Tuesday, December 31, 2013

56. City of Bones - Michael Connelly

#8 Harry Bosch
Listened to using OverDrive on my phone, borrowed from the library
408 pgs.
Adult series murder mystery
Goodreads Rating: 3.95 (over 14,000 ratings)
My Rating: 4.5 (it was really, really good)
Setting: Contemporary LA

My comments: 4.5 This is the second CITY OF BONES titled book I've ready recently - very different from the first.  I haven't read a Harry Bosch in quite awhile, so it was a real treat.  To listen to the story on the monotonous trip from Mount Holly Springs to Trenton made the trip fly by.  The stories and characters - both good and bad - were intriguing.  The reader was great, but the added musical accompaniment drove me crazy. Yuck.  And the ending!  SPOILER-SPOILER - Harry gets the chance to return to his previous, more prestigious job...and he quits the force completely!  Now I can't wait to read the next installment.

Goodreads:  Detective Harry Bosch tears open a 20-year-old murder case - with an explosive ending that leave all Bosch fans hungrily awaiting the next instalment.

When the bones of a twelve-year-old boy are found scattered in the Hollywood Hills, Harry Bosch is drawn into a case that brings up the darkest memories from his own haunted past. The bones have been buried for years, but the cold case doesn't deter Bosch. Unearthing hidden stories, he finds the child's identity and reconstructs his fractured life, determined that he not be forgotten.

At the same time, a new love affair with a female cop begins to blossom for Bosch - until a stunningly blown mission leaves him in more trouble than ever before in his turbulent career. The investigation races to a shocking conclusion and leaves Bosch on the brink of an unimaginable decision.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

MOVIE - Last Vegas

PG-13 (1:30)
Wide Release 11/1/2013
Viewed at Kolb Cheap Theater on Friday, 12/20/2013
RT Critic: 45  Audience: 67
4/ Liked it a lot- it was freaking hilarious!
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Film Studio: CBS Films

Morgan Freeman, Robert DeNiro, Kevin Kline, Michael Douglas

My comments:  This was hilarious!  Sure, you knew exactly what was going to happen well before it did, but the laughs along the way were great.  Particularly good was Morgan Freeman, grinning, dancing, and being the magical man he is.....

Fandango::  Four geriatric friends vow to set Las Vegas ablaze during the ultimate bachelor party in this all-star comedy from director Jon Turteltaub (National TreasureThe Sorcerer's Apprentice). Amongst his friends, Billy (Michael Douglas) has always been the confirmed bachelor. When Billy finally pops the question to his much-younger girlfriend, his pals Paddy Robert De Niro, Archie Morgan Freeman, and Sam Kevin Kline plan to send him off in style. But Vegas has changed since the last time they prowled the Strip, and once the party gets started, there's no telling how it will end

Monday, December 16, 2013

Charlie and the Christmas Kitty - Ree Drummond

Illustrated  by Diane deGroat
2012, Harper Collins
HC $17.99
36 pgs.
Goodreads rating: 3.73 (143 ratings)
My rating: 5 (unexpectedly...)
Endpapers: Red
Illustrations:  Watercolor paint over digital art (??) wish I knew more about what this means...they're big and bold and gorgeous....
Title page:  Lovely two-page painting        of a red pickup coming home with a Christmas tree in the back - as Charlie waits beside the winding drive.
1st line/s:  "Well howdy!
Charlie the ranch dog here,
reporting from the country.
Things have sure been busy around here these days.  This evening, for instance, I'm bringing this great big TREE into the house."

My comments: The illustrations are really wonderful, and deGroat has added whimsical touches that totally enhance the story.  And the story is a riot!  This extremely hard-working dog (who sleeps all day) is trying to ignore the fact that his household has increased by one - an adorable kitten, who won't leave him alone, was left under the tree.  I love the way the text and pictures totally work together in this book!

Goodreads:  Why is there a great big tree in the house?!?
And why are all these boxes underneath it?
Hey—what is that?!? Where did it come from?
Uh-oh. This isn't good. . . . This isn't good at all!

In this hilarious follow-up to the New York Times bestselling picture book Charlie the Ranch Dog, Ree Drummond—the Pioneer Woman herself—delivers a story about getting into the holiday spirit and finding the good in all. Even though Charlie may not have put a kitty on his Christmas list, he learns that if you keep an open heart, new friends can come in unexpected packages.

Little Santa - Jon Agee

Illustrated  by the author
2013, Dial
HC $17.99
40 pgs.
Goodreads rating: 3.87 (135 reviews)
My rating: 4
Endpapers: medium green
Illustrations:  So simple - thickish black lines water colored in blues, greens, reds, browns, and grays.
Title page:  Both pages - simple painting - Santa, as a young boy, outside his cozy house at the north pole.
1st line/s:  "In the North Pole, in a little cabin, lived Mr. and Mrs. Claus adn their seven children, Larry, Mary, Willy, Millie, Joey, Zoe, and Santa."

My comments:  Very cute story about how Santa might have come to be.  It made me grin.  So simple - and really fun.  (At first I worried that it might make some kids ask questions - but I don't think it would.)

