Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Newest Addictions (cont'd.)

BBC Murder Mystery
  • Sherlock: Season 1 --  I love Sherlock Holmes, and I love almost every one of its adaptations.  This newest one is no exception.  In fact, it may be my favorite so far.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as a perfectly matched Holmes and Watson, this modern retelling of Conan Doyle's detective is witty, fun, and exciting.  With both actors currently involved with the filming of The Hobbit, the second season had to be postponed.  But I know it will be worth the wait if it is even half as good as the first.  (A)
  • Case Histories: Season 1 -- This murder mystery series just aired on PBS this past month, and despite many negative reviews, I liked it.  The mysteries and characters are interesting, the dialogue is good, and the settings and scenarios are realistic.  Some call it depressing, but I think they may have only watched the first episode.  I personally think that the episodes get less dark and morbid as each time, as if it symbolizes the progression of the main character's life and perspective.  Except for a few awkward scenes that could've been edited out, it was a good series.  (A-)
BBC Period Drama
  • Small Island --  This miniseries that takes place in England in the 1940s deals with the racial drama that occurred when the Jamaican soldiers tried to make better lives for themselves in "Mother England."  The story centers around Queenie, a white woman in London whose husband goes to war but doesn't return home immediately after.  In order to survive, she takes on boarders, including black Jamaican soldiers.  These characters' lives are forever entwined, and the racial hatred in 1940s England makes things extremely difficult for all of them.  The characters are genuine and interesting, and the story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.  Definitely worth a watch.  (B+)
  • Jane Eyre (2006) --  Once, I thought the only good version of Jane Eyre was the 1997 TV movie with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton.  And then I saw this miniseries, and every other version pales in comparison.  Thanks to the benefit of having more time in a miniseries, many of the details often left out in other adaptations are able to have a place here.  Plus, the eeriness and darkness is definitely felt in this version.  And the chemistry between Jane and Rochester is amazing.  I still love the 1997 movie, but this 2006 version is now my favorite.  (A+)
  • North & South --  My love for this miniseries is slightly biased, due to Richard Armitage playing one of the main characters.  But even if he hadn't starred in the series, I still would love it.  It's another Pride & Prejudice, only it takes place in more modern times (at least modern compared to Austen's time) and also focuses on the lives of the mill workers and their plight as they strike.  The characters, the dialogue, the settings, the costumes- this miniseries embodies everything that I love in a period drama.  And I love all romances that build over time and adversity, rather than the "love at first sight" kind.  Now that I'm thinking about it, I may just have to go home and watch it right now.  (A+)
  • Wives & Daughters --  I watched this miniseries at the beginning of the summer, and I think the one overall impression I had for it was "Wow.  There are a lot of whiny people in this series."  The father whines about the son, and vice versa.  The stepdaughter whines about her love life.  The stepmother whines about her ungrateful daughter.  Luckily the main character is not a whiner; she actually seems to be the only levelheaded one amongst her family and friends.  Unfortunately, she also happens to be the quietest one.  (B-)
  • The Way We Live Now --  Definitely not my favorite miniseries.  First, Matthew MacFadyen as the bad guy?  Shirley Henderson's shrill voice?  Cillian Murphy and Miranda Otto as a couple?  Miranda Otto with a cowgirl accent?  What were they thinking?  This miniseries ended with maybe one happy couple and lots of miserable people.  I think this show's only saving grace was David Suchet's amazing performance as the villainous Melmotte.  (B-)
  • Northanger Abbey --  The 2007 TV movie adaptation is such a sweet and funny movie that you don't have to know Jane Austen's book to enjoy it.  The dialogue is fresh and witty, and the two main characters seem to have real chemistry.  This is the one Austen book I haven't read yet, and now I'm going to have to read it to see if it's as fun as its adaptation.  (A)
  • Downton Abbey: Season 1 --  A superb series, worthy of every Emmy it earned.  The show starts with the main family, the Crawleys, receiving news of the sinking of the Titanic.  Two of their relatives (the heirs of their estate) perished on board, and it changes their lives forever.  Meanwhile, the family's staff of maids, footmen, cooks, butler, and housekeeper have their own dramas and lives that are intertwined with each other and their employers.  The actors are fantastic, and the story dramatic.  Each character has a story to be told, each as interesting as the next.  I cannot wait to see what is in store for them in the next series as they enter World War I.  (A)
  • Little Dorrit --  I know my sister did not appreciate this miniseries as much as I did, but I can understand why.  The story takes forever to get anywhere.  You have to have a great deal of patience to stick with anything written by Dickens, and this adaptation is as close to the book as you can get.  Fortunately, the plot does eventually start to gain momentum, and the many storylines reach satisfying resolutions.  The acting is also superb with such a great cast: Matthew MacFadyen, Andy Serkis, Claire Foy, and James Fleet.  (A)
  • Under the Greenwood Tree --  What could have been a great romance turned out to be an awful movie simply because they rushed it.  This movie felt so fast from beginning to end that all the characters and relationships were undeveloped and two-dimensional.  If they'd spent more time on character development before throwing everyone into a ridiculous love triangle, and then wrapping the whole thing up in 90 minutes, this could have been a great love story.  (C+)
  • Cranford --  This miniseries focuses on the small town of Cranford and the women living there, and how the approaching railroad affects their community.  The small romances that happen here and there are sweet, and the messes and mix-ups the characters find themselves in are fun and humorous.  The only downside is how many of the great characters they kill off.  Maybe if they'd let a few more of them live, I would have given the miniseries an A+.  (A-)
  • Return to Cranford --  While the first half of this Cranford story was sweet with a few sad parts, this second half is sad with a few sweet moments thrown in here and there to keep it from being depressing.  Within the first few minutes of the show, they kill off one of the best characters and her unborn child.  And it just gets worse from there.  So many more people die, or have their lives screwed up.  Sure, there are a couple of romances, and a small family is reunited in the end, but that's about as good as it gets.  (B-)
  • Lark Rise to Candleford: Season 1--  And now for the most recent of my addictions.  This series is about two neighboring towns in England, one a tiny hamlet of farmers, the other a small but wealthy town, and how these two communities interact.  The story is told by a girl who grew up in Lark Rise and has now moved to Candleford to work at the post office with her mother's cousin.  You see the lives of all these people through her keen eyes.  The series is very much like Downton Abbey, with the two classes being both separate and intertwined, and with each character having their own story and well-developed personality.  That's what makes both of these series so amazing, the character development.  I've also noticed something else that Lark Rise, Downton Abbey, and North & South all share-- Brendan Coyle.  He's a fantastic actor who plays similar roles in all three of the series, but he plays them extremely well, and is one of my favorite characters in all of them.  I love this first season so much, I've bought the boxed set of the complete series, and I'm dying for a free Saturday when I can curl up in bed with a cup of tea and watch the whole thing, beginning to end.  (A+)

The Newest Addictions

Over the summer, I developed new addictions that took over my movie, TV, and book preferences.  The first addiction is everything BBC & Masterpiece.  I am absolutely in love with the British and their dramas.  The second, somewhat related addiction is period dramas.  Anything taking place in the past, especially the Jane Austen era, is an absolute must.  And the final addiction is the murder mystery.  Just consider my TV schedule.  Castle, Unforgettable, Psych, and Grimm are all murder mystery shows.  Of course when the addictions overlapped - such as a BBC murder mystery - that was the absolute best.

