Saturday, November 30, 2013

Books read in November 2013

I managed to delete my November book post, goodness knows how.  Happily, I had already published all the reviews on Goodreads, and I keep a list in my diary of the books I read.  So it was just a matter of checking the diary to list the books, finding and copying the reviews from Goodreads et voila!  November book post, recreated.  As you can see, I was busy this month.  That Elizabeth Gilbert book alone was pretty thick.

Picture books
Elisha Cooper
Read for Librarian Book Group
Before the Librarian Book Group, I would have found this book very adequate. But now I'm pickier. In this book we travel across the country on different trains: commuter rail, passenger train, freight train, overnight train, and high-speed train.

My first problem was that there were recognizable details in the book (Chicago, for instance) and yet a refusal to name the towns. Also, I feel uncomfortable if I can't identify the time period and until we got to the high-speed train, it wasn't clear we were in the present. There are some solid descriptive words, but also descriptions that miss their mark. With the freight train, the train is described as "containers the color of tomatoes and eggs." Yet there are pictures of train cars that are not the colors of tomatoes and eggs. And it may just be a West Coast thing, but in my opinion the dominant color of the freight train is a very bright mustard yellow.

Also in the freight train section there are two pages about the freight train's speed. "The Freight Train rolls slower than slow." Is the train really going slowly, or is a larger point being made about the vast landscape? 
This is not at all clear. If the train is traveling slowly, than why? And what's the difference between a passenger train and an overnight train? Both have passengers and both take journeys that are overnight, as anyone who has traveled from New York to Chicago knows.

I laughed out loud when we got to the high-speed train. Because while I would love for the US landscape to be crisscrossed with high-speed trains, the closest we have is the Acela from Boston to DC. And it's not really high-speed so much as a bit faster than normal train speed.

Aaron Reynolds and Dan Santat
Hilarious story of a Lion, a Wolf and a Shark trying to reform their image.

J Books
E. Rusch
This is a gripping book, on the surface, at least. It's about the scientists who run the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP). They fly to volcanoes around the world and help local scientists make the calls to evacuate, as well as assist how the volcano will blow. Interesting program. Not-so-gripping text. I had to keep forcing myself to finish it.

The Year of Billy Miller
Kevin Henkes
I'm going to chalk up my indifference to a general dislike of j-books, rather than anything the author did or didn't do in writing this. I didn't like the huge jumps in time, though, they were very disjointed.

YA Books
Openly Straight
Bill Conigsberg
Read for Librarian Book Group
Wow. So we've made it though the era where just being gay is enough to drive the narrative and now we're in the era of parsing of the gay narrative. Very cool, especially in such a smartly-written book as this. What happens when a happily "out" kid wants to spend the last two years of high school just being a kid, not the gay kid? Not so much in the closet, says our main character Rafe, as in the doorway.

Really good stuff here. Funny in places and worth the read.

Side note:   A Separate Place is having its moment in the zeitgeist it seems, I've read two books in the last two months that mention it. Same with Boston accents. What's up with that?

Rapture Practice
Aaron Hartzler
Read for Librarian Book Group
I don't have children myself, but I imagine that one of the many things that parents feel a general sense of terror about is "what if my child doesn't share my values?" I mean, here they've given birth to them (or possibly adopted them) and raised them with all the values and supports of the life they have built for themselves and what if, despite all that nurturing and good examples and shared DNA, their child turns and heads down a different path, perhaps one they don't approve of? It's frightening.

So lies the central conundrum in Hartzler's memoir. It begins with an excellent first line: "Something you should know up front about my family: We believe that Jesus is coming back." And Aaron believes it too. The early chapters cover his younger life when he exalts in the same Christian beliefs that buoy his parents. Those are great chapters, showing the love of his family and the love of Jesus. And then Aaron grows older and problems arise. His mother discovers he's been listening to Rock & Roll music (actually adult contemporary, specifically Peter Cetera and Amy Grant singing "The Next Time I Fall") on the sly. Rock music is not something that is acceptable to Aaron's family and his parents force him to pray for forgiveness.

This is where the book diverges from an interesting introspection on growing up conservative Christian in America. Hartzler writes, "I don't want to disobey Mom and Dad, but the truth is, I don't think what I did was wrong. As much as they believe this music is rebellious, I don't. That's the funny thing about belief: No one else can do it for you."

