Thursday, August 30, 2007

Different Seasons by Stephen King

This is actually the second time that I've read Different Seasons by Stephen King. It was the August pick for my Mom's Club Book Club, and luckily I finished it yesterday morning as the meeting was last night. This is the only Stephen King novel I've read. I've been told I should read The Stand, any other suggestions?

Different Seasons contains four "novellas" by Stephen King. I'm going to split my discussion up between the stories.

1. Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. This is definitely my favorite story in the book and is the basis for the fantastic movie, The Shawshank Redemption. Andy is wrongly convicted of a murder and spends twenty something years in Shawshank Redemption. He is the victim of brutal violence, but somehow always manages to keep his dignity and hope intact. He befriends another man named Red, the man who can "get things." This story is wonderful.

2. Apt Pupil. I do not like Apt Pupil, and unfortunatly it is the longest story in the book. The story freaks me out. It tells the story of a young "All American Boy" named Todd who becomes obsessed with the holocaust. He figures out that a neighbor, "Mr. Denker," is really a commandant that was in charge of a concentration camp in hiding in the U.S. Todd blackmails him into telling all of the details of the camps. The two have a parasitic relationship and each separately begins to descend into evil. This story is very disturbing. I don't think I need to read it again!

3. The Body. The Body was made into the movie Stand By Me, which I haven't seen since I was young. It tells the tale of four boys who go off on a gruesome adventureto find the dead body of a lost boy that was killed by a train. The boys each have a tough life and the trip is a defining moment and adventure in their lives. It's an entertaining story.

4. The Breathing Method. This story is intriguing, although freaky. It is about a man who goes to a mysterious "club" with no name after invited by his boss. There are books and things there that are unheard of on the outside world. The men take turns telling stories. One of which is "The Breathing Method." A young woman in the 1930's discovers that she is pregnant and is dumped by her boyfriend. She faces the future with bravery and is determined to have her baby and use the breathing method that the doctor recommends. There is a freak accident when she is on the way to the hospital to delivery the baby. You'll have to read the story to discover the rest. The club itself intrigued me in the story - I wanted to learn more about it. The story was good too, although very disturbing.

Overall, it is a good book and worth a read!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Catch & Release

Catch & Release wasn't the worse romantic comedy I've ever seen, but it definitely wasn't the best. Ben and I both watched Catch & Release Saturday night and overall felt indiferent about the movie.

Catch & Release stars Jennifer Garner as Gray, a young woman who's fiance (Grady - Grady & Gray, seriously these are not good couple names) was killed in a skiing accident at his bachelor party shortly before their wedding. Not a happy way to start a romantic comedy. Gray discovers that her fiance actually was quite wealthy with a million dollars stashed away in an investment account. An account he mysteriously sent money to someone every month. As Gray was not married when Grady died, his mother inherits everything. Gray can't afford their new home without Grady so she moves into Grady's old place with his two best friends. Another of Grady's friends, Fritz, comes to town to California for the funeral and stays on to see things through. Gray moves on with life, learns dirty secrets from Grady's past, and finds love once again.

First of all, Jennifer Garner as Gray was way too serious all through this movie. I know it had serious tones, but most of the time it showed Gray, she just looked pouty. I was frankly underwhelmed by her performance. Secondly, I really did not like Fritz's character in the movie at all and really didn't like Gray and Fritz's romance. I was not rooting for them to get together!

The best thing about the movie was Kevin Smith's performance as Matt. He was a really likeable character and seemed more down to earth and real than most of his co-stars. Gray should have ended up with him!

I guess it was worth seeing once, but I don't plan on ever watching it again. It was okay, but there are much better romantic comedies out there that are more romantic and have more comedy!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia was an excellent movie. I have never read the book, but my sister Katie always told me it was a good one. It's on my giant list of books to read!! Since it's a children's novel, I may wait until Kile is old enough to read it!

I was mislead by the marketing for this movie. It focused on the fantasy elements and billed it as another Chronicles of Narnia. This movie was far from it. It was the story of a boy named Jess Aarons. His family has a hard time making it and doesn't have much money. He has four sisters and feels misunderstood both at home and at school. He is an artist, but is also proud of his ability to run fast. He and all of the other boys are beaten on the first day of school by a new girl, Leslie Burke. Annoyed with her at first, Jess and Leslie eventually become best friends. They love to play in the woods close to their home and together imagine an entire kingdom of Terebithia (hence some fantasty elements). Tragedy strikes and I shed some tears. It had an excellent follow through and ending on how to deal with tragedy.

