Monthly Archives: February 2012

Leap Day: “Quantum Leap”

To celebrate Leap Day, I’ve decided to take a look back at one of my favorite TV shows, Quantum Leap and the two-part, season three opener “The Leap Home.”

At this point, Quantum Leap had been on the air a year and a half or so, establishing itself as a solid anthology series with a hint of on-going character development and the loose arc of trying to get Dr. Sam Beckett back home again.   Sam had leaped into people of different races, women and even into a person with special needs.  Most episodes unfolded along a similar storyline of Sam correcting something in the life of the person he had leaped into or someone closely by.  In a few cases, the series had a twist or two of Sam making a major impact on history, such as giving Buddy Holly the name Peggy Sue for his hit song or meeting author Stephen King early in his life.

The show rarely allowed Sam to make a direct impact on his own personal timeline or that of his assistant and friend, Al.   We saw Sam try to correct a wrong in his own life in the second episode and the season before ended with Al trying to ensure his first ex-wife wouldn’t give up on him while he was a POW in Vietnam.   It’s not until the fourth season that we find out whether or not Sam is able to make an impact on his own time line (he does change things and is married to the woman who initially left him at the altar).  Up to this point, we had some hints of what had shaped Sam and his family–including that his father died of cancer, his sister married an abusive alcoholic and his older brother was killed in Vietnam.

All of these character hints set the table for the first half of “The Leap Home” where Sam leaps into himself at the age of sixteen.  Assuming he’s being rewarded and allowed to help himself and his family, Sam works to try and save his family from the tragedies to come, only to find in the end he can’t make the changes he so desperately wishes he could and instead is just there to win the big basketball game and make some other people’s lives a bit better in the process.

The essence of the first half of the story boils down to a conversation Al and Sam have in a cornfield as Sam rails against the perceived unfair nature of the Leap.  He wants to make his family’s life better and can’t.  Acting juvenile, Sam threatens to quit his travels through time until Al points out the real reward Sam is being given–a chance to spend Thanksgiving his with family one last time and tell them all he loves them.  Given what we saw Al put through in the previous episode, it’s one of the more moving moments of the series and it  really helps set the first half of the story apart in terms of its emotional impact.

Of course, Sam does the right thing in the end, winning the game.  But Sam tries to trick history by betting his brother that if he wins the big game, on the day he’s killed, his brother won’t go into combat but will instead lay low.  His brother agrees, but the bet fails…at least at this point.

Sam leaps out and into Vietnam on the day before his brother is set to die.  Again seeing this as his second chance, Sam fights to find a way to stay in that time zone until he can ensure his brother lives.   Sam even tries to remind his brother of the promise he exacted from him.  However, a top secret mission to free some POW’s takes priority and Tom can’t keep the promise.

 

In the end, Sam trades the life of a driven female photographer for the life of his brother.  The mission turns out to be a trap and while Sam saves Tom, he doesn’t manage to free the POWs.

Which we find out in the episode’s coda, one of which was Al.   Al tells Sam he knew he was free in his head and what the heck, why not help out his friend Sam?  Again, to fully understand the implications of this moment, you have to recall that Al believes his lack of ability to commit to a woman stems from his first wife (and love of his life) having him declared dead during his five years as a POW and marrying another man.  In the end, it’s Al who makes the difficult choice not to change his future and allow Sam to change his instead.  The big reveal of this is one of the more moving moments in the show and is one of the many reasons this two part story ranks among my ten favorite tv episodes of any show.

 

Of course, fans of the show will recall that it’s this series of events that form the crux of just why Sam is traveling in time.  While many fans will debate the merits of the series finale, I will fully admit I loved every second of it and the implications.  In it, we find out that for all the good he’s done for everyone else, there is still one wrong that Sam never corrected for Al.  The coda finds Sam correcting this wrong in history and we find out Al is still married to Beth and they have a couple of daughters.  We also find out that Sam never made it home, thus leaving the door open to possible movies or books based on the show.

And while at times Quantum Leap could be a bit repetitive in terms of what Sam was there to accomplish (he seemed to save people from pre-mature death a lot!), there were times when the show tweaked the formula just enough to have it be something special.  Some of these tweaks worked better than others.  (The concept of Sam leaping into Lee Harvey Oswald was a fascinating one, though his leaping into other historical figures like Dr. Ruth or Elvis was less intriguing).  But the series really hit a high note in this two-part story and while I won’t say it was all downhill from here, this is still the high water mark for one of the most enjoyable sci-fi anthology shows out there.

