Wednesday, August 29, 2012

MOVIE - People Like Us

released 6/29/2012
Century Gateway 12 (Kolb Cheap Theater)
Monday, 8/13/12
PG-13 (1:55)
Critics: 57  Audience: 69
I liked it a lot, it had heart...
Director:  Alex Kurtzman
Dreamworks Pictures
Chris Pine, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Pfeiffer

When Sam's father dies, he reluctantly returns home.  In order to fulfill his father's final wishes, again reluctantly, he discovers a secret family unbeknownst to him.  He becomes friendly with them - without identifying himself.  When we're introduced to Sam he's a fast-talking, big-time salesman who is always in and out of hot water, sort of on-the-edge and loving it, but this new information about his father really throws him for a loop.

I really liked this movie.  I've never been particularly impressed with Chris Pine, but he did a super job with this role, as did the young man playing his nephew, Elizabeth Banks, and Michelle Pfeiffer, who played his mom.

"Inspired by true events."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MOVIE - Mirror, Mirror

Wide release 3/30/2012
Century Gateway (cheap!) Thursday 7/19/12
PG (1:35)
Directed by Tarsem Singh
Relativity Media
Critics 49% Audience 45%
on DVD 6/26/2012
Julia Roberts, Nathan Lane

The seven dwarves are a riot and a bit dark, Snow White goes from clueless to wise, and Julia Robert is great as the self-centered queen who wishes to stay young-looking forever.  This was great fun to watch.

46. Graceling - Kristin Cashore

audio read by a full cast
Graceling Realm Book #1
11 unabridged cds (12:30)
Full Cast Audio, 2009
Graceling copyright 2008
471 pages
There's a map of the seven kingdoms on the enpapers
Goodreads rated 4.13
I rated this 4 stars, I liked it a lot.
for: YA (there is a very small amount of older-kid antics which would make me a tiny bit reluctant to give to anyone younger than middle school)

I listened to this, it was a "full cast" recording, and very good. Kristin Cashore has a new one out that is supposed to be excellent, and it was strongly suggested to read this one first. I'm glad I did, am on the waiting list for Bitterblue, which takes place 8 years later.

Katsa, the protagonist, wasn't one of my favorite characters.  She's pretty self-absorbed, headstrong, and has little care for those she doesn't like or agree with.  She's smart and brave, but extremely cocky.  Her "love interest," Po, and the 10 year -old girl they save, Bitterblue, are much more likable.

When someone in the Seven Kingdoms is born with two different-colored eyes, that means they are born with some kind of "grace," something they can do remarkably well.  Katsa's grace is as a killer, although the actual more accurate title she discovers later in the book.  Po has to hide his grace (SPOILER: he can read the minds of or sense the thoughts and feelings of anyone that's thinking of him)  by calling himself a great fighter.  People with grace's are given wide berth.

Katsa has always been used by her uncle, King Randa, to punish his enemies.  She hates this.  But she must to what he bids to survive.  She and a few loyal friends create a "counsel," and they try to right some of the Seven Kingdoms' wrongs.  That is how she first meets Po, from the Island Kingdom of Leonid.

This was a good adventure, had a little ya boy-girl you-know-what going on, though nothing graphic.  She is indeed a feisty, strong female role-model and i will encourage middle schoolers to try this one out.

Notes to remember before reading a sequel:  King Randa, her uncle, is not a really nice guy.  However, his son Prince Raffin, is 3 years older than Katsa and her best friend.  He is a scientist/chemist who makes all the helpful drugs the council needs in its good-doings.  Oll is Randa's underlord, a spymaster (a "graying captain") and helped raise Katsa.  Giddon, another sidekick, has been very protective and asked her to marry him.  So he's now a bit jealous.

Monday, August 27, 2012

MOVIE - Magic Mike

A very watchable film
Released 6-29-12
R (1:50)
Critics: 79% Critics 63%
cag:  It was good
Director:  Steven Soderbergh
Warner Brothers

Perfect thing to do on a Friday after \the first full week of school, including the bucket of popcorn and huge diet Coke.  Interesting movie.  I consider that it had two protagonists, though, Mike and Adam.  I love the way you watch Mike go through all his major life deliberations, but it mad me sad that Adam was left making really crappy decisions and I ended the movie feeling worried about how his future looked pretty dim....even while happy that Mike had finally figured out what's in store for him in life.

