Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss

Anna and the French Kiss
by Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Big Themes: France, First Love, Film Studies, Betrayal, Family, Cancer

Anna Oliphant is sent to an international school in Paris by her father against her will.  She misses her friends and is intimidated by everything French.  But a boy named Etienne St. Clair makes France begin to feel like home as Anna falls in love for the first time.

What I Liked:
Everyone in the blogosphere loves this book.  I'd heard enough gushing about Anna and Etienne St. Clair that I had to give it a try, despite the fact that contemporary fiction isn't what I gravitate towards.  (I'm more of a fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction gal because I want to escape from the real world when I read.)

So I must say that this book was quite charming, and both Anna and Etienne were very likable characters.  Anna is very much a teenage girl who is just figuring out the world of boys, and her narrative definitely takes you back to your own teen years.  Her "firsts" and her confusion and the strength of her emotions are powerful.  You will feel like you are 17 again.  Etienne is equally real with his flaws as well as his endearing qualities.  The way he supports Anna and their blooming friendship will set you up to love him.

The little elements of France (famous sites, food, language) make this book unique and refreshing compared to a traditional United States contemporary high school setting.  And Anna's passion for film and all the little film references were another fun little touch.

What I Didn't Like:
There were parts that were predictable (Toph) and I would grow frustrated with Anna sometimes when she didn't see things that seemed so blindingly clear.  But Anna was just 17, and an authentic teenage perspective should include mistakes.  So I should cut her some slack.

And Etienne St. Clair was a great male lead, but he didn't quite do it for me in terms of a literary dream dude.  I kind of kept wishing he had a hobby or passion in life.  I would have loved if they developed the history/fact thing in him more because that made him really interesting.  The author defined him more though his relationships with his parents instead of his interests.  I'm getting picky here, but it's because this book won't be getting a perfect 5 stars and I feel the need to justify that.

My Rating:
4 stars for a well-developed and authentic contemporary teen romance

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: This World We Live In

This World We Live In
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Genre: Sci-Fi/Post-Apocalyptic
Big Themes: Survival, Starvation, Death, Family, Love, Hope

The third book in this series, the story of Miranda continues.  After a meteor hit the moon and knocked it closer to Earth, mankind struggles to survive an aftermath of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, and climate change.

What I Liked:
I flew through both Life As We Knew It and The Dead and The Gone when I read them, and this book was no different.  I read it in two days and could not put it down.  I think it's the survival aspect that fascinates me.  I'm captivated by the idea of raiding abandoned houses for supplies and how the characters have managed to survive in such an altered world.

What I Didn't Like:
In Life As We Knew It, Miranda began the book a shallow teenager and really grew as a character into someone who was self-sacrificing and wise.  (I wrote a whole 10 page paper on her transformation actually.)  But in This World We Live In, it's like she reverted to her shallow self.  She was back to fighting with her mom and whining and wishing for a boyfriend.  That was my first disappointment.

I knew that this third book was going to connect the lives of Miranda (book 1) and Alex (book 2).  I was super excited at this premise.  But this was yet another disappointment for me.  Alex and his story in The Dead and The Gone were by far my favorite.  I love Alex's character.  His story is so heart-breaking and he's been through so much.  But he felt like a flat, lost character in this book.  He wasn't the Alex I loved and his story didn't play any role or add any depth to the third book.  I wanted more of his character and I never got it.  I kept waiting for him to reveal some of what he went through to Miranda, but he never did.

My Rating: 2 Stars
I was pretty disappointed in this book.
It did not add to the series for me.
But I'd highly recommend The Dead and The Gone (and even Life As We Knew It) if you want a great post-apocalyptic read.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Movie Review: Hunger Games

First off, sorry I've been MIA on the blog the past few weeks.  We've had some gorgeous spring weather that had me outside rather than than inside behind my desk. And I've been more of a social butterfly and less of a reclusive hermit.

