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 BN.com):  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 BN.com):  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
Title:  Paper Towns
Author:  John Green
Format:  Paperback
Pages:  320
Genre:  Young adult/Coming-of-age
Date Started:  December 8, 2010
Date Finished:  December 8, 2010

Rating:  A-

Synopsis (from publisher):  When Margo Roth Spiegelman beckons Quentin Jacobsen in the middle of the night—dressed like a ninja and plotting an ingenious campaign of revenge—he follows her. Margo's always planned extravagantly, and, until now, she's always planned solo. After a lifetime of loving Margo from afar, things are finally looking up for Q . . . until day breaks and she has vanished. Always an enigma, Margo has now become a mystery. But there are clues. And they're for Q.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This book was an adventure, just because it is so different from the books I usually read.  My favorite genres are fantasy and historical fiction; contemporary fiction is usually too perverted, too violent/depressing, or too gimmicky.  Or they're trying way too hard to be psychologically deep/profound/twisted in order to win an award.  Look at the bestsellers lists, and you'll find vampire novels galore, murder mysteries, romances, and mind-bending thrillers.  So this book was a refreshing surprise.

Paper Towns is a coming-of-age story, in which Quentin, your typical high school brainiac, finally pulls himself out of his shell to solve the mystery of his long-time crush's disappearance.  At first, he's trying to figure out just who exactly Margo was in order to think like her, but the longer he spends looking for Margo, the more confident Q becomes, until he's no longer the bullied teen nerd.  His quest helps him mature and transform into a self-assured leader, who takes his friends on the craziest road trip of their lives.  In the end, the book's not so much about the search for Margo, but the journey Quentin makes from boy to man.

Because the book is about modern high schoolers, there are some situations and conversations in the book that wouldn't be appropriate for a younger reader.  Nevertheless, Paper Towns is a great book on self-discovery and friendship.  A-

2010 Resolutions in Review

Time to look at back at the resolutions I made and the goals I set at the beginning of 2010 to see if I accomplished any of them.

  1. Updating my blog once a week-- fail!
  2. Reading more-- I did stop wasting time on the online game sites, but I think I just substituted it with TV.  So not much improvement here.
  3. Scrapbooking--  Accomplished!
  4. Finishing a novel--  fail!
  5. Grad school application-- I can't consider this a fail, because I decided not to go.  For one thing, I found the people there unprofessional, disorganized, and mostly unhelpful.  Also, right after I sent in my incomplete application, the college introduced a new graduate program which was closer to what I'd wanted.
  6. Going to church every Sunday--  While my attendance approved this past year, it wasn't perfect.  And as far as reading my Bible once a week... I'm rather ashamed that I completely failed that one.
  7. Healthier lifestyle--  I am happy to say that I actually made a lot of improvement here... at least, until the holidays happened.  For months, I watched what I ate and how much I ate.  I took walks around the parking lot at work.  I lost 25 pounds and went down 2 pant sizes!  And then my birthday came, followed by the holidays, and now I've gained back about 6-8 of those pounds, and I'm starting at square one again.
  8. Journaling--  fail!
  9. Staying in touch with friends--  So-so.
  10. Saving money--  Fail/Accomplished.  Ok, so I failed at this because I spent exorbitant amounts of money on Christmas presents this year.  But I accomplished it too, because I set up a savings account that I've actually been putting money into.
  11. New car--  I'm actually getting one this month, because I can finally afford it.
  12. Weekend road trips-- fail!  I did go camping with my friends in June, but I didn't get to visit 95% of the places I wanted to this summer.
  13. Redecorating my room--  fail!  Do you know how expensive it is to change just a couple of elements in a room?!
  14. Teaching Certificate--  Not really a fail because I really wanted to get into grad school before getting this, and since that's on hold until I make some big decisions about programs/schools, this goal will be on hold as well.
I will be posting a review of 2010 in terms of books/movies/whatever soon, but first I have to a massive update on my blog.  I have over 50 entries to post on books, movies, scrapbooking, cooking, etc. from 2010 that I put on the back-burner during the holidays.  This should be fun... I hope.