The Magnificient Twelve, Titanic, and New TV

TV Quote of the Week: "Just because I tell you things doesn't mean you're allowed to know them," Caroline on The Vampire Diaries.

My Life:
 I like having one of my kids at college.  The daughterling gets to enjoy the benefits of being an only child (something my son got when he was young), and I love texting with my son and reading about his new adventures in college.  I've successfully kept to my writing schedule and already had my first sub job. I had subbed for many of the same kids last year so I was called, "Mrs. Evil Octopus," all day by a bunch of happy second graders. Teaching is a lot more fun with a heaping dose of silliness.

Book Review:
The Magnificent Twelve: The Call, by Michael Grant [2010] (*** 1/2) – The Magnificent Twelve is a good choice for fans of The Wimpy Kid series and other fans of irreverent humor or lots of action.  Middle-schooler Mack has a lot of phobias. The only thing he isn't afraid of is the school bullies.  It's this quality that gets Mack selected to save the world from some ancient villain called, The Pale Queen, who had been sentenced to hell for 3000 years and has just been released.  This middle grade fantasy is packed with humor, quirky characters, and lots of action.  Apparently it's the first book in the series because the ending is pure cliffhanger.  [For ages 8-12.  Read the eBook on Nook for Droid.]

Titanic (****) – Titanic is one of the many  popular movies I didn't see in the early to mid-90's, when my kids were young and needy.  The story pulled me in and made me care about these characters. It dealt with a lot of issues that are becoming problems again, like class inequality  and the dangers of capitalism without regulation.  Mostly, the movie made me feel like I was right there on the ship while it was sinking and suddenly I cared about the 1,500 plus people that died in this tragedy long ago.

Doctor Who, season 6, pt. 2 (*** 1/2) – I am liking the second half of this season a lot more than the first half.  The emotional level has simmered down to realistic levels,  Rory is fun and reasonable, and there have been a number of good plots.

New Girl, pilot (** 1/2) – Quirky Jess (played by Zooey Deschanel) decides to get over her breakup with her cheating boyfriend by living with 3 guys she met through a Craigslist ad. I liked the actors in the show and I enjoyed some of Jess's odd quirks (like how she has her own theme song), but there were a ton of tired gender stereotypes in the pilot. Plus, Deschanel's Jess is pretty much a  manic-pixie dream girl (kind of like the modern dumb blonde updated for a new century.).  I'm willing to give the show a couple more chances to see if they iron out some of these problems.

Ringer, pilot (***) – Sarah Michelle Geller (Buffy) stars in this noir-mystery soap opera about twin sisters.  There was a lot of exposition in the plot but I was intrigued enough to keep watching and see what the writers do with these characters.

The Vampire Diaries, season 3 (****) – The season premiere was as fun and exciting as the first two seasons.  Can't wait for the next episode!

The Secret Circle, pilot (***) – This soap opera about a town of secret witches is written by the same people that wrote The Vampire Diaries, so the plot speeds along with secrets and intrigue, though so far, it lacks the zany fun of its sister show.  Instead the show has a very CW vibe about with plenty of beautiful people and soapy teen happenings.  The Vampire Diaries also started off overly soapy for the first 6-8 episodes, so I'm willing to give  it a few more chances to impress me.

Up All Night, pilot (*** 1/2) – I enjoyed this show about new parents.  While the pilot wasn't laugh aloud funny, it did make me smile a lot. I love how Christina Applegate's and Will Arnett's characters manage to be a caring couple, totally in love with their baby daughter, without being saccharine or clichéd.  The show explores work-home issues in a fresh way with lots of respect for both the working parent and the stay at home parent.  Part of the freshness is accomplished by having the man stay home and the woman go to work — a trend I see a lot more in real life too.

Summer 2011, Part 3: Music Reviews

I didn't listen to a new album every week, but I listened to one at least every other week. Though, I mostly kept to safe choices that fit in my music comfort-zone this summer.

Albums  Listened to This Summer:

Vanessa Carlton, Be Nobody [2002] (****), Heroes & Thieves [2007] (*** 1/2), Best of [2011] (****)
Vanessa Carlton is a piano playing songwriter who sings appealing pop music.  I'd never  heard of her until I was searching for Sierra-Victor fan videos on You Tube — in a moment of guilty-pleasure Dollhouse weakness– and found a video set to Vanessa Carlton's song, "Ordinary Day". 
Favorite Songs: "Ordinary Day", "A Thousand Days", "Twilight".

Adele, 21 [2011] (****)
You've heard of Adele, even if you don't know it, trust me you have.  She's the young British woman with a deep sultry voice who sings additively good songs. I first heard her this spring when my Jazz class danced to "Rumor Has It" and kept listening to her all summer. 
Favorite Songs: "Rolling in the Deep", "Rumor Has It", "Someone Like You", "Turning Tables".

