Friday, February 26, 2016

Thing Explainer

Ever wonder how something really cool (but really complex) works only to be frustrated by trying to do research about that really cool thing? Seems like the so-called "experts" like to use a lot of big, fancy words to explain such things. And the more complicated the thing, the bigger and fancier the explanation. So that, even after hours of research using Google, Wikipedia, books by people with degrees (or whatever), the average person knows no more about said really cool thing than before they began their research. Sometimes, they're even more confused than before.

No more.

This is why Randall Munroe, author of What If, wrote Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff In Simple Words. In this oversized and heavily-illustirated and diagramed book, you'll find explanations on everything from the Space Station to the Human Body, from Plants & Animals to the Periodic Table. And all of it is explained in words the average 6th or 7th grader can understand. And all of it with a touch of Monroe's trademark ironic humor. Sometimes the titles used to describe the items in this book are a bit too simplified (for example, bridges are referred to as "tall roads" and elevators are "lifting rooms") and you have to actually read the description and look at the pictures to figure out what the author is talking about. But I suppose that's part of the ironic humor part. Take it for what it is.

Overall, though, Thing Explainer is a fun book to browse. Plus, you'll learn a thing or two. --AJB

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We Shoudl All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I first became interested in this little book when I heard the story about every 16 year old in Sweden receiving a copy of it.  Naturally, if every 16 year old in Sweden has it, our teen department needs it!

This little book is a personal essay based on the TED Talk by the same name.  Adichie is a Nigerian author and Happy African Feminist Who Does Not Hate Men And Who Likes To Wear Lip Gloss.  She uses her essay to discuss what it means to be a feminist and why it is not a nasty word even though it is often treated as one.  She gives a glimpse into the world of a Nigerian woman, who may not be allowed to enter certain establishments alone and is taught that life is meaningless without a husband.  While the culture is different from our own, she ties it easily into our familiar territory and provides examples of American women she knows.

I know that around here we are usually reviewing exciting books with mystical foxes or talking lawn gnomes (Both very, very important things!) but if you are looking for something quick (48 pages) and thought provoking or if you want to be more Swedish, give this little book a shot. -RYQ

Monday, February 22, 2016

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power

Ok, so...squirrels have come up A LOT for me lately: From tales of the ones who have taken over my parents' yard (because my dad feeds them) to a video clip about a water-skiing squirrel popping up randomly in a recent movie that had absolutely nothing to do with squirrels (It DID sort of have to do with YouTube, though, but still. Squirrels? I mean, how random is that?!?). And quite a few other times too. I'll just say that squirrels have been following me lately.

So when I saw The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power on our New Graphic Novel shelf, it was like fate was telling me that I should read it. And I'm glad I did. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is supercute!

This quirky-fun comic book centers around, who else, Squirrel Girl. a.k.a. Doreen Green. Our heroine has secretly been living in the attic of the Avengers' mansion for some time, but now it is time for her to go to college. Like with anyone moving out for the first time, there are a lot of adjustments: Dealing with roommates, schedule snafus, orientation night, and new crushes. Only Doreen/Squirrel Girl has to fight bad guys too. And there's a major bad guy heading toward Earth: Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds. And the only one who can stop him and save the planet is Squirrel Girl. And her adorable squirrel sidekick, Tippy-Toe. Squirrel Girl has already outsmarted Kraven the Hunter and defeated Whiplash. And then there are the usual mortal bank robbers and muggers. But can she stop a villain as major as Galactus? I guess you'll just have to read the book to find out.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Power is a lot of fun to read. Doreen/Squirrel Girl is not your typical super hero. Sure, she CAN beat up the bad guys. And sometimes she DOES beat up the bad guys. But she more relies on her smarts to find alternative ways of saving the day. I like that :) I'm really happy I decided to pick this one up. --AJB

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Mirrored, by Alex Flinn

Fairy tale retellings can be hit or miss, especially the ones updated for modern times (cars, Facebook, cell phones, and whatnot). Which is why I approached Alex Flinn's newest novel, Mirrored, with caution. I loved what she did with her Beauty and the Beast retelling, Beastly (loved the book, hated the movie). Kiss in Time was a cute fish out of water story. But Towering (Rapunzel) was only sort of "Meh," but that's because the characters and their insta-love relationship were kind of "meh." I didn't dislike it, but it wasn't memorable like BeastlyOn the other hand, I didn't much care for Cloaked or Bewitching simply because they tried to be too much. The fairy tale mash-up thing didn't work as well as when Flinn stuck with one story on which to build off. 

