Monday, December 28, 2015

Between Books - Disney by the Numbers

Disney by the Numbers: Facts and Figures About the Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Resorts by Anthony M. Caselnova is a mathematical tour of the Walt Disney World Resort.  Caselnova takes readers through every theme park, hotel, restaurant and more within Walt Disney World providing numerically based facts of the attractions and locations being examined.  Numbers can include ride capacity, tax information, important dates and many more.  

Statistics fans will enjoy this book and find the facts leading to more thoughts and questions.  I have personally made Tom Sawyer Island my standard for capacity questions, and the island is not doing well when compared to the hourly capacity of some many other things.  That is the fun of the book, being able to create your own baselines for exploring the park and comparing apples to apples and apples to oranges within the resort.  

However, you cannot baseline everything as statistics are not consistent.  For example, not every location includes a property value and tax paid figure.  So it is not possible to compare all hotels and restaurants for tax purposes.  And to do deeper comparative dives I wish there was more consistency in the types of numbers shared.

Another issue is the occasional error.  5.8 million hot dogs are sold each year, but 6 million are consumed.  Were 200,000 given out for free?  A bigger error is in the apple strudel department.  The amount of strudel served is represented in both a year and a day.  But the number of slices in the same.  It appears to be a simple error, but perhaps in the case of hot dogs and strudel they should not have been duplicated.

Disney By the Numbers will likely intrigue the mathematically minded Disney fan.  And those of us having problems adding one plus two will probably find some interesting facts within its pages.  I would recommend that one pick up the lower priced Kindle edition as it will not be everyone's happy place and the electronic format provides easy quick search and reference.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Lost Stars

I have been told several times that Star Wars: Lost Stars is the best of the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens".  And ironically it was the last installment to hit the Between Books shelf.  The journey to this film has had its downs with few ups.  Would Star Wars: Lost Stars be the shining light in this literary preparation?

Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree are two youngsters from the Outer Rim planet of Jelucan with nothing in common including culture, history and societal stature.  But they do share a love of flying and a desire to join the Empire as members of the Navy.  The two bond over their hope to abandon their world to explore the galaxy and make it a better place under the Imperial banner.  The two are selected to join an Imperial academy and begin their journey as Imperial citizens.  Though their friendship begins to fracture under the strain of Imperial service.  Eventually, Thane will turn his back on the Empire and eventually become a Rebel after witnessing the horrors the Empire can bring to a world.  Ciena however driven by her personal honor remains in Imperial service despite her strong and evolving feelings for Thane.  The drama of their relationship plays out in the background of the original Star Wars trilogy, including Hoth and Endor, and beyond the movies.  Can the two survive to discover what their relationship can truly be?

I loved Star Wars: Lost Stars.  Honestly I think it helped that the story starts with human characters in a simple to describe world.  This gives the reader time to get to know the new characters as developed by Claudia Gray before they take bigger steps into the galaxy.  Basically, I felt like I knew Thane and Ciena before more complex worlds and aliens were introduced.  And I came to like and worry about them.  By the time they arrived at the academy I was invested and after they left their friends were my friends.  I found myself tense over simple things like school assignments.  Events like watching their roles in the Battle of Hoth made me worry about the potential damage to their relationship.  Really this book is driven by their relationship, and I really enjoyed it.

And as I talked this over with another fan it became clear to me that Thane and Ciena's relationship and growing love is more authentic than others in the universe including Padme and Anakin.  Thane and Ciena's relationship is based on respect, friendship and equality.  It is not wish fulfillment but a true growing evolving relationship that we should all aspire towards.  

Like all of the books in the "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" small glimpses to the new movie are mentioned.  I am pretty sure I know where the crashed Star Destroyer from the trailer came from and even who commanded it.  And through our characters eyes we get to witness how the Rebellion responds to their victories and the Empire to their defeats.  While this book does not tell me about The First Order, it is made clear the Empire still had life to it.

Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Gray is a young adult book that adults will also enjoy.  For someone like me it shows events I know well from another lens.  Honestly, I now feel for some of those Imperials who died with the destruction of the Death Star since Gray shows us how many Imperials were simply people look those we know in our galaxy.  And my expectations of what I might see in Star Wars: The Force Awakens have been built with two powers struggling to command the galaxy on more equal footing.  But in the end, it is just a really good book.  It is the best of "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and best of all it is something we really need more of, a really good Star Wars book!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Between Books - Moving Target

The "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" continues with a Princess Leia story.  After reading stories about Han Solo and Luke Skywalker written for kids I expected Leia's story to be my least favorite, because I liked the other two heroes more as a kid.  Would Leia's story excite me for the movie or would my low expectations be met?

Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry finds Princess Leia in a dilemma.  Being a former Imperial Senator and a head of state, the Empire has put a high price on her head.  And she is determined to do something to save her love, Han Solo, from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt.  With the Rebels receiving plans of a new Death Star she must decided which crisis she will address.  She chooses the Rebellion andhelps plan a daring attack before the new Death Star can be brought online.  In this case it is determined that she would serve as a suitable distraction to keep the Empire from interfering with the converging of the Rebel fleet before they make an attack on the Imperial super weapon near Endor.  Leia and a rag tag group of rebels attempt to recruit resistance in a backwater area of the galaxy, knowing the whole time any volunteers would find themselves captured and likely killed.  While on the run from an Imperial pursuer, Leia balances duty and what is right.  

Moving Target is my absolute favorite of the three kids books to ready fans for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  It is much more action packed than the other two books, Luke spent a lot of time training.  And it is faster more intense as Leia and her team move from planet to planet.  Sometimes it is scary and definitely the story is tense.  We also get some great character development, which makes me want Princess Leia to be in a key Rebel position.  She is the leader we want and need.  She always exceeds our exceptions.  Her crew as a group works well, especially since story devices and tensions we expect are used successfully so we can understand their motives quickly.  

There are solid tie-ins to other books.  The use of a ship is Star Wars: Shattered Empire becomes quickly clear.  Honestly, it may spoil this plot a tiny bit.  Additionally, the story does a great job of serving as an introduction to Return of the Jedi for the three people who have not seen it yet.   Moving Target has Easter Eggs that fans will love.  And to get ready for the movie, the Epilogue makes it clear that new live-action hero Poe Dameron is dedicated and skilled though also rash.  

Moving Target by Castellucci and Fry is fast paced, action filled, and contains great character development.  Princess Leia is a leader the Rebellion needs.  Though written for kids, adults will also enjoy this installment. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Between Books - The Weapon of a Jedi

It is less than a month to Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Betweenland is all excited.  So all things, okay many things, are keeping me on “The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens” including Between Books.

The Weapon of a Jedi: A Luke Skywalker Adventure by Jason Fry is targeted at getting young people ready for the film.  The book starts with a Force Awakens era pilot hearing a story of Luke Skywalker as told by C-3PO.  The promised tale covers the first time Luke drew his lightsaber in battle.  The story flashes back to Luke, C-3PO and RD-D2 on a secret mission for the Rebellion after the Battle of Yavin.  Luke however is drawn by the force to abandon his mission and journey to the planet Devaron so he can become better acquainted with the Force.  Luke has to face off against Imperial and local threats while continuing his Jedi self-study.

The Weapon of a Jedi is clear, easy to read and a little dull.  Luke does face off against some threats.  But much of the action is Luke in some training scenes.  It is a good story for a 10 to 12 year old, I know I would have eaten it up.  Though I am concerned one can read the story to say if you get a strong hunch maybe you should abandon an important task.  Older readers will probably find their minds wandering.  I was frustrated that the illustrations by Phil Noto were misplaced and spoiled the coming twists at some portions.  I do not feel I really got much of a hint to the future movie.

The Weapon of a Jedi is a fine book for young readers set in the galaxy far far away. The book would acquaint people better with Luke and his relationship with the Force.  And young readers will have a better understanding of how he became a Jedi with some light action.  Older readers would likely prefer Heir to the Jedi instead.  

