Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Girl Named Disaster and Dealing With Dragons

While we were at the Green Valley book fair a few weeks ago I bought a book called A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer.  I had never heard of it before but decided to buy it after reading the back cover.  A Girl Named Disaster is about a 12 year-old girl who lives in a traditional village in Mozambique. Her mother was killed by a leopard when Nhamo was a toddler and her father was a drunk and ran away.  She was left to live with her aunt and uncle who didn't like her very much.  They tried to force her to marry a cruel man with two wives, but at the encouragement of her grandmother she ran away. Her plan was to paddle a stolen boat upstream to Zimbabwe, which should only take a few days, to find her father's family. But it "turns into an adventure filled with challenges and danger that spans a year."  I really liked this book. I learned a lot about the culture in traditional Mozambique.

Some other books I bought at the book fair were the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede recommended to me by pricklypear.  I finished the first one.  I really liked it.  The first book is Dealing With Dragons.  It's the story of a young princess named Cimorene who doesn't want to be a proper princess and runs away to live with the dragons.  As you can imagine many adventures follow the princess as she learns to deal with the dragons.  These are an easy read.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hound of Rowan, This Book is Not Good for You, The Hunger Games

It was spring break and we had lots of time for reading and watching movies.

The Hound of Rowan is the first book in the Tapestry series by Henry Neff. For a debut author/illustrator, the book  is quite a feat! Plotwise, Max is a 12 year old whose mother is missing and whose father is an ad exec in Chicago. On his mother's birthday, they go to the Chicago Art Institute to look at her favorite paintings, and Max discovers he is being followed by someone with a scary eye. He enters a blocked off room and while there sees a supernatural vision of a tapestry. Max is soon invited to attend a special school for "Potentials," a Hogwarts-esque place for tweens and teens with magical skills. Adventures ensue immediately--some of which are quite scary. Toward the end of this volume, the young people's dangerous situation turns rather dark. We were listening to this as a book-on-CD in the car on a road trip, and I winced at certain parts, as my 7 year old and 4 year-old were listening. It's a great debut effort by Neff. The writing is crisp and the characters very well drawn.

The other book we listened to on CD was This Book is Not Good for You by Pseudonymous Bosch. It is the second book in a series (a thing I didn't realize when I checked it out from the library) but it's explained well enough to stand alone, especially about 15 minutes into the story after the narrator finishes waxing eloquent about the merits of chocolate. (I love food talk, personally.) The story centers on Cassandra, a tween who with her two friends must find The Tuning Fork, a special ancient fork that can make food (or any substance) into the eater's favorite dish--or at least taste like it. It's a dangerous weapon, and it is desired by the evil "Midnight Sun" society. Cassandra and friends must keep it out of their hands. Meanwhile Cassandra is seeking for the true identity of her parents, as she was a foundling. The kids loved this book, and I found it pretty entertaining as well. The self-aware narrator made it fun, and the recording had fantastic dramatization with half a dozen actors voicing the characters.

For a book freak like me, The Hunger Games was a feast. The film stayed remarkably true to the books, and in fact made the main character more likable than she was in the story. In the off chance you haven't read the books, the plot is in a nutshell, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to be proxy for her baby sister in a state-required teenage fight to the death. The stakes are incredibly high, and they just keep ratcheting up. The film portrayed the nurturing side of Katniss better than the books did (for me) and I found her to be even more sympathetic. I rooted for her from start to finish, and I felt Peeta's love for her (and Gale's as well) intensely. So well done! My husband came out of the theater thinking "Meh," probably because he has to have more comic relief than the film provided, but I was loving it! It's just great storytelling.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Life of Pi, How to Speak Dragonese, and Pretty in Pink

I recently finished listening to Life of Pi by Yann Martel.  I really liked it! Pi is a teenage boy from India and the main character of the book. Pi is a religious boy who practices Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Pi's family owns a zoo and they decide to sell the animals from their zoo and move to Canada to make a better life for themselves.  As they embark on their journey to Canada via boat, the boat sinks. The only survivors are the boy, a Bengal tiger, a spotted hyena, an injured zebra and an orangutan.  The book tells about the adventures of the boy and the animals on the lifeboat.  I must say that the book does get a bit graphic about the boy's survival on the boat and it is a little disturbing at times, but I think it adds to the book and it almost feels like you're there a long with Pi and the animals on the life boat.  I liked the book so much that I decided to buy it and add it to my collection.