BBC (non-period drama/murder mystery)
  • Primeval Season 4 -- After hearing that this dino-themed sci-fi series was going to be continued after its original cancellation, I was sadly disappointed when the fourth season finally arrived.  While it wasn't terrible, it didn't live up to the first few seasons.  Part of the problem is that they killed off most of the original cast, and the new characters just don't fill those voids.  The other part of the problem was that the show seemed to become overly sensational, like they were compensating for the lack of character development and chemistry with over-the-top, end-of-the-world scenarios.  Will I still watch season 5 if they ever decide to air it?  Yes.  (B-)
  • The Last Enemy -- This miniseries starring Benedict Cumberbatch showed just how scary an Orwellian, "Big Brother is watching" government could be.  Mathematician Stephen Ezard returns home to England from China to find his homeland has changed radically since recent terrorist attacks.  Cameras on every corner, ID cards containing your entire life, and computer chips embedded in your skin that can track your every move.  It's a very thrilling story that really makes you think.  Unfortunately, the British seem to hate happy endings, so don't watch this movie and expect to feel good afterwards.  But I'd still recommend this miniseries (best seen as a companion to 1984 by Orwell and A Brave New World by Huxley) simply as a means of opening people's eyes to a possible future.  (A)
Period Dramas (non-BBC/murder mystery)
  • Jane Eyre (2011) -- I have seen many versions of Charlotte Bronte's book since it's one of my favorite romances ever.  This most recent movie version, starring Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska, is a poorly done remake.  While the filmography might be called artsy, the story itself was sadly undeveloped and contained huge holes.  Plus, the eeriness that's felt throughout the book is missing completely from this movie.  Another complaint I have is that Fassbender's Rochester is too calm and gentle.  Edward Rochester is supposed to brusque, brooding, and somewhat violent.  But I could have forgiven all of that had it not been for the ending.  Bronte wrote one of the best endings ever; it's sweet, romantic, and funny.  But this movie version destroyed it, and for that I cannot forgive them.  (D)
  • The Duchess --  So depressing!  Kiera Knightley and Ralph Fiennes star in this period drama about a loveless, arranged marriage.  The Duke marries a young woman of good family in order to have an heir, but he doesn't love her and continues to sleep with every other female.  Including her best friend.  The Duchess falls in love with a young politician, becomes pregnant with his child, and has her child forcibly taken away from her.  She then goes home to live with her husband, his mistress, and all of their children as one big family.  After watching this movie, even though I'm tired of them, I had to watch a silly rom-com just so I could watch something happy.  (C)
  • Venetia by Georgette Heyer --  I love Georgette Heyer's regency romances, and this one was great.  Venetia is a young woman who is about to resign herself to spinsterhood, when her rakish neighbor, Lord Damerel, returns home and swoops her off her feet.  At first he only does it out of boredom, but he soon discovers that Venetia doesn't fall for his tricks and games, which intrigues him.  He soon realizes that he's fallen in love with her, but as his bad reputation will ruin hers, he refuses to let anything come of it.  But Venetia doesn't intend to let him go so easily.  This story made me smile so much because the bantering and flirting between Venetia and Lord Damerel reminded me so much of the relationship between Castle & Beckett.  This is a fun romance with surprising ending.  (A) 
  • Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer --  This book has now caused my three-way tie for best Heyer book to become a four-way tie.  Funny, exciting, romantic- an all-together amazing read.  Sylvester is an aloof duke looking to get married.  His godmother suggests her friend's daughter Phoebe, so he decides to meet her.  Phoebe is an interesting young woman who wants more than anything to publish a novel, which she ends up doing successfully.  Unfortunately, the villain in her story is based off Sylvester himself, and as the two end up growing closer after a series of adventures, her book ends up causing the relationship a great many more hurdles and adventures to overcome.  I loved this book so much, I could not put it down or stop laughing as I read it.  (A+)
Murder Mysteries (non-BBC/period drama)
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie -- I read this book because my sister was taking a detective literature class, and both she and my mom liked the book.  It was so amazing!  Absolutely intense, gripping, and mind-bending.  I had no idea who the murderer was; every theory I had was completely wrong.  Definitely one of the best murder mysteries out there.  (A+)
  • Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot series --  I started reading these mystery novels after finishing Christie's And Then There Were None.  I loved the television version of these novels, starring David Suchet, so I figured the books would probably be even better.  They were.  The best of all them was Murder on the Orient Express.  Christie is gifted when it comes to keeping her readers on their toes.  In every one her books, I was completely amazed by the ending.  (A to A+)
  • Heat Wave by Richard Castle -- This first book from the fictional TV author isn't bad, but it's definitely not one of the best mystery novels I've read.  Honestly, I didn't expect it to be amazing, since it is from a TV show..  It was like reading the script for an episode of Castle, except the mystery wasn't that quirky or exciting, and Castle & Beckett's counterparts end up together.  I'll probably stick to the TV show rather than read the rest of the Heat series.  (B)
  • Castle: Season 3 -- What can I say about this show that I haven't said already?  It's still just as amazing as ever, but I'm starting to agree with my sister about the Beckett's mom story arc.  Could they just solve it and move on already?  The more twisted it gets, the more I lose interest.  The rest of the season was great however, especially the steampunk episode.  And nothing could have prepared me for that season finale.  Now that the 3rd season's out on DVD, I can't wait to get it and rewatch all the Castle/Beckett awesomeness.  (A+)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My favorite season

Fall is absolutely my favorite season of the year.  The temperatures are no longer hot & humid, but cool & crisp (with the exception of the freak blizzard this past Halloween weekend).  The leaves are beautiful reds & yellows, and Nanowrimo threatens to take over my life.  But best of all, the fall TV season has brought me wonderful & addicting new shows.

This fall, I have a TV show to watch almost every night of the week, which is a first for me.  I used to just catch up on a couple of shows on Hulu, or wait for a series to come out on DVD before seeing it.  But this lovely new satellite TV we have has made way too many shows and channels available to me.  My current schedule is:

  • Once Upon a Time (ABC, 8pm)
  • Various Masterpiece specials (PBS, 9pm)
  • Leverage (TNT, 9pm)
  • Pan Am (ABC, 10pm)
  • Terra Nova (FOX, 8pm)
  • Castle (ABC, 10pm)
  • New Girl (FOX, 9pm)
  • Unforgettable (CBS, 10pm)
  • Psych (USA, 10pm)
  • Person of Interest (CBS, 9pm)
  • Chuck (NBC, 8pm)
  • Grimm (NBC, 9pm)
SaturdayI'M FREE!!!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

I am so incredibly sick of writing about rom-coms because there never seems to be anything in them that's fresh or new or original.  The only real pull in these two movies are the actors.  Josh Duhamel and Matthew Goode are gorgeous eye-candy, but beyond that these two movies are just the same-old story, told again and again and again with a different setting and a different set of secondary characters.  Still enjoyable, but boring to review.

We'll start with Life As We Know It.  Two people who seem completely wrong for each other are thrown together by fate, and after lots of embarrassing situations and eye-opening revelations, they fall in love.  Cue obstacle that tears them apart, both physically and emotionally-- his job opportunity.  But then they realize that they still love each other and have to be together, and in the end, they are reunited in a sweet, heartfelt moment and live happily ever after.  Sound familiar?  What makes Life As We Know It somewhat unique is the baby.  Not that babies have never been in rom-coms before, but they're usually the biological child of at least one of the main characters.  This time the baby is the daughter of friends, who die in a car crash and leave the baby's care to the two main characters.

