I'm a mom of 3 kids, and I love to read and watch movies, and I'm picky about what my kids read and watch.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

BOOK: Heaven is For Real

Heaven is For Real
by Todd Grupo

In case you don't know me personally, I will tell you this about myself;  I am a person of faith.  I am religious.  I believe that God is our Heavenly Father, and that Jesus Christ is His Son.  I believe that this life is not the end.  I believe that HEAVEN IS REAL.  (If you want to know more about what I believe, go here.) 

So, with that in mind, I had already accepted the premise of the book and didn't need any "convincing" (not that this book tries to convince anyone).  Most of the time I found myself thinking "yes, that's what I believe about heaven" and "yes, that's consistent with what we know from the Bible."  So, for me there wasn't anything shocking or revelatory.  It was merely interesting but not necessarily faith-promoting, and I doubt it would be so for anyone reading it who doesn't already "believe."

Actually, I found the story of this family's journey and their son's ordeal with illness more interesting than the story of the boy's visit to heaven.  Their personal growth from the experience seems real and touching.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

BOOK: The 10 Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques

The 10 Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques
by Margaret Wehrenberg

I worry about reviewing this book for fear that I might offend anyone who suffers from depression.  But I would like to be honest about my thoughts on this book, so here goes.

This is not a book I would ever have thought to read, but my well-read cousin suggested that this book was for everyone, and not just for those with "depression."  I think most of us who aren't "clinically depressed" still have times when we "feel depressed" for various reasons (life can be pretty stressful!).  This book offers some great advice for those times, as well as effective at-home techniques for those working with a therapist.

As a parent of a teenager, I feel like it offered some great tips that can be shared with those struggling with emotional ups and downs during those times of, well, tumultuous hormonal changes.  I realized many of the suggestions seem like "common sense" and yet I might not have thought to apply them in the way the author suggests. 

I'll be honest... this is not an easy read, and I thought the writing style was pretty boring (I found the author a bit verbose). There is quite a bit of technical jargon which I found difficult; in fact, I skipped most of it.  I guess I'm not particularly interested in the scientific aspect, just what to do about it.  :)  I think it's probably a great resource for those with serious depression, but is much too lengthy for those just looking for some tips to help during difficult times.  (Full disclosure:  I skimmed a lot.)  Here are a few examples (summarized in my own words):

- Make a "To Do" list of tasks that take 5 minutes or less.  When negative thoughts come, do one of the tasks to take your mind off it.

- Rephrase your thoughts to indicate that you have a CHOICE (e.g. "I choose to/not do that," "I could.... but I choose....", "I don't like it but I will do it.").

- Utilize your future energy:  pick a task to do, imagine how you will feel when it's complete, focus on the outcome, do the task, notice the pleasure you feel when it's done.

- Do something with your hands (build/repair something, draw, paint, play the piano, knit, etc.).

Some of the ideas are pretty obvious, like:
- eat well
- exercise
- get enough sleep
- be social, connect with people
- take deep breaths
- count your blessings

Yes.  Obvious.  BUT how many of us actually do all of those?  Especially when we are feeling "low."  It's a good reminder.

So, do I recommend this book?  Well, if you are interested in understanding the "why" and what is happening in the brain to cause depression, the answer is a resounding "yes."  If you are clinically depressed and/or are working with a therapist, the answer is "yes."  If you have times when you just feel like being a couch potato and don't have any energy to "get things done," or "feel depressed" at times, then the answer is also "yes."  BUT be sure and skip over the "heavy" parts... they can be pretty depressing.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

BOOKS: My Favorite Christmas Picture Books

One of my favorite Christmas books for children is "Merry Christmas Big Hungry Bear." If you are familiar with the original "The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear" then you will appreciate this one all the more. It is a very sweet story that will take you by surprise.

We all know the old poem "The Night Before Christmas" but I especially love this version with illustrations by Tasha Tudor. [I grew up with a fascination for her lovely book, "A Time to Keep."] She was well into her 80's when she illustrated this one, and it shows, but it's still lovely.
My sister gave us this delightful book a few years ago, and it's been a hit. It's a fun imaginary tale of the adventures of the neighborhood snowmen when no one is looking.

And of course, Christmas wouldn't be complete without "The Grinch," as it is usually referred to around our house. I hated the live-action film with Jim Carrey (who I usually like), but I thoroughly enjoy the old animated version. However, nothing can compare to reading the wonderful words from the book!

So, grab your kids and snuggle up on the couch with a few good books.