Goodreads:  Ever wonder what Santa was like as a child? Award-winning author/illustrator Jon Agee brings us the funny, playful answer in this Christmas picture book destined to become a classic.  Little Santa loves the North Pole. The rest of his family?  Not so much. So, when they decide to move to Florida, Santa is miserable. Lucky for him, a blizzard foils their plans. The only way out of the house is up the chimney. Up goes Santa, to look for help, and along the way, he meets a reindeer and a large group of elves, who are more than eager to join in the rescue!  With the sly humor of Jon Klassen and the read-aloud pleasure of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, this tale of Santa’s beginnings is perfect for every kid’s holiday library.

GIVING at Christmas and All Through the Year

When I turned on my computer at school this morning, I saw that GOOGLE was promoting a "12 Days of Christmas" where you could give as little as one dollar each day to a worthy organization.  So I started clicking some of the buttons.  Days one through four all sounded really interesting, then I clicked on today's button, DAY 5, and it was for an organization called Donors Choose, which I had heard of, vaguely, before. What a fantastic concept...teachers from very low poverty area schools put in grants for items they wish to purchase to make things for the kids in their classrooms BETTER.  The first one, the very first one, of many - was for a fourth grade class in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the town in which I was born.  And I read more.  How I wish I could donate more than five bucks!  But that's what I did, going back to that original posting of Mrs. Hubert, for her classroom to have a photocopier instead of having to put in a requisition and wait for needed photocopies.  (I complain because I have to walk across campus about 50 feet to obtain mine!)

Boxes for Katje - Candace Fleming

Illustrated  by Stacey Dressen-McQueen
2003, Farrar, Straus & Giroux
HC $17.99
32 cram-packed pgs.
Goodreads rating: 4.43 (320 ratings)
My rating: 5
Endpapers: Excellent!
     Front - Mayfield, Indiana; May, 1945
     Back - Mayfield, Indiana; May, 1947 (yards FULL of tulips)
Illustrations:  Full page (no white :) edge-to-edge; bright, colorful, loaded with lots to take in. 
Title page:  Two-page painting of a girl (Rosie) with a package in her arms and her dog walking down a sidewalk towards in a "U.S. Mail" box

1st line/s:  "After the war, there was little left in the tiny Dutch town of Olst.  The townspeople lived on cabbages and seed potatoes.  They patched and repatched their worn-thin clothing and they went without soap or milk, sugar or new shoes."

My comments:  I adore this story.  It's based on true happenings after World War II.  It's about people hearing of others with misfortune...and then doing something about it.  This is why I knit bears for orhans in South Africa and crochet 6 x 6 squares for afghans go to people who are colder than I am.  This story brought tears to my eyes.  I want a copy of my own!

Goodreads:  After World War II there is little left in Katje's town of Olst in Holland. Her family, like most Dutch families, must patch their old worn clothing and go without everyday things like soap and milk. Then one spring morning when the tulips bloom "thick and bright," Postman Kleinhoonte pedals his bicycle down Katje's street to deliver a mysterious box – a box from America! Full of soap, socks, and chocolate, the box has been sent by Rosie, an American girl from Mayfield, Indiana. Her package is part of a goodwill effort to help the people of Europe. What's inside so delights Katje that she sends off a letter of thanks – beginning an exchange that swells with so many surprises that the girls, as well as their townspeople, will never be the same.  This inspiring story, with strikingly original art, is based on the author's mother's childhood and will show young readers that they, too, can make a difference. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Snowflakes Fall - Patricia MacLachlan

Illustrated by Steven Kellogg
2013, Random House
HC $17.99
24 pages
Goodreads:  4.07 (134 ratings)
My rating:  4.5

Endpapers:  Front:  Snow beginningto fall on a sun-gold autumn woods scene
Back:  a completely snow-covered field, moon above, snow still coming down - with snow angels turning into angels flying skyward....

Title Page:  Blue centered square with one BIG snowflake and the book title.

Illustrations:  EAch page of snowfall is just covered with snowflakes, all in Steven Kellogg's one-and-only style.

First line/s:
     "After the flowers are gone
      Snowflakes fall.
               After flake
                    After flake
      Each one a pattern
     All its own
          No two the same---
          All beautiful."

My comments:  This is another lovely, feel-good book.  Combine Patricia MacLachlan's wonderful voice and Steven Kellogg's touching, classic illustrations....along with having a percentage of proceeds going to the Sandy Hook Support Fund...and you have a super winner!  "Snowflakes fall/ To quilt meadows/ So we see the wandering prints/ Of birds/ Rabbits/ The bobcat at dawn."

Goodreads:  In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.
MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.
In honor of the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Random House, the publisher of Snowflakes Fall, has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Random House is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.

The Sparkle Box - Jill Hardie

Illustrated by Christine Kornacki
"A Gift with the Power to Change Christmas"
2012, Ideal Children's Books
HC $19.99
32 pages
Goodreads rating: 4.51 (41 ratings)
My rating: 4.5
Endpapers:  Evergreen
Title Page: 1-inch red frame, 4 x 4 illustration of the Sparkle box (without the actual sparkle, here) in the middle.  The cover has great "real" silver sparkle on the box.
Illustrations:  Full page, realistic, colorful....large, bold, lovely.
1st line:  "Snowflakes swirled through the air as Samand his mom stopped to look in the toy store window."

