Monday, November 26, 2012

The Life of Pi

I saw The Life of Pi this past weekend and I loved it!! I thought the story itself was so interesting and it really made me think. It has wonderful graphics and I was captivated the entire time. I highly recommend it! It's such a different story than the usual hero-adventure-lets blow everything up type of plot, and I thought that was really refreshing. I want to read the book now!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Newport Ladies Book Club: Athena

I just finished reading Athena, book 4 in the Newport Ladies Book Club series and I liked it! Author Heather B. Moore compelling captures the different facets and struggles Athena faces as a single woman trying to make her way in a successful career while dealing with the expectations of her mother who longs to see her settled with a nice, stable Greek man.  And if dealing with her mother is not enough pressure, Athena struggles with the emotional loss she feels because of her father’s Alzheimer’s disease and the misunderstanding she has about her parents’ obvious unequal relationship. 

Despite her family turmoil, Athena discovers books and Grey, a man who gradually changes her perception of men, all thanks to a dare from her boyfriend Karl. Books become Athena’s lifeline as she joins Ruby’s book club and connects with women who care about her, especially when tragedy happens and guilt follows.  Moore’s honest, straightforward style draws us into Athena’s life and lets us share her heartaches and happiness, and the power women have to make a difference in other women’s lives.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Books and Movies

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Have you ever finished a book and then just wanted to hug it for a moment because you aren't quite ready to let go of it yet?  That's how I felt when I finished Wonder last night.  Wonder is R.J. Palacio's debut novel.  I found it to be a thought-provoking, heart-warming read.  It's about a boy named Auggie who has a severe facial deformity and goes to school for the first time in 5th grade.  He experiences the challenges and joys of trying to fit in when he can only stand out.  A great reminder of the importance of kindness, friendship, and acceptance.

The Girl Who Could Fly, by Victoria Forester and Michael Vey, by Richard Paul Evans

I lumped these two books together because I found them sort of similar in theme.  Both books are about kids who have special powers and have to use their powers to fight off bad guys.  That's all I'm going to say, because I don't want to ruin the stories for you.  I really enjoyed both of these books.

Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

I read this for my book club.  It's not something I probably would have chosen on my own, but I did find it somewhat interesting.  It is a collection of eight stories that focus on the lives of Bengali families who raise children in America and deal with the challenges of holding onto their culture.  


The City of Ember
Whenever I watch a movie based on a book, I try to be mentally prepared for the fact that the movie will not be as good as the book.  Most of the time, I still enjoy the movie, because I enjoy seeing the characters I love brought to life.  Unfortunately, that was not the case with this movie.  Words cannot express how much I resent this horrible interpretation of a great book.  The book had a serious, thoughtful feel to it, but the movie was turned into an odd, Roald Dahl-type interpretation that just irritated me.  They made changes to the storyline that were totally unnecessary and frankly, totally lame.  I regret wasting 1 hour and 33 minutes of my life watching this.  Okay, rant finished now.

War Horse
This weekend I was flipping channels and was fortunate to find War Horse just starting on one of the movie channels.  I loved this movie! It was heartwarming and just what I needed to get that awful City of Ember movie off my mind.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Pricklypear's Picks

I've watched quite a few movies since I last posted. Here are the ones I particularly enjoyed and about which I have something to say and would recommend:

You Can’t Take it With You—An older black and white movie with James Stewart, a comedy about two people in love coming from very different backgrounds. You can imagine what happens when the uptight, status-focused parents of Tony Kirby (James Stewart) meet the eccentric, free-wheeling Sycamore clan. I do like that Jimmy Stewart.

Miss Minoes—A Dutch movie about a cat that turns into a woman, and even though there were serious plot holes and cheesiness, it was pretty funny and enjoyable. I really liked the actress. A good family-friendly movie similar to old live action Disney films like That Darn Cat and The Shaggy Dog.

