Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking for Alaska | Book Review

Looking for Alaska by John Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let's get one thing straight. I like John Green a lot, but I cannot recommend that anyone read his books out of publication order. Reading The Fault in Our Stars before Looking for Alaska is like going to The Louvre and then going to a random elementary school art exhibit. You'll people "Oh, it was so good." But you'll be lying, and secretly you'll be disappointed.

In order, I first persevered through the aimless and oddball intellectualism and over-philosophizing of An Abundance of Katherines. Then I somewhat endured through the awkward wandering over-philosophizing and somewhat preachiness of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Then I died a thousand beautiful deaths of love with the hilariously heartbreaking over-philosophizing of The Fault in Our Stars. And sadly, I plummeted into the half-scavenger hunt/half-roadtrip, over-philosophizing and terribly lackluster ending of Paper Towns. And to cap it all off, I sludged painfully through the weird and unexplainably awkward and inappropriate and just downright unpleasantness and, of course, over-philosophizing of Looking for Alaska.

Writing Technique: ★★★1/2 Not as good as TFIOS. I think I've established that John Green prefers a kind of self-aggrandizing overly philosophical narrative style that at first is endearing but, after five novels, starts to feel...flat.

Character Development: ★★ Miles (aka Pudge) was not that interesting to me. Ever. He goes to boarding school experience a "Great Perhaps" (as per his obsession with famous last words) and instead falls for a girl who is not right for him and-in my opinion-isn't worth it. And then he doesn't do much else. He think a lot about this girl and conducts a grand investigation, plays and elaborate prank, and writes a paper about life and death and last words that really left me...tepid.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★ I will say I was frustrated and intrigued immediately of this concept of "Before"... desperate to know what we were counting down to. And for the entire Before section, I thought, "This book is pointless. There is nothing happening. I'm not particularly interested in any of these people or any of these things and I really just wish this book was over so I can read other books and hit 80 books in a year." But when I got to the The Moment- I felt somewhat satisfied. It is a long build up to something that is very important and finally it gives the novel a real crisis. I was shocked when I got there. I briefly suffered the full gamut of emotions. But ultimately not devastated. (Not like TFIOS in the LEAST.)

Message/Theme: ★★★ Oh geez... life, death, pain, suffering, living a life worthwhile, finding adventure, love, friendship, family, being a rebel, those born with everything verses those who must work for everything, substance abuse, suicide, depression, joy, hope, and every other Philosophy 101 topic.

Audiobook Performance: ★★★ It was okay. Not overly impressive. Jeff Woodman read Miles alright and everyone else with a rather obnoxious and occasionally repulsive Southern accent. And his reading of Alaska...ugh. It did not endear me to her AT ALL.

Rating: R for a proliferation of swearing, sexual humor, (horribly awkward) sexual content, underage drinking, smoking, and other things I can't remember.

Overall: ★★★ at best. If you must read this, read it before TFIOS so as not to be disappointed.

Recommend: TFIOS. Obviously.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Graceling | Book Review

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writing Technique: ★★★1/2 I enjoyed Cashore's writing style a lot. Direct. Clear. Visual. Nothing about it was overly poetic or fluffy. But she descriptions never left me confused - and that's always the danger with books containing a lot of fight scenes and establishing a different world. Her characters and settings and plot devices worked great for me. I was very sucked in.

Character Development: ★★★ Hmm, well, both Katsa and Po change as they develop the fullness of their "graces." And Po has a huge challenge to overcome personally in the end that I found realistic, heartbreaking, and inspiring. But Katsa for me is the hardest to pin, because she's kind of selfish, and that never really goes away. Early in the book, she is frustrated by her lack of freedom, by having to follow her king's every cruel command, so she is wildly averse to marriage because she doesn't want to belong to anyone. And even though her relationship with Po changes (spoiler alert???), she still isn't willing to be wholly his. She tacks conditions onto their relationship - like what if she wants to leave, what if she can't stand being tied down, etc...? And to me, love is not true love if it isn't willing to sacrifice for the other person, if it thinks one day it will change or fade. I think the author is trying to portray Katsa as a strong, admirable heroine who stands up for herself and is her own person. But I don't agree with the anti-marriage, casual-sex-relationship message being proclaimed here.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★ I love a story with lots of action. This one begins that way. (It definitely gets shelved in the BA girls/BA boys categories.) But the plot is layered. It's not just about Katsa's progression toward freedom from King Randa, but it's also about the mystery of Po's grandfather's kidnapping and how that relates to a huge conspiracy. I was actually surprised by the breadth of the plot here. I found the endless chapters of trekking through the frozen mountains tiresome. But ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised with the concrete storyline here--start to finish.

Message/Theme: ★★★★1/2 The corrupting influence of power, independence/freewill, murder, mercy, friendship, family, love, marriage, sex, secrets of protection v. lies of manipulation, fighting for oneself, fighting for those who can't fight for themselves, endurance, using one's gifts/talents in service of others...and probably more.