Opening page:  "Dear reader, you are the light of the world - make it sparkle."

My comments:  What a super - fantastic idea -- keep a special box (in this case, sparkly, glittery silver) on the mantle and jot down things you've done for others during the Christmas season. Open it and share on Christmas morning. This book explains that Sam's family does it as a birthday gift to Jesus (this is the first "religious" mention in the book, and the only mention, on the last page, other than two quotes from the book of Matthew in the "Notes from the author.")  This book will definitely take away some of the commercialism of the holidays. I LOVE the idea! (I wish it wasn't limited to Christian kids, thus my lowering of the rating by a half point.)

GoodreadsDuring the Christmas season, Sam and his parents participate in various acts of kindness to others and record their good deeds on slips of paper to be placed in a sparkly box, as a gift to Jesus.

55. Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell

2013 St. Martin's Press
328 pgs.
Finished 12-14-2013
Goodreads Rating: 4.22 (37,330 ratings)
My Rating: Great Story (4) 
Setting: 1980s Omaha, Nebraska
1st sentence/s: "XTC was no good for drowning out the morons at the back of the bus. Park pressed his headphones into his ears."

My comments:  Even though there were very NON-sweet things going on in this book, the love story between Eleanor and Park was incredibly sweet. I particularly enjoyed the way the story slipped back and forth from each of the protagonist's point-of-view, but only spent short sections in this manner, not long ones.  I was dreading the ending, but Rowell handled it perfectly.  Excellent story.

Goodreads Review:  Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

54. The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

J. K. Rowling writing a Robert Galbraith
Cormoran Strike #1
audio read by Robert Glenister
13 unabridged cds  (16:00)
2013 Mulholland Books/Hachette Audio
455 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery (Private Investigator)
Finished Sat. 12/14/2013
Goodreads rating: 3.85 (8,321 reviews)
My rating: 4
Setting: 2010 London, England
1st sentence/s:  "The buzz in the street was like the humming of flies.  Photographers stood behind barriers patrolled by police, their long-snouted cameras poised, their breath rising like steam.  Snow fell steadily onto hats and shoulders, gloved fingers wiped lenses clear."

My reaction:  Cormoran Strike is quite an interesting character.  Illegitimate son of a famous rocker and long-dead groupie mother; very, very large; a prosthetic instead of a foot and lower leg; quite self-conscious; and very, very smart, he runs a detective agency that hasn't much business. The mystery itself is interesting with a smooth somewhat-of-a-surprise ending, and the relationship that unfolds between Cormoran and his temp, Robin, is really nicely done.  The story was a little longer than it had to be, with repetition of facts in a number of places that could have been lessened.  I enjoyed listening to it, the reader's British accent which added reality to the setting and situation.  I'll happily read another about this interesting character if and when it appears.

Goodreads:  A brilliant debut mystery in a classic vein: Detective Cormoran Strike investigates a supermodel's suicide. After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator. Strike is down to one client, and creditors are calling. He has also just broken up with his longtime girlfriend and is living in his office.
     Then John Bristow walks through his door with an amazing story: His sister, thelegendary supermodel Lula Landry, known to her friends as the Cuckoo, famously fell to her death a few months earlier. The police ruled it a suicide, but John refuses to believe that. The case plunges Strike into the world of multimillionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, and desperate designers, and it introduces him to every variety of pleasure, enticement, seduction, and delusion known to man.
     You may think you know detectives, but you've never met one quite like Strike. You may think you know about the wealthy and famous, but you've never seen them under an investigation like this.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Desert Day, Desert Night - Anthony D. Fredericks

Illustrated  by Kenneth J. Spengler
2011, Rio Nuevo Publishers
HC $15.95
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating: 4.25 (4 ratings)
My rating: 2-text and 5-illustrations (That's an average of 3.5)
Endpapers: Dark purple-blue
Illustrations: Colorful, detailed, special - this was what drew me to the book
Title page:  The only "white" page, but it has shades of lght brown around the edges.  A lone quail walks across the page.
"Can you find who is hiding in the shadows?  In every illustration look for a glimpse of the animals from the previous page and a hint of the animal from the next page.  Don't forget to spot the quail, too!"
1st verse:  Sonoran night,/ Dancing light,/ Shadows playing--/ Full moon bright.