Age Recommendation:  1-100

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FILM (TV): Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin (2010)
rated PG, starring Claire Danes, Julia Ormond, Catherine O'Hara

Wow.  This fantastic HBO film about the life of Temple Grandin made me think, and made me cry, and I loved it.  There isn't much else I need to say except, "Go watch it!"  But if you still need convincing, I will continue....

Temple Grandin is autistic.... AND a doctor of animal science, livestock handling genius, university professor, author, and autism advocate.  Truly an amazing person.  Her story touched me, as it has done millions of people.  Her influence is wide-spread among many fields of study.  I would be impressed by her work even if she were not autistic... the fact that she is makes it all the more amazing (sorry, I can't help using that word repeatedly). 

Claire Danes does an excellent job portraying Grandin, and together with a fabulous cast of supporting actors, makes this award-winning film what it is.  The film-makers used Grandin's books as the basis for the script and brilliant techniques to show us how this highly intelligent woman "thinks in pictures."  This powerful, inspiring and emotional film is worth watching with your whole family (the only thing that might be offensive is some mild gore from the slaughter of cattle, but it's pretty minor).

[As a side note, Temple Grandin's 2010 TED speech is fascinating and informative, and should be required viewing for teachers!  I think I'm becoming slightly obsessed, wanting to watch every YouTube video I can find of her.]

Saturday, November 19, 2011

BOOK SERIES: The Sisters Grimm

"The Sisters Grimm" Series
by Michael Buckley

I read the first book in this series to review for our school library.  What fun!  (I read the other books in the series for fun.)  A cute and exciting story brings together classic fairy tale characters, sets them in present day, and thrusts the two young heroines into their world as Fairy-tale Detectives (also the name of the first book in the series).  There is plenty of action and adventure, some mild violence, and no offensive language.  Both boys and girls will find these book appealing.

Age recommendation:  8 - 12 years

Friday, November 18, 2011

BOOK: These Old Shades (Georgette Heyer)

These Old Shades
by Georgette Heyer

OK, one more Heyer book and then I'm taking a break from "Regency Romance" for a while.  But I had to write about this one because it's quite different from the other books of this genre I have read by the author.   Actually, that's not completely true... each one has been surprisingly different from the others, even though they are all "similar" over all.

This one was different in, well, different ways.  First of all, the story takes place mostly in France, rather than England, so many of the characters are French... that's enough difference right there.  (Stereotypically French rather than stately English.)  Secondly, the hero is more the center of the story rather than the heroine, and it's told more frequently from a male point of view, and in quite a different voice.  (Besides, I hated the hero at first.... until I got to know him.)  Lastly, although there is a romance, the.... "Intrigue" is more central to the story.  Yes, that's just the word for it... intrigue. 

Because of these marked differences it took me a while to "get into" this book.  But once I did I was hooked... yet again.

Other good words to describe this book:  clever, witty, and shocking.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

FILM: Strictly Ballroom (1992)

Strictly Ballroom (1992)
rated PG

I first saw this delightfully quirky Australian film many, many years ago... and several times since.  I watched it again recently first the time in years and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time.  It's a charming and funny story with hilarious characters, touching moments of truth, and a lovely "Cinderella" twist.  There is a bit of mild language*, the ballroom costumes show quite a bit of skin and some of the dancing is a bit on the sensual side, but it's fairly tame.

And should you think that your tough-guy hubby or boyfriend won't like it, think again.   If he has a sense of humor, he will.

[I give out 5 stars only very infrequently, and only after careful deliberation.  Before I gave it much thought I was going to give this film 4 stars, but after thinking about it a moment longer I realized there is really nothing wrong with it, and MUCH that is excellent... a story filled with great characters, touching moments, and timeless themes of romantic love, family love, friendship, loyalty, perseverance and hard work... plus lots of humor.  There is something for everyone, and it deserves 5 stars.]

* Apparently, but I didn't catch any, possibly because there are a few un-subtitled phrases blurted out in Spanish, or, more likely because of the heavy Aussie accents. 

BOOK: The Nonesuch (Georgette Heyer)

The Nonesuch
by Georgette Heyer

I know, I know; I'm sort of obsessed with Georgette Heyer right now, but I just can't help myself.  I had some fairly major surgery last week and I'm required to "take it easy" for a while.  This kind of book is perfect for saving me from boredom... the characters are interesting, the story is entertaining, and it's quite funny and witty too.  What can I say?  I'm a sucker, and I get sucked in.

