The Gentleman by Forrest Leo

6174e2-23JL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Book – Sometimes, it’s easy to know from the outset whether a book will be a good fit or not.  Such is the case with The Gentlemen, a book about a vain Victorian poet who meets the Devil at a masquerade ball, accidentally sells his wife’s soul in exchange for poetic inspiration and consequently launches an expedition (peopled by his bluff adventuring brother-in-law, his scandalous sister, a shy mad scientist and a stalwart butler) to Hell to retrieve her.  If that premise sounds as delightful to you as it did to me, you’ll love the book; if not, don’t bother.  Simple as that.

Forrest Leo’s language in The Gentleman is perfectly Victorian, his parodistic humor is spot-on for the absurd, over-the-top story he’s looking to tell, and the steampunk elements of his universe are used sparingly and well.  While reading, there was a moment when I feared I would feel cheated by the ending, but I was happily mistaken in that.  If I had to quibble, I wouldn’t have minded a little more swashbuckling action.  Overall, however, The Gentleman was a delightfully silly, light, fast-paced, fun first novel, with a great and original premise, from a clearly talented young writer.  I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

Silicon Valley: Season 1 (2014)

silicon-valley-season-1-poster-11x17_1000TV Series – In Silicon Valley, Erlich Bachman (TJ Miller) runs an incubator. This is a place where programmers can go and develop software, code, programs, and ideas into the next big thing in tech. Erlich pays all the overhead costs and provides them a place to stay and work. All Erlich wants is ten percent. At least that’s what he says.

The show centers around Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) who is developing a music application called Pied Piper. Nothing special just something people could use to help identify music. What is impressive is a compression algorithm within the coding of the app. This leads to a bidding war between two feuding tech billionaires, Peter Gregory (Christopher Evan Welch) and Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). Gregory wins the bidding war and becomes a mentor type to Richard. Richard hires everyone in the incubator to help with Pied Piper, except his friend Big Head (Josh Brener). Big Head stays working with a parody company of Google known as Hooli. Odd thing is Google exists in this make believe Silicon Valley world. Big head “works” his way up the Hooli ladder because of his relationship with Richard and nothing more. Big Head does nothing and keeps getting promoted. As the show continues the group must compete at TechCrunch Disrupt a competition for programmers. The group lead by Richard and Erlich do not feel they will be ready in time. In addition, Hooli unveils a competitive service to rival Pied Piper. The show descends into talks of major defeat, sex acts, and anarchy, making the last couple episodes very hilarious.

The show has a great supporting case including Amanda Crew who plays Monica, and Zach Woods who plays Richards assistant Jared. It is very laid back, not as tech jargon ridden as other shows. Miller’s, character keeps the show from taking itself too serious and assists greatly in satirizing the tech sector. I would recommend it to viewers who like satire, the tech industry, comedies, and raunchiness. The show just wrapped its third season and has been picked up for a fourth.

They May Not Mean To, But They Do by Cathleen Schine

51Jz8l7pWXLBook – About Joy Bergman: “Oh, they broke the mold when they made that one. People who loved her said it, people who did not love her said it, too, for the same reason.” I fall into the former category. Joy is in her eighties and caring for her beloved husband Aaron, who has dementia along with other serious health issues. They are New Yorkers and Joy misses their daughter, Molly, who is living in California with her wife. Their son, Daniel, still lives close by, with his wife and their two young daughters. This story is about family and the ties that bind us during good times and bad. It highlights the issues we are forced to confront as we age, both from the perspective of the parents and their children. Schine, who also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport, explores these themes as she relates and finds humor in the most ordinary conundrums and routines. Joy laments about her physical deterioration, defends her take-out order meals and is determined to remain independent and upbeat. Molly feels guilty about living far away and she and Daniel search for ways (with sometimes hilarious results) to reassure Joy about her importance in their lives. Joy enjoys a special bond with her grandchildren and acknowledges that although she loves being in the midst of her family, she also finds them exhausting. This book reminded me that despite the differences in our individual circumstances, there is a shared commonality in our experiences as we face life’s transitions.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

player oneBook– In the year 2044, the aptly-named virtual reality game OASIS allows people an immersive experience that diverts them from the shambles that is the world around them.  Teenage Wade Watts has essentially been raised by OASIS–he learned to read from its educational software, goes to school in one of its virtual classrooms, and like many others, seeks to solve the puzzles, or Easter eggs, that are hidden in the game. The first to find the eggs will win OASIS creator James Halliday’s fortune and control of the OASIS. To this aim, puzzle solvers (who call themselves “gunters,” from egg hunters) obsess over every facet of Halliday’s life, especially his video game and pop culture obsessions which should be familiar to anyone who was a nerd in the 1980s. Though Wade does not have as many credits (in-game money) or as much experience as some players, he is the one who stumbles on the first clue of the game and sets off the competition.

