Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Now that I've seen Star Wars twice, I feel I can finally comment on it. Be aware, there will be mild spoilers below, in the sense that I'll be talking about some specific, not too spoilery scenes. But if you haven't seen Star Wars, what are you waiting for? It was great, go see it!

After the first time, I came out of the theater energized. It was sooo much better than 1, 2, & 3, that I could overlook some of the flaws and my feelings. I really liked it, but felt it was a little disjointed. I went home and read some articles, trying to figure out what it was I was feeling.

First, the things I liked. Omg, REY. She was badass and exactly the type of heroine I wanted. While I like Clary from The Mortal Instruments and Katniss from The Hunger Games, Rey is the type of character I can really get behind. She has a take-charge attitude while also having emotions, and makes smart decisions. Jackpot.

I also really liked the humor, especially Finn's. I've watched a few John Boyega interviews since, and he's pretty hilarious, so I think he was a great choice. He had some nice snippets, though Daisy Ridley did too, (like when she told him to stop holding her hand). I love that they chose a black actor to be one of the main characters because diversity really means so much, and gives young people role models that they can relate to. (I also appreciated the Asian female X-wing pilot they had.)

Harrison Ford was awesome with his reprise of Han Solo. He was able to get back into the character without missing a beat. It felt real, like Han Solo was back. He also had a much bigger role than I thought he would, especially since they had to write him out of some scenes when he broke his foot. He had a lot more screen time than I expected.

Things I didn't like. I did feel like there were two stories going on: the quest for Luke Skywalker, and then whatever Han Solo was doing. But, I wouldn't have wanted them to take out the parts with Han, because it was just so fun, so I'm not sure how they could've fixed that. I felt the whole bit with the lightsaber was kind of thrown together and could've had more impact coming from someone/somewhere else. Like maybe Han should've had the lightsaber? Though I did enjoy the trade scene with Maz, since it was so cantina-esque. (Fun fact: did you know Lin-Manuel Miranda, of Hamilton and In The Heights fame, wrote the music with J.J. Abrams for that scene? Well, he did, as J.J. said in an interview with Jimmy Fallon.)

Overall, I really liked the movie. I'm not sure if it passes the Bechdel Test, because the only conversation Rey has with another female is with Leia, when Leia says "May the force be with you" and Rey doesn't even answer. I'm unsure if Rey's conversations with Maz count, because is Maz female? Who's to say those aliens have genders like we do? Though I guess when there's a lead character who's a female then it should pass. (Thoughts?)

Also, an aside, one of my BFFs is in advertising and created the Duracell commercial, where the young boy puts the batteries in for his lightsaber and then has to save his sister, in conjunction with Star Wars. It's a really awesome commercial, so if you haven't seen it take a look. And my friend got to go to the premiere in L.A. because of doing it! (So obvi I hate him for getting to go. J/k, j/k. kinda.)

What are your thoughts on Star Wars? Did you like it? Love it? Hate it? Where would you put it in order of favorites to least out of all the Star Wars films?

Monday, December 21, 2015

High School Book Club December Edition

Last Tuesday was our high school book club's monthly meeting. We discussed ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL by Jesse Andres and also chose our new book.

I really enjoy MaEatDG. I thought it was hilarious and found myself laughing out loud in my bedroom consistently while reading it. On the cover, it was of course compared to THE FAULT AND OUR STARS which I thought was an unfair comparison. This book is completely different in every way except that both books have a character with cancer. The tone is different, the theme is different, the character arcs are different, and the characters sound completely different. I can see how someone might want it to ride the coattails of TFiOS, but it deserves to be on its own shelf. It's just a different book completely.

One of my students really enjoyed MaEatDG and I was surprised because he doesn't usually read the books we assign. That just shows again how subjective reading is. There were a few people who didn't make it past the first few chapters because they felt the protagonist was whiny. I, on the other hand, thought that he was just a normal self-conscious teenager. (But then again, they're the real teenagers and I'm not.) The first few chapters is what hooked me.

