Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten TV Series That Were A Pleasant Surprise

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is supposed to have a TV theme. Not books? Well, I don't think I'll have much trouble doing this one, since I've done more TV-watching than reading this year.

Yes, I do watch TV. I still have cable, and I watch "mainstream" stations. Ads are annoying and so much of what's on is kind of crappy... but there are still some gems out there, even if they're not always obvious. Here are some of the shows that have pleasantly surprised me, and that I enjoyed (or still enjoy) watching:

Ten TV Series That Were A Pleasant Surprise:


Bob's Burgers
USA, 2011-present

The first time I caught an episode of this show, I had no idea what it was. All I knew was that I was laughing so hard, and I felt like I'd been caught watching something naughty. Despite the crude drawing style, there's something about the Belcher family that seems real... and I love the kids' interactions with their parents. Louise (in the bunny ears) is one of my favourite animated characters.



BrainDead
USA, 2016

This series had been heavily advertised leading up to its premiere, which kind of put me off. But there was nothing else on that night, and I had nothing better to do, so I watched it. Now I'm hooked. The characters are great, the show itself is funny, and it's a welcome bit of lighthearted relief in the midst of a nasty American election cycle. I doubt Republican supporters would like this one... but if you lean to the left even a little bit, you might find this show pretty entertaining. (Does anyone else like the musical recaps at the beginning of the episodes as much as I do?)



Castle
USA, 2009-2016

Even though I knew this show was about a writer (yay!) who tagged along with a cop, I wasn't sure I wanted to watch it. I guess I didn't realize how entertaining it would be, or how much I'd come to care about the characters. This was one of my favourite TV shows for the first 3 or 4 seasons. The final season was a complete trainwreck (and I missed much of it, not really caring enough to watch), culminating in one of the most disjointed WTF?! epilogues I've ever seen after the abrupt cancellation of the series. It was a sad ending for a show that had so much potential.



Downton Abbey
UK, 2010-2015

I think we'd been watching something else on PBS and the first episode of this show just came on. It was sort of like, "Hmm... the heir died on the Titanic, and now they're stuck with three daughters and it's all a big kerfuffle. Whatever shall they do?" Well, they did a lot in the 6 seasons of its run, although I almost stopped watching after the end of season 3 (if you're a fan, you can probably guess why). But there were enough plot threads going on that the show was always interesting.



Emergency Room: Life + Death at VGH
Canada, 2014

This is a short documentary series that we happened to stumble across. Think ER... but it's all real. It's shocking, gory, sometimes amusing... but always very, very interesting to see how the emergency room actually works. The last episode I saw had a construction worker who'd attached his jeans to his knee with a nail gun. A barbed nail right through the bone! (Don't watch this show if you're squeamish, obviously.)



The Great British Bake Off (aka The Great British Baking Show)
UK, 2010-present

I don't know how long PBS has been airing this series from across the pond, but I've caught the last two seasons and I'm hooked. I find it to be more "real" than MasterChef (which sometimes seems a bit scripted and over-edited). I love seeing what the contestants come up with!



Lost
US, 2004-2010

This was one of those shows that was so hyped up that I wasn't sure I wanted to go anywhere near it. But after the first episode, I was pretty much hooked. I enjoyed it right up until the end. And, yes, I liked the ending. (I also liked the fact that there was an ending at an appropriate point. So many TV shows could and should take their cue from Lost and quit while they're ahead.)



Secrets & Lies
Australia, 2014

Yes, I have seen the American version as well. But I'm glad I saw the original Australian version first, because it was a whole lot better. My mom and I were glued to the TV once a week while this series was playing, wondering who'd killed poor little Thom. While the American version was decent and stuck to the story fairly closely, it didn't seem quite as chilling or realistic to me... especially once the killer's identity was finally revealed.



So You Think You Can Dance
US, 2005-present; Canada, 2008-2011

I have to admit, when I first saw what this show was about, I thought it would be like American Idol but with dancers: a few big talents in a much larger pool of people looking for their 15 minutes of fame. But once I gave this show a try, I realized that the format is quite a bit different; we really only see the talent. And there's so much talent! I was really into dancing when I was little, and I would've loved this show back then. I enjoy watching it now.

Canada had its own version for a few seasons, with incredibly talented dancers. Unfortunately, it wasn't able to bring in enough advertisers to make it viable for the network, and it was cancelled.



