April 30, 2012

Movie Monday: The Raven

How you feel about The Raven may depend on how you feel about John Cusack. I think he's a bit of a national treasure and the not-boyfriend likes to make fun of him. Thus, it was a good choice of movie for us to see together. (We were accompanied by a mutual friend because we roll like that on our not-dates.)

Just watching the trailer, you can probably see what happened.  One executive went, "We need an answer to Sherlock Holmes!"  Someone answered, "Edgar Allen Poe!  Intoxication!  Detectives!  Murder!"  Thankfully, it seems that a decent number of the people making the movie actually read Poe at some point in their lives.  Now, I'm not praising The Raven for historical accuracy.  I'm just saying they don't try to pretend Poe is a master detective.  He's a poor, drunken poet and critic who gets wrapped up in a series of murders because the killer takes inspiration from his words.  The police notice and ask Poe to help them figure out what the killer will do next.

Back to John Cusack.  He tries to be Poe, honestly.  Poe has some wonderfully twisty lines, to show off his intellect.  Cusack speaks the speech trippingly and does a beautiful job of getting the words out.  He is, however, never convincing as a drunkard or a temperamental man.  The Raven may give Cusack a pale complexion and a receding hairline, but it can't conceal his charisma.  He's more of a puppy dog than a scavenging bird.  Despite the prettiness of Poe's dialogue, the best lines came from people's reactions to him.  To paraphrase:

Poe (trying to buy a drink without money):  "I'm a poet!  I'm POE!"
Dude at bar who could care less: "Well, that's a given."

The most pleasant surprise was Alice Eve as Emily Hamilton, the love interest.  In her first scenes I kept thinking, "Oh, you're dead.  Dead, dead, dead.  You are doomed, love interest.  The narrative is calling for your blood."  I mean, I liked her.  She had some spunk.

Poe:  "I love you.  Most ardently!"
Emily:  "That's nice.  You gonna put a ring on it?"
Poe:  "Yes?"
Emily:  "Do it at my birthday ball.  Too many witnesses for my dad to shoot you."

But, when she gets inevitably kidnapped by the killer, I assumed it would be too late to save her and she'd die sadly in Poe's arms.  So I rejoiced when the movie cut to her in captivity.  Because Emily doesn't sit pretty and pine for her Edgar.  She disassembles her corset and sets to rescuing herself.  Seriously, the guys I was with compared her to The Bride.

The Raven is mostly what you're expecting.  It is a deeply silly, psuedo-historical detective story shot in a blue color palette.  There's gore.  (I closed my eyes during the Pit and the Pendulum scene.)  There's a shallow love story.  There's a serious policeman (Luke Evans) who plays second fiddle to the detective.  If that's what you like, you'll enjoy the movie.  To me, you're better off renting The Raven than going to see it in theaters.

April 29, 2012

Room to Read

Room to Read's mission?
We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education, reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.
To achieve this goal, we focus on two areas where we believe we can have the greatest impact: literacy and gender equality in education. We work in collaboration with communities and local governments across Asia and Africa to develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the life skills they’ll need to succeed in school and beyond.
Room to Read accomplishes this mission through programs such as building libraries and schools and publishing children's books in local languages.

They have a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, which means you can trust that money donated to Room to Read will support their mission.

Find out how to get involved here. Your help can be as simple as donating or as complex as creating your own campaign to raise money for Room to Read.

April 27, 2012

Keyword Fun

Lately I've been looking at searches bring people to In Bed With Books. Most of the searches are straightforward, but there's a few things I can offer updates on.

There's "kate spade emma clutch" - those searchers will want this post chronicling my lust for the expensive Kate Spade Romeo + Juliet clutch. They might also be interested in perusing the book collection of French designer Olympia LeTan, which are even less affordable. Natalie Portman carried her Lolita bag to the Black Swan premiere.

Follow Kate Spade on Tumblr.

"[S]exy reading pictures" is an evergreen search term for IBWB, somewhat strangely. I suppose they're being directed to this post on the reading mudflap girl. (I've spotted other variations on the theme since then; have you?)  I recommend those searchers check out this cool Wired article about Rachel Ann, the original mudflap girl.

But if you really want sexy reading pictures, you're probably better off going to the Book Porn Tumblr.

