Friday, November 27, 2015

Another Sci Fi Fairytale Retelling
Stitching Snow, R. C. Lewis
Yes, this has a lot in common with The Lunar Chronicles (a fairytale princess mechanic with hidden gifts in a future in which she needs to reclaim her throne -- sound familiar?).  Who cares?  This is Lewis' baby, it is a different voice and story nonetheless, and I enjoyed it;
  • I really wanted to find out what happened and enjoyed reading.
  • I dug the love story.  Even if I was told to see chivalry instead of allowing the showing to speak for itself, I was invested.
  • I loved the clean language.
  • I didn't like the robot names at. all.  In fact, they peeved me so much I almost closed the book thinking, "Someone who chooses names I dislike this much is going to make other choices I dislike.  I need to get out of here."  Their names?  Dimwit, Whirligig, Clank, Clunk, Zippy and Ticktock.  /gag.  I found these choices especially odd given the fact this story includes some heavy, mature content (including incest), and yet these drone names sound like bubble gum, junior school names.  I hear them being said in an American accent...any accent in my head, and I cringe.  Granted, I did just step out of Cinder's world where androids have names like Iko and Nainsi (/swoon), but this new ensemble was so far from my taste it disrupted the flow of the story.  Similarly, "body-hopping" (a story feature) sounds like a dance move instead of something epic and cool (but it is epic and cool).  So the ideas are great...the terminology...not for me.  It read like snippets of sci fi for babies in amongst strong YA content.  Very young readers might find such names appealing, but very young readers shouldn't be reading about sexual assault.  
  • I think the politics were well explained and genuinely interesting.  I actually could have done with more of that -- which isn't how I usually feel.  It all read like a good conspiracy instead of painful historical recount. 
  • Do you find it funny when there's a word that keeps on cropping up in a book?  I do.  In Partials, it was kudzuKudzu is not a common enough word for me to read it quickly and go, "Oh yeah, that's a word you need to use a lot."  Because is a word you need to use a lot.  You don't notice it when you use it a lot, because it's justified.  See, I did it again.  In this book, the hot-word was "unhinged."  Maybe Lewis is lumping this term in with her other future vernacular e.g. "blazing" and "tanked." Even so, if I noticed, maybe it's too many times.  Um...easily done.  Books are long and have a lot of words.  Just saying -- noticed it -- did you? 
Overall: good.  Not great, but fun and engaging.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Winter (More Lunar Chronicles!)
Winter, Marissa Meyer
Each of Marissa Meyer's books in this series has been a delightful treat on a glittery sci fi buffet (Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Fairest) -- scrummy (perhaps a buffet of floating trays on blue water? /wink).  Winter was as good as the rest.

  • A lot happens, and a lot happens early.  I like.  There are frequest spikes on the virtual plot graph.
  • Perhaps because of the reliability of plot spikes (and due to the book's length), for the first time I felt a bit too aware of the that, I mean they dragged a little.  I wanted back into the action sooner than I returned.  The best interludes, however (the ones I embraced)...
  • ...were those advancing romantic relationships.  Because what I was really digging in this book, was having interwoven love stories to jump in and out of.  I was jittery with happiness in episodes for each one.  This book delivered the fuzzies.  Cress and Thorne probably most of all. 
  • Less than the love, was the comedy.  I expect to laugh or smile a lot in The Lunar Chronicles.  Winter didn't strike out completely -- it was amusing -- but since reading the first three books (I didn't re-read in prep, I might add -- maybe I should have!), perhaps: my humour has evolved / I've read works which raised the bar for funny / this book isn't as funny as the earlier installments (or a combo of these).  Hard to say.  I do think the funniest lines were Cinder's.
  • Winter is very likable.
  • Having all of the gang together is delightful.  I had more Firefly moments in this book (which I had earlier in the series).
  • I think the discerning inclusion of selected fairytale elements was very satisfying.
  • The layers within the world are engrossing and wonderful.
  • Having read Fairest before Winter paid off.  I get this villain.  I mean, I really get her.  So much so...I think I still have some pity for her.
I wouldn't call this an explosive, better-than-the-rest book, but I would say it is a strong and satisfying conclusion to the set (it ain't a fizzer).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Best Buy (Book): Thing Explainer

Thing Explainer, Randall Munroe

Winner.  This book is amazing.  Buy it.