Leap Year follows almost exactly the same formula.  Two people who seem completely wrong for each other are thrown together because the woman is chasing after another man and needs help getting to him.  After lots of embarrassing situations and eye-opening revelations, they fall in love with each other.  Before they can reveal this to one another, cue the obstacle that tears them apart, both physically and emotionally-- the other man.  But then she realizes that she still loves "Mr. Wrong" and that they have to be together, and in the end are reunited in a sweet, heartfelt moment and live happily ever after.  The originality in this movie?  Ireland and an Irish proposal custom.  That's pretty much the only thing in this movie that sets it apart from every other rom-com out there.

That still doesn't mean that I disliked the movies.  I did enjoy both of them, mostly due to the fact that people seem to love the idea of polar opposites falling in love.  It's in almost every movie because people want it to be true.  The geek wants to end up with the cheerleader; the timid wallflower wants the exciting bad boy to notice her.  That's why Hollywood will be churning out these same-old romantic comedies until the end of time, and why people will still go see them.  Leap YearBLife As We Know ItA-.
 Title:  Psych: Seasons 1-5
Category:  Crime/Comedy
Medium:  DVD
Rating:  A

Synopsis (from  Fake psychic Shawn Spencer (James Roday) and his skeptical best friend Gus (Dule Hill) are on the case in the fresh and quirky runaway hit Psych!  Thanks to a childhood spent with a family of cops, Shawn possesses an incredible photographic memory and notices seemingly insignificant details. These traits allow him to spend his jobless days providing the police with mystery-solving tips - but his knowledge soon makes him a suspect. In order to clear his name, the unlikely sleuth declares that he has clairvoyant abilities and launches his own investigative agency, Psych.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

One of my favorite TV shows, Psych is a perfect combination of comedy, crime, and culture.  James Roday is hilarious as the over-the-top Shawn Spencer, a gifted observer who's still a child at heart and refuses to grow up, to the annoyance of his father, played by Corbin Bernsen.  Dule Hill is also spectacular as Shawn's best friend Gus, the level-headed business partner who tries to keep Shawn from getting carried away.  Their supporting cast is also extremely good.  Besides Bernsen as Shawn's disapproving dad, there's Maggie Lawson as the sweet junior detective Juliet O'Hara and Timothy Omundson as the disbelieving, workaholic head detective Carlton Lassiter.

Half the fun in Psych is the interactions between the characters and Shawn's absolute craziness.  But the other half is in the pop culture references that happen throughout the show.  Of course some of them go over my head, as I never watched or heard many of the movies and songs that Gus and Shawn refer to.  But those that I do get are incredibly funny.  I especially love when they reference current movies like National Treasure as well as 1980s TV shows like Family Ties.

Psych is an adventure every time I watch it, because I never know what crazy stunt Shawn will do next.  It's funny, romantic, exciting, and addicting.  Season 6 starts this fall, and I'm totally pumped for it.  (I bet you thought I was going to say "Psyched for it").  A

Series:  The Looking Glass Wars
Author:  Frank Beddor
Titles:  The Looking Glass Wars (1), Seeing Redd (2), ArchEnemy (3)
Format:  Hardcovers
Genre:  Fantasy/Adaptation
Read:  2010

Rating:  A

Synopsis (from  The Myth: Alice was an ordinary girl who stepped through the looking glass and entered a fairy-tale world invented by Lewis Carroll in his famous storybook. The Truth: Wonderland is real. Alyss Heart is the heir to the throne, until her murderous aunt Redd steals the crown and kills Alyss' parents. To escape Redd, Alyss and her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, must flee to our world through the Pool of Tears. But in the pool Alyss and Hatter are separated. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Yet he gets the story all wrong. Hatter Madigan knows the truth only too well, and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts. 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

An amazing twist to an already twisted classic.  Alice in Wonderland has been told and retold and revamped more times than I can count, sometimes with success and sometimes not.  Frank Beddor's Looking Glass Wars trilogy is the successful kind.  With amazing characters and an entirely new outlook on the Wonderland story, Beddor's series blends fantasy with science fiction, making this the first ever steampunk version of Alice's story.

Alyss, Hatter, and Dodge are amongst my favorite characters, with strong and relatable personalities.  They not only have to deal with fantastical drama but with the everyday kind as well, like dealing with a teenage daughter and making a relationship work.  This makes them seem even more real.  As for their foe, Redd is a vicious and evil villain; her character is so amazingly developed that you can feel her darkness.

An exciting and entirely original adaptation, The Looking Glass Wars trilogy is a must read.  A
Title:  Super 8
Format:  Movie Theater (June 10, 2011)
Genre:  Science fiction thriller

Rating:  B+

Description (from IMDB):  After witnessing a mysterious train crash, a group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going around in their small town, and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I know my sister will disagree with me on this, but I actually enjoyed this movie.  Super 8 was exciting and thrilling, with great special effects and a good plot.  The acting was also good, especially considering that most of the main cast was under the age of 16.

I love movies where you don't see the "villain" until the end.  It's so much more suspenseful and exciting; it keeps you guessing.  Sometimes they don't pull it off very well, but in this movie, they were able to pull it off brilliantly.  There was so much tension and anticipation because we weren't able to see the "creature" until near the end.

My biggest problem with this movie was the profanity.  The kids had some of the worst mouths, and it marred my enjoyment of the film.  I had gone to the theater, hoping that Super 8 would be a great movie for my mom and dad too, but I know my mom, and she would never like this movie simply because the kids all have filthy mouths.  If they'd taken out most of the profanity, it would have been an awesome movie, one that my whole family (with the exception of the 9-year-old) could have enjoyed.  B+

Friday, June 10, 2011

After looking over the backlog of books & movies that I have yet to review, I have decided to skip a few.  There were just too many to catch up on (over 50), so I've cut the list in half and will hopefully be able to finally get up-to-date with my blog.  Most of the ones I cut out are movies & books from early last year, and it wouldn't be fair to review them as I can barely remember what I thought about them at the time.  Maybe someday I'll get around to reviewing them, but not today.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Title:  Bridesmaids
Format:  Movie Theater (May 14, 2011) 
Genre:  Comedy
Rating:  B-/C-

I'm giving the movie a mixed rating, because while it had funny parts, I will never watch it again.  I almost never watch rated-R movies.  I avoid them, because I really hate extreme violence, raunch, and hearing the F-word repeatedly.  PG-13 is where I usually draw the line, and I rarely go out of that comfort zone.  But this was for a bridesmaid outing with my friends Mary (the bride) and Christine.  Plus, I didn't even realize the movie wasn't PG-13 until the day before.

Bridesmaids was made by the same people who put out Superbad and Knocked Up (that should have been my first warning there), and focuses on the story of a woman whose best friend is getting married, whose love-life is a wreck, and whose fellow bridesmaid is an evil control-freak trying to take over her position as the bride's BFF.

The movie, being rated R, had plenty of raunchy humor and profanity (which is why I'll never see it again), and one rather gross scene involving food poisoning that had both Mary and me covering our eyes.  Both the opening & closing scenes of the movie were awkward and WAY out of my comfort zone.  If you dislike profanity, extremely raunchy humor, and puking, don't ever watch this movie!

