Wednesday, December 31, 2014

MOVIE - Interstellar

PG-13 (2:49)
Wide release 11/7/2014
Reel Pizza 12/31/2014 with Fran and Christine
RT Critic:  73  Audience:   87
Cag:  4.5/Liked it a lot (despite its too-long length)
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Paramount Pictures

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Casey Affleck, Michael Caine, Topher Grace, Matt Damon,

My comments:This one one loooooong movie!  Too long, some parts went on forever.  But what a mind it took to create this!  Space is one thing, time and space is another.  The time part - that's what this whole movie is about.  Really something.....

RT Summary:  With our time on Earth coming to an end, a team of explorers undertakes the most important mission in human history; traveling beyond this galaxy to discover whether mankind has a future among the stars.

Monday, December 29, 2014

MOVIE - Annie

PG (1:58)
Wide release 12/19/14
12/28/2014 with Ashley & Heather in Bangor
RT Critic:  29  Audience:   63
Cag:  2 /So disappointed!
Directed by Will Gluck
Sony Pictures

Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Rose Byrne, Bobby Canavale

My comments:  Cameron Diaz was horrible.  Jamie Foxx was coooool.  Annie - Quvenzane Wallis - wasn't sweet and optimistic at all.  And, although I realize it was a musical, if they broke out into song one more time I was going to barf.  It just didn't work.  At all.

RT Summary:  Academy Award (R) nominee Quvenzhan√© Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild) stars as Annie, a young, happy foster kid who's also tough enough to make her way on the streets of New York in 2014. Originally left by her parents as a baby with the promise that they'd be back for her someday, it's been a hard knock life ever since with her mean foster mom Miss Hannigan (Cameron Diaz). But everything's about to change when the hard-nosed tycoon and New York mayoral candidate Will Stacks (Jamie Foxx) - advised by his brilliant VP, Grace (Rose Byrne) and his shrewd and scheming campaign advisor, Guy (Bobby Cannavale) - makes a thinly-veiled campaign move and takes her in. Stacks believes he's her guardian angel, but Annie's self-assured nature and bright, sun-will-come-out-tomorrow outlook on life just might mean it's the other way around. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

78. The Devil's Hour - J. Carson Black

#3 Laura Cardinal, Tucson Police
Read on my iPhone
2007, Breakaway Media
287 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/26//2014
Goodreads rating:  3.72
My rating:    4 - Loved it
Contemporary Tucson, AZ

1st sentence/s:  "Steve Lawson was on his way back to the cabin when he met the little girl.  It was a beautiful morning, the kind Steve loved.  As he hiked, his eye automatically cataloged the glittery trail of schist mixed in with the dirt along the dry creek bed, the granitic boulders flecked with biotite flakes and garnet.  But this morning, he wasn't thinking about the geological events that had shaped these mountains.  He was preoccupied with the message someone had left on his cell phone.  He wondered if the message had anything to do with the break-ins."

My comments:  When I read the first two books in the series, I loved tracing the story in, around, and through the Tucson I know and love.  I've hunted for years for more in the series, to no avail, until I stumbled across a reference to the series here on Goodreads.  Apparently there ARE more in the series, but they're in ebook form.  Fine with me!  I flew through this installment, and loved it.  The story was well told (although I wish there had been a few more surprises), but the descriptions of many places where action took place (up on Mt. Lemmon and out on the Pinal Highway going towards Florence, particularly) were so right on -- I really love this!  Laura Cardinal is smart but not as savvy as she should be, despite some of the training she still reviews from her now-dead mentor, Frank Entwhistle.  Ah well, without goof-ups there'd really be no story, right?

Goodreads book summary:  “J. Carson Black's THE DEVIL'S HOUR is a superior mystery novel in all respects. Fine prose, terrific suspense, believable characters, and one of the most unexpected and satisfying conclusions I've read in a long time. Highly recommended." — John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of DAMAGE 
     Laura Cardinal: Packs a SIG Sauer P226 9mm. Investigates homicides in small towns that have limited resources. Brings justice to murder victims—and to their killers. Laura’s job description: Criminal Investigator with the Arizona Department of Public Safety. But maybe it should just say “Troubleshooter.” 
     In 1997, the disappearance of three young girls rocked the city of Tucson, Arizona. Eleven years later, one of those girls, Micaela Brashear, comes home—alive. 
     Laura Cardinal worked homicide for Arizona DPS, but now she's been moved to the Open-Unsolved Unit. With a new job and a new partner who questions her every move, Laura pieces together Micaela's fragmented memories in the hope she will learn the whereabouts of the other two children. 
     When a man walking his dog finds the bones of a child in a shallow grave on the mountain above town, it becomes clear to Laura that Micaela was the lucky one. 
     But the killer isn't through yet, and after the fiery death of someone close to Laura, she realizes she faces an implacable enemy.

