Book Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand


Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Title: My Lady Jane
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2016)
Summary/Review:

This work of historical fiction flat-out revels in the fact that it is completely made up.  This version of the story of Lady Jane Grey, a.k.a. the Nine Day Queen, has the boy King Edward being manipulated and slowly poisoned by his adviser Lord Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Edward designates his favorite cousin Jane to be his heir and has her married to Dudley’s son Guildford.

So far, similar to reality, but sillier.  In this alternate history, some people are Effians, that is having the ability to change into an animal.  Swiftly, Jane inherits the throne when Edward is declared dead, and then she and Guildford are forced to flee when Mary in turn claims the throne.  Jane, Guildford, and Edward (spoiler: he’s not dead) all have adventures, discover new powers, and meet interesting people along the way to a happier ending than reality.  The book is riotously funny both in the dialogue and the authors asides.  The audio book is excellently performed by Katherine Kellgren.

Recommended booksThe Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain and The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Rating: ****

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Book Review: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman


Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2013)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

We listened to this with the kids on a road trip this weekend, once in each direction.  The narrator is a boy whose Dad goes out to buy milk at the corner store and after a long absence returns with an outlandish tale of where he’d been.  His adventures include encounters with aliens in flying saucers, pirates, vampires, colorful ponies, and traveling as a companion to Professor Steg, a very wise stegosaurus. They travel through time, escape an erupting volcano, and never fail to hold on to the milk, all while on board a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier (a.k.a. a hot air balloon).  It’s all delightfully silly and a good follow-up to our previous favorite audio book for road trips, Gaiman’s The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which very likely features the same family.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3rd


Re:Sound :: Tsunami Song

The true and complicated story of the Confederate anthem, “Dixie.”  Also, tsunamis & migraines, and Romeo and Juliet texting in the afterlife.

Fresh Air :: Documenting Hate in America

Journalist A.C. Thompson’s investigative work into the white supremacist organizations of America.

The Truth :: Bonus: Everything is Alive

This is actually a preview of a new podcast where inanimate objects get interviewed, in this case a can of generic cola.  This sounded like a one-note joke, but the story went into some very odd places.

Hub History :: Boston’s Pickwick Disaster and the Dance of Death

A building collapse at a popular Boston nightclub in 1925 causes the death of 44 people and leads moral crusaders to campaign against the dangers of dancing the Charleston.

 

Movie Review: Inside Out


TitleInside Out
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Production Company:

The premise of Inside Out is well-established from all the promotion for the movie.  Inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson are five personified emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust.  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to leave behind her home, friends, and hockey team, and deal with moving into a creaky, little house, a late moving van, and her parents’ distraction, Riley faces new stresses that throw the organized world of her emotions into disarray.

The story goes in places I didn’t expect.  Joy and Sadness are separated from the “control center” of the mind to the “memory banks” and have to find their way back in what is essentially a buddy film.  Joy – the self-appointed leader of the emotions – has never understood the purpose of Sadness and as Riley goes through what is essentially a depressive episode, Joy realizes that they can’t resolve the problem until she lets Sadness take control and allow Riley to express her feelings.

It’s a complicated concept, but it’s done well with a lot of humor and creative illustrations of the inner workings of the mind. It has the gags that will make the kids laugh, and the moments that will make the parents weep (as I did both when Riley’s imaginary friend fades away and at the climax when Riley finally tells her parents how she’s feeling, which lead to my son shouting “hey, you’re crying!).  My son also noted that the emotions display a lot of – well, emotions – leading him to conclude that there must by five smaller emotions within their minds, and so on.

Summary/Review: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Rating: ****

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett


Author: Terry Pratchett
TitleMonstrous Regiment
Narrator: Stephen Briggs
Publication Info: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004
Previously Read by the Same Author: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (with Neil Gaiman)
Summary/Review:

I’ve been wanting to find a way into the Discworld series but not knowing where to start, I asked folks on library Twitter, and this book was recommended as an entry point.  This novel follows Polly Perks as she disguises herself as a man and joins the army in order to find her missing brother.  Her ragtag regiment has a lot of individuals not ready for war as well as a vampire, troll, and an Igor.  It turns out that Polly is not the only one in the regiment with a secret.  Spoiler: It turns out that pretty much every member of the regiment is a woman. This leads to a comical plot where they go undercover disguised as washer women.  This is a funny and sharply satirical book, and it does make me want to read more Discworld (recommendations welcome).