What really disappoints me about this movie is that it had ridiculously funny parts that would have been awesome without all the raunch and grossness.  Bridesmaids could easily have been made a PG-13 movie without losing the real humor and fun of the movie.  I had so much fun laughing with my friends, but it would have been a better experience without all the rated-R material.  B-/C-

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Title:  Tangled
Format:  Blu-ray
Genre:  Disney princess/Musical
Rating:  A+

Description (from All Movie Guide):  The classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale gets a lavish CG makeover as directors Byron Howard and Nathan Greno team up to tell the tale of a fair-haired beauty with long-flowing locks, a gallant hero with a heart of gold, and the evil witch who plots to keep these lovelorn innocents apart.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

What an amazing movie!!!  Modern animation and great character development but with a classic Disney feel.  I wish I'd seen the movie in theaters, but seeing it last night on Blu-ray was also awesome.  The animation was great, even though I don't really like the 3D, CGI movies.  But for this movie, it worked perfectly.

Unlike many of the Disney princess movies, Tangled had great character development.  Other princess movies barely introduce the characters before they've fallen in love with a total stranger and are facing adversity.  In this movie, Rapunzel and Flynn both get a lot of background and development, making them seem like much more 3-dimensional characters (no pun intended).  Even the sidekicks and villain had great personalities and depth.

The classic Disney touches were there as well, which is probably why the movie was amazing.  Alan Menken did the music, and Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi had great voices for Disney.  The story was also fun and exciting, with plenty of family-appropriate humor and romance.

It makes me sad that John Lassiter (head of Pixar and new head of Disney animation) has said that Tangled is the last princess movie Disney will make.  This movie was proof that people still love a classic romance from Disney, as long as there's great characters and a fun story.  It was in the theaters for months, not weeks, and was extremely popular, but according to Lassiter, people don't want princess movies anymore.  I think Tangled has proved him wrong.  It's fun, refreshing, and cute with good music and characters.  I'd recommend this movie to anyone and everyone, even strangers on a bus.  I'd somehow make conversation with them just to tell them to see it.  A+

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Just a heads up--  I've created a new blog that will serve as a kind of journal, recipe book, and creative playground.  It's called Being Ashling, and feel free to visit whenever you'd like.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Title:  Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  C

Synopsis (from  Modern and mythical worlds collide in this thunderous fantasy-adventure starring Pierce Brosnan, Kevin McKidd and Uma Thurman as you’ve never seen them before! Percy Jackson is no ordinary teenager...he’s just learned he’s the son of Poseidon and is accused of stealing Zeus’ ­lightning bolt – the most powerful weapon ever created! With storm clouds brewing, Percy embarks on an incredible cross-country journey to prove his innocence, recover the bolt and prevent a war amongst the gods that could destroy our world!

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I hate it when they make books I love into movies, because they never get it right.  I think my friend Mary pretty much summed it up when she said that the studio must have put all their energy and money into hiring the A-list actors to play smaller roles, instead of focusing on getting good actors to play the main parts and sticking to the story.

I just don't understand why Hollywood feels the need to take something that is already great the way it is and change it.  The Lightning Thief is such a great book with interesting characters, an intense plot, and a satisfying conclusion.  Then Hollywood gets a hold of the movie rights, hires teenage actors that can't act to save their lives, and completely rewrite an already amazing story.  The whole scene with Hades is completely different from the book; it's so frustrating too, because it wasn't a good change.  It was pointless and uncalled for; the original scene was so much more intense and dramatic.  The movie version is comedic and stupid.  One of these days, the movie studios are going to wake up and realize that they're just alienating people when they make these huge changes to the stories they love.  Maybe if they had stuck to the original storyline and hired good actors, this movie would have been a success, rather than a flop.  C
Title:  Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Sci-fi
Rating:  C

Synopsis (from All Movie Guide):  Two years after saving the world with the Autobots, Sam Witwicky is away at college when an ancient Decepticon named "The Fallen" returns to Earth on a mission of vengeance. With the Allspark destroyed, the Autobots lose all hope of returning to their home planet of Cybertron, and begin working with an elite military known as NEST to hunt down any remaining Decepticons. When National Security Advisor Theodore Galloway wages a heated campaign aimed at exiling the giant robots back into space, head Autobot Optimus Prime agrees to comply with the voice of the people, while warning them of the potential consequences of leaving the planet unprotected. Meanwhile, Sam contends with an overly cocky college roommate, and attempts to remain faithful to Mikaela. Just as Sam begins adjusting to the quirks of campus life, a series of inexplicable visions leaves him convinced that the struggle between good and evil is far from over. And he's correct, too, because the Decepticons have just discovered that Sam is the one human who possesses the ability to tip the balance of power to the Autobots' advantage, and they're determined to gain the upper hand by dispensing with him once and for all. Now, as Sam and Mikaela unearth a secret about the Transformers that alters the entire course of human history, the Decepticon known as The Fallen prepares to return -- and reclaim the plant once and for all.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Such a huge description for such a stupid film.  In case you couldn't already tell, I really disliked this movie.  Terrible script, bad acting, way too many sexual situations and innuendo, and a plot that seemed extremely similar to the first movie.  I truly felt like I'd wasted two hours of my life after watching this.  Perhaps the two redeeming qualities for the entire movie were the incredible special effects and the intense battle scenes.  The battles were definitely cooler, the new Transformers were creative, and the special effects were spectacular.  But that's all that was good about the movie.

First off, both movies had huge problems with stilted scripts that seemed to come straight out of a comic book.  Lines that came out of nowhere, one-sentence conversations, lots of yelling.  It's no mystery why the acting was so bad when the script was so awful.

Second, I don't care how much the male population loved Megan Fox, but couldn't they find someone who could act?  Several of the other actors were terrible too, but Fox was the worst of all.

Also, why all the smut?  There was plenty in the first movie, but I felt this one had three times as much.  It was uncomfortable to watch, and I almost turned the movie off during the first 30 minutes because I was so sick of the innuendo and the smut.

Finally, I guess there's really no escaping the whole Autobots vs. Decepticons storyline, since that is really what the original cartoons were all about.  But there was so much that felt the same between the two movies.  Both had the desert as a primary battle zone, both had the crazy internet hackers, both had the huge battle over Sam, both had the annoying-as-hell government guys.

This movie just felt like a smuttier retelling of the first, and even though Megan Fox has been ousted from the third, I'm not looking forward to the next installment of the Transformers series, if it'll be anything at all like Revenge of the FallenC
Title:  Aeon Flux
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Sci-Fi
Rating:  C+

Synopsis (from All Movie Guide):  Based on the animated series by Peter Chung, Aeon Flux imagines a future in which 99 percent of the world's population is killed through industrial disease, and the survivors live in a single city that, despite utopian appearances, is quite totalitarian. Disinclined to embrace any particular ideology outside of a hatred for Trevor Goodchild, the leader of the council that governs the walled city, hyper-sexualized assassin Aeon Flux seeks to bring about a revolution. Retaining the title character's trademark jet-black hair and sleek, revealing clothing, this film adaptation fleshes out the story behind the sexual and romantic tension between Aeon and Trevor.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here's a movie that proves you don't need to have a plot to get people to watch.  The whole point of this movie was to showcase Charlize Theron.  Skimpy or skin-tight outfits, constant close-ups on her face, and acrobatic movements are included to focus your attention on Theron's body so you'll never pay attention to the fact that there is almost no story to follow.

The little bit of story that exists is full of holes that never get filled.  From what I've read online, the animated series was pretty much the same.  One thing that they did change for the movie was to make Trevor Goodchild a much younger man, for which I will always be grateful.  Marton Csokas is a great actor, and even though this movie was awful, I have to give him (and Charlize Theron) some credit for still giving a good performance, despite having such a crappy (non-existent) script.  The only reason I'd probably ever watch this movie again is to watch him.   

