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We didn’t die… April 24, 2012

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However certain aspects of live have taken over for a while.  We’ll be relaunching here soon!  Stay tuned!

Book review: The legend of sleepy hollow July 20, 2011

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The World in 3D July 4, 2011

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Dear Media producers…

Please stop trying to 3D my life. I do not need 3D movies, phones or hand held gaming devices. They give me a migraine.

While you’re at it leave my mass market paperbacks alone. I like them pocket sized, dangit!

So there.

Happy Independence Day folks.

Jana

Movie Review: X-Men First Class June 7, 2011

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Last night the hubby and I went with a big group of friends to see X-Men First Class.  I’ve been excited about this movie for a while, though I admit it was excited mixed with trepidation.  After X-Men III I was in a horrid mood and rather loudly reviewed the movie with a big “I hate you” both in the theater and in writing later.  The characters, the storyline, the plot hole you could drive a mac truck through were all just about enough to make me swear off X-Men movies forever.

Then earlier this year I started doing some freelance article writing for the Deseret News and one of my assignments was to give a beginners guide to the X-Men for viewers who were new to the X-Men universe, but wanted to see the movie.  It was a fun article to write and required quite a bit of research into the new movie and reviewing things I’d known, or hadn’t, about the comics.  By the time I was finished with the article I was cautiously excited about the movie.  This version looked like someone had taken time to really explore the characters and to create a storyline that was consistent to itself and true enough to the comic book world that it would be fun.

Well…all of this was entirely right.  The movie was charming and satisfying to the array of people who came with us, from hard core comic book fans to those who has very little comic book background or interest.  I very much enjoyed the characterizations and the exploration of characters that we didn’t have much specific information about before.  Such as seeing Charles Xavier doing his thing as a Ladies Man.  Hysterical.  Also they did a good job at tying this into the existing movie continuity by using things like the recurring chess board motif and building powerful relationships which make the betrayals in future movies all the better.  I love the exploration of personal character motivations and how each personal story ties into the greater plot.

If I think about the film too hard there are things I can think of which didn’t totally work, but most of those are minor and in the end…  Best X-Men movie so far!

Jana

Book Review: Fairest – Gail Carson Lavine April 1, 2011

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Whew…another month almost over.  I don’t know how it happens so fast…no one asked my permission.  Though here in Utah the winter is stubbornly holding on and it’s still freezing and cloudy.  Spring in Utah is a fight between Winter and Summer which Summer will eventually win, usually in about a 48 hour turn around from cold to scorching.

Anyway…bookwise I’ve been listening to many books on CD or MP3 lately as the job requires a bit of a commute.  This last week I listened to Fairest by Gail Carson Lavine.  I was in the mood for something light with a happily ever after kind of thing after reading a lot of darker bits.  I kinda wonder if that’s partially because I’m so ready for spring and happily ever afters tie into good weather in my brain.

Fairest is a retelling of Snow White and takes place in the same world as Lavine’s Ella Enchanted retelling of Cinderella.  The maid Aza is abandoned as a baby and raised by an innkeeper and his family.  Unlike the usual spin on step families the family truly loves her and she truly loves them.  (As a step mom meself it appealed immensely to me to see a happy step relationship.)  Physically Aza is an ugly kid, both in her own eyes and the eyes of other, and that theme of chasing beauty and what it means to be beautiful on the inside and the outside is really what the book is about.

The language is not overly difficult save for some of the names, the fantasy spellings are occasionally horrid, but easily readable by around 10 and up.  In a month where I just needed a little ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ this was a fun feel good listen.  The one problem I had with the audio book is that they sing all of the singing parts, which are abundant.  Initially it was kinda cute, like listening to a Bollywood film, but some of the songs are LOONG and I didn’t like the melodies they’d chosen enough to listen.  I became grateful for the fast forward button at a few points.  Despite some of that annoyance, I do really like the full cast audio for this type of book.

A great book for a lazy sunny afternoon or while on vacation.

