it before. Highly recommend to anyone interested in WWII/Holocaust stories or fantastically rendered characters.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
I have been casually interested in this story for years, always remembering in the back of my mind the story of a young man who died in Alaska. I don’t know how i came upon this when I was younger, as Chris died before I was old enough to understand what death was, but regardless I am glad to have stumbled upon this book. I think Chis was brave, perhaps a bit under prepared, but nevertheless a strong character and someone I would have been proud to know. His story is told well in these pages, with a heartfelt honesty that is both refreshing and shockingly simple. Well done. I hope that Chris’ story will continue to be an inspiration as well as a cautionary tale.

Writing Movies for Fun and Profit by Robert B. Grant & Thomas Lennon
This is not my usual reading material. For one thing I’m much more interested in TV then movies. I’ll admit my naivety, but most movie-specific guides turn me off from the get-go. To add onto that, I’m not really interested in making the “boat-loads of cash” they keep talking about in this book..

My Life Without God by William J. Murray
I finished reading this book in two days. There are a few factors in how quickly I managed to get through it. For one thing it’s good. The writing is easy to follow and I continually want to know what happens next, though… Another reason I read it so quickly because i kept waiting for the turnaround. To have a life without God implys that there was also one with God. I kept wanting the author to find God already so he could stop making mistakes. I kept thinking ‘oh, it’ll be in the next chapter…or the next one’ it’s literally the last chapter and I wish that he had gone more into how his life was changed after. The last and least of the reasons I read this book so quickly: no internet at my new apartment.

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Oh, that was six!  For some reason I thought there were only five since last update.  6!  Awesome!  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any recommendations for me?

Previous Book Review Roundups:
January to March
March to May

Much Ado About Whedon

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So this time instead of being a year late to something, I decided to show up a month early.  I was lucky enough to get a chance to see Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing at the San Francisco International Film Festival; it has a limited release this weekend (6/7), a UK release next weekend (6/14), and a nationwide release the weekend after that (6/21).  I’ll come straight out with it, go see this movie as soon as possible.

In many ways it’s exactly what you think it is.  How can you go wrong with Shakespeare? (don’t answer that) The story of Much Ado About Nothing is the same as when you read it in high school.  Benedict and Beatrice hate each other; Claudio and Hiro are set up, torn down, and brought back together again; Benedict and Beatrice are together in the end (Spoiler Alert).

But this movie, this story, will never be told this way again.  A study in tightening the already close reigns of 6 Degrees of Joss Whedon, this movie has an all-star cast including Amy Acker, Alexis Denihof, Fran Kranz, Nathan Fillion, Clark Gregg, Reed Diamond, Sean Maher, and Tom Lenk.  Because why not get together all the old gang back together?  I can’t even begin with how much in awe I am of this cast.  People, some of whom as far as I’m aware have never met before, come together to make something awesome.

And awesome here encapsulates beautiful, hysterical, heart-wrenching, emotional, and perfect.  That’s right, perfect, because I can think of no other word that is able to sum up this film so well.  Practically perfect in every way.  Every once and a while I would see something.  An angle, a balcony, and I thought to myself, “I know where this is going”.  Every time I was wrong.  The story was filled with small unexpected things that, thinking back, couldn’t have been done any other way.

There is something for everyone here.  The film festival aficionados (it has toured the continent of festivals), the Shakespearean critics, and the Whedonites will all come to this movie in droves and there will not be a single unsatisfied soul in the house.  Perhaps I am making much ado about nothing, but what could be more appropriate?

Do you fall into any of the three categories I listed?  Which one?  When are you planning to see Much Ado About Nothing.

What I’m Reading: March to May

Since one of my goals for the year is to read 26 books (that’s one book every two weeks for those of you playing along at home), I thought it might be fun to share some of the books I’m reading and liking with the internet.

This is round two, and I’ve gone through another 6 books.  I’m sort of impressed with my progress.  Lately I’ve found myself reading for hours on end.  I keep looking for the midpoint, the next round of plot development, something to up the stakes.  I keep remembering that books don’t have the same structure as television does.

