Monday, January 30, 2017

13 Going on 30 (DVD)

There's no denying it: Being 13 is hard! Especially when you're NOT among the 1% of golden boys and girls who make up the popular elite.

This is Jenna's life story. All she wants is to be accepted into the inner circle of the Six Chicks (the popular girls lead by mean girl Tom-Tom) and have her crush, the cutest and most popular boy in school, notice her. Unfortunately, Jenna is a geek who knows all the moves to Michael Jackson's Thriller and secretly has always wanted a Barbie Dream House. And the fact that she hangs out with Matt, her best friend who is an even bigger geek, doesn't help. 

Things come to a head at Jenna's 13th birthday party when a prank turns ugly. Jenna makes a birthday wish to be 30...and suddenly she is! Jenna wakes up in a stylish New York City apartment to discover she's gotten everything she's ever wanted: A closet full of the hottest clothes, a fabulous career at her favorite fashion magazine, a cute boyfriend, and, yes, even boobs. Problem is, inside, she's still that same geeky and niave 13 year old she was a few moments earlier. Jenna soon discovers that things aren't all glamour and glitter like they first appeared. She has no real friends and she hasn't had any contact with her parents in years. Bottom line, Adult Jenna is not a nice person. At all. And she needs to find out what happened to make her the way she is. The only person who can help unravel this mystery is her old BFF, Matt. But turns out Matt isn't much help either (In fact, he doesn't really want anything to do with her). Can Jenna turn her life around before it's too late? Does she even deserve a do-over?

13 Going on 30 (2004) is a fun film about wishes and second chances. The idea behind the film isn't particularly original. In fact, it kind of ripped off BIG (1988), swapping the male lead with a female. But it's still adorable and enjoyable. Recommended if you're in the mood for a light movie of the rom-com variety. --AJB

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Book Jumper, by Mechthild Glaser

What if you had the ability to enter your favorite books (yes, literally) and interact with the characters there? This is a talent possessed by Amy Lennox, heroine of Mechthild Glaser's new novel The Book Jumper

Amy and her mother each have their own reasons for fleeing Germany for the desolate Scottish island of Stormsay, home to the grand mansion of Lennox House and their ancestors. Here, Amy's grandmother only has one demand: During their stay, Amy WILL read. Already a bookworm, Amy feels this is a particularly strange request (and she's a bit bugged by this near-stranger demanding anything of her--even something she'd probably do anyway). But there is a reason: Amy has inherited an unusual talent, one that's passed through the Lennox family for generations.

Amy is a Book Jumper

This means she can enter any story she wishes and interact with the characters. The one rule is she must remain "in the margins," undetected by any regular reader who might pick up the book while she's inside the story. How awesome is this! Amy certainly thinks so. 

Until something terrible happens: Someone, a rogue book jumper, begins stealing story ideas, thus destroying the stories. When an iconic character is murdered, Amy knows she must do something to save the world of literature (as we know it). So she joins forces with fellow Book Jumper, Will. But will the teens be able to stop the thief and restore the stories to their former glory?

Read The Book Jumper to find out.

Throughout the history of YA literature, there have been several books about people who can enter stories (Inkhart, The Neverending Story). I'm happy to say The Book Jumper handled this been there/done that concept very well and even put a unique spin it. I definitely recommend it. --AJB

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Exiles: The Ruins of Ambrai, by Melanie Rawn (review by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Grabowski)

In this exhilirating novel, the age of mageborns is about to end, and non-magic supremacy will be elevated to a more hign standing than ever. Throughout this book, the perspective shifts between first-daughter Glenin Feiran, Collan Rosvenir, Sara Liuhellan, and cailet Rille, all vicitins of the destruction of the wondrous cuity of Ambrai and the downfall of Mages. When an infamous Mage Guardian entangles their lives and gives them the job of taking back the rights of Mageborns, will they succeed?

I loved this book and read it three times. Melanie Rawn is a great writer and uses language and complex thoughts brilliantly. As the book progresses, the characters develip even more and are almost like real people. I also thought the overall presentation of this amazing fantasy biik was great. I would recommend this book to teens and even adults who don't mind 800 page books ;)

Review by Guest Blogger Elizabeth Grabowski, age 14.

The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman (review by Guest Blogger Ciaran Grabowski)

The Golden Compass was a great adventure story that had slight hints of mystery. The story follows a young girl named Lyra who lives in a different world. The world she lives in is very similar to the world we live in, but also very different. In Lyra's world, every person has what is referred to as a 'deamon.' A Deamon is like the extension of a human's soul that takes the shape of an animal. Some of the antagonists in this story are a group of people called the gobblers. They take children off the streets and they are never seen again. Filled with deamons, talking ice bears, and witches, this book definitely lives up to the role of fantasy-adventure. 

This book is enjoyable for anyone 10 and beyond. This book also cannot be compared with the movie, for it is not very similar.

Review by Ciaran Grabowski, age 13.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Secret of a Heart Note, by Stacey Lee

The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee is a perfect spice of romance. In addition, Lee adds a nice little touch of magic to the general story with our adorable main character, Mim, being an Aromateur. A type of "Witch" that has a nose unlike any other. Mim can smell the heart notes and the personality of the people around her and her ability to do this allows her to create love potions.