 

Genre:  Young adult fantasy/retold fairytale

Age: pre-teens and up

Content:  Very minor violence, one character gets turned to stone but recovers, a plot for poisoning

Overall:  4/5

Book Review: Song of the Lioness series March 30, 2011

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I am a big fan of Tamora Pierce books. When I was a teenager I read the Wild Magic series and absolutely fell in love with the heroine, Daine, and of course her lanky, intelligent, handsome and powerful teacher Numair. 15 years later,  I still re-read the Wild Magic books when I’m sick, or down, or particularly when I’m having Man Troubles. Numair would probably be my “Fantasy Man” I’ve managed to hold onto for years as a nice little romantic ideal.

That said, I hadn’t read Tamora Pierce’s first series in its entirety and my roommate brought me the books as a gift. She had found the entire set at a used book sale.

It’s a great series, although you can definitely see the “new writer” aspects in the writing. Some of the sentences are a little bulky and the heroine is “Just Better Than Everyone” and “Has Cooler Magic Stuff”, the common fantasy tropes. Now, I do like that she does have to work and practice to earn her accolades and even hone her skills, which makes her a great role model for children. The other characters are well presented, although the supporting characters are a little static apart from Thom and Jonathan, which is another sign of developing skill in a writer. You can see a clear progression from the first to the last book in characterization.

I also particularly like how much more daring Tamora Pierce was in the themes she presents in the Alanna series verses the Wild Magic series. Female sexuality is explored with frankness, but tastefulness and a lack of preaching. The title character goes through a very natural coming of age in understanding her womanhood and her sexuality, which you don’t often see in books geared at young adults. There’s nothing at all explicit, but it’s handled in the same frank way as “Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret”. For that, alone, I think the book is a great one for young girls to read and discuss with their parents, because all of Alanna’s fears are those I can remember having at her age as well.

Genre:  Young adult fantasy

Age: pre-teens and up

Content:  Violence, sexuality (but a very ‘frank’ mother to daughter sort of manner, if you want a specific explanation feel free to e-mail me and I’ll detail it out)

Overall:  4/5

I’d give it a 5/5 save for the stylistic complaints.

Scary fiction… March 8, 2011

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I was reminded not too long ago about a set of books I adored as a child. These were the Alvin Schwartz “Scary Stories to tell in the Dark” series. I hadn’t thought about them for years, but I remember reading them under the covers in my bed, and always finding the pictures so terrifying even turning the page became as scary as reading the next lines. I used to use the ‘jump stories’ to terrify neighborhood kids, and they were some of my first “performance art” as I used any chance I got to read them in my spookiest and most ominous voices.

I still love a good ghost story, particularly if I can find a well told tale out doing pub crawls or at storytelling festivals. It’s sad, really, how ‘horror’ has become synonomous with gore. For me, that touch of the unknown, the supernatural lurking in the darkness was always more compellingly scary than the promise of slasher pain.

However I posed the question to a friend of mine: are there any good creepy stories these days. I mean UF combines action, fantasy and horror, but what about those good old fashioned ghost stories and supernatural dealings that made Poe such a staple of American Fiction? I’d love some suggestions.

I know I have a goal, now, to try to write a few of my own “Classic American Ghost Tales”, and will hopefully feature a few here.

Book review: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher February 23, 2011