So yeah. Mixed reviews. Mixed reactions.

I'd been circling Mirrored, a Snow White revamp as told, at least in part, from the P.O.V. of the "Wicked Stepmother," ever since it first appeared my Book Radar back in late 2013. Based on past experience with Flinn's retellings, I wasn't certain about it.  It could be just another book, another retelling, that I read and then forget. On the other hand, it could be awesome. After all, we were getting (part of) the story from the supposed villain, just like with Beastly. Perhaps we'd understand why the Wicked Stepmother was so wicked. Or maybe she wasn't wicked after all. Maybe... Maybe it would be the Snow White character who was truly the evil one (that would be a fabulous twist, wouldn't it?). So many possibilities. So many expectations.

Well...some of that was true. Mirrored focused, at first, on Violet, a homely and bullied girl who, with the aid of Kendra (of Beastly fame), discovered she had witchy powers. Powers that could change her life. Of course she abuses these powers, using them to make herself beautiful and to get Carrieesque revenge on her enemies. Particularly mean-girl Jennifer, who ended up dating and, eventually, marrying Greg,  the the guy Violet had a near-obsessive crush on. Flash forward several years and the P.O.V. jumps to Celine, the daughter of Jennifer and Greg. Jennifer has been killed in a freak accident (a freak accident caused by guess who) and Greg has been bewitched to remarry none other than Violet. Things are peachy at first...until Celine begins to grow up and become a beauty. Jealous, Violet turns her rage on poor Celine. And things progress from there. There's a dwarf. There's a "prince" type character. There's a rescue. And a kiss. And there's the true love/happily ever after. I didn't like Mirrored as well as Beastly, but I enjoyed it. 

If you like retellings, try Mirrored. --AJB

p.s. I wonder if Flinn will try to revamp The Snow Queen next. Jump on the Frozen bandwagon, so to speak (really, I kind of hope she doesn't).

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Spring Programs

If you haven't already heard the news, registration is open for all our Spring Programs. We've got some fun stuff this time around, like Magic Duct Tape Wallets, Homemade Smart Phone Speakers, and Spring Break Lock-In. Space is limited, so sign up early to guarantee you get a spot. 

Sign up online or in person.

All Teen Programs are for 6th-12th graders only.

Inside Out (DVD)

Ever wonder what goes on inside some peoples' heads to make them do what they do or act a certain way? Disney/Pixar explores this idea in their latest animated movie, Inside Out (now on DVD and located in the "new" section of the Teen Movies). In this adorable film, emotions are personified as characters who work in Headquarters (get it? HEADquarters?) and influence how people respond to the world around them.

Riley, 11, has been happy most of her life. And its no wonder, what with Joy dominating the controls and keeping the other emotions (Fear, Anger, Disgust, and her arch rival Sadness) from getting any work done. Joy works hard to make sure most of Riley's experiences and memories--particularly the all-important Core Memories--are happy ones. This job gets tougher when Riley's family moves across the country and things immediately begin to go wrong, from a delayed moving van to Riley embarrassing herself by crying at school. When Joy tries to prevent a Sad Core Memory from being stored in Long Term, she and Sadness find themselves trapped far outside Headquarters. As the two opposite emotions wander the maze of storage shelves that make up Riley's long-term memory, searching for a way back, the remaining emotions back at Headquarters try unsuccessfully to keep Riley's life from going off the rails ("what would Joy do?"). Fortunately Joy and Sadness make it back to Headquarters just in time, thanks to the aid of a very special character. The two opposites also learn a new appreciation for each other's work and how much they really need each other to keep Riley's life balanced. Along the way the audience gets a peek inside Headquarters of Riley's parents, teachers, peers, and some neighborhood critters.

