Review: Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders by Geoff Herbach

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders

Fat Boy vs the Cheerleaders is one of those cases of me picking up a book based solely on its title. I defy you to pass that title in your local bookstore or library and not, at the very least, be curious.

When Gabe discovers that the proceeds from the school’s vending machine have been redirected from the band program to a new cheerleader dance squad, he sees red. And not the Mountain Dew Code Red that he’d been purchasing from the machine with his hard earned, part-time job money at a local doughnut store. With passion and zeal, Gabe throws himself into figuring out how this has happened and what he can do about it.

Starting with giving up his beloved soda, Gabe embarks on a campaign to find what happened to the band’s funding and what, if anything, he can do to get it back. Over the course of the novel, Gabe alienates school administration, his father and some of his older friends while learning a bit more about how to make his voice heard, gaining new friends (and possibly a girlfriend) and the value of getting to work on time.

From the beginning, we know that Gabe has gone too far since the story is told from Gabe’s side of the conversation with his lawyer.

This is my first time reading a novel by Geoff Herbach and I can say it likely won’t be my last. Gabe’s story is funny and compelling, helped a great deal by Gabe’s asides and comments on the events unfolding. Gabe’s zeal in getting the band program reinstated, all while trying to make better choices only to be thwarted by himself time and again makes for a poignant portrayal. Sometimes Gabe doesn’t realize he’s gone to far until it’s too late and the book wisely allows us to see that Gabe faces consequences to his actions, even if they prove to be successful.

While the book is self contained, I can’t help but feel like I’d enjoy another book with Gabe, if only to see how things develop from here. Can he maintain the new workout regiment and diet that he and his grandfather are doing? Can he continue to work on his relationship with his dad? And what about the new friends he gains over the course of this book?

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Doctor Who: Listen

lisenIf there’s a linking theme to series eight, it appears to be a deconstruction of the Doctor as a hero.

After renewing its title character in “Deep Breath,” the last three episodes have all been about examining aspects of the Doctor as a hero.  “Into the Dalek” was about how he’s defined by his mortal enemies and his hatred of them.  “Robots of Sherwood” looked at the Doctor in  comparison to the mythological hero of Robin Hood.   And now we’ve got “Listen,” a story that asks the question of what is the Doctor afraid of and where did that fear come from?

As an hour of television (or 45 or so minutes anyway), “Listen” is dark, creepy, off-putting and, for the most part, effective.  The pervading sense of discomfort and of everything not being quite right worked very well and the idea of examining the Doctor’s fear as a young boy is an interesting one.    I’m sure that fandom will be fairly polarized on the final ten or so minutes of the story, but I found that it tied in fairly well with the mythology we’ve seen established in the modern series (and the hints the Doctor has dropped about what happened when he looked into the vortex).   Of course, the assumption that the young boy in the bed was the Doctor is probably the one Steven Moffat wants us to jump to and there may be a twist or revelation set to come later this season that undoes those assumptions.

From the opening shot of the Doctor sitting on top of the TARDIS (which I figured was only created for the promotion leading up to the season and wouldn’t necessarily be used in an episode) to the final frame, the story was replete with visual style.   It also played with the mechanics of time travel when it came to Clara and Danny’s first date.  I will admit I found it interesting that Danny is objects to Clara’s kn0wledge she can’t or shouldn’t have but is later willing to set this aside when she shows up at his apartment at the end of the episode.   As the story progressed, I found myself wondering if Danny isn’t meant to be some kind of mirror for the Doctor and that could be part of the reason that Clara feels such a strong attraction to him — one that’s strong enough for her to go back twice to Danny after having some time to think about and ponder her actions.   So far, it appears Danny isn’t in on the secret that Clara travels through time (unless I missed something in the final conversation between the two) and it should be interesting to see if and how long this particular secret can or will be kept.

I know I’m a bit behind on my viewing but I’ve tried to stay away from heavy fan-based discussion of the episode so I can avoid SPOILERS.   However, watching “Listen” I can’t help but hear the vocal group who is dissatisfied with the season so far (I’m not one of them) being even more dissatisfied with this installment and how it all ties into the War Doctor.   I’ll admit that I really liked the tie in to the War Doctor and the fiftieth anniversary story and that I have faith in Moffat to execute whatever long term story he’s trying to tell here.

The thought of the Doctor being scared of something under the bed and driven by the fear to confront monsters across the universe and through space and time works for me.   Once again, Peter Capaldi nails his performance as the Doctor and he’s becoming more assured with each installment.   Again, I may not be the right fan to ask about this since I’m also a huge fan of another actor who played the Doctor with a Scottish accent.  (In fact, Sylvester McCoy is my favorite Doctor).

And yet as strong as the first thirty-five or so minutes were, there was something about the last ten or so minutes that felt a bit off.  I can’t quite put my finger on it,  but hopefully repeated viewings will help it become clearer.

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Movie Thoughts: The Horn Blows At Midnight

The Horn Blows at Midnight 

the-horn-blows-at-midnight-movie-poster-1945-1020197451Jack Benny got a lot of mileage out of this perceived cinematic failure on his radio and television series.  Listen to just about any episode after this movie was released and you’ll likely hear Benny or one of his ensemble quip about its failure (or perceived failure).  It’s referenced enough in the shows to make me curious to want to seek it out and see if it’s really as bad as everyone says it is.    I have vague memories of seeing it on VHS years ago and thinking it wasn’t nearly as terrible as Benny and his cast made it out to be.   But I couldn’t be sure so when it recently came in TCM’s rotation of films, I decided to give The Horn Blows at Midnight a second look.

