September 2010: In Brief (Part 2)

Fiction Books Finished:
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games), by Suzanne Collins (****) [2010] – Whether she’s writing swashbuckling fantasy novels for elementary schoolers or dystopian action-adventure stories for teens, Suzanne Collins’ novels can be summed up in one phrase: "War is Hell." That sentiment goes doubly true for the satisfying final installment in The Hunger Games series.

The neat thing about his series is that it’s equally appealing to both teens and adults, which makes for excellent family discussion.  It’s true this story won’t appeal to those who are uncomfortable with violence — even if it’s not glorified.  But if you’re the type who doesn’t mind a battle trilogy this series provides for meaty family book club discussion about the emotional and physical horrors of war — even necessary war.

I found it interesting that my teens liked the first two reality-TV-styled-war books better than the final actual-war book.  They both bitterly lamented what they believed was an overly casual death of one of their favorite minor characters.  While they mostly liked the last book, their grievances made for good family conversation.  [YA fiction for ages 13 and up; Read in eBook form on my Kindle for Droid phone]

Fiction Audiobooks:
Alanna (The First Adventure: Song of the Lioness, Book One), by Tamora Pierce (***) [1983] – Somehow I never read a Tamora Pierce fantasy.  I decided to try Alanna, the first in her famous series about a young girl who disguises herself as a boy in order to train to be a knight in her world.  Pierce makes Alanna’s deception and training realistically difficult, but achievable because of Alanna’s determination.  The audiobook read by actress Trini Alvarado was enjoyable.  [YA fiction for ages 10 and up; Listened to on audiobook from]

Nonfiction Audiobooks:
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, by Bill McKibben (****) [2010] – In the first half of the book, environmentalist Bill McKibben explains just how quickly climate change is turning our planet into a completely different environment.  Although many climate change skeptics claim scientists have exaggerated the effects of climate change, McKibben gives example after example of how climate change is actually working much faster than any scientist predicted.  Huge shelves of ice on the poles are melting decades before scientists had predicted they would.  McKibben also details how these phenomenal changes are affecting our everyday life, making it harder and harder for us to feed and protect ourselves.

While the first half of the book is pretty depressing, the second half deals with concrete ways for us to live on this new more difficult planet — that McKibben now calls "Eaarth."  (The extra "a" is used to show that this is a very different planet from one we were used to.)  His proposed solutions to keeping life sustainable on this new planet involve working more at a local level than at a national or global level.  Because each region has its own unique solution to our energy and food issues, McKibben calls for more local initiates for using alternative energy sources and to growing food.  His stories about local successes are inspiring and made me want to get out and look for local options in my area.

This is an excellent introduction to the problems and possible solutions to our difficult world situation.  The audiobook made it especially easy for me to make time to read this informative resource.  [Listened to on audiobook through]

Dear John (** 1/2) [2010] – I was in the mood for a romantic tearjerker and hoped this movie would satisfy my craving.  Unfortunately, despite solid acting by Amanda Seyfried and Channing Tatum, as well as an appealing soundtrack, the script for this story was boring and awkward.  *Sigh* That was disappointing.  [Rated PG-13; Watched on Netflix Instant]

Kick-Ass (****) [2010] – This is one of those movies that I suspect people either love or hate.  The movie asks, "Why are there no real superheroes?"  It then goes on to answer that question exploring all the possibilities for what real superheroes would be like.  The results are lame, funny, upsetting, super violent, awesome, and at times, down right disturbing.  If you’re the type of person who is okay with funny and awesome moments mixed with super violent and down right disturbing elements, you’ll probably enjoy watching this wildly fun movie as much as I did.  If that combination doesn’t appeal to you though, this movie is probably not for you.  [Rated R for violence; Watched on DVD from Netflix]

September 2010: In Brief, Part 1

TV- Top 5 Favorites of the Month 
  Castle– Season three continues with clever murder investigations, fun banter, and a sweet father-daughter back story. [New episodes available on Mondays at 10 pm (Eastern Time) on ABC.  Episodes are also available for free viewing the next day on Hulu.]

Fringe– Season three completes Fringe’s journey  from a quasi-sci-fi procedural show into a full-on dystopian sci-fi adventure with procedural elements and I love it. [New episodes available on Thursdays at 9 pm (Eastern Time) on Fox.  Episodes are also available for free viewing on Hulu the next day.  Older episodes are available for rent on DVD at Netflix and for purchase on DVDS or on  iTunes.] 
Want to Catch Up on Fringe Quickly?  The Onion’s A.V. Club has a post with two different ways to catch up on the storyline, for those that are interested.  The first way lists the 20 episodes (out of about 45) that deal with main continuing plotline.  The second way gives just the 7 key episodes.

