Books read in January 2016

This was an off month for me because I *started* a lot of books and either didn’t read them fast enough and had to return them (so they will show up on the list later on) or they were huge disappointments so I didn’t technically *finish* them. And then there was another book that I enjoyed but it’s not really a “sit and read” kind of book so it might get returned and picked up later.

Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! (Star Wars: Episode VI)Return of the Jedi: Beware the Power of the Dark Side! by Tom Angleberger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The bar has been set VERY high for all future Star Wars novelizations. This isn’t just a straight retelling of what you saw on the screen, this is clearly a labor of love. Angleberger is a fan and it shows. This reminded me of the radio dramas, with lots of extra bits of story and ideas that you can only include because of the format. The inclusion of the storyboard sketches and McQuarrie artwork makes this a must have for Star Wars fans of all ages. It is a book a child could read on their own, but it would be even more fun to snuggle up and read together with a friend, a sibling, or parent.

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Cock-a-Doodle-Doo-Bop!Cock-a-Doodle-Doo-Bop! by Michael Ian Black
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This would be a really fun book for a storytime if you feel comfortable scatting in front of a group and could get all the instruments or sound effects to play. It would actually make a fun little play. It wasn’t as good as some of Black’s other picture books, but definitely cute. I could see this being a hit as a family read aloud.

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Bream Gives Me HiccupsBream Gives Me Hiccups by Jesse Eisenberg
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Stopped on page 125, just not feeling it. I really enjoyed listening to Jesse Eisenberg on NPR a few months ago reading selections from the book, but sitting down to read it, even knowing how Eisenberg sounds, I just wasn’t thrilled or amused enough to keep reading. I might like listening to it if Eisenberg reads it, but I’ve got too many other books right now to keep trying to get through this one.

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The Complete Chi's Sweet Home, Part 1The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1 by Kanata Konami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So cute !! We had watched some of the anime so it was fun to read the whole story. Chi is definitely every kitten ever. Must read for anyone with a cat!

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The NestThe Nest by Kenneth Oppel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well, if it says anything about this book – I had to stop reading last night because it was getting late and I was starting to fall asleep but as soon as I woke up this morning, I felt compelled to finish it.

I don’t want to give too much away, other reviews have said it better. This is a children’s story, but in the classic vein of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the “be careful what you wish for” dark fable that stays with you. Give it to a kid who likes those kinds of darker stories…

If you liked the movie Labyrinth or the book A Monster Calls or The Rest of Us Just Live Here, I think you will enjoy this book as it tackles similar themes.

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The 5th Wave (The 5th Wave, #1)The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

I was really enjoying this book until the stupid “going to be a love triangle later” moment. It’s the end of the world, she is fighting to survive in a Earth that has been taken over by aliens, ALIENS THAT HAVE KIDNAPPED HER BROTHER…but oh this boy has puppy dog eyes and I want to make out with him and now I’m so embarrassed that he might have seen my body when he was patching up my gunshot wounds. BLAH! I kinda rage!quit this one. Might come back after the request list goes away so I can try to finish it because it was really good until then.

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Fox Tossing, Firework Boxing, and Other Curious Pastimes from the Far Corners of HistoryFox Tossing, Firework Boxing, and Other Curious Pastimes from the Far Corners of History by Edward Brooke-Hitching

Fun book to pick up and flip through, though I want to read some other books now and let this one sit for a bit. You can only read so much about how awful humans were to animals before you need a break (while bear baiting bothered me a lot, the “baby boxing” at the Naval Academy amused me to no end…I’m a bad person)

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Books read in December

As I doubt I will finish reading anything tonight, I think it’s safe to post this. :)

Ink and Bone (The Great Library, #1)Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really cool spin on the YA dystopian fantasy genre. It has a few of the cliches (though thank goodness what could have been a love triangle was a red herring!) It ends on an epic cliffhanger too, so be warned!

I listened to the audiobook and Julian Elfer did a fantastic job with all of the voices and accents. Impressive.

Hope the rest of the series can live up to this one.

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Black Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven ThreadBlack Widow, Vol. 1: The Finely Woven Thread by Nathan Edmondson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great collection of ‘Black Widow’ stories. I only really know Natasha from the movies and her cameos in other Avengers comics so it was great to read her adventures on her own.