And while it’s certainly no cinematic masterpiece, I think it’s a movie that isn’t nearly as terrible as it was made out to be on Benny’s programs.  But it’s not exactly a cinematic masterpiece either.  I feel like it’s in a similar vein as It’s A Wonderful Life — a movie that audiences weren’t quite ready to embrace in its initial release.

Like The Wizard of Oz, it’s a frame story with Benny’s character dreaming most of the movie’s main story.  The framing device is that Benny is a trumpet player in a late night orchestra who is lulled to sleep by the announcer’s soothing voice and text about how a certain brand of coffee can lull you off to sleep.  In the framing device, we see all the players who will come into the story during Benny’s dream sequence.    In his dream, Benny is a junior grade angel named Athanael who plays a trumpet in the heavenly orchestra.   His girlfriend pulls a few strings to get Benny the assignment to come to Earth and blow his horn at midnight, signaling the end of the world.   Benny has to meet the deadline or else risk becoming a fallen angel and spending all of eternity somewhere less pleasant. Continue reading

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Booking Through Thursday: A Family Affair

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Do other people in your family also like to read? Or are you in this on your own?

My wife and I are both avid readers — in fact, she reads more than I do, if you can believe it.

We both come from families who are strong readers — our parents enjoy reading and so do our siblings.

Now, if only we could get our nieces and nephew to be as excited about reading as we are. We try to bribe them each summer to read a set number of books and then get a treat by hanging out with their favorite aunt and uncle. So far, it’s worked once but not in subsequent years.

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Big Finish Thoughts: The Fourth Doctor Adventures

Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite (Big Finish Fourth Doctor Adventures 3.06)Doctor Who: Destroy the Infinite by Nicholas Briggs

While I don’t begrudge Big Finish creating their own little pocket of continuity within the Doctor Who universe, I still find it a bit frustrating when the script assumed you’ve listened to not only every release from one particular range, but also every release from the entire range of stories. Or that you’ve got an encyclopedic knowledge of that range of stories that you can easily call upon in order to understand the current story.

I’m doing well enough to keep my encyclopedia knowledge of televised stories up to date, much less that based on audio and literary adventures.

And so it is that I probably didn’t enjoy Destroy the Infinite as much as others who are more familiar with the range probably did. I came to find out from the extras on the disc that this story is a prequel to a previously released sixth Doctor story, Spaceport Fear. It seems that the alien race known as the Eminence made their first appearance there and that events in this story help set up that one. On the one hand, I’ll give Nicholas Briggs and Big Finish props for using the nature of time travel in a similar way to what the television series has tried to do. But on other hand, when I got to the end of this story, I was expecting it to be touched upon in the next several fourth Doctor stories and it never was.

It all led to my being more frustrated than entertained by this story — and curious to see out Spaceport Fear and see what happens there.

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Review: The F— It List by Julie Halpern

The F- It List

On the night of her father’s funeral, Alex’s best friend Becca slept with her boyfriend. Needless to say this didn’t go over well with Alex and she hasn’t spoken to Becca much since.

Now as a new school year arrives, Alex decides it’s time to get past Becca’s indiscretion and continue their friendship. Looking for her friend on the first day of school, Alex discovers that Becca has cancer and that the time they have to forgive and forget may be less than both of them expected or counted on.

To make up for lost time, Becca gives Alex her bucket list of items and asks that Alex begin to cross them off for her. Some are fairly straightforward and easy to cross off while others like touching the rear of Battlestar Galactica star Jamie Bamber or having sex with someone you love may take a little more effort and work. And instead of being maudlin about the list and calling it a “bucket list,” the two decide to call it The F— It List..

In the world of young adult stories, it feels like stories centering on someone with a terminal disease are a dime a dozen these days. Julie Halpern’s The F*&^ It List brings something different to the table because it tells us the story not of the person diagnosed with the disease, but of her best friend. And while Becca’s diagnosis serves as a catalyst for the story, it’s really the story of Alex’s need to forgive herself and deal with some of her unresolved issues surrounding not only Becca but her departed father.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Growing the TBR Pile

toptentuesday2

It’s time again for the Top Ten Tuesday, courtesy of the Broke and the Bookish.   This week’s subject is the top ten authors you’ve only read one book by but want to read more.

Without any further adieu, here we go.

1.  Hugh Howey -- I finally crossed Wool off my TBR pile and I was intrigued by Howey’s world-building and story.   While Wool was self-contained, I see from GoodReads that it’s part of a larger universe and it’s one that I want to visit again.
2 .  James S.A. Corey — Another book crossed off the TBR pile with Leviathan Awakes.  Great space opera and I’m ready to visit the universe and characters again.
3.  Liane Moriarity —  Just finished Big Little Lies and enjoyed it immensely.   I’m curious to read more by Moriarity.
4.  Craig Johnson - I’ve read the first Longmire novel and have the rest on my TBR list.
5.  Miranda KeneallyBreathe, Annie Breathe was great and I’ve got a couple of her other books on reserve.
6.  Michael Robotham
7.  Jo Walton
8. Andy Weir — While I didn’t love The Martian, I’m curious to see what he does next.
9. Megan Abbott
10. Kelly BraffettSave Yourself was one of my favorite books I read last year.  I’ve had her others on my TBR list since that time but haven’t got to them yet.  As I compose this, I ask myself why and realize I have no good answer.

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