Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Novella about Death

A Short Stay in Hell, Steven L Peck

Apparently I'm on a death kick.  Weird.
  • This novella is interesting.  Very.  It is a great book for discussion.  I'd like to talk to YOU about it.
  • I have never read something that helped me comprehend eternity better (in this case, an unfortunate one).
  • It isn't particularly funny, and the dialogue isn't's clever and thought-provoking rather than amusing.
  • I felt like I could imagine things so clearly, and had many moments where I went "That's cool."  It has some sci fi moments.  I dig those.
  • This one's for the adults.  There is some disturbing violence and scant but frequent sexual references. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Three YA Novels that deal with death
If I Stay, Gayle Forman
  • I think if this novel's concept is new to you, or at least newish, it would be a lot more enjoyable.  But if, like me, you've already sampled and thought plenty on its subject, then the novel doesn't resonate so much.  
  • Now I'm going to contradict myself...because I recommend "the less you know about this book's content, the better it can be."  Because the most this had going for it, for me, was the element of surprise.  I went in knowing nothing.  That said, it's got some heavy imagery that isn't for everyone, be warned.
  • Sadly, I didn't connect with any character.  The novel reminded me of Landline a few times -- which, in my case, isn't good news.  I haven't seen the film adaptation, but I wonder if the tale would be less annoying and more moving with a soundtrack.
  • The most challenging thing about this book?  For the first time, reading a YA novel, I felt I empathised more with the parents of the teenager, than I did the teenager.  Usually, I feel nostalgia! I revel in recalling the intensity of youth emotion; I think, "Yup, it really felt this big and this important," when the protagonist describes fire displays for finger-touching.  This reading, notsomuch.  I was thinking of all of the experiences I've had since the heroine's age that eclipse what this novel is presenting as her greatest happiness. And as I say, I found myself appreciating the parents' situation.  Let me reiterate, I did not connect with them -- I found their desperate attempt to be cool prickly.  I don't think this disconnect and realisation is a matter of timing (my gratitude for my joys as a wife and parent are not new), this particular novel simply didn't transport me back to the before -- before I knew these things; I was still me, reading about the younger years at a distance; I was not lost in it.
  • I did listen to some music I had never tried before, after reading it.  That's something.
  • There are F-bombs and some other cussing.  Sadly, I don't think the writing and story are worth them.
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  • I was immediately taken with the writing, in this book.  IMMEDIATELY.  It seemed like such a contrast to the greyness of If I Stay.
  • It is so surprisingly and insanely funny.
  • The love story is so fun.
  • I didn't even pound it out in one or two sessions (the best way for truly losing yourself), because life was pressing, but even fractured reading of this one was so great.
  • I would rather read this book five more times than read If I Stay one more time.  I'm sorry to compare, but back to back -- so stark!
  • Such strong characters and dialogue (including the minor players).
  • I am amazed...a.m.a.z.e.d that Green writes in such a convincing female voice.  I think Grisham bombing out on this front, so fresh in my mind, added to the impact of that here.
  • There is swearing.  I'm never excited by it, but it didn't feel lazy.
  • I am disappointed with how sex was handled.  If you've read it, I would love to talk about why. 
  • I teach a youth Sunday School class.  I had more than one of my students ask me if I've read this book -- it was a large impetus for me getting to it, on my list.  I found myself thinking of these young people while I read, and I'm quite shocked by what they are reading!  I wouldn't share this with my girls until they were 16+, and then with much discussion.
On the Jellicoe Road, Melina Marchetta
  • Of all three of these titles, I think this is the most suited for (slightly) younger readers, i.e. YA!  It still has the F-cuss, and some disturbing material!  ...but I'd say, read with a mature 12-year-old or older, it could be really valuable.
  • It is super-intriguing and foreboding.
  • It comes together seamlessly.
  • It is other-worldly, without being fantasy or dystopian -- this is incredible.
  • Well-written.  Gold-stickered for a reason.
  • Very clever dialogue.
  • I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It's a little more work than the above two; slower and more thoughtful...but worth it. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Last-minute Gifts from the Supe

It is on this final stretch that you can occasionally remember there is someone or some family that you very much want to give something, and somehow, there has been an oversight.  If you, like me, would rather not (or cannot / will not) head to the mall or department stores to remedy this, you are left with few options.  You could make a gift.  That's nice.  Or you could still get something from the supermarket when you make the next run for milk and bread (because you're not planning to do another big shop before the 25th, are you?!)  Most supermarkets stock items they bring in for the Christmas season that can be purchased as non-food gifts.  But beyond the promotional items, there's some things that are always there, ready for you to simply add ribbon to, like:
  • Ecostore Lemongrass Soap (cheap but divine) + A Couple of  Thick Facecloths
  • Muffin Trays + A Pack of Chocolate Chips
  • Tea Towels Rolled Up + A New Glass Bowl
  • Gardening Gloves + Seed Packets
  • A Living Herb + A Pot
  • Twistable Crayons + A Ream of Paper (my kids would be in heaven if it was their white paper!)
  • A Free-form Cake Pan + Long and Skinny Birthday Candles
  • A Game of Skip-Bo (or whatever your supermarket is offering)
But often what you're after, is food -- because it feels good to come bearing food.  And so often, we come bearing chocolate.

