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, December 27, 2012

BOOK: Secrets at Sea

Secrets at Sea
by Richard Peck

This charming story of a family of mice and their adventures is clever and very fun.  There are plenty of interesting characters, lots of excitement, and a few plots twists.  There is nothing offensive and will appeal to both genders.

Recommended for:  Ages 9 - 12

Saturday, December 15, 2012

BOOK: Liar & Spy

Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead

I enjoyed this story that's a little bit mystery, a little bit drama, a little bit comedy, and lot of good old plain "human."  I don't know how else to describe it.  It's a wonderful story with interesting characters, and a delightful surprise ending.  This book contains nothing offensive.

Recommended for:  Ages 10 and up (including adults)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

BOOK: Tending Roses

Tending Roses
by Lisa Wingate

My book club selected this novel for November.  I bought my own copy because it wasn't available from the library, and I'm glad I did because I know I will end up sharing this book with many people.  Our book club had a great discussion; there are lots of lessons to be learned not only from the story taking place, but the stories told by one of the main characters, Grandma Rose.  It's a novel in the true sense of the word; it's not reality.  Events in the story don't happen exactly the way things happen in real life; they happen the way things SHOULD happen in real life.  The story is set up to teach the reader, and it does.  It's clean, well-written, and contains nothing offensive.  Anyone who has aging parents or grandparents will enjoy this book, along with anyone who has ever been a parent, child, sibling, or family member of any kind.  I guess that's just about everyone. 

Recommended for Adults (and older teens who are emotionally mature)

BOOK: Glamorous Illusions

Glamorous Illusions ("Grand Tour" series)
by Lisa Tawn Bergen

This novel is an enjoyable romance/adventure mixed with a tiny bit of faith and spirituality.  It's clean and fun, plus there is some actual depth to the characters who have good values and morals.  This is the first in a series so the story is not really resolved; in fact, the reader is left hanging just a bit....enough to entice you to read the next book, which unfortunately won't be available for a while.  No matter; I'm sure I will find PLENTY to read in the meantime.

Recommended for age Adults and Teens (14 and up)

BOOK: Anson's Way

Anson's Way
by Gary D. Schmidt

This book was sometimes difficult to read because of the injustice imposed upon the Irish subjects of 18th century England.  Though loosely based on history there is much more fiction than fact, and several plot holes that would probably drive a history buff crazy, but it's a compelling story and an enjoyable read.  There are some scenes of fairly intense violence, and some deep issues at hand so I wouldn't recommend this for elementary school.

Recommended for ages 12 and up

Sunday, October 21, 2012

BOOK: The Casual Vacancy (2012)

The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling

Ugh.  What a disappointment.  I thoroughly enjoyed the Harry Potter series, even though the books are "technically" for "kids," so I was eager to read her first novel for adults.  I didn't make it past page 14; I was too annoyed by obnoxious characters that weren't even remotely interesting, and completely turned-off by the extensive use of the f-word, along with other vulgar language.  It's just not worth my time.

Why is that some authors think they have to resort to trashy content and vulgar language to appeal to adults?  Apparently Rowling thought she had to in order to move beyond her "children's books."  If so, that's a shame.... does she not realize there is much in her Harry Potter books that appeal to BOTH kids and adults? 

As a side note:  I was surprised when I received this book so quickly after reserving it at the library... I figured it would be a long time before my name came up since the list was very long.  Maybe it's because other people abandoned it just as quickly as I did making it available for other suckers, I mean people like me. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

BOOK: What Came from the Stars

What Came From the Stars
by Gary D. Schmidt

I couldn't resist checking out Schmidt's latest book since I have thoroughly enjoyed all the others I have read by him.  Once again I was not disappointed.  This capitivating Tolkein/C.S. Lewis-esque story is part family drama, part coming-of-age tale, and part adventure, with a sci-fi twist.  It is also well-written and compelling.

There is no offensive language.  There is some violence in the form of battle scenes, and yet the author somehow manages to leave out all descriptions of violence without taking away from the intensity of the scene.  Authors who feel the need to include gratuitous violence should take a page out of Schmidt's book. 

