Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Big Reveal!

I cannot say enough about Mr. Brendan Reichs and his presentation. From February until this last week, he’s been very dependable about communicating with me and planning for his program. And it’s not easy planning something so many moths out, especially for a successful YA author.
He spoke a little about the TV show, Bones, based on the books his mother, Kathy Reichs, has written. He spoke about some of the processes that medical examiners use in determining cause of death; all very fascinating.
'Virals' series author, Brendan Reichs.
The best part of his presentation, however, was when he delved into his own books, which he co-authors with his mother, the Virals series.
If you’ve been reading my posts, you know that I appreciate and also expect writers to be good at what they do. It’s also reasonable, when creating a series, to expect that the characters and settings become more solid and believable as the series progresses and the author becomes more keen to the task.
If you haven’t read these books yet, I highly recommend them. Say what you like about YA series fiction, Mr. Reichs has a gift. And I’m not just flattering him.
The stories revolve around Tory Brennan, niece of acclaimed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan (of the Bones novels and hit TV show). She and a group of friends wind up getting infected by a human strain of the parvovirus, which gives them hyper-sense abilities. Here’s the best part, though: they cannot use these abilities at will and they cannot tell anyone about it, because they don’t want to be captured for experimentation.
Now, add awesome bad guys and a cool setting, like Charleston, South Carolina, and you have a really special series.
So far, there have been four novels, ‘Virals’, ‘Seizure’, ‘Code’ and ‘Exposure’, as well as two novellas that are in ebook format only. Yesterday Brendan Reichs not only revealed the name of the upcoming novel in the series, he gave us an idea of when to expect it, and showed us the cover.
The group at his presentation were among the first people to see the cover. I’d say that’s pretty exciting. I’ve never been to an author talk and gotten a spoiler like that. It hammered the presentation home, though and it was a great surprise.
Now, I didn’t get Mr. Reichs’ permission to reveal the title and I don’t have a jpeg of the cover, so I cannot divulge anything yet, suffice it so say the minute the title goes up on his site, (http://brendanreichs.com) you’ll see it here. If you missed the presentation, don’t worry, there will be more great author talks and opportunities to interact with your favorite YA authors in the near future.
For more on our coming events, check out the ‘Teens’ tab at randolphlibrary.org and don’t forget to check back to this blog, for more posts from The Librarian R and yours truly.

Dave.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: Second Star

Hey guys, as the days get hotter (and now shorter), I seem to be reading faster. I've got a mix of YA and adult titles in progress right now, and discovering so many great reads! I'm looking forward to sharing the treasure with y'all, and hope you'll let me know what you think if you read of them. (Plus, the more books you read, the more chances you have to win! Don't forget Summer Reading is still in full swing!) And so, without further ado ...

Second Star
Alyssa B. Sheinmel

As a longtime fan of Peter Pan, I was pretty excited to get my hands on this one billed as a contemporary retelling of the classic Neverland tale. With surfers. Because, clearly, surfers belong in the world of summertime reading. While it's true there are elements of my beloved Peter Pan, I'm not sure I'd label it a retelling. Remix, perhaps. The Goodreads blurb calls it a "radical reinvention," and that feels about right. 

We have our classic characters: Wendy Darling, looking for her lost brothers (John and Michael), which leads her to surfing Pete (Peter, of course) and his band of lost boys - oh, and Belle (Tinkerbelle, obviously), the tiny, pretty surfer girl who does not like Wendy crashing their hidden cove. And then there's Jas (our Capt Hook), who may or may not be as horrible as a villain and archenemy should be. There are happy days in the sun, and there are tense rivalries. There's tension and chemistry, and a budding romance that becomes ... triangular (sigh).

It's a more complicated story than I expected, and surprisingly dark at times. I liked it, but while I read it quickly, it wasn't something I'd consider a "warm" read. There are a lot of Big Topics that pop up, but it does read fast -- it's not heavy enough to get bogged down.