Finally, we come to "games wizards play release date." This is because I once said GAMES WIZARDS PLAY (Diane Duane) doesn't have a publication date yet. Unfortunately, there is still no release date. But . . . in late 2012 an anthology entitled THE WIZARDS' YEAR will be published. THE WIZARDS' YEAR will contain twelve short stories set in the Young Wizards universe. See the bottom of this post.

For parallelism, Diane Duane is on Tumblr.

Review: Kill Switch

Book Cover By Chris Lynch (no website found)
Available now from Simon & Schuster BFYR
Review copy

I will never forget the name Chris Lynch. INEXCUSABLE, published in 2005, was a National Book Award Finalist and one of YALSA's Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults. And I have yet to have anyone tell me something nice about INEXCUSABLE in person. So I've never particularly wanted to read that book, but I've been curious about Chris Lynch.

I couldn't resist the blurb for KILL SWITCH. You mention assassins and I am there. Of course, it also mentioned dementia. At this point I have to accept that books about dementia are going to keep coming my way and there's nothing I can do about it. Daniel never truly realizes how lucky he is that his grandfather is so coherent. The bad days may be coming, but it's a blessing to have any time between sanity and the bad days. Of course, he doesn't have a ton of time to stop and reflect since he and Da are in danger.

Da used to be a very bad man, a sort of black ops operative. And now that his mind is going he can no longer remember to keep his mouth shut. Thus, his old coworkers want to shush him. Daniel can't let that happen. The close relationship between Daniel and Da gives the spare, predictable plot life. Daniel struggles to understand the new things he's learning about his grandfather, which is something you can understand even if your loved ones aren't former assassins. When affairs are put to order, those affairs come to light.

The slim volume begins to go off the rails in the last third. Normal, shocked-by-the-offer-of-a-gun Daniel suddenly turns into a beatdown machine. Now, I'm not saying the events of the book might not push someone to violence. But Daniel goes extreme and he's good at it. Generally, beating the crap out of somebody takes a bit of practice. (Okay, so it's not that hard with a blunt weapon, but he does it once with his bare hands.)

KILL SWITCH didn't make me want to run out and buy INEXCUSABLE. It was a pleasant diversion, a clever merging of the family drama and action thriller genres. But it was a bit too abrupt to really get under my skin. And this is a story that needs to get under your skin.

April 26, 2012

Review: Life is But a Dream

Book Cover By Brian James
Available now from Feiwel & Friends
Review copy

I have read several books by Brian James, but he's never made much of an impression.  While none of his books struck me as particularly memorable, I enjoyed reading them.  Still, I felt some trepidation when I began LIFE IS BUT A DREAM.  Mental illness is not well understood and stories are one way to spread knowledge and empathy.

It is extremely common to hear tales about how people with schizophrenia, manic depression, or other illnesses are more creative when they don't take their medication.  That their medicine turns them into low-functioning zombies.  It's a dangerous meme.  Everyone has a right to make their own decisions about treatment as long as they aren't dangerous to themselves or others.  But sometimes people avoid treatment that could help them based on nothing more than hearsay.

Sabrina seemed like a poetic dreamer when she was a child.  But eventually, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Then she had to be put into a mental wellness center.  She's on the mend when Alec enters her life.  He convinces her that it's the world that's crazy, not them, and that they can escape together and live without drugs.  It's pretty easy for Alec to say, since he's your basic rich kid for attention issues.

I loved getting lost in Sabrina's narration.  It's easy for the reader, at first, to think Alec may be right.  Then the things Sabrina lies to herself start coming to light and her narrative frays around the edges as she spirals down.  It's pretty rough to see her regress after she stops her medication regime.  Meanwhile, Alec is blithely oblivious to the damage he's causing.

But despite LIFE IS BUT A DREAM being intensely shaped by Sabrina's  worldview, you can tell that Alec matures.  The scene wherein he realizes Sabrina is actually schizophrenic is a brutal wake-up call.  And, in the end, things do work out well.  Sabrina, after all, must choose her treatment for herself.  Alec's words wouldn't affect her so much if she hadn't believed she wasn't ill at the beginning of LIFE IS BUT A DREAM.