Recommended for:  Ages 12 to adult

Thursday, October 4, 2012

BOOK: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney After Dark

The Kingdom Keepers:  Disney After Dark
by Ridley Pearson

This is the first book in a series about a small group of middle-schoolers who fight real-life Disney movies villains who "come to life" after the Magic Kingdom closes.  It's cute and fun, especially for Disney fans.  I haven't read the rest of the series (it didn't entice me enough to read more), but it was pretty entertaining. 

There is really nothing offensive, though it's probably geared more toward older children and young teens (the age of the characters).  There are some mildly frightening scenes involving the villains (kids in peril and such), but it's all fairly silly and fun, and there is nothing graphic. 

Recommended for:  Ages 10-16

BOOK: Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai
by Margi Preus

This true story (in novel form) is a fascinating read both for children and adults.  It's a story of courage, adventure, family, determination, and friendship.  The book if full of action, and the story moves along quickly, but there are also plenty of tender scenes, and even a few that produce tears.  It would be a great read-aloud for families to enjoy together.  I really enjoyed it.  In fact, I was surprised to find I had a hard time putting it down!

There are a couple of scenes of mild violence involving 19th century whaling practices, and a couple of scenes of bullying/fighting, but nothing graphic or intense.  There is no offensive language. 

Recommended for:  Ages 10 to adult

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

BOOK: The Secret Between Us

The Secret Between Us
by Barbara Delinsky

I read this for our book club, having no expectations, and having read nothing else by this author.  (I prefer to read a book going in "blind.")  I have to admit, it was a bit painful to read at times.  As the story developed and the characters' actions built up steam, I was nervous for them, knowing that some of their choices would only lead to heartache.  However, it didn't take long for me to become absorbed in the characters' lives and circumstances and I found myself rooting for them, and hopeful as I began to see potential redemption for them. 

As for objectionable material, there are two strong 4-letter words, each used once, and a few instances of mild profanity.  Because the subject matter is very mature, dealing with issues such as death, marital infidelity, divorce, under-age drinking, and terminal illness (to name a few), it's definitely not a "light read." 

Monday, July 16, 2012

BOOK: The Companion

The Companion
by Ann Granger

I love a good mystery, and this is a good one.  It kept me guessing right up to the end.  The writing is good, though I don't love it when authors switch back and forth between narrators.  However, it seemed to work for this novel; it enhanced the story-telling rather than hindering it. 

I don't recall any offensive language, though there may have been some minor profanity.  Since there is a fairly gruesome murder central to the plot, there are some necessary descriptions, though nothing graphic.  There is a bit of mild violence surrounding the events, but again, not graphic.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

BOOK: Edenbrooke

by Julianne Donaldson

I'm always a little apprehensive when reading an author's first novel.  And because I'm a fan of Jane Austen and Regency Romance as a genre, I get nervous when I read one written by a contemporary author, novice or not.  Therefore, I read the book with low expectations, and literally no background information on the author or the book.

I was pleasantly surprised.  The romance is cute and fun, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, the author did a good job or remaining true to the time period and language, and there was nothing offensive.  I'm not saying the novel is without flaws, just that they are minimal and easy to overlook.  And I really enjoyed it!

This is not fiction aimed at young adults in particular, but I think teenage girls would enjoy it (my 16 and 17 year old nieces certainly did), and their parents don't need to have any hesitation in letting their daughter read it!

Recommended for ages 14 through adult

Sunday, July 1, 2012

BOOK: The Masqueraders

The Masqueraders
by Georgette Heyer

I had taken a break from Georgette Heyer for a while, so it was time for another one.  Oh, yes, I was seriously overdue.  I realized again how much I truly enjoy her books!  It's true, not everyone can enjoy these books... only those who don't mind challenging language, as in archaic and old-fashioned.  And yes, it's true, I find I sometimes have to re-read passages to make sure I understood what was just said.