I was pretty impressed with the dancing and the comfort with their bodies that all the actors had....Channing Tatum (very buff), Alex Pettyfer (super cute), Matthew McConaughey (oh my, he's getting old....), Matt Bomer (so adorable), and Adam Rodriguez (who used to be on CSI Miami).....verrrrrry impressive!

Monday, August 13, 2012

What’s Cooking, Jamela? – Niki Daly

Illustrated by the author
2001, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
28 pages
HC $16.00

I’ve read many of Niki Daly’s books, but it wasn’t until this one that I realized he was a HE.  He lives in South Africa, where this story is set.

Endpapers:  Yellow with brush-stroked chikens running forward and backward.
Title Page:  Two-page spread of a city street, with Jamela and her mom walking happily.  Nice.
SETTING:  Contemporary South Africa in the days approaching Christmas.
1st sentence/s:  “Gogo and Mama were maiking plans for Christmas.”
OSS:  Jamela raises a chicken that is to be the main part of Christmas dinner, but when it becomes a pet she goes to dire straits to make sure that “Christmas” does NOT become Christmas dinner.
Includes a GLOSSARY.
Illustrations:  Well….perhaps ink and colored pencil?  They’re lovely, showing South African life , I’m particularly fond of the fabrics of rich African cloths.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

45. Summer of the Gypsy Moths - Sara Pennypacker

2012, Balzer + Bray/ Harper Collins
275 pages
for: Middle Grades (ages 9-12)
rating:  5

1st line/s:  "The earth spins at a thousand miles an hour.  Sometimes when I remember this, it's all I can do to stay upright --- the urge to flatten myself to the ground and clutch hold is that strong."
Setting:  Current day Cape Cod, at the Linger Longer Cottage Colony.
OSS:  11 year-old Stella and 12-year-old Angel, both foster children , secretly run the Linger Longer Cottage Colony when Stella's great-aunt dies and they bury her in the garden, pretending she's still around, so that they won't be sent back to the foster care system.

It's quite a premise, but written beautifully and believably.  The girls have no way to get to a grocery story, so they almost starve.  Little glimmers of help come in unexpected ways - people leaving food in the refrigerator and cupboards when they leave their rental, digging clams on the beach, using the great-aunt's credit card to order pizza delivery.  They have no problem cleaning the four cottages and dealing with the cottage's problems - Stella has been a Heloise and her Hints addict for years.  And George, the fisherman-owner of the cottages checks in every so often to mow the lawn and take care of any problems that the girls can't handle. Stella even figures out how to take care of the garden that her aunt Louise planted, including her much-loved blueberry bushes, saving them from the infestation of gypsy moths.

SPOILER:  Even the death of Louise is handled in a believable way, from what it looks like, what it smells like, and how they figured out what to do with her body. This is a delightful story.  It has somewhat of a "pat" ending, but it's totally believable, too.  (And thank goodness Stella's flighty, possibly bipolar does NOT have a miraculous recovery in order to be able to care for her child.)

This was a wonderful story, about how friendship grows and what the real meaning of "family" is.

44. Gone Missing - Linda Castillo

#4 Kate Burkholder series
2012 Minatour Books
277 pgs.
for: adults
HC $24.99
Rating:  4.5

1st line/s:  (from Prologue) "Becca had always known her life would end in tragedy."
(from Chapter 1) "My mamm once told me that some places are too beautiful for anything bad to happen.  When I was a kid, I believed those words with all of my young heart.  I lived my life in a state of ignorant bliss, oblivious to the evils that lurked like frothy-mouthed predators outside the imaginary gates of our small Amish community."
Setting:  Painters Mill, Ohio, a small Amish community, and other small Amish towns within a 100-mile radius during a contemporary summer.
OSS:  Kate and Tomasetti examine the lives of four or five different Amish teenagers who have all gone missing in recent years or weeks, knowing that the answers are NOT that they disappeared by running away.
Linda Castillo knows how to weave an interesting yarn, and there's always more taking place than just the mysteries that her protagonist is trying to solve. I really like the way that she keeps Kate's past torturing her a bit, entering into her relationship with John Tomasetti and the past that's torturing HIM.  Their relationship is tentative and real, and I really love the way it's being portrayed.  I enjoy the insight that Kate has into the lives and feelings of the Amish, since that is also her own background.  And I love love love the gorgeous words that Castillo uses in her writing, the descriptions she includes put me THERE.  I've really come to realize how important setting is to me.