My "Big Sister Notes" include drug use, theft, and ... deeply emotional situations (I'm not sure how else to phrase it without giving away too much of the end; you've got to read up to it at normal speed - NO SKIPPING AHEAD!).

Monday, July 14, 2014

"Transformers: Age of Extinction" Honest Review

Hey guys!
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to catch the latest edition of the Transformers films, “Transformers: Age of Extinction”.
If you’ve seen the others, then you know to expect all of director Michael Bay’s standard tricks of the trade: beautiful long shots of Autobots driving across beautiful American vistas; lots of explosions and car chases and a multifaceted plot.
In reference to these points, you will not be disappointed.
There were one or two areas that really did disappoint me, however.
{{SPOILERS!}}
Below I’m going to do what I typically do and ruin the plot for you, so if you haven’t seen the film and you’d like to have the surprises saved for you, go read one of Librarian R’s magnificent book reviews!

Plot
165 minutes is a long time for an
action film.
 As you have no doubt seen at least one of the previous three Transformers films, you know the basic plot: large, sentient robots have come to earth and they have the ability to transform themselves into automobiles and planes, in order to camouflage themselves and blend in.
Relying heavily on the plot from the previous movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”, where the Decepticons, evil Transformers nearly destroyed Chicago in an attempt to get to a ship that’s on the dark side of the moon.
In the intervening time between Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Transformers: Age of Extinction, a special group of CIA operatives called Cemetery Wind and led by Kelsey Grammer, is hunting down all Transformers, regardless of their loyalty, and destroying them, in order to prevent another Battle of Chicago.
Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is an inventor
who discovers a truck that is more than
meets the eye.
In order to get to every last Transformer, the CIA has enlisted the help of Lockdown, a Cybertronian hunting for Optimus Prime, an extremely old and powerful Cybertronian and the leader of the Autobots.
Enter Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) a struggling Texas inventor who discovers a truck that he will scavenge for parts. Later it becomes apparent that the truck is none other than Optimus Prime. Prime’s presence in Texas leads to Cemetery Wind hunting Cade and his family down in order to learn the whereabouts of the hidden Optimus Prime.
From here, the typical Transformers plot line takes over; Cade is forced to get involved to help Prime get to the other refugee Autobots and unwillingly enlists the help of his daughter’s boyfriend to get away from the evil CIA group.
And chaos ensues.
Come to find that Lockdown is hoping to take Prime back to the mysterious Creators, creatures who created the Transformers by using ‘seeds’; bombs that change organic life into harvestable metal. The prologue to the film indicates that the original destruction of the dinosaurs was caused by the Creators and not from an asteroid.
Joshua Joyce (Tucci) is the owner of KSI and
inventor of human-made Transformers.
Half-way through the 165 minute film, a whole new set of characters are introduced, who don’t really seem to fit into the story, except that they have found a way to market human made Transformers from “cyberforming transformium”, the metal obtained from the robots destroyed by the CIA group. The owner of KSI, the company making Transformers has a deal with the head of the CIA group, to make tons of cash together.
There is a great deal of chatter, during this part of the film, and very little of it makes much sense, except that somehow, Megatron, the destroyed lord of the Decepticons has managed to hijack one of the human copies of a Transformer and messes up the CIA’s plans.
The owner of KSI, played by Stanley Tucci and the very best actor in the whole film, has a change of heart, and winds up helping Cade and his family rescue a seed from the CIA group and thereby prevent the extinction of humankind.

Writing

I am not so fussy about action films that I expect that they have excellent writing. Some of my favorite action/adventure films are poorly written, but their delivery is good enough to make it worth the time to enjoy.
This film, which was a bit of a reboot in that it started with a whole new cast of characters and dealt with more of an origin story than the previous films, is filled with inane banter; has moments of complete confusion in terms of what exactly is happening and in general makes not much sense at all.
The script is choppy, hard to follow and filled with platitudes that make little if any sense at all.
For example, when Cade Yeager asks the head of the CIA’s special group where his warrant is, the operative played by Titus Welliver points at his face and says, “My face is my warrant.” What does that even mean?

What’s the point?

