Friday, December 20, 2013

Clean, Quality Family Entertainment? You Gosh Darn Better Believe It!

(Image from Deseret Book)

Finding clean, quality family entertainment is not easy these days.  In fact, it's pretty much impossible.  Which is why Studio C, a sketch comedy series produced by BYUtv, feels so refreshing.  When I popped in the DVD of the show's first two seasons, which I received for review the other day, my kids (ages 15, 11, 9 and 5) came running.  Literally.  Even though they had already seen most of the episodes on the DVD, they gathered around and watched them again, laughing uproariously.  For hours.  When bedtime rolled around, they kept begging for just one more episode.  That's how entertaining Studio C can be.  

What is Studio C, exactly?  Think Saturday Night Live with a smaller, younger cast presenting material you wouldn't be embarrassed to view with your toddler or your grandmother.  The sketches parody everyday life in all its hilarious awkwardness.  Although it's produced at BYU, the show does not talk about Mormonism at all—religion is only brought up in a very, very broad sense.  Studio C was created to appeal to the general public.   

The hour-long program airs on Monday nights at 10 p.m. EST/8:00 p.m. MST.  You can also watch it online at www.byutv.com/studioc .  The first two seasons are also available now on DVD.  You'll find all your favorite sketches and series, including "Just Jeremy," "Shoulder Angel," "The Awkwardness Avoidance Viking," as well as my personal favorite, "Captain Literally."  Also included are outtakes from Season 2 and exclusive features.  At around $20 (Deseret Book has the lowest price, $19.99), the DVD makes a fun, affordable entertainment that can be enjoyed by anyone.  Just ask my kids!

In the interest of providing you a fair and honest review of the DVD, I will say that because Studio C's cast is small, the sketches/characters do get a little redundant.  And, of course, some of the sketches are funnier and more clever than others.  For a low-budget show using non-professional actors, though, it does a pretty darn good job.   

To give you a little taste of Studio C, here are two of my favorite sketches. Book lovers will especially appreciate the second one :)



(Note:  I reviewed this DVD as part of a Studio C blog tour run by Kathy over at I Am a Reader, Not a Writer.  I received it for free in exchange for my honest review.)  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Bookish) Things—Part 2

The day before leaving on a big trip is not my favorite.  Not.  At.  All.  I spend the day running around like a crazy woman trying to get everything together and wondering why the heck I thought traveling (with 4 kids, no less) would be a swell idea.  I'm still woefully behind on posting reviews, but that's just going to have to wait—we're hitting the road bright and early tomorrow morning, so I only have so much time today for anything besides trip prep.  I did want to post Part 2 of my favorite bookish things before I disappeared from the blogosphere, though.  I've got my priorities, you see.

Here we go, with four more of My Favorite (Bookish) Things:

1.  I love this quote by Dr. Seuss, especially when painted by Nicole DeFord.  I adore her whimsical style, which you can see on proud display at her Etsy shop, Jelly Bird Signs.  Nicole's fabulous to work with—she's fun, creative and does a beautiful job with all her pieces.  This gem was $30 (plus shipping):


I couldn't get a good picture of my sign (I had her customize mine by changing all the green words in the above sign to red) with my camera phone, so here's the one Nicole uses.  Isn't it the cutest sign?  Wouldn't it make a wonderful present for the book lover in your life (which might just happen to be you)?  Well, it's too late to order one in time for Christmas gift-giving, but who needs a reason to purchase something as lovely as this?

2.  Wouldn't it be nice to have your own, personal proofreader to edit everything you write before you print it off or send it out?  The Grammar Nazis in your life would surely appreciate the effort.  As would your audience, be it a professor, your boss at work, or the fortunate soul who plucks your manuscript out of the slush pile.

Proofreaders, sadly, are quite expensive to hire, especially to comb through everything you write.  So, some very clever folks out in California created Grammarly, an affordable, easy-to-use online proofreader that goes far beyond your word processing program's Grammar Check.  For a monthly fee, you can use it to scan all the documents you write—term papers, office memos, manuscript queries, newsletters, etc.  You simply import or cut and paste the text you want edited, hit enter and let the program do its job.  Within minutes, it will begin highlighting problem areas.  Not only does it show you potential errors, but it also explains the grammar/punctuation/style rules you may be violating.  If you're worried that you might be unintentionally poaching someone else's words, you can use Grammarly's Plagiarism feature to make sure you're giving credit where credit is due.  Another big plus to the program is that it points out stylistic no-no's, like redundant word choice and overuse of passive voice.  It also keeps track of your most common editing mistakes so that you can avoid making them in the future.

Want to try it out for yourself?  Go to Grammarly.com, drag-and-drop some text into the box and, voilá, magic will happen.

Now, the big question is: how much does Grammarly cost?  You can get a 7-day trial for free.  After that, you choose a payment plan that works for your budget—the lowest one offers the program for $11.66/month.  Is it worth it?  If you do a lot of writing and don't have a ready, reliable editor to help you with the nitty, gritty details, then I'd say yes.  It really is a cool thing.