My comments:  I love the illustrations! I love hunting for the animals in the shadows and the quail on every page.  I'm not so fond of the simple, four lined rhymed verses.  I imagine they're just fine for really young children, but somehow they seem a little forced to me, they don't flow and they're very simple.  The "field notes" in the back of the book are an excellent addition, I wouldn't even mind if they were ON the page they referred to.
Here are a couple of the pages:
     Stingers lash./ Whip, and dash./ Scorpions grab/ In a flash!
     Above the ground--/ High-pitched sound./ Tiny owls --/ fluffy, round.
Goodreads has no review or summary

Thursday, December 12, 2013

2014 Golden Globe and Academy Awards

Best Motion Picture:
     12 Years a Slave
     American Hustle
     Captain Phillips
     Dallas Buyers Club
     Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actress:
     Amy Adams (American Hustle)
     Cate Blanchette (Blue Jasmine)
     Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
     Judi Dench (Philomena)
     Meryl Streep (August: Osage County)

Best Actor:
     Christian Bale (American Hustle)
     Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
     Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street)
     Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave)
     Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Supporting Actress:
     Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
     Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
     Lupita N'yongo (12 Years a Slave)
     Julia Roberts (August: Osage County)
     June Squibb (Nebraska)

Best Supporting Actor:
     Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips)
     Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
     Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
     Jonah Hill (Wolf of Wall Street)
     Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)

Best Director
     David O. Russell (American Hustle)
     Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity)
     Alexander Payne (Nebraska)
     Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
     Martin Scorsese (Wolf of Wall Street)

Best Foreign Language Film
     The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
     The Great Beauty (Italy)
     The Hunt (Denmark)
     The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
     Omar (Palestine)

Best Motion Picture, Drama:
     12 Years a Slave  WINNER
     Captain Phillips

Best Motion Picture, Comedy or Musical
     American Hustle  WINNER
     Inside Llewyn Davis
     The Wolf of Wall Street

Best Actress, Drama:
     Cate Blanchette - Blue Jasmine  WINNER
     Sandra Bullock - Gravity
     Judi Dench - Philomena
     Emma Thompson - Saving Mr. Banks
     Kate Winslet - Labor Day

Best Actress, Comedy or Musical:
     Amy Adams - American Hustle  WINNER
     Julie Delpy - Before Midnight
     Greta Gerwig - Frances Ha
     Julia Louis-Dreyfus - Enough Said
     Meryl Streep - August: Osage County

Best Actor, Drama:
     Chiwetel Ejiofor - 12 Years a Slave
     Idris Elba - Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
     Tom Hanks - Captain Phillips
     Matthew McConaughey - Dallas Buyers Club  WINNER
     Robert Redford - All is Lost

Best Actor, Comedy or Musical:
     Christian Bale - American Hustle
     Bruce Dern - Nebraska
     Leonardo diCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street  WINNER
     Oscar Isaac - Inside Llewyn Davis
     Joaquin Phoenix - Her

Best Supporting Actress
     Sally Hawkins - Blue Jasmine
     Jennifer Lawrence - American Hustle  WINNER
     Lupita Nyong'o - 12 Years a Slave
     Julia Roberts - August: Osage County
     June Squibb - Nebraska

Best Supporting Actor
     Barkhad Abdi - Captain Phillips
     Daniel Bruhl - Rush
     Bradley Cooper - American Hustle
     Michael Fassbender - 12 Years a Slave
     Jared Leto - Dallas Buyers Club  WINNER

Best Director
     Alfonso Cuaron - Gravity  WINNER
     Paul Greengrass - Captain Phillips
     Steve McQueen - 12 Years a Slave
     Alexander Payne - Nebraska
     David O. Russell - American Hustle

Best Foreign Language Film
     Blue is the Warmest Color
     The Great Beauty  WINNER
     The Hunt
     The Past
     The Wind Rises

MOVIE - About Time

R (2:03)
Limited release 11/1/13
Viewed at Crossroads Wednesday after school, 12-11-13
RT Critic: 69  Audience:  85
cag: 4/ Liked it a lot - the two leads were adorable
Directed by Richard Curtis
Universal Pictures

Bill Nighy, Rachel McAdams, Domhnall Gleeson

My comments:  The couple portrayed in this movie - Tim and Mary - were adorable, refreshing, and just wonderful together.  I think I was more-than-ready to see a happy, feel-good movie that didn't have bad things happening at every turn.  Two people who love each other, like each other, and continue to take joy in each other as the years go by.  The secondary, side story, about the protagonist and his dad, was also just what I needed to see and think about during this stressful holiday season.  Highly recommended.

Rotten Tomatoes:  At the age of 21, Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson) discovers he can travel in time... The night after another unsatisfactory New Year party, Tim's father (Bill Nighy) tells his son that the men in his family have always had the ability to travel through time. Tim can't change history, but he can change what happens and has happened in his own life-so he decides to make his world a better place...by getting a girlfriend. Sadly, that turns out not to be as easy as you might think. Moving from the Cornwall coast to London to train as a lawyer, Tim finally meets the beautiful but insecure Mary (Rachel McAdams). They fall in love, then an unfortunate time-travel incident means he's never met her at all. So they meet for the first time again-and again-but finally, after a lot of cunning time-traveling, he wins her heart. Tim then uses his power to create the perfect romantic proposal, to save his wedding from the worst best-man speeches, to save his best friend from professional disaster and to get his pregnant wife to the hospital in time for the birth of their daughter, despite a nasty traffic jam outside Abbey Road. But as his unusual life progresses, Tim finds out that his unique gift can't save him from the sorrows and ups and downs that affect all families, everywhere. There are great limits to what time travel can achieve, and it can be dangerous too. About Time is a comedy about love and time travel, which discovers that, in the end, making the most of life may not need time travel at all.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gifts of the Heart - Patricia Polacco

Illustrated  by the author
2013, Putnam Juvenile
40 pgs.
Goodreads rating: 4.13 (39 ratings)
My rating: 3/a very nice story
Endpapers: Rust
Illustrations: Wonderful Patricia Polacco's, which need no further description, do they?
Title page: The page BEFORE the title page shows a front vies of the two children as they look into a store window.  There is also the first page of text.  When you turn the page to the title page, you see a full two-page spread of the back of the children's heads as they look into the shop, with snowflakes falling onto their heads.