Audiobook Performance: ★★★★ This was my first experience with a Full Cast Audio book. (To be fair, there aren't very many out there.) And it was very interesting. A far more dramatic listen than a normal audiobook. I found it well cast and decently acted. There was a flair for the over-dramatic. But all in all, it was a good experience. It's somewhat disappointing that the sequels are not also Full Cast Audios. I'd prefer the consistency. For that I'll probably read a physical copy, rather than listen to it.

Rating: PG-13 for a proliferation of graphic violence and casual sex.

Overall: ★★★★ Good fantasy tale. Entertaining. I'd give it a shot if you enjoy medieval-esque settings, people with magical-ish powers, fun if not committed romance, and an interesting adventure.

Recommend: If you liked this book/series, check out Maria Snyder's Study Series. (Poison Study is my favorite.)

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Days of Blood & Starlight | Book Review

Days of Blood & Starlight by Laini Taylor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm trying not to freak out about this book. Trying really hard. Mostly failing. There's a chance this is the best book I've read all year. And this is book 70 for 2012. So, that's saying something. I feel absolutely inspired by this story. I want to study it, and dissect it, and tear it apart, and put it together just so I can see how all the pieces work because it is actually 100% total gloriousness. I liked Daughter of Smoke and Bone -- a lot. I really really liked it. But it doesn't hold a candle to the magnitude of Days.

Writing Technique: ★★★★1/2 Taylor's style is incredible. Beautiful and comedic and dramatic and conversational and poetic and surreal/fantastic all at the same time. The words she uses--UGH. The way she strings them together--GEEZ. How is she so dang good?? I envy this writer so much. Her manipulation of the English language is divine.

Character Development: ★★★★★ Where to even start? Book 1 followed just Karou and Akiva. Book 2 follows like 17 people. All SO unique. The difference between Akiva and Liraz and Hazael and Joram and Jael is galaxies wide even tho they're all angels. Akiva's plot is a path to redemption and OMG did I love watching him get there?! Liraz and Hazael are so much more complex than they were in Book 1, and I fell in love with both of them and both made me straight up cry because the changes they went through. And then Karou - GEEZ LOUISE! Her journey is just PAIN. And Ziri and AGH! There are so many. Watching these "people" fight and try to survive and get revenge and start rebellions and work together and OMG. Rife with character development. Taylor doesn't not fail in the deep complex changing growing lovable hateable character department.

Plot/Story Development: ★★★★★ Um... seriously. Perfection. I can't even tell you why it's good without spoiling things for you. But there are soooo many twists that I just didn't see coming. Hazael?! Birds? Ziri? The Wolf? I-- I-- There was too much. It's so freaking good. At the end of like every chapter, I would look up and go, NO FREAKING WAY. And I kept thinking I knew where things were going, but I had no idea. Sigh. I'm so sad this book is over.

Message/Theme: ★★★★★ Revenge --> Revenge begets revenge begets revenge. Thus the eternality of war. --> Revenge is not the path to a better life. Hope. There is a better way to live. Peace is worth fighting for (that sounds contradictory but it makes sense in the book). Redemption. Love. Hatred. Friendship. Family. What truly makes a monster--appearances or actions? Integrity. Second chances. Resurrection. Rebellion. Hope. Hope. Hope.

Overall: ★★★★★ I wish I could give this more stars. I wish I could accurately express how great this book is. This caliber of story is what I'm attempting to write, and honestly it's overwhelming and inspiring to have seen someone do this so well. I am blown away.

And I HATE that I have to wait OVER A YEAR to see how it all ends. I could DIE before then!!!

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cinder | Book Review

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A dystopian retelling of Cinderella wherein she is a cyborg living in futuristic China?! UM, stop reading my diary, Marissa Meyer!

I thought this was a good idea when I read the blurb, but it still wasn't that pressing of a need to read it. I finally bought the audiobook, and dang, do I wish I had read this sooner! This book hit all my buttons. I love-love-loved it and that ending came WAY too fast for my taste. I'll be eagerly awaiting Scarlet every day until its February release date.

Here's my take.
Writing technique: ★★★1/2 Meyer did an amazing job of making Cinder's world real and interesting. Despite all the tech speak, I felt I followed along with the cyborg and android descriptions well without it feeling too much like manual. I loved the characters she created in Cinder, Kai, and Iko (especially Iko). She writes well without being too fluffy.

Character development: ★★★ Cinder's discovery of what and who she is in this story is fun. Predictable, but interesting nonetheless. She is a lot more than the frumpy helpless step-daughter of the traditional story. She's strong and quirky and determined. Kai also was far more dimensional than Prince Charming (but really - that's not hard to do!). But his character development didn't quite resolve in this story. I look forward to see what he's like in Scarlet.

Plot/Story development: ★★★★ I looooved that this was NOT really a love story. It's a cyborg story, and an alien story (think The V!!), and a dystopia story with the constant threat of Plague and War... Much of this book's plot was predictable and obvious, but much wasn't. And it was still very enjoyable to watch everything unfold. I really wish it had ended with just the tiniest bit more resolution. That's a weird place to end a story if you ask me.