Aaron's journey through high school is a rocky one, though it's mostly an internal journey as he does his best to present a facade of belief to his parents. But his facade is built upon confusion and questioning of the beliefs and practices of the parents who he loves deeply. For many of us, being a teenager was about figuring out who we are in a world that offers us so many promises and choices. Hartzler writes carefully and tenderly about his adolescence and his narrative is heartbreaking at times. I mean, the kid had to sneak around to go to a movie. Not an R-rated movie, ANY movie.

This is a great book, sweet and funny and sad all at once. I'm hoping for a second memoir about his college years, because I'm betting that would be fabulous too.

In the Shadow of Blackbirds
Cat Winters
Read for Librarian Book Group
I hate to lead off by judging a book by its cover but I hated this cover. The girl looks like a young Amy Adams, which is distracting, and in no part of the book was she wearing a white dress. In fact, the point was made several times that all her clothing was brown, black, or navy blue. So I think this might be one to recommend with the book held at one's side.

That said, this book has a lot of good stuff. Historical fiction (1918 influenza epidemic specifically), Ghosts (spiritualist movement), romance, mystery, and adventure. Oh, and anagrams. There are even historic photos, which I mostly found distracting, but which might be something of interest to other people. Overall, a good solid story. Although I found it hard to get started. The author dumps a bunch of things in your lap and you have to sort through them as best you can.

Out of the Easy
Ruta Sepetys
Read for Librarian Book Group
Everyone loves an underdog. And what better underdog than the smart 17-year-old daughter of a French Quarter Whore in the 1950s? Great setting, solid characters, good struggle. A fine, fine book with some tears at the end.

Picture Me Gone
Meg Resoff
Read for Librarian Book Group
I think this book might be lost among other books. It's a quiet story about Mila, a girl with a keen sense of observation and a knack for stringing facts together. When her father's best friend goes missing, she's curious and eager to help.

The above makes the book sound like she's a teenage gumshoe, but she's not. She's just a kid who pays attention and tries to make sense of the world. It's interesting to see what Mila observes, especially in contrast to her father, who is not terribly tuned in.

Rosoff is not interested in using punctuation, a stylistic quirk that annoys me. The page does look invitingly easy to read, but sometimes it's hard to tell what is dialogue and what is not. Mila is also a child who calls her parents by their first name, which is not expressly stated. That, combined with the lack of punctuation, makes for a bumpy beginning before settling in to what was a very good book.

Counting by 7's
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Read for Librarian Book Group
I work at an elementary school and over the years I've met hundreds of children. The vast majority of them lie in the great bell of the bell curve, but there have been a smattering of outliers over the years. They've been weird, because that's what it means to be hanging out on the edges of the curve, and for some of them I've taken a deep breath, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best for them in middle school. Because their weird makes them fabulous kids and will make them fabulous adults. But sometimes weird isn't the best thing to bring along for your adolescence.

So it is for the main character of our book. She's twelve and she's delightfully weird. I totally fell in love with her. She has no friends, but has such a stalwart attitude, and such high hopes for middle school, that I couldn't do anything but love her. Things happen and her plight is a bit worrisome, but she just keeps going.

This is a great YA book for adults. I'm not really sure the YAs themselves will like it. The writing struck me as an older YA, but I'm not sure the older YAs will want to read about a 12-year-old girl. Perhaps the audience is other highly advanced 12-year-old girls? But forget the YAs. You grownups will love this.

Also. In the acknowledgements, Sloan listed 7 teachers who made a difference in her life. I would like to add my list. Mr. Widermire (McKinley Elementary), Mr. Kaufman (West Jr. High), Mrs. Brown (West Jr. High), Ms. Clark (Borah High School), Mr. Sullivan (Borah High School), Mrs. McCurdy (Borah High School), Dr. Cottrell (Cottey College).

Graphic Novels
Gene Luen Yang
Read for Librarian Book Group
Man, history is a bummer. And this comes from a person who enjoys history so much she majored in it in college. I loved the way this book (and the companion Saints) brought the nuances of the Boxer Rebellion to life. It did a great job of having me wanting both sides to win and lose because the whole thing is so massively depressing. I'm really ready to sit down and sing Kumbaya with the world and just all get along.

Unless, of course, women are going to be marginalized and mistreated as they are throughout this book, Red Lantern Brigade notwithstanding. Subjugation of women makes me want to spit and perhaps foment a rebellion of my own. Ideally using words and not weapons.

"Adult" books
Antony and Cleopatra
So this is like Romeo and Juliet in that they end up dead, but not like Romeo and Juliet in that there isn't any good fighting, or secret plans that go awry or feuding families or even a fun, bawdy nurse. It took a very long time for me to read to the end. Luckily, the play as performed is a bit more entertaining. But overall it is a Romeo and Juliet as played by boring politicians.