James has written an affecting and realistic portrait of schizophrenia.  Even better, he created a wonderful protagonist who happens to have schizophrenia, just as she happens to fall in love and come of age.

April 25, 2012

Chaos Walking: The Movie meets Charlie Kaufman

Book Cover

Charlie Kaufman, the scriptwriter for Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, has been tapped to adapt THE KNIFE OF NEVER LETTING GO, the first book of Patrick Ness's Chaos Walking trilogy, for the big screen. While many young adult series have done well in theaters lately, their screen adaptations have played it fairly safe. Considering Ness didn't write a safe series, I'm hoping for an equally ambitious movie.

Or maybe I'm just hoping for Adaptation 2: Adapt Harder.

Book CoverBook Cover

(If you haven't read the books, click on the covers. Hardcover copies of THE ASK AND THE ANSWER and MONSTERS OF MEN are currently on sale for $7.60 at Amazon.)

(via AV Club)

April 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesday (1)

I've seen this meme many times at The Adventures of Cecilia Bedelia and decided to give it a try. It is hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

Grab your current read. Open it (or scroll) to a random page. Post two, non-spoilery sentences along with the title and author. Share!

"I know you want to talk to me about what I've learned in the past few weeks but honestly there's not a whole lot to say."
52 Reasons to Hate My Father by Jessica Brody (Advance Review Copy), p. 156

The Story Siren

Yesterday, I read the Smart Bitches Trashy Books post revealing that The Story Siren (Kristi) had plagiarized from two fashion bloggers, Grit & Glamour and Beautifully Invisible. I was shocked and disappointed. I did make a brief post on my Tumblr, but I wanted to wait to post here until more of the story came to light. Kristi made an apology and today, she has made a more thought-out apology clarifying her original one.

I believe that Kristi is truly sorry and never meant to hurt the community or the bloggers she stole from. But she has.

I can't tell you I'm never going to read The Story Siren again. I think she's done wonderful things with her work, from supporting debut authors to helping sick children. She's always been someone I admire, and everyone should have a second chance.

However, I cannot in good conscience leave a link to her blog in my sidebar. I am not condemning bloggers who choose to leave a link to The Story Siren on their sites. That is their choice, and this is mine.

I wish Kristi the best of luck in her future endeavors.

April 23, 2012

Movie Monday: Drones

You know who is super cool? Amber Benson. She was part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of the best shows to ever grace television. She writes books. (I enjoy the Calliope Reaper-Jones series, do you?) She also directs. Drones, available for streaming on Amazon, is an office-place comedy she co-directed with Adam Busch (another Buffy alum). Cult television fans will also be pleased by the presence of Samm Levine and Dave (Gruber) Allen, both from Freaks & Geeks.

The story is simple: Brian Dilks (Jonathon M. Woodward) is a "humble bumblebee" at work, just wanting to his job without any fanfare. When he discovers his best friend Clark (Samm Levine) is an alien, he decides to go outside of his comfort boundaries. He pushes his office flirtation with Amy (Angela Bettis) to the next level by asking her out. Unfortunately, their relationship could have seriously bad consequences for Earth.

Drones is hilarious. It's a small movie, never leaving the confines of OmniLink. But OmniLink has enough weirdos to keep you guessing, when anyone could be an alien in disguise. I enjoyed that everyone liked Cooperman, who did his work calmly, mediated office conflicts, and was an all-around nice guy. It's nice to see someone get stuff done by being a good guy.

Mostly, I just wanted to let you know Drones exists, considering there isn't a DVD/Blu-ray release or anything. (It doesn't even have a TV Tropes page and it's right up most tropers' alleys.) But if you have Netflix Instant or Showtime or whatever, you should see it. Drones is a great independent comedy.

ETA: I forgot to mention the soundtrack! Below I'm embedding Dan Bern's "Strongly Worded Memo," Drones' opening theme.

Strongly Worded Memo

April 11, 2012

Review: Jane Eyre: A Counting Primer and Alice in Wonderland: A Colors Primer

Book CoverBook CoverBooks 3 and 4 of the Baby Lit Board Books
By Jennifer Adams
Illustrated by Alison Oliver
Available now from Gibbs Smith
Review copy

Why am I reviewing board books, you might ask? Because I was offered them for review and I had a nephew turning two on the seventh. (I gave them to him on the eighth as Easter presents, however.) I thought the books sounded like great fun and wanted to give them a chance.

