Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Writing How-To Books and Teen Spirit

I've been prepping for a writers retreat presentation so I read a few books for that.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder is a how-to book for screenplays, and you might not think it would apply to novel writing, but it's great. I loved his advice for how to make characters likable, and his tips on pacing especially. He had lots of knowledge about the business and is just breezy and likable himself. This book gets an A+ from me.

Description and Setting by Ron Rozwell was another one I studied. It had some good info about how to make settings come alive. It didn't get as specific as I needed it to for this presentation, so it wasn't as useful, but I do think someone could benefit from his tips. They were just more general than what I needed this time.

I also read The Teachings of George Albert Smith, which is what the adult Sunday School class is studying at church this year. I work with the kids during that hour, so I just read ahead. I loved especially the chapters on kindness. He seemed like such a kind man. The story about how there were some crusty construction workers being crude and a neighbor berated them for being pottymouthed out in front of President Smith's house. He, instead, whipped up some lemonade and brought them all a glass. They were much more respectful after being shown love and kindess. Great man!

We watched Teen Spirit on Netflix streaming. It was from ABC Family, so we made the mistake of thinking it would be okay for our family. Uh, no. We had to shut it off while the kids were up. Later we finished it, and it was then I realized it was rated TV-14. Gotta check the ratings! The story is a snotty popular girl dies and has to help the nerdy girl become prom queen in a week's time or else be banished to hell. Silly premise. 2 1/2 star show.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The People of Sparks, The Hiding Place, The Guernsey Literary Society..., Prince Caspian etc.

I haven't updated in a while so I have a lot to catch up on.

I read The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau. It is the second book in the City of Ember series.  I read the first book a few years ago and I think I liked that one better than this second one.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. This book is amazing! It is a true story.  The author of the book was a Christian during World War II who hid Jews in her home and then her and her family were caught and put into a concentration camp.  This story tells of her experiences during the war and is a tearjerker.  It is  definitely worth the read! 

How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse by Cressida Cowell is the fourth book in the How to Train Your Dragon series.  I loved it!  It was fun and easy to read. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  This is a fiction book that takes place during World War II.  The book is written in the form of letters and I really liked it. 

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis is the second book in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series.  I liked it although I think I liked the first one better. 

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson is a clean chick flick book.  I liked it! 

I will talk about the movies I've seen later.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Al Capone Does My Shirts

I recently finished reading Al Capone Does My Shirts, a middle-grade novel by Gennifer Choldenko. I've been meaning to read this since it received a Newbery Honor several years ago, but only just got around to it.

It's 1935, and 12-year-old Moose Flanagan has just moved to Alcatraz where his father is a prison guard and electrician. These jobs in the prison might enable the family to send Moose's "special" sister, Natalie to a school that might be able to help with her problems. This book is well written, and Moose's character is especially likable. Choldenko does a good job of portraying what life is like for a child who bears much of the responsibility to care for a disabled sibling. It's easy to root for him as he learns to accept life on a prison island, deal with the warden and his very cute, but extremely difficult daughter, and makes new friends through baseball. I also loved the character of Theresa, one of the other children living on Alcatraz. She is a fun, spunky, confident seven-year-old, and she's awesome.

It's not mentioned during the story, but Natalie is autistic and was inspired by the author's sister. It is a sensitive portrayal of both Natalie and Mrs. Flanagan, who struggles to do anything and everything to help her disabled child.

I thought the ending was a little far-fetched, but 5th graders probably won't care. I liked the author's note at the end in which she explained her research on Al Capone and Alcatraz, so she could make the book historically accurate.

Well worth the read.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Agency

I just read a novella by Erin Ann McBride, author of Beyond Perfection. It's called The Agency, and I downloaded it for Kindle. This speedy read tells one young go-getter's adventures as she works in the ad/tech world for a woman who is in the running for the Worst Boss Ever award. It had me holding my breath and flying through the pages wondering how (and if!) Anne Marie was ever going to escape the stinging of this Portuguese Man o' War. Fun novella-length story--not a lot of depth, but just a great beach or airplane read.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Fairest by Gail Carson Levine is a second novel set in the fantasy world of Frell which she created for her popular, Newberry Winning Ella Enchanted. Just like Ella Enchanted is in a way a fractured fairy tale related to Cinderella, Fairest is a fracturing and retelling of Snow White. While there are similar elements (a magic mirror; the white skin, black hair and blood red lips of the heroine; a jealous queen) the story is very different. The heroine, Aza, is a foundling living in a country inn with a loving family. Chance takes her to the castle to see the king’s remarriage to a beautiful bride from out of town. Complications ensue. Aza has a beautiful singing voice, which she is able to throw like a ventriloquist. She’s also (by her own admission) quite ugly. My 9 year-old daughter loved it, but for me, about 2/3 of the way through, it took a wrong turn in the plot and it never quite got back on track. I loved (adored) Ella Enchanted, and this began just as wonderfully, but it didn't quite deliver the story I personally was hoping for. The writing is very nice, however. 3 stars out of 5.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Baker Street Letters, The Muppets