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The Rest of Us Just Live HereThe Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is so much to say about this wonderful book. When I read the premise, I was expecting something very goofy. The basic story is that these are the people, the teens, who are going about their lives while our Heroes run around fighting the monsters. So, instead of reading Buffy’s story, we’re reading about the rest of the students at Sunnydale High, the ones who wander the halls in the background of shots while the Scooby Gang discusses the Big Bad they are fighting.

Ness could have just written a screwball comedy, but instead he takes patience and care in crafting a story about real teens who are dealing with real issues, like fears about going off to college, crushes on friends, alcoholism, anorexia and anxiety that leads to OCD behavior.

And Ness does it right, because the story is still a joy to read, even with all of these serious topics. I really missed all the characters by the time I closed the book. I was sad I wouldn’t see them again but very satisfied with the ending.

One of the best YA books I’ve read this year.

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I Really Like Slop! (Elephant & Piggie #24)I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another fantastic edition, letting kids know they should TRY things and it is okay not to like the same things as your friends, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try. Valuable lesson.

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The Story of Diva and FleaThe Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Adorable story about a small dog and a large cat that become friends. I love the bits of French tossed in, that bit of Paris flavor. This is the kind of book that you give a child who is just starting chapter books with the hopes that when they are older, they will want to go explore Paris with you!

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Star Wars is about standing in line: The Force Awakens at The Senator Theatre

The internet is full of reviews for Star Wars: The Force Awakens right now, so I don’t feel the need to type up anything in-depth about that.  Instead, I wanted to talk about the experience, quite possibly the last time I am this excited about a movie ever again.

There is a movie theater in Baltimore, Maryland called The Senator Theatre.  It has been there since 1939.  I was not.  I was born in 1981, not in a galaxy far far away, but also not in Maryland. I didn’t see Star Wars in theaters (technically I saw Return of the Jedi but I wasn’t really old enough to appreciate it).  For me, the Star Wars Trilogy, my favorite movies of all time, had only existed on BETA cassettes, watched on my parents TV while playing with my action figures. I have no memory of the first time I saw Star Wars, the revelations about Luke and Vader and Leia were always known to me.

In 1997, Lucasfilm released the “Star Wars Special Edition” and I finally had a chance to see it on the big screen!  I’m really not sure why my parents chose The Senator – maybe it was the only movie theater in town showing Star Wars (the mind boggles) or maybe it was because they had a THX Certified Sound System.  Doesn’t really matter, because all I know was this experience was the start of a tradition.

In 1997, there was no online ticket ordering or advanced ticket sales. To see Star Wars at The Senator, we had to arrive early and stand in line. This was my first time experiencing this. I was a 16 year-old girl, a Star Wars fan (I had written the entire cast list on my history notebook because apparently knowing who played Admiral Piett was slightly more interesting than knowing about U.S. history…whoops) and I had always felt like I was the only one who really loved these movies.  Then I got to stand in line.

Star Wars fans and geeks in general love lines. There is a reason. When you find yourself standing in a line for a movie/book/video game or convention appearance, you know you have something in common with everyone there. Casual fans don’t stand in line, casual fans will get tickets later when the rest of us finally go home. I’m not trying to pull rank here, I’m just saying that you know you are on the same level as those around you. I remember my Mom striking up a conversation with the people in front of us in line, talking briefly about Star Wars and our family.  Nothing in depth, we didn’t become life long friends, but for that brief moment, we connected with random people. Then the ticket office opened, we paid our way and went in to find our seats and I got to experience Star Wars on the big screen. The crowd applauded when “Lucasfilm” came on the screen and then cheered when “STAR WARS” began to fly through space. I can remember hearing the Tie Fighters flying around my head, but not much else about that viewing experience.