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)


TitleCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: David Soren
Production Company: Dreamworks Animation
Summary/Review:

The extremely silly and slyly satirical Captain Underpants books are brought to the big screen in the epononymously-declared first of what will be many movies.  I’ve enjoyed the books as much as someone who was already an adult when they were first published, but I find the adaptation questionable.  Mostly, for a movie with a theme of the importance of laughter, the laughs are few and far between (albeit there are some undeniably hilarious moments).  The sense of superhero satire is lost in the final act when it is subsumed to the type of big action adventure climax they’re supposed to making fun of.  I give it a “nice try” but know that from the source material there is a better movie to be made.

Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Summary/Review:

The third book in this series sees Alcatraz Smedry finally arrive in the Free Kingdoms where he learns he’s quite a celebrity (lots of not so subtle jabs at Harry Potter here) and that there are currently evil librarians meeting with the kings and queens of the Free Kingdoms on a treaty.  Alcatraz’s frenemy and protector Bastille is stripped of her knighthood due to Alcatraz breaking her sword in the previous book.  Alcatraz and a whacky crew – including a daft prince and a “recovering librarian” – work to uncovers suspicious goings on while the librarians are in town.  Central to the plot is the Royal Archives (Not a Library), a running gag that makes me laugh as an archivist who has attended professional conferences, but maybe won’t be as funny to other readers.  As usual, this addition to the Alcatraz series is clever, witty, funny, and still a rather ripping adventure.

Favorite Passages:

“The love books.  However, to them, books are a little like teenage boys.  Whenever they start congregating they make trouble.”

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Movies that Everyone Has Seen Except Me


I like movies, and I’ve seen a lot of them in my time, but there are some movies that seem ubiquitous in popular culture that despite no particular effort to avoid, I’ve never seen.

Avatar – apparently no one actually likes this movie, but it is currently the top grossing movie of all-time without my contribution.

Blade Runner – I’ve been meaning to watch this for decades.  Of course, it’s difficult to determine which “cut” of the movie I should watch first.

The Godfather (and all its sequels) – I remember my sister watching one of these movies when I was a kid but I was too young to handle reading the subtitles of Sicilian people yelling at one another.

Goodfellas – I guess I’m just not into mobster movies

Jurassic Park (and all its sequels) – I actually did avoid this one because I read the book and it was styooo-pid.  I’m surprised it’s still such a big cultural phenomenon.

Mrs. Doubtfire – This was once on the list of top-grossing films of all-time but has been usurped.  It looked dumb and creepy so I never saw it.

Pulp Fiction – I actually have avoided this one because I’ve been told that someone gets shot in the head which is something I find too disturbing to watch.

The Shawshank Redemption – I rented the videotape once, but it malfunctioned.  Why have I never followed up?

The Shining – Over the years, I think I’ve gleaned the entire plot of this movie, at least the part that was reenacted by bunnies.

Shindler’s List – Always meant to watch, but never found the right time.

What hit or classic movies have you missed seeing?  Which of these movies should I try to watch first?

 

Book Review: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley


AuthorDaniel O’Malley
TitleThe Rook
Narrator: Susan Duerden
Publication Info: Dreamscape Media, LLC , 2012
Summary/Review:

This book was recommended to me as being something I might enjoy as a fan of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.  While there are similar approaches to a detective novel with supernatural elements sprinkled with humor, I found this book darker and grimmer than anything Fforde has ever written.  The novel begins with a woman waking up in a park surrounded by dead bodies with no memory of who she is.  From letters she finds in her pockets and more letters found elsewhere, it is revealed that she is Myfanwy Thomas (or was Myfanwy Thomas, since the conceit of the book is that she is a new person born into an old body) and that she is part of a covert organization of people with superpowers who protect England from paranormal forces.  She holds the title of Rook in an organization based on chess pieces called the Checquy, hence the title of the book.

