Wildly Into the Dark: Typewriter Poems and the Rattlings of a Curious Mind

51viohmxugl-_sx361_bo1204203200_Hey guys!  I know this isn’t my usual fare, but I really wanted to let you know about this one.

This is a collection of poems from Tyler Knott Gregson (the guy who has all those typewriter poems that you see on Pinterest).  I was contacted by the publisher about reading this and passing the word on for two reasons.  (One of them is obviously for a review.)

So we’ll start there.  I own Gregson’s first collection of poems and I love that book.  Gregson’s poetry is interesting because he usually focuses on the small yet important details in daily life, like the way the wind grasps your hair and blows it around or the way loneliness can feel like an old friend.  It’s kind of a fascinating way of looking at the world.

Actually, I’m pretty sure Gregson must be an introvert because there’s so much he writes about that is so identifiable.  It’s all of that writing from a curious mind.  He just sees things differently, in a way that makes you as the reader feel not so alone in noticing weird things too.  I like that.

I will admit, though, that I’m more of a fan of Gregson’s love poems.  While Wildly Into the Dark does have love poems, the vast majority of them are more philosophical and, on a couple of occasions, political.  There’s nothing wrong with it (the poems are still quite good), but they just aren’t my usual interest area.  But overall, the collection of poetry is quite good if you enjoy poetry.  (As a teacher, I am well aware of how many people do not.  I get to hear it every day.)

As I mentioned, the publisher had another reason for contacting me: $1 of every preordered book goes to To Write Love on Her Arms.  (Official release date is March 28, 2017.)  This is an organization I have a lot of respect for and I would absolutely love it if anyone interested in this book enough to buy it would preorder it so TWLOHA gets some of the proceeds.  I wanted to give them a shout-out for that.

If you’d like more information about preordering or the book, go here.  It’s Gregson’s website and he’s got all the details there.

Thank you to any and all who give this book a second look!

Beauty and the Beast (2017 Movie)

movie_poster_beautybeast2017_95e8117fBe Our Guest.

I saw it last night, guys.  You ready for this?

(I’m not even going to give you a synopsis of this movie because I truly hope that no one needs an explanation of what this movie is about.  That would just be so sad.)

Let’s start by talking about the story itself.  Obviously, probably about 85-90% of this movie is the same as the original.  (Some of the dialogue is word for word the same as well, a fact that I know because I have the original animated movie completely memorized.)  Your basics are all there: Belle goes to the castle, Gaston is the bad guy, “Be Our Guest” is a huge production, etc.  The plot is essentially the same.

However, there are some differences to the story, and I won’t go too far into specifics because the discover of it was just so much fun as I was watching it.  Some of the differences have been well-publicized, like Belle being the inventor rather than her father, or Le Fou’s gay scene.  (We’ll talk about that later.)  Belle definitely feels like more of a stronger heroine than the original does, and that’s thanks in large part of Emma Watson’s insistence that Belle not be a damsel in distress.  I liked that she was more willing to be part of the fight rather than just watching it happen.

I was happy with other differences as well.  Disney did a nice job trying to fix some of those plot holes from the original (like the much talked about age of the Beast, since the rose would bloom until his 21st year, etc.).  But we also get backstories on Gaston, Belle, the Beast.  It was great.  And more interactions with the enchanted people in the castle!  You’re going to enjoy Stanley Tucci’s new character.

Oh!  And I almost forgot.  For those of you very familiar with the original tales of Beauty and the Beast from about 200 years ago (or the Robin McKinley retellings), you’ll be pleased with a few changes to the story.

I was also very happy with the music.  Obviously, most of the songs you know well are in this movie again.  (I noticed one or two were cut, but they were reprises or additions to the anniversary edition of the movie.)  The singing voices for the main characters were a little bit different than I was expecting, like how Emma’s voice is a bit airy, but I liked the way it sounded.  And I’m a huge fan of Josh Gad, so his singing is always phenomenal.

There are a few new songs added to the movie, but you’ll be pleased to know Alan Menken returns for this and the additional lyrics were written by Tim Rice, who is a longtime lyricist for Disney.  (Howard Ashman, who wrote the original lyrics, died from AIDS before the 1991 movie was released.)  Some of Ashman’s original lyrics, which were cut from the 1991 film, were added back in for this movie.  So even the new songs and verses feel like classic Disney songs.