1984 by George Orwell
Written during the beginning of the cold war, 1984 portrays a society where everything is regulated and the only emotion is hate.  Big Brother, the ruling power that may or may not actually exist, controls the past the present and the future, with his minions updating the records every time something changes so that the history books say that things were always as they are.
I don’t really know what my opinion on this book is other than finally understanding the references to it.  I’m happy to now be one of the enlightened, but other than that I have no strong feelings for of against it.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Of savages and class societies, Brave New World examines how the introduction of one “savage” impacts others in the society.  In a world of birth control and mass consumption, we see the flaws of the system resulting in a writer, the savage, and the savage’s keeper being given a choice: stay where they are or be sent away where no one will see them again.
It’s a classic, and I enjoyed it.  It get’s pretty deep, and sheds light on the world in which is was written as much as the possibilities still to come in the world we live in today.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Leviathan and John Green
Once again with my love of Young Adult literature   This one is written from the point of view of two guys both named Will Grayson, and the perspective flip flops between them.  While I liked the story, one of the Will Graysons seemed to think in one of my pet peeves (where everything is lowercase even when things should be uppercase. like the beginnings of sentences and the word i) which made it hard to concentrate at first.

Long Drive Home by Will Allison
This is the beginning of my reading novels meant for actual adults (beyond the classics).  Written as a father’s confession to his daughter about how he and her mother broke up, it’s a touching, yet sad story of the end of a marriage due to a series of mistakes and half truths.  A quick read, and a touching story.

Love is the Higher Law by David Leviathan
Upon seeing the cover of this book I immediately checked it out.  It’s about three kids and their memories of 9/11, and the friendship they began because of the events following the attacks.  It’s a topic that’s very close to my heart and with the recent attacks on Boston, all the more real.  Again, this book is told from shifting perspectives, and in the best way possible.

Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
A book about women and their love lives.  This book has so many characters it makes my head spin a little.  They are all somehow connected to the main three, Isabella, Lauren, and Mary, who all live in New York and are trying to find happiness in their jobs and in their love lives.  It chronicles them watching as friends get married and they are bridesmaids again and again.  The large cast of characters was a little disorienting at times, but overall I really loved this book.

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I seem to be making much quicker work of 26 books than I thought I would.  I suppose I was in a state of inertia where I hadn’t read anything for so long that I didn’t know if I would be able to continue, but now that I’ve started I can’t seem to stop.  Have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any recommendations for me?

What I’m Reading: January to March

Since one of my goals for the year is to read 26 books (that’s one book every two weeks for those of you playing along at home), I thought it might be fun to share some of the books I’m reading and liking with the internet.  So far I’ve finished six so far which I’m pretty happy with, and I’ve also gotten a few more in the works.

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin
This one is sort of an ‘untold story’.  A fictionalized account of the life of Alice of Alice in Wonderland fame.  I’m not sure how much of it is true (and to me it doesn’t make much of a difference), but it follows young Alice begging for the book to be written and then the repercussions throughout her life.  I’m a nut for both historical fiction and grown up versions of children’s stories, so this one was a win/win for me.  Fantastically well written, I would recommend this one to anyone who fondly remembers Alice.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
I have been an avid VlogBrothers subscriber for a while now, but hadn’t read any of John Green’s book until The Fault In Our Stars came out last year.  I loved it and knew immediately that I would have to read his others.  Looking for Alaska is about a guy at boarding school getting to know a girl named Alaska who–nope, not giving it away.  Just read it.  It’s awesome.

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
A book my sister gave me for Christmas, Glaciers is a novel following the musings of a young woman.  What it lacks in plot it makes up for in beautiful prose.  You get to know Isabelle, her present and her past, as she recalls memories of growing up in Alaska.  Glaciers is a great book, but it certainly is not for everyone.

Messenger and Son by Lois Lowry
These two go together and are the continuation of the universe established in The Giver and Gathering Blue, books I read a long time ago when I was a kid.  Both look into the world of the village that Jonas sees at the end of The Giver.  Time has past and Jonas, is now the leader of the village.  He helps Matty, a messenger between the village and outsiders to use his gift to heal the wounds of the town.

Later in Son, Claire, a young woman from the community where The Giver began, tells her side of the story as the birthmother of Gabe.  The book follows her journey to find Gabe and runs into characters new and familiar in the process.

