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Friday Fun! (Sarah Silverman)

April 30, 2010 3 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Sorry there was no Friday Fun post last week.  I had the day off and was staying as far away from the computer as possible.  :-)

Last weekend I got to meet Sarah Silverman!  She was in town for her book tour for The Bedwetter.  She read a portion of the book featuring her father’s hilarious voice mails to her.  This was followed by a Q+A session that I’m pretty sure nobody in the audience was aware was going to happen.  It took us a bit to come up with semi-good questions.  Among the things I learned:

  • She doesn’t drink. (Say what?!)
  • Her feelings were hurt by the whole TED fiasco, and her presentation for it is still unavailable online.
  • She originally mocked twitter, but now loves it as a “message in a bottle” feature for her life.
  • The only topic she personally has boundaries for is making “fat women” the butt of jokes.  She said that “America as a society has this idea that fat women don’t deserve to be loved or happy, and I just think that’s really wrong, so I don’t go there, but other comedians have the right to do what they want to do.”  Classy lady.
  • She wants to adopt a mentally challenged kid, but she doesn’t want to feel guilty for dying and leaving a mentally challenged adult with no one to care for him/her, so she decided she should adopt a mentally challenged child with a terminal illness. Lolz.

After the reading was the book signing.  There were probably around 150 people in line.  She was sweet, but a lot more demure in person than I was expecting.  I suspect she’s got the classic case of a shy person who comes alive when performing.  She was nice to everyone, and I’m pleased to say I came away still glad to be a fan.

Also last weekend I dropped off my bike to be repaired and now it is all shiny and awesome!  I was shocked to ride it and discover the gears are supposed to be smooth, not difficult to cope with.  I’m hoping to start biking my commute soon.  I just need to practice the route on a non-work day to get the hang of it.

As for grad school, my final projects for the semester are done!  Now I just have to attend one more class session for each of my classes, and then I am home free with two months of vacation. Oh happy day!

What have you guys been up to in the last two weeks?  Anything exciting or awesome?

Happy weekends!

Movie Review: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Evil clown face looking down on a couple.Summary:
It looks like a meteor has crashed near a small town, but it actually is a space ship.  A space ship that looks exactly like a giant circus tent.  Oh, and did I mention that it’s full of aliens that look like deformed clowns armed with guns that shoot cotton candy that wraps its victims up into cocoons?  Facing off against these creatures are a teenage gal, her current flame, and the cop who used to date her.  Will anyone in the town survive the night?

Review:
Confession.  I used to be deathly afraid of clowns.  We’re talking 5 year old me would instantaneously cry upon merely seeing one at a distance.  Although I’m mostly over that now, I was a bit nervous that watching a clown horror movie would stir things back up.  Well, I definitely wouldn’t call this a horror movie.

It is the perfect blend of ridiculousness and horror tropes that it takes to make a deliciously campy horror film.  I found myself laughing throughout and delighted at the various directions the writers took traditional circus elements to make them dangerous and evil.

There’s popcorn that turns into evil clown heads (but only after being in a dark space).  People are turned into pods of cotton candy that hang ominously inside the ship.  The balloon animals come to life and are evil.  To someone who always found the circus a bit….odd….it’s totally delightful.

The movie also has its own theme song that is still earworming me days later.  The song, clothes, and acting are all wonderfully 80s.  From the main girl’s hair to the grouchy cop to the teens running an ice cream truck in an attempt to get girls, it gets just the right combination of elements that screams–this is why the 80s was awesomely weird.

If you appreciate camp, the 80s, or light horror, you’ll enjoy this film.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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Book Review: Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party by Ying Chang Compestine

April 28, 2010 2 comments

Chinese girl with hair blowing in the wind on a red and black book cover.Summary:
Ling lives in China with her surgeon father and traditional Chinese medicine doctor mother.  She enjoys her English lessons with her father and hates that her mother makes her eat things like seaweed and tofu.  She hears talk about a revolution, and it comes home when her father’s study is converted into a one-room apartment for Comrade Li.  Everything in her apartment complex starts to get scary with speakers blaring Mao’s teachings all day and more and more rules, but when her upstairs neighbor, Dr. Wong, disappears, Ling really starts to realize that this revolution is no dinner party.

Review:
I read some really amazing books set in China in undergrad.  Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress springs to mind, so I came in to this book expecting to love it.  I found myself struggling at first, however.  I believe it’s the narration style.  It is a child’s voice, but it is told in the first person past tense.  That would make sense if it was an adult or even an older child looking back, but the narration doesn’t know any more than the child in the moment does.  Again, that would make sense if it was the present tense, but it isn’t.  I found it all very distancing, and it made it difficult to get into the story.  An afterword informed me that this is a “fictionalized” look at real events in the author’s life.  This explains the narration style, but I really wish she would have just told her memoir.  Imagine, she really lived through revolutionary China with a Western-educated surgeon father.  That’s such an excellent story in and of itself; I don’t see why she felt the need to fictionalize it.

