Thursday, August 27, 2009

Title: Ponyo
Format: Movie theater
Date Seen: August 18, 2009
Category: Hayao Miyazaki/Anime
Rating: A

Thankfully for all of his fans, Hayao Miyazaki never means it when he says he's going to retire, or we wouldn't now have one of his sweetest movies ever, Ponyo.

Description (from IMDB): The son of a sailor, 5-year old Sosuke lives a quiet life on an oceanside cliff with his mother Lisa. One fateful day, he finds a beautiful goldfish trapped in a bottle on the beach and upon rescuing her, names her Ponyo. But she is no ordinary goldfish. The daughter of a masterful wizard and a sea goddess, Ponyo uses her father's magic to transform herself into a young girl and quickly falls in love with Sosuke, but the use of such powerful sorcery causes a dangerous imbalance in the world. As the moon steadily draws nearer to the earth and Ponyo's father sends the ocean's mighty waves to find his daughter, the two children embark on an adventure of a lifetime to save the world and fulfill Ponyo's dreams of becoming human.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hayao Miyazaki is one of the best creators of anime out there. Which is probably why Disney pounced at a chance to sign on with him. His movies are creative and often thought-provoking with animation so beautiful, it should be classified as artwork. My favorite of his movies, Howl's Moving Castle, is probably his best work so far. His newest movie, Ponyo, is also a success.

I saw this movie with my friends--the same friends who introduced me to Miyazaki's films in the first place--and we all loved it. While it is not one of his best in terms of animation, Ponyo is probably his most family-friendly movie since Kiki's Delivery Service. The two main characters, Ponyo and Sosuke, are adorable, and the storyline is neither too simple nor too complex, making it perfect for all ages. Miyazaki also interjected some of his own opinions and humor into this film; just watch the scenes with females driving (I don't think Miyazaki appreciates women drivers).

I cannot wait for this movie to come out on DVD, so the rest of my family can see it. A

Sometimes abridged is better

Title: The Sugar Queen
Author: Sarah Addison Allen
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 288
Genre: Romance/Coming-of-Age
Date Started: August 15, 2009
Date Finished: August 15, 2009

Rating: B

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Twenty-seven-year-old Josey Cirrini is sure of three things: winter in her North Carolina hometown is her favorite season, she’s a sorry excuse for a Southern belle, and sweets are best eaten in the privacy of her hidden closet. For while Josey has settled into an uneventful life in her mother’s house, her one consolation is the stockpile of sugary treats and paperback romances she escapes to each night…. Until she finds it harboring none other than local waitress Della Lee Baker, a tough-talking, tenderhearted woman who is one part nemesis—and two parts fairy godmother…

Fleeing a life of bad luck and big mistakes, Della Lee has decided Josey’s clandestine closet is the safest place to crash. In return she’s going to change Josey’s life—because, clearly, it is not the closet of a happy woman. With Della Lee’s tough love, Josey is soon forgoing pecan rolls and caramels, tapping into her startlingly keen feminine instincts, and finding her narrow existence quickly expanding.

Before long, Josey bonds with Chloe Finley, a young woman who makes the best sandwiches in town, is hounded by books that inexplicably appear whenever she needs them, and—most amazing of all—has a close connection to Josey’s longtime crush.

As little by little Josey dares to step outside herself, she discovers a world where the color red hasastonishing power, passion can make eggs fry in their cartons, and romance can blossom at any time—even for her. It seems that Della Lee’s work is done, and it’s time for her to move on. But the truth about where she’s going, why she showed up in the first place—and what Chloe has to do with it all—is about to add one more unexpected chapter to Josey’s fast-changing life.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wow! The description is going to be longer than my review. I first read The Sugar Queen in one of those 4-books-in-1 compilations that Reader's Digest publishes. The summary intrigued me, so I read it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a good story that covered both light-hearted and serious topics with ease. I loved the little touch of magic that Allen threw in the story too (oh how I wish I had the same "affliction" as Chloe). Because I liked the shortened version so much, I figured the full-length version would be even better.

I was wrong. Because I was expecting so much more, I ended up being disappointed. The only stuff the Reader's Digest editors cut out was the smut and questionable content. Everything else was pretty much the same. It's so frustrating that the author feels the need to include those scenes and descriptions. I really enjoyed the abridged version; if this had been a review of the shortened story, it would have received an A. Unfortunately, it's not. B

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Conveniently Awesome

Title: The Convenient Marriage
Author: Georgette Heyer
Format: Hardcover (not pictured)
Genre: Georgian Romance/Romantic Comedy
Date Started: August 12, 2009
Date Finished: August 13, 2009

Rating: A

Description (from Wikipedia): Horatia Winwood, a stammering girl barely out of the schoolroom, takes the place of her beautiful older sister (who is romantically involved elsewhere) in entering into a marriage of convenience with the wealthy Earl of Rule. The tentative understanding between the new husband and wife is complicated when Rule's old enemy, Lord Lethbridge, takes an interest in his young bride, in order to exact revenge over a scandal of several years earlier.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Georgette Heyer, who set the foundation for the Regency romance novel, did an amazing job with this book. It is the perfect mixture of romance, intrigue, and comedy. I loved this book so much, I read it again before sending it back to the library.