MOVIE - To Rome With Love

R (1:51)
Limited Release 6/22/12
Saw it Thursday, 8/10 at El Con with Sheila
RT Critics 44 Audience 49
cag: Liked much of it a lot (3.5)
Directed by Woody Allen
Sony Classics Pictures

Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Woody Allen,

Four stories of different happenings in Rome.  Three worked, one didn't.

Best:  A young newly married Italian couple move from a small Italian town to Rome, where, through a series of mishaps, the husband must pass of a hooker (Penepole Cruz) as his wife and his wife meets up with a movie star in a comedy of errors.

Next best: Woody Allen and are the parents of a young woman whose father-in-law-to-be is a phenomenal opera singer - when he's in the shower.

OK:  A know-it-all schmuck wakes up one day incredibly famous and admired.  Shortly he discovers he wants his old life back.  Then he gets his wish and isn't so sure.

Just didn't do it for me:  Alec Baldwin, a famous architect/developer, returns to the Rome he lived in for a year when he as young.  He "sits in" on the scenario of a young him (Jesse Eisenberg) giving advise and popping in and out.

43. The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

audio read by C. J. Critt
8 cds (9/5 hours)
1988/2009 Harper Audio

This is the book that led me to Tucson many years ago.  I loved it then. I loved it now.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Shorts

Half-Minute Horrors
Edited by Susan Rich
2009, Harper

Very short (most are a page or less) “scary” stories for kids.  Some are definitely scary, some are odd, some leave you scratching your head, some are in comic book/graphic novel form. All are written by famous authors, some well-known to children, some well-known to adults.  It’s fun to see what some of your favorite authors can do with very few words and such a subject.   Margaret Atwood, Michael Connelly, Neil Gaiman, Gloria Whelan, Jerry Spinelli, Lemony Snicket and Adam Rex  are just a few that contributed.

I picked out two that I will probably use with my fourth graders.

“At the Water’s Edge” (page 57) by Ayelet Waldman.  This has great descriptive writing, and I plan to read almost the entire story to them, but stop after, “Except the car door is opening and …..” and have them think, then write their own ending.  After we share and discuss, I’ll read the real ending aloud.  The whole thing is really quite spooky…..

    I include it here, in its entirety, to give a sampling of the writing in this book:
    " The water is still, and so clear I can see the tangled stems of the lily pads leading down to the muddy bottom.  I have made a careful study of the lilies, their white outer leaves that shade to pale pink and finally to magenta.  The pistils are bright orange, the color of the dress my mother was wearing when she left for work this morning, only a few minutes before the children came.  I am paying such close attention to the blossoms floating in the pond because I don’t want to look at the children.  The pond is small, and they have surrounded it entirely.  They stand very still, staring at me.  I think they don’t even blink, but since I try to avoid their eyes, I cannot really tell.  They don’t say a word.
     It has been hours since they first burst through doors and crawled through windows, silent all the while, even when they snatched my little sister from her crib and bundled her away.  My mother should be home by now.
     They have never once spoken, or shouted, even when I managed to tear loose from their filthy hands and race out to the pond.  They chased me, their fingers brushing the edges of my clothes.  I leaped into the canoe and paddled out to the middle of the pond, a smart thing to do, it turned out, since it seems they cannot swim.  But the pond is shallow, and soon enough they’ll figure out that they can wade.  Already I see on or two of them testing the water with their dirt-encrusted toes.
     I hear the noise of an engine, and only now do I allow myself to burst into tears.  My mother is home – her car is coming up the driveway.  She will chase them away.  Except the door is opening and…..
 …….it is not my mother who is stepping out.  It is one of the children, dirty and disheveled, with torn clothes and bare feet.  I am staring at the child who has replaced my mother, and there is no air left in my lungs.  The child lifts her hand and waves.
     It will be dark soon."