Written by three times Hugo-nominee, Randall Munroe, Thing Explainer explains complicated stuff in simple words (with diagrams).  And not just in simple words, but using a vocabulary of only 1,000 of the most common words (used by the average English-speaking first-worlder).  The effect is sometimes funny (a "pointy cat" resembling a porcupine is depicted climbing a tree), but more often, highly illuminating!  Having the earth's surface broken down with coded maps representing "Places where there are lots of trees," "Places where a lot of people live," and  "Places where the earth shakes a lot," is illuminating for my homeschoolin' kids.  The map showing "Places where long spinning clouds reach down from storms and blow away houses" is funny and illuminating to all of us.  Having things like an iPhone's innards and the extraction of carbon fuels broken down into simple terms is helpful for me, guys.

There is a lot of text, but for a curious young (or otherwise!) mind, it is a treasure-trove of accessible information.  Some pages open up to reveal larger diagrams! (some are optionally pull-outs!).

I love this book.  Is that clear?  I love it.

Interesting things explained include microwaves, bridges, data centers, the solar system, the periodic table, and tectonic plates!  But remember: the book will call them by other names -- like..."the big flat rocks we live on."  (Yes, this means when older readers are expected to understand the actual vocabulary and terminology described this book is probably best read alongside their science textbook, but I don't think it becomes redundant at all).  We are still devouring this masterpiece page by page, and will for years to come.
I think this book is a great gift-book book.  GREAT.  If you know someone around 7+ who often asks "How?" you may just have found the book that often answers.  Available in bookstores as of today!
Large Hardcover RRP = $39.99

Review copy from Hachette.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mini Movie Reviews: Bulk Hit No 45

If you share similar tastes to mine, these are seven movies to skip:
(Their covers and synopses sounded appealing...but I would have rather not seen them...or I didn't even finish them.  You may have seen one or more of these and loved it -- which means your tastes are different to mine.  That's okay...and also, what the italics were for.)
The Big Wedding
This ensemble movie was way too irreverent for my taste.  Disappointing.
The Last Five Years
Meh.  Are you kidding me?  I am enduring all this jerkness for ...more jerk?  No songs from this stuck with me either.  If you asked me to hum something from this musical for you right now, I'd struggle.
Furious 7
Gag.  I knew I wouldn't like it...but GAG.
Best of Me
Pretty annoying.  Haki checked out pretty quick.  I finished it, but wished I hadn't bothered.
Great Expectations (2012)
I keep forgetting, I don't like Dickens.  This was no exception.  Ick.
The Rewrite
I expected a mediocre rom-com and instead I got something...with lesser values and more disappointment.  I held out to the end hoping I would like it more (Haki quit it)...and although things improved some for sticking with it, overall, I didn't think it was worth watching.
Men, Women and Children
STAY AWAY, if you're more sensitive.  There's soft porn within the first few minutes!  We turned this off after the second scene wasn't getting any better.  We get it, this is probably authentic...but I there are LOTS of things I don't want to see authentically portrayed on my screen.  I was excited to see a movie about the disconnect in our society filled with social media, but instead I saw very quickly it was a film about the dirty underbelly and toll of social media.  Not interested.  I know this happens...and I don't want to watch a movie about it.  Sherry, I know I can look these things up and check their content -- and I do with kids movies -- but so often doing that spoils the movie for me, I do take risks, and go off ratings alone.  A list like today's of duds is the price I pay for my approach. Here's another (beautiful) cover, in case you mental block the one above and this looks entirely fresh to you and tricks you and then gah!  It's that movie Ange talked about in different skin!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Mini Movie Reviews: Bulk Hit No 44