Looking over them on my own, I thought they were a great package. The illustrations by Alison Oliver are irresistibly cute and the color palettes are terrific. I liked that LITTLE MISS BRONTE: JANE EYRE had quotations from the text sprinkled throughout. The illustrations for LITTLE MASTER CARROLL: ALICE IN WONDERLAND incorporated more details from the novel, but I missed the quotes.

My mom's reaction upon seeing the books: "Oh, those are two cute! They're great for lit types."

My sister's: "I'm going to need to read JANE EYRE."

My nephew ignored ALICE IN WONDERLAND: A COUNTING PRIMER at first. He preferred to carry JANE EYRE: A COUNTING PRIMER around, likely due to the moody blue cover. (He loves blue things.) Later, my four-year-old niece wanted me to read JANE EYRE to her. She enjoyed counting the objects as I read. Then she wanted me to read it to her again. Then she wanted to read it to me again. She struggled with some of the terms, so I got to explain to her what a 'governess' is.

That night she wanted me to read ALICE IN WONDERLAND for her bedtime story. Then she decided that she wanted to read it to me! Now, my niece is not literate. She can recognize letters but can't read words yet. But from the context of the illustrations, she was able to figure out the words on each page with almost no help from me. (We had a small debate over whether the caterpillar was blue or green.) Tonight, my nephew played around with JANE EYRE more and my niece wanted me to read it to her again. I think they enjoy the books!

If you buy these primers, don't expect a plot summary. They're color and number books using characters and objects from classic novels. If the kids are interested it's a good chance for you to introduce the story to them. For the adults, they're slightly more interesting than the usual numbers/colors book and much prettier. I'm pretty impressed and intend to buy the two preceding Baby Lit primers (ROMEO AND JULIET, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE) and the ones coming in September (DRACULA, A CHRISTMAS CAROL) for my niece and nephew as well.

My sister's reaction to me buying the others? "Do it. The usual learning books are so boring."

April 10, 2012

Review: These Girls

Book Cover By Sarah Pekkannen
Available now from Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster)
Review copy

THESE GIRLS follows three women as they try to balance their careers and personal lives. Refreshingly, that doesn't involve sacrificing ambition for romance. All three women have romantic relationships, but the book does not end with them being fulfilled by getting a man. The ideal balance for each woman is different, but it truly is a balance--not giving up one thing for another.

Cate has just been promoted to features editor at Gloss magazine and her roommate Renee is competing with two coworkers for the position of beauty editor. Meanwhile, Abby ran from her job as a live-in nanny to her brother's home in New York. That brother happens to be a reporter currently working for Cate and formerly dating Renee. Thus, Abby becomes their third roommate when he leaves the country for an assignment.

Cate doubts she can handle her new job due to a secret in her past. Most everyone in the novel considers Renee beautiful, but Renee struggles with being a curvy girl in a rail-thin magazine world. Things go off the rails when she finds her old roommate Naomi's diet pills. (Through in a bit of cyberbullying to make Renee's storyline an issues twofer.) Abby admits to having an affair with the father at her job, but keeps secret the truth which made her run from a little girl she loved.

Abby's storyline wasn't the weakest, but it fit awkwardly into THESE GIRLS structure. It was the only story told mostly through flashback, and Abby just didn't spend as much time with the other girls. I thought Sarah Pekkanen pulled off a brilliant conclusion that tied the themes of Abby's stories into the novel as a whole, but until that late-coming a-ha moment it just didn't quite work for me.

Pekkanen's verse is imminently readable. I thought THESE GIRLS might be too heavy to read on the drive to North Dakota, but I finished it far sooner than expected. There might not be explosions or car chases, but I found THESE GIRLS almost impossible to put down. (Hey, I had to eat lunch. There aren't that many places selling hot food in rural South Dakota.)

If you read chick lit, then I advise you to pick up all three of Pekkanen's novels. If you don't, then she's a great author to give a chance. She writes compelling stories about relatable, modern women.