Though it certainly helps, you don’t need an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s nerd culture to read this book. At its heart, the book reads like a virtual reality version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If I had a complaint, it’s that I would have liked to see more world-building of the world outside the OASIS, but the game world is so immersive for both the reader and the characters that it’s not a serious issue. Ready Player One will appeal to fans of young adult dystopias, video games, and science fiction. Also, the audio version is narrated by Wil Wheaton.  Who can resist?

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power

23732096Book–“Squirrel Girl, Squirrel Girl! She’s a human and also squirrel! Can she climb up a tree? Yes she can, easily.” It is necessary to begin a review of the Squirrel Girl graphic novel with the Squirrel Girl Theme song. It’s totally “not” similar in tune to the Spiderman Theme song at all.

Squirrel Girl aka Doreen Green, the adorable college student with the proportional speed and strength of squirrel, begins her own series by taking down some bad guys (while singing) and then starting her first day of college. Doreen, along with her sidekick and best friend, Tippy-Toe (an actual squirrel) deal with normal trials in life: homework, finding new friends, and defeating evil villains out to destroy the world. Totally normal.

What I love about Squirrel Girl graphic novel series is its ability to make me smile and laugh while reading it. Doreen is a great lead character. You get to see her struggle through her first day of college and then fight some villains afterwards. She has spirit, spunk, and loves everybody she meets. She is not your typical superhero and that is why I love her and her writers so much! Doreen does things her way.

So if you are looking for something fun to read this week. Check out the Squirrel Girl series! We have volumes 1-3 with more on their way. Squirrel Power!!

Summertime Nostalgia

Movies – Summertime brings back memories baseball, adventures, mischief, and family vacations. It’s a time for wondering the woods, going to water parks, hanging out with friends, and first loves/crushes. Here are some movies to help get that nostalgia feeling back.

5166BKF2PFLMy number one favorite summertime film is The Sandlot. A group of neighborhood kids playing baseball all day long, or until they lose the ball for that day. These kids didn’t have a care in the world accept playing baseball, being kids, and enjoying summer. That is until they hit a special ball into the yard of “the beast”. They will do everything they can to get it back. “You’re killing me smalls!”

51Q041CWDEL._SY445_Next classic is Stand by Me. Four boys go off on an adventure to locate a dead body. Not very summery of a topic, but it is an adventure. This is what kids do… to some point. They go off in search of adventures and end up discovering things about themselves and their friends. What better time in one’s life to go on adventures! As a kid we would go down to our local train tracks and look for tadpoles and snails. Stand by Me is a classic which will always remind me of precarious summertime adventure.

794043492624;size=m2Now and Then is a story about four girls and the summer that brought them closer. The movie opens in a cemetery with the girls trying to summon a spirit. The girls are also trying to raise money to buy a tree house. The films flashbacks between the girls as adults and teens. It is a great film for everyone. Personally, I never tried to summon a spirit via a cemetery because there were no cemeteries nearby, but it sounds like something my friends and I would have done.

Summer is a great time for everyone to learn, live, laugh, and love. I recommend watching some on these movies before summers end and reliving your summertime memories with your loved ones.

Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

indexBook – One of last year’s Bluestem Book Award Nominated children’s selections was Susan E. Goodman’s How Do You Burp in Space?: and Other Tips Every Space Tourist Needs to Know.  Mary Roach could easily have used the same title for her endlessly entertaining adult nonfiction offering, but she instead chose Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

Packing for Mars (also available as an audiobook, digital or on CD) is in many ways the opposite of most stories about space travel.  Expect none of the rose-tinted romanticism of Space-as-Manifest-Destiny narratives that glamorize the patriotic thrill of being first among the stars, or any white-knuckled moments facing down the many terrors of space.  Roach’s down-to-earth focus on the humbler details of space exploration may not justify a John Williams soundtrack, but it makes for a hilarious, fascinating read.

