Hidden Figures

mv5bmjqxotkxoduyn15bml5banbnxkftztgwntu3ntm3ote-_v1_uy1200_cr9006301200_al_Meet the women you don’t know, behind the mission you do.

Hey guys!  So I saw this movie last night and I really wanted to let you guys know what I thought about it, since I haven’t been posting any book reviews lately.  (I’ve been reading a massive biography on Washington and while it’s excellent, it’s taking forever.)  So in case you were curious, let’s talk about Hidden Figures.

The year is 1961 and the United States has been beaten in the Space Race.  Sputnik has gone into orbit while America can’t even get a rocket off the ground without it burning up.  What NASA needs most comes in the form of three African American female geniuses.  These women are “human computers” who have to calculate the trajectory of flight patterns to ensure that the lives of the first astronauts are safe.  (Looking at you, John Glenn.)  Together, these three will change the nation, one step at a time.

A little background on the women: we mostly follow Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a super computer of the highest caliber.  Her friend Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) acts something like a supervisor to the women of the West Computing Group (which is where these women worked, separated from the rest of NASA).  Finally, we have Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who was determined to be an engineer, despite all of the legal hoops she had to jump through.  We good?  Because now I’m going to start breaking down their performances.

Henson, I thought, did a fabulous job as Katherine.  Katherine has this dichotomy of wanting to rise through the ranks at NASA because she enjoys her work and it’s worthwhile, but she’s also terrified that one wrong step is going to cost her her job.  I mean, they basically tell her right before she starts that her new boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) has a high turnover rate with “computers”.  Also, this is 1961 and the height of segregation and discrimination.  Which also plays a large role in this movie.  But Henson does a nice job of playing Katherine as an intelligent, hardworking single mom.

Spencer’s acting was, as always, fantastic as Dorothy Vaughan.  Vaughan has a bit of desperation to her character at the beginning, since she is more or less in charge of a group of 30 women who could be fired at any moment for no reason.  But she turns that desperation into determination and tenacity, which was fantastically done with Spencer’s trademark realism and tongue-in-cheek comeuppance for those who stand against her.  Trust me, you did not want to get on Dorothy’s bad side.  It was a delight to watch.

Perhaps the most interesting character, though, was Janelle Monae’s Mary.  Whereas Katherine and Dorothy were more reserved and more cautious when dealing with bosses and segregation, Mary was like a bull charging through the gate.  She was gutsy and funny, saying what was on her mind when the others wouldn’t.  I really like that character trait, and Monae’s performance was just so endearing.

The supporting cast also had a lot of offer.  I thought Costner’s performance was great as a demanding, exacting boss who didn’t care who did the work so long as it got done quickly and correctly.  He had little patience for segregation if it meant slowing down the numbers he needed to ensure that men stayed alive in space.  There were also minor roles by Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst, but I thought those felt a little flat.  I was hoping for more out of Parsons especially, but he’s basically been typecast because of his role as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory.  He’s basically Sheldon but with no character growth.

I really enjoyed the plot as well.  It managed to weave together so many elements in a way that felt natural and interesting.  Not only were we looking at NASA and the Space Race to get men like John Glenn and Alan Shepard into space safely, but we follow elements of the Civil Rights movement, Katherine’s private life with her three daughters, Dorothy’s workplace ambition to make herself and her girls relevant, and Mary’s dream to become an engineer.  I mean, this is a lot to follow in a 2 hour movie, but the movie did a nice job with it.  Obviously, the NASA part is the crux of it all, but it was really nice to see the other elements as well.

This is basically a feel-good movie.  Obviously, though, not everything is happy and light, though.  There were moments in the theater where I was tense or sitting on the edge of my seat.  (There were even times when the audience did a collective “ooohhh”.)  But there are laugh-out-loud funny parts and parts that deserve a chuckle or a smirk.  It’s got drama with a bit of comedy, but it’s mostly uplifting.  And, being a PG rated movie, it’s great for all age levels.  (They only curse twice in the whole movie.)

