Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'Brian's Winter' by Gary Paulsen

Title: Brian’s Winter Realistic Fiction

Genre: Brian’s Winter (Paulsen, 1996) is certainly a great example of ‘Realistic Fiction,’ though the events involved are hardly commonplace events for modern they are painstakingly kept as real as possible, and the facts and methods of the survival techniques Brian has to use or reinvent are deeply rooted in real practices.

Book Summary: While I had read Hatchet many times as a child I wasn’t aware this book even existed until I saw it on the reading list. Now having read it I think it is actually the better ending to the original book – Brian is not rescued during the summertime, but has to survive a harsh Canadian winter with only his new skills and a few tools to survive, including having to make more powerful weapons to hunt and defend himself with, learn how to make a better shelter and clothing, and even snowshoes.

Impressions: Brian’s Winter is of the kind of books I wish we saw more new of in the last decade or so. High adventure with responsible and independent (if not always by choice) protagonists, and real problem solving skills highlighted without sugar-coating the problems involved. It is also important in the level of detail included about skills and tools that were commonplace among mankind for centuries, only to be replaced by newer technology, from flint napped arrowheads to sewing crude clothing from dried animal skins.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
First there was Hatchet, Paulsen's classic tale of a boy's survival in the north woods after a plane crash. Then came a sequel, The River, and, last year, Father Water, Mother Woods, a collection of autobiographical essays introduced as the nonfiction counterpart to Hatchet. Now Paulsen backs up and asks readers to imagine that Brian, the hero, hadn't been rescued after all. His many fans will be only too glad to comply, revisiting Brian at the onset of a punishing Canadian winter. The pace never relents-the story begins, as it were, in the middle, with Brian already toughened up and his reflexes primed for crisis. Paulsen serves up one cliffhanger after another (a marauding bear, a charging elk), and always there are the supreme challenges of obtaining food and protection against the cold. Authoritative narration makes it easy for readers to join Brian vicariously as he wields his hatchet to whittle arrows and arrowheads and a lance, hunts game, and devises clothes out of animal skins; while teasers at the ends of chapters keep the tension high (``He would hunt big tomorrow, he thought.... But as it happened he very nearly never hunted again''). The moral of the story: it pays to write your favorite author and ask for another helping. Ages 12-up.

Library Uses: Brian’s Winter is a short enough novel that it would be perfect for a ‘boys adventure club’ setting, essentially an older storytime like event, perhaps read in monthly installments over the course of an actual winter. It would work better if the boys had read Hatchet first, or at least knew what it was about, but then, that could just be made part of the program – start with Hatchet in the Spring/Summer, and read both across the year, along with activities tied into the events of the book, like crafts to make paper bag ‘leather’ or have demonstrations of arrowhead making, things of that nature.

Readalikes: Brian’s Winter is part of a fairly broad category of adventure/survival stories which seems to have peaked a couple decades ago, though it has roots going back much farther. Jack London’s The Call of the Wild or White Fang would be good companion books, or My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. While it is somewhat thematically different Julie of the Wolves would also be a good choice, also by Jean Craighead George.

Paulsen, G. (1996). Brian’s Winter. New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf.

Publishers Weekly. (2017). Brian’s Winter. [Review of the book Brian’s Winter]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from    

Jared's Book Reviews: 'A Penguin Story' by Antoinette Portis

Title: A Penguin Story Picture Books

Genre: A Penguin Story (Portis, 2009) is a very good example of a picture book, one with a story and interesting characters, but where the illustrations – and here specifically the colors of the illustrations – take center stage, with a level of detail that is easy to miss at first glance.

Book Summary: This book is a charming and cute story about a penguin wondering if there is anything in the world that isn’t white, black, or blue, and her journey to find out, at last coming across a scientific expedition filled with orange things, which she shares with her flock.

Impressions: A Penguin Story is simplistic on the surface – most of the book is done in three colors, white, black, and blue, with orange (or any other color really) being the quest of the main character. Despite the limited palate the illustrations are detailed and pretty, of particular note the page with the few words ‘Blue, blue, blue. Forever.’ with a vast sea beyond the white cliffs, in a very deep blue speckled with lighter blue throughout. Aside from the story itself, it is a useful and thought provoking look into what we see around us, and what other colors there are out there. Depending on where the reader is, it could start a hunt for what colors are rare in their surroundings – browns in the city, while (as an example) out at the family ranch brown is everywhere and more vibrant colors like orange or purple absent. Whatever the local colors, the book is sure to make the attentive reader stop and really look at their surroundings again, rather than just recognizing them.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Edna the penguin yearns for something more stimulating than a minimalist horizon. The endless white of snow and ice, the black of the night sky and the “Blue, blue, blue. Forever” of the sky and ocean only increase her ennui. Readers know alternatives exist because a sunset-orange seaplane goes by when Edna’s back is turned; brilliant green and orange endpapers, too, contrast with the limited palette and blocky compositions. Edna treks over icebergs to a revelatory destination, then brings her brood to meet a friendly human expedition camping in ambulance-orange domes and wearing matching jumpsuits; she proudly waddles home with a souvenir orange rubber glove. Portis (Not a Box ) celebrates those who long for art and, with her own playful rendering, she inspires readers to celebrate, too. Ages 4–8.

Library Uses: A Penguin Story would be very useful in a storytime setting, especially ones with themes of color, animals, or winter, and would also be useful for an art program, specifically one challenging the participants to make a painting with only a few base colors and shades thereof.

Readalikes: A Book With No Pictures could be an interesting comparison book, playing off of the mostly limited palate of A Penguin Book in an even more severe way. 365 Penguins is another fun book featuring penguins, and even a similar black, white, and orange color scheme, though is more about math than colors. Penguin and Pumpkin (along with others of the series) is another fun and pretty book about adventurous penguins seeking something beyond the ice – in this case, Fall.

               Portis, A. (2009). A Penguin Story. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children’s Books.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). A Penguin Story. [Review of the book A Penguin Story]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 14, 2017

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

Review/Recap of Once Upon a Time Episode 7.02 "A Pirate's Life" - Spoilers!

I will FULLY accept this explanation.

At the end of last season when most of the main cast took off after their contracts expired, I (and many others, I'm sure) wondered what in the crap was going to happen to Hook and Emma. I mean, they'd just had this big splashy wedding episode and it was their happily ever after and that's what the show had been building up to for six seasons... and suddenly one half of the Captain Swan ship was just... not going to be around?


But how to make this work?

I imagine that the OUAT Writers' Room went digging in the obscurest backstory details to figure out how to dig themselves out of this hole that contract negotiations and ABC executives had unceremoniously shoved them into. And found a loophole called the Mirror... sorry, the Wish Universe. Remember the wish that Evil Queen!Regina made in season six that put everyone back into the Enchanted Forest and Emma wasn't the Savior and Hook was an old, fat drunken comic relief character?

Yep. They brought that back. And even gave old!Hook a backstory and character and a youth lift so we could be graced with Colin O'Donoghue's rugged good looks (*cough* I mean, what?)

So... the Hyperion Heights Hook is NOT the OG Hook. The Hook we know and love is living happily with Emma and their new pirate baby in Storybrooke awaiting the inevitable crappy direct-to-DVD Disney sequel for their kid. Instead, Officer Rogers is the Mirror... Wish Universe Hook.

(Oh screw it - he's "Mirror Universe" Hook. I'm not bound by copyright claims for this thing.)

Basically, they've given themselves a clean slate with an old character and I'm intrigued by this development. I'm also somewhat impressed by it. I thought that they'd have to shoehorn some weird retcon thing that was going to RUIN EVERYTHING... but they didn't. All because they had one seemingly-throwaway joke character that they could retool and make cool again.

I approve this message.

Other things I liked:
- Is it just me, or did they tone down Victoria Belfrey's insane liposuction mouth? Too bad, she's still the Evil Lipmother.
- Detective Rumple is the same asshole as ever... but with a heart of gold? Maybe?
- All of Storybrooke's happy endings mean that Archie Hopper's therapist business isn't doing so hot... but his wedding officiating gig is booming. THAT was beautiful. Second only to Mirror Universe Hook, that was probably my favorite twist of this episode.

Basically, we're back to the old formula of introducing a new character in modern day, flashbacking to their origin story in fairy-tale-world, showing how their cursed self is similar to their fairy tale self, and they're awesome. Plus, some evil queen character is always trying to ruin everyone's life.

Yep. We've seen this movie before. Certain things in life never change: high school girls grow up into bitchy women, cursed fairy tale characters remember who they are in reality, and pineapple on pizza is the greatest ever.

