Sunday, April 13, 2014

Review: Hyperbole and a Half -- THE BOOK

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That HappenedHyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As others have mentioned, this book is a great mix of our favorite Hyperbole and a Half stories (like "God of Cake") and completely new material ("Letter to My Future Self"). If you're already a fan of her writing, you don't need me to talk about the text. What I want to talk about, what I really, really love about this book, though, is its construction. The physical book itself is quite impressive.

[If it's not already obvious, attempting to read this on an e-Reader will not do you any good as a big piece of Brosh's charm are her illustrations.]

The paper is thick and glossy. The book itself has heft; it could be used as a weapon should one need to defend herself while out and about (and reading). The pages for each story or "section" are different colored, all bright and Crayola-looking, leaving no doubt that this book is the Hyperbole and a Half we all know and love. The pages only change color when a new story is introduced, making it very easy to thumb through the book and read each story as one sees fit. We don't need no stinkin' linear reading!

All in all, my feeling is the book was expensive to produce. Prices range from $9 (Amazon Prime paperback) to $20 (hardcover). I think I paid around $14 for my copy. No matter how you slice it, the price (any of them) is a "heckuva deal!" (to quote my step-dad).

Do yourself a favor and buy this in hard copy; laugh and cry with Allie's humor and "unfortunate situations"; enjoy the glossiness of the page; and keep it with you should you need to give someone a concussion.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: Scarlet

Scarlet (The Lunar Chronicles, #2)Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I gave book #1, Cinder, four stars, Scarlet only got three. Why? I think I tend to like first books better. In first books, everything is new; the universe is new, the concepts and "gimmicks" are new. I still enjoyed Scarlet very much (I devoured it in one sitting), but the lack of "newness" got rid of that fourth star.

Scarlet, of course, is Marissa Meyer's futuristic rendering of "Little Red Riding Hood." Red's canon involves:
-A girl
-A red hood
-A grandmother
-A wolf
-A huntsman
-A journey

Meyer fulfills all of those in her own way, except maybe (click here to read entire review with spoiler).  However, as it took me a moment to even realize that that was possibly missing, it clearly didn't effect or distract from the story.

Speaking of wolves, I particularly liked (Yes, another spoiler) had "Hello, Little Girl" from Into the Woods running through my head the entire time.

While Cinder ends abruptly, Scarlet does not pick up directly where it left off. We are first introduced to Scarlet and her world, and just when we've forgotten that we were dying to know about Cinder's plight, a chapter will pick up with Cinder's story. The political intrigue continues from Cinder; however, there is less focus on cyborgs as second-class citizens, etc., probably because a cyborg isn't quite the focus of this book. When Scarlet was finished, I definitely still wanted to read book #3 (Cress), but there was not the immediate, burning desire that I had at the end of Cinder.

Meyer, overall, does a nice job of weaving the stories together; these characters all exist in Meyer's same universe, after all, which means that Cress will be quite the balancing act.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Review: Cinder

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As I mentioned in my review of Seraphina, I enjoy new takes on established mythologies, and Cinder is no exception. I mistakenly thought this was a "steampunk" version of the Cinderella story, but it is not; it's a sci-fi futuristic revisioning of the tale and so much more than that.

When discussing new takes on old stories with my students, we discuss the idea of "canon," the things you absolutely MUST have in a story to make the tale recognizable (i.e. if you're doing your own version of Batman, what do you need? What must every Batman tale have?). In addition to the titular character, Cinderella's cannon is:
  • A wicked stepmother
  • Two hateful stepsisters
  • A prince
  • A ball
  • A "pumpkin" coach
  • A "glass slipper"
  • A fairy godmother
  • Other assorted "helpers," sometimes of the animal variety.

Cinder manages to accomplish all of this in its futuristic universe, except (in order to view the spoiler, read the review directly on Goodreads here and click "view spoiler").

Some of the bits of canon are cleverer than others. When the issue of the ball arrives, it felt like a bit of a smack in the face with its lack of subtlety, but then I reminded myself that 1) it doesn't have to be subtle, and 2) we do HAVE to have a ball.

Cinder accomplishes so much more than "just" the fairy tale, though. It's a tale of politics and intrigue and a global society that still has second- (and third-) class citizens. It does end somewhat abruptly, so make sure you have the second book, Scarlet, on order.
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Friday, April 4, 2014

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I saw it last night, and two friends said, "I'm looking forward to your review," so I guess I should write one.  First off, I greatly enjoyed this movie.  Like many movies on the big screen, sometimes it's hard for me to take it all in the first time around.  I probably won't be able to see this one a second time in the theaters, so let's see what my brain remembers from last night's 11:10 p.m. showing.