A word of warning:  Heyer's "Regency Romances" are of a distinct genre and style, and they certainly don't suit everyone.  If you aren't used to the language you might perhaps be utterly bored and confused, but if you persevere you just might find yourself enchanted and supremely entertained.  (Now read that again, out loud, in your best British accent.)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

BOOK: Matched (Ally Condie)

by Ally Condie

This young adult novel was quite interesting.  I would put it in the same category as Twilight and The Hunger Games, though it's far superior to both (and their sequels), in a number of ways. 

1)  There is more depth to the characters and relationships, making this book much preferable for teen readers (or any reader, for that matter).

2)  There is nothing offensive, which is more than I can say about most books for this audience... Twilight, The Hunger Games, et al.  Not even one swear word that I can recall.  Refreshing.

3)  There is plenty of tension and action, but this intriguing story has more depth and causes the reader to really think.

It's not a perfect book by any means, but it is quite good.  In fact, unlike T & THG, I would be fine with my own teenage children read it.  That's saying something.

The sequel, Crossed, was just released this week.  I hope the author doesn't let me down.

Age recommendation:  13 and up

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

BOOK: Everything on a Waffle (Polly Horvath)

Everything on a Waffle
by Polly Horvath

I didn't love this book, but I didn't hate it.  I DO love the title (and the reason behind it) and the cover illustration.  The story was a little erratic, but fairly entertaining.  A lot happens, so it should keep most kids interested.  The recipe inclusions are kind of fun.  I wonder if any of them are good?  Hm....

Age recommendation:  8-11 years

Monday, October 31, 2011

BOOKS by Georgette Heyer

Well, I have been reading a lot lately, but they have all been books by Georgette Heyer.  I'm totally loving them!  Since I already posted about one of her books recently, I'm just combining several into one post.  They all fit into the same category anyway.

Here are a few I have read in the last month (I guess I'm sort of obsessed):

Black Sheep:  Fun and interesting characters and plenty of humor.

Sylvester:  Good story and characters, change-of-heart themes a la Pride & Prejudice

The Grand Sophy:  Great heroine, hilarious antics, perfect ending

Arabella:  Lots of humor, fun romance, and even a moral... always be truthful!

Thankfully there are plenty more out there for me to enjoy.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

BOOK: When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
by Rebecca Stead

Wow.  This book took me completely by surprise.  It's a coming-of-age story and a great mystery that will leave you with your jaw on the floor.  I found myself feeling an unusual mixture of emotions at the end of the book... happy but sad, amazed and surprised... half laughing, half crying, utterly shocked, and completely satisfied.

The main character/narrator, twelve-year-old Miranda, lives with her single mom in New York City.  The book is set in 1978, so kids reading it today will be surprised at how the world has changed.... sixth-graders were very independent, roaming the city on their own, and they didn't carry cell phones or iPods or play video games.  BUT the issues of friends, popularity, money, relationships, bullying, etc. will all be familiar to them.

As for content, the only "language" is a couple of uses of deity as profanity, there is a brief kiss, mention is made of the mom's boyfriend not having a key to the apartment (thank goodness), and some brief mild violence.  There are some pretty intense moments and somewhat mature themes, so I would recommend it for older kids and teens (both genders!)... and adults who love a good read! 

Age recommendation:  12 years and up

Friday, September 16, 2011

BOOK: Mandie and the Secret Tunnel

Mandie and the Secret Tunnel (first book in the Mandie series)
by Lois Gladys Leppard

This is the first in a series of "Mandie books."  I think I would have liked these books as a girl, and I'm sure my daughter will enjoy them.  (There are twenty-something in the series.)  The writing isn't fantastic, but it's adequate and there are no glaring errors.  However, the story is quite compelling, which is what makes it worth reading (part adventure/mystery, part heart-warming family story).  If the rest of the series follows suit there will be much to like.  The book contains nothing offensive.

Age recommendation:  9 - 12 years old (writing level is a bit younger, but it's OK)

BOOK: Cotillion

by Georgette Heyer

My sister only recently introduced me to Georgette Heyer.  What a find!  This is a very fun, clever and witty story, well-told and utterly delightful.  (It would make a great film/mini-series.... BBC, are you listening?)

The period slang is a little difficult at times, but it doesn't take long to get the hang of it.  Jane Austen fans, grab a Georgette Heyer novel and enjoy.  If you are not an Austen fan, best steer clear. 

Apparently Heyer was quite prolific, publishing two books a year on average.  Many were "Georgian" and "Regency" as this one is (a la Jane Austen), but she also wrote thrillers, historical novels, contemporary novels, and short stories.  I'm looking forward to reading more!