MOVIE - Birdman

(R) 1:59
Wide Release 10/17/14
Friday, 12/20/14 at ElCon
RT Critic:  93    Audience:   86
Cag:  4.5 Liked it a whole lot
Directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Fox Searchlight

Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Zach Gilafialankas

My comments:  Yay! An interesting, well-acted and crafted, "outside-the-box" movie.  An excellent choice to celebrate beginning a two-week vacation. (And, quite unforgettable....)

RT Summary:  BIRDMAN or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a black comedy that tells the story of an actor (Michael Keaton) - famous for portraying an iconic superhero - as he struggles to mount a Broadway play. In the days leading up to opening night, he battles his ego and attempts to recover his family, his career, and himself. 

77. Snow Angels - James Thompson

#1 Kari Vaara, Finnish (Lapland) chief police inspector
Read on my iPhone
2010, G. P. Putnam
264 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/20/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.70
My rating:   4.5 Top-notch
Contemporary Finland

1st sentence/s:  "I'm in Hullu Poro, the Crazy Reindeer, the biggest bar and restaurant in this part of the Arctic Circle.  It was remodeled nolong ago, but pine boards line the walls and ceiling, like an old Finnish farmhouse.  Nouveau rustic decor."

My comments:  I've always been fascinated with the "idea" of Lapland - the Scandinavian winter (not the cold, harsh, DARK realities, but the pristine white ones), and complimentary artistry of Jan Brett.  This story takes us into the Arctic Circle at the very darkest time of year and gives it all the twist of a brutal murder from the point-of-view of the cop that has to solve it.  The twists and turns in the story are believable and were well appreciated. Believable characters, particularly the protagonists.  Kari Vaara's wife, Kate, an American expat who happens to be pregnant, is beginning to feel the depression of the 24-hours nights, which adds to the tension of the crime-solving. Searching for more information on American James Thompson in anticipation of more in the series, I discovered that he died suddenly a few months ago. Bummer.

Goodreads book summary:  Kaamos: Just before Christmas, the darkest time of the year in Lapland, above the Arctic Circle. The unrelenting darkness and extreme cold cause everyone to go just a little bit insane, whether or not they’ve just killed someone… 
          A beautiful Somalian refugee-turned-actress is found murdered on a reindeer farm, gruesomely mutilated, a racial slur carved into her chest. Inspector Kari Vaara, head of the rural police force, is under great pressure not only to solve this crime himself, without the help of the big-city cops from Helsinki, but also to keep the potentially explosive case out of the news. Sufia Elmi had become a tabloid fixture, and her death—not to mention the awful way she met it—is sure to send shock waves across this insular, secretly racist country. Was this murder a hate crime, a sex crime—or both?
          Kari is dealing with culture shock at home, too. His wife, Kate, is a young American woman, newly pregnant with their first child. She doesn’t understand much about Finnish customs or the Finns themselves and is struggling to come to terms with her new home. Kari himself is haunted by his rough childhood and his past, and even as he tries to shape a new life with Kate, the past keeps biting at his heels: the rich man his ex-wife left him for years ago may be Sufia’s killer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

76. Cape Perdido - Marcia Muller

Audio read by Dick Hill & Joyce Bean
6 unabridged cds (7:00)
2005 Brilliance Audio
336 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/16/14
Goodreads rating: 3.50
My rating:    2 - It was okay
Contemporary Soledad County, northern California

My comments:  Short chapters from the point-of-view of four different people didn't pull the story together for me.  I couldn't seem to become embroiled in the mystery, or care about any of the characters. Also, I'm so used to Dick Hill's reading other books that I couldn't relate to him as the two male voices in this one. Nothing seemed to work real well for me in this one.

