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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

FILM: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Titans
starring Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes

Since Jay was anxious to see this, I bit my tongue and settled in for a typical action flick.  I expected little, so I was pleasantly surprised.  The story is compelling (how can you go wrong with ancient Greek mythology?), and the characters are interesting and are well-acted.  I appreciated the lack of sex and "language," and that the violence was not gratuitous or graphic (it easily could have been).  Overall, quite entertaining.

FILM: Middlemarch (BBC mini-series, 1994)

BBC Masterpiece Classics
(based on the novel by George Eliot)

I don't love George Eliot like I do Jane Austen, but this is a good story with lots of interesting characters and plot twists.  I didn't love the main characters, and I found the romance between Dorothea and Ladislaw slightly unsettling (it might have something to do with the fact that I find Rufus Sewell irritating, and I can't take him seriously as a romantic lead.... he should only play villains).  However, it is definitely entertaining viewing and if you like period drama/romance you will most like enjoy this one.

BOOK: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly

I thought I would love this book.  Actually, I did enjoy reading it, for the most part.... I found the writing interesting and the turn-of-the-century setting delightful.   The relationship that develops between the title character and her grandfather, of whom she was previously terrified, is nice, but it also bugged me that he is only interested in his granddaughter AFTER she expresses an interest in what HE is interested in, and completely ignores the rest of the family, including his 6 grandsons.  Nevertheless, it was fun to read about the exploits of the only girl in a family of 6 brothers.

Then....the end left me feeling flat.  I closed the book and said to myself, "What?  That's it?"  There was no "evolution" of Calpurnia.  Aside from developing a relationship with her grandfather, she doesn't evolve.  At the end of the book she is still the same preteen tomboy she was in the beginning.  She has some interesting experiences, but I just didn't see the character building or transformation or "evolution" or whatever it was that was supposed to have taken place.  Did I miss something?

The clincher is that I didn't care about Callie.  I appreciated that she loves nature and wants to go to college and be a scientist.  But her utter disdain for all things domestic is simply disappointing.... this is where the "evolution" should have come in; why doesn't she discover a bit of satisfaction in domestic pursuits and feel that she could feel fulfilled doing both?  (Many women scientists of that time were also wives and mothers.)  And what 12-year-old girl is not at least slightly interested in boys, or looking pretty?  Sorry, it's just not realistic.

I wanted to give it 3 stars for good writing, but the author could have done a better job of character development, especially with the brothers.... they were quite "flat."  Also, the story gets bogged down in science on occasion, and the book drags on far too long for such a simple story.

Age recommendation:  13 and up (though, quite frankly, I don't think anyone under 18 would find this book very interesting)

(I give the cover art 5 stars!)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

BOOK: Stormbreaker (Alex Rider Adventure series)

Storm Breaker
by Anthony Horowitz

This is the first book in a series of adventures about Alex Rider, a fourteen-year-old reluctant spy.  I guess I would call it "James Bond for the Harry Potter set."   It's very exciting, and the action is quite intense, but the violence is definitely toned-down for kids, and not graphic, which is greatly appreciated by this parent.  I also appreciate that there is no "language."  Refreshing!  [I'll never understand why authors insist on using foul language in their books.... it's simply not necessary.  I suppose it's merely a sign of bad writing, as if the author can't come up with a better way for a character to express themselves. (It's also true of "real" people who use that kind of "language".... they sound ignorant and uneducated, not to mention boorish.)  It's a cop-out.]  So, I was happy to let my 11-year-old son read it, and he loved it, naturally.  Actually, so did I.

I look forward to reading the next one!

Age recommendation:  11 - 16 years (or 40)  :P

Saturday, January 22, 2011

FILM: Inception (2010)

Inception (PG-13, 2010)
starrring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page

My husband and I watched this on DVD last night.  I had seen the trailer, and had heard that the plot was confusing, but that was pretty much all I knew.  I didn't have high expectations, but I was looking forward to watching it, since I'm fascinated by dreams.  The plot was a little tricky, and I'm sure children would have a hard time following it, but I didn't have a problem.  The story is compelling, the action is exciting, the characters are interesting, and the concept was actually quite thought-provoking. 