Last year, when I was eating chocolate for lunch and chocolate for lunch-dessert, I made a list of all of the foods I deem gift-worthy that aren't chocolate or candy canes.  Because every time someone gave me more of those things, I almost felt like going, "Noooo!  Now I have to eat these!"  Please note:  Chocolate can be stored.  Most confectionery can be stored.  But this doesn't change that the close of the year is often saturated in sugary snacks, at least around here.  Why?  Because I go to the cupboard, and the sugary snacks are instant.  I am not saying y'all should hold the sugar, either.  Some sugar brings me happiness. But we can count on the fact that "some sugar" is going to happen, with very little help.  Let's help the alternatives, instead!

Here are some food gifts you can pick up that will help break up the chocolate overload for a friend, or maybe for you -- if your friend reads this (you're welc's):

Just add ribbon to...
  • A Bag of Nuts (A gift of pistachios or cashews?  I would consider that awesome.)
  • A Roll of Salami
  • A Pineapple
  • Packets of Strawberries
  • Cheese Stick Crackers
  • Fresh Cherries
  • Watermelon or Melon
  • A Fruit Kebab Platter
  • Cheese and Crackers Combo (you could fill two jars -- one with each)
  • Breath Mints 
  • Specialty Bread
  • Fancy Cheese 
Or you could pick up some supe (or other) vouchers, on the last run.  How many people would be happier to be given even a $5 supermarket voucher over $5 in chocolates when they have 6 boxes of chocolates in their pantry?  /raising hand and looking around with crazy eye.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Mini Movie Reviews: Bulk Hit No 42

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Guys.  Guys.  This was so good.  Yes, the violence banquet is all you'd expect, and yes, sometimes the unlikely action sequences had a 007 feel...but I think the unlikelihoods are in keeping with the original book's vibe.  I also have a beef over the eagles being short-changed (let's talk, if you've read and viewed the tale, both), but these things aside -- good times.  I think re-viewing the first two Hobbit films helped a LOT, as Part 3 launches straight onward and into the final chapter; an excellent climax and a stand-alone it would be lacking.  I found the treatment of Thorin's sickness suitably nauseating, a revisit to a certain room perfect, and Smaug formidable.  Let us all be thankful Peter and Weta were not around to create The Neverending Story, or we would all still be peeing our pants at night. If you have seen the latest Middle Earth installment, I would very much like to discuss the (added) love story with you.  Very much.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay -- Part 1
Not as bad as the third book, but not as splendid as the first two films.  But we knew this was coming -- I mean, they're working with the third book, as material (/blank stare of disappointment). They did well to break up all the talking Mockingjay served up.  It was still entertaining.  The singing?  Genius.  This being one of two parts?  Ear-flapping Dumbo.
Planes: Fire and Rescue
Once again, I think the Planes' films offer better morals and heroes than the Cars ones.  I don't know if we'll buy this one, but our whole family (and my MIL), thought it "good."
Mary Poppins
Seeing this again (many times), as a parent, I cannot believe how much I remembered vividly from my childhood, and how much I'd ignored back then due to lack of understanding.  The entire "Votes for Women" content right alongside satirical wife submissiveness? That went right over my head, as a kid.  Now, I think it unnecessarily complicates the story -- especially given the fact that the wife and mother's cause is good and yet the overall message seems that both parents were far too distracted.  It'd be nice if balance was achieved instead of suggesting there's an either-or situation for parents.  Also: Mary doesn't really spend that much time with the kids or seems like insta-love, nanny style.  Err....back to the (plentiful) good stuff; my girls love this movie.  They play songs from the soundtrack on repeat, and still find the chimney sweeps, freed carousel horses, and finger-clickin'-clean-up as riveting as I did years ago -- with no skepticism for the dated effects.  For me, the film calls for a lot of parent explanatory narration (not just upon the first viewing, but for the first few), but I've enjoyed supplying it.  Did not enjoy: Dick van Dyke's accent (another thing that didn't affect me as a child).  In fact, his entire character.  I greatly prefer Caracticus Potts (of Chitty fame) to bumbly, over-the-top "cockney" Bert (you know those quotes best be there!).
The Gruffalo's Child
I think the film adaptation of this Donaldson/Scheffler insta-classic is superb.  It keeps to the original story and aesthetic, and manages to be interesting without being scary -- that's something, for a movie featuring monsters.  It is also a great length, at just under half an hour.  Other wins: My girls laugh out loud when they watch it, there's surprisingly big talent behind the voices for such a small-scale production, and the special features are educational and excellent.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Five Mostly-Christmas Things at 5:00

  • I'm priiitty sure Bublé was born so that he could make a Christmas album. 
  • Spotify is free, guys...and that is all you need to fill your home with Christmas music. /sigh
  • One for the Parks and Rec fans (a noble breed): Ho ho hoThanks, Bea.
  • We have been re-viewing Hobbit movies 1 and 2 this week in preparation for seeing 3 tomorrow.  I'm sleepy.
  • Esky lost both of her front teeth very recently.  New ones are not all she wants for Christmas, because all she wants for Christmas is to wrap all the things and give them anonymously to all she loves (which apparently means: say a gift is anonymous, but whisper later it was you).

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