Misc Monday ~ in which I watch a Disney documentary

So I don’t know about you, but I am a fan of the Disney company. (Those of you who have been following along will already know this. Newer readers might not, as I haven’t talked about it much lately.) And one of the things I love is Disney animation. They do, and have done, some amazing things with animated movies and shorts. I love the classics, and I love the newer movies too. (We were late to the party with watching “Moana,” but I LOVED it.) Some of my favorite movies are Disney animated features.

However, there was a period of time when Disney animation almost died.

Well, maybe that’s me being dramatic, but I just watched “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” and that documentary sure made it sound like animated features were an endangered species for Disney back in the 80’s. Do any of you remember the “Black Cauldron” movie that Disney made back then? I vaguely do, because I loved the books. (Still do.) But at the time, it was too dark, and too ambitious, and from what I can tell it nearly spelled the end of animation at the Walt Disney studios.

In any case, if you’re interested in the history behind the Disney Animation Renaissance, then you should watch this movie. It goes into what happened in the Disney company as a whole, and animation specifically, that led to movies like “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” being able to breathe new life into the animation department. It goes into the difficult decisions management made (decisions that sometimes don’t sound all that favorable) which either helped or hindered the animators. And it goes into the personalities behind those decisions.

It also mentions things I didn’t know. For instance, I didn’t know that “Beauty and the Beast” was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar (and this was when only 5 movies were nominated per year). And I believe “Beauty” was only the 3rd Best Picture nomination received by a Disney film – the other two being “Mary Poppins” and “Dead Poets Society” (released officially by Touchstone, which I did know was a Disney label).

I also didn’t know that “An American Tail” was made by a former Disney animator who left the company, taking a bunch of his fellow animators with him. I knew there was politics in any company, but it can be rough to hear about the hard times a company you love has gone through in the past. It’s hard to understand why there was a time when people didn’t believe in something that, now, is doing so well. But this documentary does a great job of showing how things happened, and why, and what happened to change them.

If you’re interested in all things Disney (like I am), or in movie history, or in these specific Disney animated films specifically, you owe it to yourself to watch this documentary. They’re enjoyable movies to watch regardless, but knowing the climate in which they were made somehow makes them more powerful, more important.

Friday Reads ~ in which I have a lot of reviews

So, about the title. I finally took the time to write up my reviews of Seanan McGuire’s Midnight Blue-Light Special and Half-Off Ragnarok, InCryptid books #2 and 3. (Links are to the reviews.) And there is still more! Details below…

WHAT I READ

I also finished reading The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern, (Cat Who #2) by Lilian Jackson Braun, and wrote up the review here. If you don’t feel like reading the whole review, the short version is that I liked it for the colorful characters and for the cats, but found the plot a little on the predictable side.

And I finished reading (well, listening to) The Seventh Bride by T. Kingfisher. Good story, but I’m not sold on the narration in all cases. (full review here)

AND I finished reading The Diabolical Miss Hyde (Electric Empire, #1) by Viola Carr. It’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a while, and I finally went ahead and asked Barnes & Noble to order it for me. Once I got it, I bumped it to the top of the TBR pile. And then I started reading it, and decided not to put it down. I did skim the middle section a bit (I went back and finished it later, but that’s part of how I kept my interest up to read nearly the whole book in one evening) and read the end before I read the middle. Still, an enjoyable read. (full review here)

WHAT I’M READING

I’m taking a deep breath before I start another paper book. I just devoured two in a very short period of time, and need to catch my breath. Also to, you know, catch up on chores and things.

However, I am listening to a book – Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Because Neil deGrasse Tyson. It’s a short book, but informative so far. I think I might need to also buy the hard copy version for reference later.

And I’m still working on Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid short stories in ebook form. (I’m only reading the ones that happen before the next of the novels, so I won’t be finishing the short stories yet. I’m also only reading the ones I can get as individual ebooks instead of the ones I need to get an entire short story compilation for.)

Once I’m done with the InCryptid shorts that I’ve caught up to, I’ll get back to Paid in Gold and Blood by Lazette Gifford. I have no issues with this ebook; I’ve just discovered that I am a LOT more likely to read short-format fiction on an ereader than a full-length novel. Short stories are perfect. Novellas are okay. But full-length novels? Those take me a while.

WHAT I’LL READ NEXT

I think my next audio book will be Drew Hayes’ NPCs. It’s been tempting me for a while, so when Audible had it on their one-day sale I bought it. I’m really curious how it will read (and it might make a GREAT gift for my family members that I used to play D&D with) so I think it will be soon, if not next.

For paper books, I want something a little slower-paced than what I’ve been reading. Not boring, just not something I’m tempted to read in one sitting. Maybe I’ll re-read something? Or maybe I’ll move on to another Cat Who mystery… I like those, but I can put them down when I want to.

