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.

Back After Two Years

It’s almost two years since I posted on my blog. 2013 and 2014 were full of health problems! I finally have a whole team of good doctors to help me figure out my complicated thyroid/parathyroid illness. I’m not totally better yet—and probably am going to need parathyroid surgery sometime this spring—but I’m healthy enough that I want to blog regularly again.

Over the next two weeks I’ll post several catch up posts with reviews of my favorite books, shows, and whatnot from 2013-2014. Today I’ve summed up my health saga and what goals I was still able to accomplish while sick.

 2013 Health Saga:

-Went on special allergy limitation diet (GAPS diet) to improve food allergy problems.

– Consulted a nutritionist and a certified diet nurse because I wasn’t making progress on the GAPs diet, but they weren’t very helpful.

– Discovered on my own that I have histamine sensitivities and can’t eat fermented foods (a huge part of the GAPS diet).

– Felt worse and worse into the December of 2013.

2014 Health Saga:

– Discovered I was severely hypothyroid at the end of January and went on thyroid meds.

-Discovered I’m super sensitive to the thyroid meds and spent 6 months figuring out the best stable dosage for me—to avoid a list of horrible side effects. I finally figured it out in August.

– Went to 1 horrible family practice doctor, 2 horrible endocrinologists, 1 decent endocrinologist—not on my health insurance, —and finally found 1 good endocrinologist that does take my health insurance.

-Went to a good family practice doctor, who referred me to her Naturopath colleague who specializes in diet and nutrition counseling.

-Had numerous blood tests and scans to figure out my health issues.

-Added rice and then Quinoa into my diet, so I can now eat 8 foods. Whoo-hoo!

-Switched over to another family practice doctor in the same practice, who is just as nice as my first doctor but also specializes in diet issues.

-Was diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism and referred to a parathyroid surgeon.

-Have an appointment with parathyroid surgeon for the late January 2015.

2014 Life Accomplishments: 

Despite being super sick from January-April, somewhat sick from June-August, and a little bit sick from August – December, I accomplished a lot more in 2014 than 2013—though I read fewer books because I actually had a life.

-Subbed 33 times

-Read 40 books (33 fiction, 7 non-fiction)

-Read 84 short stories

-Took 5 writing classes and 1 writing workshop

-Took a performance dance class and an Improv Theater class

-Went to dance class an average of 1 time a week from April -June

-Went to dance class an average of 2.5 times a week from June – December

-Took my youngest child to college in Portland, Oregon

-Wrote 5 short stories

-Read several books as research for new YA novel idea

-Began outlining my new YA novel idea to prepare for drafting

-Visited Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and spent some time in Burlington, VT

-Applied and was accepted to VCFA’s MFA program in Writing for Children and Teens

-Set up a writing office in Maryland

-Still haven’t touched my middle grade novel at all this year—hmmm…

2013 Life Accomplishments  (I posted this on Facebook last year so I’m putting it last)

-I subbed 11 times

-Read 79 books (55 fiction, 24 nonfiction)

-Took 5 writing classes and 2 writing workshops

-Went to 2 writing conferences

-Wrote 7 short stories

-Wrote 1 YA novel draft

-Planned out the revised plot for my middle grade novel

-Bought furniture for the condo in Vermont

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.

What I Did With My Winter Break

Life Highlights:
An Eloise Vacation – This winter break the daughterling and I decided to vacation inside the new hotel we watched being built near our house.  We studied their website carefully, wrote ourselves a schedule for our visit, packed up a few clothes, books, and toiletries, and walked over.

Our favorite activity was exploring the hotel, checking to see if the vending machine selections differed from floor to floor — they did — then gazing out each hall window and comparing the view.  The daughterling told me she’s glad to have a "childish mother".  "Child-like," I suggested.  That sounds better, doesn’t it?

We also ate dinner in the hotel restaurant and soaked in the hot tub.  The rest of our stay we lounged in our room, reading books, watching a bit of TV, and eating our room service dessert until it was time to cuddle up in our comfy beds and sleep.

Movies:
Easy A (*** 1/2) – [2010] Socially invisible Olive (Emma Stone) starts with a simple white lie to spare her friend’s feelings and accidently invents an entire tale about an imaginary one-night stand.  The school gossip eavesdropping thinks the story is true and suddenly Olive is thrust into her high school’s spotlight.  When a gay friend asks her to pretend to have sex with him to keep him from getting bullied, she decides she might as well continue getting attention.  As Olive helps more guys build their credibility with fake sex sessions, she starts regretting the type of attention she’s getting.

