Fantasy Baseball and Rihanna

Books:
Title: Fantasy Baseball
Author: Alan Gratz
Published: March 2011
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Ages: 8 and up
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid Phone

Alex Metcalf doesn't know how he ended up on a bus full of almost forgotten storybook characters who have formed a baseball team.  Here in storybook world, characters whose stories are no longer read vanish forever.  Dorothy, the girl from The Wizard of Oz, is the team's captain.  She's desperate for her team to win the championship because the prize is a wish granted to everyone on the winning team.  Dorothy wants to wish that all her teammates will be remembered by children so that they continue to live.

Alex is delighted to find that he's fantastic at playing baseball, even though he's just a kid.  Then his team informs him that he's probably not a really boy, but instead he's a  lark– the daydream of some kid who dreams of being a fabulous player.  Alex is determined to show the team that he's a real boy, not a lark.  Like Dorothy, he wants to bring the team to victory.  Then if he turns out to be a lark, he can wish he's real. Unfortunately, he insults the Big Bad Wolf at the first game, and now he's not sure he's even going to make it to the end of the tournament.

Fantasy Baseball is a unique story with lots of action.  It would make a fun read for kids who like both baseball and creating their own imaginary world.  The story would also make a good classroom or family read aloud.  It's not necessary to know the older storybook characters to enjoy the story.  Though reading about the other characters did make me interested in checking out some of the older children's classics.

Music:
Rihanna, Talk That Talk, [2011] (4 stars) – I first heard Rihanna's new album, Talk That Talk, when I danced to, "Where Have You Been", in Jazz dance class. Her new album is more fun than her last, though it's pretty explicit, not the kind of album you can play while you're carpooling kids around.  The fun danceable songs about sex and pretty ballads on love make Talk That Talk another excellent guilty-pleasure Rihanna album. Favorite songs: Where Have You Been, Drunk on Love, Roc Me Out, Farewell, and Cockiness.

Tuesdays at the Castle, Misfits, and Florence & the Machine

Books:
Title: Tuesdays at the Castle
Author: Jessica Day George
Date Published: October 2011
Rating: 4 out 5
Ages: 8 years and up
Format: Read eBook on Nook for Droid Phone

Every Tuesday Castle Glower adds new rooms to itself. For generations the castle has behaved like a living person, making life easier or harder for the inhabitants based on how much it liked them. It has even picked each new ruler. Eleven-year-old  Princess Celie — the youngest daughter of the current king– is one of the castle's favorites. She understands the castle best.  It's her connection to Castle Glower, and her detailed atlas, that helps her family survive the castle's big crisis.

This is a fun tale with lots of tension and excitement. It would make a good bedtime or classroom read aloud.

Music:
Florence & The Machine, Ceremonials (4 stars) – I like this album even better than the group's last popular album.  The songs are still filled with lots of dramatic over-the-top vocals, but this time I liked the lyrics better. Favorite Songs: Shake It Out, All This and Heaven Too

TV:
Misfits (3.5 stars) – The third season is now available each Monday on Hulu. Since actor Robert Sheehan decided to leave the show to pursue a movie career, the most charismatic of the young offenders, Nathan, is gone.  While Nathan was the funniest character, he was never that important to the plot. His replacement is just okay, but so far the episodes revolving the rest of the characters are quite good.  Their new powers help them explore interesting new aspects of themselves as they grow and change, plus there's a lot of fun entertainment in them. My favorite part is how one of the character's new power is playfully used as catch-phrase in each episode. There are eight episodes in season 3 and Hulu is currently on episode 5.  There's also a 10-minute clip on Hulu's Misfits Page called, "Vegas Baby!", that gives Nathan an amusing send off.

Legend

Author: Marie Lu
Published: November 2011
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Ages: 12 and up
Format: Read eBook on Kindle for Droid

15-year-old Day is the Republic's most wanted criminal. He didn't set out to be a criminal, he just wants to help his family survive. In the future Los Angeles of the dystopian Republic, where most of the coastal areas are flooded, and citizens barely eke out a life avoiding the various plagues, daily survival requires criminal behavior.

