Author Archive

Falling into Place–Book review

There is a trend in Young Adult fiction to use dark themes and or characters. Falling into Place by Amy Zhang would definitely be part of that category, although it is an overly simple categorization.

Falling into Place is the story of Liz Emerson, a popular, well-liked high-schooler. However, not all is as it seems on the surface. The story is told in pieces, often out of order, but it’s not distracting. It actually helps the reader get a bigger picture of what’s going on. Liz may be popular, but she has problems, many of them caused by her popularity or what she’s done to become and stay popular.

It is a dark and often harsh story, but one that probably needs to be told more often–about consequences and broken people. It is not all dark, though, which makes Falling into Place an even better book.There is hope and forgiveness, as there can be in real life.

I would recommend this book, especially for anyone who thinks they’d like to be popular. We never really know what’s going on in someone else’s head. Perhaps it’s best not to summarily judge and mock others.

If there was more proof necessary that Jane Austen is beloved and still popular, one can point to the recent young adult “retellings” of Austen’s stories. Diana Peterfrend’s For Darkness Shows the Stars is one such book. It is basically a science-fiction teen version of Persuasion. I was skeptical, but I read it anyway and discovered that I enjoyed it.

The entire premise is interesting, and there is enough similarity to the original story line to be able to follow it through. However, it doesn’t seem like simply a parody of Austen (like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies). It is an engaging and clever story, and one that teens will enjoy even if they’ve never heard of Jane Austen. Maybe they will even read some Austen after reading this book. One can always hope.


Into the Woods–movie review

I’m glad I didn’t realize Into the Woods was a musical before I went to watch it, because I don’t always like musicals. One of the few previous exceptions is Les Miserables. 

Into the Woods, however, was quite funny, and the singing was generally excellent. It is an amusing movie, one that combines a number of fairy tales into one story. The princes may be especially funny, although there are darker undertones there: “I was raised to be charming, not good.”

If you are looking for an entertaining movie, one that you can probably watch with the whole family, Into the Woods could be a good choice for you.

Unbroken–movie review

The hardcover version of Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken was on the New York Times Bestseller list for over four years, and the paperback debuted at number one on their list. It seemed like an obvious choice to make a movie based on such a popular book. However, the flip side to that is problem with making a movie that would be enjoyed by the people who have read the book.

I enjoyed the movie Unbroken, but it fell short of the book. Obviously, it is hard to take such a long and involved book and do it complete justice in a couple of hours, but it can be done. The story of Louis Zamperini is such a powerful and moving one, and the movie didn’t seem to capture all of it, and perhaps not even the spirit of Zamperini.

Unbroken is still a good movie–that tells about a man who survives torture as a POW (among other events)–and one that I would recommend. However, if you haven’t read the book yet, you should do that. You will find there is a lot more spirit and heart to the story than was portrayed on the screen.

P.D. James

On Thanksgiving Day in America, one of England’s great modern writers died. P.D. James was probably best known for her mysteries featuring Adam Dalgliesh, a police commander and poet.

What set James apart from the many other English mystery authors? Perhaps it was her characters, or the way she wrote her mysteries. The ones I’ve read seem to be a bit more psychological, at least in the sense that time is spent trying to figure out why someone was murdered, and not just how and by whom. James also did an excellent job of showing what it would be like for the police to investigate, having to weed through the lies they’re told in order to find the one or two lies that really mattered, the ones covering up murder.

James apparently didn’t have a full formal education, since her father didn’t believe in that for girls. She had to start work at an early age. Later in life, she was named a life peer as Baroness James.

Her name might not be familiar to many Americans, but I would recommend her books to anyone interested in a good novel. She didn’t just write “typical” mysteries, either. She also had some thriller and dystopian books. For example, her book The Children of Men was adapted into a movie, which became quite popular. She also recently wrote Death Come to Pemberley, a mystery featuring Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, six years after Pride & Prejudice. It is an entertaining and engaging novel, one that can satisfy an avid Janeite or a mystery buff (or both).

Here is a link to an article about her, one that has some interesting comments and perspectives.

I hope you read one of P.D. James’s books some day. They are worth it.

Movie review

I recently came across a notebook in which I had written a number of movie reviews. I thought some of them were interesting, and decided to share. The first one I want to share is a review I wrote of Little Miss Sunshine in 2007.