Message/Theme: ★★★ Hmmm... There could be a message against racism in here (cyborgs and Lunars are highly discriminated against). There is of course the Do The Right Thing Even If It's Dangerous message. And the Embrace Who You Are message. And the Stand Up For What You Believe In and Don't Give In To Bullies Even If They're Bigger Than You. You know, the usual.

Audiobook Performance: ★★★★ Rebecca Soler was a great narrator. She perfect Cinder's sarcasm and wit as well as Iko's and Peony's animated quirkiness and Audrey's, Pearl's, and Lavanna's pure evilness and Dr. Erland's accented eagerness and Kai's normal teenage boy-ness and every android's mechanical drone-iness... She was a stellar voice to the characters. I only wish she had read the more actiony scenes with more urgency.

Overall: ★★★★★ I adored this novel. I swallowed it whole. I love-love-love it. I know if I average my more objective ratings above, I will not get 5 stars, but I loved it too much to give it less. Subjectively, this is a new favorite.

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Code Name Verity | Book Review

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book tore me up. Let me begin by saying this is a book for everyone. There is something here for girls, guys, old, young, whatever. It has two female protagonists, but it is not by any means a girl book. The story is largely a British spy's written confession to her Gestapo captors. But it becomes so much more as she weaves the tale of her friendship with a young female pilot named Maddie. The twists and turns, the heartbreak, the terror, the beauty--it is all here in Wein's masterful WW2 story set in Occupied France 1943.

This isn't a story to swallow in one gulp. I recommend taking your time so as not to miss any of the great details.

Writing technique: ★★★★1/2 Wein is a goddess. This story is hard and heavy with the weight of war and torture on every page. But somehow she makes these two girls hilarious. And they each have very distinctive voices. Everything she writes sounds so authentic and plausible. She incorporates French, German, poetry, and music into the story seamlessly. She made me laugh, cry, gasp. And when a writer can do that, she owns me.

Character development: ★★★★ Queenie and Maddie have a great adventure in this story. They both grow and change. They have hard choices to make. Daring actions to take. Neither are fearless as they make very clear, but they overcome their fears and take on new ones. Then they overcome those fears. It's so brave. And so inspiring. Ah I want to crawl inside this book and live in it forever. Even though it can be painful and terrifying and sad.

Plot/Story development: ★★★★1/2 Oh the plot devices this novelist employs are amazing. I can't tell you what they are without ruining it, but dang! I loved all the ways she surprised me. But it's a war story without the gimmickry. People make horrible mistakes. People get hurt. People die. People change. But the story is masterful.  Let me say--you must focus on this--if you listen to the audiobook like I did, don't try to multitask. There are too many great things to miss.

Message/Theme: ★★★★ Oh the theme of this story is friendship. When you find someone who loves you and understands you and supports you and laughs with you and cries with you -- when you find that person because the world is tearing itself apart -- they can carry you through the worst of circumstances -- even being a POW in Nazi-occupied France. There's more, but this in itself moved me beyond belief.

Audiobook Performance: ★★★★★ Morven Christie reading Queenie in all her accents and French and German and singing was pure magic. I adored every word she spoke. Ugh I wish every audiobook could be as beautifully narrated. And Lucy Gaskell as Maddie was hilarious and lighthearted and amazing. They both pulled my heart along on this ride. I think this one of the most wonderful audio performances in existence. Please listen to this.

Overall: ★★★★★ I HIGHLY recommend this book.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chopsticks | Book Review

Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, this book is such a great idea. I love love love it. A story told through pictures and art and still shots and who knows what else... it blew my mind. It's hard to rate this like other books because it's not told in a conventional way. It is entirely new and fresh and innovative.

Writing technique: ★★★★1/2 Jessica Anthony (writer) and Rodrigo Corral (artist) make a stunning pair. Their style wowed me. The images selected to move the story along were beautiful, heart-wrenching, simple, and so much more. And the captions chosen were deliberate, brief, but telling. I greatly enjoyed this style of story-telling. A great break from the norm.

Character development: ★★ While it was easy to see how the story developed in this medium, it was a bit harder to see the characters grow and change. I didn't quite understand what Glory's breakdown was about. The book blurb suggests that it has to do with her mother. I could see that a little bit. But it was hard to know what exactly what was going on in Glory's head, especially toward the end. I could see more with Frank. The best display of their emotions was in their art. Both of them created things that revealed how they felt about somethings but not necessarily why they felt that way.

Plot/Story development: ★★★1/2 While the story isn't overly complicated, it was well communicated.

Message/Theme: ★ I didn't get much about what this story was trying to say. It was a cute love story. And a very fresh way to tell it. But it didn't inspire me to think about something and learn something new.

Overall: ★★★1/2 The medium of storytelling was groundbreaking and intriguing, although it lacked depth and purpose. I highly recommend it. I read it basically in one sitting. And it'll be an interesting change from the normal stories you read, I assure you.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This is Not a Test | Book Review

This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most zombie books are about survivors who want to live. This one isn't. Abused by her father, abandoned by her sister, Sloane Price wakes up one morning determined to end her life and discovers the zombie apocalypse has begun. This should be a simple solution. Let the dead kill you. But Sloane finds herself saved by survivors from her school and unwilling to risk their safety for her own suicide. As Sloane tries to find a way to die, the others do everything they can to survive.

