Thursday, April 26, 2012

We Bought a Zoo

This weekend I watched the Cameron Crowe film We Bought a Zoo. I thought it was great. I haven't seen too many Crowe films, but the few I have seen seem to be about healing after a loss, be it a job or a loved one. In this film, Benjamin's wife has died of cancer leaving him to care for their two children. His job is really going nowhere, so he decides quit his job and his life and start over in a new house. He finds the perfect house; the only catch is that it comes with a zoo. Benjamin spends all his savings to get the zoo up and running. But will people come? Will he and his kids be happy? The story is based on a real zoo and real people who still live there.

The movie appealed to me because it has lots of animals (and Matt Damon). I think I missed my calling to work with animals, so I watch movies in which they play important roles. The film was well acted and well written. It was poignant without being sappy. It's nice to see people work toward a goal and become whole, happy people in the process.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Last Dragonslayer, Jane Eyre movie (2011)

I counted and this will be book #16 for me. I didn't count movies. I wish I could throw in all the movies I sleep through. That's when I get my best REM sleep.

Jasper Fforde has been at the top of my list ever since I picked up The Eyre Affair about 8 years ago. I think I've read everything he's had published (at least that's available in the U.S.) He writes literary fantasy, and his pages are chock full of wild connections between dissimilar things. I adore it. My friend Amanda met him at a book signing in Seattle last year, and it's a good thing I wasn't there or I would've gone all fangrirl on him, and that's never a good thing.

The Last Dragonslayer is the first installment in Fforde's first YA series. It stars a 15 year old girl named Jennifer Strange who works as a driver for sorcerers, who (in this society) have been relegated to doing home renovations like rewiring houses and redoing plumbing. The back cover blurb reads, "In the good old days, magic was powerful, unregulated by government, and even the largest spell could be woven without filling in magic release form B1-7G." Fforde weaves the mundane into the fantastical, and it's good fun.

That said, this book was a little slow going for me. The pacing seemed off, and I was on page 136 before I went, "Oh! She has a goal!" Then I cared more about her and read the rest really quickly, but it wasn't quite as fun to me as his adult novels. Still, I've no doubt I'll keep reading what Jasper writes. Bring on the Quarkbeast, I say.

Movie-wise, I sat down with my *boys* and watched the 2011 version (all artsy) of Jane Eyre. I'm assuming everyone knows the story. Things I liked were the cinematography--it really showed the sweeping bleakness of the moors; the casting--Jamie Bell was especially good as Sinjun, and I loved the choice of Mr. Rochesters; the way it effectively portrayed why Jane did not fall for Sinjun (I've never seen that work as well as in this version). However, my kids said, "I think I need to watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show to cleanse my palate now," when it was over. While I adore the book (it just might be my very favorite ever) it translates into a pretty bleak screen experience. It can't help it. 3 stars out of 5.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Searching for Dragons, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Midnight in Paris, Whisper of the Heart

I've finished Searching for Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede, the second book in the Enchanted Forest Chronicles.  It is written from the vantage point of the King of the Enchanted Forest, Mendanbar. It is the adventures of Mendanbar and how his life becomes intertwined with Princess Cimorene from the first book.  It's a fun and easy book to read.

On Thursday I flew from Virginia to Utah to visit my parents and started and finished The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare while on the plane rides.  I really liked this book.  The book is about a 16-year old girl named Kit who grew up in Barbados in the 1600s.  Her grandfather, who raised her, passed away and her only other family was in New England.  She found passage on a ship to Connecticut.  She arrived in Connecticut and soon realized how completely different it was from her life in Barbados.  She had a hard time adjusting to her new life but was strong and worked hard.  Kit eventually met Hannah Tupper and quickly became friends with her.  But everyone believed Hannah was a witch. This book tells of the trials and triumphs of Kit adjusting to her new life in Connecticut and dispelling the rumors that she is a witch.  It is a really good book.  I liked it a lot.

I watched the movie Midnight in Paris with Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.  I was honestly a little surprised by how much I liked it.  I wasn't exactly sure what it was about when I first started watching it, but it was a good movie.  And I think it had a good lesson at the end.  Wherever you are, whatever time period you are in, be grateful for that which you have and be happy.  (At least that is what I got out of it.) 

I also watched Whisper of the Heart in Japanese with English subtitles.  It is a Studio Ghibli Japanese Anime film. I really really liked it. It is funny and cute and a little odd, but I liked it.  If you've never seen Japanese anime, you should.  I haven't seen a lot but some of the ones that I've seen and liked are Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Ponyo, and Grave of the Fireflies.