But that bond that we formed, however brief, stayed with me long after the movie. When “The Phantom Menace” was announced, I knew I had to see it at The Senator. After much debate, Lucasfilm announced that they would allow advanced tickets sales for Episode I. On May 11, 1999, my parents let me skip school and I convinced a few of my friends to come with me to camp out for tickets.  My mom dropped us off outside the theater. We arrived “late” by Star Wars fan standards (we were 18! What did we know!) and the line had already wrapped around the corner of the theater and was down the street.  We ended up on some dentist’s front lawn.  I brought my Star Wars Trivial Pursuit game and we all waited.  We had blankets and snacks and we slept outside on the grass, in lawn chairs, or kept ourselves awake sitting on the sidewalk. I remember the local restaurants handing us their menus then coming back for orders. I remember the news showing up and filming us playing trivial pursuit. I remember a guy showing us his brand new tattoo, featuring Darth Maul. I remember watching the guy from the box office come out and count heads, passing us and then going down the line a bit more, only to tell everyone behind us that they wouldn’t be able to get tickets to the midnight showing because they were too far back in line.

We're on the TVs! It was an amazing experience. I think remember more about that night in line than I do about seeing the movie for the first time. My friends thought I was crazy but they also loved the experience because there is no other movie that you would do this for. NONE. Tickets on sale now!

When the movie night came, the crowd burst into cheers of delight as the yellow text scrolled up the screen, laughed when Obi-Wan mumbled that he “had a bad feeling about this” and you could hear the intake of break as Qui-Gon introduced his Padawan to Anakin Skywalker – it was a thrill like nothing else. A new Star Wars movie!  We had waited so long…and that is about all I remember about the TPM premiere.

Ticket Stub When “Revenge of the Sith” ticket sales were announced, thinking this would be the last Star Wars movie, I knew I had to get tickets. (I didn’t camp out for “Attack of the Clones” because Lucasfilm, in their wisdom, had the tickets go on sale while Celebration II was going on! My friend Paul stood in line for me, said that some guy took shots at them from his car, so he might not be as nostalgic about line standing as I am). The Senator still did not have online ticket sales in 2005 so I knew I had to camp out again. By this point, I had found a Star Wars club (DCSWCC) and had made friends with more awesome geeky people who were just as excited about the movie as me. Or maybe we were just excited about standing in line again? Revenge of the Sith @ The Senator Theatre

It was a miserable, cloudy day out but we came bundled up and sat on the cold sidewalk.  Then the most amazing thing happened – the theater owner, Thomas Kiefaber, took pity on us and let us all inside the theater! He had his Star Wars memorabilia out for us to look at and brought us all some snacks.  We all sat around in the theater lobby, talking about life, the universe, and everything.

Revenge of the Sith @ The Senator Theatre Revenge of the Sith @ The Senator Theatre

Revenge of the Sith @ The Senator Theatre When the morning came, we all miraculously went outside and got back in line again (after eating bagels that Mr. Kiefaber brought for us from the local shop!) and bought our tickets for the midnight show. Revenge of the Sith @ The Senator Theatre

I don’t remember much about that actual premiere night. After the other two films, I think we all knew that this wasn’t going to end well but we knew that seeing it with 800 other fans would be better than seeing it in a mall multiplex.

Jump ahead 10 years later.  I was unsure about this new Star Wars movie. After the magic of seeing the prequels at The Senator wore off, I tired of them pretty quickly. I loved my original trilogy but was worried about what direction this new movie would take. I tried to stay cynical and distant. And then I watched the official trailer…and I was that 16 year old girl again, writing actor names on my notebook.

I ran upstairs and immediately went online to The Senator’s website and I snatched up two tickets for the 10:30 pm showing (apparently midnight showings have gone out of style?).  So no need to camp out in line, it was all about bandwidth. Still, I anticipated that I would need to get to the theater early to get the good seats.

I requested to leave work early on Thursday, December 17. My husband of three months agreed to come along with me. We ate dinner and got to the theater a little after 7pm. There was almost no line out front.  I think we were among the first ten (I was maybe a little anxious since one of my friends who attended the 7pm showing had arrived around 2pm).

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Of course, this is 2015 so we all had our smartphones. The group behind us was watching Robot Chicken Star Wars clips on YouTube. Would I get to enjoy the feeling of belonging one more time while waiting in line? I wasn’t so sure, then I started listening to the couple in front of us in line.  They were saying random names of actors and musicians. I couldn’t figure out the connection. Finally, I found a way in to their conversation when Jim Henson came up (I was in the middle of his biography so I was bursting with random facts) and discovered they were playing The Name Game. They invited me to join and a little after that, the person in front of them in line also started to play. Eventually we had a fun little group, including my friend who had seen the prequels with me back in the day.

