Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Berry

This is a compelling and suspenseful first novel that takes place in Salem, Massachusetts, amid tourists, modern-day witches, future-divining women and a group of relgious fanatics. There is something strange going on, and it's fun to try to figure out what it is.

Also interesting is the story of the book's rise to publication. The author and her husband decided to publish it on their own. First, they gave copies of the manuscript to a local book group and asked for feedback. After their self-publication and subsequent success due to word of mouth and a PR firm, the author found an agent (or the agent found her). A bidding war between various big publishers followed, and Berry got to take her pick. A nice story for a first novel!

Here's an interesting online book group featuring Brunonia Berry, if you're interested.

America's Sweethearts (2001)

This is not great, but it's amusing and pleasant enough. I always like John Cusack.

Chaos Theory (2007)

I thought this would be a silly romantic comedy because Ryan Reynolds is in it. There are definitely funny moments, but it's actually kind of a serious story about family relationships. It's not the best movie in the world, but it has good messages about honesty and loyalty and (perhaps unintentionally) communication, and I like Ryan Reynolds' way of being funny, even if it doesn't change a lot from movie to movie.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Not only do the Bourne movies have the best sequel titles, they're also just good sequels. The Bourne Ultimatum did not disappoint. I'm kind of glad we waited to watch it on a TV, because it has the same jerky, dizzying cinematography that The Bourne Supremacy had, and that's much easier to take on a small screen. It's a good movie, although I kind of missed the romance of the first. (There is a very vague hint of a past romance, but that's all.) Otherwise, it's exciting and tense and has a pretty satisfying ending.

The special features on the DVD are some of the most interesting we've ever watched. When the camera shot follows Bourne as he jumps from a roof into a window in the next building, that camera was actually following him. They strapped a camera onto a stunt man who jumped after him. Pretty cool.

Mr. Bean's Holiday (2007)

Several people said this was good, and I was surprised to find that they were right. For one thing, there's not much dialog, so when I watched it with the kids, their extra noise hardly bothered me at all. Otherwise, it's silly and over the top and very funny. I laughed out loud a lot.

One favorite thing: Willem Dafoe is hilarious as a self-important film director, and the screening of his new film at the Cannes Film Festival at the end of the movie is wonderful. I also enjoyed Mr. Bean saying "Gracias" to everyone while he's traveling in France.

My Mom's New Boyfriend (2008)

This was just okay. I fell asleep a few times.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008)

I really liked this movie as Jon and I were watching it (in a real theater!): the main characters were sweet but also funny and sarcastic; the music was good; it took place in a realistic, less glamorous New York that was refreshing; the romance was uplifting and believable; and it was just plain funny. But I liked it less after it was over, mostly because I'm a little old-fashioned, I guess. And maybe sheltered, too. Maybe in comparison to those raunchy rated-R movies that target teen audiences (which I've never seen), Nick and Norah is no big deal.

In any case, I got on my parental high horse after it was over and I thought of all the teens who will certainly see this movie. There are some good things about it--some straight-edge kids, who are clearly smarter and cooler than the friend who gets so drunk and lost and is truly ridiculous (but funny); the good kids trump the bad kids in the end; etc.

But why can't they just make out at the end? No, they don't have sex (or anything else that includes the word "sex"), but what they do is kind of weird and seems out of place. I applaud the sentiment for married couples, it was just weird for two kids who'd just met hours before.

Penelope (2006)

I enjoyed this delightful modern fairy tale very much. It has a great message about learning to like yourself the way you are. Christina Ricci's character is sweet and pretty, even with her pig nose, and while James McAvoy is not immediately pleasing, he grew on me. I'd like to let the kids watch this, but there's some innuendo that was funny but not for kids. I guess there's a reason it's called innuendo, though; mine probably wouldn't get it. Anyway, I loved it.

Eating habits of a three-year-old

Mira comes in with a handful of Corn Pops.

"What are you eating?" I say, just making conversation.

"It's poison blood," she says.

Of course.

Monday, October 13, 2008

A Lantern in Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

I read this a long time ago, probably as a young teenager, and I loved it. This time around I got a little impatient with the speed of the narrative, which jumps years at a time and then gives lots of details about certain events, and with the constant self-sacrificing of the main character. I suspect that I'm being overly critical, and it's also possible that I'm feeling defensive because I don't give up everything for my kids, like this woman did. So, yeah, it might be guilt, because I live in a time when I can have a family and still do things for myself.

This is a book worth reading, though. You've got the story of the settling of Nebraska and also a life from childhood to old age. There's a lot to think about.

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

I loved Austenland and thought it was about time I tried something else by Shannon Hale. I didn't love Princess Academy in the same way, but I liked it pretty well. My favorite thing about it is how the main character learns that her assumptions about people are usually wrong. It's an entertaining story with good messages, just like a kids' novel ought to be.

Shannon Hale is a better writer than most of the LDS authors out there these days. I'll be reading more of her stuff.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mira with Computer

We are at the library and things are quiet, as they tend to be at a library. Suddenly I hear Mira shouting, "Yes, I do! Yes, I do! YES, I DO!" Every time she says it, she yells louder. I rush over to where she is playing on one of the library's new computers. She has headphones on, of course. As I reach her, she yells one more time, "YES! I DO WANT TO QUIT!"

Of course, the animated character on the screen was saying, "Do you want to quit now?" She doesn't know how to use a mouse yet. But you know, when are the computers going to start listening to us? She was speaking very clearly!

Friday, October 10, 2008

10 Things I Hate About You (1999)

And then, after Mean Girls, while we were still in teen flick mode, we also watched 10 Things I Hate About You, which is one of my all-time favorite teen movies. I love the paranoid OB/GYN dad, who makes his daughter wear "the belly" before she goes out.

Mean Girls (2004)

After watching Tina Fey in Baby Mama, I thought Jon needed to finally see Mean Girls, which she wrote. (I guess we are kind of fans of Tina Fey. We like 30 Rock, too, and I think her Sarah Palin impersonations are hilarious but not vicious, which is good. We liked her when she did Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live, too.) Mean Girls is one of the good teen flicks, with classic lines and believable characters. I like it.

Baby Mama (2008)

I thought this was really funny. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are hilarious, as usual. Steve Martin's relatively small part is also great. Well, I liked all of it, really. It made me laugh.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

If You Lived Here, I 'd Know Your Name by Heather Lende

This book of stories about the residents of Haines, Alaska, is funny, entertaining, and thoughtful. The author has written obituaries for the local weekly paper and a column for the Alaska Daily News for years, and she knows everyone in town. That's not particularly difficult, because Haines is an isolated town of 2500 people, accessible only by ferry and airplane, except in winter, when it's not really accessible at all. The locals are colorful and quirky; it's kind of like reading Northern Exposure, one of my all-time favorite TV shows, but these people are real.

I sometimes felt like I was reading about our current location, with the politics, hunting, nature, etc., and that made it even more fun. I really liked it.