1st line/s:  "Richie and I huddled together and pressed our faces into the cold glass of the Hudson's store window.  Everywhere we looked was a dazzling array of wondrous toys for Christmas.  Then my eyes fell on the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen: a delicate ballerina doll, her hair drawn up in a nest of perfect curls held there by a halo of tiny blue flowers.  Her slippers were gold, like polished stars.  How I longed to have her!"

My comments:  A new Patricia Polacco!  As much as I liked it, the story didn't "enchant" me as hers usually do.  That's not to say I didn't like it, but it didn't grab me and yell "hurrah".

Goodreads:  Beloved author-illustrator Patricia Polacco’s holiday story is a wonderful ode to the magic of family, Christmas, and giving the right kind of gifts—gifts filled with love.  Richie and Trisha want to buy Christmas gifts for their family, but they don't have enough money. Enter Kay Lamity, a new housekeeper . . . but is that all she is? She comes into their lives like a whirlwind, brimming with positive energy and a can-do attitude. Kay not only straightens them out when it comes to whether or not Santa Claus is real, she teaches them something about gifts: the just-good-enough kind that come from the pocketbook and the unforgettable kind that come from the heart. Because of Kay, Trisha and Richie—and the family—have a Christmas morning they will never forget.  Celebrating the joy of homemade gifts, Patricia Polacco introduces readers to a new character who is truly a force of nature in this story reminiscent of Christmas Tapestry and An Orange for Frankie. This is a magical Christmas story the author swears is true, right down to the sleigh tracks on the farmhouse roof!

MOVIE - Philomena

PG-13 (1:34)
Limited release 11/22/2013
Viewed 12/10/2013 at El Con with Sheila (Happy Birthday, Laura!)
RT Critic:  92  Audience:  91
Cag: 4.5 Liked it a whole lot 
Directed by Stephen Frears
The Weinstein Company

Steve Coogan (who also wrote and produced), Judi Dench

My comments:   (Spoilers abound, including a bit of ranting.....)  This was a wonderful movie.  Acting - yup, wonderful.  Story - bittersweet, with a little more bitter than sweet.  Leftover emotions - adding fuel to the fire to my deep dislike of the Catholic church. This was the retelling of a true story - with actual pictures of those real people just before the credits. Imagine being a young girl....say fifteen or sixteen.  Getting pregnant after one (pretty wonderful) night with a handsome young man.  Abandoned by your family, thus having not a soul in the world but a few other young mothers in your confined, ultra-religious environment (with lots of nasty nuns and a handful of nicer ones)...and an hour a day with your child.  Add to that being ostracized, demeaned, and put into slave labor for four years. And then, when your child is three, having him adopted without a goodbye, with absolutely no information about where he went or what happened to him.  Not your choice.  You would have NEVER given him away......  
       So much spite, so much hate and un-Christian acts from the nuns at this establishment.  Burning of all the records so that mothers and children could never reunite.  Lying.  Withholding information.  It was one thing for this to happen in the early 1950's, totally another for it to happen in 2003.  Grrrr....
     Dench and Coogan were oh-so believable together.  This relationship, if anything like the real one between Lee and Sixsmith, was pretty special.
Rotten Tomatoes:  Based on the 2009 investigative book by BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, PHILOMENA focuses on the efforts of Philomena Lee (Dench), mother to a boy conceived out of wedlock - something her Irish-Catholic community didn't have the highest opinion of - and given away for adoption in the United States. In following church doctrine, she was forced to sign a contract that wouldn't allow for any sort of inquiry into the son's whereabouts. After starting a family years later in England and, for the most part, moving on with her life, Lee meets Sixsmith (Coogan), a BBC reporter with whom she decides to discover her long-lost son.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Winter is For Snow - Robert Neubecker

Illustrated by the author
2013 Disney/Hyperion
HC $16.99
32 pages
Goodreads rating: 3.49 (41 ratings)
My rating: 4.5
Endpapers:  White with lots of pale blue snowflakes
Title Page: The same illustrations as the endpapers, except the background is pale, pale blue and the snowflakes are white.  The preceeding page is cool - 9 windows, 3/3, with various stages of a snowstorm.
Illustrations:  Really cool - every inch of the page is covered (much of it with.....snowflakes!)

1st line:  Winter is for snow!    No.

