Monday, May 31, 2010

Book Review: The Outside Boy

When I told some of my Irish friends I was reading a book about the Irish tinkers (or travellers or Pavees, as they preferred to be called), they all pretty much scoffed and complained about them. I had never heard of the nomadic group before reading The Outside Boy by Jeanine Cummins. But I didn't get any of the negative connotations of these individuals from the novel.

Cummins beautifully tells the story of Christy, an 11-year-old "tinker" who travels across Ireland with his dad, grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. Christy's mother died 7 minutes after giving birth to him, and it's always been something that haunted him.

Within the first 50 pages, Christy's beloved Grandda also dies, and after Christy's cousin Martin sets fire to Grandda's wagon in an attempt to "free" their dead patriarch, Granny decides it's time to stay in one place for a little while so Christy and Martin can go to school and receive Communion; Granny is sure Martin has the devil in him.

After the two young boys are finally accepted into a school and the family temporarily leaves their wagons in one place for a while, Christy gets to live the life he's always wanted to. He's so excited to start school, where he starts crushing on a girl he calls Finnuala Whippet.

While also in town, Christy starts to have more and more questions about his mother, and why his dad never talks about her. After his grandfather's wagon burns, Christy finds a strange picture of his mother. He starts on a quest to find out more about this woman he's been grieving for all his life.

For someone who's never been an 11-year-old boy, Cummins voices Christy beautifully. He is a wonderful character; a good boy with a good heart who just wants to find out who he is and tackle these amazing issues no one his age should have to while also dealing with school bullies and his first kiss. Cummins tugs on the reader's heartstrings during Christy's search to find out more about his mother; I teared up more than once.

Whether reading inside or outside, you'll find yourself not being able to put down The Outside Boy.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book from the publisher.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trouble at "The Office"

If you know me well, you know I've been obsessed with The Office for over 3 years now. On Thursday nights, you'll find me in front of the TV, tuned into NBC to watch my favorite characters. I secretly (or not so secretly) wish Jim Halpert was real so he could find me and marry me. I've even had The Office desk calendar at my cube for the past two years, and I delight in reading a fun new Office quote every day.

But this current 2009-2010 Office season has, frankly, sucked. And I'm not quite sure why. Except for the wedding episode, every episode has either been so-so or downright bad. What happened to my friends? Are they just not funny anymore? Or are the writers putting them in weird scenarios?

Multiple storylines this year did not go over well. What was the point of having Jim and Michael be co-managers? That went no where -- as did Dwight and Ryan's plot to take down Jim, something that could have been potentially really funny. I didn't like Sabre coming in and buying Dunder Mifflin, a company we've had loyalty to over the past six seasons. I get the writers were trying to reflect how the business world is now with our bad economy. But it just made me sad and brought the show down, not make me connect with the realness of the situation.

Another thing the writers did this season was make likable characters unlikeable. Stanley having an affair bothered me. But even worse, Jim and Pam, the two most lovable, normal characters in the show, are starting to seem unlikeable and even a little annoying. I can't put my finger on what it is exactly. I don't think the show "jumped the shark" by having the pair get married, but something about them changed. Even the birth episode was not that special or exciting in my book -- an episode that should have been just as funny and touching as the wedding episode.

Another problem this year was Michael. We all know Michael says and does stupid things, and puts himself into awful positions. At times this can make for cringe-worthy but interesting TV, like when Michael promises local kids ("Scott's Tots") that he will pay for their college tuition or when he dates a married woman.

But when Michael does things that seem downright mean, like spreading rumors about people in the office, dumping Pam's mom because she's 58 or refusing to let Phyllis play Santa, it just makes him look like a horrible person, not someone who tries but just doesn't get it.

This season didn't have to many continuos plotlines or problems, which was reflected in the season finale. The only thing that keeps us wondering is if Jo will bring Holly back to the Scranton branch like Michael asked.

We can only hope that, if Steve Carell leaves the show next year, NBC decides to end it as well. Even though the supporting characters on The Office are superb, I can't imagine a show without Carell. But, bottom line... and I never thought I'd say this... but The Office just ain't what it used to be. Maybe it's time to end the show before it totally loses all of the magic it used to have.