X Company
Canada/Hungary, 2015-present

I don't watch a lot of programming on CBC, so I could've easily missed the ads for this TV show that turned out to be one of my favourites. The settings are gorgeous, the storytelling is intense, and the characters are perfectly imperfect. Two seasons in, and I think the writers are trying to give George R. R. Martin a run for his money with character deaths... but it's still an awesome show and I can't wait for the next season to be released.


What are some TV series that pleasantly surprised you?


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books Set Outside The US

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Books Set Outside The US. Are there any? Of course there are. Some genres and age groups seem to be more heavily skewed toward the US, but that doesn't mean there aren't a lot of great books out there that take place somewhere else. Here are some of my favourites:

Ten Books Set Outside The US:

The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

Setting: Germany

Nazi Germany in World War II is a setting that's used a lot... but there are so many stories to tell within that setting.
Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

Setting: England

England might not seem like that exciting of a setting, but this is England in the 1290s! As such, it's barely recognizable... but it creates a great backdrop for the characters and their stories.
Daughter of Smoke & Bone
by Laini Taylor

Setting: Prague, Czech Republic

The setting is incidental to this intricate story, but it's still nice to see a place other than some random American city featured as the MC's home. Having her live in a European city adds a little more magic (at least, for those of us who don't live in Europe).
The Dust of 100 Dogs
by A. S. King

Setting: Ireland & Jamaica

This book is partly set in the US, but much of it (through flashbacks) is also set in Ireland. And then the MC jets off to Jamaica. So it's not exactly what I'd call an "American" book.
Free as a Bird
by Gina McMurchy-Barber

Setting: British Columbia, Canada

Like quite a few books on this list, this one is also historical, though it depicts a time in the fairly recent past. It's hard to believe that we treated people with disabilities is such horrible ways... and that we did it within the last century.
The Lake and the Library
by S. M. Beiko

Setting: Manitoba, Canada

Though this wasn't a perfect book by any means, I really enjoyed the story, which is a mix of contemporary and paranormal, set in a small town in Manitoba. I can probably count the number of books I've read that were set on the Canadian Prairies on one hand, so this was a nice find.
Listen, Slowly
by Thanhha Lai

Setting: Vietnam

When I realized this book wasn't a verse novel like the author's first book, I almost put it down. But I'm really glad I didn't because I thoroughly enjoyed this middle-grade story about a California girl who accompanies her grandmother back to Vietnam for the summer.
The Lost Crown
by Sarah Miller

Setting: Russia

I can't pass up a good Romanov book... and this is one of the better ones I've read, a purely historical tale with no added supernatural elements (which seem to be common in books featuring Anastasia).
Stolen
by Lucy Christopher

Setting: Australia

Although I've seen some Australians complain about the way the Outback is portrayed in this book, to me it seemed very real and weirdly claustrophobic (which is what the story called for).
Tiger Moon
by Antonia Michaelis

Setting: India

This is probably the most fairytale-esque book on my list, with many fantasy elements. Heck, it has a telepathic talking tiger! But it is set in a real place, which appears to be India during British rule.


What are some of your favourite books set outside the USA?


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review - A Monstrous Place: A Tale From Between (DNF)

A Monstrous Place: A Tale From Between (Tales From Between #1)
by Matthew Stott
Date: 2015
Publisher: Fenric Books
Reading level: MG
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 178
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

Things live between awake and asleep. In the moment after your eyes grow too heavy to stay open, but before the dreams take you...

Molly lives with her Mother in a large, creaking house that she wishes were haunted. There may be no ghosts, but what about monsters? Monsters with an unending appetite that like to steal people away in the black of night.

When, one morning, Molly wakes to find her own Mother missing, she discovers she has a potentially fatal task ahead of her. With only her dead Gran and a retired adventurer by her side, Molly must travel to a dangerous and untrustworthy land somewhere between awake and asleep, before her Mother finds herself planted in a most monstrous garden.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I got completely fed up with this one. Took a break, came back... got even more fed up.