Now for the acting.  I thought that Emma Watson did a wonderful job as Belle (partly because Emma is Belle in so many way).  Dan Stevens plays the Beast in a way that makes him seem tough but also soft at times.  As I already mentioned, I love Josh Gad for his humor and vocals, and this did not disappoint.  Gad is hilarious as Le Fou.

But you know who the surprises were?  Luke Evans as Gaston and Kevin Kline as Maurice.  I had heard that Evans wanted to play Gaston in more of a way that made him seem like a human before doing a bait-and-switch style shift in his character.  Of course, Gaston is still a complete narcissist, but he’s not as conceited as he is in the original.  And his shift into a monster is more unsettling for that reason.  And Kline gives Maurice more of a backbone (and more intelligence).  One of my issues with the original Maurice is how flighty and helpless he seems, but Kline did a nice job of still keeping Maurice a bit absent-minded but still respectable.  I understood him more.

Of course, I can’t leave out the enchanted cast either.  Audra McDonald is always a favorite of mine, so insert glowing praise here.  Ewan McGregor is fun as Lumiere, Ian McKellen is great as Cogsworth, Emma Thompson does fantastic justice to Mrs. Potts, and the ensemble of Plumette and Chip are scene-stealers.

I was well-impressed with this movie.  Sure, when you know what’s going to happen next, it takes out a little of the excitement and suspense, but it was still a lot of fun to see it all on the big screen.

I enjoyed myself while watching this movie.  And my boyfriend (who not only came to see this with little complaining AND bought me a replica of Belle’s necklace in the ballroom scene) enjoyed himself too, even if he denies it.  From a male perspective, he enjoyed Gaston’s character a lot and the inclusion of “X-Men and Hobbits” in this movie.  (He caught McKellen’s voice immediately and recognized Luke Evans, but it took him until the credits to identify McGregor.)  He was rooting for Gaston nearly the entire time.

Have fun going to see this yourself, friends!  Let me know what you thought!

Dangerous Lies

20909906First Lines: An angry rap shook the motel room door.  I lay perfectly still on the mattress, my skin hot and clammy.

Oh my gosh, it’s a book review!  The odds of seeing one of those on here anymore is like trying to spot a unicorn.  I picked this up at the library a while ago when I got nostalgic for the suspense in Black Ice, Becca Fitzpatrick’s first foray into suspense thrillers.  I thought this would be worth it.

After witnessing a horrific crime, a girl is given a new identity and a new home.  She becomes Stella Gordon and moves to Thunder Basin, Nebraska.  But Stella isn’t ready to give up her life just yet.  Why should she give up her boyfriend, her high school career, her life–because someone else committed a crime and she needs to testify against them?  How can she be expected to start a life in Nebraska, of all places?  Stella begins to count the days until she turns 18 and can legally set out on her own…but things change when she meets Chet Falconer and it becomes harder for her to keep her distance.  She knows she can’t tell Chet about her past, but the guilt of constantly lying to him is starting to eat her alive.  And just when Stella begins to feel safe in her new home, she’ll realize that her enemies are much closer than she believed…

While this had moments of feeling like a thriller/suspense story, it’s way more mellow than Black Ice. Basically, this is the story of Stella as she struggles to feel normal in the middle of Nebraska after being relocated there by the witness protection program. Yes, there’s quite a bit of stuff about how she landed in witness protection, but this book is equally about her culture shock, coming from Philly.  So it’s not much about the suspense as it is about her learning about life, love, and forgiveness.

Stella is a good protagonist for this story because she’s stubborn and strong, even though sometimes she’s too stubborn for her own good. I kind of like that, though. And I also liked that she had moments of weakness that made her seem more flawed. She’s more annoying at the beginning than she is later.  And I only say that in retrospect because I don’t remember finding her annoying in the beginning at all.

The plot was good as well, though I felt like it tended to jump around a lot. There are quite a few loose ends in this story that never fully get answered. They are left vague, perhaps to force you to make your own conclusions. That wasn’t really a tactic I liked, but I’ll freely admit that I had a hard time putting this book down. I read most of it in one sitting.

Mostly, I enjoyed the characters in this book and how they all interact. I like trying to figure people out, so to watch Stella do that in a town she doesn’t know or truly understand was fun. And there are definitely some interesting characters, as you would expect in any small town. There are secrets, gossips, corruption, and cover-ups. It’s always interesting.

Overall, I found this to be an interesting cast of characters and a serious look at the problems in life from addiction to teenage pregnancy.  But if you’re looking for a hardcore thriller, this probably isn’t your book.

