Sunday, August 17, 2014

Book Review: World of Trouble (The Last Policeman Series) by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 4.75/5

From Amazon: "With the doomsday asteroid looming, Detective Hank Palace has found sanctuary in the woods of New England, secure in a well-stocked safe house with other onetime members of the Concord police force. But with time ticking away before the asteroid makes landfall, Hank’s safety is only relative, and his only relative—his sister Nico—isn’t safe. Soon, it’s clear that there’s more than one earth-shattering revelation on the horizon, and it’s up to Hank to solve the puzzle before time runs out . . . for everyone."

The Last Policeman series is officially one of my favorites now.  This last installment was just as good as the first two.

Though I wanted to see more of the doomed Earth in the second book, I actually liked how this one took place mostly in one location.  It made sense, and the progression from the first book's wider view of the world to this one's much narrower one was nice.

The author is great at writing heartbreaking scenes, which again in this book brought me to tears.  And the ending... you couldn't ask for a better ending to this series.  It is beautiful.  And Hank is a beautiful person, in the face of tragedy and the unknown, both personal and shared, in how he reacts so honestly and cares so deeply.  People think he's weird, and he knows it and doesn't entirely understand it (which almost seems like autism), and I think that's a very relatable trait that many readers will understand, and that they don't get to see very often.  There's not much else I can say without spoiling anything, but I will say that each character is unique and realistic, and they act and react both predictably and unpredictably... just like real people, with logic and reason twisted in the face imminent death.

I do wish the chapter headings had included, instead of just the date, something like "2 months ago," so that it was easier to tell when it was a flashback.  It wasn't terribly difficult to understand, but I'm a forgetful reader and wouldn't remember the current date, so I'd have to flip back to another chapter to see where I was at time-wise.  Not a big deal though; I still loved the flow of the book.

Like the rest of the series, I'd recommend it for high school and older.  And I'm sad that the series is over, but I look forward to more writing from Ben Winters.

Movie Review: Divergent

My rating: 2.75/5

From Amazon: "Divergent is set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader (Kate Winslet) to destroy all Divergents, Tris must learn to trust in the mysterious Four (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it's too late."

Long story short: I got bored.  Maybe it was because the movie followed what I remembered of the book well enough that I just wasn't surprised by anything, or maybe it was too slow.  Or both.  I do remember the book feeling very exciting, and the movie somehow doesn't bring that across. 

Unfortunately it tries to liven things up by mimicking Twilight's style of adding pop music to scenes that really don't need it (e.g., eating in the cafeteria). It was distracting to such a point that I'd turn to my husband and ask if one of the characters had turned on a radio and I missed it.  And Tris just doesn't come across as the strong person the book portrays her as. 

Seeing the movie did make the book's story seem more juvenile to me too and reaffirmed the fact that I don't care to read the rest of the series: She's special; she can't be put in a category like these other dopes! Dauntless is crazy-- they get tattoos and zipline! etc. 

I can't say the acting was terrible (not great, but not terrible), and there was nothing about it that was egregious, so I give it a 2.75. I can't quite bring myself to give it a full 3. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie Review: The Giver

My rating: 3/5

From IMDB: "In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the 'real' world."

I'll go ahead and out myself as holding The Giver on a very high pedestal as my favorite book of all time.  However, I generally don't care if movies don't precisely follow their book origins; I actually like differences, especially when a visual or aural style is used that couldn't really be expressed effectively in written word (or vice versa, if some faculty was used well in a book but couldn't possibly be expressed in a visual/auditory medium). So long as they make sense. 

This movie follows the book pretty well, but to a fault in my opinion. They could and should have left things out to leave more time for memory-sharing (which I thought was far too short before Jonas freaked). The whole thing in general also felt rushed, probably to try and pack as much as they could from the book into it, and there was far too much "telling-not-showing."  Every part that showed the audience what was going on rather than telling us was great.  For example, the ceremony, with all the different ages that being celebrated for different things, and Jonas's number being skipped.  That part was great.  Other parts though felt like unnecessary monologue and hand-holding, and this led to cheesiness that I never got from the book and seriously detracted from the movie.