Tips for authors:

1. Learn how to punctuate before you publish a book.

2. Kids are not stupid. Don't write down to them.

3. If you haven't captured my attention by 10%, you've lost me. You've also probably lost your target audience.

DNF at 10%

Friday, May 6, 2016

Review - The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare

The Untimely Deaths of Alex Wayfare (Alex Wayfare #2)
by M. G. Buehrlen
Date: 2016
Publisher: Diversion Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 228
Format: e-book
Source: Amazon.ca

As Alex's sister loses the fight against cancer, a race for a cure sends Alex traveling back and forth through time, dodging enemy Descenders who seem to know Alex's every move before she does. Realizing her enemies have privileged information, Alex fears there is a traitor hiding within the small band of allies she's grown to trust.

A traitor who might bring Gesh straight to Alex's front door.

While Gesh closes the gap in Base Life, and Blue's true identity surfaces, Alex stumbles upon a secret about her reincarnations that will change her life, or her lives, forever.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'm so disappointed. This book had the potential to be amazing, but it fell so flat. I've been waiting for this sequel for a couple of years now, wanting some resolution to the cliff-hanger ending of the first book. Not only was that cliff-hanger never really resolved, but the ending of this book reads like the end of the series. Not cool.

Please, dear author, I want some more...

The premise of this series is what I found so intriguing about the first book. A reincarnating time traveller in the body of a geeky seventeen-year-old girl? Sounds like my type of story. But...

It's all a matter of taste...

This installment of Alex's story seemed to bring up so many rules for the time travel and reincarnation, making everything seem really complicated and, at times, overly convenient. Alex suffers from Special Snowflake Syndrome. She's a Mary Sue when it comes to time travel, since she has skills that nobody else has. On the other hand, she's also self-deprecating to the point that it grows very tiresome.

My biggest complaint with this sequel, however, is that nothing happened. Well, some things happen, but not like in the first book, with Alex diving down into multiple lives, exploring her past selves in a mix of action and romance. This book is basically a "kid with cancer" book in disguise, with a whole lot of angst about Alex's sister, Audrey, and her worsening condition. In fact, Alex doesn't even go back in time until well after the halfway point, and she only goes on two missions in total... both with the aim of saving her sister. Meanwhile, there's the whole issue with Blue, Alex's partner/soulmate, running as an undercurrent throughout the whole story. I'm not pleased with the way it was handled. It comes across as kind of cheap and convenient, and makes Alex look like an idiot (she's kind of oblivious, anyway, as are quite a few characters in the story... which is also tiresome, because you feel like you're reading about morons who can't put two and two together to save their own lives).

I was thinking this would be a three-star read as I was going along, especially once I hit some action in the last third of the book. But then the ending came. One of my favourite parts of The 57 Lives of Alex Wayfare was that ending... even though it made us wait. But it was a good kind of waiting, full of anticipation and wondering. Here, though, we're treated to some sappy word vomit from Alex on the nature of life, and then the book just ends. No hints about any of the questions that are still unanswered. No hint of any third book. If that was it... well, that would be a huge waste. A waste of a great premise, a waste of a great love story... and a waste of the reader's time.

Let's get technical...

The sentence fragments drove me nuts. I don't remember the first book being quite so bad. (Maybe it was... but it had enough of a plot to make me overlook that sort of thing.) I also grew tired of correcting the punctuation in my Kindle copy. And, for future reference, writers: "whir" is a noise; "whirl" is a spinning action. If your mind is actually "whirring", you need to see a doctor.

The verdict...

I'm not ready to give up on this series, if there turns out to be a third book. I do like the premise. I just wish this book had had more action and less philosophical monologuing.

Quotable moment:

My whole life is made up of lies now. I wear them like scarves and hats and little flowers in my hair.

But then again, doesn’t everyone?

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 1/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 1/5
Writing: 3/5
Editing: 2/5
Originality: 3/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2 out of 5 ladybugs


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Childhood Characters I'd Love To Revisit As An Adult

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Childhood Characters I'd Love To Revisit As An Adult. Where are they now? These are the characters I'd love to see updates on. (These are not necessarily characters that I encountered when I was a child. Some of them are just characters that I want to know more about.)

Spoiler Warning: Because we're talking about events that would happen after the ends of the books, there may be some spoilers here. Please don't keep reading if you see the cover for a book you haven't read yet!

Ten Childhood Characters I'd Love To Revisit As An Adult:

Birdy from Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

What happens after the happily ever after and the honeymoon is over? While this isn't a fairy tale, it does sort of end like one, with the promise of a marriage. I'd like to know how Birdy's life turned out with her husband. Did she have lots of kids? Was she happy? Did she die in childbirth, leaving her young husband a widower? Anything's possible, I guess...

