Monday, January 30, 2012

Peaches and Shakespeare and Dickens and stuff

First the books.

2) James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl. We did this as a read-aloud on a family camping trip last weekend. It was perfect for all five kids--as well as parents. This is a classic, but it's one I'd never read. My all-time favorite kids' book is The Twits, so I don't know what took me so long to read this. I love the magic, but when it began, I'll have to admit I was a bit dismayed. "You could go any direction with this, Mr. Dahl, and you go with giant talking insects," I sighed. However, the end product was a lot of fun, and the humor kept the masses laughing out loud all the way to the mountains and back.

3) Juliet by Anne Fortier. Have I ever loved a book this much? Possibly not. I sighed, laughed, squealed, gasped (at least ten times at the shocking twists), worried, and just marveled at the sheer genius of this book. It's a double plot, one in modern day Siena and another in 1340 Siena. I won't spoil anything, but it involves two Juliets, one now and the other Shakespeare's source-Juliet. It's woven with grace and incredible tension in both the plot elements and the relationships. I've never been a huge Romeo & Juliet devotee, but by the end of this I was in love with Romeo. And I almost never fall in love with heroes of books. Seriously. The. Best. Many thanks to my friend Colleen for telling me about this book.

And now for the movies:

2) Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer. This was a family movie night. Judy wants to have the best summer with her friends, but they have to leave town, so she's bummed. Her aunt comes to stay, and things liven up. There's a Bigfoot sighting and some tightrope walking. I haven't read the books, but the script wasn't cliche, and it was great for the kids. I'm easily entertained, and this one wasn't hard to enjoy.

3) One For the Money. Oh, my, how I loved this movie. Janet Evanovich created these characters, and it's easy to see why Stephanie Plum is so popular. The ditzy, desperate bounty hunter and her cocky, desperate quarry? I loved them. I loved the seedy setting, the cars, the side characters, the costumes, all of it. I'd watch this again. In the theater. For $18.

4) Oliver! Okay. I have a vague recollection of seeing this movie in about 1977, but I don't think I'll count it since I was five. Is that legal for this 50/50 thing? I'm saying yes. But I'm saying NO to Oliver! What a dreary mess. How can they put so many excellent songs into such a grim story? I don't think Dickens's tale was this much of a downer. Again, we did this for family movie night, but I have to echo my 7 yo daughter's assessment: "Ugh! This started out as a great movie, but it ended up as a killing movie!" Pretty much. And worse, I went on imdb and read up on the lives of the child stars. Never do that. It's grimmer than Dickens.

5) Something Borrowed This was a chick-lit book turned into a movie. As such, it doesn't fit a genre. It's not a comedy (too much relationship drama for that). It's not a romance, really. The characters are all so flawed that there's almost no one to root for. The basic plot is Girl A falls for Guy B during law school, but doesn't think he could like her back. Her BFF (self-absorbed snot) accidentally steals guy B, and now it's 6 years down the road and BFF and B are engaged and Girl A is the maid of honor, and all that. But Girl A spends a lot of time figuring out that she's still in love with Guy B and he might be in love back, and they spend a hot, lovey night together, which creates all kinds of tension. By the end there's been so much betrayal that no one deserves a happily ever after. My husband despised this movie. Haha, I thought it was quite chicky, but again, I'm easily entertained and found it interesting, as the BFF reminded me of someone I knew and it was fascinating to see her on screen portrayal.

Pretty much, yeah. I watch twice as many movies as I read books. I'll be done with 50 movies by March.

Dolphin Tale

Should I be embarrassed that I watched Dolphin Tale? It's a "feel-good, family movie." I think this kind of film is called a three-generation picture, one that kids, parents and grandparents can watch together.

The film was inspired by the true story of a dolphin, later named Winter, who was found injured and washed up on the beach. She later had her tail amputated. Of course, right from the beginning we knew it would have a happy ending, because Winter played herself. It was predictable and a little sappy at times, but still, it was a story about creativity, teamwork, and ingenuity in overcoming great odds. Really, what's wrong with that? I like watching the animals. It reminds me that I missed my calling to work with wildlife.

