Review for: Stray (Touchstone #1), by Andrea K. Höst

Image- StrayWhile walking home from school in Australia, 17-year-old Cassandra Devlin mysteriously ends up in another world that looks similar to Earth, but isn’t.  She’s not sure how she got into this new world and can’t seem to get back to Earth, so she focuses on surviving alone in the wilderness of her new strange world.

This is an indie published novel and currently available for free on Kindle or Nook.  It’s the first of three books in the series.  I really liked Cassie’s basic common sense at the beginning of the story.  She’s clearly terrified by her situation, but manages to trundle on—as most people would—and figure out how to survive in her weird new world.

The story is told in journal form, so there’s an awful lot of telling at first, but that changes in the second half of the book.  The story was oddly hypnotic for me.  I kept wanting to read more and more.  The new world Höst creates is pretty cool.  As someone who enjoys learning languages, I could relate to Cassie’s struggles with becoming fluent in an alien language with no one who knows English around to help. I look forward to reading the next in the series.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Young Adult

Genre: Science Fiction /Fantasy

Book Review for: Paris in Love, by Eloisa James

Paris in Love

After surviving breast cancer, Shakespeare professor and romance novelist, Eloisa James, takes a year long sabbatical in Paris with her husband and their children. James’s memoir is made up of expanded vignettes from her Facebook and Twitter posts. Her thoughts on Paris are literary, witty, insightful, and a tad pretentious— in the fun way one would imagine a romance novelist to write about Paris.  James really gets into the fantasy of “living in Paris” with detailed descriptions of museums, fashion, cooking, eating, and shopping.  The fantasy is balanced out though with the realities of life, such as her children struggling with their new school and her struggles with gaining—and then trying to lose— weight, due to all her enjoyment of French food.  I listened to this audiobook over the course of a week and felt like I was visiting with an entertaining adventurous friend each day.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Age Group: Adult

Genre: Memoir

Audiobook Version:  Yes. Enjoyable and read by the author— though her voice takes a little getting used to at first.

TV Review for: iZombie pilot

iZombieiZombie has the potential to be a younger, less aging Castle or Bones-like procedural with entertaining cases, lots of humor, and likable quirky characters. It has the same executive producers as Veronica Mars and is based on the comic iZombie. Basically it’s like, what if Veronica Mars was a med student who got turned into a zombie.

Liv Moore—another acerbic, tiny blond, much like Veronica or Buffy — has the perfect life as a brilliant medical intern with the perfect fiancee.  That’s all destroyed the one time she goes to a party with a colleague and is turned into a zombie. Now she works at a morgue, in order to have access to brains, and discovers she gets flashes of the person’s life when she eats their brain.  Her zombie-knowledgable morgue co-worker volunteers her to help a cop solve the murder of the latest Jane-Doe, but tells him she’s a psychic, instead of a zombie, and Liv begins to build a new life for herself.

It’s on the CW on Tuesday nights at 9pm ET,  available to stream on Hulu and the CW, and episodes are available for purchase on iTunes.

Favorite Movies Watched in 2013-2014

Romantic Comedies

Obvious ChildObvious Child –  In this funny, feminist rom-com movie, Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) is a New York City stand-up comic dealing with the break up with her long-term boyfriend and with an unwanted pregnancy after an amusing one-night stand. The movie deals with abortion in a funny, sweet, no-nonsense way as Donna figures out how to deal with the earnest guy from her one night stand. Jenny Slate, who played the hilariously obnoxious Mona-Lisa in Parks and Recreation, is both appealing and humorous as Donna.  I also loved the interactions between Donna and her parents—overall an enjoyable movie. (Available on Netflix DVD and Amazon Prime, also on iTunes for purchase.)

Dramas

PersepolisPersepolis– This movie had been on my to-see list forever and I’m glad I finally broke down and watched it.  It’s based on the graphic novel of the same title and follows a young girl’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution.  Her family has some connection with France too, because she and her family speech French—so the whole movie is in French with English subtitles. I remember watching the Iranian revolution as an American teen but only knew the details from an outsider perspective.  This movie shows how the revolution personally affected its own citizens, especially young intelligent women.  (Available on Netflix Instant and for purchase on iTunes or Amazon online.)

