16 June 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: Contemporary YA
Rating: 5 Stars

The Fault In Our Stars had been on my to-read list for quite a while. I hesitated to read it because I do not really read contemporary YA and because of the hype surrounding the book. I think I owned the book for several months before I finally decided to read it earlier this year. I knew that I wanted to read it before the movie came out (which is actually my impetus for even doing a review for a book I read months ago) so I finally decided to give it a chance.

I liked Hazel from the start, but when I met Augustus, I was totally smitten. Not in a swoony "I want to date you" kind of smitten, but more of a "he says such awesome things" smitten. I think every quote I love from the book belongs to Gus. From the famous "I fear oblivion" to "My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations," Gus has the best lines in the book. Well, there is one from Hazel, but I will save that for later.

I was really drawn into Hazel and Gus's story; it felt real, it was believable. Okay, so maybe taking your sort-of dying girlfriend to Amsterdam as your final wish was a little far-fetched, but I went with it, because what happened when they were there was not. The emotions and feelings were real. I am not ashamed to admit that I cry when I read, and when Gus confesses to Hazel that his cancer is back of course I cried. And I cried several more times before the book ended (and thankfully it did have an ending, because I was afraid it was going to follow in the footsteps of An Imperial Affliction and end in the middle of a sentence or something).

"Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books ... which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal."

This book somehow made it into my heart. It stayed in my head for days. And while this book, for me anyway, is not described by either feeling above, I do think it is a book that people should read. Before seeing the movie.

The book also reminded me of when I volunteered at Kid's Village (Give Kids the World). If you do not know, it is a village set up for families of kids who want to visit Disney/Orlando as their final wish. The families are allowed to come and stay for absolutely no charge. They stay in a villa with a kitchen, a living room, and a few bedrooms (that depends on family needs). There is a pool with access for wheelchairs (well, the entire village is accessible), an ice cream parlor, a castle with an arcade and games, and a train that travels around the village. I am sure I am forgetting some other aspects of the village, but just know that it is a place where families can escape for a week and not have to worry about anything. I began volunteering in middle school. I would go on Saturday mornings and prepare the villas for families by picking out several toys and games from the prize pantry and sticking the fridge with items like milk, bread, peanut butter, and other food and snacks (I remember Lunchables being one of them). By the time I was in high school, I was volunteering in the castle, the ice cream parlor, and as either Mayor Clayton or his assistant, visiting the children and tucking them into bed at night. I loved volunteering there, and it gave me an appreciation for organizations like the Make a Wish Foundation that are able to provide that for families. So although Gus makes fun of Hazel for wasting her wish on Disney World, there are many families for which that wish was certainly not a waste. When I worked in the theme parks (and yes, at one point I worked for Disney, Sea World, and Universal) even though it was part of our training to go out of our way whenever we did see the kids with their GKTW buttons pinned proudly on their chests (not to call them out or anything, just to treat them extra special), my volunteer experience gave me a slightly different perspective.

I do not give out five stars very often. But The Fault In Our Stars earned every one of those stars.

21 May 2014

There is an Enterprise shaped void in my life

My Dad was a Trekkie. It kind of embarrassed me when I was younger. But then Star Trek: The Next Generation came out and since we only had one TV and we watched whatever my Dad watched, I started to watch it. Obviously a lot of what went on in that show went over my head. I just remember having a crush on Wesley Crusher. I also remember wearing a headband over my eyes like Geordi. I could not remember any actual plot lines, and probably most of what went on in every episode went way over my head.

I did not think much of Star Trek after TNG ended. I never watched Deep Space Nine and I don't think I even heard of Voyager. I never saw the Original Series. I did see a few of the movies that came out in the 90's, but mainly for the experience of going to the movies with my Dad, not because I really wanted to see them.

And then I married a Trekkie. I never thought that the phrase "you will marry your Dad" would apply to something like that. After we got married and combined our DVD collections, I still had no interest in the shelf that housed the complete series of the three most recent incarnations of the franchise.

And then my Dad passed away. I helped to write his epitaph. And because the Navy and Star Trek were such integral parts of his life, I came up with "Boldly Gone On His Last Voyage." Seeing it on his headstone still brings me chills and I cannot explain why.