Friday Reads: An Artificial Night

cover_aanAn Artificial Night: October Daye #3
2016 Book Challenge: a book with magic

by Seanan McGuire
(urban fantasy)

This is the third book in the October Daye series, and I’m starting to have a harder time of classifying them for this challenge. Since they’re all (so far) set in the same place and with the same basic character set, they tend to fill the same categories as the ones before, and no new ones. So for this book, I’m using a category I had been saving for when a book didn’t fit anything else – “a book with magic”. That describes most of the books I read. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have to read more in this series without counting them towards the 2016 book challenge, unless I can come up with other categories where they fit.

Anyway, the book itself. Like the prior books, this one deals with Toby getting herself into trouble. And as usual, the trouble is not initially of her own making, but she causes it to be more trouble than it started out as. Parts of this book were rather predictable (unlike its predecessor which left me guessing a lot more), but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable. I loved getting to see more depth to the old characters, and getting to meet new characters too. It will be interesting to see how much of the new characters we get to see in future books.

Without getting too spoilery: the trouble in this book is that the leader of the Wild Hunt has kidnapped the children of some of Toby’s friends. They as her to bring the kids back, so off she goes, even though it’s into some nightmarish lands facing one of the most powerful fae alive. (No one is surprised. Even though she hasn’t yet admitted it, everyone else – from the reader to the characters sending her on the mission – know she’s a Hero with a capital H.)

One of my favorite parts about this novel is the way nursery rhymes are used. I didn’t know all of them (and I suspect some of them may have been made up, or at least modified, for the purposes of the story). Still, I love seeing how authors use things we take for granted as “normal” and turn them into something different and magical.

I will certainly be continuing this series. I love the character development and the plots of the books. My only complaint is that once I get about 1/3 of the way through, I have a VERY hard time putting the books down. Makes it hard to get back to work, since I do a lot of my reading on my lunch breaks at the office…

Friday Reads: Timebound by Rysa Walker

TimeBound (Chronos Files #1)
by Rysa Walker
narrated by Kate Rudd
(contemporary fantasy, time travel, historical fiction)

I have a lot to say about this novel. First thing: it is LONG. Frankly, too long. I enjoyed the premise. I liked the characters. But about half-way through the audiobook, I stopped caring about them because it was long and the pacing slowed down and I got bored. Eventually, I started listening again. And I got a bit further. And then I got bored again. And then I got the paper version out of the library and skimmed the ending so that at least I’d know what happened without having to slog through the rest of the audiobook. (While I love listening to books because then I can multi-task, I do sometimes get annoyed that I have to go at the reader’s speed. And yes, I know that I can listen at 1.5 or 2 times the speed and still understand the text. But then you miss the nuance of the reader’s performance, and so why bother?)

Anyway. That was only one comment I had, and the one that I feel is the most important to start with. Second thing: the premise is awesome. Just the same way that the “Back To The Future” movie premise is awesome, where you have to prevent actions taken by someone who time traveled to the past in order to keep yourself alive. Awesome idea, and this version of the idea was well crafted. Rysa did a great job on her plotting and worldbuilding. I do think that the novel itself needed some trimming – both for the length and to make the secondary plot more secondary – but that shouldn’t diminish the great initial idea.

Third thing: the characters. Some were awesome, some were good, some were merely okay. This is pretty standard, sure. For instance: there’s one point where Kate has a cat fight with another girl about her age. Said other girl seems pretty stereotypical “teenage girl baddie”. Nothing extraordinary. On the other hand, Kate’s main love interest for this book is rather well developed and doesn’t seem to be nearly as standard. (I’m not saying who, because it looks like there will be a love triangle in this series, and I’d rather you read it for yourself if you choose to, than have me tell you which guy is the boyfriend of choice in this book.) Kate herself is well developed, if sometimes a bit of a stereotype, and her grandmother is a really fun character. I really enjoy her.

I did like the narration for the book, but as I mentioned – when the book got slow, I just couldn’t keep going at the narrator’s pace and had to have the ability to skim it. I’ll certainly be open to trying more of Kate Rudd’s reads in the future, however.

Final rating for this one: probably a B minus. Good, but not great, and I’m not sold on continuing with the series. I think I heard rumors of a movie, though, and that could be worth it, depending on the screenplay.

52 Books 2014: Week 23

A Spark Unseen
Sharon Cameron
(historical fantasy, steampunk-ish)

A while ago I read and reviewed THE DARK UNWINDING, book one in this series. (Where “read” means “listened to the audio book read quite competently by Fiona Hardingham”.) So I was excited to read (again with the audio version) the sequel. However, though I have enjoyed it, something was missing from that first book.

I think that a large part of what was missing – and this is no spoiler – is that the interaction between Katherine and Lane was one of my favorite parts. And when the book starts off with Katherine denying that Lane is dead, it’s a given that this interaction won’t be a highlight in the same way. Another highlight was playtime with Mr. Tully. And given that he’s supposed to be dead (not a spoiler, really, as this happens within the first few chapters), playtime doesn’t get seen much either.

