Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Men in Black 3, The Square Pegs

For date night on Saturday we took in Men in Black 3, starring the ever-charismatic Will Smith, paired this time with Josh Brolin (as a young Tommy Lee Jones.) I went into this movie with zero expectations, not having remembered much about the second installment in the series, but liking the first one fine. It's been a while. It was really a fun popcorn movie. The plot was a lot more interesting than I would have expected, and Josh Brolin did a totally believable Jones impersonation. (I've been a Tommy Lee Jones fan since the 1980s when he starred in a movie no one but me remembers, Nate and Hayes. That's the movie I watched every Wednesday night while the people I babysat for went to country swing dance classes.) The bulk of the plot is set in 1969, close to the moon landing, and there's time travel involved. Plus CGI monsters. For the most part, I felt this might have received a PG rating instead of a PG-13 (if it weren't for the opening scene which had gratuitous cleavage and an overreaction by the villain.) 4 stars out of 5.

I don't know if my book for this week should count for this 50/50 thing, but it's a book and I did read it. A friend of mine has an unpublished manuscript and I've now read and critiqued the whole thing. It was better than a LOT of the published books I've read. The plot centers on a father of three who has been widowed for a year and is in therapy. The gloom only lasts for a few pages and then hilarity alternates with a roller coaster ride of emotion as he navigates the rough waters of returning to the dating world and dealing with loss of many kinds. The main character's sense of humor gives this manuscript fine wit. I really hope/expect to see The Square Pegs (working title) by Ryan Rapier in print soon.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Writer gossip

I'm not sure what made me think I'd actually like Writers Gone Wild: The Feuds, Frolics, and Follies of Literature's Great Adventurers, Drunkards, Lovers, Iconoclasts, and Misanthropes by Bill Peschel. I like writers, and I like learning things about their lives. But I don't like celebrity gossip, and that's basically what this is. Most of the anecdotes shared in this book are about writers' bad behavior. I know, I should have realized that from the title. I decided to give it a shot. By the time I was halfway through and still didn't really like it, I decided I'd better finish, because I'm behind on my 50 books and needed this one to count!

The book is well written and an easy read. There are a few stories that aren't about lying, fighting, or sex. There were a couple of interesting stories of writers in prison without committing crimes. For example, Dashiell Hammett was sent to prison for not cooperating with the Communist witch hunt happening at the time. He served 5 months. Each of the chapters has a one-sentence summary under the title. Those were occasionally interesting. For chapter ten, Fight Club, it read, "Out of hatred, rivalry, or orneriness, these writers got along liked bagged weasels." The best part of the book is the bibliography at the end.

I'll be dropping this in the donation bin for someone else who might enjoy a little gossip.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Battleship, My Fair Godmother

Saturday night was date night this weekend, and we went to see Battleship, yes a movie based on a board game. This was apparently this summer's installment of Earthlings-must-pull-together-to-fight-off-ugly-hostile-aliens. This plot comes up a lot, doesn't it? Independence Day? Transformers? Way lots of other movies? It followed the formula, and so it worked as a whole. My only problem was I needed that hero to be a little more heroic for me to root for him--bad boy with an attitude doesn't always cut it for me, hero-wise. However, there was a point 1 1/2 hours into the movie where there's a twist and suddenly I totally cared about this group. I won't spoil it, but it did get much better at that point. Oh, and there's a fun section in the middle where there's complete homage to the game. Good times. Sorry to report no one ever says, "You sank my battleship," in a fakey British accent like the 1970s commercial. Bummer.

I'm still on a YA light fiction kick, and I am loving this author Janette Rallison. I bought six of her books at a conference in February and I'm having a great time. She's probably my new favorite YA author, simply because she's hilarious (so many laugh out loud moments!) and it's completely clean. I love a good clean laughy romance. This story, My Fair Godmother, is a fairy tale twist on the Faust story--girl makes wish, fairy godmother comes to grant three wishes, sends her into fairy tale worlds, and the wishes all go terribly wrong. From the get-go I was invested in the characters, and hoped for their triumph/happily ever after. The fairy godmother is a self-absorbed screw-up who doesn't care about her clients, and it's a disaster from the beginning. Loved it. Can't wait to read the sequel, My Unfair Godmother.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Scorched and dead

Imagine a world destroyed by solar flares hitting the earth. In order to control the population, the remaining functional governments release a deadly biological weapon - a disease called the Flare. In obedience to the law of unintended consequences, the world is still in ruins, but now is also overrun by murderous, insane people, or "cranks," infected with the Flare.

