Monday, December 20, 2010

sigh, for the disney channel movies of my youth

I  watched Avalon High through Netflix last night and while it was enjoyable, it just didn't have the fun creativity of the old Disney Channel original movies. Does anyone even remember those anymore? I don't think the Disney Channel even shows them anymore. Which is sad because they were awesome though missing dance numbers (the one thing that I do kind of like about most of the newer movies)...

From I Was a '90s Kid
Let us start at Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. Now the two sequels, they were just sad to see, but the original Zenon rocked. Kirsten Storms as Zenon Kar, a girl living on a space station in AD 2049 who gets grounded, literally when she is sent to Earth once she breaks one too many rules on the space station. Add in one neurotic aunt, the popular guy (who is a requirement for movies like this), his delusional "girlfriend," and their favorite rocker who is supposed to give his first concert in space just as a major crisis hits the space day. Sigh, I watched it whenever it was on and still to this day dance around like an idiot to Supernova Girl (yes, back in the days of Napster, I downloaded it and have managed to hang onto it this long.)

From Wikipedia
Next is Stepsister from Planet Weird. To this day I quote from my favorite scene in this movie so if I ever turn to you with a scared look in my eyes and say "I fear the wind," just go with it. Stepsister from Planet Weird tells the story of Megan Larson who is thinking this year will finally be her year until Ariel Cola shows up and the whole school suddenly thinks she is the coolest kid around. And to make matters worse, Megan's mother just fell in love with Ariel's dad (Bonus, Ariel's Dad is The Last Starfighter which is awesome). Oh, and the Colas also happen to be aliens...I to this day think Tamara Hope's portrayal of the ethereal and bizarre Ariel is delightful, this generation is missing out on a quirky original movie.

I got this from here, I'm not sure where it is...
Sigh, Erik von Detten, you broke my heart when you played the douchy spotlight seeker in The Princess Diaries. Because, you were first one of the twins in a delightful TV version of Escape to Witch Mountain and then you were Brink, a blader who dreams of the X-Games (or the non-trademarked version of them created for this movie) but almost lost sight of his friends and family in his pursuit of them in the Disney Channel original movie appropriately named Brink! I think I may have just enjoyed this movie because of von Detten because I don't actually remember much of the movie other than bits and pieces....Also, I kind of love that Sam Horrigan pops up in Brink! too after being in Escape to Witch Mountain also. I love when actors keep popping up in the same movies together. I am weird like that.

From Wikipedia
 Last one, and this movie made me want to promptly run off to Hawaii and learn how to surf. Rip Girls was about a girl who learns about her dead mother by learning about her life in Hawaii and how much she loved to surf. Seriously, this movie was like an advertisement for Hawaii. I wanted to move to a delightful bungalow near the beach and try to learn how to surf. Luckily for all of us, I realized that was more a fun daydream than a reality I could handle. Still Rip Girls was a lot of fun, always liked it better than Johnny Tsunami (about a surfer who gets moved to the north and learns how to snowboard). 

Sigh, I feel the need for a marathon of classic Disney Channel original movies. I know I am forgetting some I enjoyed but these are my favorites; original, clever movies about kids facing challenges and coming out on top. But I always liked how these kids had a great hobby or were in a unique situation. They were always people I wanted to be friends with. I miss those movies. Or maybe I've just outgrown what kids like these, now I feel old for admitting to that...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A world without color

One of my all-time favorite authors is Jasper Fforde. His Thursday Next novels rank high on my list of favorite books. So, I was excited when Fforde started a new series, Shades of Grey about a society that couldn't see colors like you and me. Instead, people have colors they can see more than others so society has created a hierarchy around the chromatic scale. Our hero, Edward Russett is a Red who is being sent to the Outer Fringes for a dose of humility. He is days away from his Color being declared and being a full member of society. Upon his arrival, Eddie meets Jane Grey and suddenly the very normal, very safe future he had planned doesn't seem so certain.