Once I got past the narration style, I really appreciated two elements of this story.  One is that it takes a completely unglamorized look at what any massive political change looks like to a child.  Through the eyes of a child who doesn’t understand politics, it just all looks so silly.  At one point she says she doesn’t understand why she shouldn’t wear flowered dresses if she likes them.  Reading that makes you stop and think.  It really should be that simple, the way a child sees it.  People should be able to do the things they enjoy, yet adults make everything so painful and complicated.

The other element, and what is the core of the story, is that this is really a story about a father/daughter relationship, and I have a serious soft spot for those.  I think they aren’t looked at in a positive light in literature enough, and Compestine presents it in such a beautiful, realistic manner.

However, even with these two positive elements, I have to say that I don’t see this story sticking in my head the way other non-western fiction has.  It feels like a one-time read to me.  Maybe that wouldn’t be the case, except that the ending is so abrupt.  I feel that Compestine left the whole story untold, maybe because she was at a loss between fiction and memoir.

Overall, if you can enjoy the narration style and like non-western father/daughter stories, you will find your time reading this book well-spent.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Librarian Guest Book Review: The Works of Jeff Shaara

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Welcome to the second entry in the librarian guest reviews series I’m hosting.  Please give your warmest attention to my fellow librarian, Jim Peterson!

Meet the Librarian:
My name is Jim Peterson, and I’m the Technology Coordinator for the Goodnight Memorial Library in Franklin, KY. I wear two big hats here – both Technical Services Librarian & IT department. I manage the library’s website, fix, build, break (sometimes) and maintain all the computers, servers & network devices. I spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen most days. In my down time, I like to do vegetable gardening, landscaping, camp, hunt, fish – you know, all those good ole boy activities – as well as do customization work on my vehicles.

Battle scene on a book cover.Summary:
The works of Jeff Shaara are of historical fiction. What is unique about his books is that they are a chronological account of important periods in American history, as seen through the eyes of those who lived them. Characters are developed from much research, using personal letters, letters from loved ones, diary entries and written records from the periods. The Shaara works give you a true sense of what this country’s forefathers were thinking and feeling, absorbing you into the story as though you were standing right beside them. You hear the cracks of the rifles, the blasts of the canons, and the fiery, passionate rhetoric.

Review:
I am going to write about the works of Jeff Shaara, son of Michael Shaara. I feel that I can’t do the author justice without giving a little background on his father, who only published one book that was widely recognized. Michael’s book, The Killer Angels, was rejected by the first 15 publishers who saw the manuscript. It was eventually published in 1973 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975. Michael suffered a fatal heart attack in 1988 and never saw the legacy of his work come full circle. Some 19 years after it was published, the film Gettysburg (1993) was based on Killer Angels, and propelled the book to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. Son Jeff rediscovered the manuscript of a baseball story, For Love of the Game, which was released in 1999 as a major motion picture starring Kevin Costner and Kelly Preston.

Jeff Shaara picked up the mantle of his father, Michael Shaara, in turning out great historical fiction after his father passed away in 1988. Jeff continued the story of the Civil War in writing Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, both of which were well-received with Gods and Generals winning the 1996 ALA William Young Boyd Award and being used as the basis for the motion picture Gods and Generals.

Jeff has also gone back in time, starting with the American Revolution and chronicling the travels and events surrounding Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, John Hancock, and all the founding fathers of our country. In Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause, you feel the suffering of the men at Valley Forge, and the frustration of George Washington as he tries to assemble and lead an army. You learn that Benjamin Franklin was quite eccentric, even by today’s standards. You feel the arrogance of the British through the eyes of Generals Gage and Cornwallis, as well as the weight of the defeats on both sides.

Jeff Shaara has also remembered to re-educate us on the wars that our own history books touch on only slightly. In Gone for Soldiers, we learn of the dominance of Winfield Scott and the rise of soldiers Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant and Andrew Jackson. We feel the Mexican heat as the soldiers battle it out against the best that the dictator Santa Anna has.

In all, Jeff Shaara has written nine New York Times Bestsellers. He has written To The Last Man, a novel of the First World war centering around John Pershing, the Red Baron and the Lafayette Escadrille, the wing of American fighter pilots who rebel against the President’s order to stay out of the war and help France fight off the Germans. This was another ALA Boyd Award winner as well.

So far, Shaara has written three novels on the Second World War, following Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Erwin Rommel, Omar Bradley and several others. They are just as detailed, just as engrossing, and just as not-put-down-able as the first one, and I can’t wait to see what comes next!

If you love historical fiction and American history, these books should definitely be on your must-read list.