I was also disappointed in Johnny Lee Miller, who portrayed the villain in this movie.  He's such a phenomenal actor, but I felt like he didn't even try to do a good job with this part.  He was over-the-top in some scenes, while practically monotone in others.  He could've at least put in a little effort, even if he did know that the movie was going to stink.  C+
Title:  17 Again
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Comedy/Romantic comedy
Rating:  B

Leslie Mann so deserves the credit for making this movie better than average.  She's another one of those great character actors who doesn't seem to get enough acclaim for her roles.  Zac Efron was good too, but the plot's been done enough times that nothing about this movie seemed original or unique.  Maybe the geeky best friend romancing the geeky principal was kind of funny, but overall, the movie was just average.  B
Title:  27 Dresses
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Romantic comedy
Rating:  B

Typical romantic comedy.  Katherine Heigl and James Marsden are funny, but they're characters have so little development that they're practically two-dimensional.  Heigl's co-star Judy Greer, who never gets the acclaim she deserves, steals every scene.  I would have preferred watching a whole movie about her character, rather than sit through another hackneyed, cliched story.  B
Title:  When In Rome
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Romantic comedy
Rating:  B+

Another typical rom-com.  Full of embarrassing scenarios to make you cringe, over-the-top and unrealistic characters, and an extremely ridiculous plot line, When In Rome is no different than any other modern romantic comedy.  I really love Josh Duhamel and Kristen Bell, but they desperately need to get out of the rom-com rut, or they will never get out.  B+

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Title:  Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Romantic Comedy
Rating:  A-

Synopsis (from All Movie Guide):  Famous Hollywood actor Tad Hamilton is trying to promote his new movie. His manager and his agent both convince him to participate in a dating contest in order to improve his bad-boy image. The contest is won by Rosalee Futch, an attractive young checkout girl who works at a Piggly Wiggly in West Virginia. When Tad ends up falling in love with her, he's willing to give up big-city life and move to small-town America. Meanwhile, her best friend and co-worker Pete is finally motivated to reveal his secret crush on her. Rosalee finds herself in the middle of a love triangle between her closest friend and a dream date.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I am honestly sick of writing about romantic comedies, and I still have around five more to review.  What else can be said about them that hasn't already been said?  Boy likes Girl; Girl likes other Guy; other Guy turns out to be not-so-great; Girl realizes Boy was right for her the whole time.  The only things that set this movie apart from all other rom-coms were Ginnifer Goodwin's role as best friend and her one-liners (hilarious!), and Nathan Lane as Duhamel's agent.  His role in the movie is small but memorable.  (And then there's the fact that Josh Duhamel's gorgeous).  Otherwise, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton is your standard rom-com.  A-
Title:  The Snow Queen
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Fantasy/Miniseries
Rating:  B-

Synopsis (from All Movie Guide):  This lavish adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen stars Bridget Fonda as the icy-hearted title character. Arriving incognito at the alpine inn run by a man named Wolfgang, the embittered Snow Queen makes it her mission in life to ruin all chances of romance for Wolfgang's beautiful daughter, Gerda. To this end, the Queen exercises her magic over Gerda's bellhop boyfriend Kai, literally freezing the boy in his tracks. In order to save her beloved, Gerda must undertake a grueling odyssey through the Four Seasons (each of them briefly appearing in human form), culminating in a final, frigid showdown with the spiteful Snow Queen.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A lavish adaptation with mediocre actors and a stilted script.  Yes, the settings were beautiful, and the special effects were of higher quality than I'd expected.  But the actors were either stiff and emotionless, almost speaking in monotone, or over-the-top and practically screaming to get their emotions across.  There was also an extreme lack of chemistry between the two main characters.  Their romance seemed so forced.  And then there was this weird thing about the devil and a mirror that just came out of nowhere.

The best parts were the interpretations of the seasons.  Spring is a sweet, motherly woman who lives in a cottage covered in flowers, where she tries to keep Gerda young and childish.  Summer is a sultry Indian princess, living in a palace.  She attempts to find a new lover for Gerda, since summer is the season for romance and passion.  After escaping into fall's territory, Gerda discovers that Autumn is a red-headed gypsy woman who leads a band of cutthroats who party and throw bonfires to try to keep back winter's chill.  And then of course, there's the Snow Queen.  Beautiful but cold, she resides in a manor of ice and looks for a way to be rid of the other seasons.  These portrayals of the seasons were creative and fun, and without them, the miniseries would have been a lot worse.

Not spectacular or high-quality, but worth at least one watch.  B-
Title:  Reaper Man
Author:  Terry Pratchett
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  384
Genre:  Fantasy/Satire
Read: 2010

Rating:  A

Synopsis (from publisher): They say there are only two things you can count on ... 

But that was before DEATH started pondering the existential. Of course, the last thing anyone needs is a squeamish Grim Reaper and soon his Discworld bosses have sent him off with best wishes and a well-earned gold watch. Now DEATH is having the time of his life, finding greener pastures where he can put his scythe to a whole new use.

But like every cutback in an important public service, DEATH's demise soon leads to chaos and unrest -- literally, for those whose time was supposed to be up, like Windle Poons. The oldest geezer in the entire faculty of Unseen University -- home of magic, wizardry, and big dinners -- Windle was looking forward to a wonderful afterlife, not this boring been-there-done-that routine. To get the fresh start he deserves, Windle and the rest of Ankh-Morpork's undead and underemployed set off to find DEATH and save the world for the living (and everybody else, of course).

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Possibly the best Discworld book I've read thus far.  I think it's mostly because DEATH is the best character ever.  I know that sounds weird, but he really is hilarious.  And DEATH developing a conscience and getting fired is a great story idea.  

The other half of the story is really good too.  Windle Poons and his undead friends are so amusing as they try to navigate "life" after... well, what should have been death.  They're adventures with the "birth" of the modern shopping mall is one of the funniest satires I have ever read.  

Pratchett really outdid himself with Reaper Man.  I cannot wait to read it again.  A
Title:  I Shall Wear Midnight
Author:  Terry Pratchett
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  355
Genre:  Fantasy/Young Adult
Series #:  4 of 4
Read:  2010

Rating:  A-

Synopsis (from publisher):  It starts with whispers.  Then someone picks up a stone.  Finally, the fires begin.  When people turn on witches, the innocents suffer. . . .

Tiffany Aching has spent years studying with senior witches, and now she is on her own. As the witch of the Chalk, she performs the bits of witchcraft that aren't sparkly, aren't fun, don't involve any kind of wand, and that people seldom ever hear about: She does the unglamorous work of caring for the needy.

But someone or something is igniting fear, inculcating dark thoughts and angry murmurs against witches. Aided by her tiny blue allies, the Wee Free Men, Tiffany must find the source of this unrest and defeat the evil at its root before it takes her life. Because if Tiffany falls, the whole Chalk falls with her.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The fourth book of the Tiffany Aching series, I Shall Wear Midnight, is an exciting story that grips you and keeps you reading.  Opening with an intense and heart-rending scene, the book immediately sets you up for the drama to follow.  Tiffany's foe here is perhaps the creepiest of any she's ever had to face, especially since he's infecting the thoughts of the people around him.

I loved this installment because of the romance element.  In the three previous books, Tiffany was too young for any real romance.  Now that she's older, she's ready for love, but not with the person we all believed she would end up marrying.  Instead, Roland is to marry someone else, and Tiffany must deal with the heartbreak and jealousy.

