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.

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.