Sufjan Stevens, Michigan [2003] (***), Come on Feel the Illinoise [2005] (*** 1/2), The Age of Adz [2010] (*** 1/2)
Several of my thirtysomething Facebook friends mentioned his music (though none of these friends know each other).  He sings indie folk rock with his banjo and has a number of state-themed albums, though is newest album has a more electronic sound.  His Michigan album even has a song about Holland, the town where my mom's family has reunions.  When I had my horrible sinus infection I listened to "I Want to Be Well" over and over.
Favorite Songs: "Futile Devices", "I Want to Be Well", "Chicago", "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL".

Amy Winehouse, Back to Black [2006] (*** 1/2)
Before her death I'd really only heard the song, "Rehab", and didn't liked it that much.  After her death decided to check out the rest of her album and enjoyed it. 
Favorite Songs: "Tears Dry On Their Own", "Back to Black".

Soundtrack from The Vampire Diaries [2010] (*** 1/2)
Good guilty-pleasure bedtime music, the kind of emo sugar-coated songs I like the very first time I listen and then quickly tire of. The instrumental music pieces make my life feel more tense and dramatic than usual.
Favorite Songs: "Bloodstream", "Down", "Running Up That Hill", "Stefan's Theme".

Tears for Fears, The Hurting [1983] (***), Songs From the Big Chair [1985] (*** 1/2)
The Vampire Diaries soundtrack covered a Tears for Fears song which got me nostalgic for the real thing. I hadn't listened to these songs in years.  The weird thing about music is how a song can send me straight back to the sights and sounds  I experienced when I first listened to the song.  I listened to a lot of Tears for Fears when I was Euro-railing in Germany.  It was fun having flashbacks of watching cabbage fields roll by or brushing my teeth in the tiny train bathrooms.
Favorite Songs:  "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" , "Shout", "Mad World", "Head Over Heels".

The Rapture, Pieces of the People We Love [2006] (*** 1/2)
The Rapture sounds a lot like the 80's new wave I used to enjoy.  They're the ones who sing the theme song to Misfits, though it's not on this album.
Favorite Songs:  "Don Gon Do It", "Pieces of The People We Love", "Calling Me".

Summer TV Reviews for: The Nine Lives of Chloe King, Misfits, and Friday Night Lights

The Nine Lives of Chloe King (***) – Chloe King is a normal teen living with her single mom in San Fransisco, going to school, working at a vintage clothing store, and hanging out with her best friends Amy and Paul.  Weird things start happening to her on her birthday — like she can easily walk on the edge of a bench, has retractable claws, and can hear conversations from far away.

The Nine Lives of Chloe King isn’t the greatest show ever, but so far, it is kind of adorable, fun summer TV.  Skyler Samuels, who plays Chloe, is not only beautiful, but plays Chloe with a winning combination of vulnerable likability.  The interactions with her friends are playful and realistic and the whole superpower plot is enjoyable, so far.  I love all the San Fransisco scenery and like that no one keeps too many secrets. Chloe keeps a few from her mom — who is probably my least favorite character because that relationship is a little boring — but even Chloe’s relationship with her mom has some sweet moments and the lack of secrets between Chloe and her friends keeps the plot moving and free from unnecessary melodrama.  Some of the acting is a little wooden, but overall, the leads are competent.  It’s a fun, easy to watch summer teen superpower show.

[On ABC Family, Tuesdays at 9pm Eastern Time/ 9pm Central. The pilot is available on iTunes for free; Hulu has only 1 episode up at a time for free viewing.  (Today it’s episode 3, which I still have to watch.)  The new episode is up on Hulu the day after it plays on ABC Family, then taken down when a new episode is posted. All episodes are also available to buy on iTunes.]

Misfits (*** 1/2) – is like Skins meets a British Heroes, but without the boring save-the-world plots.  Five young offenders show up for community service on a day that a wicked thunderstorm hits.  They’re all struck by weird lightening, but seem fine, until weird things start happening, like one of them can hear people’s thoughts now.  While it’s not actually on TV, Hulu is showing the first season for free online viewing on its site, one episode a week. 

The daughterling watched the first two seasons of Misfits with a friend and liked it so much I promised I’d watch once it came to American TV.  It’s entertaining so far. 

Like a lot of British shows the characters are more realistic and less polished than American characters tend to be.  The language can be a bit rough and there’s a lot more nudity and sex than on an American show.  I also like that the characters are clearly working class, instead of the pseudo poor characters on American shows, who have unexplained fantastic apartments and fabulous wardrobes. The characters are also more regular looking. Yeah, a couple are quite good looking, but not everyone is required to be as glamorous as on your average American teen show.  The daughterling says the show gets better as it goes on and that season two is even better than season one.

[The first three episodes are currently on Hulu for free online viewing. New episodes are posted on Mondays. You need to have a free account though because the content is for over 13 years and above.]

Friday Night Lights (****) – If you never watched Friday Night Lights now is your chance because seasons one through four are available on Netflix Instant. 