Olive is a smart, fun character, as are her parents.  The movie does a fairly good job pointing out the hypocrisy in American sexual mores — though the introspection is more glib than truly thoughtful.  Also, the abstinence-only Christians are presented as pretty cartoonish villains.  Still, as mainstream teen films go, this one is smarter and more fun than most. [Watched as an iTunes rental. Rated PG-13.]

Going the Distance (*** 1/2) –  [2010] This is one of the few current romantic comedies that actually seems romantic versus just stereotypically bland and sexist.  Thirty-somethings Erin (Drew Barrymore) and Garrett (Justin Long) cute-meet while playing a video game at a New York bar and hit if off so well that they both want to continue the relationship the next morning.  Both of them know Erin’s only in New York for six more weeks — when her journalism internship ends and she returns to San Francisco to finish her degree — but they decide to see where the relationship will go anyway.  By the end of six weeks, they’re getting along so well they decide to try out a long distance relationship.

Going the Distance is refreshingly realistic about the pitfalls of being apart while managing to be funny and romantic at the same time.  Erin and Garrett seem like actual, well-rounded people and the movie takes both of their careers and points of view seriously.  Instead of the movie simply having the girl give up her life for her boyfriend, the couple grapples with finding a fair solution for both of them or deciding if they should just break up. 

The one flaw to an otherwise enjoyable movie is their stereotypical friends and family.  Though they’re completely unoriginal, they all are well-intentioned, actually seem to care for the main characters, and don’t take up too much of the movie’s time.  [Watched as an iTunes rental. Rated R for language and brief male nudity.]

Scott Pilgrim versus the World (*** 1/2) – [2010] A fun movie about a twenty-something guy (Michael Cera) figuring out relationships.  I never read the graphic novels the movie is based on, but from what I’ve read on the Internet, the movie pares the story down to just Scott’s point of view and leaves out the perspective of Ramona (the girl he’s pursuing). 

Though the women in the story are pretty much just goals or obstacles for Scott, the whole saga told as a video game is awfully charming and entertaining, as well as insightful.  It did go on about 10 minutes longer than my interest held, but I enjoyed its celebration of the 90’s indie music scene all the same.  The playful style reminded me of a modern Wayne’s World.  [Watched as an iTunes rental. Rated PG-13.]

December 11 – 17, 2010: In Brief

Young Adult Fiction:
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins (****) [2010] – This is one of those addictively good books you might accidently stay up all night reading.  Seventeen-year-old Anna Oliphant has lived her entire happy life in Atlanta, Georgia until her father decides on a whim that she should spend her last year of high school at an American boarding school in Paris. 

While Anna would love to visit Paris, she hadn’t planned on leaving her best friend, possible boyfriend, and entire life to live in a country where she doesn’t even speak the language. Meredith, the girl next door, hears Anna crying in her room on her first night of boarding school and offers sympathy, hot chocolate, and an invitation into her group of friends. One of Meredith’s friends turns out to be the boy every girl in the school has a crush on.  Though St. Clair has charisma, great hair, and a British accent, Anna warns herself not to fall for him and instead to just be his friend.

Anna’s a likable character.  Her life in Paris is both realistically charming and difficult at the same time, as is her friendship with St. Clair. [For ages 12 and up.  I read the eBook on Nook for Droid Phone.]

Life Highlights:
"Mrs. Evil Octopus" and Other Names I Should Totally Consider Using –  I subbed this past Friday and Monday for a delightful first grade class.  Their teacher found out she needed surgery unexpectedly a week before.  So by Friday, when I arrived, they were mighty tired of subs.

I commiserated with them about how hard it is having a parade of substitute teachers when all they wanted was their own teacher back.  Then I noted that it must be especially hard for them today because I was sure they were looking at me and noticed that secretly I was an evil octopus.  Having an evil octopus for a sub is sooo annoying.  They perked right up when I said this.

Apparently first graders are pro-evil octopus.  Who knew?  I had a fun two days being their teacher.  I especially got a kick out of the students who raised their hands and said, "Mrs. Evil Octopus, can you explain this problem to me?" 

