Thursday, April 30, 2009

April Reads

I finished six books in April, including one really long one. I also listened to most of an audiobook.

Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues #3 by Donald Soboll 04/02/09
Good - Childrens (999 Category: Nostalgia)
The amazing boy detective solves 10 mysteries.
I read all the Encyclopedia Brown books when I was a kid. I read this one aloud to my kids.

The 100 Best Worldwide Vacations to Enrich Your Life by Pam Grout 04/13/09
Good - Non-fiction (999 Category: 9 and Counting)
100 Unforgettable possibilities for travel, divided into artsy getaways, volunteer vacations, learning retreats, and wellness escapes
I expected more from this book than I got. Seemed very politically correct. But my favorite ideas were: Assington Mill book binding & restoration class, sketchbook class with, a variety of writers workshops, Plein air painting with, research bottle nose dolphins, Italian art, safari surf school in Costa Rica, ride horses to Machu Picchu's neighbor site, cycle through the Austrian Alps, water sports in Fiji, bike across Cuba

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Starting a Reading Group
by Patrick Sauer 04/22/09
Good - Non-fiction (999 Category: Literacy)
Conveniently organized guide to starting and running a book club covers topics like who to invite, what to read, and where to meet. Lots of book lists on many topics.
I thought this would be useful since we are doing a book club kind of by the seat of our pants. But the bulk of this book is reading selections in a variety of genres and I can find that information anywhere.

Daniel Deronda
by George Eliot 04/24/09
Good - Classic (999 Category: Vintage Volumes)
Gwendolen Harleth is young, beautiful, and spoiled and finds herself inexplicably drawn to Daniel Deronda, the ward of a rich British aristocrat.
This was our book club selection for the month and it was HARD to get through, but worthwhile. The sheer length of the novel is daunting, as well as the intricate sentence structure and heavy vocabulary, but the story shines. The last 100 pages were filled with twists and turns suited for any modern novel despite it being written in the 1870's. The movie (starring Hugh Dancy and Romola Garai) was good too, but changed quite a bit of the book's storyline.

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond 04/28/09
Good - Childrens (999 Category: Nostalgia)
A bear from Darkest Peru comes to live with a proper British family in London.
Another book I remember fondly from my childhood. Paddington's irrepressible personality is just as charming as I remember. The three younger kids were enthralled with this one. I highly recommend it as a read-aloud! There are a bunch more Paddington books that I'll look for at the library.

The Grand Finale by Janet Evanovich 04/29/09
Good - Romance (999 Category: Kindred Spirits)
Berry runs a pizza place and meets Jake while delivering pizza. A very funny romance.
I needed something light and really fluffy after reading Daniel Deronda. Saw this Evanovich at the library and snatched it up. Janet Evanovich wrote a few romance novels before authoring the Stephanie Plum series. I'd read a couple others and they were nice, but this was sweetly romantic and hilariously written. I could see shades of Grandma Mazur in one of the characters and cars kept getting stolen. LOL Nice to read when in need of something frothy or when Finger Lickin' Fifteen is still two months away from release!

A Thousand Splendid Suns (audiobook) by Khaled Hosseini 5-1-09
Good - Fiction (999 Category: 9 and Counting)
Two very different women's lives intersect in 20th century Afghanistan.
OK, I haven't exactly finished this one, but I need to finish it tout suite so I am putting it down. I am listening to the audiobook and it's very compelling. The characters are sharply drawn and the story is horrifying. How can stuff like this happen in the modern world? Well, it can if the Taliban governs your city. The narrator seems to be an Afgani woman and her performance makes the story even more poignant. (No, I haven't read The Kite Runner, but I plan to.)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

17 Again (2009)

Picture three very stressed-out ladies at the end of a very long day. What they need is something light-hearted, something humorous, something distracting.....

I've tried 3 times to write this review of 17 Again, but I just couldn't seem to move beyond "It's funny! We laughed and laughed. And, by the way, don't take your preteen to see this even if she does have a crush on Zac Efron."