I don't normally post movie reviews (though I don't know why not).  But granted that Hunger Games was first a book... I thought I'd do a post on how I think the movie did in terms of serving the story.

This post probably contains some spoilers if you haven't read the book, but I don't think anything I say below will ruin the movie for you if you are one of the few souls who didn't see it on opening weekend.

What I Liked:
I honestly liked every actor's portrayal of their character.  Jennifer Lawrence was brilliant as Katniss.  She was fiesty, indignant, and strong.  Josh Hutcherson was a charming and sympathetic Peeta.  Woody Harrelson (Haymitch) was scruffy, fierce, and welcome comedic relief.  Lenny Kravitz was surprisingly understated and thoughtful as Cinna.  Rue was wide-eyed, beautiful, and cunning.  And Gale was pretty hunky in the few moments he was on screen.

My favorite scene by far was during training when Katniss shot the arrow up into the sponsors.  That scene was BRILLIANT.  Exactly how I pictured it in the book.  I loved her spiteful little curtsy and I loved her interactions with Haymitch afterwards.

Another part that I liked was how they showed the arena being manipulated behind the screens.  There would be shots of a room full of technology and the "gamemakers" tracking the tributes and sending new challenges into the arena.  That was probably better than I imagined in the book and helped illustrate how cruel the game was and how the tributes were just pawns to them.

I appreciated that they spent plenty of time leading up to the games just as it was done in the book, with the selection, training, interviews, etc.  They were very good about not leaving out any crucial moments from the book.

What I Disliked:
The shaky camera work was annoying.  I believe it was done to make the violence less "in your face" and to keep the rating at PG-13.  And perhaps it made it feel like you were in the action.  But it was so shaky it made it hard to concentrate and hard to tell what was happening at times.  And I think it was overdone.  I could have understood a shaky camera when Katniss was experiencing hallucinations from the tracker jacker venom, but they used the shaky camera much more than just that moment.

I also felt like the pacing of the movie was much slower than the book.  I just remember the book being such a page turner, but then the movie felt ... slow ... to me.  I don't know if this is because I already knew what was going to happen (though I'd read the book so long ago that I'd forgotten several parts) or if being in Katniss's head in the novel made the danger feel more immediate.  I just don't know, but the movie definitely had slow pacing for me.

And finally, despite the fact that they were very true to the book, I felt like aspects of the book's overall tone and satirical aims were missing.  I didn't feel like there was enough hatred for the Capital and if it was clear how much Katniss hated them.  The unfairness of the Games wasn't prominent enough.  How the poor stood no chance.  How young children were up against trained 18 year old killing machines.  How the Districts were forced to watch their children die.  How the fact that watching children kill each other on TV is a commentary on the violence in our own society that we glorify.  I just felt like the book did a better job of raising these issues and creating a tone that questioned them.  Katniss was such a critic of the world she lived in, and her narration helped us see the inequities and the  shallowness of her world (and in turn our own).

Overall: The movie was well done.  They were true to the book.  Jennifer Lawrence did a brilliant job. This was one of the better treatments of book to movie that I've seen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Review: Hallowed

by Cynthia Hand
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Angels, Fallen Angels, Death, Parents, Destiny, Love Triangle

The second book in the series picks up where Unearthly left off.  Clara, who is half angel, is still trying to figure out her purpose and still finds herself torn between Tucker and Christian.  And the fallen angel, Samjeeza, still lurks threateningly in the background.

What I Liked:
Angel Lore Development: Cynthia Hand really fleshed out the angel mythology in this book.  We get a better sense of the angel community, angel hierarchy, their abilities, and the whole purpose thing.  So far most of it makes sense, and the logistics are "fair."  I don't like when a paranormal creature is portrayed in a book as nearly invincible.  The angels have definite weaknesses which makes them all the more fascinating.

Parental Bonds: There are some really powerful scenes between Clara and her mother in this book that brought me close to tears.  We also meet Clara's dad, who is a pretty cool character.  It's great to see teen/parent relationships in YA because too often the parents are out of the picture or the kids are orphaned.  I really felt like the parents added to the story and made me like this book more than I would have otherwise.