5 out of 5 stars, every one!

Source:
Jeff Shaara’s website and The Goodnight Memorial Library

Check out
Jim on Twitter, Facebook, and his blog!

Thanks to Jim for participating!  If you’re a librarian and would like to take part, please send me an email at opinionsofawolf (at) gmail (dot) com.

Book Review: Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz (Series, #1)

April 26, 2010 6 comments

Female neck wearing a pearl necklace with bite marks against NYC skyline.Summary:
The students at Duchesne Academy in New York City appear to be your typical bunch of wealthy, elite teenagers.  Naturally gorgeous twins Mimi and Jack rule the school.  Bliss became part of Mimi’s entourage when her oil wealthy Texas family moved to NYC.  Schuyler is part of the crowd of misfits who wear goth clothes instead of the more typical Louis Vuitton.  They all gradually discover, however, that the secret to their families’ wealth isn’t just that they came over on the Mayflower.  They are Blue Bloods–vampires who retire from their human shells every 100 years or so then come back with the same blood.  Their teenage years are vulnerable ones, and someone or something out there is managing to kill some of the young Blue Bloods.

Review:
The vampire lore behind this story is not my style.  It is so much not my style that just writing the above summary made me cringe.  None of the official summaries of the book reveal much about the vampire lore, so let me tell you just in case it’s not your style either.  Blue Bloods is heavily steeped in Christianity.  The vampires are fallen angels who are attempting to atone for their rebellion.  They face hundreds of years of punishment trapped in human bodies that they must eventually retire then return in new ones.  The vampires accomplish this reincarnation by taking some of the blood from the dead vampire and implanting it into a vampire woman’s uterus.  It all rings as a bit odd when you have a teenage character who’s never done anything more wrong than sneak into a club be told that she must atone for this rebellion against god that she doesn’t even remember doing hundreds of years ago.  It really takes the bite out of vampires and makes them kind of pathetic.

Where the book is strongest is oddly where the vampire thing is on the back burner.  Schuyler and Bliss get to model for a jean company, and that scene was actually quite enjoyable to read.  If this had been your more typical murder mystery at an elite high school, I think it would have been a much better book.

Some reviewers had a problem with the presence of teenage drinking, drugging, and sex.  I actually thought the sex was handled quite well, with teens talking about it a lot but nobody actually managing to do it.  That read as very real.  The alcohol is kind of a non-factor, since vampires can’t be affected by alcohol.  My only confusion with this is if that’s the case, then why are they risking breaking the law to drink?  I suppose it seems minor compared to convincing a human to become your familiar so you can feed off them.  The drugs are entirely presented in a negative light the few times they are briefly mentioned.

What shocked me, and I can’t believe how infrequently this is mentioned, is that there is incest and the vampires accept it.  Gah!  There are times when incest is present in a book, and it is handled so that all sides of the issue may be seen–all of the accompanying emotions are delicately handled.  Here, the vampires just say that it’s the way it should be and are protective of the siblings.  Not much else is said of it, beyond a few teen vampires being grossed out, but it is made clear that their reactions are considered inappropriate by the vampires.

That said, it’s not badly written on a sentence level.  It reads naturally, which is probably the only reason I struggled through the cringe-inducing lore.  It is essentially Gossip Girl crossed with Vampire Diaries with some incest and Christianity tossed in.  If that’s your thing, you will enjoy it.  All others should probably pass though.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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DBT and Me

April 21, 2010 6 comments

When I tell people my current career track is librarianship, they often answer, “Oh, that is so you,” and they’re right.  It is so me.  Unfortunately, some of the things that make me a good librarian don’t always mesh up with the type of person I want to be.

I am a perfectionist, which works really well when organizing, cataloging, and hunting down the proper information.  It doesn’t work so well in cooking dinner, hanging out with people, getting dressed in the morning, etc…

I tend to see things in black and white.  This is good when you’re researching a topic, and there is such a thing as wrong information.  It’s not the best when discussing life topics with friends or just getting along with the populace in general.

Of course I know the wise adage–Everything in Moderation.  I can be a good librarian who is attentive to details and carefully checks the facts without being a black-and-white seeing perfectionist.  So, I am working on it.  Those character traits above are just some of the things I’m working on in my Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

DBT is a therapy technique that helps people with, let’s call them “personality flaws,” rewire their brains so that their personality moves toward a healthier place.  The thing is, DBT is all about small steps that take time, and sometimes I really just wish I was re-wired now instead of having to wait on the baby steps.

I want to be calm, loving, completely attuned to and in control of my emotions now.  But it doesn’t work that way.  So, it can get tiring and frustrating.  It’s hard to do small things every day and have to wait a long time to see the big picture results.  Sometimes, I neglect to notice the small ways that I am changing for the better.