(I will fight anyone on that last bit.)

Friday, October 13, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'Los Gatos Black on Halloween' by Marisa Montes

Title: Los Gatos Black on Halloween Other Award Winners

Genre: Los Gatos Black on Halloween (2006) is a lovely example of the Belpre Award winners, a very good book in its own right with a very strong Hispanic influence, both in the art, the content, and the word choices.

Book Summary: The book is a very cute rhyming picture book about Halloween and El Día de los Muertos, drawing on imagery from both such as black cats, the dead rising, witches, and other monsters and spooky things, ending humorously with the monsters being scared away by trick-or-treaters.

Impressions: I am really looking forward to using this one in a couple weeks for my storytime. The art is beautiful, drawing on a variety of styles and influences from Mexico and the US, and very intricate with small details for the children to discover. (My favorite is the vampire trying to fix his hair in a mirror he doesn’t appear in) The rhyming is well done, with Spanish words peppered throughout along with the English equivalent (or near enough) in the same couplet to ease understanding in the readers who aren’t bilingual, and overall it is simply a charming book that will draw the kids in and their parents.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Halloween and the Day of the Dead overlap in this atmospheric, bilingual romp. Montes (Juan Bobo Goes to Work) composes serviceable stanzas, using English and Spanish words as synonyms: "Los gatos black with eyes of green,/ Cats slink and creep on Halloween." This dual-language approach can be redundant ("At medianoche midnight strikes..."), yet Morales (Harvesting Hope ) holds readers' attention with surreal, faintly macabre spreads in dim turquoise and clay-brown hues, illuminated by fuschia and flame orange. Witches fly broomsticks like skateboard whizzes, a headstone references Mexican comic Cantinflas and sallow-faced muertos dance until children arrive: "The thing that monsters most abhor/ Are human niños at the door!" Ages 4-8.

Library Uses: Los Gatos Black on Halloween is perfect for the bilingual storytimes I do. It is mostly in English, but with enough Spanish to be educational and interesting, and it even repeats the words used in Spanish in the same couplet in Spanish to help with recognition.

Readalikes: This book would go well with other spooky picture books, both for Halloween and el Día de los Muertos. Some classics like The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything would be a good choice, or other bilingual books like The Day of the Dead / El Día De Lost Muertos, as well as any number of series books with a book about Halloween, such as Clifford’s Halloween.

Montes, M. (2006). Los Gatos Black on Halloween. New York, NY: Square Fish.
Publishers Weekly. (2017). Los Gatos Black on Halloween. [Review of the book Los Gatos Black on Halloween]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'The Whipping Boy' by Sid Fleischman

Title: The Whipping Boy Newbery Winners

Genre: The Whipping Boy (Fleischman, 1986) is one of the older Newbery books I read, and that my library carries, but still one of the more commonly read. I vaguely recall reading it before, years ago, and, given my strong belief that we as librarians need to do more to encourage boys to read, I thought I’d look again at the Newbery book most likely to be read by boys – what might be the shortest one.

Book Summary: The prince is a massive brat, but, being a prince, he can’t be punished with even so much as a mild spanking. So, in a bit of logic that escapes the author and readers alike, a commoner boy is chosen to receive them for the prince. When the prince decides to run away he insists the Whipping Boy go with him, and he, for his part, sees it as a chance to escape the constant whippings.
They quickly fall into trouble with a pair of highwayman, a potato seller, and a girl with a dancing bear. Throughout it all is the Whipping Boy, with more knowledge of the outside world and things like reading and writing than the Prince, to try and keep them safe, while the Prince slowly learns a thing or two, and ultimately manages to be of some use.

Impressions: The Whipping Boy is a very interesting book, in part because I don’t really think it would be published today, much less win the Newbery. That isn’t to say it is a bad book, not at all, I quite liked it and it certainly tells a fine story. But compare it to the honor book from the following year – Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, and, well, the comparison is not favorable.
Then again, I don’t even recognize the honor books from that year, so perhaps it was simply not a particularly good year for children’s literature.
It does manage to do well what I hoped it would – tell a story that boys would enjoy and relate with. Both Jeremy and the Prince have traits and thoughts that would resonate with most boys – the unfairness of life, the feeling that your parents are ignoring you, and the like, simply turned up to eleven and made much more visible, especially the unfairness of life for the poor Whipping Boy.
Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
With his flair for persuading readers to believe in the ridiculous, Fleischman scores a hit with his new creation. Sis's skillful pictures emphasize events in the adventures of the orphan Jemmy, kept in his king's palace to be thrashed for the offenses committed by the royal heir, known as Prince Brat. It is forbidden to punish Brat, whose tricks multiply until Jemmy is tempted to escape the daily round of flogging. But the prince himself takes off and forces the whipping boy to go with him. As they get into and out of trouble on the outside, Jemmy hears that he has been accused of abducting Brat. When the prince arranges for their return to the palace, poor Jemmy fears the worst, but things turn out for the best at the story's satisfying close. Colorful types like a thief called Hold-Your-Nose Billy, Betsy and her dancing bear Petunia, et al., increase the fun. (7-11)
Library Uses: The Whipping Boy would actually be of use for storytimes, despite the older audience, because it is short enough that it could be read over only a few consecutive storytimes. With something visual added on – felt board, puppets, something like that – it could do a good job of keeping the kids’ attention and serve as an introduction to chapter books.

Readalikes: Books like Weasel by Cynthia DeFelice is another I would recommend. While the setting is frontier rather than medieval, it has a similar feel of adventure to it. Other possibilities would be Jack London’s books, or perhaps Lloyd Alexander’s Book of the Three, with a protagonist who is quite humble in his origins like Jeremy is.

Publishers Weekly. (2017). The Whipping Boy. [Review of the book The Whipping Boy]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from
Fleischman, S. (1986). The Whipping Boy. New York, NY: Harper Trophy.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Highest of Heights

Review of Once Upon a Time Episode 7.01 "Hyperion Heights" - Spoilers!

And here we are in the unnecessary extra season of Once Upon a Time, wherein the majority of the main cast has buggered off elsewhere and the ones who have stuck around are going to be glorified supporting characters. Thanks ABC executives... 😒

However - I had a thought in the off-season. If the Writers' Room is smart about this, they will treat this season precisely like a spin-off. They've had one OUAT spin-off before, so why not call this "The Adventures of Henry Mills" or something like that? If that's how this goes, this may actually work. It's not a reboot or a remake, it's it own thing. Until I'm told otherwise (and you'd better not tell me otherwise), that is how I'm going to enjoy this.

So, without further ado (and before Tiny gets really mad at me for putting him down mid-nap), here are my thoughts on this premiere episode.

A city without magic. Seattle. Depressing as hell. This curse does not mess around. As evidenced by grown-up Henry making his living as an off-brand Uber driver in this unwashed hipster paradise. At least Emma had been a bounty hunter when we first met her (yes, I know the show called her a "bail bondsmanperson. I like "bounty hunter" better).

But the family with the Mickey ears, presumably coming back from a trip to Disneyland. Nice touch.

I am never going to be able to see Victoria Belfrey as anything more than her lips. It's uncanny valley levels of Just So Wrong. They aren't even like, say, Steven Tyler's lips where it's just a quirky part of his character and appearance. It doesn't even look like they belong on her face. I know I'm spending a lot of time going on about this woman's lips but, dayum lady. Fire your plastic surgeon, like, yesterday.

Regina/Roni is the Granny of this season. Except instead of serving questionable lasagna, we've upgraded to an establishment with Actual Liquor. Well... call this the "Grown Up" season of OUAT. I'm fine with it. Especially if Roni keeps smacking down the Evil Lipmother like that. The booze must flow.

Henry lamenting that he's in none of the fairy tale stories - well, duh kid. You're the reader of these tales. You're the person who encounters the stories and gives them life within your imagination (he's also the Author - but readers often become authors later on). Arguably, you're the most important person in these tales.

Lucy Mills (she's Henry's daughter, so I'm calling her that) is stinking adorable. She could have been reduced to nothing more than a female version of young Henry from season 1, but she has her own character and personality. I'm not entirely sold on Jacinda yet (nor her Cinderella version), but it's only been one episode. I'm willing to give it a try.

Captain Hook as a police officer. :D :D :D Yes, please! Also - making Rumple his detective partner is going to be FUN. #HereForIt

The spawn of the Evil Lipmother is going to regret letting "Officer Rogers" (I see what you did there) keep Lucy's Once Upon a Time book. Calling it now. (And a tear for the picture of Emma in the book...)