Horatio Winwood is my favorite atypical heroine. She is the opposite of the usual romance novel's leading lady. Instead of being a busty blond with large cerulean eyes (I hate most romance novels for their ridiculous women who all look like Dolly Parton or Pam Anderson), Horry is a short, rather young girl with dark hair, gray eyes, eyebrows that refuse to arch, and a pronounced stutter. She bounces back between feistiness and timidity, depending on the situation she's in, and she seems to be a magnet for trouble.

When she marries the Earl of Rule, Horry does it out of love for her sister. As the book progresses, Horry slowly comes to realize that she is falling in love with her husband, while he has been in love with her almost the entire time. But this book isn't just about the romance between the couple. It's also a story of the folly of revenge, as well as a comedy as you watch the Georgian equivalent of the Three Stooges (Horry's brother, her brother-in-law, and her brother's best friend) attempting to "quietly" fix up all of Horry's problems.

Another reason I enjoyed the book is because it was an amazing romance novel without the smut. When you hear the words "romance" and "novel" put together, most of the time the image conjured in your mind is that of a Harlequin romance whose cover sports a Fabio look-a-like. The entire book is spent describing the sexual escapades of the heroine. The Convenient Marriage was a romance novel that focused on romantic love, not lust. And for that reason, I intend to purchase my own copy soon, and pick up some more of Heyer's books. A

Shocked... Totally and Completely Shocked

Title: Nerilka's Story
Author: Anne McCaffrey
Format: Paperback
Pages: 182
Genre: Fantasy
Date Started: August 11, 2009
Date Finished: August 11, 2009
Borrowed from Library: August 11
Returned to Library: August 12

Rating: F (my first)

Description (from Barnes & Noble): A deadly epidemic was sweeping across Pern. Nerilka's father refused to share Fort Hold's bounty with the other Holds. Ashamed of her family and determined to do her part, Nerilka packed up medicines and supplies and sneaked off to aid her people. She had no idea that her new path would change the course of her life forever!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I really wanted to like this book. It's by Anne McCaffrey, one of my favorite authors; it's a love story, and I'm a sucker for those; and this is my first McCaffrey review. But there's no way I could have written a good review for this. This book was beyond disappointing. It just sucked, plain and simple. There's really no better way to say it. The characters were either wooden and undeveloped, or they were melodramatic. I couldn't connect with any of them, not even the main character. The story itself was useful in filling in gaps from the other Pern books and providing the holder's perspective, rather than the dragonriders', but that's about all this book was good for. As far as entertainment value is concerned, this book was a flop. Especially the ending. It was such a forced happy ending, it made me physically cringe.

What makes this book so disappointing (besides being so badly written) is that Anne McCaffrey is capable of so much more. I love her Dragonriders of Pern series; they're well-written, exciting, full of adventure and believable, likable characters. This book was just so poorly done, it makes me question what McCaffrey was thinking when she wrote it. And what the critics were thinking when they reviewed it. They stated that although the book was "a weak entry in the Pern saga", it should satisfy "McCaffrey's legions of fans" and said legions "should enjoy it." Well, I am a part of those "legions," and this book was not enjoyable and terribly unsatisfying.

I wouldn't recommend this ever, to anyone, especially not to a die-hard McCaffrey fan. It will only make them wonder, as I did, why the very talented author even wrote this book, and why her copy-editor didn't make her rewrite it. Badly done, McCaffrey. Badly done. F

Her name should have been Diana Epic-Wynne Jones

Title: Dark Lord of Derkholm
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Format: Paperback
Pages: 528
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Series #: 1 of 2
Date Started: August 5, 2009
Date Finished: August 8, 2009

Rating: A+

Description (from Barnes & Noble): Mr. Chesney operates Pilgrim Parties, a tour group that takes paying participants into an outer realm where the inhabitants play frightening and foreboding roles. The time has come to end the staged madness . . . but can it really be stopped? Master storyteller Diana Wynne Jones serves up twists and turns, introduces Querida, Derk, Blade, and Shona and a remarkable cast of wizards, soldiers, kings, dragons, and griffins, and mixes in a lively dash of humor. With all the ingredients of high fantasy, this unforgettable novel will delight fans old and new.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