But the books are wonderfully witty and fun, and the characters are delightful and varied.  This one is filled with drama, adventure, humor, romance, and even a little mystery.  It kept me guessing, giggling, and grinning.  And I couldn't put it down.  I think it might possibly find a spot in my top-ten favorite books!

Recommended for:  Jane Austen lovers, and those who enjoy great wit

Sunday, June 24, 2012

BOOK: First Light

First Light
by Rebecca Stead

I had a hard time getting in to this story, but once I finally did I enjoyed it.  It didn't start coming together though until about half-way through, which seems a long time to stick with a story.  But since I had enjoyed another book by this author, I stuck it out. 

I was a little bit annoyed by a few loose ends (though they are minor), and the author's occasionally "preachy" tone but I can usually overlook that... or pretend that's not the author's intention.  Overall it's a good book... not fantastic, but enjoyable.  There is really no love story, which was a bit surprising for young adult fiction, but actually kind of refreshing.

The book contains nothing offensive (I don't even remember any mild profanity, though it's possible I missed some), but the subject matter is pretty intense.  There is also a brief mention of human reproduction as regarding the paternity of a character(s), but it's not detailed.... just matter-of-fact and brief, but it would be confusing or possibly disconcerting to a child who is unaware of the "facts of life."

Recommended for:   Ages 12 and up

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

BOOK: Love, Ruby Lavender

Love, Ruby Lavender
by Deborah Wiles

I read a lot of children's book since I review them for our school library, especially during the summer when I (supposedly) have more time.  (Ha!)  Even though I read children's book out of obligation (sort of) I generally really enjoy them.  And I always like to have books to recommend to my own children.

This delightful novel was quite touching and tender.  Ruby and her grandmother are very colorful characters, and the small town atmosphere is always fun.  The story is fun and interesting, but there is also a lot to learn from the characters and how they handle difficult things in life.  There is some nice character growth, and plenty of fun. 

The book contains nothing offensive, and it would make a great read-aloud book as well as enjoyable for children to read on their own.  Though the main characters are all female (and strong ones) I don't see any reason why boys wouldn't enjoy this book as well.

Recommended for:  Ages 8-12

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New "Category" - STAR RATINGS

At Heather's brilliant suggestion (thanks Heather!) I have added a "star rating" label to each post, which means that now you can look up reviews just by "4 Stars" or whatever.  I hope you find that helpful.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

BOOK: Out of My Mind (Sharon M. Draper)

Out of My Mind
by Sharon M. Draper

I was surprised and delighted by this excellent book; it's well-written and compelling and teaches valuable lessons about judging those with disabilities and dealing with hardships, as well coping with the normal struggles of growing up and wanting to fit in.

The book contains no inappropriate language, violence, etc., but it deals with some serious issues, making this is a great book for parents to discuss with their children. 

Recommended for ages 10 to adult

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

BOOK: Darth Paper Strikes Back

Darth Paper Strikes Back
by Tom Angleberger

This sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is just as fun and clever as the first book.  Once again it's written as a case file with the narrator changing occasionally in order to tell their side of the story.  The story is very clever, partly a mystery, with a surprise ending that no one will see coming.  It's also very positive in that the kids in the story learn good lessons and behave appropriately for their age.  I really appreciate that the book contains nothing offensive. 

And coming later this year, The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee.  Hee hee. 

Recommended for:  Ages 10 and up

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BOOK: Straw Into Gold (Gary D. Schmidt)

Straw Into Gold
by Gary D. Schmidt

This is the fourth book by Gary D. Schmidt I have read... and I'm sure I will read more.  I have not been disappointed, but have thoroughly enjoyed them all.

This charming story is a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin with a continuation of the story as we know it.  It's well-written, fast paced, and clever, with plenty of plot twists and turns, but also sweet and tender.  It will appeal to all ages of both genders.

There are a few minor swear words and some mild violence, but really nothing offensive.  