World After (Penryn & the End of Days, #2)

17849112First Lines: Everyone thinks I’m dead.

Ok, so if the beginning of this book wasn’t a big ol’ spoiler for the previous book, I would definitely give you more information.  But as it stands, that one sentence is all you get for first lines.  This was a book I moved to the top of my to-read list like a year ago and I finally tried reading it.  (I move quickly, you see.)  But first, I reread Angelfall to remember the story and the characters.  Best. Idea. Ever.

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

To Penryn, the world after the angel apocalypse looks nothing like the world she knew before.  Making it seem normal again isn’t easy, especially after a group of people attack her sister, Paige, thinking Paige is a monster.  What ends in a massacre leaves a family torn apart and Paige disappears.  Desperate to find her again, Penryn takes to the empty streets of San Francisco, but a question lingers: where is everybody?  Her search reveals the angels’ plans and the depths they are willing to go to for control.  Meanwhile, Raffe can’t rejoin the angel ranks unless he gets his wings back.  But stuck between helping Penryn survive or his wings, which will he choose?

Y’all, I love this series.  There’s something that’s so different about it and I wish I could put my finger on it. But I’ll do my best.

Penryn is such a fascinating lead. She’s independent and self-reliant for such a realistic and reasonable reason: her mentally ill (and unstable) mother has never been able to care for her or her sister. So for Penryn to be clever and resourceful makes sense. She has strong survival instincts that only come more in handy in this apocalypse. I love that she’s sassy and a fighter. It makes every scene where she gets to fight back that much more exciting.

The minor characters also are a complete joy because they are so nuanced. I adore Raffe, I have a crush on Dee and Dum, and I have a place inside of me where I just want to pummel the angels for destroying Penryn’s world. But even the angels (looking at you, Uriel) have nuanced motivations and personalities. There was one moment in this book where Uriel was startled by something that happened and it sticks with me because it shows that he wasn’t planning on something happening the way it did. Penryn assessed the situation perfectly and I just can’t get over how simply perfect that one little sentence was.

The action is as amazing as ever. We haven’t seen the last of the scorpion creatures and they certainly bring a level of insanity and terror to every scene they are in. They’re just creepy and wrong. But at least we have Penryn around to kick butt (literally…just wait and see what she does in this one!) and take names. The fights are intense and I just love the way a couple of them turned out.

The world of this apocalyptic Silicon Valley is just amazing. I may never have been there, but it doesn’t matter. I can picture all the destruction and devastation as easily as if I had seen it myself. Ee pulls in a lot of landmarks that also help set the scene well.

What I loved best about this book was this tension with whether or not Penryn and Raffe would find each other again. There are a few…twists…that come along the way that I thought were well done.

Seriously, is there anything this book can’t do?

Vassa in the Night

28220892First Lines: When Night looked down, it saw its own eyes staring back at it.  Two big black eyes, both full of stars.  At first Night ignored them.

I got this book a few months back from Uppercase, but I kind of let it sit on my shelf forever because I just wasn’t sure what to make of it.  I hadn’t really heard of it at all before it arrived in the mail and it seemed like the type of book I had to be in just the right mood to read.

In the  enchanted city of Brooklyn, there are two types of people: the people who can party without worrying about anything and the people stuck in the working class district where the chance of death is much, much higher.  This is Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and two stepsisters.  Nearby is a convenience store owned by Babs Yagga, a women whose policy is to behead anyone caught shoplifting in her store–and sometimes innocent people when the mood strikes.  When Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs, Vassa knows this could easily be a suicide mission.  But with a little big of luck and a magical wooden doll from her mother named Erg, Vassa might just break the curse and free her neighboorhood.  But when Bab’s doesn’t play fair, what will Vassa do?

This book was weird.  Like A.G. Howard’s Splintered series weird.  The kind of weird where you have to read sections two or three times and you still don’t actually understand what’s happening.

Vassa is a teenage girl in Brooklyn who doesn’t really fit in. Her stepsisters don’t understand her and her only real friend is a talking doll named Erg. As a trick (sort of a game of chicken, really), Vassa’s sister insists that Vassa go to the nearby BY’s store, where most people who go in after dark never make it out alive.  I thought Vassa was incredibly dumb for even taking her stepsister’s dare, and my opinion of her didn’t improve much throughout the story.