Like how in undergrad, I would cry if I didn’t get an A. (We’re talking an A minus would make me cry).  Now I don’t care about my grades as much as I care about making sure I’ve learned something from class.  So I got an A- on that presentation.  Big deal.  I learned a place my presentation techniques can improve.

Or how a couple of years ago a toddler asking me “why” repeatedly would make me frustrated, and now I enjoy doing my best to answer as many “why” questions as I possibly can.

Sometimes people ask me why I’m even trying to change myself.  Aren’t we supposed to accept ourselves for who we are?  Well, I say who I am is who I want to be.  I’m not the personality quirks that I landed with as a result of genetics, brain wiring, and my childhood.  My inner self tells me who I truly am, if I can just get fix the wiring.  So DBT is about accepting myself for who I am.

So, yes, I’m not where I want to be yet, but I am better now than I was then, and if I keep plugging away, someday I’ll be fully realized as the person I want to be looking back and saying, “All those small steps and struggling and work was the real me trying to get out, and here I am, and I’m just as proud of me then as I am of me now.”

In the meantime, I will do or say some things that don’t match up with who I am inside, but taking baby steps means that it won’t happen overnight.  There is no magic pill.  Beating myself up over it is just making it worse.  Mistakes are part of the process.  At least I know there’s less of them now than there used to be, and I will keep progressing until I truly just am who I am.

Book Review: Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Blue face on modern art background.Summary:
Jack Barron was a baby Bolshevik hippie in his Berkeley days.  He even set up the Social Justice League, which is now the third party competing against the Democrats and Republicans.  All those high ideals got set aside with age and the offer of a weekly, vidphone-in program: Bug Jack Barron.  He’s happy with the money and the calm embracing of reality, but Benedict Howards of the Freezer Foundation is about to shake it all up.

Benedict Howards is in mad pursuit of one thing–human immortality.  He’s cryogenically freezing those who hope that some day the key to immortality may be found.  Of course, they have to pay a high price for it, but there’s more to Bennie than meets the eye, and the money for those freezes might not be going to the research they claim to be.  Best of all, he has the best bargaining ticket out there–free freezes, and he wants Jack Barron to be his own publicity machine.

Barron doesn’t think he’d ever cave to the likes of Benedict Howards, but when his long lost, baby Bolshevik love, Sara returns to his life, everything changes.

Summary:
Bug Jack Barron has a complex plot that is difficult to summarize and attempts to be a tour de force but that ultimately fell flat for me.  It’s the perfect example of a scifi concept that didn’t age well.  Published in 1969, the thoughts and ideas of the 1960s are rampant throughout.  A large part of the plot revolves around a future where blacks and whites are still segregated by virtue of wealth in America.  In fact, an entire piece of the plot revolves around the fact that a black man could never be president of the US.  That kind of falls flat when you’re reading the book and your current president is a black man.  Spinrad completely mispredicted where race relations would be at in the US in the future, and that soured the rest of the book to me.

Then there’s Sara, Jack’s love.  She is the quintessential great woman behind a great man.  Without Sara, Jack wouldn’t be great at all.  He’d never meet his potential.  Yet the relationship is hardly reciprocal.  In fact, Sara seems much worse off for being involved with Jack at all.  She doesn’t seem to improve or embrace her greater self as a result.  I expected much more of Spinrad who wrote A World Between in which he pointed out how much good the two genders can do for each other.  It’s not like Spinrad is critical of this woman behind the man set-up either.  There’s an entire section where Sara regrets her misunderstanding of Jack’s macho nature as bad and instead embraces his man-nature greed for power as something she could never have.  Excuse me, Spinrad, I would like to introduce you to Queen Elizabeth, Marie Antoinette, Madonna, etc…  It’s bad enough that some modern cultures are still telling us women that we can only be our greatest when inspiring a great man.  I don’t need it in my scifi.

Then there’s the whole immortality issue, which is largely what the book revolves around.  I know some readers would find this idea very intriguing and would enjoy seeing how society would deal with it.  The thing is, I’ve never been someone who wants to live forever.  It all seems very natural that there’s life and death and why on earth would I want to live forever?  It seems rather selfish, adolescent, and silly to me.  I can understand not wanting to age.  Wanting to have a young body throughout your 80 or so years on earth, but never dying?  That wouldn’t be a trump card Benedict Howards could use on me, so I have a hard time sympathizing with Jack and Sara.

That said, Spinrad’s writing style is quite enjoyable as before.  He writes in semi-run-on sentences that read as the characters’ trains of thought.  It’s a great way of showing, not telling.  Additionally, I could see other people being able to put aside the completely miscalculated race relations and enjoying the immortality part.  It’s not badly written, ignoring the misogynistic Sara story arc, it’s just not my cup of tea.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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