Writing technique: ★★★★1/2 Summers is an incredible writer. She writes this tale of survival so poignantly, I felt everything. I felt Sloane's terror towards her dad. I felt her fear of the dead. I felt her hopelessness. I felt her despair over Lily. It was a very devastating, beautiful book. A zombie book but so so much more than that.

Character development: ★★★★★ This is a zombie book, but it's not really about zombies as it is about the people surviving them. Sloane is broken and needs a reason to live. Grace and Trace are twins who recently lost their parents and desperate need someone to blame. Cary their sort-of leader is who they blame. Harrison is the freshman who cries. And Rhys is the one person who keeps pushing Sloane to keep going.

Plot/Story development: ★★★★ Since most of this story takes place in the high school building the survivors camp out in, much of the plot evolves as the people learn more about each other. The antagonists of this book are internal and external.

Message/Theme: ★★★★★ Summers explores concepts of abuse, domestic violence, suicide, depression, survival, murder, ethical dilemmas (ie: do the ends justify the means? sacrifice one to save another?), family, and hope in this novel. It doesn't offer definitive answers as much as lay the questions on the table. I will say the ending is a kind of poetic justice, and I appreciated it even if it was sad and painful.

Overall: ★★★★1/2 I devoured this book in one day. Couldn't put it down. It was amazing. It was devastating. It was raw. It was a zombie book and so much more. I highly recommend this.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Paper Towns | Book Review

Paper Towns by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Writing technique: ★★★★ This is my third John Green book (I read An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson before), and I love him. I love how you uses words. I love how he writes teens. I love this overly-philosophical way of looking at life. I love that he makes me want to read Walt Whitman and listen to Woody Guthrie and google random crap like "paper towns" and go on a road trip and write in black moleskin notebooks and plan and complete all-night adventures and use three names. He's a great storyteller. And I'll read anything with his name on it.

Character development: ★★★ Quentin thinks he knows Margo. He doesn't. He learns that he doesn't. But in learning, he has to do things and be someone he's never done or been before. His adventure is lighthearted, fun, youthful, quirky. Q becomes more introspective and curious and adventurous. He becomes less afraid. Margo is spunky and wild in a way everyone wishes they were, but also kind of damaged and sad. I thought this would be a lot more about her development. But really, it's how Q's perception of her changes and he realizes he never really knew her at all.

Plot/Story development: ★★★★ This story wasn't what I thought it was. Multiply that line by four. That's how many times I thought - ooooooh this is what this story is about. It's a good story, but I can't really tell you what it's about without spoiling it for you. But I liked it. Simply put, it goes: crazy night of adventure, clues clues clues clues, roadtrip. Basically. It's not overly complicated, but it did surprise me.

Message/Theme: ★★★★ Can you ever really know someone? Can you ever really know yourself? Is anyone real? Or are we all just paper people - fakers, pretending to live and be happy when really we're all empty inside...?

Audiobook Narration: ★★★★ I began this audiobook and thought I don't think I want to listen to this. I don't know if I like this narrator. I think I want to read it with my eyes. But I persisted, and I'm glad I did. Dan John Miller did an amazing job. I particularly LOVE how he reads RADAR. Sounds like a totally different guy. He made Q's thought come alive (even if he didn't pace and phrase things the way I initially though he should).

Overall: ★★★★ Great summer read. Great teen read. Solid John Green novel.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Arranged | Book Review

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book from my husband actually. A conversation about love and marriage and friendship naturally led to one about arranged marriages and how "falling in love" and then getting married is a fairly new custom. For centuries people were matched and marriage and learned to love each other without the fading infatuation, the lust, the emotional roller-coaster. As an American girl in the 21st century, that idea sounds completely alien and undesirable. Anyway, he said there was a new novel about this from a modern perspective that might help me see the benefits of marrying someone compatible to you without the dating or drama. So I checked it out.

This book is about Anne Blythe - unlucky in love - when she contacts a private marriage broker to arrange a stranger husband for her. Her adventure into an arranged marriage is the direct result of her shallow, lusty interest in Men of a Certain Type and her jealous, self-indulgent Need for a Fairy Tale Ending. She meets and marries her match Jack. And of course everything is great... until it isn't.

(Sidenote: Her name is Anne Shirley Blythe! I'm not gonna lie, her name and her mother's obsession with all things Anne of Green Gables was definitely a warm fuzzy for me. Ann Shirley is the reason I became a reader and a writer, and she gave me my obsession with red hair.)

Writing technique: ★★ McKenzie's writing is simple. I'd recommend this for a vacation/beach read. Lit lite. I found the beginning fairly tedious and obvious. But it picked up pretty quickly and my interest in the plot overshadowed by disinterest in her actual words.

Character development: ★★★ Anne has a lot to learn. About men, but mostly about herself. I don't know that she learns her lesson though. But she does get over her shallow, looks-mean-everything ideas, but not really the fairy-tale-endings-are-realistic ideas. So... hmm.