Alice getting pissed that people only remember her for her one crazy trip to Wonderland was beautiful. I like this character already.

One last thing - how does Henry's motorcycle and cell phone still work in the Enchanted Forest? (Or wherever the heck he is.) I'll accept fairy magic as an explanation, but I want an explanation.

Those are my disjointed thoughts, and just in time too. Tiny is getting really mad at me, so I need to go (blogging with an infant is going to be interesting).

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Return to Form - Part 2

When I said "shortly," I wasn't kidding. This section of my story is less... fluffy. And it is certain to piss everyone off.

*cracks knuckles* Let's do this thing...

Alex was born early on a Saturday morning. We didn't leave the hospital until Wednesday afternoon-almost-evening. We stayed at the hospital until Alex was discharged. I had already been released, but they let us stay in a room while Alex was monitored. Tuesday is when I got the email that I'd been let go from my job.

I think I knew it was coming, but I didn't want to believe it when I thought about it. I thought I was just being paranoid or thinking up too many worst-case scenarios. But the fact of the matter is that the website I used to write for was getting hammered over the past few months. Traffic was down a lot and it was a struggle to get readers on the site. My posts in particular were not bringing in the readers like they'd done before. I couldn't begin to tell you why. Of course, my ability to write click-baity titles and attractive Facebook teases was never great to start with. And I'm not particularly good at writing posts revolving around celebrity gossip, which seemed to be the biggest draw on the site. Well, I could write them. Anyone can take to their keyboard and plunk out words in a certain order.

But here's the dirty secret about writing - if you-the-writer isn't interested in the topic, it's near impossible to make your readers interested in it. I'm sure some writers can BS their way through sincerity, but that was never a talent I cultivated in myself. For me, writing has always been about talking about things I'm interested in. Nobody else could give a flying flea fart about a topic, but I would write the hell out of it. That happened frequently with this job. I would get all worked up over certain posts and spend a lot of time carefully putting together my arguments and researching the information. But it seemed the more work I put into those posts, the fewer people would actually read them - according to Google Analytics, anyway. When a post that I worked hard on fell flatter than a pancake, someone else would have to quickly post something involving boobs to resurrect the numbers for the hour. Such incidents didn't do much for my confidence in myself as a writer.

The dumb thing is that the people who did read it would leave thoughtful and complimentary feedback about what I'd written. So I knew that what I was putting out was quality stuff. But the audience for quality commentary regarding politics and culture were few and far between. Let's face it - our nation is full of immature frat boys and girls (in fact, I would hazard to say that the female commenters on the website were more vulgar and hateful than the males. That's another subject I'll want to cover later).

So, yes - there were certain aspects of pop culture that I was good at, but clearly our audience was not interested in the latest swat of censorship on college campuses or stupidity coming from the "political message first, story and characters never" movement in much of entertainment these days. But a story about Kim Kardashian's boobs? Yep. That generated traffic like nobody's business.

That, and the fact that people are just sick of politics. I can't blame them, either. The utter tantrum that political junkies have been throwing... well, you've probably seen it. It's been ridiculous. It's like, yes my preferred candidate has lost before and I've felt like it was the end of the world. But the current strife been going on for so long and the rest of us are all "Seriously? Get over it. You told us to get over it and shoved your win in our faces. Grow up already."

The stupid thing is that I don't particularly even like how things turned out. Then again, the candidate(s) I liked lost in the primaries and I was pissed about the choices we had. As much of a political junkie as I can be, 2016 was the year I became disillusioned with it all. And I couldn't even say anything because I had to stick with the image of the site that I was working for. But I actually registered as an independent and voted third party last year. And you all can chew me out for my actions all you like and proclaim that it's my fault that *insert event that you are convinced will utterly destroy the universe, or at least our own galaxy* -

Sorry if the bad language offends you. But you can behold my field and see that it is so very barren. And I am waaaaaay past any idiotic guilt trips you want to send me on. Trust me. I've seen EVERYTHING. None of it has convinced me that I should regret my actions. If I have a regret, it's that I may have contributed to the discontent and division in the world today.

Then again, that was happening just fine with or without my egging it on.

It's an off-year politically. People who aren't constantly strung out on anger and rage at the "other side" (whatever the hell that's supposed to mean) are working and living their normal lives. They aren't interested in scoring cheap points on Twitter or coming up with pithy retorts to some idiotic argument that no one except some troll holed up in a basement somewhere cares about. You don't win points by winning internet arguments. Maybe there is some value in arguing with strangers online, but I've never found it. I just say what I have to say and leave it at that. Let the lemmings in the comment section duke it out amongst themselves (everyone needs a hobby).

Phew - lemme tell you how I really feel.

It probably goes without saying that I was very upset about this development (postpartum hormones didn't help matters at the time). And I can say with confidence that I'd never seen Jared that angry about anything (one of the best things about my husband is how rationally he handles crises. He is certainly the level-headed one of our marriage and I adore him for it). At first, he did reach out to some of his writer friends asking if they knew of any political websites hiring or if they could connect us with people willing to at least talk to me about writing for them.

But here's the thing: I was (and am) burned out on politics. It happens from time to time and I eventually get back into it - but this time feels different. Now that I've had time to think about it, I actually see that getting laid off was a blessing in disguise. I didn't like the person I was becoming while I spent so much time in the political fray. Sure, I still have many of the same opinions that I did before. But I also learned a lot about myself, the people that I thought I agreed with, and the whole messy business of writing polemics. Also, 2016 is the year that I lost respect for people that I used to admire (nobody who has a prayer of reading this post, I'm certain). It's like I realized how I and people like me had been used by The Powers That Be to keep their power and, you know, I really don't like it. That is something I want to cover at a later date. Trust me, I have so many thoughts to write out. And it is likely to make a lot of people mad. Many that I generally agree with, I'm sure.

One thing's for sure - you don't retire from the political war without someone crying about how you're a traitor and should be drawn and quartered. Again, please see my earlier gif of Obi-Wan talking to Anakin.

So, that's where I am in life. And where I think my next round of blog posts is going to be about. Because I have had so much to think about and I want to get it written out. Not just written out - because I could keep this private and to myself. But I want it out there. I know that few people of consequence are going ever see this and that's fine. This is purely for my benefit, as well as anyone who may stumble on it.

I'm not interested in traditional political arguments. I'm actually going back to work for the library system I was working for when Jared and I met. I've only been out of the game for a few years and they were happy to take me back. As crazy as working with the public can be, I'm actually looking forward to it. I'll be a substitute librarian and that will afford me flexible hours and I really only need to work part-time. I will likely meet people of every stripe and creed and that's great. Some of them may be hyped up on politics and that's fine. But I'm leaving it aside for the foreseeable future. Anyone who tries to get me back into that mess will be ignored. I don't think that I'll get a ton of commenters on this blog (I've never had many), but I'm saying this right now. My blog, my house, my rules.

Take your guilt trips elsewhere. I'm done. I've got an infant child to care for and a life that's far too important to be dealing with petty political squabbles that never, ever change.

Jared's Book Reviews: 'Golem' by David Wisniewski

Title: Golem Caldecott Winners

Genre: Golem (Wisniewski, 1996) is probably my favorite Caldecott winner, (of the ones I’ve read, which is most of them at this point) and one of the most beautifully illustrated books I’ve seen period.

Book Summary: The story itself is a haunting rendition of the Golem of Jewish myth – created to protect the ghetto out of clay and magic, but ultimately discarded when the fear of others for him become too much, a sad an ironic echo of the treatment of the Jews themselves far too often in history.

Impressions: Golem is everything I expect out of the best Caldecott winners: Amazing art, good story, and yet be more than just a good story. It would have been easy to show Rabbi Loew as a wholly good character, sympathetic in every way, but by facing the destruction of the Golem as more than just putting down a tool, but ending a life, it makes the characters more real for the reader, not perfect, but still sympathetic. It would have been even easier to paint the people of Prague – the enemies of the Jews – as completely evil, but even with them there is nuance, recognition that it was driven by lies and some evil men, rather than the whole. And as for the artwork, the reason it won the Caldecott, I can’t say enough about it. Cut-paper art of this level of detail and size has to be incredibly labor intensive to make, and yet the results are absolutely worth it. If I could find a poster of the first picture of the city I would hang it on my wall.