It turns out that the old Myfanwy was shy and obedient, but losing her memories has made her forget the traumas of her youth and more willing to explore using her powers to their full extent.  Thus, Myfanwy is set on finding the traitor in her organization who caused her amnesia while simultaneously dealing with the threat of the Grafters, a Belgian group that has learned how to augment and modify human bodies.

This is a very high-concept book, and I feel like at least the first third of the book is a slog because it’s mostly in the form of Myfanwy’s letter to herself that explain her past in a very tell, not show manner.  If you manage to  make it through that part of the book, though, the letters and Myfanwy’s present day adventures both get entertaining with a wry mix of humor, clever concepts, and gross outs.  There’s a sequel to the book I’ll check out, albeit I’m not rushing to get it right away.

Recommended books: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Portable Door by Tom Holt, A Soul to Steal by Rob Blackwell,  Who Could That Be at This Hour?” by Lemony Snicket and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story by Christopher Moore
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Well of Lost Plots by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleThe Well of Lost Plots
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2012)

Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good BookShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’m revisiting the Thursday Next series and struck by how Fforde can keep at least five plots going simultaneously, interweaving them, and somehow bringing them all together at the end.  First there’s Thursday’s apprenticeship with Miss Havisham at Jurisfiction and getting caught up in the Ultraword conspiracy.  Then there’s Aornis Hades’ memory worm, and Granny Next’s efforts to help Thursday remember Landen.  Then there’s the plot within the book Caversham Heights where Thursday gradually reshapes a derivative detective novel into the setting for Fforde’s Nursery Crime novels. And then there’s the the hysterical evolution of the generic characters Lola and Randolph. There are no plots lost here.  I was delighted to read this book again (in Emily Gray’s voice) and surprised to look back at my original review when I didn’t think too highly of this installment in the series.

Rating: ****

Book Reviews: Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney


Author: Jeff Kinney
Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2007

Title:  Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2011

TitleDiary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2012

TitleDiary of a Wimpy Kid: Double Down
Publication Info: Amulet Books, 2016
Summary/Review:

I started reading these books with my 9-year-old son and then more surprisingly my 5-year-old daughter took an interest.  So I dove deep in Wimpy Kid books for a while.  The books are purported to be the journal of  middle-schooler Greg Heffley complete with hand-drawn illustrations.  The books are generally a series of humorous events as Greg gets himself into various scrapes.  While depicted as an unpopular weakling and thus a sympathetic character, Greg can also be arrogant and insensitive to others.  In short, a typical teenager.  Greg frequently is embarrassed by/tries to change his nerdy friend Rowley to help him fit in, although the irony is that Rowley by being cluelessly unreflective of himself, ends up more popular.  These are funny books that occasionally touch upon more serious issues (dating, puberty, honesty, responsibility, etc.).  I expect I’ll end up reading more.

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli


Author: Becky Albertalli
TitleSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
Narrator: Michael Crouch
Publication Info: Harper Audio, 2015
Summary/Review:

Simon is a closeted gay teenager living in the Atlanta suburbs and finding himself falling in love for the first time.  The problem is that the boy he loves he only knows through anonymous email exchanges.  Over the course of this novel, both Simon and “Blue” end up coming out and eventually meeting in real life.  But what’s great about this novel is that it explores the changes and complications of life in Simon’s circle of friends and family.  The book has a lot of heart, romance, and humor.

Recommended books:

Every Day by David Levithan and George by Alex Gino
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read by the Same Author: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians
Summary/Review:

Six years ago I read the first book in the Alcatraz series and really enjoyed it and meant to continue with the series.  Now at last I’ve read the second book in the series and it was worth the wait.  Sanderson’s Alcatraz Smedry is an unreliable narrator who keeps interrupting the story to deliberately make the reader question everything.  It’s gimmicky but in-universe it works since the concept of this world is that evil librarians control reality.  It’s a funny adventure set in the Library of Alexandria, and Sanderson is committed to the idea of the wraith-like curators persistently trying to trick the human visitors into taking a book in exchange for their soul.  It’s a clever and enjoyable read and I should not wait so long to continue the series.