Many of them did not like Earl, since he was such a stereotype. One student said she knew going into it that Earl was going to be a stereotype, so it didn't bother her as much. I can understand their disappointment, but I'm used to taking things with a grain of salt (ahem adulting), so it didn't phase me as much.

Overall, I think they were getting kind of sick of the same sorts of tropes and genres that we've been reading. Most have been contemporary YA and I know a lot of my students really like speculative fiction.

I'm really excited because they picked RED RISING by Pierce Brown as their next book, which I've been trying to get them to read since September. A lot of them said they wouldn't read anything new until we read RED RISING. I also think I did a superb job pitching it as THE HUNGER GAMES on Mars with Roman mythology. A close second was WOLF BY WOLF by Ryan Graudin, which I really hope we read next, but only the votes will tell.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Books I've read recently: December Edition

I picked up THE EMPEROR'S BLADES because I follow Victoria Schwab on twitter and she told me to read it. Not me personally, just anyone who was listening. And I was. And I wasn't disappointed. It's a sort of fantasy novel, but more genre-bending than anything I've read in a while. It was really refreshing to read something new and unique. I also don't read a lot of "adult", but this was awesome. I especially liked the three totally different points of view with each one keeping me engaged and wanting to know more about that character. I have book two out from the library and it's next up for me to read.

I also picked up WOLF BY WOLF because of Victoria Schwab. (I can whole-heartedly say I will now read anything she recommends.) I was a bit wary about this as the only thing I knew about it that it was alternate historical fiction, which I don't usually read. But it gripped me from the first page. It's also very different than anything else out there -- I wouldn't say it's straight alternate history -- and the writing is so lyrical that it just drew me in. I definitely recommend it to anyone, whether or not they like alternate historical fiction (with a twist of fantasy).

I picked up BONE GAP because it seemed like everyone and their mother were recommending it. While I liked it, I felt like it was just hinging on the "twist" ending, which was less of a twist than a... well, I don't want to spoil anything, so I guess you'll have to read it. I liked that ending part, but I felt like too much revolved around that point for me to buy in completely. It was very mystical and had nice lyrical writing as well, but the characters never pulled me in. Maybe there was just too much hype from the start. Or maybe I just prefer speculative to contemporary. And it was definitely different from anything else I've read in a while, so give it a try and tell me what you think.

What have you read lately? Anything amazing that I should be reading?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Putting the SCIENCE in Science Fiction

As you might know, I teach 9th and 10th graders bio/chem. I love it. Science is AWESOME. Doing experiments and seeing the results first had in the classroom is how science should be taught. That being said, I also obviously love to read. I sponsor the high school book club at my school. So I've been trying to meld the two together.

I've been looking for some science fiction to read in my 9th or 10th grade bio/chem classes. Many of the science fiction I read isn't based on science or is so minimally that I wouldn't be able to connect it with my class. Or the book is so long that there would be no way we'd be able to fit it in to the unit/curriculum.

At first I was thinking THE MARTIAN, but there's no real unit it could be tied to, besides the scientific method, which is the shortest unit. It also seemed a bit of an instruction manual and I didn't think it would engage all my students.

The next I was thinking of was FEVER 1793, which is set in Philadelphia (where I teach, so that would be awesome), might be a good jumping off point for bacteria and epidemics. But upon reading it, the reading level is about 5th grade (so not good for 10th graders) and again doesn't have that much science in it. I think they'd be too bored and not understanding why we'd read this in a science class. It would've been a good interdisciplinary book for a cross between social studies and science if it weren't such a low reading level.

This led me to THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN which I read a million years ago. I don't quite remember how much science is in it, so I got it out of the library to reread.

Do you have any suggestions? Any books that you've read that are a good cross between science and an awesome read (and isn't too long)? Let me know because right now I'm looking for anything bio or chem related!