I really enjoyed this.  This is definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.

Life in Fast-Forward: An Introvert’s Struggle

Hey guys!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted something a little more personal and I so feel like I need to share my introvert struggles.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as a kid, being an introvert in a world that praises extroverts set me up for a whole lot of mental stress.  No one understood me and my need to get away from crowds and high stimulation (parties, busy malls, etc.).  But for those of you who feel the same, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.  I have been where you are, trying to pretend that I’m extroverted while dying a little inside every time it doesn’t quite work.  (My inner teacher/Care Bear is coming out.)  I’m an INFJ, which basically means I’m introverted, caring, and super sensitive.

And yes, I realize I’m a walking contradiction.  I’m an introvert who decided to become a teacher.  I spend day in and day out surrounded my kids constantly demanding my attention and focus.  I take home assignments all the time that give me little time to settle into my routines and read or watch a movie.  And for the last two years, I’ve made it work.

This year, I decided to tackle something more.  I’m an assistant for my school’s show choir.  I’m in charge of the crew, which means I have about a dozen girls who set up backdrops, assist in costume changes, and generally just make sure that all of the visual effects work so the singers don’t have to stress.  I grew up in show choir and I loved it.  (Again, walking contradiction.)  I wanted to give back to these kids and get to know them a little better than I do in the classroom.

And generally, I love it.  I’ve only been active these past few weeks, since that’s really only when my crew has been there.  But it is slowly starting to chip away at my introverted hermit shell, and the season hasn’t even started.  (It goes solidly from late January to mid-March.  Every. Weekend.)

I love when I can just be a quiet observer at practices.  Our director is an extrovert with a capital E.  He is loud, charismatic, and fun.  So when he takes charge of the group, I have no problem handing control over to him.  (It is his group, after all.)  But I also really love watching the group and offering critiques on what I observe.  (I don’t call anyone out, though, because that could possibly hurt someone’s feelings and that does not jive well with my personality.)

But when I have to pick up and be in charge?  Oh boy.  By the time I get home after those practices, I feel it.  I’m drained, emotional, and tired.  On the days where I’m more of an observer, I almost feel energized.

Another of my quirks is that I love my routines, and these practices are throwing me off big time.  By the time I get home, I’m hungry, tired, my routine is completely ruined for the night, and I just want the maximum amount of alone time I can possible get away from anyone with a set of vocal cords.

I’ve currently been separated from people for an hour and it’s still not enough to unwind me.  This is the problem with being an introvert: for every hour I spend with people, I need another hour alone just to feel like myself again.  It’s usually impossible to get all that time back, and many people (mostly extroverts but sometimes introverts as well) just do not understand that level of aloneness I crave.

It’s interesting to note as well that the other assistant in my show choir is an extrovert as well–and nearly the complete opposite of me in personality.  (This was our lunch conversation, of all things.)  Whereas when I critique, I’m careful not to name anyone specific, she will stop the song and confront the person face to face in a verbal smack down that would haunt me for days if I were on the receiving end.  I explained to her how that was not even an option for me because of how I couldn’t do that to hurt someone else’s feelings, she admitted that had never even occurred to her that it could hurt their feelings.  From her perspective, if she was doing something wrong, she’d want to know about it immediately.  And I get that…to a point.  I’m a worrier and a bleeding heart, so I can’t stand even the idea that I’ve upset someone else.  I have to make it better.

But through all of this, I’m still glad I stepped up and told the director that I would do it.  Even though it’s not easy for me emotionally, it’s getting me outside of my comfort zone.  I spent a lot of time in my hermit shell, reading books and pretending I live in another world.  While there is nothing wrong with this, there were moments when I craved a little more.  I missed the show choir world.  I missed the competitions and the shows and the sparkles and dresses.  It was something I’d been wanting to get involved in for a while and this year presented the perfect opportunity.  Besides, the season is 3 months of the year.  I can put up with 3 months when I get the other 9 months to crawl back into my shell.