And, to appease the Grammarly gods, here's my attempt at a clever tag line:  I use Grammarly for proofreading because it makes me look smarter (and, believe me, I need all the help I can get)!

(P.S.  Although Grammarly is sponsoring this post by paying me a small fee, the opinions expressed are honest and my own.  I tried the program for myself and was impressed by its functionality.)

3.  Another of my favorite bookish things is my local indie bookstore, Changing Hands.  It's in Tempe, which is a bit of a drive for me, so I don't get there very often.  When I do, though, it's always a pleasant experience.  Not only does the store offer a great selection of new and used books, but it also hosts lots of fun events like book signings, writing workshops, and holiday events for the whole family.  The employees are knowledgeable, the store offers nice discount/frequent buyer incentives, and Changing Hands does a lot to give back to the community.  It's a wonderful business for many, many reasons.  

Because the Tempe store is so popular, Changing Hands plans to build another one in central Phoenix (not the East Valley—boo hoo!).  Store owners launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the project and recently reached their goal of raising $80,000.  Fundraising continues through December 24th, so if you want to contribute to a worthy cause this Christmas, consider this one.  You can also get fun merchandise when you donate, including T-shirts, tote bags, greeting cards, etc.

Here's the video Changing Hands created to announce the project:

 

4.  Since we're spending Christmas in the Motherland (that would be the Columbia River Gorge in Washington/Oregon, where I grew up) this year, we decided to do our own little family Christmas celebration before we leave.  On Monday, we had a nice dinner, read the story of Jesus' birth, discussed the "gifts" we've given Him this year, and then opened the presents under our (dry and dying) Christmas tree.  I was thrilled to find this, a present from my always-thoughtful mother-in-law, waiting for me:


It's a beautiful cookbook full of yummy-looking recipes that I can't wait to try out.  Anyone have a favorite?

So, there you have it, some bookish things that I've been lovin' on lately.  How 'bout y'all?  Any fun, bookish things caught your eye lately?  Don't keep your discoveries to yourself—I'd love to hear all about them!

Monday, December 16, 2013

I Never Re-Read Books (Except This One)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I rarely re-read books.  Almost never.  With so many great new stories out there just waiting to be cracked open, why waste time going back to one I've already experienced?  That's my usual philosophy, but sometimes, I get a hankering to re-enjoy an old favorite.  Like Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird.  It's been a long time (high school?) since I first read and loved it, so a re-reading was long, long overdue.  And, you guys, I'm so glad I took the opportunity!  I swear, everything about this book touches some part of my soul.  It's just a beautiful, inspiring, charming story—one that will never get old, no matter how many times I read it.  

I'm not even going to attempt any deep literary analysis of To Kill a Mockingbird.  That's been done many, many times, and by people much more knowledgeable than I.  So, let me just encourage you to read this one, whether for the first time or the twentieth.  It's an incredible novel, the kind that should be studied in schools and revered worldwide (oh wait, it already is ...).  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of A Time to Kill by John Grisham)

Grade:  



If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, racial epitaphs and references to rape

(Incidentally, the classic 1962 movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird is Not Rated.)

To the FTC, with love:  I bought To Kill a Mockingbird from Amazon using a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.   


Thursday, December 12, 2013

New E-Short Not Terribly Original, But Who Cares? It's Tempe!

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

(Note:  While this review will not contain spoilers for Bones in Her Pocket, it may inadvertently reveal plot surprises from earlier Temperance Brennan mysteries.  As always, I recommend reading books in a series in order.)

If you read this blog with any frequency (and I sure hope you do!), my undying love for anything Temperance Brennan ("anything" actually doesn't include the tv show Bones) does not surprise you in the least. So, naturally, when I heard that Kathy Reichs, the creator of  my favorite forensic anthropologist, would be publishing an e-novella starring Tempe, I knew I had to read it.  

Except for the length, Bones in Her Pocket acts just like any other book in the Tempe Brennan series, pitting the intrepid scientist against an unknown killer in a tense, action-packed forensic mystery.  And, while this newest story doesn't advance any of the subplots relating to our heroine's personal life (darn it!), it does relate another exciting adventure in her professional one.

In this episode, Tempe is called out to a remote artists' colony near a mountain lake in North Carolina.  Bones have been discovered inside a water-logged, fly-infested canvas tote bag.  Animal bones, she figures.  Except they're not.  The remains belong to a young woman fitting the description of Edith Blankenship, a missing graduate student.  Did Edith's passion for saving the lake's birds get her killed?  Did she step on the toes of the wrong eco-radical?  How did the ebullient student end up in a watery grave?  Using the bones as her guide, Tempe's determined to find out.  Before she ends up sharing Edith's fate. 

While Bones in Her Pocket is pretty much the same ole, same ole as far as Tempe Brennan books are concerned, I still enjoyed it.  Reichs just knows how to pull me in with colorful characters, intriguing mysteries and, of course, with the further development of the already empathetic and likable Tempe (book Tempe is VERY different from t.v. Tempe, by the way).  Her adventures—even the brief ones—will always interest me.  