Christopher Robin from Winnie-the-Pooh
by A. A. Milne

I know he was a real person, but I'm talking here about the character, the little boy who played with his animal friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. What did he grow up to be? A veterinarian? An environmentalist who protects forests and the creatures who live in them? A fantasy writer? Who knows?

The Darkling from The Demon in the Wood
by Leigh Bardugo

The Darkling was an interesting character for me, at least in the first book of The Grisha trilogy. This short story gives us a glimpse of the boy who would become the Darkling, but that's all it is: a glimpse. It doesn't really show us why he became the way he did, which was always one of the more intriguing questions of this series... and one that was never answered to my satisfaction.

Jack from Room
by Emma Donoghue

Poor little Jack. He had a rough start. I'd be really interested to see how he turned out. His resilience may have pulled him through.

Liesel from The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak

I know we got a tiny taste of this, but there was a lot that was left out. I'd like to know about that other part of her life that was mentioned but not explored.

Penryn from the Penryn & the End of Days series
by Susan Ee

Did the third book in the series tie everything up in a nice, shiny bow? Yes... and that's the problem. I don't buy the ending, and I want a different one. I want to know what happens to Penryn, Raffe, Paige, and all the other characters... and have it make sense. How did they rebuild the world after the angel apocalypse? Or did they?

Po and Bundle from Liesl & Po
by Lauren Oliver

This is such a cute book that I wish had been around when I was younger. I liked the story... but I wanted to know more about the ghosts, Po and Bundle. There are stories there that were never told. How did they become ghosts? What were their lives like before? What about after the events in this book?

Polly and Tom from Fire and Hemlock
by Diana Wynne Jones

The main character and love interest spent a number of years apart in this story, and things didn't always go smoothly when they did reunite. I'd like to know what their relationship was like after the end of the book. A bit awkward, I'm guessing. Although, they would have a lot to talk about!

Ramona Quimby from the Ramona books
by Beverly Cleary

We do get to see Ramona grow up a bit throughout her series, though she is only 10 or so in the last book. I'd like to know what happened to her as a teenager and young adult. If it's anything like her childhood, her adolescence was probably hilarious.

Renesmee from Breaking Dawn
by Stephenie Meyer

Okay, yes, I hated this book. But I've got a sort of morbid curiosity about this one. Did Jacob really mate when her when she was physically mature... at the age of seven? Maybe he got thrown in jail because of it, and then there was this big trial and vampires and shape-shifters became known to the whole world, and the Volturi lost their edge and went insane and killed all the other vampires on the planet... (A girl can dream, can't she?)


What are some favourite childhood characters you'd like to check in with?


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday - Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven't Talked About Enough/In A While

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's topic is Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven't Talked About Enough/In A While. This'll probably be tricky... because when I love a book, I tend to let people know about it! However, since I've barely posted here lately, I guess I can talk about books I haven't gushed about in a while.

Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven't Talked About Enough/In A While:

Before I Fall
by Lauren Oliver

This was the first book I read by this author, and I loved it. Though it was somewhat reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day, with a girl going back and reliving the same day over and over again, what made it unique was the issues that the characters had to face. Bullying was a major theme, and it was interesting to see a book written from the perpetrator's point of view. While some people couldn't relate to the main character because of that, I really liked the way the author chose to tell the story.

Catherine, Called Birdy
by Karen Cushman

This is one of my favourite historical fiction books. It's about a young teenage girl living in England in 1290. The Crusades are going on, and one of the pastimes of fathers of the era is apparently to marry off their prepubescent daughters. The book is told in the form of a diary, and Birdy's voice is really fun to read. She includes information about all these weird saints, punctuates her entries with funny exclamations like "God's thumbs!", and comes up with some not-so-flattering nicknames for her suitors. The world-building is incredible, and it's obvious that the author is serious about doing her research.

A Certain Slant of Light
by Laura Whitcomb

While the plot does have some things that are potentially problematic for some readers, the strength of this book is definitely in its writing. Whitcomb's writing is gorgeous. It hooked me from the first page and didn't let me go until the last. The way the stories of the ghosts and the living were intertwined was done well, and I was left wanting to know more. (There is a sequel, but I keep putting off reading it. I'm afraid it won't live up to my high expectations!)