Already, this is giving me new experiences and memories that I’m starting to treasure.  I’m happy to be doing this.  I just wish it was a little easier to balance this with my introversion.

Long May She Reign

30320053First Lines: A hundred doves burst out of the pie.  I don’t know why I was surprised.  Of course there were a few hundred doves in the pie.  It had been the size of a table, and the king wouldn’t open his birthday celebration by actually feeding his guests.  Not when he could amaze us all with his extravagance instead.

ARC attack!  (I got tired of saying “ARC alert” and this sounded so much more fun.)  So I received a copy of this from Edelweiss in return for a review, but this had been on my to-read list for a while before I got it.  You’ll see why in just a minute.  But anyway, this book comes out on February 21, 2017, if you were curious.

Freya should never have been queen.  As the 23rd person in line to inherit the throne, the odds were astronomically stacked against this budding scientist ever wearing the crown.  But that was all before an extravagant banquet becomes a deadly affair and Freya is one of the few left standing.  While she may have escaped death, she’s not safe.  Her councilors don’t respect her, the nobles ignore her, and the lingering mystery of who actually killed the king could bring her reign to a quick end.  Freya may never have wanted to be queen, but she’s going to be the best queen she can be, and that means finding the murderer before they try to kill her.  The only problem is that she can’t trust anyone.  Not her advisers, not the king’s illegitimate son, not even her own father.  Can she find the murderer before she loses her crown?

I want to start by pointing out that this is a YA standalone fantasy novel.  I think that means I’ve officially found a unicorn, since the rarity is basically the same.  Seriously, how many of those exist?  Not very many, I’ve found.

I really did like Freya. This scientific, shy girl wanted nothing more than to escape court and basically live in her laboratory conducting experiments. But when she does get thrust into the spotlight, she learns from her mistakes. She sees what isn’t working, even if (or especially if) it was originally based on advice from others, and makes adjustments. Even though she didn’t want it, she wants to be the best queen she can be. And that attitude was fascinating.

The minor characters were compelling as well. Everyone from the king’s illegitimate son William Fitzroy to Freya’s best friend Naomi to the advisers. No one was perfect. Everyone had a quirk or two, and you truly didn’t know who was being quirky and who was being suspicious. I really liked that it was so difficult to really know what they were actually thinking/doing.

The mystery was pretty good as well. There are definitely clues along the way that give it away if you pay enough attention, but it was also really nice to get lost in the suspicions because, frankly, no one is not suspicious. Everyone has their own agenda and weeding through those takes time. So that was fun.

I will say that the ending was a little lackluster after everything else that had been going on in the story. It didn’t feel as tense as I was hoping it would be, given the situation it was. It was still a good ending, but I wanted a little more from it than I got.

But overall, I thought this was a really fun and entertaining book.


51e3y0cfeylFirst Lines: A shaft of dawn light fell on the crack in the corner of the ceiling.  Yesterday it had looked like a pair of spectacles, but overnight a spider had embroidered the fissure, filling in the gaps, so that now it looked, she thought, like a crown.

Ok, so I’ll be the first to tell you that this isn’t technically a YA book.  But we are dealing with a barely-eighteen-year-old girl who finds herself to be the Queen of England.  So…that counts, right?  I’m a big follower of Queen Victoria’s early years (I mean really, how difficult would that job have been?  I do not envy her.), so when I saw this at the library, I had to grab it.