I loved her growth throughout the story. Mim goes on an incredible journey discovering her true self along the way. She also finds love on her path, with a sweet-hearted  boy who challenges her all the way. The romance, while very very subtle, was heartwarming and it was a crucial part of the story but it wasn't the main focus.

The Secret of a Heart Note is an interesting read. It was very quirky with all the elixir-making and surprisingly, those were my favorite scenes of the book. I loved all the descriptions of the scents, the process of making the elixirs and the effect of using these potions. There was something very magical about the whole thing.

Family is one of the themes throughout The Secrets of a Heart Note. Lee excels at developing relationships and at showing all the nuances and complexities there are to relationships. In this story, we get to experience the complicated, yet heartfelt relationship between a mother and a daughter. As they come from a long line of aromateurs, they have a family legacy with lots of expectations. While Mim enjoys creating these potions, part of her desires a normal teenage experience and she battles with that throughout the story. Family expectations can be rough on teenagers and I loved how deeply Stacey Lee explored that here. There were tense moments between Mim and her mother, but there were also those scenes that portrayed the pure love and respect they had for each other. It was a complicated and messy relationship, but it was inherently very authentic.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable read! Great characters, great plot, great writing. I very highly recommend this one. *JK*

Monday, January 9, 2017

Finding Dory (DVD)

I wasn't sure what to expect from Finding Dory (2016), the sequel to one of my favorite Disney films, Finding Nemo (2003). Of course the forgetful-yet-witty Dory was hands-down my favorite character from Nemo, and the thought of her having her own full-length adventure was very appealing. But it's been my experience that Disney sequels typically fall flat. Sometimes embarassingly so. So I approached this one with curious caution. 

I shouldn't have worried.

The second the adorable baby version of my favorite blue fish, with big shiny eyes to rival the iconic begging cat scene in Shrek 2, appeared on screen, I was hooked (fishing pun not intended, but just go with it). 

Finding Dory takes place a year after the events of Nemo. Dory has made herself at home in the reef, taking up residence in a coral cave near where her friends Marlin and Nemo live. She's mostly happy...until the flashbacks about her family and origins start up. She begs Marlin and Nemo to help her journey across the ocean to find her family. Reluctantly, Marlin agrees...much to Dory and Nemo's excitement. 

Their search (and Dory's sporatic, patchy memories) lead them to the Marine Institute at Morrow Bay, California. 

And thus begins a whole new adventure that is just as exciting, funny, and heartwarming as the original. There's a whole host of awesome new characters (my favorite is Hank) and we get to know more about Dory, where she came from, and how she ended up in Marlin and Nemo's corner of the ocean. 

This is one sequel that you won't want to miss! --AJB

Stardust, by Neal Gaiman: Book v. Movie

Stardust, by veteran fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, is every bit deserving of the Alex Award (as well as any other acclaim and praise it has since received). It's got everything you can expect from a genius of the genre: Adventure, Action, magic, fantastic creatures, prophecies, daring rescues, truly worthy villains, a hero you can really root for, true love... For, yes, this IS a kissing book. Oh yes! But as with the grandson in that iconic movie featuring another famous "kissing book," by the time you actually get to the kissing part, you don't mind so much. Even if you're not really into the kissing thing in the books you read. There's something otherworldly about this story, something old-school fairy tale (and NOT Disney), that truly transports the reader.

The sign of an excellent and well-written story.

Stardust begins, as most fantasy stories do, before the birth of the hero. Dustan Thorn has lived all his life in the town of Wall, named for a wall that separates the town proper from a meadow on the other side. But this is no ordinary wall. It marks the dividing line between the mortal world and the faery realm. Once every nine years, the residents of wall are permitted to cross this boundry and visit the faery market. It is here where Dustan meets the odd girl, who sells him a magical glass flower and then charms him. Nine months after Dustan has returned to mortal life, a baby boy is delivered to his doorstep. This baby is our hero, Tristran Thorn. 

Flash forward 18 years and Tristran is a young man. Like many of the guys in his village, he is smitten with Victoria (who, I might add, is a tease and a bit of a brat). One night while Tristran is walking his crush home, the two spy a falling star. Victoria tells Tristran she will do anything he wants (kiss him, marry him) if he will but cross the wall and bring her the star.

So he does just this. And thus begins an adventure of a lifefime.

Turns out, the star isn't what he expected. Also, he's not alone in his quest. Some very dangerous people also seek the star, and won't let anything or anyone stand in their way.

To say anymore would be a spoiler.

I'll just say this: I loved the book. Loved it! 

Several years after the publication of Stardust, Hollywood decided to make a movie based on the book. As with most book-to-movie adaptions, the interpretation of the text was pretty lax (to say the least). The film began much like the book, with some subtle differences. But once our hero crosses the wall, things are different. Characters names were changed. Physical descriptions didn't match up. Things happend out of order. Important plot points were left out. And the ending was completely rewritten to make things more exciting and dramatic for the audience (In the book, there was no epic showdown battle between good and evil. It just ended...happily ever after, of course). It was the same story, but barely.

The film was enjoyable, but the book was much, much better (as is the case 99% of the time). --AJB