Soundtrack Sunday – The Mask of Zorro

kyarborough1:

In honor of the late James Horner, here’s a post I made about one of my favorite soundtracks he composed.

Originally posted on Musings of a Modern Bluestocking:

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The Mask of Zorro was a 1998 movie starring Antonio Bandares and Sir Anthony Hopkins, who both played the titular role.  James Horner, who composed An American Tail, Aliens, and Captain EO (as well as some movie called Titanic), did the soundtrack.

I’ve always loved this soundtrack.  It’s exciting and driving.  It calls to mind the dry desert, the rhythm of a galloping horse, and a dance between people, both with blades and without.

And here’s Captain EO, if you’re interested:

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Book Review – Counting By 7s

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Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a middle grade novel about Willow Chance.  Willow is a 12 year old genius who is obsessed with gardening and diagnosing medical conditions.  Her life is changed forever the day she comes home from her counseling session and finds out her adoptive parents have been in an accident.  Now orphaned twice over, she has to navigate through her grief and find a way to make sense of the world around her.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  It was genuinely engrossing and touching.  I liked the characters, especially Willow.  She was weird and not quite real, but I could identify with that.  I think a lot of kids, geniuses or not, can identify with being weird and not quite real.

I love stories about found families, and that is what this book is about.  Despite being a little disconnected from the people around her, Willow draws people to her by being genuine and passionate about the world around her.  Like many gifted children, the people she connects with the most are adults and older children.  Through her, the people in this book learn how to be better and how to create a family.  It’s really sweet and touching.

My only difficulty with the book is the little details.  Middle grade books tend to be written in a reality that is completely unlike our own.  On the surface, it looks like they’re about out world, but the way that world acts is so divorced from reality that I have a hard time letting go and just enjoying the book for what it is.  It’s easy when it’s a straight out fantasy or dystopian novel; I don’t expect Divergent to be realistic, so when the worldbuilding falls apart, I can still love it for being a good coming-of-age novel about a girl.  Something like Counting by 7s or The Report Card by Andrew Clements are more difficult for me because on the surface they seem realistic, but they’re not.

Basically, part of the plot revolves around Willow taking a standardized test and getting accused of cheating.  And since she a. takes the test at the beginning of the year (which is not when standardized tests are administered in California) and b. gets accused to cheating a week later (it’s just so hilariously wrong that it would be possible to get the results to a CA standardized state test a week after it was given) that I was thrown out of the world for quite some times.  It might have to do with being a teacher, but I am very tired of the way schools and the testing system are represented in books.

I also had a problem with Willow being so smart and able to do so many different things, but not being placed in a gifted class/school/or pull out programs or advancing grades.  The level of genius this child was portrayed at, she should have already been in college, not entering middle school.

But, on the other hand, the book wasn’t written for me. It’s written for middle grade readers and books aimed at that group tend to have a protagonist who is overwhelmingly special in some way.  That person is defined, however, not by their specialness, but by their ability to make connects with a wide group of diverse people and bring them together.  It’s a comforting story that assures us that we are not alone, that our family and friends are waiting for us to bring them together.  And Counting by 7s does this beautifully.

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Cats of the Week: Dot and Dash

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These are Dot and Dash, two little Siamese kittens at the SPCA yesterday.  They were very shy, especially Dash (the one in the back), but warmed to my presence.  Dot moved to cuddle with me after I gave her an ear massage.  Dash wasn’t quite as sure, but let me use a finger to pet her forehead and under her chin.  They were very very cute.  My favorite part was how grumpy looking Dash was, but it didn’t come out well in the pictures.

In other news, my cats Brycee and Cobber clearly love each other right now, as they allowed the other to seep within and inch of them.  It’s what passes for cuddling in my house.

Cuddle time!

Cuddle time!

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Cat of the Week: Marco and Polo

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Marco and Polo were born at the SPCA.  Their mother was part of a hoarding case, and the volunteers and staff weren’t allowed to socialize the cats until the courts released them.  They are very shy and hesitant.  I’ve known them for about two weeks, and in that time, they’ve grown more and more bold.  Today, they were walking around and interacting with people.  Polo is the bolder one, and he climbed on my lap for ear scratches.

At the end of the day, they were exhausted and cuddled up with each other.  I really hope they get adopted together, because they are so close with one another.

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Review: Hot by Julia Harper

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I won this book in a giveaway sponsored by GoodReads.

When two bumbling burglars hold up the bank, bank-teller Turner Hastings takes the opening to do what she’s been waiting for: grab the evidence to clear her wrongfully accused uncle of embezzlement.  When her daring doesn’t pay off, she goes on the run, determined to see it through. The wrench in her plans is Agent John MacKinnon, the federal agent hot on her tail.

This was an entertaining read.  I liked the interplay between Turner and MacKinnon.  In the first half of the book, they communicate in a series of phone calls with cute interplay.  There’s a strong attraction between them and they clearly enjoy the battle of wits and the chase.  I felt things sort of slowed down once they met and had sex.  The banter toned down and the characters kind of felt more flat.  I came away from the book realizing that I didn’t know really anything about the characters outside of the surface and the adventure.  I did like the plot and the antagonist.  I hated the two bank robbers.  Any scene with them was excruciating and painfully unfunny to read.  It was a black spot on an otherwise charming book.

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Review – Predator One

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What could go wrong by combining drones with autonomous vehicles?  In Joe Ledger’s world, everything.  It starts with a seemingly harmless prank at the opening day of the new baseball season, but quickly turns to chaos and horror.  And it keeps getting worse.
Predator One is the seventh Joe Ledger novel that started with Patient Zero.  As always, they face a seemingly unconquerable enemy on a rapidly changing  playing field.  This book was extremely intense.  One disaster after another befell the DMS, but it never felt contrived or “disaster theaterish”.  The DMS fell under attack by a perpetual chaos machine, albeit one that was extremely targeted.