There is a lot of action, some violence (nothing graphic), and a couple of minor uses of profanity, but that's it. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

BOOK: The Willoughbys

The Willoughbys
by Lois Lowry

I have enjoyed other books by Lois Lowry, but some of hers are a little.... "odd."  So, I picked this one up with some concerns, especially since, once again, I was to be the tie-breaker reader for our school library.  I can understand why one parent said "no" to the book.... mainly because the parents and the children don't really like each other.  There is no hate between, mostly just indifference.  The parents are annoyed at having to care for the children, and the children, who consider themselves old-fashioned (and not attached to their "cold" parents), long to be "orphans like children in old-fashioned books."  (There are a number of references to classic children's literature.)  Therefore, the parents hire a nanny and embark on a trip around the world (to be rid of the children), and the children hope for a "romantic end" to their parents on their adventure.  The real story is about the children finding another family (a loving one) to be part of after they are actually orphaned.  The glossary and "bibliography" (brief descriptions of the class novels referenced in the story) in the back are quite funny.  Actually, the book is a parody of a "classic," but I don't think most children will understand that.  Everyone ends up (well, the "good guys" anyway) living happily ever after, of course.

In the end, I finally decided to give it a "yes" vote, but I recommend it for older children (5th-6th grade). 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

BOOK: No More Dead Dogs (by Gordon Korman)

No More Dead Dogs
by Gordon Korman

I was the tie-breaker reader on this book for our school library (sound familiar?), and glad to be.  I really enjoyed it.  (Actually, I had a hard time putting it down.)  The only thing questionable was a few uses of "Jackass" (in a teasing way).  I worried about it, but finally decided that it's OK.  Gordon Korman is funny, and the characters are interesting... both boys and girls will relate, since the narrative voice switches between several main characters of both genders.  The story is very funny, but there are also some great lessons about friendship, loyalty, honesty, and doing the right thing. 

Age recommendation:  6th grade and up

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

FILM: Under the Greenwood Tree

Under the Greenwood Tree (2005-BBC)
adapted from the novel by Thomas Hardy

I am a sucker for BBC's adaptations of 19th century novels, and thanks to Netflix I have a ready supply to "Watch Instantly" whenever I want.... usually when I'm folding laundry.  Though I wouldn't call it a masterpiece, this one was not disappointing.  It's a sweet and simple story, the characters are interesting, though not well-developed, and the love story is nice.  Thankfully it wasn't a mini-series, so I didn't have to get sucked in to 8+ hours of...... what am I talking about?  I love the long ones!  Who doesn't love a good romance?

I also love these because I know they will be clean.  Modern romances are.... well, not so clean.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

BOOK: My Friend the Enemy (J.B. Cheaney)

My Friend the Enemy (follow link and scroll down for synopsis)
by J.B. Cheaney

Yet another book I reviewed for our school library.  I enjoyed the first person narrative, and how some scenes blend from reality right into her imagination, though a less than careful reader might be confused.  The story is full of great characters, exciting adventures, tender friendships, and hard-reality situations.  An excellent story of friendship, courage, patriotism, and over-coming prejudice.

Age recommendation:  11 and up (maybe lower, if the child is mature and a good reader)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

BOOK: My One Hundred Adventures (by Polly Horvath)

My One Hundred Adventures  (synopsis)
by Polly Horvath

Because the narrator/central character in the book is a 12-year-old girl (and because of it's short length), I assume this is meant to be a children's book, though I think it might be a bit too mature to be one.  The subject matter is quite serious at times (including the unknown paternity of 4 siblings and their single mother who seems to be in love with all of them), though the "adventures" are mostly amusing.

I quite enjoyed it though.  It was very entertaining.... a fun read.

Age Recommendation:  12 and up

BOOK: The Magician's Elephant (by Kate DiCamillo)

The Magician's Elephant (synopsis)
by Kate DiCamillo

I read this to review for my kids' school library.  A parent who had read it previously thought it should NOT be approved, but another had said yes.  I was interested in being the "tie-breaker" reader, which I have done several times before, and found it very enlightening..... I'm shocked with how liberal some parents are in what they consider appropriate for elementary school students to read.

Anyway, this one was a surprise because I could find nothing inappropriate in this book.  It was a very enjoyable read, a sweet, magical and mysterious story about hope and love.  I admit that Kate DiCamillo's stories are a bit off-the-wall at times, but I have liked all those I have read. This one left me smiling.

Age Recommendation:  9-12