I Shall Wear Midnight isn't my favorite of the series, but it's a close second.  A-
Title:  Avatar
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Sci-Fi
Rating:  A-

I don't know why I'm bothering to put a description.  I think the entire world has heard of this movie at some point.

Description (from  When his brother is killed in a robbery, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge's intentions of driving off the native humanoid "Na'vi" in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland. In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch, while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na'vi people with the use of an "avatar" identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri, the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand - and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I admit it.  I finally caved and saw Avatar.  And to all of you people who don't believe Avatar is anything like Pocahontas... you're wrong.  This movie is a futuristic Pocahontas with aliens.  That doesn't mean it's not a great movie; while the plot line is pretty much the same, everything else--the settings, characters, genre, and format--  is so radically different that Avatar is still a creative and original idea with amazing special effects.  And comparing it to Pocahontas shouldn't be seen as an insult anyway, since I think that movie was pretty awesome too.

My favorite part of the whole movie was the world James Cameron created.  Pandora is beautiful, and its inhabitants are fun and colorful.  The attention to detail and color, the unique creatures, and the amazing special effects worked together to create a new world which Cameron will be basing another two movies in at least.

Avatar is definitely a great movie, worthy of watching more than once, but maybe not worth the extreme mania that surrounded it.  I know several people who think it's "the greatest movie ever," and while I agree it's great, I don't agree that it's the "greatest."  A-

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Title:  Wintersmith
Author:  Terry Practhett
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  336
Genre:  Fantasy/Young adult
Series #:  3 of 4
Read in:  2010

Rating:  A-

Synopsis (from the publisher):  At 9, Tiffany Aching defeated the cruel Queen of Fairyland. At 11, she banished an ancient body-stealing evil. At 13, Tiffany faces a new challenge: a boy. And boys can be a bit of a problem when you're thirteen . . . .

But the Wintersmith isn't exactly a boy. He is Winter itself—snow, gales, icicles—all of it. When he has a crush on Tiffany, he may make her roses of ice, but his nature is blizzards and avalanches. And he wants Tiffany to stay in his gleaming, frozen world. Forever.

Tiffany will need all her cunning to make it to Spring. She'll also need her friends, from junior witches to the legendary Granny Weatherwax. They—Crivens! Tiffany will need the Wee Free Men, too! She'll have the help of the bravest, toughest, smelliest pixies ever to be banished from Fairyland—whether she wants it or not. It's going to be a cold, cold season, because if Tiffany doesn't survive until Spring—Spring won't come.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I wish I'd reviewed this book as soon as I read it, so I could actually remember all the reasons I liked this book.  But alas, I did not; therefore, this will be a short review.  I think Wintersmith is probably my favorite of the Tiffany Aching series.  The story was exciting and the Mac Feegles were their usual hilarious, troublesome selves.  Tiffany was also a more enjoyable character, easier to relate to and understand.  The Wintersmith presented a formidable adversary, and yet you can't help but pity him.  The other witches were great secondary characters with a lot of depth and humor.  A fun read.  A-
Title:  The Lady in the Palazzo
Author:  Marlena de Blasi
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  317
Genre:  Memoir/Travelogue
Read:  2010

Rating:  B+

Synopsis (from the publisher):  Orvieto, an ancient Italian city rising above the cliffs of Umbria, is among the most dramatic in Europe. It is here that Marlena de Blasi, author of the national bestseller A Thousand Days in Venice, sets out to make a home—in the former ballroom of a dilapidated sixteenth-century palazzo—and win over her neighbors, who include artisans, counts, shepherds, and a lone violinist. Though wary of a stranger in their midst, they find her passion for the fine arts of cooking and eating irresistible, and together they create a spectacular feast as breathtaking as the city itself.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Better than That Summer in Sicily, but still not as good as A Thousand Days in Tuscany.  This addition to de Blasi's memoirs is full of interesting characters, fun anecdotes, and great descriptions.  But for me, it lacked the passion of her first two books.  I just didn't connect with her or her new neighbors the way I did in A Thousand Days.  It was still a good book, but I found myself skimming through parts of it.  Maybe it's partly because I've never bought a home that needed renovations, which is why those parts of the book seemed tedious (just like Under the Tuscan Sun).  I think the biggest reason I struggled to enjoy this book was because de Blasi herself struggled with her inclusive neighbors and lazy Italian contractors, and that struggle came through in her writing.  A great picture of Tuscan culture, but not as appealing as de Blasi's other works.  B+

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Title:  Incarceron
Author:  Catherine Fisher
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  702
Genre:  Fantasy/Steampunk/Young adult
Series #:  1 of ??
Read:  February 17-19, 2011

Rating:  A-

Synopsis (from the publisher):  Incarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells, but also metal forests, dilapidated cities, and vast wilderness. Finn, a seventeen-year-old prisoner, has no memory of his childhood and is sure that he came from Outside Incarceron. Very few prisoners believe that there is an Outside, however, which makes escape seems impossible.
And then Finn finds a crystal key that allows him to communicate with a girl named Claudia. She claims to live Outside- she is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, and doomed to an arranged marriage. Finn is determined to escape the prison, and Claudia believes she can help him. But they don't realize that there is more to Incarceron than meets the eye. Escape will take their greatest courage and cost more than they know.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Totally unexpected ending!  I love books that end with a surprising twist, and Incarceron did not disappoint.  Besides an amazing ending, it also had great characters and an original & exciting concept.

Claudia and Finn are the best characters in the book, with great depth and development.  The secondary characters also receive plenty of attention and detail, making them much more than two-dimensional sidekicks.  I wish there had been more time to develop the Queen's character.  She seems like a much more vicious and scheming villain than Claudia's father, but she doesn't come in until the end of the book, so we only catch a glimpse of her dark side.

The plot and concept of the book were unique and exciting.  Once I really got into it, I couldn't put the book down.  The idea of a living prison that watches over its inmates, that has turned evil itself over time, is incredibly creative.  And on the outside, the people have been forced to freeze progress and stay stuck in one particular time in order to establish peace in the land.  So despite amazing advancements in technology, everyone's living as if they were born during Shakespeare's era, with ruffled clothes, arranged marriages, and only a few modern amenities (honestly, they weren't going to give up toilets).

My only complaint with the book was that it seemed incredibly jumpy and fractured at times, like something had been skipped over in the story.  I had to reread a few parts to make sure I hadn't missed anything.  Otherwise, Incarceron was amazing.  A-

Friday, February 18, 2011

Title:  Hogfather
Author:  Terry Pratchett
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  384
Genre:  Fantasy/Satire 

Rating:  B+

Synopsis (from the publisher):  It's that most wonderful time of the year, Hogswatchnight, when the Hogfather himself dons his red suit and climbs in his sleigh pulled by—of course!—eight hogs, bringing gifts to all the boys and girls of Discworld. But this year someone else is riding the sleigh. Death. He's had to stand in for the missing fat man—otherwise the sun won't shine tomorrow... 

It's up to Discworld's intellectual elite—with the help of a motley collection of unusual cohorts—to come up with a plan to save the universe. And they'd better hurry...

Yes, there's a "new" Hogfather in town.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Like Going Postal, I think watching the miniseries adaptation of Hogfather first affected my perception of the book.  I kept comparing it to the miniseries, and there were a few parts I felt the adaptation did better than the book.  Besides that, I really liked the story, the characters, and the writing.