Goodreads book summary:  Cape Perdido is a small town in Northern California which has a clear, cold water river held in Public Trust. The town's main industry once was lumber, but when Timothy McNear closed the mill, tourism became the income source. Now a group wants to siphon off a large percentage of Perdido's water every year to ship to Southern California. To combat this, the town has brought in ecologists and environmentalist Joseph Openshaw, a native of Perdido. But the strife leads to a murder and awakens secrets from the past.
*** This is a true ensemble cast with each chapter focused on one of the four main characters, each a native of the town. Although they are interesting, it's one of the secondary characters, Jessie Domingo, a young environmentalist from New York, who really captured my interest. The story is well written and involving with good suspense at the end. 

Saturday, December 13, 2014

75. Grasshopper Jungle - Andrew Smith

2014, Dutton Juvenile
388 pgs.
YA - very graphic 
Finished 12/13/14
Goodreads rating:  3.79
My rating:  4.5 Loved it
Setting:   Contemporary Ealy, Iowa

1st line/s:  "I read somewhere that human beings are genetically predisposed to record history.  We believe it will prevent us from doing stupid things in the future.  But even though we dutifully archived elaboate records of everything we've ever done, we also managed to keep on doing dumber and dumber shit.  This is my history.  There are things in here: babies with two heads, insects as big as refrigerators, God, the devil, limbless warriors, rocket ships, sex, diving bells, theft, wars, monsters, internal combustion engines, love, cigarettes, joy, bomb shelters, pizza, and cruelty.  Just like it's always been."

My comments:  4.5 Definitely quite the story! This felt like the story of a 16-year old from a 16-year-old's actual point of view, complete with testosterone...a great deal of testosterone. Family history, friendship, questioning sexuality, midwestern America, private school vs. public, Lutherans and Catholics, excessive horniness, 6-foot tall indestructable preying mantises, shades of "Lost", underground bunkers that can sustain lives for years....stories and histories and his-stories ... and a bit more testosterone.  Many layers, written in a style that's just a little different than the norm, and completely refreshing.  It took me a bit to get into it, but once I did, it swallowed me up!

Goodreads book summary:  Sixteen-year-old Austin Szerba interweaves the story of his Polish legacy with the story of how he and his best friend , Robby, brought about the end of humanity and the rise of an army of unstoppable, six-foot tall praying mantises in small-town Iowa.
          To make matters worse, Austin's hormones are totally oblivious; they don't care that the world is in utter chaos: Austin is in love with his girlfriend, Shann, but remains confused about his sexual orientation. He's stewing in a self-professed constant state of maximum horniness, directed at both Robby and Shann. Ultimately, it's up to Austin to save the world and propagate the species in this sci-fright journey of survival, sex, and the complex realities of the human condition.

74. Chill of the Night - James Hayman

#2 McCabe & Savage, Portland, Maine
2010 Minotaur Books
340 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 12/9/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.85
My rating: 4
Setting: Contemporary Portland, Maine

1st line/s:  Portland, Maine/ Friday, December 23:  "Had Number Ten Monument Square been set among the skyscrapers of New York, or even Boston, no one would have noticed it.  In a town like Portland it stood as one of the defining features of the skyline.  Twelve stories of reddish brown granite with black windows set between vertical piers, Number Ten towered arrogantly over the east side of the square, a big player in a small town.  At its top, large white letters proclaimed to anyone who cared to look that the building was the headquarters of Palmer Milliken, the city's largest and most prestigious law firm."

My comments:  I think I liked this one better than the first!  The major part of the setting is Portland, Maine; this time it forayed off onto an island just five minutes by ferry from the Portland dock.  This one had to do with the murder of a gorgeous, young lawyer, and included a schizophrenic 20-something, and a sanctuary for teenagers that have been sexually abused.  I particularly like that the lives of the police officers - mainly Mike McCabe and Maggie Savage (ah...a good Maine name.....) are so nicely intertwined with the story, their foibles, their insecurities, their characters.  Good mystery.  Very good.  I'm looking forward to more.