I highly recommend this movie. It might be hard for young children to watch with the very sad tragedy that happens. It has a great plot and many good life lessons.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot

Queen of Babble is an entertaining "chick lit" read by Meg Cabot (author of the Princess Diaries). I enjoyed reading the book and look forward to the sequel, but many parts of the book reminded me of Sophie Kinsella's work, especially Can You Keep a Secret? If you like Kinsella's work, this would be a good read for you.

Queen of Babble is about Lizzie Nichols. A "History of Fashion" major a the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Lizzie has discovered that she actually didn't graduate as she didn't turn in a senior thesis. She doesn't have much time to worry about this as she has a ticket already paid for to visit her boyfriend Andy in London. Neither her trip to London nor Andy turn out to be quite what she had expected. She joins her friend Shari in France and along the way spills her tales of woe to a cute stranger named Luke. Unfortunately, Luke turns out to be the owner of the Chateau where Lizzie is staying!

Lizzie is an engaging character, but I didn't think the secondary character build-up was as good as in other novels, such as Sophie Kinsella's. I did really like Lizzie's no-nonsense Dr. Quinn loving Grandma though! It was an entertaining read, but not the best "chick-lit" that I've read lately.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Becoming Jane

I went to a movie last night - in the theatre! I was very excited as this does not happen much now with Kile around. Dawn and I had a girls' night out and went to see Becoming Jane. Dawn and I have always enjoyed watching Jane Austen movies and other period flicks together.

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. This movie may also have made a sad lonely tear trickle down my check at the end. I already knew Jane Austen remained a life long spinster, but I couldn't help wishing that history could change!

Becoming Jane is an imagined account of the life and love of a young Jane Austen. I have heard much online snark about how the picture is not accurate. News flash - any Jane Austen movie will not be accurate as only the bare bones are known about Jane Austen's life. She did have a short engagement that was broken in a few days with a rich man. She did have a flirtation with Tom Lefroy. Her sister Cassandra's fiance did die, and Henry and Eliza did have a romance. The movie may have added detail and changed the timing of the events, but if it makes an enjoyable film about a beloved author that we don't know much about, I don't see what the problem is!

I enjoyed the scenary and I thought Anne Hathaway did a supurb job as Jane. I thought her and James McAvoy as Tom Lefroy had great chemistry! My only personal snark was the way they tried to sex it up at times (such as with Mr. and Mrs. Austen - yuck!) and all of the times Jane was conviently alone, which I wouldn't have expected in the regency era.

If you enjoy period pictures or Jane Austen movies, I think you will enjoy this movie. I know I did!!

Miss Potter

I liked the movie Miss Potter, it had me sheding a few tears, much to Kile's dismay.

Miss Potter is an imaginative biopic of the author Beatrix Potter (The Tale of Peter Rabit, etc.). Beatrix has a strict upbringing and is expected to marry her equal in society. Instead Beatrix remains single and hones her gifted artistic skills. She decides to publish her first novel and finds love and friendship with her publisher, Norman Warne. Her mother does not approve of her publishing or of her love and friendship with Norman. Unfortunately, the ways of love do not run smooth, which caused me many shed tears.

Renee Zellweger played Beatrix Potter and Ewan McGregor was superb as Norman Warne. I thought Renee looked not quite up to par as Beatrix, older than she was supposed to be at the beginning at 32. The movie also seemed to skip through Beatrix's life very fast. I also was unsure the beginning when Beatrix was talking to her characters like they were real people. It made her seem rather daff. But overall, I thought the romance, heartbreak, and landscape made the movie a good picture. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good weepy romance set in high class England at the turn of the twentieth century.

The Fountain

Time travel. Hugh Jackman. Rachel Wiez. I thought these three ingredients would lead to a great movie, but I was wrong.

The Fountain told the story of a present day man, who is driven to succeed in his research to cure his wife's cancer. His wife is writing a novel that tells the tail of a conquestidor in South America searching for the "Tree of Life" from Genesis. There is also another strange setting with Hugh Jackman with the tree seeing visions of himself from the past. Ben and I were not sure what this was through the entire movie, but looking on Amazon, I see that it was supposed to represent a 26th century time travelor trying to ascend to the afterlife. I thought it was Hugh Jackman trying to ascend to the afterlife, and maybe the tree was the seed that he had planted on his wife's grave, but how was I suppose to know he was a space travelor in the 26th century????