Recommended for:  Ages 9 to adult

Monday, May 28, 2012

BOOK: Heaven is Here (Stephanie Nielson)

Heaven is Here
by Stephanie Nielson

I wasn't sure I would be able to write an objective review of this book because Stephanie is my sister-in-law (married to my brother).  But after finishing the book I believe I can give an honest assessment; it's good.  It's really good.  You already know it's inspiring and uplifting; motivating for anyone going through something difficult in life.... which pretty much means everyone.

But it's also very intimate and honest.  I think anyone who has experienced a serious tragedy in life, whether or not it even comes close to what Stephanie and her family have been through, will relate to the feelings she expresses in her memoir, especially those of feeling that life will never be good again.

Stephanie is a "mommy blogger" (for lack of a better term) and not an "author/writer" per se, but she had excellent help from Amy Hackworth, who was careful to keep it "pure Nie Nie" and not insert any of her own style in to the book.  They both did a great job.

Recommended for:  anyone

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

TV SERIES: Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey (Seasons 1 & 2)
PBS Masterpiece
Starring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern

You might not have heard of Downton Abbey.... if you have been living under a rock.  :)  I kind of resisted watching it at first because I knew I would be hooked and I didn't have time for another obsession.  Well, as expected, I was completed addicted after the first very episode.   My husband (he is just as hooked) and I even stayed up until 2:30 a.m. watching the last five episodes of the second season.

As we finally went to bed (but couldn't stop thinking about it and talking about it, and the next day too), I said to my husband, "You know, we would never want to actually endure the gut-wrenching heartbreak that these characters experience, but we certainly enjoy watching it!"  I suppose that is because we have all felt brokenhearted for one reason or another (and not necessarily romantically) so we recall our own feelings as we watch these fictional characters suffering. 

During several episodes I actually said out loud, "I can't stand it!  It's just too heartbreaking!"  I felt like I was about to explode.  It just feels so real that I felt like my own heart was breaking.  It's so emotional and powerful....and human.

The series is extraordinarily well-acted, the sets and costumes are exceptionally realistic and carefully controlled to maintain historical accuracy, the characters are extremely fascinating, and the story lines and events are incredibly compelling.  I imagine I am not the only one who is waiting breathlessly for season 3 to begin.

As for any objectionable material; there are some intense scenes of war, including some violence and visible injuries, and a couple of scenes of a sexual nature, but they are relatively mild and viewers don't see anything inappropriate.  Some of the serious subject matter makes it inappropriate for children, but they wouldn't find it interesting anyway.

Are you a fan?  Have you seen this hilarious parody?  It's spot on!

Monday, April 23, 2012

BOOK: The School Story

The School Story
by Andrew Clements

This fun book is charming, interesting, educational (you learn about the publishing industry), and tender.  The story is quite compelling.... in fact, I couldn't put it down.  It is a tale of friendship, love, courage, hard work, and family.

The book contains nothing offensive.

Recommended for ages 8 - 12.

Friday, April 6, 2012

BOOK: Why Women Need Fat

Why Women Need Fat
by William D. Lassek, M.D. and Steven J.C. Gaulin, Ph.D.

This book describes the results of a fascinating study of fat-and-women researched by a medical doctor and an anthropologist, who originally set out to discover why men (including themselves) prefer/find attractive the traditional "hour glass" figure of women.  Along the way their comprehensive study lead them to discover not only why women need fat, but also why we are fat and what makes us fat.  (As it turns out, those are NOT the same thing.)  The authors are also able to dispel many myths about fat that have plagued women for a very long time. 

NOTE:  I would have given it 4 stars except for the fact that I found it repetitive at times.  (I refuse to give 1/2 stars, so it only got 3.)  I only give 5 stars to books that I would read more than once.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

FILM: The Lamp

The Lamp
based on the novel by Jim Stovell

This sweet film about loss, hope, faith, and finding happiness in life is not blatantly "Christian" but is inspirational and very uplifting. We found it on Netflix and it was perfect for "Family Movie Night."  We were entertained and it made for good discussion afterward.  It contains nothing offensive, though there are some mildly intense scenes that might be frightening for very small children.