Plot/Story development: ★★★ Most of the beginning I found pretty simplistic and predictable. But the one twist in the middle I did not see coming! The end was very rom-com paint-by-numbers obvious, but it was a cute read all in all.

Message/Theme: ★★★ Attraction and lust do not make a good relationship. Friendship and respect are a better foundation for a marriage. Liars and cheaters suck.

Overall: ★★★ This is good chick lit with a twist on what we consider normal marriages. Nice for a quick summer/beach read.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Forgotten | Book Review

Forgotten by Cat Patrick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is not what it appears to be, is not what it pretends to be. This book appears to be another quirky insta-love story between two implausibly attractive teens. And for a while it is. I wondered if she was going to mention ever time she "met" Luke how unbelievably gorgeous he was. (Why are they all sooooo freaking attractive?)

But then it evolved. Let me explain.

Forgotten is about a girl who can't remember the past, but can remember the future. So every morning she reads notes she wrote to herself the night before so she knows what to do and expect of the day. She remembers the future like normal people remember the past. All the really happy things and really sad things and everything else is kind of hazy. So naturally when she meets studly new kid Luke, she hopes her future memories show them together. But he isn't there.

After this is when it gets good. London and Luke together are funny, I think. As their relationship grows, she starts getting unusual flashbacks/flashforwards. In an effort to understand why her memory is so messed up, she begins investigating into her family and uncovers secrets about her past that leave her future looking very uncertain.

So in a nutshell:
1. It is a love story, but it is also more than that.
2. It is hilarious. Sometimes.
3. It is heartbreaking. Sometimes.
4. It is surprising. Quite.

Writing Technique: ★★★1/2 Patrick writes in a simple straight forward way. Very easy to read (or listen to, in my case). But I frequently found myself laughing out loud. The 50 First Dates-esque-ness of London and Luke's relationship was cute. But I particularly enjoyed when she got mad and lie to herself about Luke.

Character development: ★★★★1/2 London becomes more curious and invested when she tries to change the future. Her relationships with her secret-keeping mother, her ill-fated best friend, her comically swoon-worthy supportive boyfriend, and others inspire her to step up and be proactive. I loved seeing her discover things about herself.

Plot/Story development: ★★★★1/2 I was surprised by how well thought out this story was. It's not overly complicated, but by halfway through the book, I was shocked and say "No way!" or "Oh my gosh!" or "This is so bad..." at the end of every chapter. I like it when that happens. I really love where she took the story.

Message/Theme: ★★★★1/2 If you could choose to forget the most painful parts of your past, would you? What if forgetting means saving yourself from a grim future? Very thought-provoking.

Audiobook Narration: ★★★★ Julia Whelan does well with the reading of this book. She was the perfect voice for London. She made the intense parts more intense, the funny parts very funny. She was great. I hope I get to hear other audiobooks narrated by her.

Overall: ★★★★1/2 I loved this book. I was surprised how much. I definitely recommend it.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Before I Fall | Book Review

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my immediate reaction after finishing this book:

I LOVE it and I HATE it when I read a book that makes me depressed because I'll never write anything THAT amazing probably ever. Ugh. Before I Fall is Mean Girls meets Groundhog's Day. Or Daybreak if Taye Diggs's character had been Gretchen Wieners. Every single teen issue is addressed the story. ALL OF THEM. There is character development GALORE. And it made me cry just a tiny bit. And I'm freaking angry that I can't know more about What Happens After. I hate you, Lauren Oliver, for being so dang good at words. I hate you and I love you to death. And even then.

Honestly, I think that's says everything you need to know about my feelings. Here's the Rating Breakdown:

Writing technique: ★★★★1/2 Oliver makes magic out of words. She's compelling and intriguing. She makes you like pretty loathsome characters. She makes them relatable, loveable even. Her descriptions are perfection. She uses the a shallow, vain, self-absorbed girl to raise interesting questions, say thought-provoking things. A tiny example:
“I shiver, thinking how easy it is to be totally wrong about people-to see one tiny part of them and confuse it for the whole, to see the cause and think it's the effect or vice versa."
Character development:★★★★★ Sam's transformation is so real and believable and awesome. I also got to see into a lot of the other characters in a way that was really moving. I thought I'd have difficulty sympathizing with a Mean Girl, but I loved Sam. A lot.

Plot/Story development: ★★★★1/2 Unlike Bill Murray's character who relives Groundhog's Day potentially millions of times, Sam relives her last day only 7 times. I thought the days would be a predictable repetition of the same events day by day, but I was pleasantly surprised. Sam makes significantly different choices that lead to entirely different days and a brilliantly unfolding plot. So good.