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Hark! : a Vagrant by Kate Beaton


AuthorKate Beaton
TitleHark! : a Vagrant
Publication Info: Drawn and Quarterly (2011), Edition
Previously read by the same authorStep Aside, Pops!
Summary/Review:

This is the first collection of the hilarious webcomics on historical and literary themes from the brilliant Kate Beaton.  I was going to post links to my favorites but I lost the file so you’ll just have to find the book and read.  And laugh.  And then say, “hmm…yes, I’ve learned something.”  Cuz they’re that good.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde


Author: Jasper Fforde
TitleLost in a Good Book
Narrator: Emily Gray
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)
Other Books Read by Same Author: The Eyre Affair, Shades of Gray, The Last Dragonslayer, The Song of the Quarkbeast, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

Rereading the Thursday Next series has its surprises in remembering what basic concepts of the Nextian universe have and have not yet been introduced.  Lost in a Good Book is a workhorse of a second novel introducing Jurisfiction, Mrs. Havisham, and Aornis Hades, among other things.  After the “relaxed” pacing of The Eyre Affair it’s also the first book in which Thursday has to jump among threats from Hades, Goliath, the Book World, Spec Ops, and the impending demise of the world.  There’s even a joke in which Thursday is quoted in her memoir remembering the first time she saved the world from destruction which is hilarious in retrospect.  A good follow-up in a great series and Emily Gray provides excellent voice work for the narrative.

Here’s my review and favorite passages from when I first read this book in 2003:

The second book in the Thursday Next series, and like <i>The Empire Strikes Back</i> is better than its predecessor and a stand-out in the series. It also begins a story arc that continues in the next two books. Of course, you should just read them all. The Thursday Next series is just one of the best examples of fantastic, alternative historic, time traveling, satirical, police procedural, and humorist writing out there today.

“Growth purely for its own sake is the philosophy of the cancer…” (p. 97)
“My father said that it was a delightfully odd – and dangerously self-destructive – quirk of humans the we were far more interested in pointless trivia than in genuine news stories.” (p. 141)

Rating: *****

Movie Review: Zootopia (2016)


Title: Zootopia
Release Date: March 4, 2016
Director:   Byron Howard and Rich Moore
Summary/Review:

Set in a world of anthropomorphic mammals where predator and prey have agreed to live together, Zootopia is a comic, animated film that smartly takes on issues of inequality that appear ripped from the headlines touching upon women’s rights, Black Lives Matter, and prejudice against Islamic peoples.  The story is about Judy Hopps, a country rabbit who comes to the big city as the first rabbit on the police force.  Made unwelcome by her police chief, Judy ends up working with a hustler, a fox named Nick, to investigate the disappearance and apparent reversion to wildness of several predators.  The movie has fun with the clichés of police procedurals and revels in exploring the fantastical world of a city made up of different mammalian habitats.  It’s a funny and clever movie, and enjoyable for old and young alike.

Rating: ****

Webcomics


If you’re my age or older, you’ll remember the anticipation of getting the Sunday newspaper, fighting with your sibling for first dibs, and the joy of laying out the full-color comics section (a.k.a – the Funny Pages) and reading your favorite comics.  I feel that I grew up in the last golden age of newspaper comics with The Far Side, Bloom County, and Calvin and Hobbes all making  their debuts in the 1980s.  Older comics like Peanuts, For Better or Worse, and Doonesbury were also still fun to read.

Newspapers have gone into a steady decline and newspaper comics have gone down with them.  Of course, there are still newspaper comics and I read the Comics Curmudgeon daily to see them lovingly lampooned by Josh Fruhlinger.  I think even today newspaper comics could be brilliant but publishers these days have focused on keeping the limited space for comics occupied by legacy comics of deceased cartoonists that have long past their freshness date. Large format comics with artistry and provocative topics might even draw some readers back to newspaper, but we won’t ever know in this extremely risk averse climate.

And so today I turn to the internet for my comic joy.  A number of comic artists have been brilliantly innovative in the web format and I’ve listed below the comics I read regularly.  They can also get to be very specific to certain topics, as you’ll note I have multiple comics about biking and libraries.  My list is arranged in reverse alphabetical order.