Recommended for:  Everyone

FILM: Knight and Day (2010)

Knight and Day (PG-13)
starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz

This is a classic action flick (a la Mission Impossible) with plenty of humor, some language (several uses of the s-word, one f-word), lots of action and violence (mostly just lots of shooting and car chases, not gory, and in fact it's usually humorous, meant to poke fun at action violence), and one suggestive comment.  The chemistry between Cruise and Diaz is great, and they are both very funny.  It's not a great movie, but it's very entertaining, though fairly predictable (I believe it's meant to be, since it's mostly a parody).  It's definitely not for kids, and would be better if edited for language.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

FILM: This Means War (2012)

This Means War (PG-13)
starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine

I will watch anything with Reese Witherspoon in it, and my husband thinks Chris Pine is funny, so this seemed like a great choice for date night.  It has a cute premise, a nice romance, plenty of action, lots of humor, and appealing stars.  Great recipe.  It was a lot of fun and we enjoyed it.

BUT, there is way too much sex and language.... we were both very surprised it had received a PG-13 rating rather than an R.  (We avoid R-rated movies unless they are edited.)  Maybe we are prudes (probably).... or maybe movie ratings have gotten more lax through the years (definitely).  The language is pretty bad (lots of the s-word, one f-word, lots of sexual references), but the sexual situations are worse.  There is quite a bit of action violence (spy stuff), but it's generally mild and never graphic or gruesome.

I should have read the "fine print."  It would have been better to wait for the DVD and watch it on our ClearPlay.  Oh well.  Lesson learned.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

FILM: Avalon High (2010)

Avalon High
rated PG

This made-for-TV Disney movie is full of factual errors, nonsensical situations, and plot holes, but my kids thought it was great fun and very entertaining.  There is some mild violence, but nothing offensive.  Good for family-movie-night.  Just remember it's a children's movie and ignore the goofy stuff.  You might even be entertained yourself.

I'm feeling generous because it made my kids happy.

BOOK: Stand for the Family (Sharon Slater)

by Sharon Slater, President/Founder, Family Watch International

The author happens to be my neighbor and fellow church member, so I know her pretty well.  I knew that she was heavily involved with family issues around the world, and lobbies constantly at the UN, but until I read this book I really had no idea of the extent to which she is involved, the incredible influence for good she has been, and the terrible plague that is sweeping the world in opposition to the family.

The book is very eye-opening... shocking is a better word.  It's sobering, frightening, and horrifying.  If you care about families, this book will make you angry at the evil out there, but very grateful that there are people like Sharon Slater who "stand for the family."  Hopefully, it will also inspire you to do something.... to find out more, to get involved in your community.

So, get the book.  Read it.  Buy it.  Read it again.  Inform yourself.  And do whatever it takes to protect your family..... and "stand for the family."

Because of some of the shocking content (carefully edited to avoid the most offensive material, but necessary to help people understand the truth), this book is not appropriate for children, but should be shared and discussed with teens.

TV SERIES: Foyle's War (PBS Masterpiece)

PBS Masterpiece 
Starring Michael Kitchen

This series about a detective who solves murders during World War II is excellent, with great stories, an excellent cast, and interesting characters.  Though the stories naturally intersect with what is going on during war time, the cases are about people, and not the war exactly.

Each episode is more like a full-length film, and each "case" is inclusive in that episode.  However, the main characters' stories continue throughout the series.  I have watched the first 8 episodes (sets 1 & 2, called "Series 1 & 2").  I really enjoyed them.  Though murders are involved, the violence is very minimal and not graphic (most takes place off camera), and there are only a few mild swear words here and there.  Nothing really offensive, but certainly not appropriate for children.

Monday, March 12, 2012

BOOK: The Woman in White

The Woman in White
by Wilkie Collins

This thrilling novel written in 1859 and first published as a serial is considered to be one of the first mystery/detective novels ever written.  The book takes the form of personal testimonies of various characters and compiled as "evidence" of a sort.  It's very intriguing and compelling.