The Fight: Between this character and that character at the end after so-and-so dies.  When this character punches that character and gives them a bloody nose.  I don't want to spoil anything.  But that fight was a favorite moment in the book for me!

Things I'm Still Not Sure About:
Christian Prescott: We definitely learn more about Christian in this book.  And he seems like a really supportive, nice guy.  And I'm kinda, sorta starting to like him.  But I feel like I'm being manipulated into liking him.  Whereas...

Tucker Avery: I did not get enough of you in this book.  I still adore your character.

My Rating:
Probably like 3.5 stars...  Tucker was the real reason I loved Unearthly.  I respect what Hand is doing, and she's written one of the best love triangles I've seen.  I really feel Clara's dilemma.  And the parents in this book really won me over.  And the angels were developed more.  But without Tucker... it's not gonna make it to 4.

Another review will be out this week! Stay tuned for my review of This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

One more Potter post... Cookies!

Tomorrow is the last day of my after school Harry Potter fan club.  And each year, to celebrate, I bake Harry Potter cookies!  This year's batch turned out great and were more creative than last year's.  I was a little limited by what icing colors were available, but it was super fun!  Pictures below:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Book Review: Unearthly

by Cynthia Hand
Read via Library Book
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Big Themes: Angels, Fallen Angels, Destiny, Love Triangle, Great Outdoors (skiing, fishing, hiking)

Clara is an angel-blood, meaning she is part angel.  As she turns 17, her angelic purpose starts to make itself clear to her through regular visions.  Her family moves from California to Wyoming so that Clara can begin to discover her purpose, which she believes involves saving the dreamy Christian Prescott from a forest fire.

What I Liked:
Main Character: Clara is a likable protagonist, but it took me a chunk of the book before I felt that way.  Upon her arrival at her new school, I was annoyed by her narrow focus on who was popular and who wasn't.  And her obsession with Christian and the fainting and the repeated description of his eyes/hair felt a little too familiar to Twilight for my tastes.  But once we got into the meat of the book, Clara's character developed further.  I understood her frustration with her mother over holding back angel information.  I liked Clara's choice of friends (Wendy and Angela).  And I admired how she handled herself in certain situations. (Don't want to spoil anything!)

Choice of Setting: The first moment I had where I really started to love this book was when Clara goes skiing for the first time.  Her description of learning to ski, the chair lift, the snow, the mountain made me feel like I was there.  And it was refreshing to have the main character doing something besides school, shopping and friend drama.  The book went on to have more lovely descriptions of outdoorsy stuff and I really felt like those moments were the highlights of the book for me.

Love Interest: I am soooo swooning for Tucker Avery.  I don't want to ruin a single moment of this book, but Tucker Avery is now one of my favorite male leads ever.  I loved his teasing, his patience, his outdoorsy knowledge, his chivalrous ways.  He was really just a regular guy.  None of that brooding, mysterious stuff that's so prevalent in romantic leads right now.  He'll help you tow your car out of a ditch or teach you how to fly fish.  (Oh please, Tucker, teach me to fly fish!)  If I could script out how I'd want a guy to woo me, they could just follow how Tucker did it.  OMG.  I love Tucker.

Things I'm Still Not Sure About:
Paranormal/Angel Stuff: I don't think I have enough info on Cynthia Hand's version of angels to make a verdict on whether her paranormal world makes sense.  I still don't quite understand the whole visions and purpose thing, but Clara doesn't understand it either so I'm probably not supposed to yet.  I'm definitely curious about how she's going to be able to wrap this up in 3 books.  A purpose/destiny seems bigger than something you can tell in 3 books.

Christian Prescott: Still not sure how I feel about this guy.  He's a little too perfect and mysterious.

