Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Review: Salt And Storm by Kendall Kulper

Do you love typical YA paranormal romance?  If so, then this is for you.

Avery Roe (who has a totally anachronistic name) is a witch -- sort of.  Her female family line (grumble... it resembles way too closely the set up I have in my Nerissa MacKay novels, so now people will think I stole the idea from Kulper.) has been sea witches on a small island filled with whalers for many years.  But Avery was stolen from her grandmother (who would have trained her) by her mother, who is a witch of a different kind (the real kind, the kind that is often spelled with a "B" instead of a "W.").
Avery is a total drama queen and throws major hissy fits about everything, especially about not being able to get back to her grandmother.  Eventually, even though Avery is short, unattractive, and a very unpleasant person, Tane, the exotic, tatooed sailor (who has waaaay too much free time, even though the boat is being repaired) from an island near New Zealand falls in love with her and gives her a tattoo.  Predictably, this allows her to use her magic, free herself from her mother, and have a big climactic scene that only needs Ursula the Sea Witch to be complete.

In spite of everything, she goes back to her mother -- mostly just so her mom can explain herself.  This, however, could have been done effectively by Mal, the good-guy sea captain and rejected lover, so it's kind of pointless.  Also, the mother's return to witchhood is out of character.

Thus, although it's missing the love-triangle element, it's pretty typical YA paranormal.
In fact, it would have been a completely boring read with irritating and hatable characters, but it is saved by the setting.
Kulper has really done her research -- and it shows.  The island, the time period (except for Avery's name), the weather, the whaling -- it feels real.  THIS is what kept me reading to the end.

Other good news: this is a stand-alone novel.  The end does NOT just leave you hanging for another volume to come.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The 2014 Fall Shakespeare Festival: My Review Of Boeing, Boeing

On September 26, 2014, I made my THIRD trek to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for this season, this time to see the autumn plays on their line up. 
To read my review of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, click here.
My review of Twelfth Night was posted in June.  However, I saw the play again in August, and it was still AWESOME.  I would gladly have paid to see it yet again, but time constraints for me made this impossible.  Click here to read my review.  In fact, if you can only see one play at the fall festival, it should be Twelfth Night.  It's the best.

Also, all photos, as well as ticket info and prices, can be found at bard.org.

Boeing, Boeing (named for the jets) is reportedly the most popular, most translated French play ever.
The basic plot (pilfered by Love, American Style numerous times) is a farce in which Bernard, an American architect living in Paris, has three fiancees: a New Yorker, an Italian, and a German.  Each woman is a flight attendant, and with their different schedules for different airlines, no one woman knows about either of the others.  When Bernard's old friend from Wisconsin arrives for a visit, Bernard explains that three is best for polygamy, as two would be monotonous and more than three would be too complicated.  (Note: yes, there is a great deal of irony in the fact that a French play celebrating polygamy is being performed in Utah.)  Bernard has no intent to marry any of the women; he's happy as he is, and his whole carefully-arranged schedule is workable because of his French housekeeper, Berthe.  Naturally, all the flight attendants' schedules get switched at the same time, and they all arrive at the apartment on the same weekend that Robert is there.  Chaos and hilarity follow.  

Maryann Towne plays Berthe.  While I wasn't impressed by her as Maria in Twelfth Night, her sarcastic tone and eye-rolling disgust work extremely well in this play.  She is one of the best parts of the whole thing and clearly the best of the women.

Grant Goodman is Bernard.  While he has been stiff and dull in both Twelfth Night and Sense and Sensibility, he's very fun in this role.  He is still totally unconvincing as a lover, however.  But at least we can believe he's a very worried man.
Quinn Mattfeld is in another supremely funny role as Robert.  Quinn is possibly the single funniest actor I've ever seen, and he does not disappoint in this play.
The set is also superb, with sixties weirdness abounding.  (I have a vintage sofa with matching chairs in that exact shade of blue!) And the gigantic tennis ball as furniture.... well, the actors certainly get to have fun with that prop!