Frances HaFrances Ha– One of those slice of life movies about some lost young creative person living in New York. I tend to like these kinds of movies.  In this one, Frances is a dancer who is coming to terms with the fact that she’s probably not going to make it professionally in dancing. It’s a more likable Girls or Woody Allen movie. (Available on Netflix Instant, Netflix DVD, and available for rent or purchase on iTunes.)

 

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars- (Available on Netflix DVD, also available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online.) I think by now everyone’s heard about John Green’s charming romance about two teens with cancer.  While I slightly prefer the book, the movie does an excellent job.  If you’re one of the few people who haven’t read or seen it, I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s sad at the end, but it’s also funny, insightful, and utterly charming all the way through.

 

Animated

Princess MononokePrincess Mononoke– (Available on Netflix DVD) – My son watched this movie with me when I was super sick with thyroid issues.  I can see why it’s one of his favorite movies.  It’s unique to western animation films in that there really is no “good guy” and no “bad guy”.  Instead there are two groups with opposing ideas that they are equally passionate about.

 

 

Favorite TV From 2013-2014

Foreign Political Dramas

BorgenBorgen – In this excellent Danish political drama, moderate Birgitte Nyborg becomes the prime minister of Denmark after a contentious election between two other front runners. This is a fascinating look at Danish politics with all the coalitions and deals that go into winning a vote with a multiple-party system. It makes me wish the US had more than two parties.   (All 3 seasons are available on Netflix DVD. Also check out  Link TV to see if they are streaming any episodes online. )

Comedies

Image- Parks and RecParks and Recreation–  Unlike the Office, which was funny but cynical, Parks and Rec is equally funny but sweetly optimistic.  Each of the characters is an amusing stereotype, that actually grows and changes as the series progresses. The abbreviated first season is pretty rocky, but the show found its center in season two and has been a fun look at the crazy details of local government ever since. (Seasons 1-6 available on Nexflix Instant and Netflix DVD, seasons 1-5 available on Amazon Prime, and season 1-7 available on iTunes.)

Jane the VirginJane the Virgin –  When I heard this show’s concept—a 23-year-old virgin who becomes pregnant after she’s accidentally artificially inseminated— I immediately wrote it off as being to stupid to even try.  Then I started reading Internet comments about how fresh and funny it was.  Finally a friend recommended it on Facebook and I decided to check it out.  Turns out it’s surprisingly good.

The show plays up the Telenovela concept to wink at the audience about how over the top the plots are, but at it’s core the story works because it’s about likable, fully developed characters who actually care about each other. It’s also hilarious. (Some episodes available on Hulu Plus, also all previous and current episodes are available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon Online).

The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones – This is one of the last projects Robin Williams acted in before his death.  Williams plays the president of an ad agency that he runs with his daughter, Sarah Michelle Gellar.  I was sad this show didn’t get picked up beyond its first season. Williams and Gellar had a real father-daughter like chemistry on the show, and by the end of the season the cast really gelled together.  The outtakes at the end of each episode showing Williams improv-ing lines are as much fun as watching the episode. (Highlight clips available on CBS website, whole season available on Netflix DVD, and available for purchase on Amazon online and iTunes.)

 

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Image- Orphan BlackOrphan Black – a fun, cliffhanger-y sci-fi action-adventure show about a young British woman, Sarah Manning, who sees a woman who looks just like her, right before the woman throws herself in front of a train. Tatiana Maslany is so good at playing multiple characters that I often forget they’re not played by different actors. Beware though, each episode ends with a cliffhanger making it dangerous binge watching material. Season 3 starts on April 18th on BBC America. (Seasons 1-2 available on Netflix DVD, season 1 also available on Amazon Prime, season 2 is available for purchase on Amazon online, and seasons 1-2 are available for purchase on iTunes. The show website also includes a thorough list of where to watch previous seasons.)

The Legend of KorraLegend of Korra– This Nickelodeon cartoon went from a being a good kids cartoon that adults could also enjoy to a good all-ages cartoon that kids can also enjoy. Seasons three and four are especially good and downright feminist. By the series finale there are numerous female heroes, with a wide range of ages.  (If you have a cable subscription to Nickelodeon’s channel, you can watch all the episodes online at their website, seasons 1-2 are also available on Amazon Prime and seasons 3-4 are available for purchase on Amazon online, seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix DVD, and seasons 1-4 are also available for purchase on iTunes.)

