May 13, 2020

Review: Hero Complex

Hero ComplexThe second Keaton School mystery
By Margaux Froley
Available now from Soho Teen
Review copy
Review of Escape Theory

Because I enjoyed Escape Theory, I wanted to read the sequel, Hero Complex. However, it had been a while since I read Escape Theory, so I wanted to reread it first, and eventually I decided to just dive into Hero Complex any way.

I had forgotten quite a bit, but it came back to me. Devon Mackintosh was working at a peer counselor at the private school she attended on scholarship to help boost her college applications. Her knowledge from those sessions made her suspicious of the apparent suicide of popular Hutch, which led her to become embroiled in a mystery.

At the beginning of Hero Complex, Devon has figured out who killed Hutch but she's still trying to figure out the why, which could be the key to getting the testimony needed to put his murderer away. But soon a new mystery arises when she goes to a boat party with her friend Cleo and gets clobbered over the back of the head. No one believes her that the assault happened, much less that it was attempted murder.

What I found most delightful about Hero Complex was that Devon never would have known the secrets she uncovers in the novel even existed if the villain hadn't attempted to get rid of her. I love seeing a bad guy hoisted by their own petard. At the same time, Hero Complex feels like the middle novel in a trilogy. The mystery at the center doesn't have the emotional drive of Hutch's death, and the revelations feel like they're setup for the fallout in the third novel.

... which doesn't exist. As much as I enjoy Escape Theory and Hero Complex, I have trouble recommending the Keaton School mysteries since the third novel was never published, leaving the story feeling unfinished.

April 27, 2020

National Theater At Home

The National Theater in London started the National Theater Live program to broadcast performances internationally. You might have seen National Theater Live advertised through Fathom Events before movies, back when you went to movie theaters.

This summer they're making proshot performances available for one week at a time. Last week was a fantastic Treasure Island starring Arthur Davrill, and if I'd watched it earlier in the week, I would've shared it.

This week is Twelfth Night (the Shakespeare play) starring Tamsin Greig. I can't wait to watch!

As for what comes after that ...

We’re excited to announce two new titles for #NationalTheatreAtHome.

#Frankenstein is on 30 Apr and 1 May. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternate the roles of Frankenstein and his creature.

#AntonyAndCleopatra, with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo, is on 7 May.

I appreciate all these theater, musical, and opera organizations making staying at home a more appealing prospect. I am thrilled at the amazing performances I've been able to see.

You can donate through their YouTube channel or the other places listed here.

April 25, 2020

Watch The Globe #AtHome

Adetomiwa Edun in conversation with my class
Shakespeare's Globe is making a number of productions available online. These include full productions, and actors performing some of the greatest love poetry from their own homes. There are also more performances available to buy.

You can see a full schedule here. Please consider a donation to help Shakespeare's Globe continue their work in Shakespeare scholarship and performance.

The current play, Romeo and Juliet (2009) is a special one for me because I saw this cast perform it live while I studied in the UK, and my class was able to do a special Q&A with a few of the actors. You might recognize the stars. Ellie Kendrick (Juliet) appeared on Game of Thrones and Adetomiwa Edun (Romeo) appeared in FIFA 17/18/19.

This stream is available through May 3rd.

April 23, 2020

Review: Kendra Scott Literacy Charm

Back in March, I purchased the Kendra Scott Literacy Charm as a birthday gift to myself.

Turns out it is difficult to take a picture of a bracelet on the wrist of your dominant hand.

50% of the proceeds of this charm benefit First Book, a program I've championed on this blog before. Each charm sold provides a book to a child in need.

Kendra Scott is distributing 2,000 books through First Book to children affected by the COVID-19 crisis, so any purchase of this charm has an immediate impact.

The Kendra Scott Literacy charm is available in gold, rose gold, vintage silver, and vintage gold. I purchased the vintage silver charm to match my charm bracelet.