It's a fun movie. The kids, in particular, did a great job. It was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. For more on the Clearwater Marine Aquarium or to see Winter's webcam, visit

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How to Train Your Dragon and Real Steel

Book: How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

Recommended to me by Annalisa, and I LOVE the movie. I liked the book a lot, and it was different than the movie, and since it is a kid’s book it’s an easy read. Looking forward to more of the series. Whenever I read a book about dragons, I compare it to my longtime favorite dragon book, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede. What do you think dragons would be like? Are they ferocious creatures that will destroy anything in their path? Are they nice, misunderstood creatures that just need to eat a lot? Are they intelligent? Can they talk to people? Another dragon book that I’ve liked is Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley, and I know there are others and I just can’t remember all of them. Do you like dragon stories? What are your favorites?

Movie: Real Steel

My husband figured I would watch this movie with him because it has Hugh Jackman and he might take off his shirt. So I did, and he did, and that was all good. As for the rest of the movie: Futuristic boxing robots, Human trafficking, Typical sports movie plot template, Special father-son and robot bonding. It was okay. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Zero Day

This is a suspense/msytery/nuclear terrorist novel, written by David Baldacci. Our hero, John Puller, is an investigator for the Army's Criminal Investigative Division. He earned a chest full of medals for combat duty in various parts of the world before becoming more of a detective. But he can still handle himself in the field - dispatching bad guys right and left. This isn't great literature, of course, but it's well written and I love this kind of book. He is sent to West Virginia to investigate the murder of an Army officer and his family and becomes involved in a much more sinister plot involving nuclear materials. The rural town where the murder took place is in a region where coal is king and there is a lot of discussion about coal extraction methods and the environment. It's always seemed wrong to me that beautiful places like West Virginia have to be destroyed - along with the health of the people who live and work there - in order for the rest of us to have electricity, heat, etc. Should be a better way!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Most literate city is . . .

As encouragement to all my DC metro area friends, I thought I'd let you know that Washington, DC is at the top of the list that ranks America's most literate cities. WooHoo! CNN has the story.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre was one of my favorite books I've read in high school.  I loved the tone and storyline of it.  If you haven't read this classic already, do it!!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Impassable Wilderness

Prue lives outside Portland with her family. Since she was a baby she's been warned not to go near the Impassable Wilderness. One day, she is at the park with her Sibley Guide and her baby brother, Mac, when suddenly Mac is abducted by a murder of crows. This is the beginning of Wildwood, written by Colin Meloy (singer/songwriter for the band the Decemberists) and illustrated by his wife Carson Ellis. Despite being over 500 pages long, this book is written at about a 5th to 6th grade reading level.

On the whole, it was an enjoyable book. I'm pretty good at willing suspension of disbelief, so I had no problem with the abduction by crows, oblivious parents, or a forest full of bandits, talking animals and mystics who talk to trees, just outside of Portland. It's Meloy's first novel, which accounts for some of the times during my reading when I was a little dissatisfied with how things were going (novel writing is difficult work, at least for most of us). I also had trouble with the two main characters, Prue and her friend Curtis always believing evil people who were lying to them. But that wasn't a problem with the book so much as it was a problem with me and my recognition that I would probably be too trusting and gullible myself.

The novel has a clear environmentalist bent that I find appealing, especially since it acknowledged, figuratively and literally, the evilness of invasive ivy. I also liked that the readers, who are probably mostly kids, are not talked down to. They will probably learn a few new vocabulary words while reading. I have no problem with a writer using "smart" words that his readers might not know provided that those words are the "right" ones for the situation. If you've ever written something, you'll know what I mean by that. I think Meloy employed the occasional "smart" word very well.

There were a few small plot annoyances and I didn't care for how Curtis's story ended. But, I think that was just a setup for the sequel. Yes, there will be a sequel, and I will read it.