Monday, December 7, 2015

Between Books - On the Disney Beat

On the Disney Beat: Over 30 years of Chronicling the People and Places in Walt’s World by Chuck Schmidt collects the author’s recollections of covering Disney as both a newspaper reporter and blogger.  Schmidt provides an overview of his journalistic career starting as a copy boy at the Staten Island Advance, a position on the bottom of the ladder which would eventually lead to positions as reporter and editor.  Serving as Sunday news editor, Schmidt decided to write travel features on Walt Disney World.  These articles would kick off meaningful relationships with Disney Legends including Charlie Ridgeway and Marty Sklar and executives such as Jay Rasulo.  On the Disney Beat is a result of these relationships and interactions with chapters including profiles and interviews of these and other Disney personalities such as Tony Baxter and Bob Gurr along with descriptions of press events that he attended.  The book also contains images of some of the items given to Schmidt at press events. 

For me that piece that I found the most interesting was the press events.  I had read about these events from the Disney side in Charlie Ridgeway’s memoir.  But here Schmidt takes us into these events on the side of the participant.  It becomes clear fast that these events took great care to pamper the attendees.  And it becomes equally clear that these events created a great amount of good will.  Schmidt takes us beyond the design of these publicity events to an understanding of their effectiveness.  We also get to know Ridgeway and his spirit through one who interacted with him, and with effectiveness of his personality shines outward.  

The other “star” of the book for me is Marty Sklar.  Sklar along with being a featured personality in the book also wrote the “Forward”.  Through Schmidt the reader gets to experience a growing relationship and friendship with the Disney Legend.  And it is clear that Schmidt has great respect for Sklar.  The Legend’s personality feels generous and fun-loving as the reader dives into the Sklar focused chapters.  

Another enjoyable account is how Schmidt came to learn of a shared connection with Rasulo.  This connection leads to an interview with the executive.  And one has to wonder if you could still setup an interview so easily with a high level company executive today.

On the Disney Beat is clear and easy to read.  It does provide a variety of topics with Schmidt’s passion for Disney being the heart of the book.  Personally, I would suggest picking up a Kindle copy just to save a few dollars.  And for me it is the kind of book that would be easy to read on a phone since one can easily drop in and out of chapters due to the variety. 

Chuck Schmidt in On the Disney Beat gives us a look into Disney publicity events as a participant.  And he details how he became a friendly with a number of Disney personalities.  In many ways readers will either be jealous of the adventure or follow along vicariously through Schmidt as he interacts with many of our heroes.  

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Between Books - Star Wars: Shattered Empire

Star Wars: Shattered Empire by Greg Rucka with art by Marco Checchetto, Angel Unzueta and Emilio Laiso is the installment of "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" that I was anticipating the most.  But I was warned I needed to set my expectations lower.  And honestly some contributions to "Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens" disappointed me, so I started the read with concern that this Marvel comic would let me down.

As the Battle of Endor end we meet a young couple, pilot Lieutenant Shara Bey and Commando Sergeant Kes Dameron.  The married couple finds themselves assigned separate missions as the Rebels seek to communicate a simple message to the Imperials after the destruction of the second death star, you lost.  Yet, the Imperials fail to understand their fate.  While the couple's missions are generally different, the two have a habit of finding each other in the heat of conflict.  The two also support key Rebel leaders including Princess Leia, General Han Solo, General Lando Calrissian, and Commander Luke Skywalker.  Readers are left with a tension as the couple struggle to find time for their future while staring at a conflict that appears to have no end.  The volume also includes the first issues of the classic Marvel Star Wars series and the more recent Princess Leia mini-series.

I read Star Wars: Shattered Empire in a collection, so I got to enjoy the story in one read instead of having to wait for the four separate installments.  I think I benefited from this, as I did not have to reacquaint myself with Bey and Dameron when a new issue hit my hand.  I am inclned to like Greg Rucka writing, and the writing generally met my expectations.  Though it may not have exceeded.  Overall this has been one of my favorite installments in "The Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens."  While the story does share with Aftermath the use of original characters, Rucka and his art team make new to me heroes work by having them interact with original trilogy heroes.  And of course, visuals help.  Since I have the art to set the background, I find that my mind allows me to be in the Star Wars universe without feeling a need to force itself to imagine and without the frustration of wondering if I got the image wrong.  My mind really struggles when it worries that I am not properly framing Star Wars. 

Star Wars: Shattered Empire was successful for me.  Rucka sets the tone that the war against the Empire was far from over after Return of the Jedi.  And I am pretty sure Han and Leia were leaning on each other in one scene.  While it was not the best Star Wars story I have ever read, it was very solid and helped prepare me for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.