One day, about two years ago, I was browsing Netflix and saw that Star Trek: The Original Series was available for streaming. I decided it was about time that I sat down and watched what both my father and my husband loved.

I will admit I watched it slightly out of order. We began with the movies. I think missed a lot from the first few movies because I had not watched the series yet. But we watched all of the movies (I am NOT including the JJ Abrams reboot in this). I enjoyed them far more than I thought that I would. I don't really have a favorite, but some of my favorite lines and moments did come from The Voyage Home (despite the plot about WHALES). So then it was time to start watching the show.

I of course began at the beginning. I watched the pilot. The original pilot. The one that did not have William Shatner as Captain James T Kirk. I almost stopped. But no, I was committed at this point. And I continued. And I found myself looking forward to Star Trek nights. The show was so much better than I ever gave it credit for. Sure, the technology was lacking, so special effects and set design were laughable by today's standards. But then I thought - this is a show about space that began BEFORE WE HAD EVEN LANDED ON THE MOON. When I put it into the framework, I was a bit more impressed. I could even look past some of the sexism and racism and other -isms that plagued the show because I could tell that there was an attempt at progress (and again, in a time where civil rights were still in question for many). Honestly the series ended much too soon for me.

I was lucky in that by the time I was ready to start on The Next Generation, it was the anniversary and it was about to be released on Blu Ray and select movie theatres were having a special showing of the pilot, another episode, and bonus material. We pre-ordered our tickets and waited to see it on the big screen. And this is where I was really impressed. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard stole my heart! I could not wait for the second season on the big screen, I had to watch this series as quickly as possible (although we did go see the second season event in the theatre as well). The series was far better than I remember it from when I was a kid. I admit I still had a soft spot in my heart for Wesley Crusher, but I was not as smitten. Instead my attention shifted to William Riker (bearded of course). This show was amazing. I began to look forward to Klingon episodes. I still don't know what it is that draws me to Klingons, but they have remained one of my favorite races from the franchise. If I ever did Star Trek cosplay, I would definitely be a Klingon. I also looked forward to episodes with Q, pain the the ass that he was. Seven seasons was far too short for this series and I could have easily watched it for another seven. I have too many favorite episodes, and even though the perennial fan favorite "The Inner Light" is actually not at the top of the list, upon further reflection I have come to agree that it is one of the more important episodes of the entire franchise. This has remained my favorite series of the franchise.

Deep Space Nine was probably my least favorite of all of the series. I loved the character development, but I could not really get into the characters. I think the saving grace of that entire series were Major Kira. I was drawn to her and to the plight of the Bjoran people. Maybe it is the rebel in me, but I could not help but root for the Bjorans. I even appreciated how spiritual the show was. It was very refreshing. I am also a big fan of Jadzia Dax. I liked the show, and among the standout episodes for me were: the one where Cisco is a science fiction writer but thinks he is crazy; the one where Cisco goes back and has to "sacrifice" himself for a rebellion so he doesn't disrupt the timeline; and the one where they play baseball.

And finally we arrive at Voyager. I was very skeptical about watching it because I was so unimpressed by DS9, but I was committed. And I was so surprised. First of all, Katherine Janeway is a badass. Really, blowing up your guaranteed way home and not knowing if you will ever make it home but determined to try anyway? And I loved that Voyager brought it back to the original mission of Star Trek - to explore new worlds, new life, and new civilizations. To be alone in a distant part of the universe but keep your head and keep to a prime directive and starfleet protocols even when there was no one to answer to if you did not. Very inspiring. I loved seeing her make the tough choices and sticking to her philosophy. I also loved when they finally met the Borg. Yes, the borg are still the enemy, but at least we get more insight into who they are and why they do what they do. And Seven of Nine joining the cast was awesome. Loved her so much. As we got closer to the end of the series, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to see how they got home (of course they were going to get home!) but I was not ready to say goodbye. When I did watch the final episode a few weeks ago, I had very mixed feelings. THAT was how they got home? Really? And the way the show officially ended? No, I wanted more! I was not ready to say goodbye. I know it is up to my imagination to see how they all adjusted back to life on Earth, but I wanted to see it. 

It has been about three weeks since I watched the final episode. And now I have an Enterprise shaped void in my life. Through this journey, I have become a proud Trekkie. I am my father's daughter after all.