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Around 9:15, the previous showing started to exit the theater and there was my brother and his girlfriend.  They came up to me and gave me their spoiler-free reactions and we talked for a bit.  After he left, my friend Steve and his wife appeared and gave me hugs and their quick reactions. Imagine trying to do that in a giant, 24 theater multiplex?  Yes, this was WHY I went to The Senator (and my brother too).

And then it was our turn to head inside.

I had fun with my single-serving friends and once inside the theater I never saw them again. We found our seats and listened to a local music teacher play Star Wars melodies on his keyboard while we got our popcorn.

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The new owners of the theater said a few words and then a single trailer ran (ONE trailer – I can’t imagine how many the people in regular theaters had to sit through).
And then silence. A black screen. The green letters begin to sparkle on the screen and there’s a smattering of applause. And then STAR WARS and cheers. And the magic was back. And we laughed together. We cheered together. We gasped together. It ended and we applauded.

I left the theater, giddy from the movie I watched but sad because I knew that was the last time this would happen.  The experience of camping out for tickets, standing in line to see a movie – it would be gone soon. It made me feel kind of special, and kind of sad because I think it was these experiences that made me into the passionate Star Wars fan that I am today. It was just about watching a movie, but seeing a movie with a room full of strangers who are, for those two hours, also your friends. Because you all love that silly little movie on the big screen, even if it was only for 160 minutes.

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An American Refrain

Libba Bray

Like many people, I’ve been grappling with making sense of our current political landscape. What to say about the hate speech being spewed by the leading GOP candidate, the anti-immigrant/anti-refugee/anti-Muslim fervor he seems intent on whipping into an ugly frenzy—and the lack of strong rebuke from his fellow candidates? What to say about candidates for the office of President seriously entertaining the idea of barring people from entering our country because of their religion? Of turning their backs on refugees—many of them children—fleeing persecution?

It is deeply troubling that this is where we are. But it is also, sadly, where we have been so often. This is an old American refrain.

For the past several years, I’ve been deep in the research for the DIVINERS series. Often, I talk about the parallels between America of the 1920s and America today, things I have uncovered while digging into our past. Here’s…

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@outsidexbox : My new YouTube addiction

Some nights after dinner, we open up the YouTube app on the Xbox and just start watching random stuff. Usually it’s clips from Jimmy Fallon or Conan O’Brien but a few weeks ago, we stumbled on a a channel with lots of “top ten” this and the videos that were amusing, even though some were a bit of a stretch since this was all the channel did. Then one of the Suggested Videos linked to a show called “OutsideXbox“.

There are three of them – Jane, Mike, and Andy. They are gamers. They are British. They are darlings. I can’t stop watching the videos.

I think what I like most (apart from the fact that Jane is there representing the ladies) is that they are never really *mean* about things. Yes, they are snarky and poke fun at a lot of video game cliches, but the humor comes from a happy place. The show is about Xbox games but they don’t sit and take potshots at PC, PS4, or Wii games and frequently reference classic titles from these systems when doing their lists. I never feel like they are attacking anyone, just having a laugh. They can joke because they love the games too. We’ve all been there!

I am addicted to this channel. My gateway drug was all the silly lists of ridiculous things, like achievements and easter eggs. Then the other night, Tim clicked on them playing through a portion of the Slender game, and while I have never really been into watching other people play games, I think having the 3 of them in the room together made this SO much fun to experience. Instead of a gamer talking to themselves, we had the three of them laughing and jumping together (and Mike acting like he wasn’t scared but we know he was screaming internally the entire time).

To top it off, each Friday they post a “Show of the Week” wish some highlights and comment reactions from the videos uploaded during the week, which usually has another list and some antics in the studio.

So if you’re in need of a gamer show or think you might be (I didn’t even know I was until I started watching!) then give OutsideXbox a try!

Books read in October

Lots of kid’s books and comic books, making my list seem more impressive than it really is. But I still feel pretty good about getting through this many in a month!