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Genre: Urban Fantasy

Age: 16+

Content: Violence, sexual content, language

Overall: 5/5  stars

I eagerly awaited this installment of the Dresden Files, wanting to find out exactly what the aftermath of the cliffhanger ending of “Changes” was. The book didn’t disappoint. This isn’t a full Dresden novel, but rather a compilation of the various Dresden files short stories Jim has published, and the “Aftermath” novelette. I was delighted with the glimpses into the supporting characters the stories gave, as I found most of these tales filled in gaps, or fleshed out these supporting cast members. The stories are full of humor and Dresden wild adventure, and delightfully we get to hear stories from Thomas and Murphy’s points of view as well. What was done so masterfully in these tales was the changing of perspective with the different narrators. You can hear the difference between the “Harry” stories, the “Thomas” story and the “Murphy” story.  And somehow each of the tales is still compelling and captivating. In my opinion the most “you can’t miss it” story of the collection is the short called “The Warrior” which is a delightful look into what happened to Michael after his injury, but not only that, it’s moral is the best of the set. In a world full of danger and destruction as is the Dresdenverse, “The Warrior” reminds Harry of the value of small acts of kindness and the role of God in a chaotic world. Any fan of the Dresden files must read this book! It would be appropriate for newcomers to the series as well, although I don’t think they’ll get the full richness of the tales and I would suggest any Dresden NEWB re-read these tales after going through the regular series novels.

Reactions to adversity… January 19, 2011

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In the wisdom devotional I am still trying to read diligently, January 13th’s lesson intrigued me from a writing perspective. It has implications for both authors and characters. (and really we’re all rather tied up in our characters, aren’t we?)

The chapter opened with a Hopi quote about not fighting the rushing river of the end times, but letting go of the shore, keeping our eyes open and heads above water and seeing where it takes us. The author, Reynold Feldman, related that to the rush of every day life and how adversity seems to crop up more when we least have the time for it. Something as little as the computer freezing just when you’re about to save that last paragraph.

How do we deal with it? I know I, for one, tend to growl, snarl and pace and talk it through, or… I do tend to just shrug and laugh more these days. Good old Murphy’s law in place. However… our pet oaths, our approach to problems, even whether we exaggerate them, or underrate them, tell everyone or keep them to ourselves is a defining part of our personalities.

It’s also a defining part of character creation, one of those little details that gives them depth. When we see a character without any real resonance, we sense something is missing, and I feel these little idiosyncrasies are one of them. Imagine Sherlock Holmes… without his humanizing, and ultimately tragic, addictions, pipes and violin? He’d be just a caricature of a detective. More machine or plot device, than man.

I also think that’s what tends to break characters too. Anita Blake, for instance, falls so far into lust and vice she loses her touch of humanity and becomes a caricature of her former portrayal. The U.F. heroine who mouths off in situations where any sane person would shut up is another example of a quirk or a vice taken to an extreme,  that breaks the fourth wall and jars us out of the tale with that spike of disbelief or mental eye rolling.

Books on tape… I mean MP3 January 18, 2011

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Jana and I have spoken about books on tape before and I’ve found it’s a great way to utilize my commute time to better effectiveness.

It’s vital that any good writer continue to read, and particular, to continue to read in their genre. I’ve been working on reading a lot more in both Spanish and English for pleasure rather than just with the critical eye of a literature scholar. However, I’ve been hard pressed to find the time to sit down for any extended period and read, at least not when I have a stack of dissertation work to do, on top of work and home duties.

Audible.com and the book-on-tape selection at the library has been a wonderful way to fill up my commute time with well read and performed literature. I happen to love, still, to be told a story and enjoy going to storytelling events. I find that listening to the books I can appreciate the writing craft just as well as actually reading it myself, and there’s something unique to hearing the flow of language spoken. We do, after all, suggest that writers should read their work aloud in order to make sure it flows on the page, it stands to reason we can gain similar benefits to hearing other’s words read aloud.

How does audible work?

You pay a small monthly fee, and gain ‘points’ every month you can use to purchase an MP3 download of a book. You can gain access to many current best sellers as well, I actually listened to Side Jobs rather than read it because I got it as a freebie! You can purchase additional books at a significant discount as well.

The site is run through amazon.com and it’s worth a look. I know several of my fellow PHD students use it for their commutes and for entertainment while traveling.

It’s particularly ideal for me because I can’t read in a car without being miserably ill, and sometimes even reading on a plane is troublesome but this makes it all the easier.

audible.com

Check back here, I’ll review some of the books on tape I’m listening to on our regular Wednesday reviews, and I’ll be sure to review the delivery as well as the regular plot and character reviews.