This would probably be a fun book for families to read together. For more information, you can visit the book's very pleasant website at:

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reading quote

Here is a quote about reading to inspire you.
Reading makes me feel I've accomplished something, learned something, become a better person . . . Reading is bliss. -- Nora Ephron

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Puppy Diaries

The Puppy Diaries’ Raising a dog named Scout, by Jill Abramson
Abramson is a New York Times editor and her writing reflects this. It isn’t overblown and sentimental, so when I tell you that I teared up several times, you’ll know that she really gets to the heart of what it means to love a dog! I didn’t want to read a book about someone who had lost a dog, because I can’t really enjoy it if I know the dog is going to die in the end. (Marley and Me – great book, but so sad!) This one seemed safe because it was about Scout’s first year of life – not her last! However, if you don’t want to know about Jill’s previous dog, skip that chapter! Scout is a pure bred golden retriever, but so many of the things you learn about dogs and their behavior apply to any dog – even my pug/terrier mix shelter dog. Abramson shares her research on food, training, exercise, grooming, socialization and offers her opinions on the best methods and systems…..everything from puppy treats to leashes. Scout isn’t a perfect dog, but she is loved and loving. You forgive her faults, and she forgives yours! Recommended for dog lovers and for people who are considering adding a puppy to their household. Abramson really tells it like it is!

Double Feature

It was double feature night at our house Saturday. The first movie was The Guard. I hadn’t read anything about it, so I didn’t have any idea what to expect. Brendan Gleeson is a policeman in a small Irish village and Don Cheadle is an FBI agent who has come over from the states to investigate and foil a huge drug operation. The Irish accents were really thick and I know I missed some dialogue. I love mysteries set in England, Ireland, Scotland, etc. so that’s probably why I liked it. Even drug smuggling and corrupt officials seem more interesting when they’re not in the U.S. As a retired school librarian, I must point out that some of the language used by Sergeant Boyle is very clear and not at all suitable for young ears! And much of the humor is not “politically correct” or tasteful. Doesn’t bother me, but I’m sure some of you are more conservative, so I’m just warning you. Gleeson was nominated for a Golden Globe and while he didn’t win, he certainly deserves kudos for a great performance. Seeing Don Cheadle, in his FBI suit and tie, going door to door in the pouring rain and finding that the inhabitants only spoke Gaelic was priceless.

Moneyball was the second feature. This one I had read too much about! Yes, it was good, well acted and an inspirational story , but it is all about managing a baseball team, start to finish. You get small glimpses that there is life outside the sport, but you have to look for them. The parts I enjoyed most were the scenes with Brad Pitt (Billy Beane)and his daughter, played by Kerris Dorsey, and the flashbacks to Billy’s childhood and rise and fall as a player. I liked it, but not as much as the critics.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


I used part of the long weekend to watch DisneyNature's film Oceans. Before watching it, I wondered if, being a Disney film, it would skip some of the less warm and fuzzy aspects of nature, such as animals eating each other. While the film did not linger too long on these, it did show some hunting and eating scenes.

I had already seem some of the footage used in making the film, such as five minutes of an orca hunting sea lions (or were they seals?), and I was glad the scene didn't last too long in the film. The most difficult part for me to watch was the scene with the fishing nets full of blood and water and a fisherman's boot as he works in the net.

If you like nature, the ocean, fish, or just beautiful photography then you'll enjoy this movie.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cross and Joyful?

I just finished reading Crossed, the second book in Ally Condie's Matched series. It is a young adult dystopian novel. Condie's writing is sparing and thoughtful and clean. The story itself was engrossing in the first novel--a teenage girl in a warped future world is given the identity of her assigned "match," who turns out to be her best guy friend. She's ecstatic--until the identity suddenly changes. She then begins to open her eyes to the sinister nature of a society where things are too perfect and beginning to unravel. This second novel kept me reading, but the intensity didn't grab me until about 2/3 of the way through. I love Condie's writing and look forward to the next book.

Last night for date night my husband and I went to see Joyful Noise, a gospel-music themed movie starring Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton. I thought with Dolly on board, it would have a bit more of the HeeHaw slapstick and cornpone humor. There was only a tiny dash of it. What it did have in abundance was fantastic music. Possibly a few too many verses in a few songs, but for the most part I didn't notice. The plot was a little heavy on family drama for my husband's taste; as for me, I found myself tearing up in about 10 places (due to the conflicts between parents and children, and also because the music was SO pretty.) It's not for all tastes, but it wasn't just popcorn (as Pam said so eloquently earlier.) Probably 3/5 stars. Or 3 1/2. Yeah.

