TV Review for: Nova science Now

PBS online has tons of shows to watch instantly, for free, including : Nova, Nature, The American Experience, Frontline, and Nova Science Now.

Nova Science Now is probably my favorite show offered on PBS online.  It takes a different approach from many of the hour-long informational shows.   Each 50-minute episode is devoted to one theme, but the show itself actually consists of four different 10 to 15 minute stories.  The 15-minute segment is perfect for me. There are dozens of Nova Science Now segments to choose from too.   I’ve watched segments on the intelligence of dolphins, the gene that contributes to senior citizens living a long healthy life, and the role sleep plays in memory.  Check out the show here!

Book Review for All Unquiet Things

Title: All Unquiet Things
Author: Anna Jarzab
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Rating: *** 1/2
Format: Read ebook on Nook app for Droid
For: 9th grade readers and up

Seventeen-year-old Neily Monroe can’t move past the terrible night he found the body of his murdered ex-girlfriend at the Empire Creek Bridge. Carly Ribelli’s uncle was arrested, tried, and convicted for her murder, but Neily still feels haunted by what happened.

As he starts his senior year at his elite private school in a wealthy suburb of San Fransisco, Neily is just going through the motions for his parents’ sake.  Then Carly’s cousin Audrey shows up at school and tells Neily that she doesn’t think her father killed Carly. The two high school seniors both admit they believe someone at their school is the true murderer.  They’re putting themselves in danger by dredging up the past and asking too many questions aimed at the most popular students in the school, but they’re willing to do whatever it takes to find out the truth about what happened to Carly.

All Unquiet Things starts out slow, but as Neily and Audrey’s investigation goes one, I found myself more and more invested in the story until I ended up reading the entire second-half in one night.  What’s interesting about this novel is that Neily and Audrey aren’t especially likable at first.  They’re insecure and flawed. The story alternates between Neily and Audrey narrating. The two points of view make the story more compelling, though it’s confusing at first because the characters are in each others scenes so I had to concentrate more than usual to keep straight who was saying what. Like the TV show Veronica Mars, the story is as much about the main characters coming to terms with who their friend really was, as opposed to the idealized image they have made her into, which makes for an emotionally gripping murder mystery.

Six TV Shows on Netflix Instant

Netflix Instant has added a ton of TV shows to it’s selection. Since March and April are full of repeats, it’s a good time to try out older shows you may have missed the first time around.  Here’s my list of 6 shows you might want to check out:

Half-Hour Shows:

Gavin and Stacey (*** 1/2) – This is a charming slice-of-life show about a young couple who meet over the telephone at work.  Flirty fun Stacey, from Wales, and sweet reliable Gavin, from Essex, have been talking to each other on the phone for six months. They’ve gone from co-workers, to friends, and now are ready to take the plunge and meet in person. They each bring a friend and meet up in London for the day. Though plot progresses along pretty quickly in the first season, the main fun is watching these characters interact in the regular moments of life.  Their friends Nessa and Smithy are a hoot and their eccentric family members add to the fun. 

I feel like British TV does a better job than American TV of showing how entertaining regular people — of all ages and all different types of appearances –can be living their regular lives.  This show is a good example of that. [Netflix Instant now has all 6 episodes of season one.]

Better Off Ted –  (*** 1/2) Good-looking conscientious Ted works for Veridian Dymanics, an international research and developmental firm.  He likes to think of himself a a good guy who looks out for his team, but he’s starting to wonder if his company might actually be evil.  His boss Veronica could care less if the company is evil or not, all she’s interested in is winning. This workplace satire never got the attention it deserved.  It took me about 3-4 episodes before I knew the characters well enough to enjoy the show.  After that, I laughed and laughed. [Netflix instant now has both 13-episode seasons.]

Party Down – (*** 1/2) Burnt-out Henry has been in the acting business for years now and is pretty much only known for his role in a stupid beer commercial.  He’s decided it’s time to admit he’s not going to make it in acting and start looking for a real job. So he takes a job as a caterer.  I enjoyed the show more and more as I got to know this group of wanna-be and burnt-out actors catering to pay the bills.  There’s also a bit of a romantic plot that nicely develops throughout the first season too.

As a Veronica Mars fan,  Party Down is especially fun because the show was produced and written by Veronica Mars producer Rob Thomas with former writer John Embom and others. The season one cast has three former Veronica Mars actors: Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), Ken Marino (Vinnie Van Lowe) and Adam Scott (Mr. Rooks the history teacher Veronca defends in one episode).  The cast also has Martin Starr (Bill from Freaks and Geeks all grown up), Lizzy Caplan (Amy from True Blood) and Jane Lynch (now on Glee). Even more fun, many former Veronica Mars actors show up as party guests–Enrico Colantoni, Jason Dohring, Alona Tal, and even Kristen Bell. [Netflix Instant both 10-episode seasons.]

Slings & Arrows: season 1,2,3 (****) – If you love theater, check out this Canadian comedy starring Paul Gross (formerly in Due South and Eastwick).  After their artistic director dies, the New Brubbage Theater asks Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross) to come back and help the theater recover.  Geoffrey left six years ago when he had a nervous breakdown in the middle of Hamlet and isn’t sure he can keep his sanity working there again.  This show is funny, inspiring, and chock full of quirky actors, Shakespearean scenes, and wonderful behind the scenes theater moments.  Each season focuses on one main play: one season it’s Hamlet, of course, season two is MacBeth, and season three they do King Lear. [Seasons 1-3 available on Netflix Instant. Each season is 6 episodes long.]