You Can't Get There From Here
Gayle Forman
Forman and her husband set out for a year of travel to the fringes and we get to go along. In nine segments we meet all sort of interesting characters and people. A solid travel book with the bonus of glimpses into things that would later work their way into Forman's novels. Unlike Forman's novels, the book wasn't compulsively readable, but it was quite enjoyable.

The Signature of All Things
Elizabeth Gilbert
My Thanksgiving present to myself was the shunting aside of other reading obligations to dive into the very thick production of fiction by Ms. E. Gilbert. When an author has written something that I greatly enjoyed and then suffered a backlash for writing that very same something, I get protective of them. So I was nervous for this effort, because I worried that maybe Eat, Pray, Love was going to be it for Gilbert. (Although if she had only written The Last American Man, that would have been enough.) But no! This was great! I could tell from the first paragraph that this would be a feast of fiction and it was. Gilbert has the talent of co-opting the 19th century novel style while still being enjoyably readable for a 21st century audience. Her characters are wonderful, the lengthy book zips along and so deft is the mastery of her craft, I happily read multiple pages about a topic I care little about (ahem, moss.) Well done!

Plan your own Channing Tatum Personal Film Festival

I have completed viewing all the films credited to Channing Tatum on IMDB [that are not short films].  Or, as I refer to it, 

The Channing Tatum Personal Film Festival.  

Or, given the quality of some of the films, 

I watched them so you don’t have to.  

For your convenience, I have categorized the films for those of you who want to plan your own Channing Tatum Film Festival.

Movies where CT has a major part:
  • 21 Jump Street
  • 22 Jump Street
  • Dear John
  • Fighting
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
  • Magic Mike
  • She’s the Man
  • Step Up
  • Stop-Loss
  • The Eagle
  • The Son of No One
  • The Vow
  • White House Down

Movies where CT is not the main focus. 
Or: Only watch these films if you are interested in the movie. 
His role may range from a cameo to a bit part that doesn’t have much screen time. 
  • 10 Years—This is an ensemble and he’s in it as much as the other actors.
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints—Plays the angry friend of the main character.  He doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but is rather feral, which is rare.
  • Battle in Seattle—Ensemble cast.  He has a lesser amount of screen time than others in the ensemble.
  • Coach Carter—one of the many basketball players.  But figures greatly in the turning point.
  • Don Jon—Plays an actor in a cheesy romantic comedy.  Total screen time: approximately 30 seconds
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation—Very short-lived character.
  • Havoc—Dude in the background who has maybe three lines.
  • Haywire—Secondary character, but his first appearance was perhaps my favorite scene in the entire movie.
  • Public Enemies—Pretty Boy Floyd is not long for the world.  Maybe 30 seconds.
  • Side Effects—Isn’t around as much as one would think from the poster.
  • Step Up 2: The Streets—He doesn’t make a huge appearance, but he does dance.
  • Supercross—Plays a minor character with perhaps 5-10 minutes of screen time.
  • The Dilemma—Secondary character in a tremendously unfunny film.  However, he’s at his funniest here, but sadly, the rest of the movie is a hideous ball of crap.
  • This is the End—Tiny cameo, but funny

Perhaps you would like to tackle the list by genre?

CT Movies divided by category:
(Major roles in bold font)

  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
  • Haywire
  • Supercross
  • The Eagle
  • White House Down


  • 21 Jump Street
  • 22 Jump Street
  • She’s the Man
  • The Dilemma
  • This is the End


  • 10 Years
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
  • Battle in Seattle
  • Coach Carter
  • Fighting
  • Havoc
  • Magic Mike
  • Public Enemies
  • Side Effects
  • Stop-Loss
  • The Son of No One


  • Don Jon


  • Dear John
  • Step Up
  • Step Up 2: The Streets
  • The Vow

Movies I most enjoyed.  