I get wanting to exploit the resurgence and popularity of a long-awaited live-action film about everyone’s favorite Transformers. I also get wanting it to be exciting to more than just the kids.
However, this production was hardly worth the effort it took to make it. There is not one plot point that doesn’t repeat a theme from the previous films. The robots are big and damage everything, with little regard for human life, except for the lives of the ‘pet humans’ Optimus takes under his wing.
With the exception of destroying Chicago again, and Hong Kong as well; a bunch of car chases and lots and lots of gunfire,  and resurrecting Megatron-turned-Galvatron and in doing so creating yet another reason to have yet another sequel, there is not much going on here. Wahlberg’s great skill as an action hero falls short here. He isn’t a tremendously likable character, and has not even the shrediest of shreds of regard for his fellow humans, including his daughter’s boyfriend, who repeatedly saves his life. Mr. Grammer’s performance is woody and not very convincing. Only Stanley Tucci accomplishes his part, but for all his ability, the character is secondary to the plot, from the beginning.
Optimus Prime talks the whole time about life and saving the human race and on and on and continually uses violence and heavy gunfire to destroy small town Texas, Chicago and Hong Kong, and winds up leaving his precious humans alone most of the time.
Even with the inclusion of the Dinobots, which I admit were cool, there's little here to get me too excited. They don't even speak an understandable language, or combine to make one huge Transformer.
Optimus has to spend 15 minutes beating up the Dinobot
to get it to be friends and help him. 
The only point of this film is to show off CGI techniques and wow you with other special effects. Every attempt at humor falls short, and the only serious dialog revolves around how poor a father Cade Yeager has been to his daughter.
Final thoughts on Transformers: Age of Extinction.

If you liked the other films, you should go check this out. It may have some redeeming value that I have missed. However, you may want to wait until it is available on DVD or Netflix. It’s long, rather boring in some parts and doesn’t really change the storyline at all, except to create an excuse for lots of big robots breaking things.

Agree? Disagree?
Let me know in the comments below.

Dave


Thursday, July 10, 2014

Hunger Games Movie Review


Hey guys and gals!
You know that I really liked the Hunger Games trilogy from my previous blog entries. You also know that I didn’t care too much for the audiobook versions, since the narrator made Katniss sound like a naive 10 year-old, rather than the strong and stubborn young woman that she really is.
Much the way that Jennifer Lawrence gives the character depth, even though she is way older, it seems reasonable that life in the Districts would season young people much faster than our current cushy world would.
I have recently watched the movie sequel, Catching Fire and I have some very strong feelings about it.
I need to mention that if you haven’t read the books yet or seen the films, that there are some spoilers coming. I am trying not to spoil it too much, however, you may want to stop here and read the Librarian R’s latest post, instead.

Loved the face Effy makes when she picks the cards.


Faithful

In general, I think that the film is faithful to the book. That’s a bold claim, because there is never a film that is a perfect representation of the book. That’s not possible, because of the difference in the medias.
Still, with the exception of the Love Triangle, which is downplayed in the face of the more realistic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that Katniss and Peeta feel, and the reality that Katniss has become an accidental hero and revolutionary, the film is pretty close. That in itself is impressive, in a world where the tendency to enhance YA film versions with way more than the books have is frequent.

Peeta

I like Josh Hutcherson. I think that he’s about the best young male actor for the part. And his sincerity and affection for Katniss is well done. However, in the books, Peeta is a deep and rather murky character. We know how he feels for Katniss, but there is a lot more character development in the books. So, when, in this film, he acts for the benefit of Katniss or the other Victors, I had trouble believing his motivations because they don’t work too much on who he has become since the first film. We spend so much time developing Katniss, that Peeta’s character kind of falls by the wayside.

Gale
Liam Hemsworth as Gale Hawthorne.