Kyle Chandler plays Eric Taylor, the new coach of a small Texan town where high school football is the main entertainment.  I love this show!  It’s realistic, moody, sweet, and has me cheering for the football team while at the same time thinking, "This town really needs to get a life."  You don’t have to like football to enjoy this show because Friday Night Lights is really about mentoring teens and it’s one of the best fiction shows I’ve seen on mentoring teens.

The first couple episodes have some handheld camera work but they do away with that technique after the first few episodes.  Season two has some over-the-top plotlines, but fear-not, the writers realize their mistake and get back to normal in season three.

[Netflix Instant has seasons one through four.  Season five is available to rent on DVD through Netflix too. Hulu posts a new episode for season five each Saturday, but the episodes expire after several weeks.  Currently episodes 6-10 of season five are up on Hulu. Season five episodes are also available to buy on iTunes.]

Book Review for – Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword

Title: Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword
Author: Barry Deutsch
Year Published: 2010
Genre: Graphic Novel
Age Range: for ages 8 and up
Rating: ***

Eleven-year-old Mirka lives in an Orthodox Jewish community called Hereville.  Her kind, but formidable, stepmother Fruma insists that Mirka take knitting more seriously so she one day find a good husband, but what Mirka really wants is to find is a good sword so she can slay dragons.  On the way to school Mirka sees an animal that’s she’s never seen before.  Her step-sister, who has previously lived outside Hereville, tells her it’s a pig.  Mirka follows the pig and is set on an unexpected adventure where the many lessons she learned from Fruma are her ticket to making her own dreams come true.

I’d read a number of good reviews for this graphic novel.  It’s a fun story and the details about the life of the Orthodox Jewish community are respectful, detailed, and interesting.  I thought the conclusion was a bit slight, but this story is so unique and enjoyable, it’s a must-read if you have any interest in the Jewish community. 

Music Reviews From January & February

I go through music like a hummer goes through gasoline, listening to songs when I wash dishes, cook meals, walk to the grocery, and even when I fall asleep each night.  So I am constantly in need of new music. My goal for 2011 is to try to listen to a new album every week.

While I’m not immune to a catchy pop hit, I decided I wanted to try out more independent and lesser known groups this year too, from all sorts of genres: rock, pop, hip hop, classical, and everything in-between.

I’m still learning how to review music.  Unlike books, I don’t feel like I have a good sense of the vocabulary I need to describe what I like and don’t like about the songs yet. If I’ve learning anything from writing this blog, it’s that the best way to learn something is to just do it, so here goes….

A brief review of the albums I’ve enjoyed so far in 2011:

Play It Again, Jack!, by Jack in the Box (*** 1/2) – Three days after I made my album a week goal, this CD came in the mail from one of my favorite childhood friends.  How cool is that?  It’s like she read my mind. Turns out her 18 or 19-year-old son is in a band that just made an album.  The only time I met her son was when my family visited their home in Nantes, France. Greg was 12 or 13 and the two of them were arguing over how he was ignoring his piano practice to play the video game, Grand Theft Auto.

Greg must have solved the practicing issue because the piano playing on this album is excellent. Play It Again, Jack! is full of catchy pop melodies played on piano in a very listenable jazz-like cabaret style, kind of like a hipper more modern Randy Newman. While all the band members are from Nantes, France, the songs are all in English.  Every song is fun to listen to, though some songs are better than others.  [Parent Note: This is one of those albums that will make all ages happy: kids, teens, adults, and seniors.]

At their MY SPACE page you can hear several songs on the album.  You can also buy their songs or album on iTunes, emusic, and amazonmp3. They are listed on iTunes under the album name: Play It Again, Jack!  The full album sells for $10.99 or you can buy individual songs for 99 cents.

The Cost, by The Frames (*** 1/2) – This album is full of the kind of moody ballads that I enjoy listening to right before I go to sleep.  Lead singer, Glen Hansard, was in the movie The Commitments (in a small part) and also starred in the movie, Once.  The song "Rise" was recently featured in the Castle episode that focused on Kate’s mother’s murder and a number of the songs from The Cost are also included on Hansard’s album soundtrack for Once.  [Parent Note: Fairly tame lyrics you can listen to with kids in the car.]

I Will Be, by Dum Dum Girls (***) – Fun lo-fi indie pop that sounds a lot like good old-fashioned 50’s rock with a bit of a modern twist. [Parent Note: I couldn’t hear the lyrics clearly enough to be sure that I know if the album has any unfriendly stuff for kids or not. ]

Loud, by Rihanna (****) – Rihanna is one of the few commercial pop sensations I enjoy without guilt.  Her most recent album is no exception.  It’s full of catchy pop tunes you’ve probably heard without even picking up her album.  She even has a couple hits this time with an island flavor, a few soulful songs, and a couple of sexy pieces to round out the album.  [Parent Note: There are a couple kid friendly songs in the album but definitely another couple that will get you plenty of questions.  Probably this is one to enjoy when you’re alone.]