Message/Theme: ★★★★1/2 OMG, Oliver delves into practically every teen issue fearlessly: popularity, peer pressure, snobbery, teen sex, teen drinking, drinking and driving, alcoholism, divorce, family drama, friend drama, leading v. following, bullying, drug abuse, suicide, depression, eating disorders, student-teacher romance, senioritis, vanity, greed, lying, cheating, and probably more. Oliver's message is essentially this: how you live matters, how you treat people deeply affects them, the world doesn't revolve around you, and when you die, will you be remembered for something good? You don't know what moment will be your last.
Audiobook Narration: ★★★★ Sarah Drew read this audiobook and she did fantastically. When I looked her up, I was shocked to realize she was the most detestable character ever on Grey's Anatomy (one of my favorite shows). I appreciated her as an actor far more for her work on this novel than anything I've witnessed on that show. She made me laugh out loud literally. She made me love Sam and Lindsay and Anna and Juliet. She only loses a point for her "Kent" voice which I'm not sure did him justice, and her "Rob" voice which always sounded stoned.

Overall: ★★★★★ INCREDIBLE BOOK. I wish everyone would read it. Seriously.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Dan In Real Life | Friday Fave

Happy Friday the 13th, world.

As it turns out, I am not a superstitious person. So I barely thought about the oh-no-iness of the whole thing. I am, however, a dates person. I like dates. Of the year. I'm really good at remembering birthdays (of people I like, don't get cray...). I have a favorite day of the year (don't worry, I'll tell you when it gets here). And when the numbers look cool (01/01/01, or 02-04-06, most recently 06.09.12), I celebrate with an overly cheerful Facebook status acknowledgment and special attention to my penmanship when I write in my journal before bed.

So, that said, Happy Friday the 13th, world!!! (<--- observe overly cheerfulness)

In honor of this momentous occasion, I am ushering in a new tradition that I like to call Friday Faves. I think this is self-explanitory. But for those common-sensically challenged, I will write about a new favorite thing of mine every Friday. This Friday, the thing is:

Dan in Real Life.

Let me just say, I considered seriously changing the name of this blog to "Dana in Real Life" following my second ever viewing of this delicious theatrical morsel. (In case you're wondering, the current name of this blog is unofficial. I change it like every three days. I can't decide what I want to call my Home On The Web, but I know I want it to be snazzy and snappy and not my name. So until I learn how to write HTML code - which, given that I have Web Design for Dummies on my living room floor, should be soon - and actually pimp out my Web Crib, consider my blog name Unofficial.)

Dan in Real Life is a movie. It's a tall frosty glass of frozen strawberry lemonade in 100 degree 100% humidity South Texas weather. It's a beanie baby in the shape of Mother Theresa with the softness of a newborn Beagle's ears. It's heaven wrapped in babies wrapped in bacon. Which is to say, it's awesome.

The movie, starring Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche, and Dane Cook (among others), was released in 2007 and I'm pretty sure I watched it on a plane to England that Christmas. But I was in and out of sleeping and I didn't have my glasses on. I apparently remembered I loved it enough to give it five stars on Netflix - which turned out to be a disappointment because I went to Netflix all excited to bump up my rating on it only to discover it could not be upped any further. Sad day. IMDB succinctly summarizes this movie: "A widower finds out the woman he fell in love with is his brother's girlfriend." And while the description is apt, it is not enough.

Dan in Real Life is about a man who, by day, is a "parenting expert" but, by night, is a lonely man with three daughters he has no clue how to deal with and an achy breaky heart. Dan is such a human character, you can't help but love him. He is trying so hard to be the right guy. The right kind of father. The right kind of brother. The right kind of son. The right kind of driver! But has his youngest daughter Lily says early in the film: "You're a good father, but sometimes bad dad." Throughout the course of the film, his parenting skills only worsen as he falls for The Wrong Girl, his brother's girlfriend, Marie. Marie is obviously the perfect match for him. She's beautiful, wise, funny, charming, well-cultured, well-read, adventurous. Dan's daughters all find something inspiring in her. And he begins to really heal after his wife's death. 

My watching this movie must have been torture for my upstairs neighbors, because I laughed so. very. loud. so. very. often. But as they say, great comedy is founded in great pain. And there is so much pain! And so much comedy. This is by far my favorite Carell film. And after enjoying every second of the feature and every bonus feature, I've determined I must own this movie and its soundtrack (which is the most intense and intentional scoring process I've ever seen for any movie!) as soon as humanly possible.

So this Friday, I offer you the gift of Dan and his very Real Life. Go watch it. It will make you feel irreparably human in the best possible way. 

Happy Faveday!

City of Lost Souls | Book Review

City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book made me crazy and took forever to read. I haven't been entire sold on the second trilogy of this extended series. Books 1, 2, and 3 were a magical unit of action and character development and general swellness. Book 4, while introducing a new villain and storyline, was kind of boring until basically the last five pages when it became unbelievable and made me want to throw the book across the room. So I was really excited to get the next book and find out What Happens.

City of Lost Souls is Book 5, and I'll say the first 391 pages were kind of a draaaaaag. Jace is Not Jace. Sebastian (Jonathan) is Sebastian. Or is he? Team Good is in a tizzy (always). Team Evil Sons of Valentine is Planning Something Big. Again. Jace and Clary's True Love is in Jeopardy. Yada Yada Yada.