I like that Gale is more prevalent in this film. Even with the aforementioned downplay of the Love Triangle between the three characters, I think Liam Hemsworth does his brother’s reputation for being a good actor credit. Many times in films when someone is flogged they try hard not to yell, fearing that this may be seen as a sign of weakness to the one doing the flogging. This scene in the book and the movie are painful to witness, because in my opinion, it doesn't matter how tough you really are, getting flogged would just about kill you.
It also means that he’s extremely vulnerable and that is an attractive quality in a character in this kind of fiction. All too often, male characters are put up as being impervious to physical pain, and that is just a silly concept.


President Snow and Plutarch Heavensbee

These two seasoned actors make
I have always loved the idea of a really bad guy with people in his camp who are secretly scheming against him. It’s a really difficult part to play, because you are actively undermining the work of the person you serve, knowing all the time, that when you are found out, your life is forfeit.
The late Philip Seymour Hoffman accomplishes this part with such grace and ease that the end of the film and it’s revelations are a surprise, even if you know what’s coming from having read the books.
As for Donald Sutherland as Snow, it is a wonderful part. He manages to be so awfully insidious and horrid and yet benevolent and magnanimous that you can’t help loving to hate him. It’s wonderfully portrayed. Just his adding the Third Quarter Quell is enough of a knockout move to make his character one of the best baddies ever.

Katniss

Saving the best for last, I have to admit that Jennifer Lawrence is one heck of an actor. To me, after seeing the films and then rereading the trilogy, she is Katniss.
She pulls off all of the qualities that have made this such an important series. She’s tough and no-nonsense. She’s no one’s fool and she can handle herself without help. And while there is the aspect of the “Love Triangle” and the romances budding between her male peers, Peeta and Gale, it never stoops to the level of coquettish harlequinism that Twilight and Divergent created.
I’m all about a good romantic thread in a story, but the reality is that life often gets in the way of romance. I could write a whole post on this subject alone, but it is true that the people you are closest to are the ones who know you’re going through something and don’t need all the romancey stuff all the time.
You can see the pain of her life
in her haunted eyes.

Life in the Districts is not easy. Not even for Victors. Katniss has a very real problem with PTSD. She in no way downplays her own role in killing her peers and her willingness to disobey the rules and save Peeta’s life. She’s a real person, in many ways, and that realism is what makes her such a popular and very important character.
Unlike the other copycat stories with Strong Female Leads, Katniss’ development is all-important to readers and movie-goers. There’s nothing romantic about her or her life. She has real feelings. They’re not all just about whether to love Gale or Peeta. She loves them both. But that’s not a convenient truth. And, there’s little convenience for her, anyway.
The special thing about J. Law’s performance is that she really brings that reality to the front. You feel for Katniss. She angers you and she makes you cry, but you love her anyway.

I don’t think that the other series with SFL’s in them are badly written, or poor fiction. I only mean to say that in terms of really portraying the difficulty that she has in her life, but striving to be successful anyway, shows just how powerful a commentary she is.
Everyone, not just girls, should read these books and then watch the films. Even if they take the Harry Potter Split Final Film route, which it is revealed that they will be doing, these are important and very powerful films.
Would love to know your thoughts.
Agree? Disagree?
Let me know.

Dave




Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: The Selection series

Okay, so I'm sort of fudging things a bit here. This is a review of a series, three whole novels, that definitely have to be read in order. Which means that while I will talk about all the books, the most "review-y" content will be for the first -- The Selection -- so I don't totally ruin the journey for you. But I'm totally going to share my thoughts on The Elite and The One.


I read The Selection way back in 2012 (right after it came out), so I'm going to draw heavily on my original review for this one, with a little tweaking to accommodate passing time and further reading. Prior to release day, I remember my social media feeds were positively buzzing, and taglines like "The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor" kept getting thrown around ((since I've never read the former, nor seen the latter, that didn't really help me any)). I was halfway expecting a fluff read, while also anticipating just another dystopian/post-apocalyptic novel to get lost in the seemingly endless supply flooding the market. What I got was a story with more depth than expected.