Boeing, Boeing is a laugh-out-loud farce done with superb comic timing.  You will laugh.  Guaranteed.
Don't miss this gem!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The 2014 Fall Shakespeare Festival: My Review Of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure

On September 26, 2014, I made my THIRD trek to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for this season, this time to see the autumn plays on their line up.
My review of Boeing, Boeing will be posted on 9/29/14.  To read it, click here.
My review of Twelfth Night was posted in June.  However, I saw the play again in August, and it was still AWESOME.  I would gladly have paid to see it yet again, but time constraints for me made this impossible.  Click here to read my review.  In fact, if you can only see one play at the fall festival, it should be Twelfth Night.  It's the best.

Also, all photos, as well as ticket info and prices, can be found at bard.org.

This script was written by a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but then the the playwright made friends with Conan Doyle and the play received his blessing, even though it does go against the grain for Holmes, as he is shown to be in love in the play -- a thing that most certainly never happens in any of the tales.
The basic plot is a mesh of "A Scandal in Bohemia" with "The Final Problem," and thus it combines the first and the last of the first two sets of Holmes stories.  (It also throws in tidbits from other tales, such as lifting the opening scene of The Sign of Four, wherein Holmes is shooting cocaine out of boredom and Watson is telling him it's bad for his health.)  Fans of the Robert Downey, Jr./Jude Law movies will think the plot was stolen from Hollywood, but I'm pretty sure it was the other way around, as this script is roughly 100 years older.
The set for this production is lovely.  (And parts of it will definitely appeal to steampunk fans!)  The waterfall at the end is really well done.
The acting, as usual for the festival, is superb.  J. Todd Adams is Holmes and the ever-popular and incredibly talented Brian Vaughn is Watson.

Vaughn's Watson is much truer to the novels and stories; he is not like the stupid Watson made famous by the Basil Rathbone films, but much more like the Jude Law Watson.
The only problem I saw with this was that Vaughn, who could still pass for 30 if he chose to do so, played a mature Watson, while Adams, who is reportedly far past 30, played a very young Holmes.  This didn't work too well for me.
Irene Adler is played by Melinda Pfundenstein, and for once, this actually works.  Pfundenstein plays every single role as haughty, arrogant, and distant, but this really works for a cold-hearted Irene.
(Note: the director chose to have Irene's name pronounced as "eye-REEN-eee," which I've never heard before, not even among the literary upper crust at the University of Edinburgh.  I never learned why this decision was made, but it does make the name grate a bit.)

Professor Moriarty is well-played by Rick Peeples, who usually plays comic roles (he's Sir Toby in Twelfth Night).  But he fits very nicely into this part and really looks like a professor/criminal mastermind.

That's basically it.  There are no real weak spots.  It's a good play.  The whole thing stays quite true to Conan Doyle's original vision of the tales.  The set is great and the acting is very good.
It's a great mood-setter for Halloween.
Go see it!

Friday, September 26, 2014

This Pretty Much Sums Up An English Teacher's Life

Got this tweet the other day:

I am in grading hell. And there is no light. There's not even a tunnel. Just a black pit of failure to follow directions.

Yep, I feel for ya, Sista.  Been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

One Of The Perks Of Working With The School Drama Department For Years

So, I was buying a birthday gift for my aunt in Bath and Body Works last Saturday (Note: this store is a vortex of temptation for me.  Only a bookstore is worse.), and the clerk who rang me up was telling me about her family's Halloween costumes.

Her: But then my three-year-old daughter wants to be a tiger!  A tiger!
Me: *nods*  *wonders why this is a problem*
Her: How am I supposed to find a tiger costume?!!
Me: *with literally a one-second time lag* Face paint.  Orange sweatshirt.  Black electrical tape in stripes. *motions across body in diagonals toward chest*
Her: *gasps*  That's --- That's awesome!  How did you think of that so fast?!
Me: Schoolteacher.  *smirks*
Her: *grabs notepaper to write this down*
Me: *waves, walking away*

Thus I preserved the mystique.  :)

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Thoughts On Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