The Manchurian Candidate – I had seen the original in black and white, and now I’ve seen this remake with Denzel Washington. As far as I could remember, they follow the same story, and it is a good one, although disturbing. The remake is more disturbing and harsh, something to keep in mind. I had to cover my eyes and mute the sound at least once. But I thought the acting was amazing. I keep being surprised how much I like Liev Schreiber.

Columbus Circle - An agoraphobic lady’s life is disrupted by the new tenants that acquire the apartment across the hall when the previous tenant is murdered. Various plot twists (that were maybe a tad predictable), and it had a little too much fighting for me, but I enjoyed it overall. I kind of loved the ending.

They Might be Giants – A man in 1970’s New York City believes he is Sherlock Holmes, when he meets a doctor named Watson, he drags her along in an adventure trying to find Professor Moriarty. Classic goofiness and I loved it all. That part in the grocery store: awesomeness.

Romantics Anonymous - French film about two painfully shy people and how they get together in the end. I don't usually like the generic romantic comedies where they get together in the end, but I enjoyed the French conversations about chocolate and I loved the cheerful rendition of "I Have Confidence in Sunshine" in French ("J'ai confiance en moi").

Here are some other good movies I watched, about which I just don't have a lot to say:

Man on a Ledge
Mirror, Mirror
It’s Kind of a Funny Story
The Debt
Mission: Impossible
Hocus Pocus
The Birdcage

I think this brings my new-to-me-movie count up to 38. Do you think I can watch 12 more movies by the end of the year?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Audio books

I've decided I should use my commuting time wisely, so I've taken up listening to audio books. I'm a visual person and much prefer reading to listening, but I'm getting used to the audio.

The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Short Stories. This was a collection of pretty typical Mark Twain stories. Some better than others, but on the whole, enjoyable.

The Uncommon Reader. This is a novella by Alan Bennett, and he was also the reader. This is a story about the Queen of England, late in life, discovering a love of reading and writing. One morning, she sees the mobile library parked outside the palace kitchens and borrows a book. It's a wonderful story of the transformative power of reading. I wasn't expecting the ending. It was an excellent book.

The Neverending Story. I can't count this toward my 50 books, because I've read it at least seven times. It was written by Michael Ende and translated by Ralph Manheim, and it's my favorite book. Since it recently came out on Audible, I decided I should listen to it. The reader was Gerard Doyle. He did a pretty good job, but there were a few names I would have pronounced differently. This is the story of fat, unpopular Bastian who steals a book and becomes entangled in a story in which he must save the world of Fantastica and the human world. Along the way he must learn how to love. If you ever decide to read or listen to it, you'll probably enjoy the story. If you decide to read it again, you find a whole symbolic layer. I love it.

Vacations are a good time to watch movies

I've had some extra time to watch a few movies recently.

First, The Hunger Games. It was a well-done movie and a good story. I'll probably read the book, but I don't think I can watch the movie again. Way too disturbing (I handle disturbing things better in books than in movies). When the On Demand wigged out and I had to fast forward through three quarters of the movie to see the end, I had to close my eyes a few times because I couldn't watch some of the scenes even at double speed.

Love's Labour's Lost. This is Kenneth Branagh doing a Shakespearean comedy. It's a musical. And it's awesome.

Secret Life of Bees. This was a beautiful movie. It was well written, well acted. It was very heavy. I nearly fell apart a couple of times while watching it. Lily runs away from her abusive father and is taken in by three sisters who are beekeepers. Set to the backdrop of racially divided South Carolina in the 60s, Lily learns a little of how the world works, her place in it, and about the mother she accidentally shot. The cast was great and includes: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifa, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, and Paul Bettany.

Mirror Mirror. I watched this in the theater on a cruise ship. It really wasn't set up to show movies on a big screen. The picture was dark and possibly distorted. And I was tired when I watched it. Julia Roberts was the evil queen. It was for a younger audience, but it was a cute movie.

17 Miracles. You know from the outset that if anyone requires that many miracles things are going to be bad.  The impression was confirmed when the first scene in the movie was our main character and others finding the Donner party. The movie was about handcart companies crossing the plains to Salt Lake City. It was kind of a downer in many respects, although many of them did make it all the way to Utah. I thought Jasen Wade did a good job. It was based on true events.