BOOK: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba (and Bryan Mealer)

This amazing memoir from a poor farm boy in Malawi is truly inspiring.  A self-taught scientist, electrician and inventor, he designed and built a windmill to bring electricity to his home and village... and brought hope with it.  It changed his life in dramatic ways.

The story is at times heartbreaking, and the living conditions and descriptions of life in a third world country during drought, disease and death are a bit difficult to bear.  My 12 year old read the book and really enjoyed it as well.  I think he learned some great lessons too.... be grateful for the wonderful circumstances you live in, work hard and you can accomplish anything.  An excellent read.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

FILM: Sixty Six (PG-13)

Sixty Six (2006)
Starring Helena Bonham Carter, Eddie Marsan

Jay and I stumbled upon this interesting indie flick and quite enjoyed it.  It's a quirky and heart-warming story.... the director's real-life experiences.... about an English boy (a younger son) struggling to be noticed by his working-class family and have the best bar mitzvah ever. 

The PG-13 rating:  Though I imagine there is a bit of "language" in the film, I never heard any because of the actors' accents.... in fact, I missed a bit of dialogue because of it, but it didn't seem to matter; I still got the gist of it.  (There may have been some language I didn't catch because the Brits use some words that don't have the same meaning to Americans.)  There is a brief reference to male genitals and a glimpse of a nude backside, which were very both very mild.  There is also one uncomfortable (but brief) scene where the boy accidentally glimpses a passionate scene between a man and woman, but the audience doesn't see anything.  I wouldn't want my 13 year old to see it, unless it was edited.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

BOOK: I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This (Bob Newhart)

I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This
by Bob Newhart

I crack up just thinking about hearing Bob Newhart on one of his "phone calls."  This memoir of his life and experiences in the comedy business includes the script of some of those "calls," though they don't always translate well to the printed page.  For the ones I hadn't seen, I immediately went to YouTube and watched him perform them and laughed and laughed.

I really appreciate clean comics, and Bob Newhart is one of them.  He has been around a long time for a good reason.  He became a comedian quite by accident, and the story of how he got there is interesting.

Now I'm headed to the library to pick up the DVD set of season 1 of "The Bob Newhart Show."  I'm ready to laugh some more.

Friday, August 19, 2011

TV/DVD: Kipper the Dog

Kipper the Dog
based on the books by Mike Inkpen

Even though I have always hated the thought of the TV as babysitter, many years ago when I was pregnant with my second child and completely exhausted, I was desperate to find something decent on TV that would entertain my toddler for a bit so I could lie down.  But it had to be appropriate, and short.  One morning on CBS, I discovered exactly what I needed.....Kipper the Dog.  It is utterly sweet and funny, and my son was hooked.  The episodes are short, the stories are simple and slow-paced, the music is light, and the excellent animation is not distracting.  AND, amazingly for a kids' show, it's not obnoxious! 

Sadly my children have all out-grown these wonderful shows, but recently when I went to throw out the many VHS tapes (yes, it was that long ago) of "Kipper" that I ended up buying and which served us well for years, neither I nor my kids could bear to part with them.  We ended up sitting down and watching them together and laughing and reminiscing.  They are still in the cabinet with all our DVD's.  I guess I'll save them for my grandchildren.  :)

Recommended for ages 18 mo. - 5 years

P.S.  It turns out my 2 year old nephew is addicted too.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

BOOK: Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy
by Gary D. Schmidt

I couldn't stop myself from reading another book by Schmidt to see if I was still impressed.  I am.  I really like his books and this is another excellent one.

This time the setting is early 20th century in a small town in Maine.  Racism and segregation are central to the story, and there are some pretty intense scenes, including a death (not graphic), that make this book more appropriate for older kids and teens.  There are a couple of uses of common mild swear words.  It's a clean, touching and profound story that includes themes of inter-racial friendship and doing the right thing even when everyone else is against you.  The story is loosely based on actual historical events. 

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

BOOK: The Miracles of Santo Fico

The Miracles of Santo Fico
by D.L. Smith

I just finished reading this for my book club.  It's a sweet and fun read about love and miracles in the lives of the inhabitants of a tiny village in Tuscany.  There are some interesting characters and plenty of quirkiness, and aside from a smattering of mild language and mildly suggestive moments, nothing offensive. 

It might also get you thinking about miracles, and what constitutes one.  And you might also start to see more in your own life.

