Friday, March 28, 2014

Movie Review: Divergent

Let's just start out by saying that movies are NEVER EVER as good as the books on which they are based. Actually, I can think of one movie I liked better than the book, and that was The Notebook. But that is the only one. And believe me, I've read a ton of books that have been made into movies. It has taken my a l o n g time to teach myself to separate movies from the books they are based on, as if they are two completely different forms of entertainment with the same base story lines. But it has made for much more enjoyable movie-going experiences. And I truly love going to the movies. (So much so, that right out of high school, I set a goal for myself to see at least one movie a week for a year. I way surpassed the 52 movies in my goal, and saw over 80 movies, in the theater alone, that year. This was obviously before kids and any kind of actual bills I had to pay...)

That being said, I can honestly say I did really enjoy Divergent. The script worked for anyone who had not read the books beforehand (which is a big deal when seeing a book-based movie), and the acting was good. And Four (played by Theo James a.k.a. Mr. Pamuk a.k.a. the guy who died in Mary's bed in the first season Downton Abbey. Yes. That guy.) is quite the looker, with a voice like honey to my ears...

Ah-hum. moving on...

But of course, because I have read the book series (more than once even...) I definitely found some major differences. They're things that, if you have not read the books, will not be a big deal, as the story still flows fine (for the first movie at least...) and I'm sure at least one omitted scene had to do with keeping the rating a mild PG-13 as opposed to an R rating for goriness. Also, I've heard so many fans say they think author Veronica Roth must be so upset with what they've changed... Um, you guys. She was a producer on the movie. She had a say in what got changed, and may have even done the changes herself to fit her vision, yet keep it within the time and rating restraints. (And Bonus: Did anyone else see her cameo? She was the first Dauntless out on the rooftop in the zip-lining scene!)

So here are where some spoilers might be starting. Don't read ahead if you don't want to know! You've been warned...

Major difference #1: Where the heck was Edward? The whole getting-his-eye-stabbed-out-with-a-butter-knife scene was a big part of Divergent, and why Tris hated and feared Peter (played by Miles Teller, who, in the movie, is definitely mean, but nowhere near as evil-cruel as in the book) so much. Edward practically did not exist in this movie, which makes me really wonder what they'll do for the second movie in this series, Insurgent, which will start filming next month, and, according to it's IMDB page, is due to be released March 20, 2015. Edward kind of has a big part in the rest of the story, as a factionless leader.

#2: It was never established that Will and Christina are actually dating, which will make it SO much harder for Tris to tell Christina that she killed Will when the Dauntless were under the serum attack, which in turn makes Christina kinda hate Tris for a bit there.

#3: So this isn't that big of a deal, I know, but Tris's mom doesn't sneak in to the loading dock area to warn her she's in danger. She comes to parents night at the Dauntless, and Tris realizes her mom used to be Dauntless when she tells her to try the chocolate cake, because it's delicious, after she tells Tris to be careful in a dauntless hallway, hidden from the view of the cameras.

#4: Jeanine and the Erudites (that sounds like a band name, doesn't it?) were not in the control room while Four was controlling the serum simulation (while under the simulation himself) and therefor was never "serumed" by Tris and Four to stop it. Four shuts it down on his own, after he breaks out of his serum-induced trance thanks to his love for Tris.

OK, those are all the spoilers I'm including... for now.

Like I said above, I really did like this movie. Enough that I would even see it again. It may not be as well done as the Hunger Games movies, but it was still an entertaining story and a great way to escape life for a couple hours.

I'd recommend Divergent to mature upper elementary aged kids, so maybe 11 or 12 and up, due to violence and some adult situations.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers

STIFF: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
Who knew there were so many things a dead body could do?!
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers is a fascinating, and quite hilarious, book about many of the possibilities in which a human body can be used.
Like being able to tell how accurate car safety crash tests are.
Or being used by doctors to practice plastic surgery.
Or how (or if) a person would be able to survive a plane crash.
And my personal favorite, for crime scene investigation purposes (body farms y’all!).
You didn’t have to ace your high school anatomy class (or even have taken one) to understand the amazing things our bodies can do, even if we’re no longer using them ourselves.
And the way Mary Roach writes is so engrossing, I completely forgot I was reading non-fiction, and learning about something I would not have otherwise given a second thought to.

I give this one a B+.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Book Review: The Forgotten Garden

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

The Forgotten Garden is the story of Nell, a little girl found in a shipyard in Australia with no memory of how she got there. The dock master and his wife raise her as their own, but on her 21st birthday, Nell discovers that she isn’t biologically related to her family, and she suffers deeply from it. She leaves her family, and begins to search for clues to her past, and where she might have come from, and eventually her granddaughter, Cassandra, takes over solving the family mystery.