Snow White and the Huntsman. It thought this was good; definitely way better than I expected. I really only watched it because Chris Hemsworth (Thor) was in it. It was very dark, and some parts were disturbing. The queen was very evil. I wouldn't have cast Kristen Stewart, but she did a good job as did the rest of the cast. The special effects were excellent.

This only takes me halfway to 50. I guess I need a movie marathon.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Books Read in October

Hello fellow book lovers!  I know I'm joining the blog late in the year, but I look forward to sharing some of my latest reads with you.  I currently work as the elementary librarian at an international school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, so I spend a lot of time reading YA fiction in hopes that I'll find some great books to recommend to my students.  These are a few titles that I read in October: (I had some vacation time and extra time to read-- yay!)

Remarkable, by Elizabeth Foley
There's that old saying that you should never judge a book by it's cover, but I confess it was the bright, whimsical cover of this book which initially got my attention.  Fortunately, the book proved to be every bit as delightful and fun as the cover.  Jane is a plain, unremarkable girl who lives in a town full of remarkable people.  She is accustomed to being overlooked, but thanks to her grandfather, a set of brilliant, mischievous twins, a pirate, and a sea monster, she finds her own remarkable qualities.  I absolutely loved this book!

Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanna Lai
At our school, one of our goals is to teach our students to think globally.  I was happy to find this book, as I feel it's a great way of initiating discussion about the importance of empathy and tolerance.  Ha is a young girl from Saigon who is forced to flee to America with her mother and brothers during the Vietnam war.  A sponsor helps them settle in Alabama, where Ha experiences the challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture.  A sweet story told in verse.

City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and the Diamond of Darkhold, by Jeanne DuPrau
There are actually four books in this series, but so far I have only read these three.  I have a thing for post-apocalyptic stories, so I loved this series.  Basically, a city is built deep underground in hopes that the citizens of the city would survive devastating wars and plagues and eventually emerge (200 years later) to rebuild civilization.  Unfortunately, the instructions for exiting the city are lost, leaving the citizens underground for much longer than intended.  Friends Lina and Doon are determined to find the way out of the dying city.  The series follows their determination to first find a way out of the city, then to learn how to survive in the world above.  I found these books very fascinating and thought-provoking.  

Son, by Lois Lowry
I loved Lowry's book, The Giver, so I was anxious to read this recent addition to the series.  In The Giver, Jonas escaped his community with a baby named Gabe, who was going to be killed simply because he wasn't conforming to the expected sleep and behavior patterns.  Son follows the story of Gabe's birthmother, Claire, who also breaks free of the community in search of her son.  

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith
While I read a lot of YA literature, I do enjoy some good grown-up reads now and then.  I have read several of McCall Smith's other series and have found this series every bit as charming.  McCall Smith has such an ability to bring his quirky, endearing characters to life.  In this book, I particularly love how we get to see into the mind of Freddie de la Hay, the Pimlico terrier adopted by wine-merchant William.  

Honestly, I've read more books than you probably want to read about all at once, so I'll save some for another post!

We don't have movie theatres here in Saudi Arabia, so it's always a real treat when we can take a trip to Bahrain to visit the cinema.  This week we were on Eid break, so we went to Bahrain and saw 4 movies:  
The Amazing Spiderman-- loved it!  (Sorry Tobey McGuire!)
Hotel Transylvania-- loved it! 
Pitch Perfect-- liked the music and fun characters, but didn't love the crass humor or excessive vomiting.
Skyfall-- haven't seen a Bond movie for a while, and while it was action-packed and had some great moments, I just find that I no longer enjoy this type of movie as much as I used to.  

Because I get starved for entertainment, I also occasionally splurge on a movie from iTunes.  Today I downloaded Snow White and the Hunstman.  I enjoyed the new twist on a classic story, though I did find it a bit dark and slow at times.  

Thanks for including me in the blog-- I've enjoyed reading all the posts and appreciate the motivation to keep trying new books!