April 9, 2012

Movie Monday: I'm the One That's Cool

The Guild (one of the most successful webshows) puts out music videos every once in awhile to promote a new season. They're funny, geeky, and catchy, so I was happy when "I'm the One That's Cool" came out. I don't identify with every sentiment in the song, but who can resist celebrating the rise of geek culture in the mainstream? Felicia Day created a new channel, Geek and Sundry to promote indie geek culture. (You can also see Hank Green explain whether there are plans to get him and/or John on the channel and cover "I'm the One That's Cool."

April 3, 2012

Review: Grave Mercy

Book Cover His Fair Assassin (Book 1)
By Robin LaFevers
Available now from Graphia (Houghton Mifflin)
Review copy

I'm always a little wary of heavily hyped books, especially ones that sound perfect for me. They rarely live up to my expectations. I couldn't resist GRAVE MERCY - assassins, politics, personified DEATH - but I worried that I wouldn't like it since everyone has been so enthusiastic.

I worried in vain. GRAVE MERCY is fast-paced, satisfying, and a terrific beginning to the His Fair Assassin series. The lovely Ismae Rienne bears a terrible scar from her shoulder to her hip, the result of her mother taking herbs meant to terminate pregnancy. Ismae survived only because she is a daughter of Death. At the age of fourteen the convent of St. Mortain shelters her and teachers her how to use her gifts. Three years later she is an assassin, sent to carry out Death's will in the court of Brittany. Far from the convent, she must learn how to interpret her god's will for herself.

Ismae is one cool character. She keeps her head in tough situations and struggles with understanding her own emotions, much less those of others. She's repeatedly warned to trust no one, but she's fairly good at figuring out who to trust on her own.

The other female characters are also terrific. Anne, the duchess, is central to the external conflicts. She must marry in order to gain enough troops keep the French out of Brittany. But most of her suitors are not suitable at all. Robin LaFevers maintains a careful balance between writing capable, intelligent, independent female characters and acknowledging the historical reality that women in the fifteenth century didn't have many options. LaFevers makes what her characters do with their options count.

The male lead, Gavriel Duval, proves to be an excellent match for Ismae. He's less impulsive, preferring to scheme his way out of tough situations, whereas Ismae is more of a steamroller. Delightfully, they fall in love by talking to each other. They respect each other's abilities and values. And what physical contact there is may be slight, but LaFevers makes is sexy.

If you're looking for a terrific fantasy novel, look no further than GRAVE MERCY. Action, romance, humor - it has it all. I even think it will appeal to both fans of character-driven and plot-driven novels. GRAVE MERCY earns the hype.

April 2, 2012

Movie Monday: Watching Movies with Your Parents

I was going to write about The Hunger Games or 21 Jump Street, but my upcoming trip to North Dakota for my nephew's birthday changed my mind. My sister, brother-in-law, or I almost always end up renting a movie or two. Then we watch it altogether, including my mom. This has led to some awkward moments.

For instance, I once championed Tropic Thunder. "It's really funny!" said I. "I don't know why it's rated R. It didn't have sex and I don't think there was that much language." Cue Ben Stiller licking blood from a decapitated head. Cue Tom Cruise's cameo. And no, none of it was that objectionable. But I still felt strange because my mom knew I thought this movie was hilarious. My mom is supposed to think I find kitten videos hilarious, not R-rated comedies.

And I always cringe at watching sex scenes with my parents, but I usually cringe at those on my own. Sex scenes are tough.

Now, some people think I'm silly about this and others agree with me completely. (A roommate and I, separately, watched Black Swan with a parent. You can at least agree that that would be a little nervous-making, right?) What sort of things do you avoid watching with your 'rents? Or do you just not care?

For the parents in the audience: what do you want to avoiding watching with your children?

April 1, 2012

In My Mailbox: A Bunch of Stuff

All of these books were waiting for me when I got home from Houston. My Tumblr followers got a preview of the stack.

SMALL DAMAGES by Beth Kephart
PEOPLE WHO EAT DARKNESS by Richard Lloyd Parry
AUSTENTATIOUS by Alyssa Goodnight
LIFE IS BUT A DREAM by Brian James
RED HOUSE by Mark Haddon
CHOMP by Carl Hiaasen
FATED by Alyson Noel
7 CLUES TO WINNING YOU by Kristin Walker
THE TAKEN by Vicki Pettersson
THE SHOEMAKER'S WIFE by Adriana Trigiani


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