This was the type of book I would read again. If you like anything having to do with mysteries, romance, or historical fiction, The Forgotten Garden does not disappoint. The only issue I had with this book was that the dates jumped around from 1913 to 2005, and all over in between, which made getting into it difficult at first, but otherwise I could hardly put it down.

I give this book an “A”.

 If you liked this book, I recommend The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, and also The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett, because of its many parallels to this book.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

TV Review: Sherlock

Modern retellings based on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, starring a cute British guy with fun name, and a Hobbit? Yes Please!!
I. Am. Sherlocked.
Seriously, one of the best shows (if not the best show, since Breaking Bad is over, in my opinion) that is on TV right now, it's the perfect blend of mystery, comedy, drama, and even a little romance thrown in for good measure. Sherlock gets everything right.
Co-created and written mostly by the incomparable Steven Moffat (of Doctor Who fame), everything from the acting, to the music, to the intrigue, is pretty much perfect television.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes
 Benedict Cumberbatch (I just love saying his name. Especially when you say it like Sean Connery. Benedict. Cumberbatch. See, it's the best, huh?) plays the brilliant, yet socially inept, Sherlock Holmes. And he is perfection. This has been the year of Benedict Cumberbatch, as he was in at least four Oscar nominated films, plus some that weren't nominated, and he was excellent in everything. Seriously, the guy does not disappoint.
Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson
Then there's Martin Freeman. I just love him as Sherlock's trusty sidekick Dr. John Watson, who tries his darnedest (and mostly fails) to keep Sherlock in line. And he was so fantastic at the end of season two I just wanted to hug this hobbitses.

My one peeve about this lovely little show is that the seasons are too dang short. Seriously! Each season is only three episodes. Granted, the episodes are about an hour and twenty minutes each, almost like movies, but still. I need more!

The first two season (or series, as the Brits say) are available on Netflix now, and the third should be there shortly, I presume, though it is for sure available on DVD now.

There are some adult elements to this show (especially when Irene Adler appears, as a sort of madame/dominatrix), so I recommend it for mature middle-school age and up.

Book Review: Divergent

Divergent by Veronica Roth
Beatrice “Tris” Prior lives in dystopian Chicago, where, at the age of 16, children have to choose which of the five factions, or societies based on specific virtues,  they will remain a part of for the rest of their lives. Tris shocks her family by leaving her home in Abnegation, known for selflessness, for the brave and sometimes reckless ways of life in Dauntless. There she is pushed to her limits, finds a possible romance, and discovers a secret that could put her and many others in danger.

Being a huge fan of The Hunger Games, this book was right up my alley! I really enjoyed the story, even if it was a bit predictable. With Spring Break right around the corner, I recommend Divergent if you’re looking for something adventurous, yet quick to read.

I give this a B+.

If you liked this book, I suggest the sequel, Insurgent. The third book, Allegiant, is also out now, but I can honestly say it ticked me off like you wouldn't believe! My husband even said he wished Veronica Roth had never even written it. Not that it wasn't good, just not the direction I would have gone with the story.
Also the movie version of Divergent comes out in theaters next week (3/21). I'll be reviewing at after I see it with my book club, so stay tuned for THAT one, since we ALL know the movie is never as good as the book, and they'll probably completely botch this one...

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book Review: The Kitchen House

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

After a 7 year old Irish girl, Lavinia, is orphaned while at sea in 1790, the ship's captain brings her home to be raised by his illegitimate daughter, Belle, a slave who runs the kitchen house on his plantation. As she grows up, Lavinia sees the slaves who are raising her as her family, but when she becomes more accepted in the main home of the ship's captain and his dysfunctional family, she quickly realizes that can never be so because she is white.

This is one of those books that stays with you for a long time. The character development is fantastic, and the storyline is so well put together, that even though it may not always be the happiest book, it is still among my favorites.

I give it an A.

If you liked this book, try The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: Under the Dome

Under the Dome by Stephen King

The people in the town of Chester's Mill, Maine suddenly find themselves trapped under an invisible dome, unable to get out, and not knowing if it will ever go away.

There's no doubt Stephen King is a fantastic storyteller, and this book is no exception. Unlike his usual horror books, this is really the story of how the people of a small town interact with each other when their ways of life are threatened. This was a pretty good read, even though getting through over a thousand pages (my Nook version was actually a little over 1300 pages!!) took a while, the "bad guys" really had no redeeming qualities at all, and the end was a little lacking, and somewhat predictable.

I give this one a B-.

If you're a fan if Stephen King's less scary works, I also recommend 11/22/63. Also, I have not seen the show, but I have it on good authority that the book is completely different. What are your thoughts?

