Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Cowboy Night Before Christmas - James Rice

For: anyone, for fun
Published: 1986/2007
Pelican Publishing
Rating: 3.5 (uninspiring illustrations, great poem)
Read: sometime in November
Endpapers: White ! ! !

'Twas a cold Christmas eve
...on the Southwestern plain
And the north wind was blowin'
...through a broke winderpane.

So starts this rewrite of "Twas the Night Before Christmas". Every other two-page spread is in color, mostly brown and yellow hues, with the ones in between being pen and ink.

Santa's team had taken off, fled north, and he had "many a mile yet 'fore the sun hits the sky." The only help the cowboys could offer was some ornery longhorns to help pull his wagon:

While roping the longhorns
...they bumped and they stumbled
And numerous times
...from their hosses they tumbled.
It took all three working hour or more
To hitch up the wagon two rows of four.

And of course, they couldn't believe their eyes when the whole outfit took off into the sky and, shaking their heads in disbelief:

They reached the sod shanty
...and opened the door
And they couldn't believe
...what they saw on the floor.
Two pairs of new boots
...with spurs made of silver,
With a note but not clue to who was the giver.

Willy and May: A Christmas Story - Judy Schachner

For: Kids 5 and up (a lot of text)
Published: 1995
Rating: 4.5
For Caroline and Andrew
Endpapers: oops, forgot to write it down and it's wrapped and ready to be sent
Told in 1st person as a memoir

This story ends at the holiday season, but tells of the loving relationship between a young girl and her great aunt through the years. They only get to visit twice a year, but correspond with each other at other times. Aunt May is interesting and a bit eccentric, her best friend is a little bird named Willy, who spends most of the time atop her head. There is lots of text, lots of story, building to the year that the girl's mother gets sick and they can't visit Aunt May in the summer OR at Christmas, so this year, Aunt May and Willy come to visit THEM. There's a cute ending full of the magic of Christmastime.

Beautiful watercolor illustrations framed with a blue line are detailed and full-of-fun. I wish I could think of a better description for this type of art - I really love it. Not really "whimsical", not really "folksy" or "folky"....I guess I must come up with my own descriptor. I'll mull it over....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Happy Holidays!

The coast of Maine, the northern suburbs of Boston, and central Pennsylvania have been my home since December 20th. I'll return to Tucson on the 2nd of January and will add to this blog all the wonderful books I've been reading at that time. In the meantime, I've survived blizzards, frigid temperatures, a lost cellphone, and flight cancellations (I finally rented a car with three strangers and drove from Philadelphia to Harrisburg one particularly late, foggy night) and I've adored being with family and friends. I truly have three of the most wonderful grandchildren in the universe. So many new adventures to muse over!

I've done all my previous postings on my Mac, and I can't seem to do any of the special things (links, italics, bold, color) on it. I don't mind, I've had a blast. However, I've messed around a little while at Laura's on her PC, and have made it so ANY comments can now be included for my blog, whether you're enrolled or not. Try it out and see if it works!

Can You Say Peace? - Karen Katz

For: Babies and Toddlers (even though some reviews say 4-8)
Published: 2006
Rating: 5
Read: Feb. 2007 and yesterday
Endpapers: Purple

Laura says that Ella asks for this book every night. I gave it to her for Valentine's Day, 2007. It's a beautiful book with colorful, large illustrations in happy colors, each surrounded with a frame of another bright color. We meet eleven different children from eleven different cultures who say "PEACE" in eleven different languages. Ella (who's two) will even point to each of the eleven children on the cover and say their name. She repeats the word for peace as it is read to her, and knows most of them by heart. It's pretty cool to see and hear.

Hana lives in Iran. Hana says sohl (sohl).
Stefan lives in Russia. Stefan says mir (meer).
May lives in China. May says he ping (hey ping).

A really special book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

61. Maybe - Brent Runyon

For: Older YA (Gr 9+)
Published: 2006
196 pgs.
Rating: 4
Finished Monday, Dec. 15, 2008

Brian's older brother has died, we slowly find out how. Brian's grief is locked inside himself, and we follow his life and his thoughts as his family moves to an affluent area in Virginia. Here he becomes a junior at his new high school, finds a group of friends - they happen to be in the drama department - and he even gets a part in a play. We are very much in his head in this book, sharing his thoughts, his yearnings and his misgivings. His first...his only...thoughts about each girl he meets is sex, and he goes out with them whether he likes them or not, hoping, hoping...... He's really quite messed up. We are with him as he gets his license, meets new people, even sit in on his classes with him. And slowly, slowly he gets to face his brother's death and get on with his life.