Or: Maybe you just want me to tell you which ones I liked.
Major roles in bold font
  • 10 Years—Great ensemble cast examining where they are 10 years after high school.
  • 21 Jump Street—Generally very funny, especially if you watched the original TV series.
  • 22 Jump Street--If you liked the first one, you will like this one.
  • A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints—Uneven 80s NYC friendship drama that stuck with me.
  • Battle in Seattle—Interesting period piece.
  • Coach Carter—I’m a sucker for a good sports film.
  • Dear John—I was prepared to hate it, got sucked in and loved it.
  • Don Jon—Uncomfortable, but interesting.
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra—I was ready to grit my teeth through the whole thing, but it was a fun movie.
  • Haywire—Holy crap there are some good fight scenes in this.
  • Magic MikeThe movie that got me started.  Also, it’s much darker and deeper film than the previews would have you believe. Go Soderbergh!
  • She’s the Man—Funny adaption of Twelfth Night.
  • Side Effects—The less you know about this, the more you will enjoy it.
  • Step Up—I’m a sucker for a good dance movie and CT can move.
  • Stop-Loss—Solid returning soldier drama.
  • The Eagle—Made me wonder why there aren’t more movies set in Roman times.  Plus!  Jaime Bell.
  • The Vow—Surprisingly well done and a great story.
  • This is the End—Hilarious.  But you have to be ready for boy humor.
  • White House Down—This had horrible reviews, but I thought it was great fun.

For Die Hard Complete-ists.  

Or:  Movies I don’t recommend you watch.
  • Fighting—Not very interesting, but with fighting.
  • G.I. Joe: Retaliation—Maybe I was just mad I had nothing to look at but Adrianne Palicki, but this movie was not very entertaining.
  • Havoc—This movie disturbed me.
  • Public Enemies—So boring, despite its population of actors I usually love.
  • Supercross—Also not very interesting, but with no fighting.
  • The Dilemma—One of the worst movies I’ve seen in the last decade. 
  • The Son of No One—Kind of a mess, structurally.

And last but not least, links to all my reviews.

This is also the list in order of release date.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Three sentence movie reviews: Supercross: The Movie.

It wasn't horrible.  It wasn't good either, being incredibly predictable and not very ably acted.  Nor were the dirt bike scenes very interesting, but overall it wasn't an offensive movie, just the kind of movie that shows up on cable and you leave it on because you are mildly depressed and can't think of anything better to do.

Cost:  free due to boyfriend going out of town and letting girlfriend poach off his Netflix queue.
Where watched:  At home, while painting my toenails a fabulous shade of dark blue with turquoise glitter.  My time wasn't invested in vain because they look great!

Channing Tatum screen time:  probably about 10 minutes total.  He plays the son of a man who owns a company that makes dirt bikes. I'm guessing if the dirt bike people read this review they would leave very angry comments about my use of the word dirt bikes.

Laurel dress. Cutting of fabric.

I love that I can sqeeze both front and back on one fold of this material.
I also love my new Bluetooth speaker I bought at Fred Meyer.  Much easier to listen to podcasts while I work.
And I have this much left.  What to do, what to do?  Don't worry, I already have a plan.
Waiting to be sewn.

More good finds.

Aside from the Caboodle, I also brought home a few framed pictures.

This is the Residence Assisstant (RA) group from the year at Cottey I was an RA.  I'm thinking the frame was purchased at the store full of good gifts that opened during my tenure there.  Before that, we had to buy all our gifts at Walmart.  And Walmart wouldn't have such a nice frame as this.
Let's see if I can do all the names.
Top row:  Karen (Robertson Hall Adult), I can't remember the next lady's name, (maybe it was Doris?) but she was very cool (PEO Hall Adult) Eden (PEO Hall) Helen Lodge (Director of Housing and we always referred to her by both names)
Second Row:  Eva (Robertson Hall) Teresa (Robertson Hall) Susan (Robertson Hall) Corey (PEO Hall) Kitty (Reeves Hall)
Third Row: Betsey (Reeves Hall) Jen (Reeves Hall Adult) Meghan (Reeves Hall)
Bottom Row:  Jenye (Reeves Hall) Me (Robertson Hall), Jen Comeau (Robertson Hall)
Not too shabby.
Here's a great picture of my brother and myself.  He's 16 and I'm 18.
Our parents let us go to Worlds of Fun, an amusement park outside of Kansas City, by ourselves.  We even got to drive there and back unaccompanied.  I wanted to get our picture taken because we had a family one done, probably at Worlds of Fun four years before, and I felt that too many people had smiled in that photo, making it not authentic.  So we did not smile. 

I also found an early Sue Tirrell.
Who knew full well I wasn't going to be drinking coffee from this.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Three sentence movie reviews: Hunger Games Catching Fire

The brother was interested, and so we went.  The second viewing was just as enjoyable as the first, despite the outrageous ticket price* and because the two women sitting to my left had clearly not read the book and so were audibly shocked, amazed and awed at each plot turn.** And man, Jennifer Lawrence is a pro.

