Thursday, February 22, 2018

Across the Universe (DVD)

By now it's probably no secret that I'm a Beatles fan. I play a Paul McCartney style bass guitar and even named two of the characters in my quarterly Winston's World cartoon after members of the band. So when I discovered the Beatles-inspired musical Across the Universe (PG-13, 2007), of course I had to watch it! 

I was not disappointed. This film is amazing!

Set in the late 1960s, the story centers on Jude, a young man from Liverpool who travels to the U.S. to find his estranged father. Jude befriends college dropout Max and falls in love with Max's sister, Lucy. The trio travels to New York City and moves in with aspiring singer Sadie, her guitarist boyfriend Jo-Jo, and teen runaway Prudence. Then Max is drafted and Lucy, who already lost her high school boyfriend to the war, becomes involved with a group of anti-war extremists. Can love and friendship survive all this drama? 

This type of musical is always tricky. So much can go wrong. Especially when songs I like are involved. Although I actually liked Rock of Ages, I hated Moulin Rouge, and there are songs I no longer enjoy listening to because the film versions ruined things for me. But Across the Universe is perhaps the best-case scenario for this type of film. You can tell the writers had a deep respect for the music and took great care that the adaptions were exceptionally well-done. Some even surpass the original. For example, the film version of "Let it Be"...just thinking about it gives me chills. Even better, every single actor can sing! I should also mention that those familiar with Beatles music will find dozens of little "Easter Eggs" squirreled away throughout the film (which made watching even more fun).

Across the Universe captures the mood of the era, from the "peace and love" movement to anti-war protests to the war itself. It is a well-done bit of historical fiction in addition to being entertaining. The plot is engaging and the characters are the sort you will be rooting for. I'll also mention that the cast is very diverse, because I know that's an important issue these days. A word of caution: There are some mature situations and topics touched upon in the film, although nothing is exceptionally graphic. 

Overall, Across the Universe was a truly amazing cinematic experience. I would recommend it to fans of musicals and history alike. --AJB

Monday, February 19, 2018

Play Me Backwards, by Adam Selzer

Perhaps one of the most unconventional books I've read this year has been Adam Selzer's novel Play Me Backwards. Some of the concepts are strange, I'll give you that. But underneath all the freshman humor and cliche heavy metal references, there's a very awesome coming-of-age story that's got all the feels of a John Green book. I've got to admit it: I really enjoyed this one way more than I expected!

Back in middle school, Leon Harris was a proud member of the Gifted Pool along with all the other brains, geeks, and outspoken political advocates. He was ambitious. He was creative. He was going places. But that was then. That was before his girlfriend and love of his life, Anna B, broke his heart by moving to England and out of his life forever. 

By senior year, Leon has really let himself go. Nowadays he spends most of his free time in the back room of the Ice Cave (the less frequented of the town's two ice cream parlors) with all the other slackers, freaks, and metalheads. Leon has pretty much become slacker himself. In fact, he may not even graduate on time. Leon may not be living the dream, but he's content to skate through in a haze of don't-really-care.

Then Leon receives some earth-shattering news: Anna B is coming back to town for a visit. Maybe even moving back permanently!

There's no way Leon wants his old flame (whom he never got over) to see what a loser he's become. So he seeks out the unconventional wisdom of his friend and coworker, Stan, who may (or may not) possess dark mystical powers. And Stan is all too happy to help...for a price, of course. Mwa-hahaha!

Stan instructs Leon to complete several odd and seemingly unrelated tasks: Listen to the unabridged audiobook of Moby Dick, find the elusive white grape slushie, date a popular girl, join yearbook. Stan promises that by the time Leon has finished these missions, he will be a new man and worthy of Anna B once more. And never one to question Stan, who has been known to work miracles (it's, like, been documented), Leon begins his quest...

What follows is an often hilarious, often cringeworthy, and sometimes heartbreaking journey of personal growth and transformation that makes for a worthwhile read. Now Play Me Backward may not be for everyone as it does contain some mature humor and situations. But this one's perfect for fans of Going Bovine and other books with quirky, unusual stories. --AJB

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Jem and the Holograms: Infinite, by Kelly Thomas

Imagine, if you will, an alternate future world where having the latest technology means everything: The difference between comfort and struggle, hope and despair, life and death. Only the most elite can afford this tech. And these fortunate few live a seemingly-privileged life in a shining walled city ruled by a power-hungry dictator. The majority of the population, those who cannot afford the tech, scrounges to get by in the ruined world outside the Wall. There have been a few revolutionaries who have spoken out against the authority, but these people have been violently silenced. Even the original founders of the tech, which actually started out as a good thing & a way to make the world happy, have been made to "disappear". Lies and deception abound. With an expensive tech upgrade on the horizon that less than 1% of the city's residents will be able to afford, and with an unspeakably evil plan about to be unleashed, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

It is here, in the ruined world outside the Wall, that a determined young man takes the ultimate risk: Travel to the past, find the tech founders, and prevent said tech from falling into the hands of the evil empire, thus restoring the world to the way it should be. There's only a minuscule chance he will succeed. Not only must he convince his understandably-suspicious targets to trust him, but he must also persuade sworn enemies to work together for a common cause. But our hero believes his quest is worth all the risks. Because failure would be catastrophic on more levels than he wants to think about. 