A review I read on Goodreads about Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron said that the first pages of a Fforde book are like being plunged into the deep end of a pool. You spend the next 100 pages trying to re-surface. His worlds are complex and fully realized and he doesn't waste time explaining them to a reader. He pays his readers the great compliment of letting them figure what's going on as the story develops. Fforde's books are always an inherent mystery as a reader tries to understand the world in which the story is taking place, then a reader actually gets to the mystery of the story itself. As the first book in a series, Fforde spends a lot of time setting up the series's bigger goals and mysteries. He also lets us get to know Eddie Russett/deMauve and Jane Grey/Brunswick, the heroes of the series. Eddie is one of those fun dystopian characters, the reluctant hero who has a vague idea that everything  might not be what it seems. He has a fatal flaw that usually dooms dystopian heroes, he is curious. He asks questions and it is this trait that eventually wins him the girl of his dreams. Jane is a tough character who spends a great deal of the book threatening to kill Eddie but she's smart, clever and knows there is more to the Collective than meets the eye. The world they live in is full of manipulative people and a government that is ruling by fear of the unknown and together they've resolved to take it down, one color conspiracy at a time.

Fforde never fails to deliver with witty, fast-paced dialogue, a riveting story and a world in which anything can happen. I cannot wait for the next two installments!

Once Upon a Time…

I am alive! I tell you, even when you are thousands of miles from family for December, they keep you busy! I’ve been shopping, wrapping, shipping and generally going a bit nutty with holiday must-dos. However, I am in good shape now and I have a backlog of blog writing to do. So, as Mariah Carey’s nutty Christmas special plays in the background, I will try to get caught up a bit.

First up, a series of fairy tales re-told. Now, if you know me, you know my love of fairy tales. I am the girl who wrote her senior English thesis on Cinderella and loved every minute of that semester reading tale after tale of Cinderella in every form imaginable. My favorite version still remains a short story told from the stepmother’s perspective, a woman who had been evil to protect Cinderella from the men in her life. It fascinated me. One, because one of my main arguments in my thesis was Cinderella’s strength when she was surrounded by a strong group of women and two, because it was just mind blowing. Taking the evil stepmother and making her the one who saves Cinderella in the end?! I was in love and re-imagined fairy tales have been a passion of mine ever since. So you can imagine my excitement when I was told about a series of books called Once Upon a Time that take classic fairy tales and tell them again in new settings with new characters and twists to the old tales.

I’ve read two of the series so far, both written by Cameron Dokey and I am in love. I require little from my fairy tales. One, they need to have a strong heroine that I can relate to and two, that everyone live happily ever after in the end. At least the people who deserve to live happily ever after. My third requirement? That the good and the bad be easy to distinguish. I don’t read a fairy tale wanting to think very hard. I read them to be entertained, to enjoy the lyrical sentences and implausible adventures. Dokey hasn’t failed me yet.

from Goodreads
The first I read was Before Midnight: A Re-telling of “Cinderella” and it was one of the more delightful re-tellings I’ve ever read. And that is saying something people. Dokey’s Cendrillion is strong, resilient and willing to fight for what she wants. Dokey also adds the story of Raoul, a young man who has grown up next to Cendrillion and shared her pain of being abandoned as an infant. On her 16th birthday, Cendrillion makes a wish, that she might have a mother and sisters who will love her. She asks for two sisters, in case one doesn’t like her. Like magic, a stepmother and two stepsisters arrive several days later and the great adventure begins for Cendrillion and Raoul as the story builds towards the climatic night of the Prince’s ball. Reading this book, it was like watching my thesis in action. Cendrillion is raised from birth by Old Marthe, who is a sort of fairy godmother figure for the story, and once her stepmother and stepsisters arrive, these are women who know themselves and are willing to learn who Cendrillion is. And Cendrillion is more comfortable and confident to act during her crisis moments because of the support she has from the women in her life. Dokey did me proud in this version and I enjoyed very minute of it.