Fire and Hemlock
by Diana Wynne Jones

There's something about Jones's books that I just love. Whether it's the Britishness of them, or the fact that they seem so innocent, I'm not sure. But I've enjoyed a number of her books (Howl's Moving Castle and Deep Secret being another couple of favourites). Fire and Hemlock, though, has to be my very favourite of the bunch. It's a fairytale retelling based on two old poems (Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer), even though that might not be immediately apparent. I love the relationship between Polly and Tom. It starts out when Polly is a child and Tom is a young man (which is apparently problematic for some readers... but since it's a simple friendship based on a love of stories, it never bothered me). Later, Polly falls in love with Tom, which puts the rest of the retelling into motion. There's always something fantastic going on in this author's stories, and this book is no exception.

I Capture the Castle
by Dodie Smith

I didn't discover this "classic" until I was an adult. I really wish I had gotten to read it as a teenager; I'm pretty sure I would've loved it. There's a wacky family (including a writer father), a bit of romance, and to top it all off, they live in a ruined castle in England. How cool is that? I really liked Cassandra (the main character), and found her very easy to relate to. This is one of my very favourite coming-of-age stories.

Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare

Yes... Shakespeare. Am I crazy? I can't help liking this play, though. It's funny--even silly at times--and has a great cast of characters. Beatrice and Benedick's sparring is epic, and there are some good one-liners here. (If you'd rather watch Shakespeare than read it, I'd recommend the 1993 movie version with Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson. It's pretty close to the original play... even down to some things that I thought had been added by modern screenwriters. I certainly never expected Shakespeare to use a phrase like "Monsieur Love"!)

The Ruby in the Smoke
by Philip Pullman

Yes, this is the same author who wrote The Golden Compass. This series (there's a trilogy, plus one companion book) isn't fantasy, but rather historical fiction. Sally Lockhart is an independent young woman in Victorian England. She's a cool character because she's so capable and smart (and so, because of the time when the story is set, she's often underestimated). I also like Fred, the photographer who becomes her friend. He was probably one of my first literary crushes.

Sophie's World
by Jostein Gaarder

This is kind of a weird book, and it certainly won't be to everyone's liking. I learned so much about the history of philosophy from this one. The author managed to somehow write a fictional novel and make it half non-fiction. It's a story within a story. Sound confusing? It kind of is, and I admit, I got bogged down near the end and put it on hold for a while. But I eventually came back to it, finished it, and realized that I really liked this one overall. It's the sort of book that would be awesome to read for school, because it teaches something while also being entertaining.

The Thief
by Megan Whalen Turner

One day, I need to get around to finishing this series. There is, however, a big reason why this book is my favourite: unlike all the sequels, it's told in the first person by Eugenides (Gen) himself. He's one of my favourite characters, male or female: cheeky, cocky, and too smart for his own good. This is also an amazing quest type of story that would appeal to boys as well as girls.

The Witches of Willowmere
by Alison Baird

I've mentioned this book (and its two sequels) before, but I have to do so again because it's one of my favourite YA paranormal trilogies. There is some witchcraft, and a wonderful "otherworld", but much of the paranormal in these books comes from the concept of reincarnation... and this is one of the instances when I've seen it done well. The books are by a Canadian author and aren't widely available, which is a shame because they'd fit in nicely on a paranormal fantasy fan's bookshelf.


What are some favourite books that you haven't talked about in a while?
What are some favourite books that you haven't talked about enough?


Monday, February 29, 2016

New to the TBR Pile (47) - February 2016



Freebie from Amazon.ca:
Interesting Times (Interesting Times #1)
by Matthew Storm

Oliver Jones is the most dangerous man in the world.

At least, someone out there believes he is. Oliver himself thought he was one of the world's duller men, working as a financial analyst in San Francisco by day and eating microwave dinners by himself every night. That was until he befriended a stray cat, and then one lonely night the cat began to speak to him.

Now Oliver is on the run, hunted by an inhuman assassin whose client believes Oliver is the "Destroyer of Worlds." His only hope for survival rests with a trio of unlikely new allies: A werewolf with a fondness for Hawaiian shirts, an emotionless little girl who is much, much older than she appears, and a genocidal gunfighter with a serious anger management problem.

And there's that talking cat, of course. But that's a little harder to explain...


What's new to your TBR pile this month?
Did you get any books you're really looking forward to reading?
Let me know in the comments!