This is where Thomas and his friends find themselves in the second and third books in the Maze Runner trilogy, The Scorch Trials and The Death Cure. Thomas and his surviving friends think they've escaped the Maze and WICKED, only to find themselves given another trial, this time in the Scorch. The Scorch is a burned-out wasteland of searing heat, dust and deadly electrical storms. The boys have two weeks to get to the safe haven while trying not to die from the elements or get murdered by cranks or a rival team of girls. In the third book, finally out of the clutches of WICKED, Thomas and his very few remaining friends must defeat their former captors and save the world. But is that even possible?

I do enjoy post-apocalyptic novels. While, The Maze Runner was my favorite of the three books, the last two were very good also. The characters are easy to care about. It's interesting to think about what decisions I'd make in those situations. Thomas has to do some horrible things to survive, and it's written well enough that I felt his pain. As he gradually regains some of his stolen memories, Thomas learns that he is somehow responsible for the trials and experiments and deaths of his friends. Now that he knows what he's done, he must decide what kind of person he'd like to be. He realizes WICKED is not good. How can a group of people decide that's its all right to put a bunch of teenagers through hell? How do these teenagers rise to the occasion and make the difficult decisions necessary to survive. What if they can't survive the Scorch or the Flare?

In the end,whatever the disease, death is always an effective cure. Even after the cure, there is always a way to begin again.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lucky Change, Mrs. Pollifax--Spy

This week I read Lucky Change by Susan Law Corpany. I met Susan about 4 years ago at a mutual friend's wedding, and she is one of the funniest people ever, so I wasn't surprised when I read Lucky Change and found hilarious things on every page. (Much like her earlier series, Unfinished Business, which I read when I first met her.) The story centers on a wacky, not-too-bright Mormon woman who semi-accidentally purchases a single lottery ticket--and wins $230 million. She and her children have always been the congregation's charity case, and she is thankful that now she has a chance to give back some of the good that has been done for her over the years. The pitfalls of sudden wealth are all around her. Avoiding them (for herself and her two grown children), including gold-digging suitors who come out of the woodwork, is the challenge. The dialogue and situations are so real, I felt like I knew every single person in the whole cast of the book by the 50th page, and was totally invested in them all by the end of the book, which was very uplifting, by the way. Such a worthwhile read, in spite of being light and frothy. Delightful! I can see why it was on the short list for the Whitney Awards last year.

The movie I watched this week was Mrs. Pollifax, Spy, starring Rosalind Russell and Darren McGavin. It's based on the Mrs. Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman, of which I read the first installment and loved. The story comes to life on the screen, and I liked Russell's interpretation of the role. Very capable, and yet vulnerable. The plot is that a retired widow decides to offer herself up as a volunteer to the CIA, as she is someone no one would expect or notice--and because she is "expendible." They ultimately agree and send her on a courier mission to Mexico City. Things go awry and she ends up in an Albanian prison, with no hope of release. Some might assume the pacing would be slow, by today's standards (this was a film from the early 1960s), and maybe it was--but there was so much suspense that in a lot of places I found myself holding my breath. The portrayals of the Albanian soldiers were particularly well done. I had so much sympathy for them all. The movie does suffer in a small way, by comparison to the book, in that the book makes the Mrs. Pollifax character slightly more noble than the simple "bored widow" -- in the book's first three pages, Mrs. Pollifax is standing atop the roof of her apartment building ready to leap when she decides she's being wasteful, and if she's completely expendible, she should at least donate her life to some greater good, which motivates her to contact the CIA. This pathos-inspiring moment is left out of the movie, and it suffered a bit for the exclusion. However, still a fun watch while folding Mount Laundrius this week. 3 1/2 stars/5.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Wrinkle in Time, C.S. Lewis, The Avengers, Jimmy Stewart

I read A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle as recommended by Heather.  I really liked it.  I liked the symbolism of good vs. evil.  Sometimes evil will win, but ultimately good will win. At times we have to do hard things but we have been prepared to do these things and can do it with courage, faith and help from the Lord. And love conquers all! 

I cannot believe that I haven't read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis until now.  But I picked it up while I was visiting my parents in Utah and read it on the plane back. I've seen the movie before and really liked it and it seems to be pretty similar to the book.  I like the symbolism in the book as well as the movie.  I plan on reading the rest of the series now. 

I watched Bend of the River which is a 1952 western with Jimmy Stewart, Rock Hudson and Arthur Kennedy.  It's a little cheesy, but I liked it anyway.  It probably helped that Jimmy Stewart is in it who I really like :) 

I saw The Avengers last week.   It's a really good movie and I really liked it. The superheroes are awesome!