Dear Maya,
First of all, let me congratulate you on surviving junior high.  That is probably your most important accomplishment to date.
Next in importance, however, is that you managed to snag an agent, then a publisher -- all before you got a drivers' license!  Impressive.  Very impressive, young lady.
I certainly hope your writing career continues.  But, as a woman who's taught junior high school English for many, many years, let me give you one crucial piece of advice: in your next book, don't let the adults edit out your voice.
You see, Maya is barely there in Popular.  Oh, I can see you peaking through in the basic idea of the book: wacky 13-year-old attempts to live out decades-old beauty advice.  (Fun!)  And you're there in the scenes that no adult who doesn't work in a school would know: the lockdowns, the hallway harassment.  But otherwise, you've been replaced with Pollyana, the perfect girl who never does anything wrong, and her perfect friends and perfectly just life in which good intentions and wholesomeness are rewarded by people turning out to be nice.
You mention at the end of Popular that it began as a "rant-filled journal."  That's the book I'd love to read.  I bet it was filled with voice and passion, unlike the Sunday School lesson that's left of it.
You're older now.  Don't let the editors smooth you out into blandness.  You've got your foot in the door of the publishing world; now kick and scream and be REAL.
I wish you all the best.

Dear Editors of Popular,
Shame on you!!
How dare you edit out the life and spirit of this girl!
Do you expect anyone to believe what's left?  Where are the nasty, jealous girls who try to sabotage Maya's success?  Where are the nasty, jealous mothers of those girls?  Where are the kids complaining about anything?  How is it that every student and every parent thinks the teachers are all perfect?  Where's Maya's homework?  How is it that she never, ever squabbles with her family?
This poor young writer obviously originally had spunk and talent, but you've killed it.  How long will it take her to relearn what you've smoothed over into Pollyana Goes To Sunday School Where Everyone Is Pleasant And Good People Are Well-Liked?  She wrote about LIFE.  You killed it.
I hope her editors are better for her next book.

Dear Readers,
If you loathe faith-promoting stories and unrealistic characters, skip this book; it's been edited into mush.
However, if you'd like to dig through the banality to find the real story that occasionally slips through, and if you'd like to s

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Because Truth Really Is Often Stranger Than Fiction

File this under "If I wrote this scene into a novel, people would scoff at it as 'unbelievable.'"

In ninja gear and claiming to be polygamists, women invade Utah home
Police: » Suspects in attempted robbery claim to be sister wives.
First Published Sep 19 2014 01:40 pm • Last Updated Sep 19 2014 01:49 pm
An alleged home invasion in Utah came with a bizarre twist: The suspects were dressed in ninja costumes and claimed to be sister wives, according to police.
The two suspects attempted to pull off a robbery just before 4 a.m. Friday at a West Jordan home near 9300 South and 4800 West, police Sgt. Dan Roberts said. He said the women — who are 18 and 22 years old and came armed with knives and a stun gun — attacked two adults at the house.
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The homeowner brought one woman under control manually, Roberts said. When the second woman produced the stun gun, the homeowner pulled out a ninja sword to subdue her, and the two suspects were held until police arrived.
No one was injured in the confrontation, but one person was checked out at a hospital, Roberts said.
The suspects and the home’s occupants are all part of an extended family, he said. The women claim to both be married to an uncle of a child living at the home.
The uncle has been accused of sexually abusing that child and is in jail awaiting trial on the alleged offense, according to police.
Police do not believe the women and the uncle belong to a polygamist church. They are not releasing any names to protect the privacy of the child.
Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Book Review: The White Magic Five & Dime by Steve Hockensmith