Now that I've already read the second installment in the Baker Street Boys series, I had to go back and grab the first one at the other library. This one is called The Baker Street Letters. Robertson introduces us to the Heath brothers, Nigel and Reggie. Reggie is the successful one, Nigel is the flighty one, but they share a law chambers on Baker Street at the address of the fictional Sherlock Holmes. Letters come in for SH all the time, and they are required to not respond other than with a form letter. Nigel gets that task, as he's lost his law license temporarily, and he gets an obsessive interest in a certain 20-year-old letter. Nigel goes missing, and the same day the annoying law clerk turns up dead in Nigel's office. Reggie follows Nigel to Los Angeles and a mystery ensues. The vast majority of it takes place in L.A., (which is kind of a disappointment, since it ought to be all Sherlock Holmes-y and Londony, I'd think) and the characters could be more likable, more fleshed out. (They get more likable in the second volume.) It's about 3 stars out of five, but the second one is so great, I'm excited to read a third if Robertson is working on it. It's really fun when an author's writing improves and you can be along for the ride.

It's family movie night. The Muppets. My kids really like it. This is their second viewing of it. The cameos are fun. I've never seen any of the charm or appeal of the Miss Piggy character. Sigh. Sorry, Pig. The story centers on a non-famous puppet named Walter who has always idolized the Muppets since he was a kid and saw them on TV. He goes with his human brother and the human brother's girlfriend to the now-defunct Muppet studio, which is about to be destroyed. The only way to save the theater is to raise $10 million with a show. They have to collect the whole gang or it will never work. And they need a celebrity host. There's a subplot about whether the human brother will propose to the girlfriend. It's got cute jokes and fun musical numbers. "Kermit, if you don't get a celebrity host, no show. I will rerun Benson if I have to!" Good times. 3 stars out of 5.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

I finished reading Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It is the sequel to Peter and the Starcatchers. Even though this book runs over 500 pages, it is written at a middle grade level, about 5th or 6th grade. This is a highly enjoyable, well written story easily enjoyed by children as well as adults who grew up with the story of Peter Pan. 
Tower of London

I've read Peter and the Starcatchers, but I have very little memory of it. That did not hinder my enjoyment of the sequel. The occasional references to the first book are made either in passing or are explained. In Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and Tinker Bell (she prefers to be called a birdgirl, not a fairy) temporarily leave Mollusk Island and the Indians, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys to return to London to warn Peter's friend Molly and her Father about the dangerous Lord Ombra. Lord Ombra, a creature of darkness, not a man, is ruthless and has the ability to steal people's shadows, effectively depriving them of what makes them thinking, feeling individuals. Molly and her family are Starcatchers, people who find the magic "starstuff" when it falls to earth and, at appointed times and places, return it to the sky. Starstuff is powerful and unpredictable, and in the hands of evil people and shadow thieves, is a danger to everyone.
The White Tower
This is a wonderful book. It has adventure and magic and action and wonderful characters and a great setting. I love reading books that take place at familiar locations. Much of the action of this novel takes place at the Tower of London and at Stonehenge. Cool. Peter is a fascinating character; in the previous book, exposure to starstuff changed his body so that he will never age. In this book, he has to learn to be mature mentally even though he will never be be able to physically. He has to come to terms with what this means for the relationships he has with his friends. Tinker Bell is smart, spunky, brave, and fun.
Heel Stone
A particularly difficult part of the novel for me was when Peter and Tinker Bell find themselves in a pet market in London. Tinker Bell is related to birds, and she is irate at seeing the terrified, caged birds. She tries to set them free and is caught by the man selling the birds. When Peter tries to get her back, the man beats him, lies to all the vendors around him about what is going on and gets Peter arrested. I can handle villains; it's easy to accept them as evil people and root against them. But this pet vendor was just a bad man, who spent his days trying to get ahead by hurting and cheating others. I found it difficult to read. Fortunately, it all worked out in the end.

This is a great book, and well worth the read. We get to see what happened to Peter before he met Wendy and her brothers. For anyone with kids, this would be fun to read as a family. Enjoy it, and keep an eye on your shadow!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A couple of oldies but goodies

I've never read the novel The Three Musketeers, but I've seen several versions of the movie. Most recently, I watched the 1948 film staring Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, June Allyson, and Van Heflin. It's a fun movie with a lot of energetic fight scenes. But, it's clearly a movie from a different era, and I'd be interested to see what today's teenagers think of it. It did have an odd mix of physical comedy and tragedy. Still, it was worth watching.