Inside Out may not have been my favorite Disney/Pixar movie (that title still belongs to Up), but I thought it was cute and entertaining and creative with the perfect blend of humor, suspense, adventure, and warm fuzzies. I mean, DUH! Of course it's all of that. It IS Disney after all. Inside Out is definitely a must watch.--AJB

p.s. After watching Inside Out, my faith in Disney has been restored and I'm willing to forgive the disaster that was Tomorrowland.

p.p.s. I should note that Lava, the Short Film included in the Bonus Features of the disc was pretty weird. It featured a lonely volcano (which looked uncannily like Jaba the Hut) who only wanted some company. He gets his wish, eventually, but there's an ironic twist before the traditonal Disney Happily Ever After Ending. The concept was a cute one, but the main animated characters came off as kind of creepy. Watch the movie, but skip this short film.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lumberjanes #2: Friendship to the Max

When we last left campers Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley (and their counselor Jen), they had solved the mystery of Beware the Kitten Holy, discovered what was hidden in the lighthouse, and were being chased by evil zombie/wer scouts. 

The plot thickens in Lumberjanes #2: Friendship to the Max. When a routine trip to the outhouse unleashes a trio of T-Rexes, the girls of Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types know they have another mystery on their hands. And when fellow camper Diana displays some unusual powers during a game of capture the flag, attacking Jo and getting her transformed into stone, the Lumberjanes know they must save their friend at all costs. They find themselves in the middle of a sibling rivalry between twins Artemis and Apollo. Yes, of Greek God/Mount Olympus fame. Zeus has promised unlimited cosmic power, but only one of the twins can receive it. Thus, the rivalry. And, of course, either one of them becoming THAT powerful could mean terrible things for the camp and for the world. The Lumberjanes thwart Zeus' plan and save the day. No spoilers, though. I'll just say it involves kittens (yay! kittens). Oh, and Molly's hat is more than it appears. 

I'm going to say this right now: I love this series! The humor, the art, the action, the creativity, the grrl power (strong female characters), the running theme of friendship. And it keeps getting better! If you loved Lumberjanes #1: Beware the Kitten Holy, you absolutely HAVE to read Lumberjanes #2: Friendship to the Max, which will soon be available on our "new" shelf. 

All I know is I need #3. Like, NOW! --AJB

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Tomorrowland (DVD)

Tomorrowland was a film I was really excited about, but was sort of disappointed by. 

As this latest Disney adventure opens, we meet Frank. The year is 1964, and this young inventor hopes to show off his latest invention, a jet pack that propells the wearer, but doesn't allow him to fly, at the World's Fair. Here, he encounters Athena, a strange young girl who leads him to another dimension known only as Tomorrowland. Frank lives there happily for some time, inventing greater and greater things until one particular invention gets him into trouble and he is forever cast out. Also, Frank learns the truth about Athena and can't deal. Decades later, teenage Casey, who dreams of space travel and has vague ideals for making the world a better place, gets busted for sneaking into private government property. When the police finally let her go home, she finds a mysterious pin in with her belongings. A pin secretly slipped to her by Athena, the same little girl who lured in Frank. When Casey touches it, she sees a vision of Tomorrowland. But it is only that: a vision. It's not real. Research leads Casey to an odd Sci-Fi shop, which, as it turns out, is run by evil alien/robot creatures who are looking for Athena with orders to shoot to kill. Because she has the mysterious pin, Casey gets added to their hit list and narrowly escapes. She is kidnapped by Athena, who viewers discover is also a robot, and dumped in Frank's (now an old man) front yard. There's some character conflict, another attack by the evil robot creatures, another narrow escape, and the duo is reunited with Athena (we learn about the past drama between Athena and Frank and the reason Frank was cast out of Tomorrowland). Athena takes them to a transport and, after a seemingly-pointless pit stop in Paris and yet another narrow escape, everyone ends up back in Tomorrowland. But it's not the shiny, bustling city Frank remembers. It's ruined and deserted and run by a man with questionable intentions. Frank and Casey learn that they are there to prevent the coming apocalypse...which they achieve by blowing up a device that's been projecting pictures of war, destruction, and other nasty things into the TV sets of people on earth (we learn that Frank built this device to warn people of what will happen to the world if they don't change their ways, to scare them straight, but that it's having the opposite effect by creating what will soon be a self-fulfilling prophecy). The movie closes with a restored Tomorrowland and a bunch of robot children preparing to transport to Earth, find people who are forward thinkers (artists, musicians, inventors, etc) and awaken them so that, together, they can learn how to save the world.