America is one of 35 girls selected "randomly" to compete in the Selection, vying for the hand (and heart) of Prince Maxon (who. is. amazing.). It's essentially the world's weirdest beauty pageant. But it's also so much more than that - America, as a member of one of the lower castes, helps Maxon see what's really going on in the country he's to take over. They form an unexpected friendship, and in turn, Maxon shows America that not everything she assumed about him was correct either. America started out a little whiny and delusional (heh), but she began growing on me as she started engaging her brain, developing into a more "real" character; she's not happy about being in the palace, competing with girls to marry a Prince. But she's also smart enough to realize there just might be more at stake here than meets the eye.

There's a lot going on in The Selection, a lot of history and mysteries are only hinted at. Which makes it so super important to read it before you move on to The Elite (which is also the name of the next level of the competition/Selection process).



Without giving too much away, things are definitely getting more competitive in The Elite. The group of girls is smaller, and everything is more high-stakes than before. Especially with rebel attacks on the palace, and a lot of the intrigue and history hinted at in The Selection comes to the surface - with shocking results. Prince Maxon is as wonderful as before, and we really get to know him better as the competition continues and our girl America spends more time in the palace.

In general, I have mixed feelings about this read: on the one hand, I enjoyed the development of the story itself. There's some fairly Exciting and Big stuff that happens, and a twist or two I didn't expect. On the other hand, America "backslides" a little in my opinion, and I spent a good deal of the book wanting to shake her and get her to think straight again. I think it's the "big sister" in me that really wants to help her get on with life.

And now, at last, we have The One. The end. The ultimate revelation. The answer(s) we've been waiting for - and if you're just reading the trilogy for the first time (you lucky duck), you are spared having to wait a whole year for this after finishing The Elite. (There are definite perks to delaying trilogy reading sometimes).


As the title implies, the group has gotten still smaller, and the time draws very near when Maxon must make his decision and pick a bride. The rebels are continuing to pressure the monarchy, and tension is running ridiculously high. So many questions that have been raised in the previous books find answers (or almost answers) here, and at last America gets her head on straight. I steadfastly refused to allow myself to flip pages and read ahead, and I'm glad -- the fun of reading The One is in seeing everything fall into place. Eventually.

On the whole, it's a fun trilogy that I like much better than anticipated. Other than getting peeved at America off and on, my only real complaint is that there is still so much left unresolved. I can't help but wonder if there will be another book after this one (even though it's "supposed" to be the end), or maybe another, spin-off series/trilogy ... I'll definitely be keeping my eyes and ears open!

I'm also going to be getting my paws on The Selection Stories, which has two novellas centered on Maxon and Aspen. Methinks they shall prove an interesting addition to the experience, now that I've "completed" the saga.

Have you read Cass's novels? What do you think? Try to keep comments spoiler-free, but I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Fahrenheit 451 and Reading Old Stuff

By now, it's clear that The Librarian and I have very different reading tastes. She'll read a Sarah Dessen novel at the drop of a hat, but I usually find myself thinking that I'd rather not. It's just not my style.
It isn't that I don't like the writing or even the story, I'm just not interested by it. However, I often find that I'm taking home things I wouldn't typically read, just to make sure that I'm staying current with what's hot now.
From my perspective, it's easy to understand how you probably feel about old books. There's just no appeal. You might have to read something for school, and you will probably skim sections of it, but it's really a chore. It isn't something that you would just pick up and be keen to read on your own.
But here's the thing: sometimes it is a life-changing book. And how would you know, unless you tried it?
That last concept is the basis of why so many adults force you to read stuff you wouldn't normally. Because: 'What if'?
So, I read 'Along for the Ride'.
So what did I get? Two surprisingly three-dimensional characters with whom I related for a number of reasons.
It's obvious, even from the cover,
this isn't a book I'd read.
I really liked the book. Well, that is, I liked it even though there were no robots, apocalyptic landscapes or aliens in it. 
It was quite good.
So what's my point?
Just because a book isn't something that you would normally read, isn't a good reason not to read it. I believe (thanks to the Librarian) it's important to occasionally read stuff you actively don't like. It's good for you, because it makes you rethink your opinions.