I also finished the third book of the How to Train Your Dragon series, How to Speak Dragonese. It is more adventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third.  These are fun and easy reads! 

I watched "Pretty in Pink" with Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy, Jon Cryer, Harry Dean Stanton etc.  It was okay.  It's a film from the 80's.  It's about a poor girl who likes a rich boy (which was socially unacceptable at the time). The girl and the boy must overcome some obstacles as their relationship blossoms.  I found the movie a little awkward and I don't think I would watch it again. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Four Gospels, Verse by Verse; Morning Glory

After about three months of study, I finally finished reading the Gospel According to Matthew and an accompanying commentary (which does cover all 4 Gospels) called The Four Gospels: Verse by Verse by D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew Skinner, two professors of ancient scripture at BYU. I've read the New Testament several times over the years, but this time, with commentary it came alive. There were so many details about the Holy Land I simply don't know, having never traveled there, and historical facts about Judaism and Jewish tradition that the authors included that made the scriptures a whole new experience. I loved this book because of the ease of finding commentary relating to the section I happened to be reading that day. It has an excellent index; it really is as it says: verse by verse.

I had a mountain of laundry to fold and turned on Netflix to watch Morning Glory. It stars Rachel McAdams as a driven TV news producer who gets a plum job on what turns out to be a horribly dysfunctional and sinking morning news program. Diahann Keaton and Harrison Ford co-star. I forget her love interest's name, but he was pretty good in his role. I guess the plot caught me off-guard because I went in expecting it to be a rom-com, and it turned out that the central arc focused on McAdams and Ford's relationship, with her as all spunk and him as all cantankerousness. To be honest, it was quite a bit better than I expected it to be (but my expectations were pretty low.) Not the worst way to spend a while folding laundry.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Debutante, John Carter, How to Hook a Hottie

In my "candy reading" phase I picked up The Debutante by Kathryn Williams. It was just a light, fish out of water story of a Connecticut teen who is plunked down in her father's hometown of Alabama for her senior year of high school and none too happy about the fact that her Southern Lady grandmother is insisting she make her "debut" in local society. While it's just light reading, there's a really nice character arc, and I liked reading about what might be required of a modern debutante, even if she'd rather be playing field hockey. The romance was light and believable. Even if there was way too much underage drinking for my preference, the story was a good escape.

For date night on Saturday, we hit the late show of John Carter. I'd seen the previews. Sigh. I was not impressed. But then on Saturday afternoon we were trying to decide what movie to see so I looked up the reviews, and what I read convinced me this would be a really cool movie. And it was! Keep in mind, I'm fairly easily entertained. There were CGI green creatures without noses (not my favorite element of any film.) But the screenplay was adapted from an Edgar Rice Burroughs story (yes, that Edgar Rice Burroughs, of Tarzan fame). A Civil War vet is accidentally transported to another planet, where he falls in love with a Princess of Mars (original title of the story.) On Mars (called Barsoom), the gravitational pull on his body is different, making him able to jump high and have super strength. He must decide whether to choose sides in a global conflict there, something he is highly reluctant to do. Some of the plot devices seem familiar in movies like Star Wars, but since George Lucas used this story as part of his source material, it's pretty cool to see the origin of much sci-fi. All in all, it was a great popcorn flick. I'm going to let my boys see it.

Rounding out my entertainment weekend, I finished reading another fun YA novel, this one (unfortunately) titled How to Hook a Hottie, by Tina Ferraro. The book was far better than the title would suggest. In it, Kate DelVecchio is a high school senior bent on making a million dollars before she's twenty--without going to college. She's bright, ambitious, and suddenly to her shock the object of amorous attention of the most popular guy in school, Brandon. Brandon is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, and she keeps telling him to get lost. However, all the attention from Brandon suddenly makes her popular by association (despite her denials that they are a couple.) Suddenly, girls from all over school (and guys) are offering her money for her "secret formula" for how to get the popular guy/girl to fall for them. The story has good family relationships, a realistic building of a friendship into a romance, real heart when it comes to Kate's final decisions, and a sweetly satisfying ending. Despite the title that made me embarrassed to take it with me to the waiting room at the doctor's office.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Candy for my Head

Since I've been trying to not eat candy, and I had a stressful week a couple of weeks back, I decided I'd read it instead. At the library I came out with an armload of YA deliciousness.