My Rating:
After finishing the book, I instantly gave it 5 stars on Goodreads because I LOVE TUCKER.  After reflecting for a few days, I probably need to downgrade it to a 4 star read.  Still a great book, but the focus on popular people vs invisibles was a turn-off and a lot of the angel stuff is still unclear.

I've already bought Hallowed (Book #2), and am currently over halfway done.  Stay tuned for my review!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Harry Potter World: Hogsmeade

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
I've just returned from Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, and will be doing a series of posts on my experiences in Harry Potter World. I'm a big fan... and the park had a lot to live up to... I'll try not to give too much away for those of you who haven't journeyed to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But hopefully my posts will either bring back memories of your own trip or entice you to travel there yourself!
This post will highlight: 
Hogsmeade, Honeydukes, Zonkos

This last post about my trip to Harry Potter World will focus on Hogsmeade in general and the two most colorful shops on the block: Honeydukes and Zonkos.

Hogsmeade village was totally charming.  Despite the Harry Potter World being in Florida, the snow covered rooftops and icicles hanging from the windows add a definite extra bit of magic.  I loved how many of the chimneys are crooked and how there are detailed shop windows as you stroll down the street.  The attention to detail in the buildings is truly amazing!

The Hogwarts Express was the perfect thing to put at the entrance to the park!  The shiny red train has become so emblematic of the series and people can't help but feel like they're arriving just like Harry did when they see it.  Below are my brothers and me with the Hogwarts Express and a few pictures of Hogsmeade village:

Honeydukes is definitely one of the most dazzling candy shops I've ever been in!  The bright green and pink paint are perfectly suited to the glass jars of candy and delectable goodies they have for sale.  There are shelves upon shelves of Chocolate Frogs.  Boxes and boxes of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans.  Sugar quills, Ton-Tongue Toffee, Pepper Imps, Peppermint Toads...  They had so many different types of candy straight out of the books.  The Cauldron Cakes were especially cool looking (but I didn't get a picture of them).  They were chocolate cauldrons that looked like they had green icing/foam bubbling out of the top.

My only complaint about Honeydukes is how expensive it was.  A single Chocolate Frog costs $12.  A small box of Bertie's Beans costs $10.  In fact, I don't think I saw anything under $10... I would guess going into a shop like that with small children would be every parent's worst nightmare.

Zonko's Joke Shop was equally colorful with lots of quirky games and toys.  They have fluffy toy Pygmy Puffs, You-No-Poo, and Extendable Ears among loads of others.  I kind of wish I'd bought an Extendable Ear.  The box said they extend up to 12 feet, and it looks like it's a rubbery, fleshy ear with a microphone inside and a long cord that leads to a small box with an earbud attached.  Pretty cool how they managed to create that, though it looks less inconspicuous than how I imagined the Weasley's version in the books.

Below are some pictures of both Honeydukes and Zonkos:

A few more things I wish they had at Harry Potter World:
Each post I've been coming up with something I think the park needs, but it's pretty clear that I basically want the entire world of Harry Potter to be recreated!  But here are a few more things I'd like to see at the park someday:
-Quidditch Match (3D show perhaps?)
-Room of Requirement (maybe a set of doors with rotating rooms behind it?)
-A potion brewing experience!
-Grimmauld Place (complete with screaming Mrs. Black and Kreacher)
-The Weasley House (of course!)

And finally, while I found the walkthrough Hogwarts to be very fun, I couldn't help but imagine a Hogwarts ride kind of like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney.  I'd love to get a FULL tour of Hogwarts through classrooms, the House common rooms, etc. with ghosts drifting by and staircases changing and portraits talking.  To me, that would be the perfect Hogwarts ride (not that Forbidden Journey wasn't totally awesome, but it was more of a "let's scare you and whip you around" type ride).

Thanks for checking out all my Potter posts this past week!  I've been having lots of fun sharing and reliving my experience with you!  I hope everyone gets to go someday!  It's definitely worth the trip for any Potter fan!  :)

Coming soon... My review of Cynthia Hand's Unearthly!