October 2010: In Brief

Life Highlights:
Walking on Sunshine (The Gluten-Free Version): I used to think maybe I’d be well, now baby I’m sure.  And I just still love that I feel like I’ve now found my cure.  Now every time I wake up, my head feels so light and so goo-od.  Cause now I don’t have so much snot hanging round me no more.  Now I’m walking on sunshine. Who-ah. I’m walking on sunshine. Who-ah.  I’m walking on sunshine. Who-ah. And don’t it feel good!

(If you don’t know the real song from the 80’s, here’s the You Tube link.)

Fiction Books Finished:
Mamba Point, by Kurtis Scaletta (*** 1/2) [2010]  After his family moves from the U.S. to Monrovia, Liberia, anxious twelve-year-old Linus is determined to break through his fears and become adventurous.  His older brother, Larry, has decided he’s now going by the much cooler nickname "Law".  When the new Linus discovers his connection to mamba snakes and the new Law discovers the U.S. Embassy teen world, things become a little more interesting than either brother planned. Set in 1980’s Liberia, Mamba Point is a unique coming of age story with a touch of African folklore and magic realism spun into the plot. It would make a good family or classroom read aloud.  

Full disclosure: Kurtis was a member of one of my writing groups. Despite my personal connection, I think even readers that don’t know him will enjoy his story as much as I did.  [For ages 10 and up. Read on Kindle for Droid Phone]

Movies:
Foxes (** 1/2) – The movie The Runaways made me curious about Cherie Currie’s life story.  Foxes, a movie which Currie made during her acting period, is an almost documentary-like fiction movie about four teen girls growing up in the dysfunctional drugged-up world of Los Angeles during the late 70’s.  Currie plays the girl with the most troubled home and Jodie Foster is the stand out of the four new actors. From a historical point of view it was an interesting movie, though it’s a bit on the depressing side. [Rated R for drug use, language, and a bit of sexuality.  Watched on DVD from Netflix.]

Jennifer’s Body (****) [2009] Amanda Seyfried stars in this fun horror movie as Anita "Needy" Lesnicky, just a regular high school girl in a dysfunctional friendship with her best friend Jennifer.  Everything changes the night Jennifer drags Needy to see the band Low Shoulder at the local dive bar.  Now something seems wrong with Jennifer, boys at school keep dying, and Needy is the only one who can save them.

While Jennifer’s Body isn’t exactly a feminist movie, it comes a lot closer than most horror films.  It’s also more of a gore-and-parody kind of horror movie than a truly scary one.  How much you enjoy it depends on your view of Diablo Cody’s writing.  If you thought the writing in the movie Juno was fresh and clever, you’ll probably have a ton of fun watching this movie too.  If you thought Cody was trying too hard, this movie isn’t for you.

Amanda Seyfried has the acting chops to pull off the starring role and Megan Fox is perfect as hot mean girl Jennifer. There are a number of fun cameos too.  Adam Brody (Seth from The OC) gives a deliciously slimy performance as Low Shoulder’s lead singer and Kyle Gallner (Beav… I mean, Cassidy, from Veronica Mars) plays a tasty looking Emo-Goth boy.  [Unrated on DVD but probably for mid-teens and up.  Watched on DVD through Netflix.]

TV:
I tried out a bunch of new shows this season to choose my dozen regular shows for the Fall season. And the winners are: The Big Bang Theory, Castle, The Event, Fringe, Glee, The Good Wife, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, Nikita, Supernatural, and Terriers. I’m also watching season two of the X-Files in French on DVD. What TV shows made your cut?

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 Audible.com]

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 Audible.com]

Movies:
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:
http://www.avclub.com/articles/olivia,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

Audiobooks:
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]

Movies:
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]

TV:
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.)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/spanish/mividaloca

July 2010 In Brief, Part 2

Highlights:
Road Trip – My son and I cruised along Midwestern highways on a 12-hour drive to Lake Michigan, squeezing in plenty of teen driving practice, and passing by a few colleges along the way. I made a road trip playlist of music we both liked: The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Violent Femmes, Rage Against the Machine, and the Dr. Horrible Soundtrack, brought lots of gluten-free snacks, and together we sped through the Midwest loving that 70mph Michigan speed limit.