I would recommend both of these books.  While they are aimed towards young adults (remember my love of them?), they both, along with their companions The Giver and Gather Blue pose lots of good questions to readers of any age.  In fact, I almost think that I got more out of them this time around than I did when I had first read their predecessors.  Reading these was like returning to an old friend, a true joy.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Kind of a “and now for something completely different” moment right here.  Mindy Kaling was, of course, one of the writers of The Office, and currently the creator and star of her own show, The Mindy Project.  The book is a memoir (I guess?  I’m not really sure about the definition of these things) of her childhood and her quest to be a writer/actress on stage or screen.  It covers up to and partially including her time at The Office.  Just like she is on screen, Mindy is entertaining and engaging on a page.  And funny.  Of course funny.  But you already knew that much, right?  Recommended to anyone who enjoyed Bossypants by Tina Fey.

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I am still reading, though somewhat less lately, I expect to have another review post in a month or two.  In the meantime, have you read any of these?  What did you think?  Any recommendations for me?

On the Fringe

Click through to watch on Hulu.

To say that I was a late adapter of Fringe would be a bit of an understatement.  It’s not that I wasn’t interested.  Just that I was busy.  I can’t quite remember with what I was busy with, but shhh, that’s irrelevant.  I’ve found it now, and it’s absolutely fantastic in a way that I will never be ashamed of my love for it.

I decided to jump on the Fringe bandwagon last year at the beginning of season 4.  I was told by multiple people not to do that.  I had to watch it from the beginning, there was so much I didn’t know, all that good stuff.  But, straightly put I didn’t have the level of commitment for that.  So despite the protests of those around me I jumped in to a world where none of the characters could remember a main character that I didn’t know to begin with.

The great part of Fringe (and there’s a lot) is that in many ways no matter where you start, you’re going to be confused, so you may as well start anywhere that interests you (please, do).  The cases of the Fringe Division are going to be transfixing no matter where you are in the story, and each season’s stories are more or less self-contained.

In the current season, we have fast forwarded about two decades to a world where the observers, an unknown presence in every season before this, have taken over the world.  It’s insane and wonderful all at the same time.  And in the last episode it just got fantastic.

If you are looking for a show that is not afraid to take risks then look no further.  Fringe continues to do things story-wise that according to everything ever should not be done.  They’ve made characters disappear, killed characters off and then brought them back in alternate universes, and skipped 20 years with no direct explanation of what happened in the time we missed.

Unfortunately due to low ratings this will be the final season.  Regardless, from the interaction I’ve been seeing on Twitter, it has been a well-watched and well-liked season so far.  Give it a look if you’re at all interested.

"Don’t Underestimate Pluto. Pluto doesn’t quit."

In an effort to begin what will be a theme of Television posts and reviews, I’ve just finished watching Sports Night and want to tell you about it.

Sports Night was an Aaron Sorkin show from 1998 to 2000, and if you don’t know yet you’ll soon learn that I sort of have a thing for Aaron Sorkin’s television.  A thing that was nearly broken with Sports Night, but seems to be back on given how calm I was when it ended.  Anyway, Sports Night is a show about a show.  The show within the show is also called Sports Night.  It’s a lot less confusing than it sounds.  The show revolves around the producers and host of a late night sports news show called — wait for it — Sports Night.

Casey McCall and Dan Rydell are the on-camera talent who work with producers Dana Witacher, Natalie Hurley, and Jeremy Goodwin, as well as their fearless leader Issac Jaffe.  They get together and don’t get together and sometimes they make some television in there somewhere too.

And now I’m going to dive into spoilers, so if you want to watch the show and are bothered by them, stop here.

When I first started this show I was enthralled.  It was a quick, clean cut, walk-and-talk, office dramady that needed to not have a laugh track, but I forgave that flaw.  Season 1 (there are only two) is fantastic.  Air horns, speeches, Jeremy and Natalie get together, Dana is secretly in love with Casey(publicly in love with Gordon), Dan is attempting to date a woman named Rebecca, and everything is pretty much right with the world.  They manage to strike a perfect balance between the “outside” world  and the world of their sports show.  The team is good and they know it.  Everyone is playing their best game and all ships are go.