I liked seeing old faces.  When I realized who the Gentleman was (early one), I got excited, because I knew that meant one of my favorite bit players, Toys, was going to appear (which he did in the next chapter).  Maberry has a knack for creating vivid characters with distinct personalities, and I’ve enjoyed the arcs that a lot of the side characters (such as Toys) have gone through.  (I do wish some of Echo squad would get such similar development; Joe has changed through the series, but the rest sort of remain featureless to me.)

I enjoyed this novel a lot more than Code Zero, although it did feel a little bit like filler.  I honestly thought it was going to end on a cliffhanger.  The main plot was resolved, and a lot happened, but, at the same time, not a lot was moved forward, if that makes sense. However it was a great read and  I can’t wait for  Kill Switch comes out.

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Cobbler says two paws up!

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Cat of the Week

We are down to nine cats at the shelter right now, and although all of them are sweet and loveable and worth of Cat of the Week status (particularly Toby, a black and white poly-dactyl cat with a black nose who is the sweetest, cuddliest lap cat ever), I did not get a picture of any of them.  (I did break up a guinea pig fight, though.  Well.  I saw them fighting and told the front desk they were being scary.  Apparently, at one point, they were humping each other [both were males] but that was not what they were doing.  I said they were doing their best impression of the “Watership Down” bunnies, but I don’t think anyone got the reference).

Anyway, in lieu of a shelter cat, enjoy some pictures of my beloved cat, Brycee.

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Brycee is an eight year old Main Coon.  I got her my first year of teaching.  One of my students owned her, but the family was looking to rehome her because she was afraid of their dogs.  I’d been looking to adopt a cat (and had just tried, but it didn’t work out because the cat I adopted was dying), so Brycee was offered up to me.  We’ve been happy every since.

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The last picture is Brycee and Cobbler together.  I’ll post more pictures of Cobbler another time.

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Review: Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier

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On the run from an abusive family, Caitrin finds herself at Whistling Tor, a strange and haunted village.  The local chieftain is reclusive and feared by the villagers, but in need of a scribe.  Caitrin, trained by her master scribe father, applies for the job and soon finds herself embroiled in a mystery she could never have imagined.

Sometimes I find it harder to talk about books I love than books that evoke no strong emotions.  And I loved this book.  Caitrin is such a wonderful character, hurt and smart and brave in a way that doesn’t always get valued.  She sees the deep wrong that has been done at Whistling Tor and to its master, Anluan, and sets about making it right, even though she’s not sure how to go about it or if it can be done.  I really liked that the author took the time to build the relationship between her and Anluan and gave Caitrin the tools to solve her problems on her own.  Caitrin receives help and guidance from others, but it’s only through great personal courage that she’s able to take the steps to heal herself.

This really is a beautiful book.  Beauty and the Beast is my favorite fairy tale and I found this by looking for a retelling.  I was hesitant at first only because I’m wary when a book is highly praised by professional and amateur reviewers (I’m always afraid it won’t live up to the hype), but I am so glad I took a chance on this one.

One million stars for Heart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier.

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Cat of the Week: Nikki

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This is Nikki.  Nikki is a seven month old cat from Pacific Grove.  She is sweet and loving and loves to cuddle.

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She’s very interested in everything going on around her.  Every time I took her out to play, she spent a lot of time glued to the door, watching people walk past.  She also was interested in the picture of a cat on the wall.  She kept going up to it and meowing at it.  I think that means she wants to have a friend to play with.

Her eye was removed because of an infection or something.  Apparently, she wasn’t kept in very good conditions before she was brought in.  Luckily, it doesn’t seem to bother her at all. She’s playful and inquisitive and loving, and if I didn’t already have two cats and no space, I’d be taking her home with me.

I wanted to rename her after Angelina Jolie’s character from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow because of the eye, but the character was named Franky and there’s already a Frankie at the shelter right now.  So, she’ll be Nikki until she’s adopted (which, with any luck, will be soon).

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Book Review: Pirates of the Caribbean the Price of Freedom

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Before Captain Jack Sparrow became the legendary pirate, he was an honest merchant working for the East India Trading Company. (Well, before he was an honest merchant, he was a pirate, but thanks to a few false friends and a tiny bit of breaking the pirate code, he had to leave the dishonest life of piracy for safer shores). There, he meets one Cutler Beckett, the director of West Africa for the EITC, with whom he shares an interest: ancient treasure. Beckett has a simple request: that Jack find the lost island of Kerma, which contains the ancient civilization of Zerzura and her treasures. And easy enough job for one as accustomed to digging up ancient, lost treasure as Jack, but he must decide if it’s worth Beckett’s price.

I enjoyed the first half of his book a lot, but it got bogged down by a lot of factors. There was too much back story that ultimately didn’t feel necessary to the climax or plot. It was very uneven. The past was built up and fleshed out, but once they finally started looking for the island, everything went very fast and felt unsatisfying.

My other problem with it is that Jack Sparrow just isn’t very interesting as a central protagonist. This story is strongest when it focused on someone else (like Ayisha and Beckett) with Jack being viewed through their eyes. This book had a hard job getting Jack’s voice to be realistic as a precursor to what he will become, and I think at times it succeeded brilliantly, but non-mad Jack was not very interesting.

I wish the book had been shorter, more succinct, and less epic in its scope.

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