I liked the acting by Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weiz. I loved the stunning visual sequences and the music. I liked the different story lines set in the present and past. I did not like how these different segments were not linked in a coehesive way, especially the bald Hugh Jackman in a bubble trying to ascend. These "future" sequences did not make sense to me at all. At the end, I found myself very confused and annoyed. I do not recommend this movie as it was not that good.

If you watched this movie and understood it and found it to be good, post a comment and enlighten me!!

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Frederica is my favorite Georgette Heyer book so far - and I love Georgette Heyer's novels! If you are a Jane Austen fan searching for unique regency romance novels to read in the vain of Austen, Georgette Heyer is your woman. While nothing truely compares to Austen, they are very entertaining and much better than run of the mill regency novels.

Frederica is the story of the Merriville family. The oldest of the clan, Frederica, considers herself at 24 as quite on the shelf. She is in charge of the family after her parents' untimely demise. She brings the family to London to give her sister, Charis, a season on the town to attract a wealthy suitor. Charis is a great beauty and Frederica has great hope for her. Frederica also brings her young brothers Jessamy, a studious 16-year old, and Felix, a rambuctious 12-year old who is very interested in mechanics. Once in town, Frederica discovers that her Aunt who always wanted them to come to town to visit, was merely saying that to be nice in her letters and has no way to launch them into society.

Frederica then decides to meet with her distant relative, the Marquis of Alverstoke, Vernon, to convince him to help the family out. Vernon is completely bored by society and the demands by his relatives for material assistance. To annoy his sister, Vernon agrees to help out Frederica and Charis by blackmailing his sister to take them to balls and introduce them if he will foot the bill of his niece's season. Vernon finds that the rambunctious family makes him appreciate the fun of life in a way he never has before.

I can't do this novel justice in a brief description. Read it and enjoy it for yourself! Heyer's characters have depth and are very enjoyable. I especially loved Felix!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Middlesex is Oprah's summer book club pick and was a Pulitzer Prize winner a few years ago. I had heard of the book previously, but it didn't sound that interesting to me. Since Oprah picked it and I usually like her books, I decided I should broaden my horizons and read something I wouldn't normally read.

Middlesex tells the story of Cal Stephanides. Born Callie, Cal discovers at age 14 that she is a hermaphodite with an XY Chromosone and starts living life as a man. This the zinger that gets people talking about the book, but the book is more complex then that. It tells the story of the Stephanides family and the "gene" that traveled through time and created Cal. The story starts in Turkey in the 1920's with the burning of Smyrna and the incestous relationship that unites a brother and sister in marriage. They immigrate to the U.S. and settle in Detroit during it's glory days. They have two children. Milton is Cal's father, a WWII vet, he marries his cousin Tessie. They survive the 1960's and Detroit riots and the story tells the tale of Cal's complicated youth and more than complicated teenage years.

It's hard for me to adequately describe this novel. The first half or so was some of the best writing I have read in a while. Mr. Eugenides has beautiful description and wonderful narrative describing the history of the family. I especially loved the description of Detroit. You can tell Eugenides is from D-town and has a love for it. The secondary story of the book is the story of Detroit - from the roaring 1920's (I was imaging what it most have been like for my Grandparents there!) through the 1970's busing, it was fantastic.

I felt that the last part of the book left something to be desired. SPOILER ALERT - I really disliked Milton's death off of the Ambassador Bridge. While the slow speed chase was funny, I thought that the sudden change in Father Mike's character was rather abrupt and strange. I thought it would have been far more profound story telling to have Milton meet Callie as Cal and either accept or reject him. I didn't like Cal's California trip - it seemed like a sidebar that took away from the real character of the story. I would have rather had more details about the doctor and more about how Cal is able to make the change when he gets back to his "normal" home in Grosse Pointe.

Overall, I liked this novel a lot, but was disappointed in the ending or last 1/3 of the book.

Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange

I actually read Mr. Darcy's Diary on the ferry this past weekend and really enjoyed it. If you are going to read any of the new Austen spin-offs, I'd recommend this book over reading Austenland (see review below).

Mr. Darcy's Diary is Pride and Prejudice retold from Mr. Darcy's perspective. The novel fills in some of the gaps of what Mr. Darcy was doing when not on center stage in Pride and Prejudice and also gives his prespective on events. Most satisfying of all, it gives a glimpse at the end of married life for the Darcys - and it was wonderful!!

While nothing can compare to the original novel, this book was very enjoyable - I recommend it for Jane Austen fans out there. I read on Austenblog that Amanda Grange has also written Mr. Knightly's Diary and Captain Wentworth's Diary. They are already published in the U.K. - I can't wait until they come to the U.S.!