Hour-Long Shows:

Skins –  (****) The first two seasons of the British version of Skins are worth checking out.  In just 20 episodes Skins told a story of adolescence that was wild, unrealistic, bawdy, sweet, cautionary, and all too real.  The show got a lot of flack for celebrating sex and drugs, but if you watch the full two seasons with this group of teens, the real message is how important having caring parents are to teens.  Without the parental guidance they need, this group tries to support each other with friendship and bonding and sometimes that just isn’t enough.

The first few episodes do seem a lot like a British version of American Pie but if you keep watching the show gets much better and is worth watching. [Seasons one and two are available on Netflix Instant now and total up to 19 episodes.  Season three is also available but starts over with a mostly different group of kids and isn’t quite as good.]

Veronica Mars– Everything falls apart for Veronica Mars when her best friend Lilly Kane is murdered. Veronica’s father, the sheriff, is voted out of office for questioning the powerful Kane family, her mother leaves without keeping in touch, all her friends turn against her, and she wakes up from Shelley Pomeroy’s party in the guest room without underwear.  Determined to find Lilly’s killer, Veronica grits through the turmoil by helping her dad with his new detective business.  The story is told with dozens of layered characters, zinger dialog, and one of the best father-daughter relationships in TV, plus it has a satisfying season ending.

 

Have you ever had someone warn you about a strong tide?  As you go through the first set of waves you heed their warning, but once you reach beyond that those waves it seems so calm you think they were exaggerating, until you look back realize you’re 20 feet from where you started.  Don’t let season 1 of Veronica Mars fool you, once you get past the moving pilot you’ll be lulled for a few episodes and wonder what all the fuss is about, until somewhere between episode 10 to 12 you’re hooked 20 feet out. [All three seasons are available on Netflix Instant but the first 22-episode season is really the best.]

Book Review for – The Ruby in the Smoke (A Sally Lockhart Mystery)

Title: The Ruby in the Smoke (A Sally Lockhart Mystery)
Author: Phillip Pullman
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Year: 1985
Rating: ****
Format: Listened to audiobook from Audible.com
For: 7th graders and up

Sixteen-year old Sally Lockhart is not your average girl living in England in 1872.  Her mother was a Cossack who died fighting an enemy while holding her baby daughter. Her father raised Sally by himself, teaching her to shoot a pistol, ride horses, and balance shipping accounts. Sally’s father dies in a shipwreck while he’s away sorting out some mysterious problems with his shipping business.  Sally begins to suspect his death was not an accident when she receives an anonymous letter confirming her suspicions that her father was murdered.  Her search for the truth about her father’s death leads her down a path of danger, intrigue, and adventure.

The Ruby in the Smoke is an entertaining tale set in Victorian London.  The audiobook version is excellent.  The narrator gives each character their own distinctive voice.  Parents should know there is a good deal of violence in this story and a plot surrounding opium, but there’s nothing a teen in 7th grade or above couldn’t handle.  It would make a fun audiobook for teens and their parents during a car trip. 

Review for the movie: TiMER

Title: TiMER
Year: 2009
Motion Picture Rating: R
Format: Movie Viewed on Netflix Instant
Rowena’s Rating: *** 1/2

TiMER is an entertaining indie film about relationships, with a sci-fi twist. Twenty-nine year old Oona (Emma Caulfield) lives in a slightly futuristic world that’s almost like our own, except that most people have what’s called a TiMER implanted on their wrist.  The TiMER tells them the exact moment when they will meet their soulmate.  Poor Ooona’s TiMER is blank, meaning either her soulmate doesn’t have a TiMER yet, hasn’t been born, or doesn’t exist.

Oona deals with this issue by dating one TiMER-less guy after another, convincing each one she has even the slightest connection with, to get his own TiMER.  That strategy leaves her with a string of men who find out she isn’t their soulmate.  Her best friend (and stepsister) Steph, whose TiMER setting is far in the future, decides that the key to happiness is blissfully wasting away her time on one-night stands and go-nowhere jobs. Steph convinces Oona to try her own fling with a cute younger guy. 

This charming movie isn’t your typical romantic comedy.  While most romantic comedies seem to be told from a pretty sexist point of view, this story is far more respectful of both women and men as people, not stereotypes.  It’s fun to see Ooona’s fling with adorable, amiable Mikey (played by John Patrick Amedori). The movie empathizes with all the characters (women and men) and makes some interesting points about relationships. I also liked that the end isn’t neatly tied up in a big bow with an easy, happy ending.  Instead, you the viewer are given more say in deciding what happens after the film ends.

Casting Trivia
I tend to watch online movies with the IMDb website opened in another window since I go crazy trying to place actors who look familiar to me.  Here’s a list of where you might have seen these TiMER actors:

Emma Caulfield (Oona) – She played ex-demon Anya on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Emma Bradshow on Life Unxpected.

Michelle Borth (Steph)- She’s on the new Hawaii-Five-0 as Catherine Rollins, but I recognized her from her one episode in Supernatural where she played Dean’s instant girlfriend Carmen (a girl from a beer ad) during Dean’s djinn-fueled wish-fulfillment dream.

John Patrick Amedori (Mikey) – has had some bit roles in movies like Scott Pilgrim and played Aaron Rose in Gossip Girl.

Kali Rocha (Matchmaker Patty) – She played Dr. Sydney Heron on Grey’s Anatomy, but I knew where from her role as Halfrek — Anya’s demon friend —  on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

JoBeth Williams (Oona’s mom) – She’s been in a bunch of things.  Most recently she’s played Gail Brandon on Dexter, but I most remember her from her roles in the movies The Big Chill and Poltergeist.