15-year-old June is the Republic's most promising student, the only one to ever achieve a perfect score on the Republic's important Trial, and a secret admirer of Day.   Being rich and privileged hasn't made keeping her family alive any easier though. When June is tasked to track down Day, she knows she'll do the Republic proud.  It's a job that's going to change Day and June forever.

Legend was one of those books that I ended up reading in just a couple days.  I read slowly for the first 100 pages but then finished the last 200 or more pages in one night.  Day and June are both likable characters and pitting them against each other made the story exciting.  Lu's dystopian world is interesting and she wisely fits the details of that world into the action from the start. 

Ms. Evil Octopus Goes on a Field Trip, K’naan, and Biking to Work

Music:
K'naan, Troubadour (****) [2009] – Rapper K'naan was born in Somalia. Right before the war broke out his family immigrated to New York and then Toronto.  His album is full of upbeat hopeful rap and hip-hop songs about the immigrant experience, with plenty of realistically sad details and a touch of bravado about what a badass he is for coming from Africa. Favorite Songs: T.I.A. (This is Africa), Fatima, Wavin' Flag, Take A Minute.

My Life:
Ms. Evil Octopus Goes on a Field Trip – I made an exception to my Friday-only subbing rule to help out a teacher in need and subbed for 3 days for the class that calls me Ms. Evil Octopus.  On the second day we went on a field trip with lots of helpful moms (but sadly no dads).  The Thanksgiving program at Woodland Manor had fun hands-on activities for the kids to do, the kids were great, and we had sunny warm weather. My favorite part was what happened when I introduced myself to each mom:

Mom: Hi, I'm Sarah's mom.
 
Me: Wonderful to meet you. I'm Ms. Eureka.

Mom: [Looks strangely disappointed after hearing my name.] Oh.  Ms. Eureka?

Me: But the kids like to call me Ms. Evil Octopus.  It's just a fun joke we have going on.

Mom: [Perks up.] Yes, Sarah told me this!  She said you're really funny.

Heehee. I guess even moms like silly jokes.

What I Learned About Biking to Work – For the past two years I've wanted to bike to my sub jobs.  This week I finally got my act together and biked to work for all three days.  Yay!  Here's what  I learned:

1. Biking makes me feel good all day.

2.  I need a change of clothes for the top of my body but not the bottom.

3. Fully inflated tires make the ride a lot easier, so does a range of gears.

4.  It was good to have the daughterling's bike as a backup bike at home for when I discovered a flat tire  right before I needed to leave home.

5. The bike ride home is the best and made me feel less tired after work than if I drove.

6.  Being a super slow biker is okay.  Just getting out there is what counts.

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.]

Movies:
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.

TV:
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".

More TV Reviews on Netflix Insant: Sherlock and Sports Night

Sherlock
Year: 2010
Genre: Three 88-minute murder mysteries
Format: Available on Netflix Instant Viewing
Rating: ****

This excellent updated version of Sherlock Holmes takes place in modern-day London.  Holmes describes himself as a "high-functioning sociopath" and  Watson is a medical doctor and veteran of the Afghan war.  The three murder mysterious are engaging, witty,  and satisfyingly solved by Holmes and Watson.  I never read the original books so I can’t compare how closely the modern update uses canon, but they do introduce Holmes’s arch-enemy Moriarty. 

Sports Night
Year: 1998
Genre: Half-hour Comedy
Format: Available on Netflix Instant Viewing
Rating: *** 1/2

If you missed this show about a late-night cable sports show the first time around, check it out now.  The cast is full of talented familiar faces. The sports anchors are played by Peter Krause (Nate from Six Feet Under, Adam from Parenthood) and Josh Charles (Will from The Good Wife).  Felicity Huffman (Lynette from Desperate Housewives) is the show’s producer and Robert Guillaume (Benson from the show Benson) is her boss.

Sports Night is written by Aaron Sorkin so the dialog is smart and funny. The cable show studios are supposed to be in the World Trade Center so there are a lot of now nostalgic shots of the Trade Center and even an eerie episode devoted a bomb treat in the building.  Initially the writing showcases Sorkin’s main weaknesses — a tendency to get preachy and have all the characters sound alike.  Within the first couple episodes, each character takes on his or her own voice, the preaching stops, and the fun begins!