Professional Review: From Publishers Weekly (2017)
Elaborately composed cut-paper spreads give a 3D, puppet-show-like quality to a retelling of a Jewish legend. Rabbi Loew has a prophetic vision in 1580 when the Jews of Prague are accused of mixing the blood of Christian children into matzoh: he must create a Golem, ""a giant of living clay, animated by Cabala, mystical teachings of unknown power."" Brought to life with apocalyptic explosions of steam and rain, the Golem seeks out the perpetrators of the Blood Lie and turns them over to the authorities. Thwarted, the enraged enemies of the Jews storm the gates of the ghetto, but the Golem grows to enormous height and violently defeats them with their own battering ram. Once his work is done, he pitifully (and futilely) begs the Rabbi: ""Please let me live! I did all that you asked of me! Life is so... precious... to me!"" Wisniewski (The Wave of the Sea Wolf) emphasizes the Golem's humanity and the problems with his existence; instead of reducing the legend to a tale of a magical rescuer, the author allows for its historical and emotional complexity. The fiery, crisply layered paper illustrations, portraying with equal drama and precision the ornamental architecture of Prague and the unearthly career of the Golem, match the specificity and splendor of the storytelling. An endnote about the history and influence of the legend is particularly comprehensive. Ages 6-10. (Oct.)

Library Uses: Golem would be a very useful book to use as part of a series of art programing, each focused on a different style of painting or illustration. Cut-paper art is a very easy style to begin with, and less messy for the library. True, something as complicated as Golem’s illustrations will be beyond the children, but what they can do will still look good, and be a lot of fun for the kids who are used to adding stuff on to make art (painting, coloring, etc.) rather than taking away. Also a bit easier to start with than working in stone carving.

Readalikes: Even more so than some of the Caldecott winners I read, this book deserves to be read together with other books of immense beauty in the illustrations. David Wiesner’s books, such as Tuesday, make a good counterpoint. With the supernatural element another good book would be Night of the Gargoyles, by Eve Bunting. Finally, Mercer Mayer’s The Sleeping Beauty is another tale expanded from myth or legend, with gorgeous artwork of its own.

Publishers Weekly. (2017). Golem. [Review of the book Golem]. PWxyz, LLC. Retrieved from
Wisniewksi, D. (1996). Golem. New York, NY: Clarion Books.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'Frog and Toad Together' by Arnold Lobel

Title: Frog and Toad Together Classic Picture Books

Genre: Frog and Toad Together (Lobel, 1971) is one of the quintessential classics of children’s picture books for beginning readers. Beautiful artwork, good solid word choices that entertain without overwhelming or confusing new readers, and a timeless message all help give the book staying power decades after it was first published.

Book Summary: The book is divided into five small stories only connected with each other by setting and characters. "A List" deals with Toad writing a list of everything is his going to do that day, only to lose it in the wind and become paralyzed with indecision – how can he chase his list if chasing his list was not on the list of things to do? Frog is unable to find it and they end up falling asleep outside in the middle of the walk, which is okay with Toad, as he remembers that was the last thing on his list, so he writes that in the dirt and crosses it out. "The Garden" deals with Toad trying to plant a flower garden, and being very impatient with the rate of growth, doing many things to ‘help’ including keeping the garden company in the dark and playing music for it. He finally falls asleep, and the plants push up above the surface of the garden while he is asleep. "Cookies" might be my favorite of all Frog and Toad stories. Toad bakes cookies, and they are so good Frog and Toad cannot stop eating them. Frog puts them away – but they can just get them out again says Toad. They consider more and more elaborate things to stop from eating the cookies, until Frog just feeds them to the birds, at which point Toad goes home… to bake a cake. "Dragons and Giants" deals with Frog and Toad trying to be brave for each other, getting into some dangerous situations, telling each other they are not afraid, until they give up, run home, and hide there for some time assuring each other that they are very brave. In "The Dream," Toad dreams he is on stage, doing amazing things while Frog compliments him. Only, each time he does, Frog shrinks until he disappears, and Toad is afraid he has made Frog disappear and he will be lonely. Frog wakes Toad up and Toad is very relieved to see his friend.

Impressions: I’ve loved these books since I was a child, and I may even love them more now. One thing I think that we’ve been missing as a society of late is new stories of strong male friendship – the only recent mainstream example I can think of is the Lord of Rings movies with Sam and Frodo, and ultimately that is just a movie version of a much older book. Even including indie releases I can only think of one other example, a fine middle grade series by a guy I know, Gama Ray Martinez, called the Pharim War that is sort of high fantasy Harry Potter but with angels and the school is in an active volcano. It is of course entirely possible that there are many others I haven’t just heard about (I’d prefer that possibility, personally) but either way, I think they are an important type of story that we need to be exposing young boys too. (It’s important for girls too, obviously, but it feels like there are more examples there, My Little Pony being only the first to come to mind.)

Frog and Toad, I think, will remain popular as long as the medium of books lasts at all. The charm, the friendship, the silly humorous bits, it is pure storytelling that gets to some of the most fundamental aspects of our social existence as human beings.

Professional Review: From Kirkus Reviews (2017)

Five more wise and wonderful stories to reaffirm the happy truth that Frog and Toad Are Friends. Again the lovely illustrations in soft green and brown depict the pair with affectionate humor as Frog and Toad test their will power on a bowl of cookies or their shaky bravery on a snake, or wait with anxious solicitation for Toad's seeds to grow. The first story, which begins with Toad waking up and making a list of "things to do today," sets a mood of anticipation that is never disappointed; the last adds unpretentious depth with Toad's dream of his own acclaimed theatrical performance while his larger friend, seated in the audience, becomes smaller and smaller and finally vanishes altogether. Toad's alarm at this point and his relief on waking up to find that Frog is still there and "his own right size" ends the beautifully handled episode on a note of enlarged affirmation.

Nothing here to add, really. Timeless books with universal themes of friendship, love, and even insecurity.

Library Uses: I think I would like to do a STEM program using the story "Cookies" as the basis – the goal is for the kids to do a Rube Goldberg machine to try and keep the ‘cookies’ from ‘Frog and Toad’ for as long as possible, with a prize of cookies for whoever does the best, and refreshments of cookies for everyone.

Readalikes: The obvious current example of a similar series is Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books, which are very much cast in the mold of two friends who cherish and love each other… but still get into funny situations. I’d also recommend Amelia Bedelia easy readers because, while lacking the friendship component, has a similar silly style of humor that will appeal to children who like Frog and Toad. The third is another of my favorite series – Commander Toad in Space, which essentially is what would happen if you made fan fiction combining Frog and Toad with Star Trek the Original Series. It’s silly, it’s fun, and the friendship of Commander Toad and his crew is ultimately one of the most important parts of the series of books.

Kirkus Reviews. (2017). Frog and Toad Together. [Review of the book Frog and Toad Together]. Kirkus Media LLC. Retrieved from
Lobel, A. (1971). Frog and Toad Together. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Return to Form - Part 1

"We will live by our own rules, for that is the best form of all!" - Captain Killian Jones, Once Upon a Time episode 3.05 "Good Form"
I think this blog is going to make another transition. Up until now, it's been mostly a review blog - reviews of TV and movies that I want to talk about (Side Note: Jared is also going to be using this for some homework he has this semester, which you might have already seen). But when I started this, the title "cj's notebook" was chosen deliberately. Lowercase initials because I think type in all caps is ugly as crap. But "notebook" because when I write in my hard copy notebooks, anything and everything goes in them. Story ideas, random thoughts, things I want to remember, tirades about things that irritate me, funny things that make me laugh, and more thoughtful moments when something hits me in the squishy, gooey center.

I've decided I want this blog to have more of that squishy gooey-ness. And maybe some more real-life moments. Good and bad. And what better time than after I officially become a mom.

Yes, the timing of this is no coincidence. I mentioned some time ago that I was expecting a baby. Well, Tiny made his grand appearance roughly seven weeks ago -

Yes, he has a Baby Groot.
Needless to say, life has changed dramatically. That's one of the biggest "Well, duh" statements I could make. Even people who don't have kids of their own recognize this. I knew things were going to change. What I didn't expect was how drastically things were going to change. And not all in good ways. But from opposition comes self-reflection, and that's the story I'm going to tell.

I'm just going to say it: If you don't want to hear my childbirth story, you probably want to turn back right now. I'll try to soften the gory details, but to appreciate this experience I have to share as much as I can. Sorry if that upsets you.