(Interestingly, one of the most intriguing Leap moments happens not in the show, but in one of the tie-in novels associated with the show.  In it, Al sits in Sam’s office, reflecting on how Sam has made changes to history that only Al can recall (it’s due to the link he and Sam share that allows them to interact throughout history).   Al sees a picture of Sam and Tom on Sam’s desk, taken after Tom makes it back from Vietnam. There is also discussion of how Sam married Donna in this timeline as well (the show confirms this at the start of season four).   It’s a fascinating moment in the book and one that has stuck with me.   The sad part is that I can’t recall much more about the book itself or even which in the series it was!)

 

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Review: Bond Girl

Bond Girl
Bond Girl by Erin Duffy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Alex Garrett grows up dreaming of working in the financial district on Wall Street. Upon graduating from the University of Virginia, she’s offered her dream job with one of the major financial players on The Street and eagerly accepts.

Only the reality turns out to be far different than the dream.

I’d heard a lot of buzz for Bond Girl both on-line and in mainstream reviews. Curious about the book, I put it on reserve and decided I’d give it a try.

And it was OK. It wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible either. There are some amusing moments in the story (one guy betting he can eat the entire contents of a vending machine comes to mind as does Alex’s punishment for being late for work) but there are points where Alex threatens to overstay her welcome. The biggest of these is her on-going, mixed signals relationship with a co-worker, Will. You may pick up some huge warning signs that there is something Will is hiding long before Alex does. In fact, I’d say that is my biggest frustration with the novel–how long it takes Alex to put the pieces together and pull her head out of the sand about Will.

Between that, we have some potentially interesting observations about a woman trying to break into a male dominated profession. The trials and tribulations Alex faces provide some interesting insights, but there are also more than a fair share of frustrations along the way as well.

Overall, Bond Girl has some funny moments along with some frustrating ones. At just over 300 pages, it comes close to overstaying its welcome. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.

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Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12, Hazel Grace had prepared herself for the inevitable. But thanks to an experimental drug she began taking at the age of 14, Hazel is now 16 years old and living on what she sees as borrowed time. Forced to use an oxygen tank because of damage to her lungs, Hazel lives withdrawn from her old life, re-reading her favorite book time and again, attending a few classes at community college and being cared for by her mother. It’s her mother who forces Hazel to attend a cancer survivor support group weekly at a local church. It’s here that she meets Augustus “Gus” Waters, who lost a leg and his basketball career to cancer, but is now in full remissions.

Despite Hazel’s assertion that she’s a “human hand grenade” she can’t discourage Gus from pursuing her and slowly Hazel beings to fall for Gus as well.

John Green’s tragic love story, The Fault in Our Stars is a moving example of why you should never judge a book by its cover–or the section of the bookstore or library that marketing campaigns deems appropriate. Green earns every single emotional moment in the story by creating characters you genuinely care about and like, even if they have some unlike-able moments. Green allows us to understand why Hazel resists Gus at first (the fact that she resembles an old girlfriend who was also a cancer patient and put Gus through the emotional wringer is a huge early obstacle) but slowly begins to fall for Gus in his continuing quest to get to know more about the girl with the oxygen tank.

Gus even decides he will the novel’s version of Make A Wish to help Hazel’s dream come true–he’ll use his wish to get the two to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive novelist that wrote her favorite book. Hazel wants to know what happened to certain character after the final page was turned and the author has refused to write a sequel or talk about the novel for years.

I’ve read most of John Green’s offerings for young adult readers in the past and have been consistently impressed by the authentic voice he finds for each of his teenage characters. Stars is no exception to this. In fact, it’s the best novel by Green I’ve read to date. The romance between Gus and Hazel is authentic and superbly realized. Conversations about hit movies, favorite novels and old swing sets ring absolutely authentic across the course of the novel. It’s a novel that demands each next page be turned, each new chapter read and even though there are some of the plot developments are fully expected (Hazel expects her meeting with the author to answer all her questions about the book, but turns out to be a less than satisfactory experience for all involved), Green still makes them feel earned, real and authentic.

In relating Hazel’s love of her favorite book and its abrupt end that doesn’t answer all the questions it could, Green foreshadows exactly how Stars will and should end. It’s a satisfying read that doesn’t wrap up every thread in a nice neat bow. Green leaves a door open that he could revisit Hazel someday, but to do so isn’t necessary.