I also watched Bringing Up Baby, staring Katharine Hepburn as a "screwball" heiress and Cary Grant as a paleontologist. Grant's character, David, is trying to get a million-dollar donation for his museum. He is pursued by Hepburn's crazy character, Susan, and her pet leopard, Baby. I found the beginning of the movie hard to watch because Hepburn's character is crazy. But I consider that a testament to what a good job she did playing the role, because the viewer knows exactly how exasperated David feels. The movies was well written and very well acted and a fun way to spend an evening.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Brothers of Baker Street, Chipwrecked

It's summer and a local theater offers free movies for kids. The weather is SO hot, and I'm just glad my kids have somewhere to go that's air conditioned besides the pool (which is fine but a lot of hours and days in the sun, you know?) Last week we took in Chipwrecked, the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie. The Chipmunks are going on a family vacation with Dave on a cruise. The Chip-ettes are along because this cruise is en route to some kind of international music awards show where all the chipmunk singers are performing. Alvin, up to his usual hijinx, manages to create a disaster wherein all the chipmunks are sort of blown overboard and deposited on a deserted island. Dave follows to save them (accidentally accompanied by a villain--the guy who played Tobias on Arrested Development--wearing a pelican suit.) There's a crazy lady on the island. And a treasure. And a volcano. While it was cute enough for me (except that the Chipettes look a little scary-faced. Why?), the one who really enjoyed it was my 4yo daughter. She was thoroughly entertained. And that's what it was for.

Ooh! I'm so excited about this next book. It was a mystery called The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson. It's book 2 in a series (which I didn't know until I was 1/3 of the way in), but the story was understandable as a stand-alone. The premise is a pair of London barrister brothers (Nigel and Reggie) take chambers at 221B Baker Street and begin to receive letters mailed to Sherlock Holmes. They are to only send form letters in response, according to conditions of the lease, never any other kind of response. Apparently not following this order got them in trouble in the last book. However, in this installment, they're receiving threat letters addressed to themselves (sort of) from someone wanting to avenge the wrongs of the sender's ancestor: James Moriarty. The mystery centers on the famous London Black Cabs, the safest transportation in the world--until now, when a Black Cab Killer has appeared. Reggie takes on the duty of defending the accused cabbie (sure the man is innocent), and the ball is rolling. I read this in one 24-hour period. If it hadn't been for necessary sleep (due to being a mom to five active kids) I'd have devoured it faster. It's rated PG (in my opinion), which is a true gem of a find in a lot of popular literature these days. I can't wait to zip down to the library and get book one.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Wham Curse, Snow White and the Huntsman

The Wham Curse by Virgil Alexander is a novel based on a historical event from our county. In 1889, a group of local citizens allegedly rolled a boulder blocking a pass, then ambushed a company of Buffalo Soldiers and stole the Army payroll for a several local army forts. The citizens were tried and acquitted, and the money (over $30,000 in gold and silver coins) was never found. The event is known as the Wham Paymaster Robbery because the military unit was led by a Major Wham. The novel asks the question, "What if that treasure were to be found now?" It's a police detective mystery, with a murder and a whole lot of local geography getting starring roles. I loved reading about the history and locations of our county. The author is clearly a real history buff and has a deep love of the area. While there are a few flaws in the novel (it's self-published, so some things do crop up), the story itself pulled me through the novel. Good characters, great setting. I'll gladly share this with friends.

For date night we saw Snow White and the Huntsman. It's a pretty dark retelling of Snow White (not that the original is all rainbows and unicorns) with the evil queen able to keep her youth and beauty only by eating the actual human hearts of beautiful young women. Um, yuck? Pretty much. Cannibalism is what we're accepting as our entertainment these days, I guess. Well, anyway, as truly gorgeous as Charlize Theron was as the evil queen, I didn't quite get an evil vibe from her. And I know they kept saying Kristen Stewart is the fairest of them all, but really? Prettier than Charlize? Mmm, no. Yeah, yeah, based on what was in her pure heart. Fine. And the movie did emphasize that. Okay. Since the title is what it is, I kind of expected a little more romance than it delivered, which was a bummer. Much as Chris H...what'shisThor... did fine in the role (seemed like Thor showed up in the fairy tale), I didn't see any chemistry between him and Stewart. But the mirror was totally cool. And the 8 dwarves were great. And the special effects were fantastic! Loved them. Best I've seen in a while. That pushed the whole movie up a star. But it's LONG. And it felt long. I kept checking my watch. I don't know. This movie was a mixed bag. 2 1/2 stars. Maybe 3, if it weren't for the cannibalism. Nope, I gotta go back to 2 1/2.