A Wrinkle in Time

For those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure of reading Madeleine L'Engle's young adult novel, A Wrinkle in Time, this year would be a great time to remedy that problem. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the book's publication. Wrinkle is one of my favorite books, and L'Engle one of my favorite authors. Here is an interesting column that might inspire you to meet Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin and all the other people you'll cheer for in the novel.

The Lucky One/Naughty in Nice

Haha. This post title is kind of funny.

The Lucky One opened today. It's a movie based on the Nicholas Sparks book about a soldier who finds a photograph of a woman and it seems to protect him. After the war he walks across the country to find her, but he has a hard time telling her why he has come, and because it is Sparks, there's a romance. The movie was similar to the book, but the love scenes--they were long. Really long. And a little much for a PG-13. And there were like four of them. It was a little much for me. But that Zac Efron? Pretty cute. What can I say.

Naughty in Nice is the fifth book in Rhys Bowen's Royal Spyness series set in the 1930s in Great Britain. Georgiana is 34th in line for the throne, a cousin to all royalty, but because it's the Depression and her father was profligate, she's destitute. In the first book Georgie goes in disguise and takes work as a maid--and of course has to solve a murder and fall for a dashing rogue from Ireland. In this entry, the queen sends her to the Riviera, to Nice, to recover an allegedly stolen snuff box from a nouveau riche cad. She meets Coco Chanel and ends up modeling for the icon, and (naturally) needing to solve another murder mystery. Georgiana is delightful, always virtuous, always the plucky heroine. Great series. I had to skim the 4th one because the topic was vampires, but otherwise, fab.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Four by Mary Oliver

I enjoy reading poetry and I would like to get better at writing it. So I try to read at least one poem a day. My knowledge of contemporary poetry is woefully lacking, so when I saw four references (including this interview in a national magazine) to Mary Oliver in as many weeks, I decided I should read some of her work. I read one book last year, and enjoyed it, so I decided to pick up a few more. She's written many collections of poetry and essays, and I recently read four of them.

Mary Oliver writes many of her poems the way I would like to write poems. Many of them deal with nature and have some beautiful imagery. Generally, they are accessible, so there's no need to be afraid of them. They can also be enjoyed on multiple levels. Here are the titles of the books I read and some of the poems I enjoyed from each of them.

Why I Wake Early

  • Why I Wake Early
  • Freshen the Flowers, She Said
  • Breakage
  • Logos
The Truro Bear and Other Adventures

  • The Hermit Crab
  • The Summer Day
West Wind

  • Black Oaks
  • Am I Not Among the Early Risers
  • Stars
  • Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches
Owls and Other Fantasies

  • Wild Geese
  • Such Singing in the Wild Branches
  • Some Herons
Here is a quote I thought was good.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing as though I had wings. -- from "Starlings in Winter" (page 55)

If you enjoy nature and poetry, I would recommend Mary Oliver's work.

More Adventures


Johnny English: Reborn - I did really like the first Johnny English, I think Rowan Atkinson is great, partly because his goofy facial expressions remind me of someone I know and love. This movie was a little smarter, more clever than the first, a little less slapstick, and I definitely recommend it as well as the first Johnny English.

The Three Musketeers - Pretty fun, slightly over-the-top verging on cheesy, but overall a nice "popcorn movie." The colors seemed weird to me, probably because it's supposed to be 3-D. I did enjoy the movie, but I don't have a lot to say about it.


Three Men in a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome) - Chronicles the goofy adventures of 3 friends in Victorian Britain, who decide to take a vacation and go boating on the Thames. The characters are similar to those of P. G. Wodehouse (who wrote the Jeeves and Wooster books), and the style of storytelling reminded me a lot of those and of "Cordelia Underwood," by Van Reid, which I love (and if you want to borrow any of them, I will lend them to you). The narrator goes back and forth between telling what is actually happening to them on the river, and telling a story about someone else that he was reminded of, and then sometimes he becomes quite poetical about the river, the scenery and the history of the villages. It was a pretty satisfying read. My favorite quote:
"We are but the veriest, sorriest slaves of our stomach. Reach not after morality and righteousness, my friends; watch vigilantly your stomach and diet it with care and judgement. Then virtue and contentment will come and reign within your heart, unsought by any effort of your own, and you will be a good citizen, a loving husband and a tender father - a noble, pious man."
And this book is full of all sorts of great little tidbits like that. I was laughing out loud on the Metro when I read this.