Favorite You Tube Channels Watched in 2013-2014

Community Channel–  Australian Natalie Tran’s weekly first world problem skits are my favorite videos to watch on You Tube. Tran plays all the parts in her skits as she muses about how she wishes she could save her “good hair days” for a day she’ll spend with her friends—instead of the day she’s just going to read and do yoga—or the horror of realizing her lost phone is on silent mode.  At the end of each video she has a porno music/comment time where she responds to comments from her fans with her deprecating sense of humor.

Vlogbrothers– Brothers John and Hank Green have chatted to each other and their audience of Nerdfighters by vlog since 2007.  For anyone who hasn’t heard of them, John is the author of several bestselling young adult novels, including, The Fault in Our Stars. Hank is an entrepreneur who produced numerous You Tube video series, including, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, as well as the creator of the indie record label, DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome).

These entertaining videos tend to be between 3-6 minutes long and focus on the brothers’ lives, how to make the world suck less, and basically any topic that interests them.  I like watching vlogbrother videos because they manage to be both idealistic about trying to improve the world and realistic about how hard that is, but still keep doing productive things to help out—with a sense of fun, too.

Feminist Frequency – Anita Sarkeesian’s channel is full of wonderful videos that look at how women and girls are portrayed in TV shows, books, movies, and games.

Vaginal Fantasy Book Club – (on Goodreads and YouTube) – For a long while I’d been looking for a source for romance novels that were more feminist, preferably with science fiction, fantasy, or historical elements.  I finally found the perfect source in Vaginal Fantasy Book Club.  The book club is run by actor/producer Felicia Day ( Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, The Guild, Geek & Sundry, Supernatural). Every month she and her three friends pick a main selection, plus an alternative read.  On the last Tuesday of the month they get together on Goggle Hang Outs/ You Tube to discuss the book.The discussions go on for about an hour and are like eavesdropping on an especially fun, cool book club.  They also have a forum on Goodreads and a Twitter feed that they use for discussing the book.

Crash Course

A cool warehouse of educational videos produced by John and Hank Green on over a dozen topics. Each video is 10-15 minutes long and there are 25-50 videos per topic.  John teaches in the history and literature videos and Hank teaches in the science videos.  The videos use a combination of cartoons and lectures and tend to be both entertaining and informative.

 

Favorite Short Story Collections Read From 2013-2014

Science Fiction / Fantasy Short Story Collections 

Image of Blood ChildBlood Child and Other Stories, by Octavia E. Butler (July 2003) – This is an excellent collection of five short stories and two essays from Ocativa Butler—including her “male pregnancy” story. Her writing is deceptively simple, and her stories contain clever ideas in worlds that are so well-developed, in just a few pages, that I wished most of them had been developed into novels. I also liked her reassuring essays about writing.  Reading this collection makes me even sadder that Butler died in 2006, when she was only 58 from a fall/stroke.

Image- Near and FarNear + Far, by Cat Rambo (September 2012) – The paper version of this short story collection is two books in one.  On one side is a collection of “near” future short stories, flip the book over and it’s a collection of “far” future stories. Cat Rambo is probably one of my favorite current speculative fiction short story writers.  Her stories tend to be clever, imaginative, and often feminist, with literary touches.

 

Young Adult Short Story Collections 

Image- KaleidoscopeKaleidoscope Story Collection: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (August 2014) –  A good collection of YA science fiction and fantasy stories with an emphasis on diversity.   The first story about a disabled super hero is probably my favorite. It’s just so cheerful and charming. There are a number of other good stories though, including one about an Olympic ice skater using future technology, and a story about a young woman befriending alien students at her school.  There is a heavy emphasis on young women as protagonists, which I liked, but I thought the collection might have been more well-rounded if there were also one or two more stories featuring diverse young men as protagonists as well.

Image- My True Love Gave to MeMy True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories (October 2014) – I read this YA holiday romance short story collection over winter break. It features stories from Stephanie Perkins, Rainbow Rowell, and a host of other bestselling YA authors. There’s really not a bad story in the bunch—though I certainly liked some of the stories more than others. Overall, it’s a charming collection of holiday cheer and romance that I highly recommend.