from Goodreads
A few days later, my next installment of the series arrived. The Storyteller’s Daughter: a Re-telling of “Arabian Nights” was based on a story I had less history with. I tried to read the original tales when I was too young. The “familiar” stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba weren’t quite so familiar in their original versions so I abandoned the book and contented myself with the Dougray Scott Hallmark mini-series (seriously, no one does crazy tortured soul like Dougray in that series – watch it if you don’t believe me!). But the character of Sharhrazad is a delightfully mysterious one. She is like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, charged with taming a beast back to his humanity but she also must rely more on her cleverness because there is a death sentence hanging not only over her, but every woman in the kingdom. Dokey’s characterization of Sharharazad makes her mother a driving influence of who she becomes. She is also blind, which adds an interesting facet to the story. Also, the battle is not against brothers in this story, instead the threat comes from outside the family which I kind of liked more. While the battle between brothers is classic, I enjoyed the family dynamics of this re-telling which helped make the ending a bit more plausible to me. I also liked the addition of Sharharazad’s half sister to the story – her growth as a character was interesting to watch and also impressed me that Dokey could handle the different threads of her story, much more complex than the Cinderella re-telling.

If you can’t tell, I thoroughly enjoyed these books and would recommend the series. It’s written with more of a teen audience in mind but I think anyone who enjoys a good fairy tale will enjoy them.  One down, two more to go! I am hoping to be caught up on my book reviewing by Christmas. Let’s see how I do!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

To Kill A Mockingbird

I have been feeling direction-less with my reading since completing the Great Bookshelf Challenge of 2010. I kind of went crazy with my ILLs and check-outs at both the University and Public Libraries. The sweet taste of freedom! However, I had no idea where to start. What book out of the 537 books on my to-read list should I start with? That is when my eye caught sight of a book that has been on my to-read list for years and years. Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird. And with it, I found a new project to help direct me as I bumble into the 537 book free-for-all (that I seem to add to daily). I want to work on reading books this coming year that I should have read by now. Books that somehow my high school teachers forgot to make me read and books that my brilliant class planning helped me avoid in college. This will not take over my life like the last challenge but give me a steady stream of good literature amid the myriad Austen-inspired chick lit books and many YA fantasies my list contains (and that I am dying to gorge on but am restraining myself so far).

I had slight guilt for not getting around to reading To Kill A Mockingbird before now. After reading The Heroine's Bookshelf last week and hearing the name "Scout Finch" for the first time, the guilt grew. After completing the book, how on earth have I lived without Scout in my life until now? Scout is clever, funny, and has a way of seeing the world that I envy. If I had found her sooner, I like to think I would have had the guts to clock someone along the way. The scene where she does just that to her own cousin no less seriously made me cheer out loud. While sitting at my desk, at work in the library at lunchtime. It was a great moment. And one of the reasons I love reading so much. It wasn't just Scout's moment; it was mine too.

The book has a charm to it that called to me from the moment I started reading it. Scout's love of reading, her brother Jem's growing legal mind and Dill's obsession with the neighbor no one has ever seen were all traits I could understand still, removed from childhood as far as adulthood has forced me too. However, it was Atticus who I appreciated maybe more now that I would have as a kid. His calm, steady belief in what is right and his belief that his children should be taught that, no matter the cost to himself was inspiring and I can only hope that I can be that kind of a parent someday.

It also struck me reading that this book is timeless. Its issues surrounding race and justice are just as relevant today as when Harper Lee wrote them. It worries me that they are still around, perhaps in an even more vicious form today because they are often more subtle. We are so worried about being "politically correct" often that we miss that these issues are still on the table for my generation and the generations coming after me. To Kill a Mockingbird is a book I wish someone had handed to me in 6th grade, when I was just starting to grow a backbone. Scout would have been an inspiration. It is a book I wish someone had handed to me in the days after 9/11 when the issues would have rang true and yet Scout's belief in herself and her world to learn would have been comforting as well. As it is, a book I read today, Scout is still an inspiration and now I have seen enough to look beyond Scout's way of seeing the world and appreciate the father who taught her to see it that way. An impressive book indeed.