Heir Apparent (Vivian Vande Veld) - A fantasy/sci-fi young adult novel that is a quick, easy, and thoroughly enjoyable read. I have read a few books by this author and I always liked them a lot. They aren't very deep or philosophical or complex, but I don't always need deep, complex philosophy in the books I read. This one is about video games, and when I try to summarize the plot, it sounds dumb, so I'll just copy what the back of the book says: "In the virtual reality game Heir Apparent, there are way to many ways to get killed-and Giannine seems to be finding them all. Unless she can get the magic ring, find the stolen treasure, answer the dwarf's dumb riddles, impress the head-chopping statue, charm the army of ghosts, fend off the barbarians, and defeat the man-eating dragon, she'll never win. And if she doesn't win, she'll die for real this time." It was nice and fluffy and funny in all the right ways.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The False Prince, Mirror Mirror

Date night Friday we went to see Mirror, Mirror starring Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen in a fun retelling of the Snow White fairy tale. It had some inventive twists, the dialogue was sparkly and fun, and the I rooted for the romance to end happily ever after. It even had a snappy Bollywood number at the end while the credits rolled. It didn't take itself too seriously, and at a couple of points the corniness did cross the line into eye-rolling territory, but not too many (as in Ella Enchanted, where there was corn EVERYWHERE whenever Cary Elwess came onstage.) I'd give it 3 1/2 stars for good PG rated fun.

I just finished reading the new middle grade novel The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen, published by Scholastic. I've reviewed it more fully here (if it's not too lame to link my website to this blog. Sorry if I'm breaching etiquette!) It was excellent writing, a fast-paced story with lots of twists, and the stakes were so high I found myself holding my breath from time to time. All that in a middle grade? Yes. Now that's a good, clean read!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Freakonomics and Valentine's Day

I recently finished reading Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.  This book was fascinating.  It helped me see certain things from a different perspective.  I must say that I did not necessarily agree with everything in there but it was very interesting and for being a book about economics it kept my interest :)   If anyone decides to read it, I must warn you that they do say the f word a few times in it but they are quoting someone when they do and I believe it adds to their point. 

I also watched Valentine's Day the other day and all I have to say about that is do not watch it.  It is not worth your time.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Pony Express

The scarves at left are souvenirs of a Pony Express mail service that runs through Payson, AZ. It's one of the reminders our enduring love for the Pony Express.

I've been interested in the Pony Express since I was a little kid. I remember reading a children's book about it that belonged to my father when he was little. Of course, in high school, I enjoyed watching The Young Riders on television.

When I heard about a lecture on the Pony Express at the National Postal Museum last year, I knew I wanted to attend. The lecture took place close to the 150th anniversary of the end of the Pony Express. The lecture was a talk by Christopher Corbett about his book Orphans Preferred: The Twisted Truth and Lasting Legend of the Pony Express. I bought the book, and got it signed by Mr. Corbett after the lecture.

Basically, everything we know about the Pony Express is wrong. Most of what we remember is myth and legend passed down across generations. The Central Overland California & Pike's Peak Express Company (the Pony Express) was a private operation fast mail service of Russell, Majors & Waddell. It began in 1860 and was over and done with by 1861. The central overland route went from St. Joseph, MO through Kansas and Utah territories (never Arizona) and on to Sacramento, CA. The riders generally were not orphans. Even though it cost $5 an ounce (in 1860 dollars) to mail a letter, the operation never made any money, and the telegraph put an end to any need for it.

Accurate records are few, but Corbett does a good job of sifting through all that's been written about the Pony Express and figuring out what's probably true and what couldn't be true and how we got to the current story we all know. In addition, he looks at how the legend grew. Buffalo Bill Cody, never a rider - he was 11 or 12 at the time - did a lot with his Wild West Show to secure a place for the fast mail service in our collective memory. There were also many books and inaccurate movies and TV shows. Of The Young Riders, Corbett said it was "a farrago of nonsense" (a phrase I really need to use whenever I can). But, I'm sure I wasn't watching it for its historical accuracy.