P.S.  After reading the book, you might read this article from the author regarding the origins of the story.
P.P.S.  I was surprised to learn that "D.L." is a man.... for some reason I assumed it was a woman.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

BOOK: The Help

The Help
by Kathryn Stockett

I'm glad my book club chose this so I would read it before the movie comes out.  Well, I'm also glad because I really enjoyed the book.  I feel like I was the last person on earth to read it.  It seems everyone I know had been raving about it, and it deserves the praise.  It's well-written (another first time novelist.... I'm impressed), entertaining, funny and touching.  There is some PG-13 language, mostly the s-word, and adult themes, so I wouldn't recommend this for anyone under 18. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

BOOK: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand (Helen Simonson)

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson

This is a delightful first novel from an advertising executive turned stay-at-home-mom-looking-for-a-creative-outlet turned novelist. Major Pettigrew is the ultimate traditional English gentlemen.... retired military, widowed with one adult son, living in a sleepy sea-side village.  His quiet life is turned upside when his younger brother dies and he becomes friends with the village shop-keeper.  It's a sweet and charming story that is also powerfully moving.  A great read and quite clean (3 uses of the s-word and one implied bedroom scene).

Friday, June 24, 2011

BOOK: Okay for Now (Gary D. Schmidt)

Okay For Now
by Gary D. Schmidt

Wow.  Schmidt's books take my breath away.  I first read The Wednesday Wars more than a year ago when someone selected it for our book club.... and I loved it.  I was completely surprised by what was supposed to be "juvenile fiction" (featuring a 7th-grade protagonist) when it turned out to be filled with mature themes (in a good way), a fantastic plot, great characters, and excellent writing. 

Okay For Now picks up where The Wednesday Wars left off.... sort of....with a different protagonist (he was a minor character before)/point of view and setting (I would recommend reading The Wednesday Wars first, though it isn't mandatory).  The story is sometimes heartbreaking (you are bound to find yourself sniffling through much of it, but there is also plenty to grin about), slightly painful and yet tender.  It's a powerful story about love and loss, overcoming and surviving, friendship and family.  It will leave you feeling that most people in this world are actually good people deep down....and you will want to go hug your family. 

As I mentioned, the themes are fairly mature, and the story takes place in 1968-1969, so a younger reader who doesn't understand the context of the Vietnam war might not get as much out of the story.  I'm glad I read this before my 12-year-old (who I know will love it as he did The Wednesday Wars after I recommended it to him) so we can discuss it.  Amazingly, this is still a story that is totally appropriate for the middle-school set..... Schmidt writes for that audience, but doesn't talk down to them.  And yet, it reads like a novel for adults in many ways.  Schmidt does a great job of writing for both audiences, in a very entertaining style.

The only "language" I recall is one or two common exclamations of deity.

Has anyone else read anything by Gary Schmidt?  I can't wait to read more of his books.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Friday, June 17, 2011

BOOKS: (Maisie Dobbs Novels) An Incomplete Revenge AND Among the Mad

An Incomplete Revenge (A Maisie Dobbs Novel) (Book 5)
Among the Mad (A Maisie Dobbs Novel) (Book 6)
by Jacqueline Winspear

I frequently rave about the Maisie Dobbs Novels.  (Read them in order....the first one is called Maisie Dobbs: A Novel.)  The writing is excellent... descriptive and well-crafted.  The characters are wonderful and well-developed.  And the stories will suck you in.  This can be a problem because I absolutely cannot put these books down!  Beware!  (I admit it....I read these 2 books in two days. Yes, I sort of ignored everything else.  Oops.) 

Maisie Dobbs is not your average detective.... the psychology angle is fascinating, and her personal development and relationships add great depth to the stories.  I love that these books are also basically clean.... there is no sex, but you will find an occasional mild profanity.  There are sometimes murders to solve, but generally nothing descriptive or gruesome.  The stories are very intense though, so these books are definitely not for kids or teens.

(The complete series)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

TV MINI-SERIES: Wives & Daughter (1999)

Wives & Daughters (BBC)

The BBC got another one right with this wonderful 4 episode mini-series based on classic fiction.   There are plenty of nasty characters and good ones, including step-relations, lots of plot twists and turns, and enough romance to make you sigh again and again.  The cast is excellent as well.

Contains nothing offensive.

BOOK: The Secret of Platform 13

The Secret of Platform 13
by Eva Ibbotson

This is a fun fantasy for children and makes for a good real-aloud (probably preferable, since some of the british-isms might be confusing for American children).  There is nothing offensive, though there are some moments that might be mildly frightening to very young children.  In addition to being entertaining, there are plenty of opportunities for parents to discuss the differences between the "good" characters and the "bad" ones and how those who are "good" and kind are happier.