And if you’re worried that this novel is being marketed in the young adult section of the book world, don’t be. To pass over this book for that reason is to miss one of the better books I’ve rea in a long time. Engaging, page-turning and captivating, The Fault in Our Stars earns every bit of the praise I’ve seen heaped on it.

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Booking Through Thursday — Book Blogging

btt button
A while ago, I interviewed my readers for a change, and my final question was, “What question have I NOT asked at BTT that you’d love me to ask?” I got some great responses and will be picking out some of the questions from time to time to ask the rest of you. Like now.

Yvonne asks:

What do you look for when reading a book blog? Does the blogger have to read the same genre? Do you like reviews? Personal posts? Memes? Giveaways? What attracts you to a book blog?

And–what are your favorite book blogs?

In some ways, you can extend the question from not only what you look for in a book blog but also what I look for when I use social networking sites for books like Goodreads or LibraryThing. In both cases, I’m looking for someone who has something to say about the book other that “Wow, that sure was great!” or “Worst book ever!” Tell me a bit about why you liked the book or what stood out to you. I also look for reviews that aren’t always one extreme or another. You can’t love everything and you can’t hate everything. Personally when it comes to rating books, I give a lot of three and four stars out (out of five) but save a five star review for something I really liked and that I would unreservedly recommend to others.

As for what I like on each blog, that depends really on which blog I’m reading.  I love hearing the enthusiasm of fellow bibliophiles on some blogs while others have some great reviews that help me discover a book I may not usually consider.  I will admit I tend to be more drawn to book blogs and reviewers that share some interest with me in terms of what we like to read.     And I tend to like a book blog to show a bit of personality, not being afraid to love or hate something that may go against the grain or follows the crowd and, of course, I prefer that the blog be well written and easy to read.

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Review: Not That Kind Of Girl

Not That Kind Of Girl
Not That Kind Of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Based on the cover art alone, Not That Kind of Girl isn’t typical of the type of book I usually read. But as the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.

If I’d passed this book because of the cover, I might have missed an intriguing character study and a young adult novel that examines some fairly interesting questions.

Natalie is a very driven young woman. She’s on top of her class, wants to be student body president and active in making sure that women aren’t judged only for their external appearance or defined simply by their sexuality. Natalie believes her best friend agrees with her on this and believes she’s found a disciple when she crosses path with a young freshman she used to babysit. Imagine Natalie’s horror when she finds her former charge not only allowing herself to be seen as a sexual object by some of the school jocks but also embracing that role and the power that comes with it.

In the midst of all this, Natalie finds herself increasingly attracted to one of the jocks, who she assumes can’t be more than meets the eye, despite all evidence to the contrary. And the fact that she can’t stop meeting him for late night make-out sessions at a secluded spot in the woods owned by his parents.

As the novel progresses, the question of how far is too far comes up time and again–and not just in whether or not the young adults here should or are engaging in sexual relationships. Through Natalie, Siobhan Vivian also examines how you can go too far into the other extreme and end up losing friends and alienating others. At times, Natalie is a wet blanket to those around her, but she always sees herself as having great reasons why she should be. Even though the novel is told from a first-person perspective and we ultimately feel sympathy for Natalie, it’s also easy to see how she alienates those around her and can come off as a bit of a snob. (Or even that word that rhymes with witch).

Wisely, Vivian allows readers to come to their own conclusions about Natalie, her friends and her actions. It’s one of those rare young adult books that takes the standard formula (ackward teenager finds love, redemption) and actually stands it on its ear and tries to say something different, interesting and ultimately thought-provoking.

So don’t let the cover fool you. This is a gem of a book.

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Review: Cinder

Cinder
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A classic fairy tale re-told in a steam punk universe should have been a lot more fun to read than Cinder ended up being.

Part of this could be that I’m not necessarily the target audience for this book. It’s from the young adult section and I can easily see how young readers entranced by the Twilight novels might lap this one up with a spoon. (Add to the conveniences, Cinder is written by an author who shares the last name Meyer. And don’t think I wasn’t thinking that Marissa Meyer must somehow be related to Stephanie Meyer as I read this one). However, I’ve heard a lot of buzz for this book among readers who aren’t necessarily the Bella/Edward/Jacob demographic.