I also watched The Girl Who Leapt Through Time which is another Japanese anime movie. I must admit it was a little odd, but I liked it anyway.  I think I've come to expect that from Japanese anime, but I think that's what makes me like them so much :)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Newport Ladies Book Club: Daisy

By Josi S. Kilpack, Published by Deseret Book, 2012, 269 pages

Daisy is a middle age mother of a teenage daughter who refers to herself as “just Daisy.” Having made a good life for herself after struggling through a teenage pregnancy and a divorce, Daisy is thrown off balance when she learns that she is expecting a baby. With turmoil swirling around her, Daisy must deal with unexpected motherhood, again.  As Daisy struggles through her difficulties, she slowly opens up to the different kinds of mothers she sees in her life and faces her own guilt and insecurities. From Daisy, I was reminded that not all mothers just love being mothers. Instead through Daisy I saw women being the best mothers they could despite difficult circumstances.  

This second book in The Newport Ladies Book Club series works very well because Daisy is introduced to us from the perspective and freshness of a different author. I like that approach. The one negative about this approach is the repeat details about the book club meetings and its members. I know the purpose is to link the series together, but those parts seemed repetitive and old news in this second novel because I had already read them in Olivia. Also, I felt the ending lacked adequate resolution. Despite this, Daisy is a fast and engaging read.

Romancing Miss Bronte, The Avengers, Abduction

One new book and two new movies. Book first:

Romancing Miss Bronte by Juliet Gael came to me by way of a writing friend. Since Jane Eyre is in my top five favorite novels, it was interesting to read this novelized version of the life of Charlotte Bronte from the time she returns from her schooling in Brussels, through her writing career, and through her marriage up until her untimely death. The author combed through all the Bronte novels, through stacks of biographical sources and letters to create this fictionalized account which is quite engaging. I don't read romance novels, really, so when there was some frank talk about sex in the final 50 pages, it caught me off guard. I guess I didn't expect it in a Victorian setting as much. Silly me. Anyway, not a fast-moving, throat clutcher but an interesting story of an interesting person.

The Avengers--we went to see it opening night in a full theater. That's fun energy. And it was a fun comic book movie, one of the best, I'd say. It combines Captain America, the Hulk, Ironman, Black Widow, Hawk, Thor, and some other Marvel characters I don't really know but was thoroughly entertained by. There was humor, great dialogue, fun action, good surprises, cool monsters. Mark Ruffalo made the best Hulk ever. My favorite character might always be Captain America. He's chosen to become a super hero because of his personal integrity. That's just cool. There's a reason this show has made over $700 million worldwide already.

Abduction was something we got on DVD via Netflix this week. It stars Taylor Lautner from Twilight, and he has his shirt off a lot less in this movie. This may be a pro or a con, depending on the viewer. The story is of a kid who feels displaced in his family, who is assigned to do a school report on missing children and finds his own face in the national database. The rest of the movie is a chase scene with a LOT of shooting, some making out and an f-bomb. It's not a classic, but it's what I watched while I folded a ridiculously tall mountain of laundry.

Some movies are popcorn flicks. Some are laundry flicks.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend/A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

I picked up another of Janette Rallison's fun YA books this week, and this was my favorite so far: How to Take the Ex Out of Ex-Boyfriend. Giuliana is standing her ground. Her twin brother Dante wants the student council to do a memorial for a student who'd died, but they're only interested in spending funds on other things, so he announces he will run for student body president against Wilson, the most popular guy in school. Guiliana will support Dante--even when her fantastic boyfriend Jesse determines to stand by his best friend Wilson. Fireworks ensue.

Rallison has created a multi-layered character in Giuliana, a likeable, flawed heroine who tries to do what's right but keeps getting in trouble. There's a lot to laugh at in How to Take The Ex--Rallison's sense of humor manifests on every page--several times. There's a point where Giuliana is on an unfortunate blind date in front of all the popular people (and Jesse.) The date dubs her "Panther," and keeps calling her that as a pet name. She wants to die--and so did I, laughing. Great stuff. I'll probably read this again, and I almost never read books twice.

I love Bing Crosby, and he's at his best in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, an adaptation of Mark Twain's novel. IMDB describes this as "A singing mechanic finds himself in Arthurian Britain." But it's so much more fun than that! It's great watching Der Bingster going toe to toe with Merlin, showing the villain magician up time and again with things like matches and a revolver he tinkers as a blacksmith. My favorite scene in the movie is when Bing saves King Arthur and their friend Sir Saggy with information from his almanac. So fun. And the music is delightful--of course! It's Bing Crosby. "If You Stub Your Toe on the Moon" and "Busy Doing Nothing" are so catchy we were singing them by the end of the song. We got this DVD from Netflix, and our kids adored it as well.