Friday, January 13, 2012

From Paris to Shangri La

Midnight in Paris. Wonderful movie! The opening is like a city tour of Paris and all the writers and artists that you meet in the midnight hours should give you a great list of classics and biographies to explore! It’s a love story, but not a “chick flick.” Highly recommended!

Cowboys and Aliens. We have a saying in our house when we’ve watched a not-especially-good movie but we didn’t turn it off and we didn’t really get bored: “Well, it was popcorn!” This was one of those flicks! Over-acted and unbelievable, but since it wasn’t rated very highly, not that much of a disappointment.

Bridesmaids. My hubby rented this because it kept showing up on the “best movies of the year” list. He didn’t make it very far, so it wasn’t even popcorn to him. I enjoyed it more than I expected to. It was a little hard to believe that our star thought she was ugly and that no man would want her and I did think that today’s women had gotten past the “have to have a partner…husband…whatever” to be happy. My favorite character was the overweight sister of the groom! I know she was over compensating for all the cruelty she must have experienced from her peers, but she was truly a beautiful person.

Just finished Clive Cussler’s, The Kingdom; A Fargo Adventure (written with Grant Blackwood). It’s a typical Cussler book, which is not a criticism in my opinion! The Fargoes are a husband and wife team who travel the world looking for ancient treasures. They don’t do it for themselves, of course, but to turn the artifacts over to the government of the country where they rightfully belong. Remi and Sam are extremely smart and athletic and have influential friends everywhere who can cut through red tape for them. That really helps when you are searching for an ancient “Golden Man” in Shangri La. The fun in these books is trying to discover what is true and what Cussler has made up. I used to have to take notes and then do research. Thanks to the iPhone, now I can just sit in my easy chair and find out if an island really exists and even find it on a map. Good adventure book with a little history included for free!

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I finally finished a book. Yea, me! At Christmas, I decided I should celebrate the twelve days of Christmas by reading Christmas-themed books all the way to Twelfth Night. It took me a lot longer to finish my Christmas reading than I'd planned, but that's fine.

One of the books I chose was WinterSong by Madeleine L'Engle and Luci Shaw. Madeleine L'Engle is one of my favorite authors (she wrote, among many other things, A Wrinkle in Time), but I'm not really familiar with Luci Shaw. The book is a collection of "Christmas readings," poems, journal entries, essays, short passages, and a short story. Most of them are religious in nature. I'm of a different religious denomination than both the authors, so it was interesting to me to read about Christmas from a different perspective.

There were a couple of parts I particularly enjoyed. In "Miracle on 10th Street" L'Engle talks about a time when she worried that her daughter had leukemia. In this context she talks about the biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. I like that she pointed out that the Lord did not remove them from the furnace but went into the flames with them and protected them.

There is also a wonderful poem by L'Engle called, "Making Worlds: A Child's Prayer." Here it is:

Lord God,
you took great big handfuls of
chaos and made galaxies
and stars and solar systems
and night and day and sun and rain and snow
and me.
I take paint and crayon and paper
and make worlds, too,
along with you.

The book ends on a hopeful and happy note with "Prayers for Peace." On the whole, an enjoyable book, and a good way to close out the Christmas season.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

6 movies down, 50 books to go!

This 50/50 idea is a really good one, thanks to Heather for inviting so many of us to participate! I would like to think that I’ll read 50 books this year, but don’t count on it. There are quite a few books that I have in mind that I do want to read, so I am hopeful. However, I can be pretty sure that I will watch 50 new-to-me movies after the tremendous head start I got by watching 6 in the first 2 weeks of the year. That’s why this post is so long, my apologies.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Deals with racism and needing to overcome our prejudices even when we don’t think we have any. I definitely recommend it.

Crazy Stupid Love. It had some really funny parts where I laughed out loud, but ultimately it was about sex. The parts that made me laugh out loud did not revolve around sex, so I wish there was more of that, with Steve Carell’s goofiness.