The included removable bail is very easy to use. You flip it open, place it around the desired link in a bracelet or around a necklace chain, and then close it. It is very secure and I don't think it would come undone on its own.

As for the charm itself, it is heavier than my James Avery charms. I wouldn't do a whole bracelet of Kendra Scott charms. But a few won't cause a bracelet to weigh too much. The front of the charm is stamped with the Kendra Scott symbol and you can open it to read the words "Be Kind. Do Good."

Opened charm
Closed charm
I like seeing this charm on my bracelet. It represents my love of books and helps engender that love within a new generation. I think it was worth the $35 I paid for it and will hang on my charm bracelet for a long time to come. I recommend the Kendra Scott Literacy Charm to any book lover.

World Book Day 2020!

World Book Day is today! This is the 25th anniversary of the celebration of reading, publishing, and copyright.

The UK and Ireland charitable organization for World Book Day has all sorts of cool stay-at-home ideas and author and illustrator masterclasses you can watch.

Amazon has made nine international Kindle books free to download in celebration, ranging from nonfiction to children's books.

I'm most excited for Hard Rain by Irma Venter, with a translation by Elsa Silke.

Chaos, murder, and a hint of sizzling romance descend on East Africa in this electrifying page-turner of a mystery.
Hard Rain
Hard Rain cover
Journalist Alex Derksen’s new assignment in Tanzania should be easy, but he soon finds himself on the wrong side of the news. It starts when he meets Ranna, a beautiful photographer with something to hide. Alex stopped believing in love a long time ago, yet here in the middle of East Africa, it’s found him again.
Alex knows a thing or two about chaos—wherever he goes, it follows. When an IT billionaire washes up onshore after seasonal flooding, he finds himself at the center of an investigation with Ranna as the main suspect. It turns out she may have a good reason for hiding her past.
Wherever she goes, murder follows.
Alex should be used to these cat-and-mouse games, but this time it’s different. Should he listen to his heart and help Ranna hide the bloody trail leading to her? Or should he use his head and run for his life?

April 18, 2020

The Shows Must Go On Presents The Phantom of the Opera

The Shows Must Go On presents a weekend musical to help raise money for COVID-19 efforts. This weekend's free musical is the 25th Anniversary Concert of The Phantom of the Opera, available for only 48 hours (which are already partway gone). The Phantom of the Opera is based on the novel Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux.

From their YouTube description:

Join us from Friday April 17th at 7pm UK time, as we bring a true musical theatre icon to YouTube, with Andrew Lloyd Webber's masterpiece The Phantom of The Opera starring Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess and Hadley Fraser!
Donate to NHS Charities COVID19 Appeal:
Donate to these worthwhile arts causes:
Buy and Keep The Full Show Here:
From Phantom of The Opera at the Royal Albert Hall (2011): In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, Cameron Mackintosh produced a unique, spectacular staging of the musical on a scale which had never been seen before. Inspired by the original staging by Hal Prince and Gillian Lynne, this lavish, fully-staged production set in the sumptuous Victorian splendour of London's legendary Royal Albert Hall features a cast and orchestra of over 200, plus some very special guest appearances.

April 17, 2020

The Hunger Games Movie Night

If you're like me, you're eager for anything to do. So check this out: Lionsgate is running a free series of movie nights, starting with a showing of The Hunger Games tonight.

I posted a very short review of the movie back in 2012.

You can add to Lionsgate's donation to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation to support out-of-work theater employees.

You can also buy a special snack pack with free shipping from Snack Nation and Popcornopolis will have a movie night offer and donate 10% of sales to the Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation.

ETA additional details on Popcornopolis offer:

Popcornopolis knows you can’t have a movie night without popcorn, so they are also offering consumers a special promotion as well

Movie lovers can shop with promo code MOVIENIGHT for 15% off + Free Shipping! In addition, Popcornopolis is proud to donate 10% of all MovieNight sales back to the Will Rogers Foundation to assist theater employees.
🍿 Share your #LionsgateLIVE movie night with us using @popcornopolis and #popcornopolis

So let's enjoy a night at the movies!