One of my personal favorites, is Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. 
Montag's salamander badge is one of the buttons you can get for signing up for summer reading. 
It's original copyright is from 1953. Yes, that's in the previous century. Expecting to find you guys reading or even having any interest in this book is actually probably like finding the Golden Fleece in my sock drawer.
But here's the thing. Everything about this book is wonderful. The characters and the plot and the setting should all be very familiar to us, because, even though it's nearly 63 years old, the book seems to know how the future will turn out. 
And it's also a book about books, reading and censorship. Oh, and fire.
The best part?
It can be read in an afternoon.

Next time you're visiting the library, think about trying something you wouldn't ordinarily like. Even if it's terrible, at least you tried!

Dave

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday Rambles

Y'all, it is finally Friday. Do you have any idea how amazing that is? I know They say that we're supposed to embrace every day, not "live for Friday" and all that jazz, but I'm sorry. There's something magical about Friday ... I've always loved it, and I think I always will. Knowing I've made it through another week, without major catastrophe!, and there's a sweet few days of getting to follow my own schedule and dance to my own drum? That's a good feeling. Plus there's a freedom to Friday - a license to be a little more relaxed, maybe even a little silly. Today, I am embracing that to the fullest. And so, a listing of Friday thoughts ...

Heat.
If you've wandered the stacks here in Archdale this week, you know our air condition has been on the fritz. At one point Wednesday afternoon, we set a new interior temperature record: 87.8*. Don't believe me? I took a pic:
My whole life, I have been a SummerGirl (my birthday's in the heart of the hot months). I love the warmth and sun and just the whole summer package. But when it is this hot inside, with no air moving around at all? That's just gross. Thankfully, we have 5 fans running and pushing air around now, and they're working on our unit so humidity-free air should start circulating again soon! Possibly within moments!

Peter Pan.
Random, I know. I just finished reading this new YA release, Second Star, billed as a modern, contemporary reimagining of Peter Pan (it was also book #41 of the year). As a lover of Peter Pan variations/sequels/prequels/etc, I was really excited about this one. It wasn't quite what I was expecting, but it wasn't bad either. An actual review is coming soon, so be on the lookout! And now, I find myself wanting to scoop up other Pan stories and spend a week or two lost in Neverland ...

Star Wars.
Han Solo broke his leg, and had to have it surgically repaired, y'all. This is tragic. Very tragic.

Space.
Dave and I both had NASA Ambassador Capt. Mike Lucas come do a program for us this week, and it really set my imagination alive. I've loved the stars for as long as I can remember ("she walks in starlight in another world" could be said of me as easily as it was of Tauriel), taking Astronomy as my required lab science in Uni. I almost, almost, majored in astrophysics - but stories refused to let me go. Anywhosers, so listening to Capt. Mike talk about the Apollo 11 moon mission, and reengaging the space-y part of my brain this week, was amazing. If you made it to the program, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. If not, you missed out on some awesome stuff.
One of my favorite space images:
the dust pillar of the Carina Nebula
I love the stars. I love space. I love how infinite it appears, stretching and growing, shifting and changing, on a scale that is SO HUGE we can barely grasp a basic understanding. Some things, it's better not to try and understand, and just to embrace and appreciate. If you get too hung up trying to figure out all the minute details, you'll miss the bigger picture -- namely, how amazing the universe is. That the starlight we see tonight began ages and ages ago. That there are more stars shining than we could possibly see, but much of what we look at now has been there for as long as people have roamed (in fact, in the beginning, they saw more than we do; stupid light pollution). That our beloved Earth is merely one beautiful planet among many. I look into the night sky, or pour over images from NASA, and cannot help dreaming.

Cookies.
Really, does this need explanation? Baking is therapeutic for me, and it's also a way I show my appreciation for people -- if I bake for you, I like you (teehee). I made a mini batch of white chocolate macadamia nut cookies this week, and they were delicious. Now I want another batch of ... something. What's your favorite cookie?

And that, my readers, is a delightfully odd assortment of Friday rambles. What think you? Have anything to add? Is Friday one of your favorite days too?