Cost:  $16.00
Where watched:  Cinetopia Progress Ridge with Chris.

poster from:
(I love the not-so-subtle homage to Soviet-era posters)

*The reason Cinetopia is the one local theater chain I don't support or frequent.  Seriously, their motto could be "Cinetopia:  Where the suburban middle class pays entirely too much for a movie, then purchases overpriced food and drink on top of that."
**Their gasps and sighs were a good reminder why it's fun to watch movies in a crowd.

An Amazing Find!

I went looking for some missing letters and journals and was not successful in finding them.  But I did find something else very exciting!

My Caboodle!  Which, as you know, (assuming you are a middle-class white female born in the early 70s and susceptible to advertising) is a handy (and cute) place to keep all your makeup.
Note the matches from the Village Inn (from when every restaurant had matches and there were smoking sections, in fact, it was a big deal that there were NON-smoking sections) which were used to melt the eyeliner so it would be easier to apply.
Here are the teardrops I would sometimes affix to my face in high school
Here are some false eyelashes, an awesome turquoise pick (partially obscured by an excellent primer on eye makeup) as well as more things I stuck on my face and a very cool Avon brush that I had wondered, now and again, what ever happened to it.
Plus, two kinds of Avon eye shadow I borrowed from my mother around 1987 and never returned.

"Now you can go fishin' for man!" Sara commented when I texted her the photos.  Instead I packed it all back up and hid it away for another happy surprise in a few decades.  But maybe I will go back for that brush.

Turkey Trot

Kelly and I signed up for the Turkey Trot back when I didn't have to wear a coat when leaving the house.  Now I'm wearing a layer of long johns, pants, shirt and a jacket.  It must be Thanksgiving.
Some Pilgrims showed up to run.
This turkey looks like it's already been slaughtered.
There were a lot of fun hats.
And headbands.
Pre-race photo.
There was an entire group of Thanksgiving dinner items. I first spotted "Sweet Potato" a kid wearing (what else?) an orange shirt.  The later saw Stuffing and Turkey.
The Turkey Trot ends in the Zoo and we stopped to look at the Leopards on our way out.  This one is investigating his Thanksgiving surprise.
I didn't realize my camera was on the Fish-Eye setting.
Looks like my cat.  But much, much bigger.
Kelly's wingspan is not as great as a California Condor.
But she's giving the Bald Eagle a run for its money.

Special Edition

When the Oregonian was preparing all of us paper subscribers for the crappy conversion, they had a question-and-answer section about the Brave New World.  My favorite question was something like, "I always enjoy the Thanksgiving Sale Edition.  If you aren't going to publish on Thursday, how will I know about the sales?"  The answer was something to the effect of, "Not to worry!  We'll publish a SPECIAL Thanksgiving Edition with all of the ads!"

And so it has come to pass.
And so it is chock full of ads.  On the left:  the paper.  On the right:  the ads.

And that isn't really even correct, because if you crack open that front page you will find it is 90% full-page ads.  The pile on the right:  straight to the recycle bin.  The pile on the left:  I read it.  But I skipped all the ads.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Three sentence movie reviews: Philomina

Judy Dench is one of the incredibly rare actors that seemingly everything she does is worth watching and this was no exception.  I was interested in Steve Coogan, an actor I had only seen in comedies*, taking a quite good dramatic turn.  Many small details in this film delight, especially for anyone of a certain age who has a mother of a greater age, and I was surprised to be shocked and moved as much as I was.**

Cost:  Free due to Regal Crown Club kicking me out a free movie.
Where watched:  Some huge Regal Theater in East Vancouver with Kelly and Margaret.***

*For me, most memorably as the short-lived director in the hilariously funny Tropic Thunder
**This was a solid film.  Recommended.
***"This is my first film in a theater since December." said Margaret, who had recently returned from the Ukraine.  "This is my first film in a theater since yesterday." said I, who needs to reign in her consumption of first-run movies, STAT!

Signs of the Hunger Games in Cosmetics.

Would Katniss be shooting naked?  Maybe if it was a really hot day.  But perhaps not.

I think the ad people haven't really grasped that it's not so cool to be from Panem.

Because when there is revolution afoot, don't forget to apply makeup for best results!

Interestingly enough, the only time Katniss Everdeen is seen in makeup someone else puts it on her.  She takes it off as soon as she can.

Cooking Tales

Here are five pounds of home-grown potatoes, ready to be made into mashed potatoes for the holiday.

How is it that the vegan ended up seemingly the only full-time employee of the FoodDay staff?

I am bringing ingredients for cheese bread over to Kelly's tonight.  I decided to specially make Sandwich Bread.  Two hours into the rise I realized the bread wasn't rising because I forgot to put in the yeast.  Blast!  I ended up buying some sourdough.