Taken: I was surprised to be so impressed with this movie, kind of intense and a little improbable, but very exciting.

Slumdog Millionaire: Definitely not my favorite, especially the part where people get set on fire toward the beginning. And the happy ending was just not enough to make up for the overall depressing idea that there are probably lots of kids growing up in similarly awful situations.

Morning Glory: Meh. Well, I did like the frittata thing.

Cowboys and Aliens: Meh. Lots of gratuitous violence, not much of a story. Plus, why were there only 2 women, one of them absent the whole time, and the other (SPOILER!) is actually an alien? Oh, wait there was another woman whose face we see, but she was dead the whole time and we don’t know anything about her except that she was a prostitute. What’s that about? Ahem, getting off my soap box now….

Now I also have some recommendations of movies that I’ve seen very recently, but not this year, so if you need some more ideas to get you moving, expanding your horizons, here are some.

All about Steve: I liked it because (SPOILER!) they don’t get together in the end, kind of like my very favorite romantic drama “Roman Holiday”. But be warned, it is also very silly, with lots of plot devices to make it sillier, but at least the whole story doesn’t revolve around sex.

Another plug for Contagion: Superb movie, but I was watching it on a plane, which was not reassuring. It had so many interesting elements about the spread of the disease and the way individuals tried to deal with it. I have a lot more I want to say about this one, but this post is already too long...

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, as well as the first Sherlock Holmes movie from Guy Ritchie.  We’re big into Sherlock Holmes in our house. We’ve also been watching the BBC TV production Sherlock, which we love. These are all great adaptations of the stories. and I think they both have very fitting music; I’m very impressed. Too bad I’ve already read all the books - I could eat those up for this challenge. 

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I saw Rise of the Planet of the Apes the other night. It was pretty good. James Franco was good looking, and John Lithgow was great. About part way through the movie, I kept saying, "The apes better escape soon; I can't take much more of this." I was struggling with seeing the animals in cages, experimented on and abused. I really don't like it.

A movie like this forces me to confront my own beliefs. Or at the very least examine my behavior. I wouldn't buy cosmetics that are tested on animals, but what about drugs. I mostly only take the occasional pain reliever or cold medicine. But those were probably tested on animals. I would never deny anyone life-saving medicine because it's tested on animals.

How about food? I only buy organic eggs because producing conventional eggs amounts to chicken torture. But I still eat meat, and most of the time it's not organic meat. It was probably raised in a CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation. Those places are bad for the animals, the earth and any people who live nearby.

So I sit and watch this movie and cringe at the suffering of animals, but then I have to realize that I share some guilt in causing it.

Perhaps I was thinking too much, and should have just paid attention to the entertainment value of the movie?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Two movies

I'll get things started. Normally, I think I'd do better on the reading than on the movie watching. But here it is, the beginning of the second week of the year and I've watched two movies but I haven't read a single book (I'm part way through two of them though).

Last week I watched Captain America. With apologies to patriots and fans alike, it was my least favorite of the superhero movies. But it was still an enjoyable enough movie. Who doesn't like seeing the good guy win?

The other movie I saw was Contagion. I was interested in this because, for one of my jobs, I read about infectious diseases. I read a review that said the movie was like watching a dramatic episode of NOVA. That's what I liked about it. It didn't feel over the top. It seemed realistic. And it made me want to wash my hands. Over and over and over.

What do you think?

Fifty/Fifty challenge 2012

This is the blog I set up to facilitate participation among my friends and me in the fiftyfifty me challenge. The challenge can be found here at In a nutshell, the challenge is this: during 2012, read 50 books you've never read and watch 50 movies you've never seen. They can be high quality or low quality. It can be twinkie reading (as my children's lit teacher called it) or educational and enlightening. The goal is to expand your horizons.

I set up this blog so we can share/review the movies we're watching and the books we're reading. I hope you will join me, even if you don't think you can read 50 books or look at 50 movies, I'd still like you to contribute to this blog. If you want to be an author on this blog (please, please, please), send me a message or an email so I can add you.

I'm looking forward to a fun year of reading and movie watching. I hope you'll join me!