Enjoy a night at the movies with Lionsgate, and your friends and family!

Join us for a free screening event of THE HUNGER GAMES on YouTube Live this Friday, April 17 at 9pm ET / 6pm PT.

Watch-along and engage in the conversation online using #LionsgateLive.

Stay tuned for DIRTY DANCING on April 24, LA LA LAND on May 1, and JOHN WICK on May 8!

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which "Tributes" must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy.  If she's ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Hunger Games is directed by Gary Ross, with a screenplay by Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins and Billy Ray, and produced by Nina Jacobson's Color Force in tandem with producer Jon Kilik. Suzanne Collins' best-selling novel, the first in a trilogy published by Scholastic that has over 23.5 million copies in print in the United States alone, has developed a massive global following. It has spent more than 160 consecutive weeks/more than three consecutive years to date on The New York Times bestseller list since its publication in September 2008, and has also appeared consistently on USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.

Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland, Stanley Tucci, Lenny Kravitz, Willow Shields.

Rated PG-13

March 23, 2020

Review: Tiny Pretty Things

Tiny Pretty Things By Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
Available now from HarperTeen
Review copy

There are a number of review copies stacked in various places around my house. Yes, I know I haven't reviewed any of them in more than a year. I moved Tiny Pretty Things up my to-read list after a Netflix adaptation was announced. They have a good track record with YA properties, so I'm looking forward to what they'll do with this story of scheming ballet students.

Tiny Pretty Things is told in alternating points of view between ballet students Gigi, Bette, and June, with the prologue from the school's former top ballerina, who has to leave after an engineered accident. Gigi is the new girl who gets bullied because she instantly rises to the top; however, she's hiding a medical condition that could end her chances of dancing professionally. Bette is balancing romantic drama with trying to reclaim the top spot, while her mom berates her for not being her sister, a current ballet star. June works to hide her eating disorder while trying to discover who her secret father is.

I honestly found all three of the girls somewhat hard to like, but I liked that all three had real determination and drive, despite often channeling it in destructive ways. (The academy has male dancers, too, each with their own agenda, though they don't get their own point of view sections. They're mostly suitably hunky love interests who might perform some of their own backstabbing.)

If you're read Gossip Girl or one of the many series it spawned, this is pretty familiar ground. (Even the escalation to attempted murder.) The setting at least means the girls are fighting over something real; it is their future career on the line. Still, don't go in expecting realism. Their antics are pretty over the top. Conversely, I often found June's eating disorder too real, especially the explicit details in how she fakes a higher weight for weigh-ins. The potential tips felt slightly irresponsible to me.

I did appreciate that packager CAKE Literary made a commitment to diversity. For example, June is Asian and Tiny Pretty Things addresses the race problem in the ballet world and that June knows she'll always have to be better than the white girls to get picked for roles ahead of them.

While I enjoyed Tiny Pretty Things as a frothy, dramatic read with ballet flair, I have not yet picked up the sequel, Shiny Broken Pieces. I have made it a goal to read it before the Netflix series comes out. I'm looking forward to seeing who ends up on top!

March 21, 2020

Self Isolation, Not Shelf Isolation

In this time of social distancing, I know I'm not the only one turning to books to fill my spare time. Books are not only entertainment, but a connection to our fellow humans (that can be made from more than six feet away).

The blogger in her Matilda sweatshirt
Things in my part of Texas have turned for the cold and rainy, so I pulled out my Matilda sweatshirt from Out of Print. (By the way, they're donating 25% of profits from their current promotion to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation to help booksellers through this time.)

Wearing this sweatshirt reminds me of reading Matilda, and I find its messages comforting in this time:

So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea. These books gave Matilda a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.


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