As Roach points out, “To the rocket scientist, you are a problem.”  Humans are the most fallible component in the precise and delicate machinery of space travel, and Packing for Mars examines the many measures that NASA and other space agencies have taken to address our physical and psychological needs in the harsh environment of space.  From an expedition into the remote and otherworldly Canadian arctic where personnel and equipment are tested for moon missions, to the hospital ward where “terranauts” are paid to lie in bed for months to simulate the effects of zero-gravity on bone density, to a parabolic (“vomit-comet”) flight in the upper atmosphere in search of a cure for space-sickness, Mary Roach traveled all over this planet learning how space agencies meticulously plan to reach the next one.  The resulting book provides answers to all the questions about space travel that you never thought of or wouldn’t have dared to ask, conveyed with an irreverent wit that makes reading a pleasure.

Groot by Jeff Loveness

51jARlMoeUL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Book: “I am Groot.” Groot, a huge hulking tree and a Guardian of the Galaxy, may be only able to verbalize three words, but he really does have a lot to say. Jeff Loveness’ graphic novel Groot is the story of Groot (duh) and Rocket the Racoon traveling together to Terrian (aka Earth). The two pals’ trip is not going as planned because apparently Groot wanted to take the scenic route. They also run into the problem of no longer having a spaceship. This leads the best friends to literally hitchhike across the galaxy. Much hilarity ensues as the pair encounter different alien species and trials on their journey. The contrast of Groot’s simple nature with Rocket’s impatience and lack of compassion leads great conversations and adventures.

Of the graphic novels that I have read, this one is by far my favorite. The story line is so much fun to read. It gives background knowledge to Groot and his friendship with Rocket. It shows a new side to both of these characters. If you loved the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, then you will love this graphic novel. If you want to try reading graphic novels for the first time, Groot is an excellent place to start. It’s a complete story from beginning to end and the art work is beautiful.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

1096390Book -If you meet any of the following criteria, The Uncommon Reader may be the book for you:

  • You’re a Downton Abbey fan in need of your next Britfix.
  • You’re as likely as I am to coo over pictures of Prince George and Princess Charlotte on magazine covers in the supermarket.
  • You’d enjoy a novel (a novella, really) that feels a bit like historical fiction, but isn’t.
  • Books about the act of reading are your cup of tea, especially ones bursting with wry humor.
  • You’re looking for a book the exact right length to consume in one sitting with a handy mug of something warm.

The premise of The Uncommon Reader is unusual but simple: the Queen of England (the current one, Elizabeth II) has a fortuitous encounter with the local bookmobile and, after sixty-odd years of viewing reading as more a duty than a pleasure, unexpectedly finds literature taking over her life.  It’s hard to avoid the word ‘charming’ in describing this book, but even harder not to mention ‘funny.’  The Uncommon Reader describes a life that would, for most of us, be unimaginable, yet on the page it’s perfectly imagined.  Bennett’s fictionalized portrait of the queen is psychologically astute, believable and real, foreign from everyday experience and not sugar-coated but still sympathetic.  In fact, sympathy is a central theme of the book: our growing sympathy for the character we’re reading, even as she, through her own reading, expands her sympathy for everyone else–that is to say, us.

That mirroring between character and audience is not only clever, it’s emotionally satisfying.  Reading about personal growth through the act of reading means feeling just plain good about yourself when the story is over–which is the best reason I can think of to give The Uncommon Reader a look.

 

Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths by Ryan Britt

518llbMNNIL._SY344_Book – Never mind The Force Awakens and its record-busting box-office numbers.  If geek has really become chic, as popular wisdom would have us believe, then there is no surer sign of the fact than the existence of Luke Skywalker Can’t Read and Other Geeky Truths.  Hold your head high and read it with pride, fellow liberated nerds of Warrenville, in the sure and certain knowledge, as author Ryan Britt puts it, that the geek has inherited the earth.

In a series of humorous essays, each just the right length for a bite-sized lunchtime or before-bed treat, Britt shares his love of all things geek, from space operas to hobbits to superheroes.  As a devotee of genre fiction in all its types and kinds–an unabashed geek, in short–I found a great deal of enjoyment in the familiarity of Britt’s experiences and fannish devotions (I love Jeremy Brett’s Holmes too, Mr. Britt, and I was right there with you on the weekly dose of delicious-but-depressing Battlestar blues!).  Even if your speculative fiction experience begins and ends with Star Wars or The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, however, I think there’s a lot of interest to be found here.  Some of the most fascinating essays to me were those that covered ground I wasn’t so familiar with, like “Wearing Dracula’s Pants”, about the history of vampire stories in print and on-screen.  Other essays focus on Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Back to the Future, Tolkien, movie music, and, yes, Star Wars, among many other things.  It’s a playful, cheeky, joyous celebration of how and why we love the stories that have become our century’s particular mythology, and a massively fun ride from the first page to the last.