In 1837, Alexandrina Victoria became Queen of Great Britain and Ireland.  Many had no faith in her.  After growing up completely sheltered by her mother and her comptroller, Sir John Conroy, Victoria knew little about the way the world truly worked.  But from the very beginning, she was determined to show everyone (especially her ministers) that she was her own woman–and she started by dropping her Alexandrina name.  Quickly, she wins over Lord Melbourne, who becomes her private secretary.  Perhaps he could have been more if Victoria wasn’t destined to marry Prince Albert of Saxe-Coberg and Gotha.  Having met him as a child, Victoria was less than enamored with Albert.  There’s no way she could want someone like him as a husband…

I want to start by saying that I already knew a lot about Victoria’s youth thanks to the fabulous movie The Young Victoria.  Sure, it takes a few liberties with her story, but it’s incredibly entertaining.

Unfortunately, this book didn’t work as well for me as I hoped it would. I thought the beginning was slow. Why? Because it was (perhaps obviously so) nearly identical to The Young Victoria. Granted, they are based on the same sources (Victoria was a methodica diarist), but I always assumed the movie took more liberties, you know? Turns out it’s quite factual, which is great, but it meant that nothing new was being added as I read this book. Hence, I found it slow. And this is predominately the reason why I gave it a lower rating. It took a really long time to feel invested in this.

I needed something to spice it up, and I found it in the oddest place. See, I thought it was going to be the scenes of Victoria and Albert (who, let’s face it, make an adorable couple on and off screen), but it was really the scenes with Victoria and Lord Melbourne. Odd, right? But it’s a complicated relationship these two have, and this book really shows the nuances there. That was kind of fascinating, especially since the story shows both how Victoria views their relationship and how Melbourne does. Now how much of that is factual, I don’t know. But it was interesting.

I think this book does do a nice job showing Victoria’s personality: strong, stubborn (sometimes to a fault), a bit vengeful and vindictive, witty, humorous, and sometimes short-sighted. It didn’t shy away from her worse traits, nor did it try to paint her with the blackest brush. It just made her look like the teenage girl she was, the one who was clearly unprepared for the role she had to fill but tried to make the best of it. She learned quickly, especially once she started trusting the right people.

Also, this book doesn’t shy away from the volatile relationship between Victoria and Albert. For as good as they were together, they had some wicked fights. But they seemed to even each other out at the same time that they presented a challenge, so I think that’s adorable.

So yeah. Overall, I found it to be informative and showing a wide array of emotions not only from our heroine but also from other major and minor characters. It was just really slow to get going.

Oh, and if you’re interested in this but don’t have time to read the book right now, Daisy Goodwin wrote this book at the same time she wrote the screenplay for a new PBS series, Victoria, which premieres Sunday, January 15.  I am so there.

By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

41fctu2bbntl-_sx331_bo1204203200_First Lines: The white boy, the skinny, tall boy with shocking white hair, sneaks behind the stone bench and leans against the tree trunk.  Since I can’t move my head, I watch him out of the corner of my eye.

I don’t normally throw the author’s name in the title of my reviews, especially when they’re as long as this one is, but I thought some of you might truly be worried about me if I didn’t.  It sounded really horrible without her name there.  This is a legit BOOK, not a cry for help.  Just felt like reading a dark story.

Daelyn Rice is broken.  After a number of failed suicide attempts, she’s determined to succeed this time.  That’s when she finds a website called Through the Light that helps her.  She blogs on this site about the bullying she endured growing up, ever since kindergarten.  When she’s not online, she goes to a private school where everyone thinks she’s a freak.  But then one day, a boy named Santana sits with her while she waits for her mom to pick her up.  Santana is persistent and determined to learn Daelyn’s secrets, no matter how much she wants him to go way.  Santana just won’t give up.  But she wants him to…doesn’t she?

This book has been on my to-read shelf since 2009 (no, that’s not a typo). I finally decided I needed to try to read it and see what I thought of it. And I thought I was in the mood for a dark story.

I was wrong.

I find that I’m normally drawn to dark stories that somehow still come out kind of empowering or uplifting at the end. This was so not that book. I thought it was going to be like Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (and there are definitely similarities), but it didn’t have any hope. Right from the beginning, Daelyn is determined to kill herself. Nothing anyone says to her is going to dissuade her. And there are moments that are quite graphic about how exactly she (and others) planned to go about this. I had to skip a few paragraphs because of that.

