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.

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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.