I listened to the audiobook, which used different readers for each character, making it easy to know who was "speaking."  I imagine it might be a little bit difficult to keep track of the current narrator when reader it in print form.  It will keep you on your toes, as will the story!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

BOOK: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
by Anne Bronte

This short novel has a few interesting plot twists and drama, but is seriously lacking in several areas.  The love story develops for seemingly no reason at all and between two characters the reader never really gets to know.  These problems are likely the result of the format of the novel, which takes the form of a letter, and which includes long passages from a diary and other letters.  It was interesting enough to finish, but just so-so.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

BOOK: The Clockwork Three (Matthew J. Kirby)

The Clockwork Three
by Matthew J. Kirby

This partly magical story of three central characters whose stories gradually come together is charming and exciting.  It's well-written and has a very satisfying ending. There are a few small bits of mild violence but nothing offensive. 

Recommended for ages 10 - 16

BOOK: What's So Great About America (2002)

What's So Great About America
by Dinesh D'Souza

This excellent book by writer/speaker/former-Reagan-policy-analyst/Indian immigrant Dinesh D'Souza is part world history lesson, part American history/civics lesson, part philosophy lesson, and part psychological analysis, and yet is perfectly accessible, gripping, and downright fascinating.  It is also timely, even though much has changed in our country (and the world) since this book was published in 2002.  It should be required reading for every American high school and college student, every teacher, every parent, every politician, every public servant, every business man or woman, every homemaker, every immigrant... well, basically every American.  (I'm even going to have my 12-year-old read it.) 

Unless you are familiar with D'Souza's writing, you might be deceived by the title at first glance.... it's not a question, but rather a statement.  And yet the book does ask (and answer) that very question, by teaching us, as I mentioned, not only about America herself (warts and all), but about other countries and societies and their perceptions of America, and why they matter to us.  D'Souza's unique perspective as an American by choice, rather than by birth, is valuable indeed.  And even if you think you know what Mr. D'Souza has to say or suspect where he goes with this, you will be surprised.  It's not exactly what you might think.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

BOOK: Persuasion (audio)

by Jane Austen

Here is another book I should have read long ago, but never got around to it.  I have seen a couple of excellent film versions of it, and it has long been one of my favorite Austen stories (though Pride & Prejudice will always top the list).  Here is another story of deep and enduring love overcoming obstacles, including time.  It doesn't have the wit of Pride & Prejudice, making it much more serious in tone, but it's no less romantic and sigh-inducing.  (If you don't believe me, just read Captain Wentworth's letter to Ann, below.)  Sigh.  See?  You just can't help it. 

I listened to the audio recording of this one as well.... the reader was fine, but when compared to the excellent Joanna David (Jane Eyre) she was merely mediocre. 

"I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

"I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father's house this evening or never."

from Persuasion by Jane Austen, vol II, chapter XI

Friday, February 17, 2012

BOOK: Jane Eyre (audio)

Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Bronte

I don't know how it is that I hadn't read this book earlier in my life, though I have seen several film versions of it, which I enjoyed.  However, as is usually the case, the book is SO much better! I think that perhaps as a younger woman (and an immature one) I didn't fully appreciate the depth of the love story, finding it rather less than romantic because of the age difference ("But he's so old and gross!"), whereas now, as a wife of 15 years and a mother of three children I see it so differently.... true, deep, abiding love that triumphs over every adversity. 

I especially enjoyed listening to this audio version read by Joanna David... she is amazing!  Her voice is extremely pleasing to listen to, her pacing is perfect, and the character voices are excellent.  I can't say enough good about it.  

Monday, February 13, 2012

BOOK: Icefall

by Matthew J. Kirby

This excellent book is a story about stories and storytellers, and it's told by a wonderful storyteller.  It's filled with great characters, plenty of plot twists and page-turning action, but also beautiful writing, fantastic imagery and Norse legends brought to life.  Though the narrator is female, the book's appeal easily pulls in readers of both genders.