Tiny's due date was August 3. August 3rd came... and then it went. A week later, my doctor had planned to induce me no later than a week overdue. The night of August 10, I was admitted to the hospital and they induced labor. The plan was to have the baby on the 11th. But - after the gloriousness of Saint Epidural (I'm telling you, epidurals are God's gift to women) - I slept for most of the 11th. They even had to increase the medication because labor wasn't progressing as it should. At one point, having a C-section was seriously discussed and that made me want to crawl into a hole somewhere (well, I would have if I'd had use of my legs).

By midnight on the 12th, I was ready to push. Which I did for about 3-4 hours. And still nothing. By the time my doctor was called in, I'd been in labor for more than 30 hours. My doctor gave us a few options to try before I would have to be prepped for a C-section. We tried one and at 5:24 am on August 12, Alex was born.

And the boy was BIG. Ten pounds, fourteen ounces. Which explained why he had such a hard time being born. Also, when he was finally born, his exit from the womb caused me some severe injuries and bleeding. (This is the squicky part, FYI.) I lost a liter of blood, my blood pressure dropped like a rock, I turned pale, and I had to be put on oxygen. The stupid thing about this part? I was still drugged up like crazy, so I couldn't feel anything. I had no clue that I was in so much trouble. All I wanted was to see my baby and make sure he was okay.

Well, depends on how you define "okay." Because his breathing was really fast and his blood sugar was really low. He needed to eat, but he couldn't take anything by mouth because there was a risk that he would inhale it and choke. I got to hold him for about an hour before they whisked him off to the nursery to be checked out. Which is where he stayed for several days afterwards. He was on oxygen and an IV and a bunch of other sensors the likes of which I'd seen in the NICU after my triplet nieces were born back in May. While Alex was not in the NICU, he did have to be continuously monitored because of the rough delivery. Poor kid's face was swollen, he had bruises from the delivery, and jaundice set in pretty quick.

But I didn't know that immediately. I was left with an oxygen mask on my face, exhausted, and with nurses scrambling around me back and forth (NOTE: I have to say that all of the nurses that worked with me and Alex while we were in the hospital were amazing. Not only were they professional and caring, but they went out of their way to make sure I felt like a human being. Given how long we ended up staying in the hospital, I can't overstate how much I appreciated everything they did for us.) It was a few hours before I got to see Alex. And I was a wreck. Once they removed the epidural tube-thingy and the drugs started to wear off, I could feel how much pain I was in. I could barely walk the five feet from my bed to the bathroom in the recovery room. Just standing up nearly wiped me out. The first time I went to see Alex in the nursery, I had to be taken in a wheelchair.

It kind of sucked.

Also, we couldn't have a lot of visitors. Because Alex was in the nursery, only his parents and grandparents were allowed to see him. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends - nope. None of them could see him in the hospital. Which stunk because a lot of people (family, mostly) were texting and calling wondering when they could come visit. Keep in mind, *I* still hadn't seen my baby for more than an hour when these texts were coming in. Not that I was mad about people wanting to visit. I was actually happy to hear from family. But it was just frustrating that I didn't know what to tell everybody. Heaven knew I could have used some outside company. But it didn't seem fair to let people come see us when they couldn't see the baby. Let's be real here: That's why they would have wanted to come at all.

To recap: While none of these problems were life-threatening or even particularly serious, it certainly wasn't what we'd planned on happening. The entire time I was pregnant with Alex, everything went normal. My doctor wasn't worried about anything, every little complaint I had about morning sickness and other discomforts were expected, even going past my due date was anticipated (first time moms often go over). We even had an idea that Alex would be a bigger-than-average baby. Just didn't realize how big he'd be or how hard of a time he'd have being born because of it. He's in the 100th percentile for everything - weight, length, head size. Meaning he's bigger than other babies his age. We joke that he could have walked out of the hospital, that I'd given birth to a toddler. But he's a "toddler" that's still a seven-week-old baby.

Of course, we love this kid like there is no tomorrow. I wouldn't trade him for anything in the world. You might have heard something along the lines of becoming a mother means letting your heart wander around outside your body. I can attest that is an accurate way of putting things. It's amazing and joyous and nerve-wracking and frightening all at the same time. There are times I hate having to put Alex down in his crib or in his bouncy chair because I don't want him to be too far away from me, even if all I'm doing is cleaning the house or going to the bathroom or something equally mundane and necessary and not that far away. But it feels like I'm taking a trip to the Himalayas. It sounds ridiculous - but maybe it's not so ridiculous to other moms.

Which is why this next bit is kind of... I don't know how to describe it. Maybe I should just tell the story and let it stand on its own.


Actually, this is getting pretty long-winded. So, I'm going to post this and do a Part 2 shortly. Look forward to it!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Jared's Book Reviews: 'It's A Book' by Lane Smith

Title: It’s a Book about reading a book

Genre: This book (Smith, 2010) was categorized as a book about reading, and while it certainly is that ultimately the reading is simply a vehicle for the humor of the book, as well as the ending punchline.

Book Summary: Monkey is reading, Jackass is confused by how books work as opposed to his tablet, there is a big back and forth, and by the end Jackass is reading and Monkey is going back to the library for another book.

Impressions: The book is fairly simple on the surface, including the plot and dialogue, but is very satisfyingly complex in the artwork, despite the style being, again, simple on the surface. With little more than a couple lines and a black circle for an eye Smith very effectively conveys Monkey’s annoyed and exasperated feelings towards Jackass’ confusion. This is true across the whole book and all of the characters, the expressions really sell the story more than the sparse dialogue does. I also quite fully disagree with the professional review (included below in part) that the book is meant for adults but disguised as a story for children, because of the ‘adult’ humor of Jackass’ name and the reversed unfamiliarity – adults are more likely to have a confusion about how modern tech works than a book, after all – but my impressions of the book make me think that the absurdity of the technologically native Jackass being confounded by a much older technology is intentional. To wit – how many children of the current generation end up having to show their parents or grandparents how some bit of technology works? This isn’t even a new phenomenon, I distinctly remember jokes about the kids of my generation having to show the parents how to program the VCR, and later how to use the first computers. I still remember trying to teach my real estate broker Grandmother how to use a mouse as more and more of that business started going to computers in the late '80s. (I failed, mostly because at 70+ my grandmother did not think it dignified to play a video game as a way to learn how the mouse worked) By reversing it and amplifying the absurdity of the situation it makes it funny for the children reading, and might even help them understand a bit of what their parents are going through when it happens. If I am right the finishing punchline then becomes a parental bonus rather than the whole point of the book – because for the more literal children how is it funny that they say his name again, when it was said at the beginning – and for the children the punchline is simply that he still doesn’t get it.

Professional Review: The following excerpts (that I disagree with) come from the School Library Journal’s review of the book (Bird, 2010). (One comment, I find it interesting the reviewer gets caught up on the distinction between monkey/ape, but somehow thinks that Monkey’s dress shirt is a muumuu.)
Where to begin? Begin at the beguine, I suppose. I’ve had It’s a Book sitting on my shelf for months and now the time is ripe. As you may have heard one place or another, it contains an off-color word at the end (“jackass”, belated spoiler alert) and it makes fun of folks who prefer online zips and whizbangs to good old-fashioned paper books. So what are we to make of it? Well, I hate to lob this designation on any author or illustrator I like, but this is so clearly a picture book for grown-ups that it squeaks. While kids today slip from electronic readers to paper books and back again like svelte otters, it is the grown-ups around them that are heard cooing and purring every time a shiny new electronic toy hits the market. For those who love the printed page, such enthusiasm can be scary. Kids don’t fear for the so-called “death of the book” but some of their caregivers certainly do, and so for them Lane Smith has penned an exchange between a pixel-happy donkey and the monkey (slash ape) who just wants to read his book in peace.
Hedging his bets right from the start, Smith begins by pulling his punch as far back as it can reasonably go. Turn to the title page and you read, “It’s a mouse. It’s a jackass. It’s a monkey.” Ignoring the fact that the monkey is actually an ape (though he may be hiding his tail beneath his, uh, muumuu?), the story begins with the donkey asking the primate what he’s got there. “It’s a book.” Not understanding the donkey tries to figure out the use of such an object. “Can it text?” “No.” “Tweet?” “No.” “Wi-Fi?” “No.” Eventually the donkey gets to see what a book really can do and when his companion asks if he can have his book back he gets a pretty straightforward, “No,” echoing his own earlier dismissals. The donkey, to his credit, offers to charge the book up when he’s done, but the mouse perched on the top of the monkey’s (slash ape’s) head clarifies everything, “You don’t have to . . .” Turn the page. “It’s a book, jackass.”
can’t help but be amused by the irony that a book that proclaims loud and long the great delights of the printed word verses the electronic one happens to have its own online book trailer (one that judiciously makes sure not to mention the naughty word at the end, by the way). In essence, the book has done precisely what it meant to. It has amused adults to no end. And while it will probably never be read to a class of first or second graders in a true storytime, it will live on in the bookshelves of college students across the country. While it does, I’ll hope for the return of Lane Smith to the world of children’s literature written for kids first and foremost. Writing for adults is all well and good, but anyone can do that. It takes a special knack to write a book that a kid really loves and enjoys. Fingers crossed that it happens for Mr. Smith again sometime real soon.

