Sunday, September 23, 2012

Reading List Round-Up 2012: Books 56-63

In case you couldn't surmise as much for yourself from the titles gathered here, I've been on something of a Young Adult novels binge lately.  This is mostly for inspiration as I've been struggling through my own YA piece, though it's also at least partly because of how much fun it is to kick back and read a few books that don't take themselves nearly as seriously as contemporary adult literature.  There are a few classics thrown into the mix for good measure, but on the whole I spent August living in the heads of teenage protagonists, trying to reconcile them with the wisdom their creators sought to convey.  The results were, as you might expect, very mixed.

Looking for Alaska by John Green
Tragic, intriguing, and a painfully accurate capturing of teenagers and grief.  Looking for Alaska starts off promising no more than any other coming-of-age novel, but it takes a few twists and turns as well as some unexpected character development and ultimately proves that this is a text for a new generation.  Green illustrates beautifully the raw pain and aching confusion of dealing with one's first brush with tragedy, and manages to do so while still peppering the story with genuinely funny moments and characters who seem just like the kids you used to know.

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green
This for me is by far Green's weakest novel.  The protagonist is whiny and unlikeable (this is in contrast to his other protagonists, who are still pretty whiny but manage to redeem themselves through their relationships with other characters or by making some discovery which renders them less self-pitying).  I guess after the much higher stakes of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars, it was hard to get behind a character who spends the entire book moping about his failed relationships with girls (and he's only in high school) in the same way.  It's still got Green's trademark wit and nuggets of wisdom, as well as a supporting cast about any of whom I'd rather read than the lead character he's chosen, and overall was still better than a lot of YA fiction out there.  However, it's difficult to read this somewhat sloppy entry in Green's catalog when you know he's capable of so much better.

A Room with a View by EM Forster
I'll be honest and admit that this is one of those books I read out of a sense of obligation, feeling like I "needed" to have read it to be taken seriously--there are a number of books on my 2012 reading list that fall into this category, and unfortunately A Room with a View proved to be one of the most tedious.  Unlike The Age of Innocence (full thoughts on that one below), A Room with a View, for me anyway, failed to break out of its framework as a period piece and intrigue me.  I was bored with all of the major characters before the first half of the book was over, and nothing done in the second act really redeemed them in my eyes.  The best thing I can say about this novel is that it was relatively short and easy to get through, and the writing itself is superb, but if you're in it for sheer plot or excitement, I'd recommend looking elsewhere.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Another more obligatory read, The Age of Innocence is well-executed, which is no surprise to anyone who's read Wharton's work before, and intriguing enough to keep the reader engaged through the densely painted portraits of early twentieth-century American society.  It reads almost like a soap opera, with romance, scandal, and intrigue; but ultimately falls short by proving a bit too bland and predictable in the end.  Overall, I'd recommend it as an excellent period piece, but a book that needs to be viewed primarily in the context of its time to be fully appreciated.

Alanna:  The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce, and In the Hand of the Goddess (sequel) by Tamora Pierce
These books, though they admittedly suffer from some (and by some I mean many) rudimentary flaws in prose, are a wonderful little YA discovery that I unfortunately did not make on my own.  Alanna tells the tale of a young girl who poses as a boy to train in the hopes of becoming a knight--it might sound like it's been done before, but consider that this book came out in 1983, at least a decade before Mulan or Game of Thrones.  Its sequel, In the Hand of the Goddess, is a bit more tedious as it deals with a lot more teenage-female-angst than its predecessor, but the adventures remain both intriguing and thrilling.  These are definitely the younger audience-skewing novels I'd be most likely to recommend to readers in the YA demographic.

Blue is for Nightmares by Laurie Faria Stolarz
Unfortunately, this seems to be another YA novel more in the vain of the Twilight books, heavy on the teen angst and "high stakes" drama, but skimping frequently on the fundamentals of prose writing.  Blue is for Nightmares has some intriguing features and some characters who could be compelling given a little more attention and skill on the part of their creator, but on the whole is underwhelming and difficult to stay engaged with.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine
This is an adorable-yet-sage story that wedges itself somewhere between Children's and YA Literature, and might just be all the better for that blurriness.  Carson Levine proved with Ella Enchanted that she could weave a story that would appeal on equal levels to children and adults, and Two Princesses achieves a similar feat, if not quite as skillfully.  It has all the requisite fantasy elements--sorcerers, dragons, fairies, and knights galore--but it also has a very human story at its heart.  This is definitely a book I'd recommend enthusiastically for young readers, and writers aiming at that demographic.

Best Book:  Looking for Alaska
Worst Book:  Blue is for Nightmares
Longest Read:  The Age of Innocence
Quickest Read:  The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Fall TV 2012: What to Watch and When to Watch It

I may have been absent from the Interwebs for a lot of this summer (it's strange how real life will keep you busy sometimes), but don't worry, I haven't been watching and studying any less television than usual.  In fact, I've been saving up some of my excitement and analysis for exactly this moment:  the proverbial eve of the fall TV season kick-off.  These are a few of the shows I'll be watching and reviewing subject, as always, to change (except for Parks and Rec, which I will watch/love till the end of time).  And in case you've been sitting on your sofa staring blankly at your television set and awaiting my instructions as to what you should watch, here they are for your perusal:


How I Met Your Mother (CBS, premieres September 24th)
*Where we left off:  Barney's future bride was revealed (it's Robin!); Lily and Marshall had a baby (and promptly brought it with them to the bar); Ted and Victoria rode off into the sunset together (sort of).
*What's next:  With the writers, at least according to recent interviews with Bays and Thomas, working as though this will be the show's last season, it seems the tying up of some loose ends is on the horizon.  We have to figure out how the heck Barney and Robin make it to the alter (remember he's newly engaged to stripper Quinn in the present), as well as how Ted ruins things with Victoria (again) and arrives at the show's titular moment at long last.  It should prove to be an interesting season, and hopefully there will be significantly less time wasted with so many plots to unravel in so short a time.
*Wish list:  I'd love to see an announcement (sooner rather than later) that HIMYM will in fact wrap up after this season.  I think 24 episodes is more than enough time to wrap up the loose ends still dangling if the writers are deliberate about it, and if Thomas and Bays are permitted to stretch this journey out any further the cracks are really going to start to show.

(NEW SHOWS!) Tuesdays:

Go On (NBC, premiered September 9th)
The primary reason this show works well is that the execs at NBC have stopped fucking around and finally returned Matthew Perry to the role he belongs:  Chandler Bing.  Yes, Chandler's aged a decade or so and he's got a different name and job and blah, blah, blah; but essentially this character is nearly identical personality-wise.  It's as though we're seeing future Chandler following the death of Monica, whom we all knew kept him grounded, and though he's surely bereaved, he's also hilarious.

Better than that, though, this show actually seems to have heart, and not in a jammed-down-your-throat kind of way.  It's ballsy for a primetime sitcom to deal with something like grief, but the level of accuracy Go On supplies in the pilot episode alone is definitely encouraging, and a good sign of things to come.  Hopefully NBC doesn't err on the side of their usual instinct, which is to water down the honesty of some of their best programs (Community and its new team of writers springs to mind, not to mention the soon-to-wrap train wreck that The Office has become), because that would sacrifice a lot of what thus far makes this show appealing.

The Mindy Project (FOX, premieres September 25th)
This is a show that seems designed to stand up well beside its lineup-mate, FOX's New Girl, which was of course one of last year's runaway hits (not to mention the source of way too much Deschanel Hype in my life).  The Mindy Project follows Mindy Kaling, who you'll recognize as Kelly Kapoor from The Office, in the early stages of her career as an OB/GYN, as well as the battle-worn (and hilarious) stage of her romantic life.  It's lighthearted, it's laugh-out-loud funny, and it's identifiable, which is really all you can hope for in a pilot episode.  I can foresee problems similar to those found in the early run of New Girl, when it became clear that the amount of "isn't-she-quirky" based humor needed to be toned down-- in The Mindy Project, it's easy to lose sight of Mindy's role as (in theory, at least) an everywoman character in the more grating aspects of the character's personality.

This one also has an excellent supporting cast going for it, and I'm hopeful that the writers will gradually shift some of the focus so expended on Mindy in the pilot to some of these already very interesting personalities.


Happy Endings (ABC, premieres October 23rd)
*Where we left off:  Season 2's finale brought us another wedding, this time between friends of the gang Derrick and Eric.  We saw Penny struggle with possible feelings for Dave, who ended the night instead with erstwhile fiance Alex, while Brad and Jane tried to come to a compromise on how to better communicate with each other.
*What's next:  It doesn't seem that this Alex/Dave/Penny triangle is going to be too much of an overwrought thing (especially with rumors of Penny getting a new semi-longterm love interest), which is excellent news for a show that's already brilliant without the addition of needless melodrama.  
*Wish list:  More of Adam Pally's Max and less of Elisha Cuthbert's Alex (mainly just less of the emphasis on her being the dumb blonde of the group); more viewers for what I guarantee is the funniest show you're not watching.


Parks and Recreation (NBC, premieres September 20th)
*Where we left off:  One Leslie Knope is about to take Pawnee City Council by storm after triumphing in the season finale's election.  She'll be working on a long-term relationship with Ben, who has taken a job in Washington D.C. and who has somewhat inexplicably recruited April to work as his intern.
*What's next:  A Ben/Leslie shake-up, but according to executive producer Mike Schur it's not the kind you'd expect.  Also, some long overdue maturity for Tom, who last season appeared to backtrack a bit following his Entertainment 720 venture.  But the best news is that by the end of the season premiere, the Tom/Ann debacle will really and truly be a thing of the past.


Community (NBC, premieres October 19th)
*Where we left off:  In a season finale that really would've made a great conclusion to the series, we saw everyone going their almost separate ways in relative happiness (yes, even Jeff, who decided to finally seek out his long-estranged father).  It was almost enough to make you not want a fourth season.  Almost.
*What's next:  The show's last-minute salvation last spring means that some tweaks are going to have to take place (this is even without the team of new writers and the firing of Dan Harmon, the show's creator).  We'll apparently be meeting Jeff's father, there will be an Inspector Spacetime convention, and the gang will pay homage (sort of?) to The Hunger Games in the season premiere.
*Wish list:  I don't have too many particular demands, I just hope that the show will still be recognizable as the delightful, wonderfully weird thing it is after the new writers have gotten their hands on it.

Honorable Mentions:

30 Rock, The Office (Thursdays, NBC):  Both are entering their final seasons, hopefully some laughs will be resurrected before the end.

Grey's Anatomy (Thursdays, ABC):  Yup, they're still kicking over at Seattle Grace.  And this season promises to be every bit as miserable and death-filled as you could possibly hope.

Here's to a wonderful 2012/2013 television season.