Death is definitely my favorite character in Pratchett's books.  His conversations with his "granddaughter" and his unique outlook on the people of the Disc are entertaining and fun.  The villain of the story, Teatime, is genuinely creepy.  I would not want to meet him... ever.  The entire concept of the story was great too.  Death having to step into the shoes of the Discworld's equivalent of Santa in order to save the holidays... awesome!  B+

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Title:  Hercules
Format:  Netflix
Genre:  Fantasy/Miniseries
Rating:  D

Awful special effects and bad acting/writing made this miniseries a chore to watch.  There were such talented actors in this; it could have been better.  But even they couldn't save the terrible script.  And some of the other actors were definitely not skilled; combine their lack of talent with that writing and voila! Instant crap.  Maybe they should've spent less money on getting big-name actors and more on good writers and special effects.  D
Title:  Meteor
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Sci-fi/Drama/Miniseries
Rating:  B-

I really don't think a synopsis is necessary for this one.  If you can't figure out what the miniseries is about from the title or the picture, I can't help you (you're beyond help).  A pretty standard disaster flick.  Think Armageddon or Deep Impact, only longer and kind of average.  There was nothing special about it.  The only part that I felt strongly about was the ending.  I hate movies that end on a "cryptic" note.  Everybody else is happy, but one person is already spreading pessimism and despair.  Blah.  B-
Title:  I Am Number Four
Author:  Pittacus Lore
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  440
Genre:  Sci-fi/Fantasy/Young adult
Series #:  1 of ?
Read:  February 12, 2011

Rating:  A+

Synopsis (from publisher):  
We may be walking past you right now.
We are watching as you read this.
We may be in your city, your town.
We are living anonymously.
We are waiting for the day when
We will find each other.
We will make our last stand together—if
We win,
We are saved, and
You are saved as well.
If we lose, all is lost.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Wow.  This book was amazing!  I don't blame DreamWorks for grabbing up the movie rights (let's just hope they do this story justice).  With great characters, lots of exciting action, and a sweet romance, I Am Number Four has something for everyone.

The book tells the adventures of Four, a gifted alien from the now-desolate planet of Lorien, who escaped to Earth with eight fellow gifted aliens and their keepers.  They are called by their numbers because they can only be killed in numerical order.  After splitting up the group in order to throw off their pursuers, the Mogadorians, Four has lived all over the U.S. and is now attempting to make a home in the small town of Paradise, Ohio.  Unlike every other place he's lived, Four actually begins to settle down, make friends, and fall in love.  While trying to live an ordinary life, his keeper, Henri, trains him to use his gifts or Legacies so one day he can defeat their enemies and return to Lorien.  It is also especially vital that he knows how to use his Legacies because alien Three is killed, making him the next target.

Everything is going smoothly until a near-fatal fire leads the Mogadorians to discovering his whereabouts, and they move in for an attack.  The growing tension and thrilling climax are extremely well-written, and I can't wait for August when the sequel, The Power of Six, is released.  I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, sci-fi, action, and/or romance.  A+

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Title:  The Invention of Lying
Format:  Netflix
Category:  Comedy (NOT!)
Rating:  F

I'm not even going to put a description for this; I hated it so much.  If I had known before watching it, that Ricky Gervais had written and directed it, and if the previews had been even remotely truthful about what this movie was about, I would NEVER have watched it.  It wasn't funny; the acting was awful; the movie was extremely anti-religion to the point of being offensive, especially if you're a Christian.  I could go on, but those are the three biggest reasons I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone.
  1. Not funny.  The movie had a great concept.  Unfortunately, it just wasn't executed well at all.  It was the same joke, told over and over again, so after the first fifteen minutes, the novelty wore off.  This would have been more appropriate for an SNL skit than an entire movie.
  2. Bad acting.  Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe were wooden and unbelievable.  There was no chemistry, and I didn't, not even for one second, buy that ending between Gervais & Garner.
  3. Anti-religion.  In all honesty, this movie was nothing more than a vehicle for Gervais to promote his atheism.  As if Christians don't get enough crap from Hollywood, here's a movie that is incredibly offensive to not only Christians, but all religions.  And none of the previews gave even the slightest hint that a huge majority of the movie was going to be focused on bashing religions and faith.
If you're a person of any faith, or if you're a person with taste, don't watch this movie.  F
Title:  The Lost Hero
Author:  Rick Riordan
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  576
Genre:  Fantasy/Young adult/Children's
Series #:  1 of ??
Read:  2010

Rating:  A+

Description (from  After saving Olympus from the evil Titan lord, Kronos, Percy and friends have rebuilt their beloved Camp Half-Blood, where the next generation of demigods must now prepare for a chilling prophecy of their own:

Seven half-bloods shall answer the call,
To storm or fire the world must fall.
An oath to keep with a final breath,
And foes bear arms to the Doors of Death.

Now, in a brand-new series from blockbuster best-selling author Rick Riordan, fans return to the world of Camp Half-Blood. Here, a new group of heroes will inherit a quest. But to survive the journey, they’ll need the help of some familiar demigods.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I really wish I'd written this review right after reading this book, because I had so much to say in praise of this opener of Rick Riordan's newest Greek mythology series (Heroes of Olympus).  Unfortunately, I waited until now, and can't remember everything I wanted to write.

The Lost Hero introduces new characters, while including many of the originals from the Percy Jackson series.  I was really happy to see that this new series wasn't going to be completely separate from Riordan's first, because I loved Percy Jackson and wanted to see what was going to happen to him as he became an adult.  There are exciting new adventures, devious villains, and a twisted ending that left my head spinning.  I'd love to say so much more about the plot, but it's just too good to give it all away.  Let's just say that I'm practically biting my nails in anticipation for October 2011, when the second book, The Son of Neptune, is supposed to be released.  If you loved Riordan's first series, then you'll be crazy for this one.  A+
Title:  The Red Pyramid
Author:  Rick Riordan
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  516
Genre:  Fantasy/Young adult/Children's
Series #:  1 of ??
Read:  2010

Rating:  A

Description (from  Since their mother's death, Carter and Sadie have become near strangers. While Sadie has lived with her grandparents in London, her brother has traveled the world with their father, the brilliant Egyptologist, Dr. Julius Kane.

One night, Dr. Kane brings the siblings together for a "research experiment" at the British Museum, where he hopes to set things right for his family. Instead, he unleashes the Egyptian god Set, who banishes him to oblivion and forces the children to flee for their lives.

Soon, Sadie and Carter discover that the gods of Egypt are waking, and the worst of them —Set— has his sights on the Kanes. To stop him, the siblings embark on a dangerous journey across the globe - a quest that brings them ever closer to the truth about their family and their links to a secret order that has existed since the time of the pharaohs.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The opening book of Rick Riordan's new Egyptian mythology series (The Kane Chronicles) has everything you'd want in a first book.  There's a great plot, interesting characters, and a satisfying conclusion, as well as unsolved mysteries and cliffhangers to get you excited for the following books.

Riordan's style of writing and extensive research on mythology work together brilliantly to create an amazing world within our world.  That's one of the reasons I loved his Percy Jackson & the Olympians series.  Everything just seems so much more believable and real because Riordan builds on what we already know.