Yehuda Moon and Kickstand Cyclery – Set in a fictional Cleveland-area bike shop, this comic focus on the joys and challenges of the American bicyclist

Wondermark – This comic repurposes 19th-century illustrations to create quirky commentaries on popular culture and bad puns. I’ve been accused of writing for Watermark, so close is creator David Malki’s sense of humor to my own.

XKCD – The stick figure comic features clever jokes about science, math and computing as well as some creative large format works that use web technologies to their full advantage. The strip can be arcane so it’s handy to check out Explain XKCD when you just don’t get it.

Unshelved – Set in a public library, this comic has jokes that library and information professionals appreciate, but it’s broad enough to be appreciated by a general audience.

Shelf Check – Another library comic, which may be a bit more inside jokey, but also addresses issues of representation and equality in libraries.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal – Another comic that usually has some science or philosophy underlying the joke although it has no set theme and focuses on lots of different issues.

Medium Large – A joke-a-day comic with a few recurring characters that focuses on pop culture arcana. Creator Francesco Marciuliano also writes for the newspaper comic Sally Forth (and mocks in Medium Large).

Lunarbaboon – The comic depicts a fathers view on parenting and children. Another comic that seems to have been drawn from the thoughts within my mind.

Leftycartoons – Infrequently published satirical comics about politics from a left-wing perspective.

Jen Sorensen – Another editorial comic with a slightly less left-wing perspective than Leftycartoons.

Hark! A Vagrant – Oddball humor inspired by historical events and literature. I previously wrote a review of a volume collecting these comics.

Dustinland – An autobiographical weekly comic that’s basically whatever is on the mind of artist Dustin Glick each week. When I first started reading this years ago, it was about dating, dead-end jobs, and social lives of young adults. These days it alternates between comics about raising a young child and political commentary.

Dinosaur Comics – This is the opposite of artistically adventurous as every single comic is the same six panels repeated, but with different text every time. And yet it somehow stays fresh seeing a new joke in the same formula over and over.

Derangement and Description – Can’t have library comics without an archives comic too. The jokes here are brilliant but probably aren’t going to be understood outside of the field.

Bikeyface – A Boston bike commuter’s commentary on why she bikes and all the problems of a city hostile to biking.

What webcomics do you read?

 

Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda (2008)


Title: Kung Fu Panda
Release Date: 6 June 2008
Director:  Mark Osborne, John Stevenson
Summary/Review:

Another family movie night, inspired by a visit to the zoo.  Po is a clumsy panda working in a noodle shop who is a big fan of the Furious Five kung fu warriors.  He somewhat accidentally finds himself selected as the Dragon Warrior to defend the Valley of Peace against the vengeance of the evil Tai Lung.  There’s a lot of humor playing off of martial arts film clichés, pop culture references, and Po’s roly-poly silliness.  But it’s also an inspiring film as Po manages to be a hero in his own way.  The animation is also pretty spectacular.  I’m still wondering how they made two sequels out of this, though.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Earth, Air, Fire, and Custard by Tom Holt


Author: Tom Holt
TitleEarth, Air, Fire, and Custard
Publication Info: London : Orbit, 2006.

Summary/Review:

This is the third in a series of J.W. Wells stories where the hapless Paul Carpenter finds himself forced to work in a company that’s really a front for the magic business of a bunch of goblins.  In this adventure he has to deal with the lack of love in his life, pointless errands for his boss, dying several times, a parallel universe made of custard, bovine divinity, and setting reality straight several times over.  The plot and twists are overly complicated but that’s part of the fun.  The humor in this book is sharp and while the book may be overly long, I enjoyed catching up with Paul and company.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson


AuthorJenny Lawson
TitleFuriously Happy
Narrator:  Jenny Lawson
Publication Info: [New York] : Macmillan Audio, p2015.
Summary/Review:

This collection of humorous essays is a laugh riot from the perspective of the author of The Bloggess which skips among topics such as depression, anxiety, marriage, therapy, and taxidermy.  Really, a surprising amount about taxidermy.  Listening to the audiobook in Lawson’s enthusiastically goofy voice is an added bonus.

Recommended booksHyperbole and a Half  by Allie Brosh, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day, and Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me  by Ellen Forney
Rating: ***1/2