There is no inappropriate language, but there are some pretty intense moments of battle and some deaths, though no graphic descriptions.  I have no doubt that both my 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter will enjoy this book, and I have no hesitations in recommending it to them.

Recommended for:  Ages 10 - 16 (and beyond)

Sunday, February 12, 2012

FILM: Limitless

Limitless (PG-13)
starring Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish

This was a fun thriller, and actually quite thought provoking at the same time.  It is the kind of film that you keep thinking about for days afterward, prompting discussions.  The story line is pretty fascinating and it's very entertaining.  There are plenty of plot holes I'm sure, but it's pretty easy to suspend your disbelief and just enjoy it. 

I watched this on Netflix streaming so I couldn't use ClearPlay, though that would have been preferable.  There was some language, but I believe the rating comes mostly from some sexual content (nothing explicit) and some disturbing/frightening parts, though they are relatively mild.

Recommended for Adults

FILM: Super 8

Super 8 (PG-13)

starring Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, and no one else I have ever heard of

My husband described it as "a scary version of E.T."  I think that sums it up pretty well.  There is some exceptional acting from several of the kids, but too much crude language from their mouths (I don't care if it's "real"... I don't want to hear it.... I should have used ClearPlay).  The story line is pretty predictable but it's still fun..... and quite scary.  Not a great film, but entertaining.  Best viewed edited for language.

Recommended for:  ages 14-20, preferably edited

FILM: The King's Speech (edited for language)

The King's Speech (edited for language)

starring Collin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham Carter

OK, I think you've MIGHT have heard of this one.  :)  I was extremely disappointed when this film appeared in theaters with an R rating.  I have a personal rule against watching rated-R movies, but thanks to  ClearPlay I was able to watch it edited.  (We also use ClearPlay for many PG-13 movies.)  It's fabulous.... great story, excellent cast.

Recommended for:  everyone, if edited

Monday, January 30, 2012

FILM: Leap Year (2010)

Leap Year (PG)
starring Amy Adams, Matthew Goode

I realized that I don't bother posting about many of the movies I watch because they are just OK... entertaining but nothing worth taking the time to write about.  (Or, it's so popular, like Harry Potter, that I needn't bother.)  But this one is worth it.

Three things led me to watch this film.  First, I'm always excited when a movie is rated G or PG.... there seem to be so few these days.  Second, I love Amy Adams.  And third, it's a romantic comedy, which I always enjoy... and this is a very good one.  Most films in this category are very predictable, and though this one isn't exempt in that area, it also has plenty of surprises.  Plus it's pretty clean (a few mild swear words, a short, mild fight scene in a pub, and some mild innuendo), the love story is cute and "real" (based on real depth, not just physical), it's funny, the characters seem to have morals and values, there is good chemistry between the actors, and there is a traditional happy ending that is very satisfying.  What can I say?  It's the perfect formula for a romantic comedy. 

P.S.  I won't post about them, but two movies I really enjoyed over the holidays were the new installments of Sherlock Holmes and Mission Impossible.  Super fun!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

BOOK: Number the Stars

Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry

This amazing book about how the Danish people bravely smuggled thousands of their Jewish friends and neighbors into Swedish, right under the noses of the Nazis who occupied their country, is all the more thrilling because it's true!  Though the main characters are fictional (a composite of real people) the events actually took place.  

I love that the author doesn't talk down to her reader in this children's book.  She is straight forward and honest about the events that took place, but not graphic in recounting the horrors.  The book is only 137 pages, including an afterword specifying which parts are fictionalized, but that's as long as it takes for the reader to see the whole picture.  Though the story ends satisfactorily (we all know the Nazis are eventually defeated) we are left longing and hoping for that future happy ending.

Recommended for ages 10 and up

BOOK: Son of the Mob

Son of the Mob
by Gordon Korman

I have enjoyed reading books by this author before (for our elementary school library) so I decided to give this one a try even thought it's not for kids.  The premise was intriguing.... a straight-arrow teenager whose father is head of the New York mafia manages to avoid getting involved in the family "business" and enjoys a fairly normal, traditional family life (two loving parents, typical older brother, home in the suburbs), but things get complicated when he falls in love with the daughter of the FBI agent who has been investigating his father for many years.