The Worst Class Trip EverThe Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Something about this book rubbed me the wrong way. I think if I was a 12 year old boy, I probably wouldn’t care so much, and that is the target audience so it’s not that big of a deal. But reading this as an adult that lived through 9/11, it was hard for me to feel comfortable while reading about supposed terrorist plots and assassinations. It just kept me from laughing at all the fart jokes…I wanted to laugh but it was just really hard with that plot line yanking me out of the funny and into the real world.

I was really hoping that this was just going to be a story of shenanigans as the kinds bumbled around, I felt the terrorist plot was unnecessary. Wyatt and his friends were clearly dufuses and they didn’t need a wacky plot to make idiots of themselves. Just wandering D.C. as a class should have been funny enough.

Oh well…kind of a let down from some one who loved Dave Barry when she was 13…

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Everyone Loves BaconEveryone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was a real treat to find on the new cart today! We all had a good LOL.

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Space DumplinsSpace Dumplins by Craig Thompson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Just so disappointed. I loved Habibi and Blankets, so I was really excited to read Thompson’s venture into children’s comics. But this fell flat to me. Too many agendas, too many soap boxes, far too text heavy and the panels on some page were a mess. And in the end, it had a cliche ending that didn’t even make the rest of the story worth my time.

The art and coloring are very nice. The story was a huge letdown. I had to speedread the last few chapters just to get it over with so I could make sure there wasn’t some twist I was missing. But, no, it was a huge letdown.

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The Dumbest Idea Ever!The Dumbest Idea Ever! by Jimmy Gownley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I could have read even more, I loved this story and how honest Gownley was about himself. So good. Get this into the hands of as many kids, tweens, and teens as you can. It is a story about not just living your dream, but making a dream work with reality. It’s about respecting your friends and family and the power of art. Fantastic.

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Baba Yaga's AssistantBaba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Perfect spooky story for older elementary with a satisfying ending where everyone has learned a bit about themselves and each other.

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Hilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to EarthHilo Book 1: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.5 stars, cute and fun little science fiction story. Really like the relationship between D.J. and Gina.

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Fraggle Rock: Journey to the EverspringFraggle Rock: Journey to the Everspring by Kate Leth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cute story with everyone’s favorite Fraggles. I think kids will really like it if they are familiar with the series…

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Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College TownMissoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have to set this one aside for a little while. I’m close to being finished but it has become bogged down in all the legal stuff and I’m having a hard time getting through all the court reports. I need to switch to something lighter for a bit then come back. It’s been a struggle to read this, not because it isn’t well written – it IS well written and researched. It is just a horrible topic that makes you frustrated and sad.

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ArmadaArmada by Ernest Cline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars.

Ready Player One was going to be a hard act to follow, so I knew Armada was already in trouble. I opted to listen to this one because Wil Wheaton once again reprised his role as The Reader. Which is good because as one of the geek royalty, he knew how to pronounce all the names and did his best at impressions of famous geek icons, along with making unique voices for all of the characters.

But, in the end, Armada fell flat. I think Cline had a lot of fun thinking of movies and games and music to reference. Maybe too much fun. Especially since we knew from the first page that this was going to be a riff on The Last Starfighter in some way. From page one, any geeky reader had a very good idea where this is all going. It didn’t make it a bad story, but it didn’t keep me on the edge the way Cline’s first novel did. I found myself daydreaming while the story went on. I wish things had happened faster and that the epilogue had been the second half of the novel.

For his sophomore effort, Cline could have done worse. The book is enjoyable enough but it can’t top Ready Player One. But it was fun and I will definitely stay abreast of any new books he puts out over the next few years (though I’m guessing he might be preoccupied with the RP1 movie)

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GeorgeGeorge by Alex Gino
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was fantastic. I think Alex Gino did a wonderful job getting into the mind of a 4th grade transgendered girl. I felt that Melissa’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions were spot on for how a child of that age would behave. I hope there are plenty of Kelly’s out there too.

This book is going to get you right in the feels. This should be required reading for everyone, children, teens, adults. And NOT limited to friends or family who know a (out) transgendered youth. Read this book, be aware of the people around you – their thoughts and feelings. They may be working through things in their head, things you wouldn’t imagine.

I hope this is the first of many LGBT books for kids that stress compassion and inclusion and also model how to be a good friend or parent to someone coming out.

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