First, let me say "THANK YOU!" to Jess S. for lending me this book, as well as "Sorry" for not getting it back to you for so long. Jess lent this book to me months ago after I led the book club she & my sister are in (and my friends and I started years ago), and the book I had chosen was also by Diana Wynne Jones (Howl's Moving Castle; read it). Knowing how much I liked Jones' work, she let me borrow it, and I took it, intending to read it that weekend, but I was in the middle of a bunch of series and ended up putting it to the side. Once August came along, I was finally kind-of finished with all the series (I say kind-of because none of the libraries in Passaic County have the newest book in the Dragon Slippers trilogy... grrrr...).

The point is, once I finally sat down to read Dark Lord of Derkholm, I was hooked. It is such an awesome adventure with wizards and griffins and dragons. But the best part of this book is the cast of characters. These are by far the most reluctant heroes you will ever meet. Wizard Derk just wants to be left alone to create more animals, his two human children just want to go their schools, and his griffin children want life to continue on as it always has. Unfortunately, the antagonist, Mr. Chesney, chooses Derk to play the role of the Dark Lord during that year's Pilgrim Parties (sort of like role-playing, only you can actually die, and sometimes you've even been signed up to die). Now the whole family is forced to get into their new roles, while others in the community are trying to make everything fall apart around their heads.

It's a fun read with humor and action and a really surprising twist. All of the characters are so well-developed that you actually feel like you've known them you're whole life. I especially loved the griffins and the cranky old dragon. And I just found out there's a sequel, so luckily the fun doesn't have to end. A+

August Library Run

I actually went to the library on the 11th; I'm just seriously behind on updating. So expect five reviews today- four books and one movie. From the library I got:
  • Nerilka's Story by Anne McCaffrey
  • The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
  • The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
Those are three of the four books I'll be reviewing. One rocked, one was pretty awesome, and one earned the first F I've ever given in this blog.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Climax!

Title: The Dragon Heir
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 512
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Series #: 3 of 3
Date Started: July 19, 2009
Date Finished: July 19, 2009

Rating: A-

Description (from the publisher): The covenant that was meant to keep the wizard wars at bay has been stolen, and Trinity must prepare for attack. Everyone is doing their part -- Seph is monitoring the Weirwalls; Jack and Ellen are training their ghostly army; even Anaweir Will and Fitch are setting booby traps around the town's perimeter. But to Jason Haley, it seems like everyone wants to keep him out of the action. He may not be the most powerful wizard in Trinity, but he's prepared to fight for his friends. When Jason finds a powerful talisman --a huge opal called the Dragonheart--buried in a cave, his role takes on new importance. The stone seems to sing to Jason's very soul -- showing him that he is meant for more than anyone guessed. Trinity's guardians take the stone away after they realize that it may be a weapon powerful enough to save them all. Without any significant power of his own, and now without the stone, what can Jason possibly do to help the people he cares about -- and to prove his mettle?

Madison Moss can feel the beating heart of the opal, too. The desire for it surges through her, drawing her to it. But Maddie has other things besides the Dragonheart on her mind. She has a secret. Ever since absorbing the magical blow that was meant to kill Seph, she's been leaking dark powers. Although Maddie herself is immune to magic, what would her friends think if they knew what kind of evil lay within her? Trinity's enemies are as enthusiastic about her powers as she is frightened. They think they can use her to get to the Dragonheart -- and they'll use anyone Maddie cares about to make her steal the stone for them.

Moral compasses spin out of control as a final battle storms through what was once a sanctuary for the gifted. With so much to lose, what will Jason and Maddie be willing to fight for -- and what will they sacrifice? Every man is for himself in this thrilling conclusion to the Heir trilogy.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Another review that I waited way too long to write, but at least, I remember more of what I had to say about this book. This was a 90% satisfying conclusion to the Heir series. I liked most of the book, but the ending felt too forced to me. I think I actually preferred the first two books better to this one.

Jason Haley gets more time to shine, and yet this book focuses on Maddie a lot. And I don't like Maddie. Her role in the book could have been very cool, especially in the final battle. Instead, I was disappointed with the very expected turn-of-events. Sure, there were one or two parts I didn't expect. But for the most part, I wasn't really surprised or sitting at the edge of my seat.

I still loved most of the book. The three main guys from the series-- Jack, Seph, and Jason-- were never disappointing, and of course, Jack's friends Will and Fitch stole every "scene" they were in. Even though I didn't enjoy this book with the same intensity I had with the previous two, Dragon Heir was definitely worth the read, and not just to figure out how the trilogy ends. A-