Corbett does a good job bringing the characters associated with the Pony Express, either truthfully or fraudulently, to life. It was an exciting time in history, and an amazing feat to carry mail by horse and rider across half the country in ten days. And, it was fun to read about it. This much I know to be true.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

More Mysteries, Sucker Punch and The Hunger Games

I haven't seen a ton of movies since my last post. In fact, I'm worried that I won't make it to 50 movies this year, which would really surprise me because I thought it would be so easy to watch that many. Anyway, here's my recent new-to-me movies:


The Hunger Games – I read the books a couple of years ago, and I tried to put them down when I got to the point where it starts to be clear what’s going on and the extent of the disturbing-ness. But I just had to finish and to find out what happens. I also thought, when I heard they would make a movie, that there was no way I would watch it, too disturbing, but something about it just sucked me in. And I have to say, I really liked the books, and the movie was very satisfying and true to the feel of the book. I would not tell anyone to read the books or watch the movie, but I did enjoy them, which makes me feel a little guilty. After all, at the same time that The Hunger Games is in the news, so is Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, with his child soldiers kidnapped from their homes and forced to commit atrocities. Yeah, I don’t blame you if you don’t want to have anything to do with the books or movie.

Sucker Punch – visually interesting, I like the idea of the layers of imagination that the character retreats into in order to deal with her environment, but a lot of the themes were pretty weird and disturbing.

Gosford Park – I was expecting a lot more from this movie. Maybe I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped because we were playing Scrabble at the same time, and I find it hard to do both of those things at once, but we can’t just play Scrabble, because that is too boring for Lovemuffin, but Lovemuffin knew whodunit right away, and I had no idea what was going on most of the time. So what I'm trying to say, is that I'm not sure what to say about this movie. 

As for the books read since last my post, I’ve been on a mystery novel kick, and tried out two new-to-me authors.


Confess, Fletch (Gregory McDonald) – fluffy, short, interesting protagonist... but I didn’t love it and probably won’t read more of his stuff.

E is for Evidence (Sue Grafton) – Interesting that this mystery novel doesn’t start out with a murder as the mystery, there is a murder or a few later on, but it’s not the initial mystery to solve. This is the first Kinsey Malone book I’ve read, and it was okay, I might pick up more of these alphabet mystery books for road trips, easy to read, and pretty satisfying.

Nemesis (Agatha Christy) - Not my favorite Agatha Christy book so far. It’s okay, but just didn’t do it for me.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Midnight in Austenland, My Double Life, and Wrath of the Titans

Two books and a movie! My life is replete with entertainment!

First, the Shannon Hale follow up I've been looking forward to all winter, Midnight in Austenland. Her first adult novel, Austenland, was a romp, a modern-day romance carried out in a Regency setting. In Midnight, a new heroine goes to Austen's world, pays the big bucks to be immersed in Regency culture and to be wooed by suitors with cravats and riding crops. This heroine, Charlotte Kinder, is better realized and her story more poignant than in the original book. She is a divorced, damaged mother of two seeking to fill an unknown need. She accidentally uncovers a murder mystery--and a romance from an unexpected quarter. I was right in looking forward to this sequel--it was a rollicking good time.

Second, Janette Rallison's YA novel, My Double Life, is how I spent my spring break. As many people know, a family vacation is rarely a vacation for the mom. She has to do all her same work but without the convenience of home, plus living from a suitcase. Janette's book took my mind off my 37-hour car trip and put me in a fun world where a girl from West Virginia happens to be the doppelganger for a Hollywood rock star. The rock star's agent discovers the WV girl and plucks her from obscurity to serve as the star's secret double. However, the small town girl has her own agenda: she's out to meet her father, who she has never known, and who lives in Hollywood. This might be her big chance. My Double Life is a light, fluffy escape with good family relationships and was just what I needed to get me through the trip. I'd call it a beach read.

For date night, we saw the new release Wrath of the Titans. Since we see pretty much everything PG-13 or lower rated, we saw the movie for which this was the sequel, Clash of the Titans, a remake of the 1981 classic. I remember the '80s original. That Medusa head scared the bejeepers out of me--worried about it for years! The re-make? Not so much. Forgot it in minutes. The sequel, though? That was a fun movie! Pass the popcorn. Great special effects, a good plot, acutally good acting, a fun script and the actors (especially Bill Nighy, a favorite) were having a great time with it. The Minotaur made an appearance (and disappearance and reappearance, haha) in the coolest, coolest Labyrinth I've ever seen. That Labyrinth was worth the price of the ticket. Fun film. (Says the girl who just likes to go to the movies on Friday night and not be annoyed.) 3 1/2 stars.

Meanwhile, if you have been watching Downton Abbey and haven't seen the parody Downton Arby's, it's worth looking up. Good spoofy times.