While this may sound like the first volume of the latest of many dystopian series, it's actually the next installment of Kelly Thompson's Jem and the Holograms graphic novel series. 

in Jem and the Holograms: Infinite, readers explore a reality where Synergy's holograms have fallen into the hands of Eric Raymond. Guided by Techrat (or, more accurately, an alternate reality Techrat), the Holograms and the Misfits travel to an alternate earth where they must band together to undo the evil created by hologram technology. 

Although I am a huge fan of this series, Infinite was probably my least favorite (Which is not to say I didn't like it. I did. It was just a bit too Hunger Games-esque for my taste). It made for an interesting read, though. Just a departure from the normal tone of the series. --AJB

Friday, February 16, 2018

Geostorm (DVD)

Craving a really awesome action movie, I picked up Geostorm. From the synopsis on the back of the case, it sounded like it would be a truly EPIC cinematic experience. Extreme special effects, lots and LOTS of action, and a creepy plot that could (maybe) totally happen...especially since Snowpocalypse was raging just outside.

The reality was sub-par acting, seemingly-important plot points that were brought up and then dropped, and special effects that were so gratuitous they cycled back to B-movie cheesy. We're talking Mystery Science Theater laughable, people (the wall of It almost felt like the CGI team was bored and wanted to make the film as ridiculous as possible. Also, my Scooby Senses totally picked out the villain about 15 minutes into the film. So predictable.

Plus, there was something oddly familiar about the overall plot. Both hubby and I picked up on it. The post-movie conversation went something like this:

"So...remember that movie from the 90s with the asteroid and the actress from Lord of the Rings?" 

"Where they had to land rockets on the asteroid and blow it up?"

"Yeah...that one."

"Armageddon, I think... Yeah, Armageddon."

"Well... This was that movie. They changed a few minor things, but it was totally that movie!"


"You're right. It was!"

About the only positive aspect of Geostorm was laughing about it together. And that made the movie kind of awesome, despite its overall awfulness. Hubby and I even concocted our own wishful thinking/hypothetical Mythbusters episode based on the movie: Driving on Lava (can you drive a smart car over a field of molten pavement without your tires melting?), Explosive Lightning (can a single lightning bolt completely annihilate a football stadium-sized building?), High-Speed Backward Car Chase, Outrunning a Tidal Wave--On Foot!... and so on. Much fun came out of watching this film. And because of that, I know I'll remember it for a long time. 

BONUS: The dog actually survives! So yay :)

If you want a movie that's completely over-the-top, that's so bad it's actually good, check out Geostorm. It's absolutely worth seeing if only for having a good (unintentional) chuckle. I recommend it! 


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

As You Wish, by Chelsea Sedoti

At age 18, did YOU know what you wanted (what you really, really wanted)? I mean, honestly. neither. Which is why so many residents of the desert town of Madison are living lives of regret, trying (and mostly failing) to cope with the repercussions of teenage spontaneity.

This is because in Madison, which is no more than a blip on most maps (if it's on there at all), harbors a secret. The younger generations believe it is a wonderful, magical secret. The adults, however, know better. In Madison, there exists a cave that grants everyone exactly ONE wish on their 18th birthday. Most people wish for money or fame or other frivolous things (you know, the usual suspects). But the catch is this: These wishes aren't what they seem. And, more often than not, they bring dire consequences. Maybe not right away, but sooner than later... 

That's the funny thing about wishes. You have to be careful with them.

This is why Eldon, soon to be 18, is feeling quite a bit of stress over his impending situation. He's been fielding quite a bit of pressure from his family and friends about what to wish for. What they think he should wish for, that is.  He's been weighing his options. And he's determined to make his wish count. Then, with his birthday only a day away, Eldon comes to the conclusion that there is only ONE thing to wish for. The perfect wish.

No spoilers, though.

For a book that has absolutely nothing to do with The Princess Bride (as the title may imply), Chelsea Sedoti's new novel As You Wish is really pretty mind blowing. It deals with the very essence of human nature and just how far people will go to get what they want (scary!). This is one I'll be thinking about for a while...

Which begs the question:

If YOU (yes, YOU) could wish for anything, what would it be?

Think carefully before you answer.