Anyway, the breakdown of my reading experience goes like this:

Part 1: The Set Up = snooze fest.
Part 2: The Getting Into It = raised eyebrows. Is this going to get interesting? No. Not yet. Not until page 392 wherein AWESOMENESS FINALLY OCCURS!
Part 3: The Payoff = All the aggravation and snooziness was worth the wait. I mean I wish the entire the story was as awesome as the last third. Because it was FANTASTIC! Jace being Jace and Not Jace. Clary being CRAY-CRAY, making terrible decisions again (At one point, I literally screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! page 418. WTF?? ). Simon and Isabelle being... well, Simon and Isabelle can they just get together already? . (Speaking of Simon... they cast this kid for the movie. Love it!)

What made the book so dull through Parts 1 and 2 is we didn't follow the action. No one in Team Good had any idea what was going on. It's hard to feel invested in a story where we don't know the stakes. We don't feel the pressure. There's nothing to get our hearts beating and our palms sweaty. Book 1 did this pretty well. Clary's mom is kidnapped and Clary is almost killed in like Chapter 3. But in this book, despite Clary's forays into adventure with the Sons of Evil Incarnate and despite Team Good's raising of demons and angels and faffing about, nothing was really happening! It was all very ugh...

And all too frequently when something did start to happen, we would shift to a different character's perspective for something oh so trivial *insert eyeroll here*. We interrupt this interesting potential plot development for an unnecessary mini-make-out scene between two basically unnecessary characters. (Yeah, I'm talking about you, Jordan and Maia! You had basically zero point in this story. Go away.)

...But once we knew the stakes, what Team Basically Evil But Not Exactly It's Hard to Explain were doing... then it got CRAY. I wish we'd been following either Jace or Sebastian's perspective from the beginning, then this book might have hit 5 stars. As it is, I can only give it a 4. I love this series quite a bit. Can't wait to see how she's going to finish the series. With all this set up, it better be epic. Srsly.

Rating Breakdown:
Writing technique: ★★★1/2 It's not overly complicated, but she can be deep and poetic and interesting stylistically. Also I love how she refers back to things from the earlier books - quoting herself, but tying all the stories together. She could skip a few of the make-out tho...

Character development:★★★★ Most of these characters are constantly learning about themselves. And I love it.

Plot/Story development: ★★★ The last Part was 5 stars, but the first two were only like a two or three... so averaged out...

Message/Theme: ★★★★ This series so far has dealt a lot with family - if you become your parents. If your blood determines your essential goodness. This book was a lot about risk and betrayal and identity. If someone takes your free will away, but you're "happy," is it real? And the question of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons... It's all very interesting...

Overall: ★★★★ I liked this book. I love this series. I adore (most of) these characters. I'm looking forward to the final installment.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Do Not Belong To You | Original Song + The Story

A few weeks ago, I heard a message from my buddy Nate on the prophet Daniel that really got to me. A lifetime of Sunday School and Vacation Bible School has ensured that today I know the stories of Daniel In The Lions' Den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego In The Fiery Furnace very very well. It's easy to think that there's nothing new I could hear about these old Bible heroes that I haven't heard before. But there I was on a Sunday night learning something brand new.

So Daniel chapter 1 explains how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were Jewish captives taken to the land of Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. And as part of their assimilation into Babylonian culture, they were given new clothes to wear, new palace food and wine to consume, a new place to live. They were taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. And they were given new names. These names (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) were linked with Babylonian deities and were used to substitute the names they had which linked them with the God of Israel.

Everything they experienced was designed to make them conform to the society around them, to become Babylonians. To forget their home, their heritage, their beliefs, their God. They wanted it to affect them not just on the outside but on the inside as well. They wanted to change not just their appearance, but their habits and their identity also. All they had to do was change the way these Israelites thought about themselves.

But these four men didn't cave. Verse 8 says:

"But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank." 

He and his three friends separated themselves from the others not just in their diet. They wore new clothes and were called pagan names, but they didn't compromise. They followed God. Later Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah would be thrown into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to and worshiping an idol, and Daniel would be thrown into a lions' den for praying to his God. The law said they had to live like Babylonians - particularly in worship. But these men stood strong. They obeyed God. They were willing even to die for their faith. And of course, we know, they all miraculously survived. Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah go into a furnace so hot it killed the men that threw them in, and they didn't burn up. (To hear a great song about the fiery furnace story, listen to this.) And God shut the mouths of the lions when Daniel was thrown into their den. God protected his followers because they were faithful. They put their identity in the One True God.

Today, our world does this same thing to us. Media, books, movies, music - they all have this message to be like them. To sell ourselves out for the Great American Dream. To be greedy. To be hateful. To be lustful. To be cruel. To be liars, cheaters, adulterers, thieves, murderers, and idolaters. To compromise. To find our identity in success, in public opinion, in art, in nature, in academia, in medication, in individuality, in marriage, in sex, in family, in friends, in possessions, in music, in politics, in culture, in ourselves, in our own greatness. But God says the opposite.

So consider this my anthem. I will not be dictated to by culture. I won't cave, conform, or compromise. I do not belong to you, world. I belong to Jesus.