Library Uses: I do actually know librarians and teachers who have used the book in storytimes – some modifying the last work to ‘Jack’ and some leaving it the same. I also think the book would be great to use as a way of promoting other books – I would have the library’s marketing department make up a big blowup of Monkey holding the book, and then swap in pictures of different books that are being promoted.

Readalikes: At its core It’s a Book is a snarky humor book about books, and there are a lot of other similar books, both with or without the more adult humor. The two I would recommend are There’s a Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems. Both play around with the nature of books wonderfully, the first by subverting expectations of what happens in a book (the monster at the end is Grover, who has been panicking the whole book about getting to the end of the book) and the other even has the characters flip ahead to find out when the book is going to end.
The third book I’d recommend as a readalike isn’t quite as close, but the feel of it is similar. Kiss Me! I’m a Prince by Heather McLeod takes the common story of the Frog Prince and then twists it around because the girl, something of a tomboy, would rather have a talking frog than become a princess.

Bird, E. (2010). Review of the Day: It’s a Book by Lane Smith. [Review of the book It’s a Book]. School Library Journal. Retrieved from
Smith, L. (2010). It’s a Book. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.

Monday, May 15, 2017

A Happy Ending. No, Really. Serious. That's The Ending. Go Home. Why Are You Still Here?

Recap/Review Of Once Upon A Time - The Entire Last Bit. SPOILERS!

I'd like to say that I fell off the OUAT blogging wagon because of some kind of illness or crazy-life thing that was completely out of my control and that took all of my time and attention away from fun things. But honestly? I didn't really feel like talking about it too much. It happens.

But after the events of the Season 6 finale (hereafter called the Not-Series-Finale), I felt the need to talk about everything that's happened since this post. In-universe and otherwise.

The Black Fairy was a heinous bitch. There. I said it. You know how much I hated Cora? Fiona was all of that, plus a side of Dolores Umbridge. This was no more evident than in the finale, where she became Season 1 Regina all over again. I kind of want to go back and rewatch Season 1, just to remind myself how much I despised Regina back then and also to reflect on how much worse it could have been. Then again, that was probably the point - you're supposed to hate the Black Fairy for everything she's done to Emma and Team Storybrooke.

But Fiona's evilness had one good thing about it - it gave all the heroes a chance to have one more big hurrah before everybody (mostly) splits off into other enterprises. I actually enjoyed revisiting the Enchanted Forest with everyone in their present-day personas. I also would have enjoyed exploring more of those other realms again. But, time was limited.

Before the finale, though, a few things -

- Fiona's backstory - Don't care. She got everything she deserved.

- Rumple could have been a Savior - Well, crap happens. Though that angle makes the Dark Swan storyline even more layered and interesting.

- The Wedding Musical - What's not to love? Captain Swan gets married, people get to sing, the Dark One makes a joke about not singing. And Zelena's number was my favorite (Hook's was great too, but they used that as one of the sneak peek promos, so it kind of lost its "oomph" beforehand).

So... where do we go from here? Henry at some point goes to live in the Enchanted Forest, grows up, has a daughter, entrusts her with the storybook, and they all end up back in the real world with Henry repeating his mother's origins.

I sure hope this just isn't a carbon copy of OUAT 1-6.

From the cold open of part one, I had the thought that the dad in the EF could be an older Henry. The fact that he had the storybook kind of solidified that theory. And then it turned out I was right.

What do I think of this "twist"? Um... I'll get back to you on that. Honestly, the whole show could have ended with the pseudo-Thanksgiving dinner at Granny's and I would have been satisfied. I even would have been okay with the "Henry! I'm your daughter!" stinger being the ending. Tie that ribbon around the package as if to say "they still had adventures and you'll just have to explore those in your own theories."

But ABC had to renew the show, flagging ratings and all.

Truthfully, I'd pretty much said all my goodbyes to this show - and when the onslaught of announcements came that most of the cast wasn't coming back, I figured that was that. But nope. The suits at ABC want to keep it going. For reasons that have nothing to do with storytelling and everything to do with beating a dead horse.

I dunno... maybe the show will feel new and exciting with different characters and storylines. But I have my doubts. I just don't want this to turn into something that we're begging for it to be canceled because it's overstayed its welcome.

But at least the Charmings finally moved out of that itty-bitty studio apartment and got an actual house. About barking time.

What's next? I haven't really decided. I haven't been terribly inspired by a lot of the TV shows I typically watch lately. I'll finish watching this season of Agents of SHIELD, even though I'm kind of "meh" on the whole endeavor. The DC TV universe lost me at the midseason finales (honestly, four separate TV shows was a lot to have to keep track of. Made even more obnoxious by the fact the CW took the shows off Hulu and put them on their crappy in-house app). Even Doctor Who has been going full potato over the last little while (I'm still going to give it a few more episodes before I declare it a lost cause. At least, until next season). I do still have the Sailor Moon recaps to get through, though. And if Viz ever gets off their collective rear-end and released the new dub of the third season of Sailor Moon Crystal, that would be nice.

Maybe I'll go back and read more books or something. I'll think of something to write about. There's always something.

(That's my "I'll always find you," btw.)

Monday, April 3, 2017

They Call Him Barkeep

Review/Recap of Once Upon A Time Episode 6.15 "A Wondrous Place" - SPOILERS!

Never miss a chance to appreciate a good "ayebrow" :)
As much angst as they tried to put into this episode - it really wasn't that sad. Or suspenseful. And I never felt like there was a whole lot at stake here (except for one thing, which is probably obvious). Don't get me wrong - that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the episode. In fact, it was quite fun!

The prospect of Princess Jasmine and Ariel working together fills my Disney fangirl heart with much glee and joy. Along with Belle, those two were the Disney Princesses of my formative years (though I don't know out OUAT!Belle would have been able to join the party, given that she has other things in this storyline to worry about. And yes, that is a welcome concept). So, Jasmine and Ariel are besties and it's great!

The only thing in this episode I could even be remotely worried over is the good ship Captain Swan. After last week's *headdesk*-inducing stupidity, I really couldn't stop rolling my eyes at Emma and everyone thinking that Hook had abandoned her. Okay - fine. He kept a secret and wasn't sure how to tell the truth, or even if he should (again, would it have been really so horrible if Hook had just kept quiet about Charming's dad? Years had passed, everyone had grieved and moved on. I'm just... GAH!)

But AFTER EVERYTHING YOU TWO HAVE BEEN THROUGH - how can you possibly think that he would have just taken off or that any of this was solely his fault? Other than the fact that Emma pretty much told him to pound sand. And Storybrooke is not that big of a town.

I dunno - there's been plenty of Idiot Ball being thrown around the last few weeks. I still can't believe that this almost become too much for Emma and Killian to overcome. Sure, they can face down giants and demonic Lost Boys and wicked witches and evil queens and dark magic and the FREAKING DEPTHS OF HELL for each other. But one minor misunderstanding? That's what nearly kills your relationship?

BLAH! And again I say BLAH!

I did appreciate drunk!Snow playing darts with those viking dudes, though. That was fun.

As for the Aladdin and Jasmine plotline - it was a good sideshow from the manufactured Captain Swan drama. I did appreciate the parts with Aladdin and Jasmine separately trying to get relationship advice from Killian and Killian just being annoyed with them. It was also nice to have their True Love story work out the way it did as well. I mean, that was basically a foregone conclusion, once Jasmine figured out what the crap was going on.

Also - Oded Fehr as Jafar.

Yep. That is all.

Just how fun was he as Genie-Jafar? As though I couldn't love him even more! And I don't typically like evil villains. But, it's Oded Fehr! Come on!

(I think I need him and Victoria "Cruella" Smurfit to come back and snark at each other. I would enjoy that very much).

I'm trying to think if these kinds of last-minute misdirects have been part of OUAT for a while and I'm just now noticing them, or if they've just gotten better at doing them. Because I figured Aesop-as-the-bartender was just a way for Emma to voice out loud what bothered her the most about Killian leaving.