I went up and down about my feelings about this book. I wasn't crazy about the protagonist, but the book is really well written, and I do feel like I was in Brian's head. Brian's screwed up head. You do end the book thinking he's going to be okay - but it's because he finally finds a female that he likes for herself. Where will this take him? Will his fickle feelings return so that he'll have to begin all over? We can only guess!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Rating: Super
Viewed: Sat, Dec. 13, 2008
El Con, with Fran
Rotten Tomato Rating: 93%
Mine: the same, I really liked it a lot
EW: not yet, cag: A
Rolling Stone: 4/4
Genre: Drama/Biography
Released 11/26/08
R (2 hrs 8 min)
Directed by: Gus VanSant
Sean Penn (nominated for Golden Globe Best Actor), James Franco
BEST ACTOR, Academy Awards, Feb. 2009 - SEAN PENN

Harvey Milk, openly gay activisit and elected official in San Francisco, was assassinated, along with the mayor of SF, in 1978. Thirty years ago! This movie takes you from the early 70's, Milk's move from New York to San Francisco, and the journey that he took to make a difference for gay rights. It was framed by Milk sitting at his kitchen table recording into a tape recorder. flashing back through fashion and friends, telling his story. it was really well done, seemed well researched (at least I'm counting on that - I'd like to think the story was accurate), and was rewarded by a smattering of applause from the packed audience - you don't hear that very much anymore. A totally enjoyable movie experience. Sean Penn has to be the most talented actor of this generation. AMAZING! The actors were well chosen, the parts were well acted - and James Franco was, as usual, fantastic.

MOVIE: Happy-Go-Lucky

Rating: Charming and fun
Viewed: Friday, Dec. 12, 2008
at the Loft, with Fran
Rotten Tomato rating: 94%
Mine: 90%
EW: A- cag: A-
Released 10/10/08
R (1 hr 58 min)
Directed by: Mike Leigh
Golden Globe nominations for Best Comedy Motion Picture and for Best Actress, Comedy, for Sally Hawkins

Sally Hawkins plays Poppy, a 30-year old primary teacher in an English city. She is happy, upbeat, enjoys her life and her friends, and really tries to have a positive outlook on life. She seems fearless, afraid of nothing - not in a "daring" kind of way, perhaps I'd call it a "brave" way. She parties with her friends, has her bike stolen so takes driving lessons (which becomes a strong part of the storyline, since the teacher is somewhat nuts), worries about her students, and ends up with a love interest at the end...yippee! This was thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking, and just plain fun. One thing - you do have to listen carefully because there are points where the British accents gets pretty strong and you have to furrow your brow for a second to figure out what was said. (I went from an A to an A- because there was a segment in the movie that seemed just inserted....first Poppy was walking out in the country, amid shrubs with no city anywhere, then she ended up in a dicey part of town, interacting with an imbalanced man. It was a really interesting part of the movie, but I can't figure out exactly where it came from.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

60. S is for Silence - Sue Grafton

AUDIO Read by Judy Kaye
For: Adults
Book Published: 2006
Audio Published: Dec. 2005, Random House Audio
10 discs
368 pgs.
Rating: 3/5
Finished Dec. 10, 2008

Kinsey Milhone's 19th investigation is written in a bit of a different style than the previous 18. This time, Sue Grafton goes back and forth between Kinsey's point of view in 1987, and the stories, feelings, and the 1953 observations of a number of the pertinent characters and suspects in the disappearance of Violet Sullivan. Daisy Sullivan, a very small child at the time of her mother's disappearance, really wants to know what happened 34 years previously. Because of the way the story's written, we get to see the motivations and attitudes of many characters, which was a great way to develop these characters. However, at the end of the story I felt like there were a lot of loose ends. It was wrapped up quickly, with the murderer coming after Kinsey, and ending without the reader knowing how the intricate murder took place, there was no motive that I could tell, so we don't really know why, and no real closer....very disappointing after staying tuned for ten discs and many weeks of listening. A major letdown, actually.