I can’t help but think they’re going to be a bit disappointed as well.

The novel starts off well, introducing us to Cinder, a cyborg who lives with her step-mother and step-sisters. She’s good at repairing items and keeps her adopted family afloat, despite the scorn and ridicule she regularly receives. Cinder even has her own version of a talking mouse as her one friend.

Thrown into are several other elements included a deadly disease that can strike without warning and is currently killing the ruler of Earth. There’s also a conflict with the rulers of the Moon and there’s also a dash of lingering questions about the true nature of Cinder’s identity.

The questions surrounding Cinder and her role in the political game being played are a bit too obviously foreshadowed. I guessed the revelation that is supposed to be the hook for the next novel in the series a couple of hundred pages before the novel got around to telling us what it was. That lead to large portions of the middle of the book feeling like they were treading water, waiting for the inevitable revelation and for something to actually spark the plot and move it forward.

Of course, there’s also a romantic angle of the apparent attraction between Cinder and the prince who is thrust into ruling the realm. And while we all know where it’s headed, I do wish Meyer had put a bit more originality into the journey to the inevitable destination.

Ultimately, I came away from Cinder disappointed that the story has such potential but doesn’t live up to it. It also suffers from the “series-itis” plaguing so many of today’s new releases. The novel works too hard to set-up a long term story which will sell lots of future installments while failing to make the characters or universe interesting enough to make more than just mildly curious to return and see how all these things play out. This is another book that makes the argument that sometimes having a single, stand-alone novel is a better idea than a watered down series.

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Scholastic’s 100 Best Books for Kids

Scholastic has released a list of the 100 best books for kids.  Skimming the list, I notice a couple of glaring omissions, including the entire Beverly Cleary canon.  Or the Little House books.  

Sorry, but you can’t have a list of great books for kids without at least one entry for those on the list.  

Looking at the list and some of what did make it, I have to wonder if the list was a bit biased.  I find myself wondering if all the books listed here are published by Scholastic…

Just a thought…

Anyway, here’s the list:

The 100 “Greatest Books for Kids,” ranked by ScholasticParent & Child magazine:

1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

4. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jacks Keats

5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

7. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

8. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

9. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

10. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

11. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

12. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

13. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

14. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

15. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

16. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

17. Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt

18. When Marian Sang by Pam Munoz Ryan

19. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems

20. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein

21. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

22. Corduroy by Don Freeman

23. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

24. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

25. The Giver by Lois Lowry

26. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

27. Black on White by Tana Hoban

28. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

29. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

30. My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Polacco

31. The Mitten by Jan Brett

32. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

33. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

34. Swimmy by Leo Lionni

35. Freight Train by Donald Crews

36. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

37. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don & Audrey Wood

38. Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

39. Zen Shorts by John J. Muth

40. Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton

41. Matilda by Roald Dahl

42. What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry

43. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

44. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann

45. The Composition by Antonio Skarmeta

46. Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

47. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

48. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

49. Martin’s Big Words by Doreen Rappaport

50. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

51. Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose by Sylvia Long

52. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

53. The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

54. Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges

55. Smile! by Roberta Grobel Intrater

56. Living Sunlight by Molly Bang & Penny Chisholm

57. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

58. Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez by Kathleen Krull

59. Dear Juno by Soyung Pak

60. Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes… by Annie Kubler

61. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

62. Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

63. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

64. My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis

65. Birds by Kevin Henkes

66. The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

67. Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

68. Counting Kisses: A Kiss & Read Book by Karen Katz

69. The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks by Joanna Cole

70. Blackout by John Rocco

71. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

72. Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman

73. Tea With Milk by Allen Say

74. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

75. Holes by Louis Sachar

76. Peek-a Who? by Nina Laden

77. Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

78. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

79. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney

80. What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

81. Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

82. Ivy + Bean by Annie Barrows

83. Yoko by Rosemary Wells

84. No No Yes Yes by Leslie Patricelli

85. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

86. Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein

87. Rules by Cynthia Lord

88. Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard

89. An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston

90. Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault

91. Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon by Catherine Thimmesh

92. What Shall We Do With the Boo Hoo Baby? by Cressida Cowell

93. We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States by David Catrow

94. I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis

95. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

96. Gossie by Olivier Dunrea

97. The Adventures of Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey

98. First Words by Roger Priddy

99. Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman

100. Animalia by Graeme Base

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