Austenland by Shannon Hale

I am a bit obsessed by all things Jane Austen and felt like reading some of the spin-offs. The number one spin-off for me so far has been Bridget Jones Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. They both follow the general plot of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion respectively, but do it in a subtle and unique way with many memorable characters.

Austenland opens in modern day New York City. Jane Hayes is a thirty-something singleton because no man measures up to Mr. Darcy, specifically Mr. Darcy as portrayed by Colin Firth in the 1995 Pride and Prejudice mini-series. Strangely Jane hides the DVDs in her plants as she is ashamed of them. As I have mine proudly displayed, I was confused by her shame. Jane's Great-Aunt Carolyn finds the hidden DVDs and Jane tells her the problem she has with men. After Great-Aunt Carolyn dies, she leaves Jane an all expense paid trip to Austenland in England.

At Austenland, women come to dress and live in the Regency period. Actors portray different Austinian type characters for them to interact with. Jane has problems adjusting to this world, but eventually finds herself enjoying it. Will she find love?

This book is very slim and a very quick read. It was an okay love story, but not the best. Characters were not fleshed out in depth and the ending was a bit strange and hurried at points. Overall, it was okay. If I ever went to an Austenland, I would want Ben with me so we could dance the country dances and he could dress in the sexy period outfit! :-) Otherwise, it was all bizarro to me that older married women would go there without their husbands so actors could flirt with them. Strange!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Stargate Series Finale

Ben and I watched the Stargate finale last night (we are very behind on our TV shows - that's what happens when you have a son that would rather be outside all of the time!). We were very underwhelmed by the finale. The shows leading up to the series conclusion were definitely not the best, but we held out hope that they would make the series finale spectacular. It was anything but spectacular. I think the season finales have always been better than this show.

What didn't I like? First of all, the predictable plot line of the show seemed to be ripped off from other sci-fi shows. Didn't I see this before on Star Trek Voyager? It did not have an awe inspiring plot line that would have been a great finale. Even if they would have done a funny original story for the end, that would have worked. But to use a tired story line shown better on another show was kind of sad.

I also didn't like how General Jack O'Neil didn't make an appearance. The show hasn't been the same since he got promoted and moved out of the limelight. If they were going to have a lame plot, they could have at least brought Jack back and made him and Samantha Carter end up together. I've been wanting that to happen for years - and I'm not alone!

I didn't like how Daniel Jackson and Vala (I'm not sure if I spelled that right) ended up together in the future. Their pairing is unlikely. The rip down that Daniel gave Vala seemed strange to me to happen right before a passionate encounter.

The Ori returning and chasing them around didn't make much sense to me. They already did away with the gods, it would have been a cooler show for them to anhilate the Ori followers once and for all.

What did I like? I like that the Asgard came back and we got to see the end of their civilization. I liked that we got to see them go through the gate one last time. Otherwise, I was disappointed.

What did you think of the finale? Did anyone like it or were you underwhelmed like me?

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Love, Lies, and Liquor by M.C. Beaton (Audiobook)

I am working on a pretty boring sewer calibration right now. I went down to the local library to find some interesting books on CDs to keep my mind going while I plug away on my work. I must admit, I picked this book on CD as I really liked the title, Love, Lies, and Liquor.

Loves, Lies, and Liquor is the 17th in the the Agatha Raisin mystery series. I have never read (or listened to) any of the other books in the series, but I didn't feel like I was missing out on the plot because of it. In this novel, Agatha is still enamored with her ex-husband, James Lacey. James is a travel author and invites Agatha to go on a vacation with him. Agatha thinks this will be a romantic get-away to someplace tropical, but instead they end up in a run-down seaside village with the great name of Snoth-on-Sea. James remembers it fondly from his youth, but it has been run down a lot since then. Needless to say, Agatha is a bit disappointed. While they are in town, an unpleasant fellow vacationer is found strangled with Agatha's scarve. Agatha is soon caught up in the mystery and brings in help from her detective agency.

I must admit that since I was listening and working at the same time, I did get a bit confused by all of the secondary characters. I also got annoyed at times with Agatha for doing stupid things (going on a date with a stranger when someone is out to kill her) that it would seems she wouldn't do as a detective. Overall though, the best part of the book was the romance between Agatha and James. The mistaken intentions between the two caused much comedy. It was a light "read" and kept me entertained.

Michael will be back on Lost!