Whew! Yes, the actual plot of Tomorrowland is as confusing and convoluted as that synopsis sounded. The concept of the film is a good one: Basically, creative minds can transform the world and make it a better place. And as an artist and musician and quirky creative type, I like that idea (see mom, I told you Art skills would trump something like Algebra). 

Unfortunately, the execution of that concept fell horribly flat, mainly because the film tries to be too much at once, which causes it to be all over the place. Also because the movie takes too darn long to get to the point (in total, it clocks in at well over two hours). By the time the credits roll, viewers likely won't care--IF they make it as far as the credits, that is. The special effects are pretty epic, but it's not enough to save the movie from being an epic fail. 

The Verdict: It's obvious Disney had other things on its mind at the time of filming Tomorrowland (*ahem* Star Wars *ahem*) and it showed. --AJB

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Jem and the Holograms (DVD)

When I was a kid (9 or 10), I loved the Jem and the Holograms cartoon. It had everything I could have asked for all rolled into one: Action, adventure, comedy, mystery, romance, Sci-fi, and a killer soundtrack (yep, even at the tender age of pre-teen, I was all about the music...which explains a lot about how I still am today). Every Wednesday at 4 p.m., I was faithfully planted in front of the TV, anxiously awaiting the continued adventures of Jem and her band of sisters as they traveled to exotic locations and thwarted the next evil scheme of their arch-rivals, The Misfits. And revisiting the cartoon 20-some years later...I found it to still be pretty awesome (although I did wonder how The Misfits and Eric Raymond didn't end up doing 20-to-life in prison for some of the stunts they tried to pull off).

So back in 2010, when I heard the first whisperings that there might be a live-action movie based on my favorite childhood show, I was understandably geeked. Fast forward to 2013, I was starting to lose hope that this movie would ever be made (each check of IMDB told me that the film was "in production" and no further information was available besides that). Then the first photos were "leaked"...and then the trailer...and then a Fall 2015 release date was announced. Unfortunately I missed the movie while it was in the theater. It was quickly pushed aside to make room for the latest Even-Worse-Movie-Based-On-An-Already-Bad-Teen-Book (gag). And, of course, each movie complex has to have at least 3 theaters devoted entirely to the influx of people lined up to see Star Wars VII (I'm not dissing Star Wars. The original trilogy was a cornerstone of my childhood). Also because the so-called professional reviewers didn't have a very stellar reaction to the film.

I will hereby disagree with every negative thing the critics said. This movie was awesome!

Jem and the Holograms (2015) is an entirely new Jem story, updated for the 21st Century. But the critical pieces still remained faithful to the original story: The music, the importance of friendship and family, the battle of good vs. evil. In this 2015 update, Jerrica Benton is a shy teen who lives with her three sisters and her aunt. All four girls are exceptionally musical, but despite Jerrica's sister Kimber's obsession with all things social networking, that talent is unnoticed. Then Kimber secretly posts a video of a disguised Jerrica singing an original song, and things explode! The girls are contacted by Erica Raymond, the mean-girl-esque owner of the country's biggest music company. The girls are wisked away to Hollywood, where they will begin their new life as rock stars. But not everything is sunshine and happiness. Jerrica is worried that her aunt will lose her house and, when Erica pressures her to sign a solo contract in exchange for the money to save the only home she knows, Jerrica caves. Feelings are hurt, band drama ensues, and everything almost falls apart. There's also a mystery involving finishing Jerrica's (deceased) scientist father's final and greatest invention (I'll say right now that Synergy is almost as cute as Wall-e, and certainly as cute as BB8, if not cuter).  In the end the good guys win and the bad guys get their just desserts (no spoilers as to how, though). There's even a bit of romance toward the end. And a bit of a cliffhanger ending that hints there may be more to come (and I hope there is!).