Korman's writing is fun and the story is very entertaining; part mystery, part love-story, part comedy.  Now for the "buts."  There is some violence....nothing extreme or graphic, but as you might expect there are a few instances of mob members doing what they do.... the events don't "happen" in the story but they are mentioned.  There is some mild language, but very little.  The most uncomfortable parts for me were the (mostly subtle) sexual references, including a scene where our 17-year-old hero narrowly escapes an awkward situation with a call-girl hired by his older brother.  But Vince is a good kid, and he does the right thing.... throughout the whole book. 

Recommended for 16 years and up

Monday, January 23, 2012

BOOK: A Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two Castles
Gail Carson Levine

This is a great read; part fantasy, part detective story, completely clean, and very fun.  AND positive values are reinforced.  I read this to review for our school library, and I'm sure my daughter will love it, but I really enjoyed it too.

When I read books like this and compare them to some of the garbage out there that is written for kids, I want to hold this up to all those authors who resort to trash because they think it's appealing, and say, "See, you can be clean and successful!"  

Recommended for:  Ages 9 - 15 (or younger than 9 if they are good readers)

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

BOOK: The Night Circus

The Night Circus
by Erin Morgenstern

This book grabbed me on the first page and I could hardly put it down.  I stayed up until 2:00 am this morning to finish reading it and never even got drowsy.  (Books that do that to me are few and far between.)  I wouldn't say it's the best book I ever read (though I think it would easily make my top-20 favorites, possibly top-10), but the writing is so fantastic and imaginative that I was completely sucked in, and the story is so compelling that I simply had to find out what would finally happen to the many characters I had grown to know and love over the decades through which the story unfolds.

And it unfolds very slowly.... and beautifully.  The descriptions of this amazing magic circus of dreams left me wishing it were all real.  I savored the description of each exhibit and could easily imagine myself there.  The magic is lovely and sweet, occasionally harsh, but rarely dark or evil. 

The one disappointment with this book was actually early on, and it worried me... the f-word appears rather unexpectedly and is quite out-of-place.  Thankfully that was it.  There was one other instance of mild profanity, and a couple of moments of very mild violence.  There is also one love scene near the end that is mild and very vague.

Another great book from a first time novelist.  Impressive.

Recommended for:  Adults

BOOK: The Death of Disco Dancer

The Death of a Disco Dancer
by David Clark

My cousin is a friend of this author so I was offered a free copy to review.  The majority of this "Mormon" novel tells the story of several months in the life of the protagonist at 11-years-old, with a few* "flash-foward" moments when he is 40-something. 

The details of growing up in Mesa, AZ in 1981 are funny (and presumably semi-autobiographical), though I'm not sure if that's because I was also 11-years-old and living in Mesa in 1981, or if they will resonate with anyone my age.  However, I think just about any grown man will be able to relate to Todd's feelings and predicaments.  It's very real.  (There is a fair bit of "language," crude humor and "locker-room-talk" that I suppose are "normal" for guys, but made me a little uncomfortable.) 

There are also very moving moments that brought me to tears.  The story is fairly compelling, and the writing is pretty good for a first-time novelist. 

Recommended for:  Men who came-of-age in the last half-century, especially the 80's

* The flash-forward moments interspersed throughout the novel are a little disjointed, probably because they are very brief (averaging half a page) and only occur every few chapters, which was a little disappointing for me since those are the parts I enjoyed the most.  I felt like they might have been more effective combined and then used as a prologue and/or epilogue.

Monday, January 2, 2012

BOOK: Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs

I had a hard time with this youth adult novel.  The story is interesting and compelling and the writing is decent, but it's incredibly creepy and disturbing, and filled with bad language.  The other thing that bugged me was the ending... it was abrupt and confusing.  The whole thing was just so-so.  Don't bother.