BUT THEN, we end up with him really being Gideon and he has the "tears of the Savior" (since when is that a thing? Good grief - making up magic rules as we go...) So that means that Killian can't come back until Emma does what he wants?

And it's like - Oh NOW Gideon wants to ask for help? After he's been a jackhole and threatened everyone and been a general annoying pain-in-the-neck?

If he'd gone the "ask for help" route before, I'm certain Emma and Team Storybrooke would have been more amenable to giving him what he wanted. As it is, he's just been a smarmy, petulant, little Justin Bieber clone that nobody (except his parents, I guess) wants around. And he almost broke Emma and Killian up, which I can never forgive.

Moral of the Story: You can never go back to a first impression.

Next week -

Oh - and why did Ariel keep the ring after Agrabah was freed from it? Might that come in handy later?

Hold onto that thought.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ones Who Are Worthy - Review of "Power Rangers" (2017)


Seriously - there are going to be a TON of spoilers in this review post. Proceed at your own risk!




Enough of a buffer? Sure hope so.

Ahem - okay. Now to begin.


Yes, I have more coherent thoughts on this film. The most pithy of which is that movie was better than it had any right to be. That is not a criticism of the movie or the franchise as a whole. But let's deal with reality here - Power Rangers is the ultimate in '90s camp. It is cheestastic to the nth degree. If future generations ever want to understand what the 1990s were like, a good place to start would be the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV series.

It was never meant to be anything more than a low-budget, cheaply-made show to put on the Fox Network's after-school block of programming for kids. Probably sell some action figures and make some extra cash on the side. But a phenomenon? Twenty-plus seasons and several iterations of the series? Multiple feature-length films? Still going strong even when the initial target audience is well into adulthood and having their own kids? Puh-leaze...

And yet - here we are in 2017 and the franchise is getting a serious movie update. Not just an update, but the hopes that an entire movie universe could be built around it and maybe compete with big dogs like Marvel and Star Wars. Like, people working on this thing actually care about the property and want to see it succeed at the box office. Actual Characters and Actual Storylines are being developed with a keen attention to who these people are and why we should give a damn about any of it.

Oh yes - and add in technicolor superheroes with giant dinosaur robots that fight evil monsters terrorizing planet Earth.

This movie is an origin story. But it's more than "Here kids - you get superpowers now go fight evil." Nope. These five teenagers have to EARN their Zords. And they all have a long way to go. Each of them are screw-ups in their own way. Maybe they're not all intentionally rebellious, but you probably remember your teen years - trying to be an adult but failing miserably. Pretending like you don't care what people think of you, but you do. Even more, caving to peer pressure and realizing that you care what you think of yourself, even more than anyone else.

The kids in this movie are real kids. All trying to figure out their lives, even though some of them should have it figured out. At least, according to everyone around them.

What sucks for these guys and girls is that their powers are based on their connection to themselves. Which involves opening up to each other and accepting one another's faults and weaknesses - not posturing or posing or trying to look like anything other than what they are. And trusting the others not to use that as a weapon.

It's logical to start with Jason (since the movie does). Star high school quarterback, small town hero, has his ticket to his future basically punched. Then he pulls a really stupid prank, gets caught by the police, panics and causing untold amount of property damage, screws up his knee, and his football career (complete with college scholarships) is gone. Oh - and he gets to go to weekly detention with a bunch of losers and ne'er-do-wells. YAY.

And then there's Billy. Good grief - that boy is the innocent little puppy dog you want to take home and take care of and make sure none of the bigger, meaner dogs come after him. It's established earlier that Billy is autistic, so there's a lot that he doesn't understand from others and he encounters a lot of trouble because of it (through no fault of his own). But rather than be some stupid stereotype, the story plays with a lot of his character's strengths. And, man, does RJ Cyler knock the performance out of the freaking park! There is humor in his character, yes. But it's never mean-spirited or rude. It's endearing and heartfelt.

There's one point where Rita Repulsa refers to Billy as "the pure of heart" and, really, that's Billy's role for the team. He is the heart of this group. In fact (I told you there'd be spoilers), when Rita kills Billy, that's when the team fully gels. Sure, they'd been getting to that point and making good progress, but it was the loss of someone they all cared about (that they didn't realize how much they all cared) that pushed them into that team cohesion. It's like - Billy was fully on-board with this superhero thing from the beginning and his sacrifice was needed to inspire that in the others.

(Billy does get better. Through some space-alien technology thingummy - it all works out and he survives. Suffice it to say, as much as the Rangers team needed to learn to trust each other, Zordon also needed to learn to trust this new group of kids. Even he had a bit of a character arc, which was nice.)

Kimberly's an interesting one because you don't find out her story for a long time into the movie. And the whole time, you're thinking "Oh no - what could have happened to her to make her talk about running away or just not wanting to deal with it?" Don't know about anyone else, but my mind went to some pretty dark places. Her issue? She spread a nasty rumor about a friend and felt like the worst human being on the planet because of it. Compared to what some of the other Rangers confess to, that may seem tame. But I liked how that guilt weighed on Kimberly. Like, her trials wasn't because of difficulties with her family or bad circumstances or some misunderstanding. She made a mistake and she needed to learn to forgive herself for it. She was embarrassed by her actions, thinking that they made her a bad person.

Now, with the other two - Zack and Trini - there wasn't a whole lot of time spent on their backstories (it's kind of hard to balance a full story with five main characters). But we did get enough to understand where their characters were coming from (and they'll probably get more treatment in the sequels). Zack's mom is terminally ill and he has to take care of her. To the point that he doesn't always go to school, nor does he go home at night for fear of waking up and finding out his mom passed away in the night.

Trini doesn't fit in with her "perfect" family and is point-blank rebelling against their normal life. And she just doesn't want to let anyone in - she does her own thing and nobody's going to tell her what to do. She's the most reluctant of the Rangers, it seems. It gets to the point where Rita offers to spare her life if she tells Rita where the Zeo Crystal is (the source of all life on planets and Rita wants it because, evil). I half-expected Trini to accept Rita's offer and be the snake in the grass. But she actually goes to the team and tells them what Rita's plans are and warns them that Rita is going to destroy the world the next day. So, consider that a trope averted.

There's just a lot of heart in this movie. So much that, when this group of strangers actually starts coming together as close-knit friends, I actually felt a little teary-eyed at it. Keep in mind, this is freaking Power Rangers. That campy, corny show that kept me mindlessly entertained in my childhood. The one with all the silly catchphrases and 90s-isms. And - yep - they made it emotional and serious.

That's not to say there is no humor in this movie. Nope. The training montage where Alpha 5 tries to teach them how to fight has its share of comedy of errors. Zack hijacking the Mastodon Zord before he's morphed was pretty funny (the van full of nuns he almost ran over was hilarious). Like I said, a lot of Billy's moments were just pure joy and heart. And there's a moment where Trini and Kimberly are in the Krispy Kreme (yes, Krispy Kreme - we'll get to that) and they're "fighting" over the last bit of donut. For all of Trini's standoffishness, you can see that the two girls are starting to become friends.

After all the heaviness of the kids coming together as the team - it's after they learn to morph and get the Zords and take off after Rita that the fun begins. And I was LAUGHING throughout that whole sequence. Not because it was unintentionally funny or that I was making fun of it - I was just amazed at how much FUN I was having watching these new Rangers take on Rita's Putties and Goldar. It was like - we had the big, weighty stuff. Now we needed the payoff of all that work this team put into becoming a team. And once they were through those obstacles, everything else seemed easy (even when Goldar had them burning up inside their giant mechs and they all almost died in the Zeo Crystal - but that just made a giant Megazord. Or, as Billy almost called it, Mamazord. I would have liked Mamazord, actually).

Okay - the Krispy Kreme thing. Much has be said about the obvious product placement. Honestly, after the fuss so many people made about it, I thought there'd be more to it than there was. I think there were three scenes where "Krispy Kreme" was shoved in at every turn and corner, but after that - nothing. In fact, Jared said that he wasn't quite sure if it was product placement, or just a joke (to be sure, he knew it was product placement. But it was done in such a way that it was corny enough in a Power Rangers movie not to be product placement. If that makes sense).

And, yes, there was plenty of cornball camp to remind us what we were watching, exactly. Not so much that it overpowered the rest of the movie. But the sudden inclusion of the original "Go Go Power Rangers" theme - like, full-on the TV theme, not redone or rebooted with some modern-day rock group doing vocals - as the team was heading out with their Zords to fight Rita. Also, the part when they've formed the Megazord and the thing falls flat on its face because they haven't figured out how to control it. And even the prank Jason pulls with the cow at the beginning of the movie.