Goodreads book summary:  Glamorous young Portland attorney Lainie Goff thought she had it all—brains, beauty, and a fast-track to a partnership in a top-ranked firm that was going to make her rich. But then one cold winter night she pushed things too far, and her naked frozen body is found in the sub-zero temperatures at the end of the Portland Fish Pier.
          The only witness to the crime: a mentally disturbed young woman named Abby Quinn who mysteriously disappears the very same night.
          With the discovery of Lainie Goff ’s body and the disappearance of Abby Quinn, Portland homicide detective Michael McCabe finds himself on the trail of a relentless and clever killer. A killer he must find before another life is lost.

73. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - Neil Gaiman

Audio read by the author!
5 unabridged discs
2013 William Morrow Books
181 pgs.
Adult Fantasy
Finished 12/6/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.99
My rating:    3.5 Liked it quite a bit, eventually
Contemporary Sussex, England (I guess....)

1st sentence/s:  "It was only a duck pond out at the back of the farm.  It wasn't very big.  Lettie Hempstock said it was an ocean, but I knew that was silly.  She said they'd come here, across the ocean from the old country.  Her mother said that Lettie didn't remember properly and it was a long time ago and anyway the old country had sunk."

My comments:    At first I thought this book just wasn't going to be my cuppa tea.  But, as intricate and odd as the story was, it pulled me in.  I've never finished a Neil Gaiman book before - other than a picture book - although I love his writing  and the way he puts words together.  I'm glad I completed this book - it's the kind of story that will stay with me for awhile.  I'm particularly glad that I listened to the version that Neil Gaiman read himself.  The story is about what happened to a seven-year-old-boy, but told 30-plus years later as an adult.  A big element of creepy -- and a huge imagination needed, which I was able to access after the first disc or so....

Goodreads book summary:  Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
          Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what.
          A groundbreaking work from a master, The Ocean at the End of the Laneis told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out. It is a stirring, terrifying, and elegiac fable as delicate as a butterfly's wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark.

MOVIE - Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

Wide/Limited release
1st time I've been to RoadHouse Cinemas: with Sheila 12/4/2014
RT Critic:    Audience:   
Cag:  3: Liked it, I guess.....didn't like this last book, so depressing, and the movie was dark (literally) making it even more depressing
Directed by
Based on the book by Suzanne Collins

Jennifer Lawrence, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson

My comments:

RT Summary:  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

72. The Girl Who Stopped Swimming - Joshilyn Jackson

Audio read by the author
Unabridged cds (9:24)
311 pgs.
Adult CRF/Mystery
Finished 11/30/2014
Goodreads rating: 3.43
My rating:   3.5 Liked it a lot
Contemporary Florida

1st sentence/s: "Until the drowned girl came to Laurel's bedroom, ghosts had never walked in Victoriana.  The houses were only twenty years old with no accumulated history to put creaks in the hardwood floors or rattle at the pipes."

My comments:  I really love Joshilyn Jackson's writing.  Her descriptions are .... elegant.
The way she writes her characters make it seem as if you know them, or someone like them.  Her plots are always interesting, woven in fascinating ways.  This one had an element of "ghosts" that were not real, just in the protagonist's head, much like they could be in anyone's head, whether we'd like to admit it or not.  But the icing on the cake?  Jackson, herself, was the reader of this audio book.  And she was just plain terrific.  She has become one of my very favorite writers.

Goodreads book summary:  Laurel Gray Hawthorne needs to make things pretty. Coming from a family with a literal skeleton in their closet, she's developed this talent all her life, whether helping her willful mother to smooth over the reality of her family's ugly past, or elevating humble scraps of unwanted fabric into nationally acclaimed art quilts. 
          Her sister Thalia, an impoverished "Actress" with a capital A, is her opposite, and prides herself in exposing the lurid truth lurking behind life's everyday niceties. And while Laurel's life was neatly on track, a passionate marriage, a treasured daughter, and a lovely home in lovely suburban Victorianna, everything she holds dear is thrown into question the night she is visited by an apparition in her bedroom. The ghost appears to be her 14-year-old neighbor Molly Dufresne, and when Laurel follows this ghost , she finds the real Molly floating lifeless in her swimming pool. While the community writes the tragedy off as a suicide, Laurel can't. Reluctantly enlisting Thalia's aid, Laurel sets out on a life-altering investigation that triggers startling revelations about her own guarded past, the truth about her marriage, and the girl who stopped swimming.