My comments:  Ah - this is a good one!  A happy brother who loves the snow and everything surrounding it, and a grumpy sister who doesn't care for it at all - until the end.  Their words are in different colors (blue and read) and the four-line stanzas all gently rhyme.  Super book!

GoodreadsIn a rambunctious ode to everything winter, two siblings explore a snowy wonderland . . . and end up in the cozy warmth of family. Delve into Robert Neubecker's expressive and rejuvenating illustrations that celebrate snow and the coziness of friends and family at home. Only Robert Neubecker's magic touch could make kids love winter this much.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Smallest Gift of Christmas - Peter H. Reynolds

Illustrated by the author
2013, Candlewick
small HC $14.00
40 pages
Goodreads rating: 3.55 (67 ratings)
My rating: 2/okay (but I love the simple art and the way the book is laid out, especially the red "drawn" line around the text.)
Endpapers:  pale, pale blue with white splotches (snow?)
Title Page:  simple & lovely
Illustrations: also simple & lovely
1st line:  "Roland was eager for Christmas day."

My comments:  The story has a good premise/moral: that being home is the best gift of all.  However, the trip there is about a selfish boy who only wants a big gift...bigger...bigger..until the very end of the story.  I need to like the WHOLE story - and I guess I didn't care for this one.

Goodreads:  Roland can’t wait for Christmas Day, and when the morning finally arrives he races downstairs to see what is waiting for him. What he sees stops him in his tracks. Could that tiny present really be what he had waited all year for? It has to be the smallest gift he had ever seen! So Roland wishes for something bigger . . . and bigger . . . and bigger. But he’s still convinced there must be a bigger gift somewhere in the universe. Will he know it when he sees it? Peter H. Reynolds’s spare, free-spirited illustrations and heartwarming text make this be-carefulwhat-you-wish-for story the perfect holiday gift.

MOVIE: Hunger Games: Catching Fire

PG-13 (2:26)
Widely released 11/22/2013 
RT Critic: 89 Audience: 93
cag:  2 / it was okay 
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Lionsgate Films
based on the book by Suzanne Collins

Actors: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland, Liam Hemsworth

Rotten Tomatoes:  THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIRE begins as Katniss Everdeen has returned home safe after winning the 74th Annual Hunger Games along with fellow tribute Peeta Mellark. Winning means that they must turn around and leave their family and close friends, embarking on a "Victor's Tour" of the districts. Along the way Katniss senses that a rebellion is simmering, but the Capitol is still very much in control as President Snow prepares the 75th Annual Hunger Games (The Quarter Quell) - a competition that could change Panem forever.

My comments:  I really liked the Hunger Games book, and enjoyed the movie.  I did not like the story of Catching Fire very much, and that feeling didn't change with the viewing of this movie.  The story paralleled the book quite well, I think,  but it wasn't one of those two-plus hour movies that flew by.  The main characters were very watchable, very likable (Woody Harrelson was really good), the movie was good. Okay.  It dragged in places.  My opinion, only.  I will go see the third movie when it comes out, but I liked the third book even less than the second, so I'm not "dying" to see it....

Monday, November 25, 2013

53. The Circle - Dave Eggers

Audio read by Dion Graham
11 unabridged cds; 14 hours
2013 Random House Audio
491 pgs.
Adult CRF (I guess....)
Finished 11/25/2013
Goodreads Rating:  3.59
My Rating: It was okay (2) 
Setting: Just outside San Francisco
1st sentence/s:  "My God, Mae thought.  It's heaven.  The campus was vast and rambling, wild with Pacific color, and yet the smallest detail had been carefully considered, shaped by the most eloquent hands." 

Beginning Quote:  "There wasn't any limit, no boundary at all, to the future.  And it would be so a man wouldn't have room to store his happiness." -- John Steinbeck

My comments:  Well.  I'm not really sure what I thought of this book.  At times I was incredibly bored.  At other times I was incredibly pissed. Good books get strong reactions, but what is a good book?  Good plot?  Strong reaction to the plot?  Good characterization?  Beautiful words?  I think every reader has his/her own trigger, and this book helped me think about mine.  Story...a bit tedious, ending rushed.  Writing...okay, I guess. Strong characterization...lacking.  But does it make me think? You betcha!  I'll probably remember it for a long while.  But I can't say, for me, that it was a great book....  (Mae Holland is one of the most unlikeable protagonists I've "met" in a long time....)

Goodreads Review:  When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

52. Japantown - Barry Lancet

# 1 Jim Brodie/San Francisco Antique Art Dealer/ Investigator
2013 Simon & Schuster
Written for adults
Abandoned - stopped on pg. 146 (401) pages total
Contemporary murder mystery
Goodreads Rating: 3.89 (76 ratings)
My Rating: (2) it was okay
Setting: Contemporary San Francisco; Tokyo, Japan; and an outlying small Japanese town
1st sentence/s:  "Two shades of read darkened the Japantown concourse by the time I arrived.  One belonged to a little girl's scarlet party dress.  The other was liquid and far too human.  City officials would evince a third shade once reports of the carnage hit the airwaves."