But tonight I went again with two other friends and I think one more attempt at this review should bear fruit. There aren't too many movies that I pay full price to see more than once. (Lord of the Rings comes to mind! lol)

Maybe you've heard that the movie is just a rehash of a familiar plot - What would happen if you could go back to your youth and try it again? Movies along these lines are common - Freaky Friday, Big, Peggy Sue Got Married, even Back to the Future and It's a Wonderful Life.

Let's see. Mike O'Donnell had a promising high school basketball career, but tossed away his chance at a scholarship to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Twenty years later, he's alienated both his wife and his two kids. The last straw comes when he gets fired from his job instead of receiving an expected promotion. Is it any wonder he would prefer to return to 1989? Then, through some unexplained magic, he does return, not to 1989, but to his 17-year-old body.

Yep, seems pretty familiar stuff. So what does 17 Again have to add to this genre which contains some clearly superior films?


It's not a surprising story. One of my movie-going friends guessed every plot point before it happened. Did that make her enjoy the film any less? From her laughs and comments afterward, I would venture to say her pleasure in the film remained intact. Are we only amused by stories that have never been told? Aren't many (if not all) stories a reprise of some previously-described tale? So, even if a familiar plot is predictable, our satisfaction in the story is not necessarily lessened.

Some of the biggest laughs came from the subplot involving Ned, an endearingly geeky bachelor played with wide-eyed charm by Thomas Lennon. I won't spoil these giggles, except to say that if you have any familiarity with Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dungeons and Dragons or any other Sci-fi or fantasy world, you will very likely adore Ned. As a Lord of the Rings fan and the mother of two Star Wars fans, I could certainly relate.

However, I found the greatest surprise of the movie to be the star, Zac Efron, who plays the young incarnation of the age-shifting Mike O'Donnell. Yes, he of High School Musical fame. I have never been counted a fan of the HSM franchise (although that may change!). Shall we say that my expectations were low? However, Efron seems to hit just the right balance between earnestness and satire. Charisma he has in abundance and it shines through, making this familiar plot something sparkling. The courtroom scene is a case in point.

Other items of note:
Michelle Trachtenburg and Sterling Knight both are enjoyable in the roles of Mike's two teenage children. I particularly liked Knight's awkwardness. Matthew Perry, as the adult Mike O'Donnell, gets almost no screen time. His name probably anchors the movie for most people my age, though, so I can understand the choice. Leslie Mann capably plays Scarlett, Mike's wife, although I didn't see much chemistry between her and either Efron or Perry.

This is not a movie for the preteen High School Musical fans. Some uncomfortable situations result from young Mike trying to repair his relationship with his daughter and wife who don't realize his identity. Use your imagination. A sex-ed class presents several topics that my own preteens would not understand, although the scene ends up favorably disposed toward abstinence. Some language and teen partying also contribute to the PG-13 rating.

And nope, the hairstyles are NOT from 1989. Sorry, no. Not even close. (Not referring to the coifs in these pictures, though.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, laughing and giggling through it twice, even after paying through the nose for full price tickets. I intend to buy it when it is released on DVD. And even more telling, I've started watching the High School Musical films! If you are in need of some stress relief, this may be your prescription.


Screenit Review
Plugged In Review

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Three Quick Reviews of Forgettable Movies - Yes Man, Bedtime Stories, Duplex

Three quick reviews of forgettable movies...

Yes Man had some charming moments and some that had my teenager literally rolling on the floor laughing. But Zooey Deschanel, usually drily exuberant, didn't shine like she did in other films. Carrey was Carrey, so if you usually like him, you'll find this amusing. A couple objectionable scenes prevent me from giving a wholehearted recommendation.

Yes Man review at

Duplex - I'd never heard of this film, despite it being fairly recent. Turns out there was good reason. A promising beginning quickly degenerated into not-so-humorous pratfalls and silly jokes. Eventually the storyline went right where I thought it would. Despite a twist at the end, it left a sour taste in my mouth. Don't waste your time.

Duplex review at

Bedtime Stories - I expected more than the flimsy storyline and flat jokes. Sandler was himself, and that's ok. We expect it. Keri Russell seemed to be trying too hard. The bedtime stories themselves were amusing, as well as how they played into Skeeter's life. The English dude playing Sandler's best friend was a shining spot in the otherwise mostly dull film. My kids liked it. And we're all walking around quoting, "It's freeeeeeee....." Whatever.