There was one little moment in the story that I loved so much, I had to put the book down and share it with my whole family.  It was a brief conversation between Sadie, Carter, and their uncle Amos, during which Amos makes an allusion to the Empire State Building and the gods of Riordan's original series.  It was just an extremely small crossover between the series, but one that I loved and (crosses fingers) might possibly foreshadow an even bigger crossover later on.  I cannot wait to see what happens in the next book in May!  A
Title:  Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex
Author:  Eoin Colfer
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  368
Genre:  Fantasy/Children's
Series #:  7 of ??
Read:  December 2010

Rating:  A-

Description (from publisher):  Artemis has committed his entire fortune to a project he believes will save the planet and its inhabitants, both human and fairy. Can it be true? Has goodness taken hold of the world s greatest teenage criminal mastermind?

Captain Holly Short is unconvinced, and discovers that Artemis is suffering from Atlantis Complex, a psychosis common among guilt-ridden fairies -- not humans -- and most likely triggered by Artemis s dabbling with fairy magic. Symptoms include obsessive-compulsive behavior, paranoia, multiple personality disorder and, in extreme cases, embarrassing professions of love to a certain feisty LEPrecon fairy.

Unfortunately, Atlantis Complex has struck at the worst possible time. A deadly foe from Holly's past is intent on destroying the actual city of Atlantis. Can Artemis escape the confines of his mind -- and the grips of a giant squid -- in time to save the underwater metropolis and its fairy inhabitants?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I almost thought I'd never get through the first chapter of this book.  If I had to read one more over-the-top simile, I was going to chuck the book at a wall.  The first few paragraphs were overloaded with simile after simile after simile.  And while they were entertaining, after the tenth one, it gets old.  Luckily, Colfer put that part-of-speech to rest shortly and didn't continue the theme throughout the book, making this a great addition to the Artemis Fowl collection.

In this book, Artemis Fowl suffers from a condition known as the Atlantis Complex, which manifests itself as paranoia and multiple personality disorder.  Artemis' other self, Orion, is his complete opposite-- carefree, optimistic, and embarrassingly outspoken, especially when it comes to his feelings for Holly.  Their interactions are the most humorous parts of the book.  There's lots of adventure and fun, and fans of the series will not be disappointed.  A-
Title:  That Summer in Sicily: A Love Story
Author:  Marlena de Blasi
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  336
Genre:  Memoir/Travelogue
Read:  2010

Rating:  B-

Description (from publisher):  “At villa Donnafugata, long ago is never very far away,” writes bestselling author Marlena de Blasi of the magnificent if somewhat ruined castle in the mountains of Sicily that she stumbles upon one summer while traveling with her husband. There de Blasi is befriended by Tosca, the patroness of the villa, who shares her own unforgettable love story. In a luminous and tantalizing voice, de Blasi re-creates Tosca’s life and romance with the last prince of Sicily descended from the French nobles of Anjou. But when Prince Leo attempts to better the lives of his peasants, his defiance of the local Mafia costs him dearly. The present-day narrative finds Tosca sharing her considerable inherited wealth with a harmonious society composed of many of the women–now widowed–who once worked the prince’s land alongside their husbands. This marvelous epic drama reminds us that in order to live a rich life, one must embrace both life’s sorrow and its beauty.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

I normally love Marlena de Blasi's books on food and Italy.  But this one disappointed me, mostly because I wanted to hear about the Sicily that de Blasi explored, not the life of her Sicilian hostess Tosca.  I was really looking forward to a book about Sicilian food and the adventures that de Blasi and her husband experienced.  Instead, I read the "auto"-biography of Tosca, and although her life was exciting and full of adventure, it didn't capture my interest.  I never got drawn into the story the way I did with A Thousand Days in Tuscany.  It's still a great book, but not as interesting (to me) as de Blasi's previous memoirs.  I did love the ending; I am, after all, a sucker for happy endings.  But I think if I want to read a book about modern-day Sicily, I'm going to have to look somewhere else.  B-

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Title:  The Magicians
Author:  Lev Grossman
Format:  Hardcover
Genre:  Contemporary fantasy/Coming-of-age/Trash

Rating:  Incomplete

I'm not even going to bother with including a synopsis, because honestly, I don't think the book is worth it.  If you read my review of Paper Towns, you'll remember the fact that I really don't like most contemporary fiction, especially if it's perverted and smutty.  I read the synopsis on the cover and ignored the little warning bells going off in my head.  But I figured I'd give it a chance; after one chapter, I decided the most appropriate place for The Magicians was the garbage.

I wish someone could explain to me why it is necessary to put so much trash into books.  Why does every book, especially contemporary fantasy, have to resort to smut in order to get a reader's attention?  Especially when the concept of this book is so amazing, it wouldn't need trashiness to capture someone's interest.  Quentin is a high school senior (yes, another coming-of-age story featuring a high school senior named Quentin) who's admitted to an exclusive college of magic, where he discovers that the fantastical world of his favorite book is actually real.  Brilliant concept; poorly executed.  I know that people will disagree with me, purely for the fact that they don't have issues with smut and profanity, but I do.  Incomplete
Title:  Keeping the Feast: One Couple's Story of Love, Food, and Healing in Italy
Author:  Paula Butturini
Format:  Hardcover
Pages:  259
Genre:  Memoir

Rating:  C

Synopsis (from publisher):  A story of food and love, injury and healing, Keeping the Feast is the triumphant memoir of one couple's nourishment and restoration in Italy after a period of tragedy, and the extraordinary sustaining powers of food, family, and friendship.

Paula and John met in Italy, fell in love, and four years later, married in Rome. But less than a month after the wedding, tragedy struck. They had transferred from their Italian paradise to Warsaw and while reporting on an uprising in Romania, John was shot and nearly killed by sniper fire. Although he recovered from his physical wounds in less than a year, the process of healing had just begun. Unable to regain his equilibrium, he sank into a deep sadness that reverberated throughout their relationship. It was the abrupt end of what they'd known together, and the beginning of a new phase of life neither had planned for. All of a sudden, Paula was forced to reexamine her marriage, her husband, and herself.

Paula began to reconsider all of her previous assumptions about healing. She discovered that sometimes patience can be a vice, anger a virtue. That sometimes it is vital to make demands of the sick, that they show signs of getting better. And she rediscovered the importance of the most fundamental of human rituals: the daily sharing of food around the family table.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Besides being an emotionally-draining book to read, Keeping the Feast was a disappointment for me.  The way people talked about it, the way it was described, led me to believe that this book was going to be similar to Marlena de Blasi's Thousand Days books, just with some more serious obstacles for the author and her husband to overcome.  I expected descriptions of food and Italy; I thought the book would focus on the healing that came from that food and that country.  Instead, I got the taxing, joy-sapping story of clinical depression, near-fatal wounds, suicide... Definitely not light reading.

The first half of the book focuses on all of the horrible things that kept happening to the author and especially her husband.  I'd read a chapter and then have to turn on a mindless comedy so I'd stop feeling so depressed.  Then the next quarter of the book was about the steps the Butturinis took towards that healing, much of which didn't even happen in Italy.  It was only in the final chapters of the book that the healing actually seemed to begin.  The food, which was supposed to be such an integral part, seemed secondary and scarce.  And the "happy" ending seemed rushed... because it was.  Butturini focused so much time describing the problems, she left almost nothing for the resolution.

Despite my disappointment, I didn't hate the book.  If I'd been more mentally prepared for what the book was really about, I'd have been perfectly fine with it.  If it had been described to me as a memoir on overcoming huge obstacles, without any mention of food or Italy, then I would have rated this book higher.  But because the memoir was supposed to have a big focus on both food & Italy (heck, it says so in the title), I had very different expectations.  C