Then suddenly, in the second episode of the second season tragedy strikes.  Dana, who at this point is about to go on her first date with Casey after her engagement breaks off, decides that Casey should date other people before dating her.  Meanwhile, the show within the show is apparently in need to some help, so they bring in a ratings guy to take a shot at it.  And there is a turn for the serious when Dan starts going to therapy.  It’s all very sudden and quite depressing actually.  The good news is, it gets better.

The bad news is that I didn’t know it was going to get better.  Around their Christmas/Y2K scare episode I start to loose faith that Sorkin will pull himself together and make this worth watching.  Now sometimes when I loose hope I just push through and figure it out on my own.  Other times (this one for example), I look at the episode descriptions of the upcoming episodes to try and tell myself that it will get better.  And while as I said earlier, it does get better, the descriptions are not very good at showing that it gets better.  Jeremy and Natalie break up, Dana’s dating plan goes terribly wrong when Casey starts to actually sort of see other women,  to lash out Jeremy starts going out with a porn star, and I completely loose it.

For some reason the fact that this show was not going the way I wanted it to did not do good things to my psyche.  I completely lost it.  I was ranting to Allason, who doesn’t even understand my normal rantings much less my half-crazy ones.  I claimed to have lost faith in humanity.  I was nearly in tears (though I’m hanging onto the idea that the tears were caused by a separate conversation happening simultaneously).  I wrote a lengthy email to my boss, to whom I frequently go to with my television woes, telling her my frustration.  I being telling Allason a fitting sports metaphor about how a good horse can win with a bad jockey, but a good jockey can’t win with a bad horse, and how Sports Night had both a good horse, and a good jockey and was still spiraling.

But due to the response I get from my boss, my own internal need to finish what I start, and my inability to find the wish-fulfilling fanfiction I want, I continue watching.  And it’s not as bad as I fear.  I still cry when Dana and Casey are officially not even trying to be a couple anymore, and I’m feel terrible about Jeremy and Natalie’s break up, but it was all very well done.  They managed to get back on the horse.

And I will always have problems with the dramatic change between seasons one and two.  Dana’s complete change in demeanor and wardrobe for seemingly no reason at all.  Not understanding why they started including a bar in the settings.  Bringing in Sam Donovan, whose plot and performance never really blew my hair back.  Big things, little things, some of which I understand that I’m the only one who cares about them and is bothered by them, and I’m okay with that.  The important thing to remember is that it ended well.

Which of course leads us to what happens in my fictional head after the show is over.  WARNING: What follows is borderline fanfiction.  I don’t write fanfiction anymore, but if I did this would be the basic outline I would follow for Sports Night.

With the new network head Sports Night is given nearly everything they ask for.  At some point during the deliberations Dana will ask for a flaming unicorn just to see it they’ll go for it.  They don’t.  Even so, she has her team and her show and that’s all that matters.  Issac retires after the show is settled into it’s new digs.  Dana doesn’t want to take his job but Natalie convinces her.  Jeremy becomes the Executive Producer and others shift to fill in the changes.  Natalie lands an on-camera job doing stand-ups at games.  It’s a lot of traveling, but she lives for the voice in her ear telling her that she’s live.  Dan and Casey are inseparable as ever.  Dana once suggests that they get a second office so they could each have their own.  They both say “No” at the exact same time.

When the dust settles again Casey decides it’s time to make his move on Dana.  Dana doesn’t want to shake things up, but the entire studio and production team make it clear that nothing would change.  They don’t get married.  Casey is done with marriage, but they are happy and that’s what counts.  Natalie and Jeremy are together and I’m quite pleased with that.  With Natalie out of town so often things are hard sometimes, but they learn to deal.  They learn to fight fair.

Dan is Dan.  He continues to go to therapy, and things get better.  And it’s not perfect.  Nobody is.  They all still fight and there’s still drama, and there are a few times when someone calls Issac to try and break up an argument, which is sentimental and entertaining, but doesn’t really solve anything.  They loose people.  Kim leaves, and Elliot soon after.  It’s not that they didn’t like Sports Night, just that they got other offers.  But overall they’re happy.  They’re good at their jobs and they have each other.  And none of them would have it any other way.

Overall I’d say it’s definitely worth watching.  Be ready mentally for the drastic change from Season 1 to Season 2, but finish it anyway.