Here it is:

Little Miss Sunshine

Starring Greg Kinnear, Toni Collete, Steve Carell

A strange, yet touching, story of a disturbed and dysfunctional family. It is also an ironic depiction of beauty pageants. Although all of the family members have issues, a trip brings them together and helps them grow in strange and unexpected ways. This movie is both comedy and drama, and illustrates how one can love family members and not be able to stand them, all at the same time.

Four stars

The Judge–Movie review

To use Robert Downey, Jr.’s own description, The Judge is a “movie about people.”

It may seem a relative typical set-up: big-city hot-shot must return to small home town and deal with estranged family. What makes The Judge different is that the characters all seem more realistic than the run-of-the-mill movie and the acting and writing is excellent.

The Judge is also about family. Downey plays Hank, a big-city lawyer, who returns to his hometown where his father is a judge. Hank has to deal with his father and the rest of his family, and it’s not always pretty or comfortable. However, the characters grow and gain an understanding of one another. Again, it’s not always easy or pretty, but it is real.

The Judge is an entertaining and refreshing movie, one that I would highly recommend. It is a realistic, yet hopeful and encouraging movie. I think those who are fans of Downey’s action movies wouldn’t be disappointed, either.

James Dashner did what seems to be increasingly popular in Young Adult fiction–he wrote a dystopian trilogy. I have only read The Maze Runner so far, since I wanted to read it before seeing the movie.

The Maze Runner, as many books do, seems to draw on previous stories and change things about them. I specifically felt there were similarities to Lord of the Flies. That’s not a bad thing, since Lord of the Flies is one of the classics.

Where The Maze Runner differs is in the setting, the time period, and the conflict. The kids in The Maze Runner are stuck in a glade that’s inside a giant maze, and the main conflict results from them trying to find a way out and avoid the monsters in the maze. In the movie, a lot of this action–the time spent studying the maze–is either fast-forwarded or not even discussed. I understand movies have to be condensed, but it didn’t seem to be handled well. I walked away with the feeling that the director was banking on people having read the book.

The movie is still entertaining, even if the fighting action sequences were too blurry to follow well. It does stick to the book in most essentials. Of course, it has a cliff-hanger ending since it’s based on the first book of a trilogy. This was still a novel (no pun intended) thing way back when Peter Jackson directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Is it going old? Well, it’s making money, so I don’t see the practice changing anytime soon, but it gets tiring sometimes.

The book has interesting ideas and presents them in an entertaining format. I wish the movie had followed it a little better, but it was still entertaining as well. It remains to be seen how strong the whole trilogy will be.



Divergent–Book Review

Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy has been compared to Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy. So far, I’ve only read Divergent, but I can see why people would make that comparison. However, I don’t think the two are similar much beyond the fact that they are both young adult dystopian trilogies.

In Divergent, there is a world that is both more familiar and more unique. What makes it familiar are the location–Chicago in the future–and what is different is the idea of all people being divided into five factions, and each faction having a specific set of jobs.

The main character, Beatrice or Tris, changes factions, but finds she still doesn’t fit in. This is something that most people can relate to, at least in some point in their lives. Roth may play the concept up a lot, but it’s important to the story line. What is interesting is that the “outsiders,” those who don’t fit in, are also those who can’t be controlled like everyone else.

Maybe being the odd one in the crowd is better than you think.

The Giver–Movie review

The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce, is based on the book of the same title, written by Lois Lowry. The book is an early young adult dystopian novel, but it seems much different from the typical dystopian YA novels written today. For one thing, it is more similar to something like Brave New World than it is to The Hunger Games. Why do I say that? Because in The Giver, everyone thinks they are living in a utopia, even though the reality behind the facade is quite chilling. No one, except perhaps some of those in The Capitol, would ever think that in The Hunger Games.

The movie version of The Giver follows the book well in the important areas. As usual, there are a number of changes, but most of them are understandable due to the issues of compressing a book into a movie length.

The actors were well-suited to their parts, especially Jeff Bridges as the Giver. It seems that he has gotten much better over time. Even if he isn’t as old as I imagined the Giver, his performance is thoroughly convincing. The movie also contains some good cinematography and photography.

If you are looking for a movie that combines action with thought-provoking ideas, you should check out The Giver. After all, you might be curious to see a portrayal of what happens when everything is decided for you. Would you be in the majority living in the utopia, or would you be on the fringe, be different?