Yes, folks. There is camp in this movie. Just enough to make it work.

I also must make mention of the cameos. Because how could you have a Power Rangers reboot without throwing in one or two cameos? I wasn't sure who would show up, exactly. I did see that most of the original cast had gone to the movie premiere and that was pretty cool. But I kept an eye out for who they could have put in the movie. And I full-on applauded in the movie theater when, at the end of the big battle when the citizens of Angel Grove were coming out to survey the damage, none other than Jason David Frank and Amy Jo Johnson were front and center of the crowd, taking pictures of the Megazord with their cell phones and grinning at each other like they were still Tommy and Kimberly of twenty years ago.

In fact, I'm headcanoning it that they WERE an older Tommy and Kimberly who were still together after all this time.

Will make things interesting in the sequel *cough, cough, mid-credit-scene, cough*

I know I've gushed at length about this movie. And I'm sure that after some time, I'll think of flaws and things to nit-pick about it (I do with they'd given us more backstory on Zack and Trini, but like I said - sequels!) But for a first-watch of a movie that I had no idea what I was going to to get, I was pleasantly surprised how much FUN I had watching this movie. And that's what I've felt has been lacking in movies lately. There's been so much focus on "diversity" and checking off census ticky boxes to make Tumblr happy, that the stories have suffered because writers have been focusing on the wrong things (it's like we have to have crappy social preaching before we can be entertained. If the entertainment ever gets there, that is). And much has been made of Power Rangers's diverse cast. But I was more interested in the characters as presented, because the story made them interesting (and the actors each made those characters interesting as well).

Character and story first, then worry about their genetic makeup and what-have-you afterward. And really, I think they got it with this one.

Now they've done such a good job with one movie, the pressure's on to do a repeat. And if they're going the direction that I think they're going to go with the next, there is SO MUCH potential for good storytelling and characters. The pieces are there - they just need to be in the hands of competent creators and entertaining storytellers.

Go, go Power Rangers writers. You've got this.

(I am so sorry for that pun. But I had to.)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Running Away From Your Problems

Review/Recap of Once Upon A Time Episode 6.14 "Page 23" - SPOILERS!

Isn't it nice when a show FINALLY voices what you've known about a character FOR FOUR SEASONS???

Welcome to Once Upon A Time - where the audience knows more than the people actually writing the damn show.

Sigh... anyway.

Last week when I saw the promo for this episode, I figured this was going to be yet another cheap installment of "Regina vs Her Own Darkness" and bemoaning how she never gets a happy ending and she's an evil villain and can't ever be redeemed... blah, blah, blah....

If you've been following this show for any length of time, you know the drill by now.

I really didn't expect the Evil Queen storyline to be taken care of, though. I thought they'd just put off the problem to be solved another day (or never, the way these people are practically married to the old hag). So, I will register my complete and utter surprise that the Writers Room actually said - YES! Regina is OFFICIALLY redeemed and is No Longer A Villain! (at least, not in the traditional way).

Thanks for putting your stamp on something that's been official in the minds of your audience for a good four YEARS, guys.

I did like the twist that Regina needed to love herself to finally achieve happiness. That's a theme that's severely lacking, not just in popular culture, but in the world at large. Seeing as my job is to cover news and politics (and I'll try not to get too political here - I reserve that for other forums), I see this nearly every day. People are upset because Politician A said this, or Politician B did that, or Political Event X didn't go the way they wanted, so now they have to throw a hissy fit and act like immature children and annoy people with their bullshit. And it's not even the big political stuff - the internet is fueled by outrage culture on every side of the political spectrum. You HAVE to be pissed off at someone else's mistakes and you never, ever, ever, EVER try to look at it from their perspective. Heaven forbid you stop and think about the times that you did something stupid and, but for the grace of God, your misstep didn't become public fodder for some clickbait tabloid covered with janky internet advertisements.

Nope. Everyone has to be upset about EVERYTHING. Too much looking outward for outside causes to their problems, while never considering that their discontent with their own lives might actually be more internal. And lest you think I'm pointing fingers, I am very well aware of these failings in myself. I hate to admit it, but there are moments where I feel like I'm the worst human being on the planet and I will never achieve my glorious happy ending (or happy continuation, as I like to think of it) because I'm just not good enough at... whatever I'm trying to be good at.

In fact - going back to a moment in this episode, the one where Evil!Regina modified Cupid's arrow to find the person she hated the most and she ended up looking in a mirror - I've wondered sometimes if that's really why I hate looking in mirrors. Not because I find them creepy or disconcerting, but because I don't want to look at myself any more than I have to.

Okay... that went somewhere I wasn't expecting it to go. But I guess that's a sign of a really good story - it makes you look at yourself and helps you learn and grow in ways that aren't immediately obvious. Maybe help you find out things that very few people think about. Sure, it's easy to measure success in terms of career or family or hobbies. But even those successes don't ring true forever (goodness knows I've been blessed with good things in my life, but I don't always feel like I am) and you have to find your self-worth from within, not from how amazing other people think you are.

That's kind of why I think the whole self-esteem movement is full of BS. That was all about telling people they're special snowflakes and to ignore all the negativity and haters and critics. Nobody ever internalized it, so when they did run into problems, they - well - they ignored the criticism and refused to learn from the experience and just complained about it. By contrast, self-worth comes from a place of accepting your flaws and weaknesses and making them work for you, instead of sitting down and whining that life isn't fair because you had a bad day or something. That's why there are people who have encountered horrible things like debilitating illness, cancer, terrible accidents, sudden deaths of loved ones - but they still remain happy and positive and grateful for the things they do have.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that your happiness is dependent on your outlook on life. That's something that I'm working on learning and balancing with all the other things that I do.

For all the things I complain about with this show, that's honestly why I come back to it. For gems like this one. Keep in mind - the only reason Regina hated Snow was because Snow told a secret when she was a child and it led to the death of someone Regina cared about. Horrible, yes. But an innocent mistake that Snow White never thought would have the consequences that it did. Not when she was so young, anyway. The villain in that situation is - and always will be - Cora. And she's been dealt with already. So, no need to continue beating that dead horse. Literally.

(I may or may not be calling Cora a "horse." I've called her worse, so shush.)

And then... there's Captain Swan...

...sigh... what am I going to DO with you two?

Okay - I can understand why Killian is conflicted about the situation he's in. I really can. He's the type of person who would feel guilty about his past bad actions. He would feel like he needs to pay for his mistakes. Eye for an eye, and all that.

But the fact that he does feel bad and that he feels like he is unworthy of Emma and the accompanying happiness that a life with her would bring him is precisely why he is worthy and deserving of such! He accepts

When Emma found out about Killian's role in her grandfather's death (a grandfather that she never knew, by the way), I actually thought her attitude about it was going to make things okay - reminding Killian that Snow and Charming would forgive him and they knew that he was a changed man and that wasn't the kind of person he was anymore. But THEN - she has to go "If you can't trust my family, then we can't be together."

Really, Emma? REALLY????

So, Killian seeks out Captain Nemo and the Nautilus (I forgot that they were still in town, honestly) and resolves to leave Storybrooke with the crew of the submarine "To go out and find himself" so he can prove he's worthy of Emma and her family. Because running away from your problems is the PERFECT way to fix your life.

WHAT ARE YOU TWO CHUCKLEHEADS DOING???? You have gone to hell and back for each other - quite literally! If you two STILL don't know that you are the best things that happen to one another, there is NOTHING that is going to convince you that you both are deserving of being happy!


The good news is that Snow (unknowingly) intervenes with her typical bubbly "I'M SO HAPPY FOR YOU TWO!" personality and that reminds Killian that he's being an ass (and so is Emma, in her own way) and it's time for him to patch things up with Emma and proceed with this engagement as originally planned.

The only mistake from here on out is Killian saying goodbye to Nemo and company on board the Nautilus - but that's only because Gideon is a piece of cow excrement and he took over the Nautilus operating systems in order to send Killian away from Storybrooke and Emma (apparently, True Love is what's going to save Emma from Gideon and the Black Fairy. GEE, WHO WOULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING??)

Which, I'm all... once the sub is far enough away, couldn't Nemo and crew just take control back and zip back to Storybrooke? I'm sure there's some loophole that's going to be abused in the next episode. Because - DAMMIT, this SUCKS!

Next time -

If I don't see Gideon's head on a pike at some point, I'm going to be royally pissed.