First, here's the trailer to get us in the mood:

First off, the negatives (there aren't that many):
  • Bad Hair.  I hate the Black Widow's hair in this movie.  I know she's had different hair for each of these movies, and her Avengers hair was the best, in my opinion.  The ringlets were far too fussy for an assassin.  The Avengers bob was the perfect color and length for the Russian spy on the go.  It moved with her acrobatics and gunslinging just right.  This flat-iron job is too, well, flat.  The color is flat with too much dull orange for her complexion.  Plus, what spy has time to flat-iron her hair every morning?  About halfway through this 136-minute movie, it finally stopped distracting me.
  • Lack of Guyliner.   Look at that very last shot of the Winter Soldier.  LOOK AT IT!  Do you see the fantastic guyliner he's sporting?  Okay, fine, it's more like the stuff football players wear to protect from glare, but let's not split hairs here.  SPOILER ALERT:  That awesome eye make-up is not in the movie.  My Facebook nemesis friend Ben said that maybe it's just in the trailer to help "disguise" his real identity.  Whatever.  I wanted guyliner, goddammit!
Supervillains this season are sporting the "morning after" eye make-up, a.k.a. "The Raccoon."
Now on to the positives.  While I do adore Iron Man's snark, Steve Rogers' combination of "Boy Scout" and dry humor is right up there, too.  That and the fact that he's more of a "defensive" fighter than offensive make him a nice change from some of the other superheroes.  Captain America:  The First Avenger is, of course, an origin story; the recent Marvel special, Assembling a Universe, called it "a period action film."  I liked that.  This being Cap's third movie, we know who he is.  So there's less exposition and more explosion.  A LOT more explosions.  Like a lot.  I jumped and squealed several times.  There are also a lot more fight sequences for the Captain; they were really able to show off his moves.

Speaking of "showing off" the Captain, his arms -- mostly his shoulders -- are HUGE in this movie.  They are noticeably larger than his previous films.  Almost too big.  He's not the Hulk, and I don't want them to make him look too far outside of human norms.  He's not Mark McGwire, for goodness sake.  In fact, there was one action sequence where I commented, "Is he the Hulk now?" because of his recklessness.  His fury (pun intended) in terms of plot make sense in that moment, but I still thought it was pushing the limits of his superhero strength.

Wait, I thought this was the positive section?

  • The Falcon.  A.K.A. Sam Wilson.  His humor is right on par with Steve's.  His character was fun with still the right dose of reality.  I'm looking forward to seeing more of him.
  • Black Widow.  Besides the hair, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff can really do no wrong in my eyes.  Her timing is impeccable.
  • Attention to Detail.  These little "bits" are part of what make all of these movies work together in the same universe.  Some examples:
    • Natasha wears a small necklace.  Look at it carefully during the close-up shots.  I don't want to spoil it for you, but I definitely know what I think it means.
    • Nick Fury's costuming. 
      It's the toy that says, "Bad-ass motherfucker" on it.
      In the previous movies, he's all bad-ass (as only Samuel L. Jackson can be) with his leather trench coat.  While he may be the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., he's still anti-authority.  Take for example this bit of dialogue from The Avengers:
      • World Security Council: "Director Fury, the council has made a decision."
        Nick Fury: "I recognize the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've elected to ignore it."
      • In the beginning of The Winter Soldier, Director Fury is attempting to tell the Captain to get on board with S.H.I.E.L.D. and all its bureaucracy (shown in the trailer).  Look at his clothing.  That is not the bad-ass Nick Fury we all know and love.  His clothing is very military-esque, showing that he's part of "the man" now.
    • Nick Fury's epitaph.  It goes by quickly, but read it carefully.  :-)
I will not give away any spoilers, but there are plenty of plot twists and turns that I totally fell for, even though I should have known better, as well as introductions to further Marvel characters.

Our previews also showed us the trailer for X-Men:  Days of Future Past and godDAMN!  That looks pretty intense.  I may need to rewatch X-Men:  First Class; although, each time I've rewatched it, I like it less and less.  And that makes me sad because I loved it in the theater.

I was going to post the second Winter Soldier trailer in here for you, but I think it gives too much away.  Gotta leave something for the film, right??  So here's the X-Men:  Days of Future Past trailer instead.