I Do Not Belong To You.m4a
I Do Not Belong To You
Music and Lyrics by Dana J. Moore

Change my name; paint my face
Bring me wine sweet to my taste
Give me coins, show me power
Threaten me; I will not cower

You do not define me
Mold me and refine me
You constantly remind me
I do not belong to you

Dress me up; push me around
For you, these knees will never touch the ground
Strip me bare; peel my skin
You cannot scratch the soul within

You will not defile me
Ravage and revile me
Your ways aren't so beguiling
I do not belong to you

Set the fire, toss me in
I will not bow; I won't give in
Find a pit; throw me down
I'll sleep with lions and still won't bow

Bind my hands; chain my feet
I don't surrender; I don't retreat
I'm prepared to pay the cost
Nail me backwards to a cross

I do not belong to you...

Come use and abuse me
You may execute me
Hang, behead, or shoot me
I do not belong to you

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Brave | Movie Review

It's a generally accepted fact that Pixar is Midas. Everything they touch is gold. They've proved it year after year with films like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Wall-E, and Up that have amazing art and graphics; hilarious, exhilarating plots; and deep, heart-wrenching themes. Typically, Pixar movies are the only animated movies I'll see in theaters anymore because, frankly, they're not just for kids. Kids enjoy the funness of it all, but the grown-ups - like me - are the ones tearing up and feeling like someone in Emeryville, California has been reading their diary. That's an impressive feat to pull of thirteen times in a row. So naturally, when the first trailer for Brave released, I was STOKED. First of all, let's just establish that Merida is basically the lovechild of Hawkeye and Black Widow. I mean, look at this meme:

Amazing, right? I love memes. Anyway, I'm one of a billion inspired by Hunger Games and Avengers to get into archery. (It's just so dang sexy!) To prove that I'm legit:


You should be impressed.

Anyway, I went to see Brave opening weekend with Lover. And of course I loved it. A fiery-haired, spitfire Scots-girl with a bow and arrow and lots of family drama? That's basically me! Okay, so I don't have red hair. In my heart, I totally do. 

I will say, I might have gotten my hopes up that this was a love story. I should've known that 1. It's Pixar. They address Issues Not Related To Romance. 2. She says "I'll be shootin' fer my own hand!" in the trailer so obviously it's about empowerment, right? And 3. It's Pixar! They Do Not Write Love Stories. That's soooooo early '90s Disney (and before). We are soooo above that now.  (I hope you heard that in my best Valley Girl Voice because that's how I said it.)

Suffice it to say, it is not a love story. It is a coming of age story. A mother/daughter story. A breaking the mold story. And it did move me, challenge me, inspire me. To explain how I felt about this movie without giving much of anything away, I will allow you to read the note I wrote to my mom after seeing it. [There is a minor spoiler alert that I give lots of warning for and even made very teeny tiny so if you wanted to not look at it you could...possibly... (Although, it's, like, the point of the movie and it's revealed in, like, the first 10 minutes. So stop freaking out!)]

Dear Mom, 

I love you. I saw the movie Brave this weekend, and had no idea that it was a story about mothers and daughters. It is. The two are very close and very fun when the daughter is young. But the daughter gets more willful when she's older, and the mother gets more strict. Their tale is about making them understand and respect each other. (In a lot of ways it reminded me of Freaky Friday. :D) Anyway, I wished with a sudden ferociousness that I could be watching this movie with you. And the fish scene in particular made me cry. So I'm sorry I am sometimes your stubborn untraditional daughter with unruly hair. But I love you so very much and I promise to never  
******SPOILER ALERT******* turn you into a bear... ******SPOILER ALERT OVER***** Ever. I hope one day to be as brave and fearless and inspiring as you.

Your Dana(-Doo)

That last part is an inside joke. She calls me Dana-Doo. It's a thing. Like a mother/daughter thing.

Stop laughing. Please stop laughing. 

You suck.

All in all, it's a great movie. Another beaut to add to Pixar's gleaming list of achievements. It doesn't pack the emotional suckerpunch of Up or the poetic brilliance of Wall-E. But it's like the girl counterpart to Finding Nemo (which if you remember is about a father and son who don't quite get each other and learn how to on a crazy adventure of getting back to each other!) So go see it. If you need an excuse, take a kid. Any kid. Snatch one up off the street if you have to. (Sarcasm.) It's a cute story, and her hair apparently took two different software programs to create. So it's beautiful. 

My Rating:
Story: ★★★★
Presentation (Art, Direction, All That Technical Stuff): ★★★★★
Acting: ★★★★★
Music: ★★★★
Overall: ★★★★ 1/2

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Beginning

Good morning, world. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. That might have been over the top. Let me rephrase. Today is the first day of my new blog and new email address and new writing adventure. I've hit the refresh button on my entire cyber life, creating a new email address and abandoning my many other blogs in favor of this one. And it's refreshing. I feel like I've taken a virtual bath.

So welcome to my new blog. I'm pretty stoked about this whole thing. Check out my Who Am I? page to read more.