Now, there will be some spoilers in the rest of the review after this paragraph. A few more spoiler-free bits, though: I still liked the characters in this book. Cameron does a great job of developing new characters that are as deep as the ones in the prior book, even going as far as taking minor characters from the first book and developing them further in the sequel. I did enjoy getting to know some of the book one bit players more in this book. Some of the new characters (Henri, the DuPonts) were great, too. And getting to know our heroine (plural if you include Mary, and it’s hard not to) more in SPARK as well. I do love the way Cameron writes people. And the tone of the book still feels appropriate for its time and place.

And now for the spoilers. First of all, Lane. As you probably guessed, he is NOT dead, and Katherine does find him before the end of the book. (It took longer than I’d expected, though I did figure out when he appeared before she did.) And there were some great scenes between the two of them.

And then there’s Ben, aka the villain from the first book. Also not dead. Also reappears, though in this case earlier than I expected. And with some revelations that I did not expect as to his parentage. I like the way his story plays out in this one.

So, the parts that I enjoyed the most from book 1 – the Lane/Katherine interaction and playtime – didn’t show up until near the end of the book, and then they weren’t allowed as much free-rein as before. But, when they did show up, they were great. And the story itself was good, and the audio version was wonderful. The narration fits the story perfectly.

I do like this book. It was very fun, if not quite as good as the first. I can’t tell from this if there will be a third, but if there is I will probably buy it too.

52 Books 2014: Week 22

Dark Frost (Mythos Academy #3)
Jennifer Estep
(YA, contemporary fantasy, mythology)

This third book in the Mythos Academy series took my less than a day to finish. Mostly because I started reading it after dinner and didn’t put it down until I was done, delaying my bedtime and putting everything else off until the following day. But it was a great read, and worth it.

I think this is my favorite of these books so far. It had the least repetition of books 2 & 3, but that is to be expected. It also had more twists than I expected, which is always nice for me. I was able to predict more of books 1 & 2 than I predicted of book 3, and the surprises do keep the pages turning.

I also loved that Gwen is more into her role as Nike’s champion now. She might not always understand why she was chosen, and she might not always like it, but she is trying to do some good with the gifts the goddess gave her. I just hope that the thing she was able to do with her gift at the end of the book doesn’t set her back too much in future books. (New twists to abilities have a way of doing that in this genre.)

What else did I enjoy… I love the way that other characters are behaving like teenagers in this book (in the whole series too, but this book more so than the others so far) and not just like superheroes. I like that Daphne is behaving moody enough to be a believable teenaged girl. I like that the boys are believable as teenaged boys. And I like that Gwen has a variety of friends by this book.

Also, I enjoyed the stuff with Nott. I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers, but I’ll just say that was some of my favorite stuff from this book. And the resolution to it worked really well.

As the third book in a six book series, the end of this one marks the mid-point in the series. And it’s suitably dark. (Not too much darkness, which is good because it fits the tone of the series. But it’s dark enough to work.) I look forward to seeing how the next three books continue.

52 Books 2014: Week 21

(Late again. Sorry. Tomorrow’s 10 on Tuesday post will give you an idea why, though.)

Kiss of Frost (Mythos Academy #2)
Jennifer Estep
(YA, mythology, contemporary fantasy)

This second book in the Mythos Academy series is just as fun as the first. Perhaps more so, since the main character isn’t bemoaning the fact that she’s stuck in this new school with “warrior whiz kids” where she doesn’t belong. Yes, there is still some thought that she might not belong here quite as much as the others, but she’s at least starting to accept her place in the mythological world that she’s been thrown into. (Quite a nice change from some other series I could name — but won’t — in which the main character never stops complaining.)

I think I enjoyed this one more than the first one, in part because of that fledgling acceptance. I also enjoyed the wolf who shows up here and there during the book. (You will too, trust me.) And as in the first book, I figured out some of the mysteries and had others blindside me. I suspect this will be a common thread in the series.

Favorite parts… I like seeing Gwen develop more friendships. I like seeing her start to figure out more of what her magic is capable of. And I like seeing a more human side to some of the professors.

Least favorite parts… the writing is still a little teen-oriented for me. (But since I’m not a teen, and this was written for a YA audience, this is not meant to be a knock on the book. It’s written for its target audience, and I happen to enjoy it as well. I think any adult who likes the genre and is willing to remember this will enjoy the books too.) I also have to remind myself that many teens are more into the sex and alcohol thing than I was at that age. There is quite a bit of it going on in this series, though Estep does make comments here and there about why it’s more prevalent at Mythos than at Gwen’s prior school. (And the reasoning makes sense, but I was rather prudish in school and so this is nothing like my personal high school experience.) I also have to remember that the Mythos Academy ages span into college-age students (or at least I think they do), and the kids’ activities do fit in a lot better with what I experienced in college.

But, all told, this is a really fun series and I will be continuing it. (As you’ll see on Friday, I’ve already read book 3. I read about 1/3 – 1/2 of this book and all of book 3 in one evening. They’re fun reads.)