Monday, March 3, 2014

For Your Consideration: The 2014 Academy Awards (Part 2)

I must say, this year's Academy Awards ceremony was seriously one of the best shows in years! And really, that all has to do with Ellen hosting again. She kept it light, entertaining, and fun, despite the show going on for so long (which, let's face it, happens every year, folks, so why is no one used to it by now?). None of her jokes fell flat, and her dry humor was perfect for the night (especially her joke about Liza Minnelli being the best impersonator she's seen... "Well done, Sir."). Plus there was no awkward, chemistry-less co-hosting (like with James Franco and Anne Hathaway), or songs about boobs (Seth MacFarlane).
As far as winners, there weren't really any upsets or shockers, although I wasn't completely expecting Matthew McConaughey's win (I was rooting for Bruce Dern, and almost expecting Leo, actually).
Also. Gravity! Wow! It took so many more than I was expecting, including winning best director over 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, who was my pick.

But I was so glad Lupita Nyong'o won. Her performance in 12 Years a Slave was just heart wrenching and raw and so, so great.

Lupita Nyong'o... she's so darn adorable!
The Winners: Best Actor Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), Best Actress Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Best Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave), Best Supporting Actor Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club).

 This photo (that just so happened to break Twitter!!) is seriously my favorite of the whole night. Everyone just looks so happy to be there. You can tell everyone was having fun, unlike past years, where everyone just seems so uptight. And how cute is Lupita Nyong'o's brother, who wasn't afraid of being right up in there with all these celebrities?!

Best selfie of the night!
Selfies were definitely the biggest trend of the evening...

JGL and Emma Watson...

One of the best highlights: Ellen ordered pizza for the crowd. I bet the delivery guy (who owns the pizza shop with his brother) had no idea he would be serving all these A-Listers when he woke up that morning. Lucky guy. And what a boost for his business! (Plus, the $1000 tip was probably nice!)
Nothing like A-Listers passing out pizza and paper plates at the Oscars!

Harrison Ford, who, according to Jared Leto who was sitting nearby, dropped his pizza all own his shirt while eating it...

Jennifer Lawrence enjoying her slice. I love that she loves food.
Pizza-eating movie stars. Very glamorous indeed.
The night's photobombs were awesome indeed. I love that this is a thing right now, like what famous person will try to upstage another famous person at some fancy event.

Benedict Cumberbatch was my favorite. He was in at least four of the nominated films of the night, yet he doesn't take himself too seriously at all. I just love him. So. Much.

Benedict Cumberbombing U2. Seriously my favorite photobomb of the night!
Jessica Biel Being photobombed by Anne Hathaway
Lupita Nyong'o photobombing Jared Leto.

The 75th anniversary tribute to The Wizard of OZ was also very well done. Having Judy Garlands three children (Lorna Luft , Joey Luft, and the great diva herself Liza Minnelli) in the audience was a sweet touch, and Pink did a fantastic job with "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"

Plus, Ellen as Glinda. For the win.
Ellen as Glinda the Good Witch for the 75th anniversary tribute to "The Wizard of Oz".
  The musical performances were so well done this year. Pharrell Williams' "Happy" was just that. Such a fun, dance-inducing performance.

Pharrell singing "Happy", and dancing with Lupita Nyong'o and Meryl Streep.
But seriously John Travolta. The least he could have done is learn how to say Idina Menzel's name. Really with the Adele Dazeem??!! Just wow!

John Travolta. Completely flubbing Idina Menzel's name as “Adele Dazeem"... really buddy?! Maybe his hair plugs are affecting his thought process?

The In Memoriam was very touching, though they did leave out Johnathan Winters, Dennis Farina and Corey Monteith, among others.

But Bette Midler's performance was just beautiful. And can I say, I REALLY hope I look as good as her at her age. Heck, I don't look as good as her now!
Divine Miss M

 All in all it was a great, entertaining show. Can't wait until next year! And maybe 2015 will finally be Leo's year?

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Book Review: Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, Endlessly (A Trilogy)

Book One

Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Evie is a very normal teenage girl. She just happens to be able to see through paranormals (Faeries, vampires, werewolves, etc.) "glamours" to the real monsters underneath, and she works for an agency that tracks these paranormals.

Book Two
 Okay, so these books are definitely geared toward the 16-year-old crowd. But I loved them. So much so, that I ran right out to the library for the second (and third) book in the series as soon as I finished the first. I like that Evie isn't the typical brooding teen girl (she's sort of an anti-Bella Swan, if you will.) She likes pink. She likes boys. She likes shopping. And she kicks butt.

Book Three

I give this whole series (Paranormalcy, Supernaturally, and Endlessly) a B+.

If you liked this book/series, check out Mind Games, also by Kiersten White,  who happens to be a San Diego County native.