Scroll down the page to the headline "Addendum for new viewers" to get to the two plans at this link:,45183/

The Good Wife– I’m happy to see that season two of this thoughtful legal show is just as good as the first season. [New episodes available on Tuesday at 10 pm (Eastern Time) on CBS.  Episodes are also available for free viewing the next day on CBS Online.]

Nikita– This is at least the fourth version of the now familiar story of a young woman who escapes the quasi-government organization that forced her to be an assassin.  They kill her fiance and she vows to destroy them.  The new version has a slight twist.  It’s not a great show yet, but it has potential.  For now I enjoy the decent action-filled episodes about a strong kickass woman. [New episodes are available on Thursdays at 9 pm on the CW.  Free episodes are also available at CW Online 8 days later.]

Terriers– This is probably my favorite new show. I’ve seen it described as a cross-between The Rockford Files and Veronica Mars.  It’s a quirky detective show about a former cop and recovering alcoholic now working as a private detective while he tries to piece back together his life.  His sidekick is a recovering thief.  The fun banter and unpredictable plots are enjoyable and I like that the women in their lives are fully-developed strong people, instead of stereotypes. 

[New episodes are available on Wednesdays at 10 pm (Eastern Time) on FX.  Episodes are also available for free viewing on FX Online or Hulu  8 days later.   On Hulu you actually need to do the free registration for this particular show since they consider it to be mature.  There’s no registration needed to watch on FX Online though.]

August 2010: In Brief

The Boyfriend List, by E. Lockhart (****) – [2006] Fifteen-year-old Ruby Oliver never thought of herself as the type of person who might have panic attacks or need to see a shrink. Now here she is writing a list of all the boys she’s ever dated, kissed, or thought about, trying to figure out what they have to do with the unfortunate events of the spring dance that led to her first panic attack.

This is another of my favorite YA books.  Ruby Oliver is a charming–but very real– teenage girl trying to figure out how to navigate the tricky path of dating and friendship in high school while also learning to voice her own true feelings.  Audiobook reader Mandy Siegfried’s talent for teen speak makes this audiobook an especially good choice.  [Young Adult Fiction for ages 12 and up]

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan (****) – is an utterly charming book about two very different high school boys –each named Will Grayson– who meet by chance in downtown Chicago.  Their story is told in alternating chapters.  One Will Grayson is reconsidering his rule about not caring too much about anything, while the other Will Grayson is starting to admit he’s gay and cares so much about what others think it’s destroying him.  Add to the mix their new mutual friend, the very gay and proud of it, Tiny Cooper, the football team’s best offensive linesman and the author/composer/star of the new high school musical, "Tiny Dance" and you have one very fun story.

This was an especially good book to listen to in audio form.  The two different narrators make each Will Grayson easy to identify, plus one of them does an excellent separate voice for Tiny Cooper, which is great for the musical scenes.  [2010] [Young Adult Fiction for ages 14 and up]

My Bodyguard (*** 1/2) – [1980] A clever teen in a rough high school tries to enlist the school’s loner to be his body guard.  Somehow I missed seeing this film when it came out 30 years ago.  It was fun spotting well-known actors in their first movie roles.  Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Chuck) plays the loner, Matt Dillon is the school bully, and Joan Cusack plays a friendly classmate.  Jennifer Beals is even in the film with a non-speaking role as another classmate. [Watched on Netflix Instant]

Kamikaze Girls (***) – [2005] A colorful, quirky movie about the unlikely friendship between two eccentric teen girls, biker chick Ichigo and dainty Momoko, a girl who wears frilly dresses and dreams of living in 18th century France. [Watched on DVD from Netflix in Japanese with English subtitles]

Mad Men (season 4) – I think this is my favorite season of Mad Men, so far.

Online Language Learning:
Mi Vida Loca – BBC online has an excellent foreign language webpageMi Vida Loca is their latest and most ambitious program.  It’s a 22-episode beginning online Spanish program with videos and interactive lessons, for free.

It uses a story format with you, the viewer, as one of the characters.  You’re a British student on holiday to visit your friend Theresa in Madrid.  Unfortunately, Theresa can’t make the trip at the last minute, so you’re on your own, staying in Theresa’s flat in Madrid with her friendly, but busy, journalist sister, Merche.  Merche’s dangerous story investigation ends up adding a lot of excitement — and Spanish practice — to your trip.

Mi Vida Loca is a fantastic free Spanish program that’s well worth checking out.  There’s enough meat that even intermediate Spanish students will learn new vocabulary, but still introductory enough for beginners.  (As an added bonus you’ll pick up some British vocabulary too.)