There is an article on Entertainment Weekly (click here) that states that Michael will be back on Lost this next season. Will Walt also be back? The young boy is getting pretty old to be playing in their time frame. Why will Michael be back? He was last seen sailing away with Walt. Will he come back to be a hero and try to rescue his friends? Will he come back having been deluded by the "Others?" Will he come back as he can't physcially get away from the island a la Desmond? I'm intrigued. Only 4 or 5 more months left until Lost is back . . . I can't wait!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Music & Lyrics

Jenn also recommended that I watch Music & Lyrics. We finally got it from the library this weekend. Both Ben and I enjoyed watching it.

Music & Lyrics is a funny, romantic comedy that tells the story of Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) a former has been from a 1980's group called Pop! that seems to be modeled after real 80's group Wham! I loved the faux 1980's music video of Pop! It was hilarious and brought back fond memories of 1980's music and videos. Alex has accepted his lot as a has-been and been playing and doing his patented hip roll as amusment parks and high school reunions. He discovers that pop sensation Cora (a great take on Britney Spears, Christina, etc.) loved his music as a child and wants him to write a new song for her. He only has a few days to do it and is competing against other writters. Alex can only write the music, but is terrible at lyrics. Sophie (Drew Barrymore) has taken over the job of watering his plants in his apartment and Alex discovers that she is actually pretty good at coming up with lyrics. They work together to craft a new song, have a misunderstanding, and perhaps find love along the way.

I really liked Kristen Johnston as Sophie's older sister Rhonda who was (an may still be) obsessed with Pop! and Alex Fletcher in the 1980's. She made me laugh in about every scene she was in.

I thought Hugh Grant seemed a bit old for Drew Barrymore in the movie. But it being Hollywood, there have been much greater age differences.

Overall, it was a fun movie that I enjoyed watching. I recommend it for anyone looking for a light romantic comedy to enjoy.

Friday, August 3, 2007

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

My best friend Jenn Parks recommended One for the Money for me in such glowing terms that I knew that I needed to read it. When we were home in Minnesota visiting Ben's family a few weeks ago, Ben's Mom loaned me the book to read since it is always gone from the library.

One for the Money was a great read. It was a quick and funny mystery, with a dash of romance. In this first of the series, Stephanie Plum has found herself out of work and out of money. After having her car repossesed and drinking her last beer, she decides to ask her Cousin Vinnie about a filing job he has. Unfortunately the job has been filled, but he does need a Bounty Hunter. Stephanie has one week to find Joe Morelli, an accused murderer who jumped bail. Stephanie and this ex-cop have a history, he charmed his way into her pants back in high school and then wrote about it on the sub shop wall. Stephanie may have reciprocated by trying to run him over with her father's Buick - but isn't that what he deserved?

The only parts I didn't like so much were about Ramirez, a boxer who likes to brutalize women. He scared the crap out of me - I don't want to think there are men like that in the world. But then again, Evanovich writes great characters from Stephanie to her Grandma Mazur. My fear of Ramirez could be just because Evanovich wrote about him so well.

I can't wait to read more of this series and I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good laugh and / or mystery!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Spock Meets Spock Interview

Click here to read an interesting "Spock Meets Spock" interview about the new Star Trek movie. I know it's over a year away - but I can't wait!

Becoming Jane Review

Click here for Entertainment Weekly's review of Becoming Jane, the new biopic about Jane Austen starring Anne Hathaway. While the movie is getting nitpicked by Jane Austen afficiandos for not being an accurate film about Jane, it looks like it will be an entertaining period piece. I can't wait to see it! I think it gets a wide release next weekend the 10th, when I'm out of town:-(

Sneak Peak of the Jane Austen Season on PBS

Click here for a sneak peek at the "Complete Jane Austen" season which will be shown on Masterpiece Theatre this Spring. Look at the upper right hand corner of the screen and click on sneak peek. It has clips from the new Jane Austen movies. I CAN'T WAIT to see them!!

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

I reread The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd a couple of days ago to refresh my memory before my Mom's Club Book Club tonight. I picked the book out as I really enjoyed it when I read it a couple of years ago.

I really enjoyed reading the book again. The novel tells the story of Lily Owens, a 14-year old girl who lives on a peach farm in South Carolina with her abusive father, T-Ray and her African American nanny Rosaleen. When Rosaleen offends some white men on her way to register to vote and ends up in jail, Lily breaks her out and runs away with her on a quest to learn more about her dead mother, Deborah. Her journey takes her to a bright pink house full of three sisters that are bee keepers. There she learns about life, love, and forgiveness.

It's a wonderful coming of age novel, especially as it is set in the turbulent South of 1964. I think it is a modern day classic. If you haven't read this wonderful novel yet - I highly recommend it!!