The Lake Michigan Cousin-palooza– About 50 relatives trekked in from all over the country to my aunt and uncle’s beautiful lakeside house for the Fourth of July.  We chatted, talked, conversed, and caught up on all the news while cooking, eating, and building sand castles.  Every evening at sunset we’d crowd on their deck and watch the sun melt orange and pink stripes onto the water.  No wonder we all keep coming back.

Fiction Books Finished:
Feed, by M.T. Anderson (*** 1/2) –  [2002] Titus and his friends are living in the last years of a dying empire where teenagers have a commercial TV and internet system called "The Feed" playing right in their heads.   During a spring break vacation to the moon, Titus meets home-schooled Violet.   When the two of them have their feeds hacked at a nightclub, Titus begins to look on his carefree life differently.  M.T. Anderson creates a vivid futuristic world with its own addictively real teen speak.  It’s a book that was ahead of its time and worth checking out. [YA Science Fiction, for ages 14 and up]

The Next Best Thing to Having the Super Power of Speed Reading:
When my to-read list hit the 100 book mark, I finally faced up to the truth: I read painfully slow. If I can’t have the power of speed reading, listening to audiobooks is the next best thing. There’s a wide selection available, they make my house work more pleasant, and I’m able to "read" at least an extra book a month now.

Audiobooks Finished:
Down the Rabbit Hole: An Echo Falls Mystery, by Peter Abrahams (***) – is an average, but entertaining, YA murder mystery.  Mandy Siegfried, the narrator of the audiobook, is especially good at teen dialog and really made the book come alive for me. [YA mystery, for ages 10 and up]

A Crooked Kind of Perfect, by Linda Urban (*** 1/2) – is a sweet, satisfying book about an 11-year-old girl who dreams of playing classical piano in Carnegie Hall, but instead ends up playing the electric organ that her quirky agoraphobic dad bought her. This is a quiet sweet book about coming of age in an eccentric family.   [Middle grade realistic fiction, for ages 9-12 years old]

Non-Fiction Books Finished:
Get Opinionated: A Progressive’s Guide to Finding Your Voice (and Taking a Little Action), by Amanda Marcotte (***) – Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon.net is one of my favorite bloggers. Since she’s blunt, funny, and raised in Texas, calling her a young Molly Ivins is a somewhat apt description, though she’s more into pop culture than Ivins.  Her book is a quick breezy guide of everything progressive from eating local foods to why giving to Planned Parenthood is such an excellent cause.  She even has advice on how to talk to your climate-change denying relatives.  

My favorite part is the beginning descriptions of each type of political person one finds on the Internet: Manic Pixie Dream Girl Liberal Chic, Less Fun Feminist Liberal Chicks, Liberal Dudes, Liberal Dudes Who Scold Feminists About "Important" Issues, Country Club Republicans, Rush Limbaugh Impotents, Your Mom The Swing Voter, etc.  She manages to both accurately sum up and amusingly mock the values of each and every one, including her own category. 

Our Inner Ape, by Frans De Waahl (****) – A fascinating book that explores the social patterns of our two closest relatives– the chimpanzees and the bonobos– and looks at what we can learn about humans from the studies of primates. One of the most interesting finds– for me– was how primate researchers are discovering that social patterns and habits are more environmentally constructed than instinctual. When the primate environment changes, many characteristics like aggression, sexual relations, and social structure change too.

TV:
Better Off Ted – This workplace satire never got the attention it deserved.  Netflix instant now has both 13-episode seasons.  So if you’re in the need for something fun, check it out. It took me about 3-4 episodes before I knew the characters well enough to enjoy the show.  After that, I laughed and laughed. [Watched on Netflix Instant]

Doctor Who (season 5) – I thoroughly enjoyed the new doctor and his companion Amy Pond.  The season had a good plot arc with a satisfying finale. [Watched on BBC America, also available on iTunes]

The Guild  (season 1,2,3) –  Felicia Day (Penny from Dr. Horrible) wrote this amusing story about a World-of-Warcraft-type guild who end up meeting each other in person.  Evidently Felicia Day played a lot of World-of-Warcraft between acting gigs and it shows. Her characters both pay homage to and playfully mock  a lot of the gaming stereotypes: the micromanaging guild leader, the guy who misinterprets banter with any female characters as flirting, the gamer trying to escape life, etc. It’s a fun series for anyone into gaming or anyone who lives with a gamer.  [The series started out as web-episodes and is now available on Netflix Instant.]