FYI:  Bones in Her Pocket is only available as an e-book.  For just $1.99, it can be purchased at either Amazon, Barnes & Noble or iTunes.

(Readalikes:  other books in the Tempe Brennan series [Deja Dead; Death Du Jour; Deadly Decisions; Fatal Voyage; Grave Secrets; Bare Bones; Monday Mourning; Cross Bones; Break No Bones; Bones to Ashes; Devil Bones; 206 Bones; Spider Bones; Flash and Bones; Bones Are Forever; Bones of the Lost]

Grade:   


If this were a movie, it would be rated:  


for language (1 F-bomb, plus milder invectives), violence and gore

To the FTC, with love:  I bought Bones in Her Pocket with a portion of the millions I make from my lucrative career as a book blogger.  Ha ha.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

These Are a Few of My Favorite (Bookish) Things—Part One

Sorry for the radio silence here at BBB.  That's what holiday busy-ness, plus a 4-day trip to the (freezing cold) Midwest, and now a nasty cold will do to a blogger!  Thanks to the *lovely* weather (actually, it was lovely—it's been a while since I've seen falling snow), I spent even more time in airports and on airplanes than I thought I would, which means I got more read than I thought I would.  Which also means that I am even more behind on reviews than I was before I left town.  Ack!  I'm not sure I'll ever catch up.

Since I'm already procrastinating on the reviews, I thought I'd give you a little something different today.  I've never understood why "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music is played so much at Christmastime (something to do with the "brown paper packages tied up with string," I assume), but the title works well for this post.  I've been meaning to tell you about several of these items for a while now, so I'm just going to combine them all into two posts of bookish awesomeness.  Sound good?  Well, alright then, here we go:

1.  Not long ago, I entered a giveaway over at Mommy's Reading Break and won this cute little block stacker.  Isn't it adorable?  I had my choice of stackers, but this one seemed most appropriate.  It sits on my desk, making me smile every time I look at it.


Heather sells all kinds of stackers in her Etsy store, Rutherford Wood Designs.  She's got Christmas themes, sports themes, family themes, etc.  The stackers are very affordable, running between $8 and $14.  They'd make great Christmas gifts, so be sure to check out the store.

2.  Have you all heard about SwoonReads?  It's a new website run by Macmillan that allows authors of YA romances to publish their manuscripts online and lets readers browse titles and leave their feedback about the books.  Those entries that get the best response will be considered by Macmillan for publication.  Cool, right?  I'm going to let Stephanie Moore, an author from Utah whose book, A Flutter of Butterfly Wings, is up on the site right now tell you a little more about this very cool program:

Hello my fellow bookies! I’m Stephanie and am excited to be visiting here today.  A little about myself, I’m a SAHM with four awesome kids, three boys and a baby girl. I love reading and often find myself in the YA section. Aren’t some of the best stories those where characters are coming of age, figuring out who they want to be and finding their first love?                                                                                                                                    
My other passion is writing, which is what brings me here today. As I was finishing edits on a YA manuscript, I ran across an article talking about a new imprint from Macmillan Books, Swoon Reads. What caught my attention is that it utilizes crowdsourcing to find manuscripts to publish. So writers upload their finished works and readers come and read, rate and comment on them. The highly ranked manuscripts will get read by the editorial staff and could be chosen for publication. It’s the American Idol of the YA publishing world.                                                                                                                                                                                                 As a writer, I am so excited for this because it breaks down so many barriers that lay in front of an unpublished author. In a conversation I had with Jean Feiwel, the Publisher of Swoon Reads, she said she wanted to tear down the barriers so deserving manuscripts can more easily be found and it gives them a better pulse on what readers want to read.                                                                                                                                Have you ever wanted a say in what books get published? Now’s your chance! It was recently announced the first book selection will be made in February so head over there and let your voice be heard before February 1st. After an easy sign up (literally only 5 spaces to fill out) you can read as many manuscripts as you want, absolutely for free.                                                                                                                                                  Yay for free good reads! So come take a look, let your voice be heard, for good and bad, and help an unpublished author realized his/her dream. Like yours truly, my manuscript, A Flutter of Butterfly Wings, is up there right now. (http://www.swoonreads.com/m/a-flutter-of-butterfly-wings)                                                                                                                        To sign up and start reading today, go to: http://www.swoonreads.com/sign-up.                                                                                                                                                                 Thanks for having me, Susan, and for creating such a great blog that brings all of us bookaholics together. 
 Cool, right?

3.  Remember back in the summer when I was bragging telling you all about my new bookshelves?  Remember how I promised to post a picture and then didn't?  Yeah.  Better late than never, right?


Obviously, this isn't the best picture, but trust me, my bookshelf is a beaut!  It's 9 feet high and 12 feet wide.  It holds lots of review books as well as others from my personal library.  I'm not going to tell you what percentage of the books on the shelf are review books because that would just be embarrassing!  And, yes, I'm well aware of the irony of displaying a sign (it's on the top, center shelf) that says "Simplify" on a bookshelf that holds 1000 books or more.  Yeah.

So, what bookish things are you loving lately?  
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