The story is just so bizarre that it’s very hard to follow and I found myself getting bored of it because it was so hard to follow. I kept giving up. I’d read a chapter or two and put it down to do something more interesting.  That’s never a good sign.

There was very little about the first half of this story that I liked. I never had a single character that I clicked with who kept me reading. I never had a moment where I was excited about what I was reading. Even the climax wasn’t terribly exciting for me besides the fact that I was almost done with the book.

The story only really started to improve when it was in its last twenty pages or so. Once the loose ends started getting wrapped up, I finally started feeling like the story was falling into place. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly encouraging. I had to put up with 270 pages before that.

(Some of you are probably wondering why I even bothered finishing this. I own it, bought through Uppercase. I felt obligated to read it all the way to the end.)

It was just too much.  It tries to play into many fairy tale tropes while simultaneously turning them on their head.  But it felt like it was trying to do this with every trope instead of just focusing on a couple.  It’s overwhelming.  Not one I’ll be reading again.

American Street

30256109First Lines: If only I could break the glass separating me and Manman with my thoughts alone.  On one side of the glass doors are the long lines of people with their photos and papers that prove that they belong here in America, that are allowed to taste a bit of this free air.

I receive this as an ARC from Edelweiss (I’m cutting it close; it comes out February 14, 2017.)  Before I saw it on Edelweiss, I’d never heard of this book.  But the description sounded awesome and I wanted to give it a shot.

This was supposed to be Fabiola Toussaint’s chance to live the perfect American life.  With her mother, she was going to move into the little house on the corner of American and Joy Streets with her cousins and aunt.  But after they leave Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by US immigration, leaving Fabiola on her own as she tries to navigate the complex world of Detroit’s west side with her cousins Chantal, Princess, and Donna.  Just as Fabiola begins to figure out this strange new place, a dangerous offer presents itself to her and Fabiola must decide how much she’s willing to pay to live the American dream.

Can I just start by saying how timely this novel is?  The fact that it’s being released only weeks after a massive American travel ban that is separating families the same way Fabiola is separated from her mother?  I know these book releases are planned far in advance, but the timing is astounding.

Ok, here’s what I liked: I liked the infusion of Haitian culture and American culture. I liked seeing Fabiola try to understand American culture while her cousins, most of whom never saw Haiti, struggle to understand her culture and beliefs.  It’s a real culture shock for both sides.  (Especially when you see what happens on Thanksgiving!)

I thought Fabiola was a dynamic character. She begins scared and completely out of her element, especially as her mother remains detained in New Jersey. She’s on her own, with family she doesn’t remember. Then, as the story progresses, she grows into a stronger, braver girl who is beginning to find her place in this new city and new family. I liked seeing that confidence build.

I also liked how none of the characters were black-and-white heroes or villains. The characters you believe are good make mistakes–monstrous ones. The characters you hate have redeeming moments that make you think there’s still a chance for them to mend their ways. You can’t call any of them good or bad because everyone is both. Just like in life.

I also felt this was a stark and jarring view of life for many African-Americans and teenagers. I will be the first to admit that I have absolutely no idea of what the hardships are that people face in places like Detroit, that seem to be written off by everyone else as a dying city (which it’s not). But this book was shocking and, at times, uncomfortable. My world is nothing like that. And I had no idea that this was what it took to survive in these places.

Here’s what I didn’t like so much: the portrayal of Fab’s cousins and aunt. While I understand why they are so complicated, they also managed to seem flat. There was almost too much going on in their lives and by the time I got adjusted to what I’d just read, we were throwing more on top of it. For such main characters, they underwent virtually no change at all. And Matant Jo was barely in the story at all.

The story also seemed a bit unfocused. While we’re waiting to see what happens to Fab’s mother, we’re also watching her Haitian culture mix with American culture, Donna’s story, Pri’s story, Chantal’s story, how brutal American schools are, Dray’s story, Kasim’s story, and this backstory about a white girl who died taking bad drugs. There is literally so much going on that I could type out three full pages on the plot alone. Half of the time, I forgot about Fab’s mother.

This is neither negative nor positive, but I would like to just throw it out there that this is an incredibly dark book.  There is a massive amount of profanity, drug references, and violence in this story. It’s on virtually every page, which helps drill home what teenagers in Fab’s situation deal with on a daily basis. But it’s also a lot and sometimes it’s exhausting because it’s so common.

Overall, I thought this was a daring book that shows the struggle of teenagers we don’t normally get to read about.

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.