Recommended for ages 8 - 12.

BOOK: The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl
by Shannon Hale

This is my least favorite youth book by Shannon Hale so far.  (My least favorite book of hers overall is "The Actor and the Housewife."  Ugh.)  The writing isn't fantastic, but it was more that.....even though the story was quite interesting, the book really dragged.  It felt about 100 pages too long.  Book of a Thousand Days and Princess Academy are much better.

That said it was decent and I did finish it.

Recommended for ages 12 and up.

BOOK: Just Ella

Just Ella
by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Bleh.  This youth book was just plain awful.  The writing was just OK, and the story was mildly interesting, but I was absolutely disgusted by the way the author took the wonderful, sweet story of Cinderella and turned it into a feminist manifesto.  Ugh.  Instead of kind and good and long-suffering, this "Ella" despises her step-mother and step-sisters and her fondest wish is to take revenge against them.  She is rude and self-centered and seeks only her own happiness.... and according to the author this is supposed to be a good thing.  It just left me feeling sick to my stomach. 

I will definitely discourage my daughter from reading it. 

FILM: When In Rome (2010)

When In Rome (PG-13)
starring Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel

This is a pretty typical romantic comedy featuring two ridiculously beautiful and successful people who find love and happiness after several trials that keep them apart.  You know the drill.  Cute and safe.  It was entertaining and Josh Duhamel is incredibly easy on the eyes.  I don't recall any "language" but there are a couple of mildly "suggestive" moments, and a few glimpses of nude art, but nothing obscene or blatantly offensive. 

BOOK: The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden
by Kate Morton

I really enjoyed this great mystery of sorts, filled with plenty of shocking revelations, great character development and growth, and a little romance.  Though the story jumps around in time a lot, it was well-done rather than confusing.  Kate Morton is a good writer and I look forward to reading more by her.  However, I was a bit annoyed by her frequent use of incomplete sentences.  It was quite prevalent and I had a hard time "letting it go."  I assume it was used as a stylistic/literary device rather than ignorance or poor editing, but it really bugged me sometimes.  Otherwise I thought it was well-written.

Aside from a few instances of very mild profanity, there is really only one thing that might make some readers uncomfortable.  I don't want to give anything away, but there is something revealed toward the end of the book that is a bit shocking but it's not graphic.  I consider myself very conservative when it comes to books and this made me slightly uncomfortable, but it is nothing that would keep me from recommending this book whole-heartedly.

Recommended for Adults.

BOOK: Book of a Thousand Days

Book of a Thousand Days
by Shannon Hale

I think this is the best book I have read by Shannon Hale.  The writing it more mature and more interesting.  I enjoy books written in a "diary" form, and this one did not disappoint.  Aside from one scene that will make some people uncomfortable (a non-sexual nude scene) there is nothing offensive.  There is some mild violence.  This is a great book to be enjoyed by both teens and adults.  There is plenty of action, adventure and suspense, plus a little romance.

Recommended for ages 13 and up.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

BOOK: A Long Way From Chicago (Richard Peck)

A Long Way From Chicago
by Richard Peck

Even though this book precedes A Year Down Yonder, there is no harm in reading them out of order, as I did, since they are actually quite independent of the other, and have different narrators.  But I enjoyed this one just as much.  It's actually a series of short stories detailing the adventures of siblings Joey and Mary Alice who spend a week each summer with their feisty grandmother in a small town.  Great characters, lots of humor, and more.  This book is perfect for both children and adults. 

Age recommendation:  10 and up

TV MINI-SERIES: Sherlock (Masterpiece Mystery)

Sherlock, Series 1 (2010)
Masterpiece Mystery

When it comes to television, the best of it seems to come from the BBC, especially under the banner of "Masterpiece."  Here is yet another wonderful, but, alas, too short, series based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and updated to present day London.  With clever, witty dialogue and stories that keep you riveted, each episode will leave you anxious to watch the next.  Unfortunately, there are only 3 episodes (though each is about 90 minutes), and the last leaves you utterly surprised, and desperate for more.  Fortunately, three more episodes will air this fall.

It's going to be a long wait.

Since murder is involved, naturally each episode contains some violence, though it's not graphic.  However, overall the subject matter is too mature for children and younger teens.   There is occasional mild language.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

FILM: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (2010)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (PG)
starring Nicholas Cage, Jay Baruchel, Alfred Molina

We watched this with our kids last night.  They loved it.  I enjoyed it, but Jay said the lead actor's goofy voice and overall goofiness drove him crazy.  I thought it was endearing and appropriate... after all, he plays the part originated by Mickey Mouse, so he needs to be goofy.  