And there is so much darkness in Daelyn’s life. I suppose to make it believable that she sees no way out except through suicide, she had to have a truly horrific childhood. I knew there was going to be bullying (Daelyn was fat growing up and constantly moved schools), but there’s even more on top of that. It was heartbreaking and just so sad.

The one bright spot in the story was Santana, but even he had darkness surrounding him. Still, I looked forward to his scenes for levity.

This was a tough read to get through. Daelyn is just so set on separating herself from everyone else and dwelling on the negative that it was pretty emotionally draining to stick with.

By Your Side

30256248First Lines: I was locked in the library trying not to panic.  Literally locked.  As in, no escape.  Every door, every window, every air vent.  Okay, I hadn’t tried the air vents, but I was seriously considering it.  I wasn’t desperate enough…yet.

Hey-o!  It’s another ARC!  I think I told you I’d be reading a lot of them soon, and I am.  I couldn’t pass up reading another Kasie West book (just how exactly does she churn these out so quickly?!), especially went this cover heralds the return of the half-headless couple.  So without further ado, let’s check out what I thought of this book that doesn’t release until at least January 31st.  (Some dates go as late as February 14, so I don’t know when it actually comes out.)

When Autumn gets locked in the library for the weekend, she’s pretty sure life cannot possibly for-the-love-of-God get worse.  But somehow, being alone in the library was way more appealing than being stuck in the library with Dax Miller, the secretive probably-criminal who goes to Autumn’s school.  Really, all she knows about him is that he’s prone to fights, got locked up in juvie last year, and is typically a loner.  Still, she tells herself it’s only a matter of time before her friends and her crush, Jeff, realize she’s missing.  But no one comes charging in on their white horse.  When it becomes clear that Autumn is there for the weekend (hooray for vending machine food!), she is determined to talk to this boy, even if it’s just something to do.  Soon, she realizes that there’s more to Dax than meets the eye.  Slowly, they open up to each other.  But can their newfound connection survive when they return to real life?

I’ve been a Kasie West fan since I read The Distance Between Us. It was smart, cute, and definitely made me fall for each of the characters. This book was no different in that respect.

I’m not going to say this was my favorite Kasie West book (that honor still belongs to On the Fence), but this is definitely in the top three.  And well above P.S. I Like You.  It was adorable. I seriously could not put it down.

Autumn starts out being kind of your typical teenage girl. She has a crush on a boy that she’s too shy to tell she likes, an obsession with her phone, and a creative side that comes out over the weekend in the library. She likes having her entire life planned out, and Dax was definitely not part of the plan. She even has moments where she’s a bit annoying to me, partly because I just didn’t grow up around girls. So her constant need to say, “I have to pee,” to Dax is just as confusing to me as it was to him. But I’m nitpicking. 🙂 Anyway, as you start getting more into the story and learning more about her background, it becomes so easy to relate to her. Well before the halfway point in the book, I was firmly on her side.

Dax is similar in that respect. Coming from a rough background, Dax’s terse and secretive personality grows on you as he started to open up to Autumn. It’s actually really freaking adorable.

Admittedly, the plot is a little bit unbelievable. Things like how no one notices lights on in the library after closing, or the fact that Autumn can’t find a phone to call for help. But if you can suspend your belief a little, just a little, this book is well worth it.

But perhaps my favorite part of this book (besides the characters and the romance, both of which I adored) is the way this book deals with heavier topics. I don’t want to spoil anything because it’s definitely worth discovering on your own, but let’s just say that both Dax and Autumn are dealing with things beyond their control in the best ways they can and I really appreciated this book bringing attention to both of those issues. Because they are real and real teens do struggle with these problems every day.

So there you have it. I’m really glad that I decided to kick off 2017 with this book.