Acting was very good, I don't have any complaints there.  I do wish they'd included the fact that "giving" a memory in turn makes the original memory-holder lose that memory, or at least only retain a very faded version of it.  This isn't addressed, and I feel like it was important and would have made Jonas's giving Gabe some of his memories more compelling and sacrificial than they seemed in the movie.  I also wish they'd shown more of the disdain for certain occupations, especially "birthmother;" the only time this is mentioned is when Asher hopes he doesn't get a waste-management position.  Personally I think it's important to show that, even though this is a "perfect" society, people still don't treat everyone exactly as equals.  

And then towards the end... did anybody else worry (like, a lot) about Gabe being seriously injured after the jump off the cliff on the motorcycle, and the fact that sometimes Jonas is carrying him only by his head? :-/

Overall though, it was still entertaining, and I did love how they showed memories in rapid succession sometimes, in extremely bright colors.  I also liked how they handled the color transition.  But a lot of things could have been done better I think, so I'll leave this at a solid 3.  Warning to those who are very squeamish: true to the book, there is a scene where a baby is put to death.  It's rightfully shocking, and makes this probably not a film for young kids.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Book Review: The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright

My rating: 4.5/5

"He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms."

Skilley the cat finds a sweet new gig for himself at the Cheshire Cheese tavern, where the finest cheese in all of England is made... and where they have a real problem with mice. Unfortunately for the Cheese's employees and patrons (a cadre that includes Charles Dickens himself), Skilley secretly hates the taste of mice. In fact... he prefers cheese.  Through some unusual friendships and not-so-unusual rivalries, Skilley and others learn about themselves, learn how to get along, learn what's important, and save the day (and even meet the Queen) in this smartly written young adult novel.

If you enjoy adding to your vocabulary (or your kids' vocabularies) in an easy-to-read manner a la Lemony Snicket, you should check out this book. It's a quick and entertaining read, even for adults.  The occasional artwork is nice too, and this could be a great introduction to Dickensian stories for a younger audience.

See also the book's website:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Movie Review: Iron Man 3

My rating: 4/5. 

Succinctly from "When Tony Stark's world is torn apart by a formidable terrorist called the Mandarin, he starts an odyssey of rebuilding and retribution."

This was an exciting, entertaining movie, even with the one small complaint I have.  Unfortunately I can't fully describe that complaint without giving away a huge plot point, but I will say that the cheesiness of the Mandarin's television interruptions were never redeemed for me later in the movie, even though they were for my husband. I still found them cheesy and unbelievable, while he found them to make sense.  So, take from that what you will.  Otherwise I really enjoyed the movie, especially the exchanges between Stark and the boy. Loved that part.  I also appreciate when women are, at least sometimes, able to save themselves. We really don't see that often enough.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

Movie Review: The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey

My rating: 3.5/5.

From Amazon: "The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know."

I had heard that this movie wasn't great, mainly because it tried to be both a kiddie movie and an adult-fan movie at the same time and couldn't pull it off.  I would agree to an extent, especially in the beginning. But I feel like by the second half of the movie, it had decided to be an adult-fan movie (especially judging by the gore; I don't recommend this for kids at all), and I liked it.  I'm a pretty big fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and didn't like this movie quite as well, but I still liked it and think it's a good watch for any LotR fan. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Movie Review: Cloud Atlas

My rating: 2/5. 

From Amazon: "Future. Present. Past. Everything is connected. An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.The story is a time-shifting weave of six interlinking narratives, with diverse settings from the savagery of a Pacific Island in the 1850s to a dystopian Korea of the near future. Based on the New York Times best-selling novel Cloud Atlas written by David Mitchell."

I have not read the book, but judging by book reviews and previews for the movie, I really expected to like this. Instead, all I found it to be was a purposefully confused, often boring mess. Good storytelling doesn't have to force itself to be obtuse, and it needs to convey a point. This movie seemed mostly pointless.  It was also unnecessarily gory a few times, and I never appreciate that.  

I will give it credit for its makeup though.  Holy cow; a few times it was quite a while before I realized which (famous) actor was behind a particular character's makeup job.  But that's about all I can give it credit for.