A quick summary: Violet Sullivan, a "tart", mother of baby Daisy and wife of an angry wife-beater, goes after men and whatever else she may want in a small California town. She feels very sorry for herself, but does nothing constructive to change her situation. She has a mysterious $50,000 (though there's foggy history behind it), a brand new convertible, and then disappears one night on the fourth of July weekend with her annoying little dog. Small town families, small town politics, and an interesting story. However, the ending really botched up a good rating for me.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

MOVIE: Rachel Getting Married

Rating: Unsettling
Viewed: Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008
El Con with Laraine
Rotten Tomato Rating: 88%
Mine: 25% (Acting 85%)
EW: A cag: C-
Genre: Drama
Released: October 3, 2008
R (1 hr 53 min)
Directed by: Jonathan Demme
Anne Hathaway, Debra Winger

Anne Hathaway was amazing. The move was boring and nauseating. Literally nauseating. It looked like a hand-held camera wobbling and wobbly, jumpy and amateur. I'm sure it was purposely done, but I couldn't stand it. The wedding guests who were always in the background for an entire endless day after day played screechy, bad music...constantly.....until I was ready to scream. There was a dishwasher scene that went on f o r e v e r and the reception was absolutely endless. Out of the two hours I enjoyed about 30 minutes - the 30 minutes that Anne Hathaway was front and center.

Anne Hathaway played Kym, a recovering drug-addict that has left rehab (after about 9 months) to attend her sister Rachel's wedding. Yes, she's a bit self-centered at first, but what she needs in her life is to get some issues with her family out in the open. Unfortunately, a big family wedding is not the place to do it...but it needs to happen. I really liked the story, I hated the lengthy scenes, wobbly filming, and hair-raising accompanying music. I loved the story and the acting. However, when you can't wait for a movie to end, you can't rate the movie very high. And I thought this movie would never end.

Monday, December 1, 2008

That Book Woman - Heather Henson

Illustrator: David Small
For: Early school-age? (Dialect might be difficult)
Published: Oct, 2008
Rating: 3.5
Read: Today
Endpapers: Med. rust

Set high in Kentucky's Appalachian Mountains, Cal would rather than work with Pap than learn to read chicken scratch. Since school is a "jillion miles back down the creek" he's gotten no schoolin', and can't understand his sister Lark's love of reading. One day a "lady wearing britches" appears on a horse after a "hard day's ride"...with a "passel of books." And she wants nothing in trade. On top of that, she'll return in two days to swap the books! She comes through the rain and the cold and the fog, and eventually Cal decides to see what it is that Lark's so taken with - and she teaches him to read!

Based on the real PACK HORSE LIBRARY PROJECT that was part of FDR's WPA (Work Progress Administration) in the 1930's, this book gives homage to the brave and hardy woman who traveled throughout Kentucky's Appalachia to bring the gift of books and reading to the poor of Appalachia.

I loved the dialect, but I wonder if it might be hard for some kids to understand? It gives a great sense of place, and IS pretty cool....

Comes on a time
the world turns white
as Granpap's beard.
The wind it shrieks
like bobcats do
deep inside the dark of night.
So here we sit
tucked 'round the fire,
no thought to howdy-do's this day.
Why, even critters of the wild
will keep a-hid
come snow like this.

I usually like David Small's illustrations, but this won't be a favorite. I want more detail!

MOVIE: Twilight

Entertaining-pretty much what I expected
Viewed: Thanksgiving Night 11/27/08
Dreamcatcher Theater, north of Santa Fe, NM
Rotten Tomato Rating: 43%
Mine: Oh, let's say 60%
EW: B cag: B
Genre: Teen (lots of guys there, so not a chick-flick)
Released 11/21/08
PG-13 (2 hrs 2 min)
Directed by: Catherine Hardwicke
adaptation of the book by Stephanie Meyer

I couldn't wait to see how this book would tranlsate onto the screen. It was entertaining, the story was easy to follow and very silmilar to the book. However, I wasn't really thrilled...Harry Potter thrilled, particularly....and I've mulled over the reason.

Edward-of-the-movie just wasn't my Edward-of-the-book. Bella was fine. Her dad was perfect. The Cullen family worked beautifully (Alice was particularly good). But if Edward dosn't work - the movie doesn't completely work.

Bella moves from Phoenix and her mom to Forks, WA and her dad. She is immediately drawn to Edward Cullen, and he to her. Edward's family are all vampires that have diverted from a vampire's usual path --- they want to live as average people, not killing to find the blood that sustains them. They are strong and fast and sparkle in the sunshine. They are still stronly drawn to sucking blood, but work hard to overcome that desire. Bella falls in love with Edward in an all-consuming way. She cares about nothing else. Something else that bothers me.....

The movie seemed to follow the book quite well. I wish I'd been thrilled.