I guess you can call it a remake of the original Disney cartoon from Fantasia (which was based on Goethe's poem), but there are very few similarities, though they did include a scene featuring magical janitorial equipment.  But then what do you expect when you make a present-day feature-length live-action film based on an 8 minute long cartoon short with no dialogue.  There is plenty to critique, but lots to like about it.  Just enjoy the show. 

It's a fun bit of adventure, though probably a bit scary for younger children (hence the PG-rating).... my 7-year-old said he wasn't scared, but he looked like he was once or twice.  There were one or two mild swear words and some mild violence.  Oh, and a couple of sweet kisses that my boys covered their eyes during.  Silly boys. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BOOK: A Year Down Yonder

A Year Down Yonder
by Richard Peck

This is a sequel to A Long Way from Chicago.  I enjoyed this gentle story set in the 1930's about a big-city teenage girl sent to spend the school year with her larger-than-life grandmother in a very small town.  Mary Alice makes friends, develops a relationship with her grandmother, and learns about life and herself along the way.  Just the kind of story I like.

The book contains nothing offensive, but the subject matter is geared toward older children, teens, and adults.  There is plenty of humor, but also lump-in-your-throat moments.  My favorite line in the book; "She knew me through and through. She had eyes in the back of her heart."

Age recommendation:  13 and up

Saturday, May 14, 2011

BOOK SERIES: Jimmy Fincher Saga (series)

Jimmy Fincher Saga:
A Door in the Woods (Book One)
A Gift of Ice (Book Two)
by James Dashner

My son read these first and loved them (there are 4 books in the series, but I have only read the first two so far) so I bought them for our school library.  The story is compelling and interesting, but the writing isn't great.... in fact, it's rather amateurish.  (I was not surprised when I found out these books were the author's first attempt at writing when he deviated from a career in accounting.)  I think most kids will overlook that for the value of a story that keeps them turning pages.

However, at times I had to force myself to keep reading.  Remember how I said I prefer this kind of story?  Well, these books have a serious lack of character development... it's pure action/adventure without the human experience added to the mix, so I found myself rather bored at times and sort of just "skimming."  But again, I guess I'm not really the intended audience, so maybe that isn't important.

Like I said, these are pure action/adventure, so naturally they contain some violence, though it's very mild and never graphic.  So far there has been no "language" or anything else offensive.

Age Recommendation:  9 and up
(I'm being generous because my son loved the books.)

Friday, May 13, 2011

BOOK: The Ordinary Princess

The Ordinary Princess
by M.M. Kaye

This contemporary novel reads like a classic fairy tale.  Given the gift of being simply "ordinary," this princess finds her way to true happiness in a real and wonderful way.  It's beautifully written, and the story is perfectly charming.  It contains absolutely nothing offensive, but much that will delight all ages and genders.

Ms. Kaye is also a talented illustrator.  Only two of the illustrations (which appear only occasionally throughout the book) are full-color, and the rest are black and white sketches that are so detailed and lovely that you will recall them as if they were full-color. 

Age recommendation:  8 and up

Thursday, May 5, 2011

BOOK: The Making of a Marchioness

The Making of a Marchioness
by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I am shocked that I had never heard of this book until just a few weeks ago.  (Thank you Aunt Gayle!)  What a delightful read!  Previously I had only read the author's books for children, and, like many people, I didn't even know about her novels for adults until now. 

The book was originally published in two parts:  the first is a "Cinderella Story" of sorts, and the second is a drama/suspense/romance.  It's filled with interesting characters, and moments that will make you smile and/or sigh, bite your nails, and keep you turning pages.  And, like most books of the time, there is nothing offensive.  Hallelujah!

Actually, I'm quite surprised that BBC hasn't made this into a mini-series.  It's perfectly suited to it!

If you plan to read it, make sure you get the version containing both parts.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BOOK: Smiles to Go

Smiles to Go
by Jerry Spinelli

I was having a conversation about books the other day with one of my sisters.  I was telling her how I prefer books (and movies too) with stories that center around people.... well-developed characters whose lives are changed by the events in the stories or their relationships with other people; people who learn about themselves and grow from their experiences... stories that are "human" regardless of whether it's science fiction, fantasy, romance, comedy, drama, etc.  A book that is filled with action and exciting events but lacks character development simply bores me to tears.  The best books have interesting characters and a great plot.  But a good plot doesn't have to complex.