Overall, Jem and the Holograms is an awesome movie. It wasn't Lord of the Rings or (original) Star Wars caliber, but then it wasn't that sort of film. For a film marketed to teen girls, it was fantastic. Plus, the lack of sex, drugs, and fowl language makes this movie a good choice for the younger crowd. I enjoyed the story, but my favorite part was the costumes, which are fantastic enough to give Lady Gaga wardrobe envy.  The only negative thing I could say about this movie is the soundtrack was sort of wimpy (Kind of Katy Perry wannabe, but still catchy), despite the talent of the musicians (It's not that it's awful. I just think those girls were capable of something more worthy of iconic an powerhouse Girl Band like Heart or The Runaways).   

I'll absolutely recommend this one!! --AJB

and p.s.: Check out the original cartoon, if you have the chance. OPL owns the first season.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Lumberjanes (vol. 1): Beware the Kitten Holy

Ok. So. Confession time: I never used to be into comics or graphic novels or Manga or any of that--despite the fact that I actually write and illustrate a comic (Winston's World) for OPL's quarterly newsletter. I'm too enamoured with the written word and, I suppose, I just like to use my (sometimes too active) imagination to form my own images of characters and places and whatnot rather than relying solely on pictures created by the author/illustrator. Same reason I usually take issue with movies made from books (I have trouble silencing that little voice that says, "No! That's NOT how Professor Snape is supposed to look!" or whatever...and then I'm distracted and/or bugged throughout the rest of the film.). It's just how it is. 

But lately I've been more into graphics, thanks to crossover/combo/whatever books like I Am Princess X (by Priest) and The Year of the Beasts (by Castelucci) which are part graphic, but also part-to-mostly straight-up text. And then there were the full-on graphics I hearted, like Smile (by Telgemeier), This One Summer (by Tamaki), and Nimona (by Stevenson). OMG Nimona (insert heart-eyed emoj here).

So when Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy, by the author of Nimona, crossed my desk, I gobbled it up like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would gobble a peanut butter and pickle pizza. Because Nimona was awesome. And because kick-butt female characters who solve mysteries and who aren't afraid to use their brains...or their martial arts skills. Because martial arts!!! And because the implied promise of kittens...and I DO like cute and fluffy!

But I digress... Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy introduces the reader to Jo, April, Mo, Molly, and Ripley, five five bad-to-the-bone campers at Miss Qiunzella Thiswin Penniquiqul Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Whilst attempting to earn their Up All Night Badge, the girls are ambushed by some magical talking foxes. And before you say anything, no, no NO, these foxes did not spew random gibberish, as suggested by that catchy, yet annoying song that went viral on YouTube a few years ago (OMG, I still can't believe the cast of Glee covered that one! Such bad form... Aaaghhh! Ear Worm!!). Before vanishing back into the dark and creepy forest, the magical talking three-eyed (Did I say three-eyed before? No? Well, they were) foxes tell the terrified campers to "Beware The Kitten Holy." Ooooooh...cryptic, right? I know! Before they can say S'Mores, the campers have a mystery on their hands and are soon escaping river monsters, arm wrestling with giant statues, and puzzling over riddles that, if solved correctly, will help them evade certain and painful death. But there's still danger afoot. Danger that, I assume, will be delt with in vol. #2, Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max, which I seriously want NOW!

You can currently Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy on our New Book shelf. That is, IF it's there. And it might not be, because I will be recommending it to everyone. I promise you that. Scouts honor! --AJB

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Cringe edited by Sarah Brown

I found this book sitting on a display of "I Can't Believe It's Nonfiction!" books.  I had never heard of it before and I had to snatch it up right away.  I've kept a journal pretty solidly since I was 14, sometimes writing multiple times in a day, lining the edges of the page with angsty lyrics, and copying in some of my "best" poems.  Now that I am the ripe old age of 31, it's kind of funny to go back and see what I had to say when I was in high school.   There was a lot of drama, a lot of scandal, and a lot of insights that I've carried with me through the years.

But the embarrassing is key in this book.

Sometimes it's nice to know that there are things that are universal.  I really enjoyed reading something written in 1990 that I would have written in 2000 and that someone else is probably writing right now.  My favorite pieces were the ones concerning the very elaborate plans to get the attention of a crush.  Some of the plans are hilariously ridiculous and involved and made that one time I made a mix tape and then posted online about how it wasn't just a mix tape seem not so desperate.

Basically, it's nice to know that no matter how embarrassing you are at 14, you'll totally grow out of it.  Someday you'll probably even laugh about it. -RYQ