My comments:  Well, another big decision to abandon a book.  I don't know what's going on with me - are my tastes changing?  Perhaps it's my interest level....I can't tell.  I greatly enjoyed the beginning of this book, but now it's dragging.  I don't even care why everything is happening.  I'm getting confused about all the people - lots and lots of Japanese names and aliases, waaaaay to hard to remember who's who.  Lots of random killing by people who apparently love to kill and have been trained to do it well for centuries. I have been to Japantown and am getting quite familiar with San Francisco, so I was looking forward to this murder mystery.  Nope.  Gonna go on.  Sorry, Mr. Lancet.

Goodreads:  FIVE BODIES. ONE CLUE. NOT A TRACE OF THE KILLER.  San Francisco antiques dealer Jim Brodie recently inherited a stake in his father's Tokyo-based private investigation firm, which means the single father of six-year-old Jenny is living a busy intercontinental life, traveling to Japan to acquire art and artifacts for his store and consulting on Brodie Security's caseload at home and abroad. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An Orange for Frankie - Patricia Polacco

Illustrated by the author
2004 Philomel
HC $16.99
40 pages
Goodreads rating: 4027 (332 ratings)
My rating: 5
Endpapers: Front:  an aerial view of the house, outhouses, and landscape during a winter storm/ Back: the same storm, looking at the house from the front, in the evening, and its close surroundings
Title Page:  Double-page spread - a train stopped in the middle of a snowstorm on the middle of nowhere
Illustrations:  trademark Patricia Polacco

1st page:  "Every time I peel an orange and inhale the scent of it and feel the mist that sprays from its skin, I think of a very special Christmas and a flaxen-haired boy who lived many years before I was even born."

My comments:  What a moving Christmas story!  I was actually a little teary at the end.  Based on a true story, as many of Ms. Polacco's are, this one was told by her grandmother and based on her grandmother's youngest brother.  It is a story from a hundred years ago, still being kept alive and honored by her entire family.  It is full of pictures of America's past. A large, hard-working family enjoys a simpler Christmas than we're used to, one steeped in traditions and hard work.  A completely lovely "short story," illuminated by Patricia Polacco's incredible art.  Loved it.

Goodreads:  The Stowell family is abuzz with holiday excitement, and Frankie, the youngest boy, is the most excited of all. But there's a cloud over the joyous season: Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and Pa hasn't returned yet from his trip to Lansing. He promised to bring back the oranges for the mantelpiece. Every year there are nine of them nestled among the evergreens, one for each of the children. But this year, heavy snows might mean no oranges . . . and, worse, no Pa!
This is a holiday story close to Patricia Polacco's heart. Frankie was her grandmother's youngest brother, and every year she and her family remember this tale of a little boy who learned--and taught--an important lesson about giving, one Christmas long ago.

Papa's Latkes - Michelle Edwards

Illustrated by Stacey Schuett
2004 Candlewick
HC $15.99
32 pages
Goodreads rating: 4.04
My rating: 5
Endpapers: Hanukkah Blue
Smallish drawing of the latkes' raw ingredients
Illustrations:  Oil paintings that my students really admired
1st page::  "Selma and her little sister, Dora, were waiting for Papa to come home.  It was their first Chanukah without Mama.  Selma's heart ached when she remembered how sick and thin Mama had looked last summer.  Thin enough to be blown away by a light summer breeze.  And then, right before school starated, Mama died."

This was a bittersweet but humorous story about a father and his daughters celebrating Hanukkah after the death of their mom.  I read this aloud to my (Jewish) students, which prompted a great conversation about family Hanukkah traditions.  They totally enjoyed it.  There was quite a bit of humor, the difficulty of "creating" latkes was well depicted as was the love of the dad for his girls.  Best of all, for me, was that the kids really marveled over the beautiful oil painted illustrations.  We decided this was a top-notch book.
"Santa Claus, Shmanta Claus!  Whoever heard of a Jewish Santa Claus carrying a fifty-pound bag of potatoes?"
It was Papa.  Selma ran to help him.
"Ho, ho, ho! Oy, oy, oy! Is this ever heavy! said Papa.""
Goodreads:  For Selma and her little sister, this is their first Chanukah without Mama. When Papa comes home carrying all the ingredients for latkes, Selma is worried. Can they make the latkes without Mama? In Michelle Edwards’s poignant story, warmly illustrated by Stacey Schuett, Selma comes to realize that while Chanukah — and especially latkes — will never be the same without Mama, Selma can still celebrate, and will always remember.

"A stirring, tender portrait of beloved children and a father helping them celebrate their mother’s memory." — BOOKLIST

MOVIE - Grown Ups 2

PG-13 (1:41)
Wide Release 7-12-13
Viewed at Century Cheapies on Kolb, Friday 11-22-2013
RT Critic: 7 Audience:  57
Cag: 3 liked it although it was REALLY stupid (it HAS made over $133 million dollars!)
Directed by Dennis Dugan
Sony Pictures

Adam Sandler et al

My comments:  I liked Grown Ups (the first one) and I knew this would probably be the last chance to see this version on the "big screen," so off I went.  I really like to see a movie after school on Friday, and I've been shooting for light faire (Friday is a really tough day at school, full and intense) so this actually fit the bill perfectly.  It certainly wasn't profound or cleverly funny; it was just plain silly and fun to watch.  Yup.  Fun.  It was perfect for the mood I was in, just what I'd expected (and I always enjoy Adam Sandler, no matter how stupid....).