And “On a Tuesday During That Time of Year” (page 102) by Chris Raschka.  Again, I will stop and have them write their own ending before sharing with them Mr. Raschka’s version.
     "On a Tuesday during that time of year when it is particularly unpleasant to be out in the early gray twilight of those sometimes rainy or even sleety days, a small boy, perhaps nine or ten years old, was looking in his deep sock drawer for a particular pair of warm ones that he saved for just this sort of morning.  He dug past his long basketball socks, pushed aside his black dress socks, and held for a minute a pair of red-and-blue –striped socks that he had once wore to a party.  Plunging his hand back into the spaghetti bowl of stockings, he felt and pinched everything, with his eyes closed, to test if it was that wonderful soft and homey wool of the pair he was looking for.
     Figuring that they were perhaps in the laundry, he was about to give up when he touched……
 …….something hard, lumpy, and, he thought,, a little bit hairy.   Curious, he curled his fingers around whatever it was and slowly pulled it up, the layers of socks tumbling this way and that, until when he opened his hand he found something gray-green, longish – about five inches – and thin, scabby, with little hillocks crowned by short black hairs, very wrinkled, and with what looked like withered corn husk protruding from its end.
     It was a finger."

Thursday, August 2, 2012

California Barn Quilt Trail

What fun!

In Lake County, California, 28 buildings have decorated their sides with huge, COLORFUL, quilts.  Apparently this is happening all over the U.S. with about 28 states creating their own Barn Quilt Trail!  We set out early in the morning, traveling from Novato by Sonoma, through Napa and Calistoga and up into Lake County.  What a gorgeous ride, past zillions of vineyards and winding around and through mountain roads.

Our first stop was at a deli on the outskirts of Middletown, where we had a "snack."  Thank goodness for that snack, because we couldn't find anyplace to eat for the next four hours, not even a Subway. We had a map with sketchy addresses that we'd downloaded from the internet, and started our gaping and u-turning adventure in Middletown, where there was one quilt we just had to find.  It wasn't easy., but after traveling down and around a driveway that meandered through grapes and horses and trees (with a sign that said "No Trespassing/Tresspassers will be shot/Survivors will be shot again/We aim to please") , we followed a sign advertising eggs for sale.  And on the egg-lady's own somewhat hidden barn, we found our first quilt.

From there we headed up toward Lower Lake where we found another, then on to Kelseyville,, where there are about 20 clustered around town - but it's a largish area, so many miles were traveled.  Some were easily found from the road.  Some we had to look backwards or drive back and forth.  One was covered with a ladder - it was a ladder store, but it bugged us to cover such cool art. I think I felt they had a responsibility with this art that they'd chosen to share with the world and they'd shunned their duty with it.  However, the colors were spectacular, some of the barns and settings were truly wonderful, and we had a blast.We even found three that weren't yet on the map.

We were famished by the time we finished up in Kelseyville.  Wei headed north to Lakeport, where there were three more quilts and the town looked more populated on the map.  For sure!  A few restaurants, one where we found a super ... huge ... salad complete with beets, chick peas, and bay shrimp.  It was all I could to not to inhale like a vacuum cleaner!

We didn't have time to go all the way around Clear Lake, so we missed two of the quilts on the northeastern shore.  I'll have to satisfy myself with looking at Tulip Time and Grape Basket on their website, but we did find 22 of them!

For them, this was "an agricultural and tourism project designed to promote and celebrate our community pride."  There are lots and lots .... and lots ... of grapes growing in Lake County. Very agrarian.  There was a wonderful shop on Main Street in Kelseyville that delighted us - BirdBrain Designs, where the owners design redwork and felt work patterns and display them with lovely antiques and a wall full of red  and wool fabrics. A Subway franchise in Kelseyville would make a FORTUNE!

The ride across the mountains from Lakeport to Route 101 was absolutely spectacular.  I was glad I wasn't the one behind the wheel, because for once I could gape at the scenery without worrying about dropping thousands of feet to my demise.

Check out the Lake County Quilt Trail website.  It's so interesting, and it was a fabulous day....a great "adventure!"