This is one of those books with a simple story line about people and their relationships with other people... teenagers, their friends, and their family members.  As an adult reading a book about teenagers and for teenagers I found myself smiling at the memories of being one myself, but I enjoyed it on another level... human emotion is very powerful, whatever your age or the age of those you read about.

There is nothing offensive, but since the narrator is a teenager who begins to have romantic feelings toward his best friend, a girl he has known since kindergarten, there is some kissing and drama of that type that should probably be avoided by younger children.  Also, there are some pretty intense emotional moments, and a tragic accident that could be frightening.  The subject matter is definitely for older children and teens.  Adults will enjoy it too.

Age recommendation:  12 - 16 years

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

BOOK: These Is My Words

These is My Words
by Nancy Turner

I'm amazed that this was Nancy Turner's first novel.  It's well-written, exciting and romantic, and clean. It's written in diary form, and the character is uneducated (hence the title) so it took a little getting used to, but once I did I was totally into the story.  I was excited to find out there are two sequels, which are just as good as the first.... perhaps even better.  There is something for everyone in these books... great characters, action and adventure, plenty of romance, and even a bit of comedy.  The book contains a handful of mild swear words and a few frightening scenes but nothing offensive.  I have added this excellent novel to my personal "Top-5 Favorite Books of All Time."

Monday, May 2, 2011

BOOK: The Host (2008)

The Host
by Stephenie Meyer
During a week at the beach I read The Host by Stephenie Meyer.  It was pretty good.  Not fabulous, but entertaining, and actually pretty thought provoking. I have no idea whether the author intended to include any symbolism, but it was hard not to read those things into it when you know the author's religious beliefs. The story is really about what it means to be human.  I thought the "Twilight" series was just OK (I have other opinions about those books which I won't go into here), but this was much better (her first book for adults).   The story is compelling and it was a good "beach read."  Meyer calls it "Science Fiction for people who hate science fiction," which seems to be pretty accurate.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

TV SERIES: Mr. Bean (1990-1995)

Mr. Bean
starring Rowan Atkinson

If you haven't been introduced to the joys of "Mr. Bean," then go to YouTube and watch any (or all) of the clips of Mr. Bean episodes. You can't help laughing. And your kids will too. You gotta love anything that's funny and clean and that the whole family can watch together.
We purchased this DVD set, "The Whole Bean" which my kids love.  We also enjoyed "Mr. Bean's Holiday." By the way, don't bother with the "Mr. Bean Animated Series." It's just not that funny. You have to see Rowan Atkinson doing his stuff.

Friday, April 29, 2011

BOOK: Austenland

by Shannon Hale

Dear "Pride and Prejudice" Fan,

Yes, you. You know who you are.  And I'm not talking about the book. 

If you love the BBC mini-series (or even if you like the 2005 film with Kiera Knightley which is utterly inferior, but for some reason people like it) and you haven't read Shannon Hale's "Austenland" then you are in for a treat. I read it in practically one sitting, which isn't a tremendous feat considering it's less than 200 pages long, and is a delightful and easy read.   I absolutely giggled my way through the book. If you are a Jane Austen fan, you won't be disappointed.... how could you not love a book that begins with a dedication reading, "For Colin Firth: You're a really great guy, but I'm married, so I think we should just be friends."

However, if you are an Austen-purist, you should probably stay away.  This book is pure silly fun.

[Shannon Hale is an excellent writer.  Her youth and young adult books are wonderful.  This was her first adult novel and the first one I read.  Since I was pleased with it I eagerly read "The Actor and the Housewife."  Ugh!  I'm not going to waste my time telling you all the things wrong with it.  It was disturbing on so many levels.]

Thursday, April 28, 2011

TV SERIES: Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

Pushing Daisies (TV-PG)
starring Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Kristin Chenoweth

I was totally smitten with this show while it lasted, which, unfortunately, was only 2 seasons. It is the perfect blend of funny/quirky, sweet/romantic, with a little drama and action to boot. I also love that the creators aren't afraid to throw in cheesy musical numbers, ala "Grease" and "They Might Be Giants." No one can blame them. After all, with the hilarious and talented Kristin Chenoweth among the fabulous cast, how could they help it? Not to mention "the" Prince Charming himself, Lee Pace, and the absolutely darling Anna Friel. Add to that the eye-popping sets and "Chuck's" gorgeous wardrobe, and there is enough eye-candy to last until the next episode. Even Jay likes it.   And that's saying something.