Today's bulk hit is a collection of films ranging from good to great -- although not in a particular order.  Deal.
Tomorrow's bulk hit is a group of titles I hope to spare you from wasting your precious time on.
The Scorch Trials
The Back-up Plan
Average...and what you'd expect.  When I rented this alone one night, I actually was in the mood for a rom-com that was exactly what I expected, so this delivered that.   I like Lopez surprising amounts.  If you don't, then this may not pull you up to the tolerable line.
Begin Again
Very sweary.  Enjoyably different and authentic-feeling.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
So funny; oh the rich absurdity!  Scrumptious to behold.  But foul language and sexual content will offend a fair few of you.   If you know you don't enjoy Wes Anderson, you probably won't start now.  Ralph Feinnes was incredible.
Pixar Short Films Collection Volume 2
Our whole family really liked this collection of shorts.  More than one are very memorable.  I highly recommend checking this out.  They're great for watching as a family for a quick treat or back-to-back in place of a full-length feature.
The Fault in Our Stars
Here's my review of the book this is based on.  The movie was good.  I think the actors did well.  The book is better, which isn't true for...
If I Stay
...where I found the movie better than the book.  Here's my review of the book.  In fact, I'm pretty sure the person who recommended the book to me only did so because she liked the movie.  The novel has so many references to music, the film has the music -- the scores accompanying dramatic scenes bring it to life in a way the novel could not, for me, it was much more emotional than I found the book.
Inside Out
Finally -- it is out on DVD -- I can see what all the fuss is about!  And I do, I do.  I think this is a brilliant representation of child psychology.  I love the visual representation of the brain!  I would love for my girls to watch this again when they're a little older.  I think a lot of the nuance and cleverness of this movie is lost on younger children, so all they are left with is the power of suggestion and validation for passionate expressions of emotion (Ivy threw herself on the ground like Sadness within an hour of watching the character demonstrate what sadness looks like).  Esky, on the other hand, understood the characters represented extremes, and because of reading Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, actually said, "Riley is letting her feeling brain take charge instead of her thinking brain.  She should have thought more before she made her choices."  Um.  Yeah.  That's Esky.  Like I say, Riley's choices and everything in the movie is great for discussion -- sometimes we are overwhelmed by emotion and parts of seem to be lost or dissolving, which makes thinking hard!  I've said it many times aloud, but I'll say it again here, I still think the helicopter pilot joke is in poor taste.  I'm angry thinking about it now.
Paper Planes
I watched this one with the girls.  They liked it.  They were quick to point out that it was another family movie where the story opens sans mother.  Those are common, aren't they!?  Anyway....overall, it wasn't bad.  I will say: the trailer for this was cut very well -- I went in expecting A-grade, and that wasn't quite what I got.  Impossible plane flights aside (I can embrace magical realism in a family movie), this still has some flaws that would prevent me buying the DVD for our family collection, but I it was okay.
Haki took one of his service users to see this, in-cinema, and told me it was dumb.  He disliked it so much he didn't want to watch in on DVD with me.  Eventually, I got it out on my own and caught up.  With low expectations, this wasn't bad!  I'm glad I saw it...I do hope the next film will have fewer insanely-obvious/unlikely moments (suspending disbelief is one thing, utterly ridiculous is another; 100 dauntless "hiding" on the steps of Candor?  Guys!).  I also could have a long conversation with you about Shailene Woodley's hair, if you're keen.
The Age of Adeline
Although her character shields a lot and the far-fetched pseudo-science is absurd (call it magic!) I really enjoyed it! It was lovely. Harrison Ford and Ellen Burstyn outshine their younger costars, but there was just enough chemistry (okay, beauty!) in the short shared scenes between the love interests for me to buy into their relationship and ignore the flaws. The movie is fantastical and lovely....even if there's some icky realisation moments in there (Seen it? Let's discuss!).

Back tomorrow to share the duds.

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