Rotten Tomatoes:  The all-star comedy cast from Grown Ups returns (with some exciting new additions) for more summertime laughs. Lenny (Adam Sandler) has relocated his family back to the small town where he and his friends grew up. This time around, the grown ups are the ones learning lessons from their kids on a day notoriously full of surprises: the last day of school.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Dark - Lemony Snicket

Illustrated by Jon Klassen
2013 Little Brown Books for Young Readers
HC $16.99
40 pages
Goodreads rating: 4.03
My rating: 3/Liked it
Endpapers: Solid dark BLACK
Title Page The widening stream of light from the flashlight that started on the previous page.  Very cool.
Illustrations:  very simple, blacks and browns with a touch of light blue (the boy's pjs)
1st lines: "Laszlo was afraid of the dark. The dark lived in the same house as Laszlo, a big place with a creaky roof, smooth, cold windows, and several sets of stairs."

I liked this book.  I didn't love it.  I read it aloud to my fourth graders, who seemed to like it, too.  But love it?  I'm not so sure.  We talked a lot more about the illustrations than we did about the actual story, particularly the way the darkness and the light were depicted.  Great conversations. Here are some of their responses:

-"this would be very good to read to kids that are afraid of the dark, because it turns out the dark is their friend." - Tzippi

-"the dark side is actually on the good side." - Berto

- "the dark doesn't want you to be afraid of it, it wants you to like it!" - Panina

- "a good bedtime story for small children." - Levi

-"don't judge a book by its cover, or in this case, don't judge The Dark by its cover." - Michael

-" kids might be scared at first, but by the end they will be brave and not scared of the dark anymore...like Laszlo." - Sara

- "if you're afraid of the dark, all you have to do is take a step into it." - Terra

- "don't be afraid of the dark 'cause it's everywhere you go." - Sami

-"there's always a light bulb in the bottom drawer..." - Ben

-"in this book the dark will show you what you need to know to not be afraid of it." - Ivan

-"the illustrations fit perfectly with the words." - Stella

-"once you open the book and see the end pages, you want want to read on." - Sophie

Goodreads:  Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark is not afraid of Laszlo.  Laszlo lives in a house. The dark lives in the basement.  One night, the dark comes upstairs to Laszlo's room, and Laszlo goes down to the basement.  This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark.

My Pen Pal, Santa - Melissa Stanton

Illustrated by Jennifer A. Bell
2013 Random House Books for Young Readers
$9.99 smallish HC w/o dustcover
28 pages
Goodreads rating: 3.56
My rating: 3
Endpapers: lt. blue background with small Santas, snowmen, candy canes, ornaments, and gifts: red/white/aqua/green
Title Page: protagonist looking at plate of cookies marked "for Santa"

My comments:  This series of comments between Santa and Ava are very cute. She writes once a month, from just after Christmas in January to the following December, making comments and asking questions; Santa's return letters answer them.  Much is mentioned about believing in Santa vs. not believing in Santa (he's real for those who want to believe and not real for those who don't want to believe).  I think some ... most ... young children, still strong believers, after thinking about this, would have questions in their minds that might not have otherwise been there.  Therefore, I think this is great for older kids, those that don't really believe in Santa, but definitely NOT for those younger kids that still strongly believe.  Very sweet book.

Goodreads:  Writing a letter to Santa is fairly simple; you make your case and list your hoped-for gifts. But if you're a hard-core fan like Ava, a letter to Santa is something entirely different. A simple New Year's note to the North Pole about some uneaten cookies kicks off a year-long correspondence between a young girl and the jolly guy in the red suit in this joyful epistolary picturebook. This holiday story is perfect for those who believe and those who remember the wonder of the season.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

51. City of Bones - Cassandra Clare

#1 The Mortal Instruments series
2007 Margaret K. McElderry Books
485 pgs.(plus a couple of book beginnings)
YA Fantasy/Paranormal
Finished 11/13/13
Goodreads Rating: 4.13
My Rating: (4.5) Loved it, I've got to admit.....
THA Library
1st sentence/s: " 'You've got to be kidding me,' the bouncer said, folding his arms across his massive chest. He stared down at the boy in the red zip-up jacket and shook his shaved head.  'You can't bring that thing in here.' "
My comments:  I read this book after seeing the movie, and greatly enjoyed it. I loved comparing movie to book and finding a lot of differences.  It's interesting to see the direction that Clare decided to take with the main characters, and I'm looking forward to seeing what's going to happen in the next segment in the series.

Goodreads Review:  When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder -- much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It's hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing―not even a smear of blood―to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary's first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It's also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace's world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know... 

Exotic and gritty, exhilarating and utterly gripping, Cassandra Clare's ferociously entertaining fantasy takes readers on a wild ride that they will never want to end