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White was a fun read. Evie, a 16 year old girl, has no memories before being picked up by an agency at age 3. She wants to live a normal life, but she can see through people, er, paranormal beings, to their true selves. For instance, she can see through a vampire's attractive outer shell into its icky, withered soul. This makes her valuable for tracking down paranormals and tagging them. Soon she meets a handsome stranger named Lend who has a watery soul, and together they have to stop the rogue killing of paranormals by a dangerous fiery monster--who looks just like Evie. Paranormalcy isn't my usual reading material, as I pretty much avoid vampire and werewolf books, but I knew someone who knew the author, and decided to pick it up. It was a light, fun way to pass the day. Nothing gross, nothing otherwise offensive, just a good story. Candy.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


This weekend, I watched the movie Hugo based on Brian Selznick's book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. I have not read the book, but I will since I loved the movie and Selznick is the illustrator of one of my favorite picture books, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins.

Hugo is an orphan who lives in the walls of a Paris train station and keeps the clocks working. His only friend is a broken automaton that he and his father were trying to repair before his father's death. Soon Hugo, caught stealing, runs afoul of an angry man who runs a toy booth at the station. He also meets a girl and together they bring healing to their own and others' lives.

I'm not sure what to say, other than it was a beautiful film. It was joyful (by the end) without being sappy. It was wonderful.

WICKED is good

I just finished reading The Maze Runner by James Dashner. By the end of the book, I wasn't sure that WICKED was good at all, but fortunately, there are two more books in the trilogy and this year there will also be a prequel, so I'll have multiple opportunities to find out.

The book begins when a teenager named Thomas, that's all he knows about himself, wakes to find himself trapped in a maze with dozens of other boys. The boys have been trying to escape the maze for two years with no luck when Thomas and a comatose girl arrive and they all learn this is the beginning of the end. They need to escape the maze or die.

This is a young adult novel, and I found it very enjoyable. The pacing and tension were good and the characters well developed, especially for a bunch of characters who had no memories of their lives before the maze.

The author is a fan of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, and this book is similar in that a group of adults have decided to test a group of children to see if they are suitable for some unknown, but very dangerous, purpose. A theme I think will be explored in the remaining books is whether the end justifies the means. The Creators, who sent the boys to the maze and have done horrible things to them, seem to think (or at least say) that they are doing this for the good of the world. I don't generally think that the end justifies the means, so I'll be interested to see where this goes.

It's well worth the read. You can learn more about James Dashner and his books at:

The Help, The Dark Tower

I just finished the book The Help by Kathryn Stockett and loved it!  It is set in Mississippi in the early 1960s where three woman work together to write, "in secret, a tell-all book about what it's really like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South." (I got part of this off of the back of the book :).  It's a good book.  I like how the author writes from the point-of-view of the three main characters.  I like seeing the same events  from the different perspectives.   The book makes you laugh.  It makes you cry.  It makes you mad.   It makes you want to stay up really late reading it. I would highly recommend this book!

I also read The Dark Tower and Other Stories by C.S. Lewis.  The Dark Tower was an unfinished manuscript Lewis' old secretary saved from a fire.  I think there was a reason it was unfinished.  It was a little odd and the notes at the end of the story say that Lewis probably did not know where he was going with it. At the beginning the characters talk in technical terms about how time travel is not possible because our bodies wouldn't exist in whatever time or place we would go to, but that there might be a way to view the future or past without actually going there. One of the professors has created a screen where they can watch the past or future without interfering, (at least that is what they think).  The Dark Tower and the other stories are a little disturbing at times and I would think twice before reading this one.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Inspiring Movies

The Shunning is a drama based on the book by Beverly Lewis, best-selling author of Amish fiction. (I really enjoy her books). This Hallmark movie is about Katie Lapp, a young Amish woman, who discovers a secret about her life on the eve of her Amish wedding to the local bishop. The ending is a bit abrupt, but if you want to find out what happens to Katie read the last two books in the Heritage of Lancaster County Trilogy: The Confession (#2) The Reckoning (#3). The movie was touching and true to the book and Amish culture and religion.

Dolphin Tale, is a drama based on the true story of the rescued dolphin Winter and the people who worked so hard to save her life. An inspiring story. I liked that real Winter played her own character. After the movie I went to the website to see her for myself.