Bedtime Stories review at

The Widow's Might

I'd like to go see this movie, but it's not playing in very many cities. I'd have to drive about 90 minutes. Hmmm....

60 Second Trailer Spot, Widow's Might from John Moore on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

btt button

Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to…
  1. Are you currently reading more than one book? Right you are!
  2. If so, how many books are you currently reading? Oh, wow. Um. Six, I guess. Seven if you count what I'm reading to the kids. Some of them more actively than others.
  3. Is this normal for you? Definitely. I usually have at least one fiction and one non-fiction read going.
  4. Where do you keep your current reads? All over the place? One on the end table, one in the bathroom, the rest stacked either in the library basket or here and there around.
What about you? I'd love to hear your answers - blog them, facebook them, or just leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

March Reads

Eight books again in March. Making good progress toward the 999 Reading Challenge.

Deadly Reunion by Florence Case - 03/09/09
Poor - Inspirational
Police officer Angie is sure that Warren Detry killed his wife and is now planning to kill Angie's sister and maybe Angie as well. Can her former love Boone protect her?
I really wanted to like this book which I won in a blog contest, but I just didn't. I found it confusing and cliched.

Soup by Robert Newton Peck - 03/09/09
Excellent - Read-aloud
Misadventures of Robert and his mischievous friend Soup are described in this pithy and humorous memoir
This is one of the books from my own childhood that I'm reading aloud to my children. Not politically correct at all, but very very funny!

Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani - 03/14/09
Good - Fiction
Valentine Roncalli is apprentice to her grandmother, a master shoemaker and owner of the Angelini Shoe Co in NYC, an 100 year old financially unstable company that makes custom wedding shoes.
I liked this Trigiani better than the last one I read (Rococo), but I don't really relate well to any of her characters. I find their world intriguing, however, and that sustains my interest.

Hungry Planet: What the World Eats by Peter Menzel & Faith D'Aluisio - 03/15/09
Excellent - Non-fiction
What do people eat in the course of a week. Photography and essays about 30 families from 24 countries answer that question.
Everyone should at least peruse this book. Amazing photos of families from all over the world and of what they eat. Most striking are the photos of each family pictured with the food they eat in a week. Accompanying essays are fascinating and stuffed with information. Suzanne was especially fond of paging through this book and I shared tidbits from it with all the kids.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - 03/19/09
Good - Classic
Margaret Hale moves with her parents from the bucolic South of England to a manufacturing town in the North, where she finds life to be very different.
I love the BBC miniseries based on this book and chose this title for book club based on my love for the movie. I'm glad I read it, but I like the movie better! I'll read more Gaskell eventually.

Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult - 03/22/09
Good - Fiction
Charlotte and Sean's daughter Willow was born with a debilitating illness and they are offered the opportunity to file a lucrative wrongful birth lawsuit.
Picoult writes thoughtful fiction and this was no exception. Not particularly uplifting, but mesmerizing all the same.

Soup and Me by Robert Newton Peck - 03/23/09
Good - Childrens
More misadventures from Soup and Rob.
Did you realize there are a large numbers of sequels to Soup? I knew about this one and a couple more, but I had no idea how many there actually were! This was another nostalgic read-aloud and my kids adored it!

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester - 03/29/09
Good - Fiction
Midshipman Horatio Hornblower of the British Navy has a series of adventures which ends in his promotion to Lieutenant.
Clearly I read this because of my interest in the British Hornblower TV series. There are many Hornblower books by Forester, mostly (all?) written in the 30's. This one was added to my library's collection the year I was BORN. Heh. It's the sixth written in the series, but the first one chronologically and tells of how Hornblower comes to join the Navy and his first adventures there. Most of the TV series plotlines come from this novel, although the television scripts don't follow the book very closely. Anyway, if you like exciting tales with a wholesome aspect, you'll like this. I've requested the audiobook for my sons who enjoy listening to books on tape.

Currently I am reading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot and listening to A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini. I am also perusing a book on manuscript revision.

What are YOU reading?