I thoroughly and completely loved Steve Hockensmith's Holmes on the Range series, so I was very pleased to see he'd been writing another mystery.  I scarfed up White Magic Five & Dime the second it hit the public library shelves.
I was not disappointed.  It's freakin' hilarious.  (My favorite part is the tarot card reading given by the protagonist, who has no clue what she's doing.  Now, I think a lot of tarot cards are very pretty, and I know a little about them, but Hockensmith's description of each card used in the reading scene ought to come with a "swallow first" warning, as the reader will undoubtably spew/choke on anything in her/his mouth while laughing uncontrollably.)
This book is billed as a cozy mystery, but I think I'll term it "cozy noir" instead.  It's a bit darker than most cozies.
The basic plot is that a 36-year-old woman whose real name might possibly be Sophie, but who chose the name Alanis at age 18, arrives in a small town in Arizona because her estranged mother (with whom she's had no contact for 20 years -- and flashback scenes let the reader know why) has been murdered.  Alanis has inherited her mother's shop and apartment -- and apparently her teenage apprentice/flunky as well.  Alanis' mom has been a con artist for decades, so Alanis isn't at all surprised her mother was murdered.  However, she feels the need to find the killer.  Naturally, there's a handsome cop involved in this effort.
So far it sounds like the average cozy, doesn't it?  We have the female protagonist who falls within the correct age-range, the theme or hook (in this case, the tarot shop), a murder, the sexy cop who tries to protect/dissuade the protagonist, and the small town.
But, not only is this book funnier than any other cozy I've read before, it has very distinct dark elements.  Alanis was with her con-artist mom until she was a teenager; she is not particularly innocent.  Her past is dark.   She thinks nothing of breaking laws in order to bring about real justice.  She does not trust people easily, and therefore, she never falls into the usual cozy scenario of needing to be rescued by the sexy cop or other male figure.  I liked this side of the book.
Downsides?  Well, Clarice's side-plot secrets are incredibly obvious, yet it takes Alanis forever to figure them out, which is annoying.  But that's about all I can scrape up.
This is a great mystery read: funny, mostly cozy, and just dark enough to break the mold a bit.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

I'd Vote AYE!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014.  The people of Scotland will vote as to whether or not to separate from the union forced upon them in 1707 (and about which most of them are still pretty ticked off).  However, as they have not stood on their own since Elizabeth I died and James VI left his own country (Scotland) to become king of hers (England), this is a risky move, and many groups have been fear mongering.
All the best to Scotland tomorrow!

(Actually, the lyrics are "Freeman stand or freeman fall -- let him follow me.")

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How It Feels Teaching English To The Digital Generation

And also this classic set of instructions:

(PS. Scandinavians can make some pretty funny videos.)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Schools, Guns, And Lunches

Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley has done it again.

(Click to enlarge.)

From Thursday:

Utah teacher shoots herself in the leg at elementary school
Accident » Elementary school teacher whose gun went off in restroom is treated and released from hospital.
First Published Sep 11 2014 09:43 am • Updated 7 minutes ago
A Taylorsville elementary school teacher somehow shot herself in the leg while in a school restroom.
The 6th-grade teacher, Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery, was in a faculty restroom at Westbrook Elementary School (3451 W. 6200 South) on Thursday morning when her handgun went off, said Ben Horsley, spokesman of Granite School District.
The teacher — a concealed carry permit holder — was allowed to have the weapon on campus per state law, Horsley said.
Utah is among the few states that allow people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns in public schools, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Educators have said they have no way of determining how many Utah teachers are armed, but gun-rights advocates have estimated that 1 percent, or about 240 teachers in the state, are licensed to carry weapons.
Utah teachers are allowed to carry guns, but the weapons must be completely concealed and kept with the teacher at all times, including inside a bathroom stall, according to the state office of education. However, teachers are not required to tell the school that they have a gun.
"This would clearly violate the intent and the strategic advantage of the ‘concealed’ weapon," the district’s statement reads. "If a permit holder had disclosed to faculty or staff that they were carrying a weapon, this could make them a target in an active shooter situation."
From the comments section on the above article:

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    Who could have seen this coming? 
      • Avatar
        Including Stevie Wonder.

          • Also from Thursday's Tribune:

            Report blames Salt Lake City lunch manager for trashing meals
            Lunch debacle » Some parents unhappy with report.
            First Published 6 hours ago • Updated 29 minutes ago
            A school nutrition manager deserves most of the blame for dumping the meals of 17 Uintah Elementary students earlier this year, according to an independent report released by the Salt Lake City School District on Thursday.
            The students’ meal accounts were in arrears and they were given a snack of fruit and milk after their lunches were publicly taken away last winter.
            Uintah parent Ashley Hoopes, [Read: woman who really, really wants her name in the news] who has been vocal about the matter for months, said the report shocked and disappointed her.
            "You cannot blame a low-level lunch worker or any of her peer lunch workers who were trying to make sense of a very bad policy," Hoopes said, "when the people that created and enforce the policy are just standing by, making six figures, with business as usual."


            Thus, as I said, Bagley really nailed it on this one.  :)