The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang

Author/artist Jen Wang's newly released graphic novel, The Prince and the Dressmaker, has been on my TBR radar for some time. When I saw it on the New Books Shelf today, I grabbed it up...and read it in one sitting. The book was everything I hoped and more: A unique plot, beautiful illustrations, a cast of likable characters readers can really root for, and, perhaps most important, a Happily Ever After sort of ending (although not really by traditional standards). The Prince and the Dressmaker is a lovely, fairytale-like story about being yourself and finding others who accept you just as you are--quirks and all. 

The Prince and the Dressmaker centers on the relationship between Prince Sebastian and his best friend and clothing designer, Frances. This may sound like a setup for a Disney-like romance, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there really isn't much romance at all. One kiss...but even that's really more of a friend thing. 

Prince Sebastian of Brussels in Paris at his parents' demand. It is here the king and queen hope their son finds a suitable bride. After all, Paris is the "city of love". Instead Sebastian finds an outlet for his secret passion: Donning gorgeous gowns and exploring the city's night life as Lady Crystallia. The only one who knows this secret is Frances, the exceptionally talented young lady who designs Crystallia's dresses. The two teens have a fantastic time. At first. Before long, though, Frances' innovative designs catch the eye of the notables of the city's fashion industry. People who could make her career really take off. And thus comes the dilemma. By realizing her dreams, Frances would risk exposing Sebastian's secret. Which wouldn't be such a big deal of he wasn't the Prince and the sole heir to the throne. 

What happens next? spoilers. But don't worry. Everything works out  in the end (I tell you this because you look worried).

The Prince and the Dressmaker is one the the best things I've read so far this month. It's a sweet, fun story with all the feels and more.  I adored everything about this story, from the characters to the plot to the artwork. Everything! This book was a delight, and I would absolutely recommend it! 


Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Forgotten Book, by Mechthild Gläser

Somehow I was interested in reading a fantasy book and this book quickly grabbed my attention. The Forgotten Book was engaging with mysteries that paced the story. From the pages of the magical  book we glimpse its past, present and future. All of which, pieced together, form a story of its own. Every journal entry, despite their jumping timelines, made me feel like I was that much close to getting to the truth. There was no telling what was next but I knew it would be good. 

I loved the originality of the story. The magical book has such a rich history. Learning about its origin and what events it has made true since then was both scary and exciting. The unpredictable nature of the magic made anticipation high. It was super fun to see how the book interpreted the words on its pages. I was flipping fast to see what would come next.

I really liked the cast of characters. Emma was smart and persistent but also a little careless at times. Her friends made up for it - Charlotte was cautious while Hannah was just plain hilarious. There's a small bit of romance which felt very abrupt at first (a confession that came out of nowhere) but later grew on me. In many ways Darcy was misunderstood so it was extra satisfying to see the two work out their differences and get together.

All in all, The Forgotten Book was a delightful read. The story was original, the mysteries held me rapt and the ending was beautifully wrapped up. So if you like storybook adventures, definitely give author Mechthild Glaser's book a go! *JK*

Friday, February 9, 2018

Tina's Mouth: An Existential comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap

This week, in a further attempt to catch up my TBR, I read Tin’as Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary.  I loved it.  I simply loved it.  This was the first time in a long time that I have read a whole book, even a comic, in a day.  It was hard to put down, even when I planned on putting it down.
Tina is a fifteen year old at Yarborough Academy.  For her English Honors class final project, she is keeping an existentialist diary which she chooses to write to Sartre.  The idea is that she will explore philosophical questions and her life and her teacher will mail the diary back to her in three years.  Tina sets to work thinking about who she is and learning how to be.
But, like any fifteen year old, she is going to face a lot of changes in the coming year.  It all starts when her best friend Alex, an ex-Mormon whose parents recently divorced, starts wearing tight clothes, gets a boyfriend, and dumps Tina for a whole new group of friends.  Tina suddenly finds herself pretty much completely alone at school.  She begins spending time on her “bench of existential solitude” but before long she finds herself branching out and filling up her life.
Friend fights.  Loneliness.  Family drama.  First love.  School plays.  Tina is about to learn that she is a lot more than she previously thought.
As I said, I loved this book.  I loved it enough that I wrote down a few quotes from it just to keep in mind.  Tina’s feelings were very accurate to my own past experiences and I felt them achingly along with her.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton

I've heard a lot of buzz surrounding Dhonielle Clayton's new novel, The Belles. And although I'm not a big fan of the dystopian genre, the book's pretty cover made it hard to pass up. And at least it wasn't one of those "OMG! The World is Ending" kind of dystopians. So I gave it a read. And although it didn't match the hype for me, it was entertaining enough for me to keep going. 

Imagine being able to magically transform the color of your skin, the texture of your hair, and pretty much everything else about your appearance that makes you a unique individual. Imagine being able to change all that at whim. Whenever you want. And no, I'm not talking about popping over to Walgreen's and picking up a box of hair dye, a tube of bronzer, and a palate of eye shadow from Cover Girl's spring line. Although "beauty" would be so much more affordable to the characters in this book if this were an option. Guess they don't have Walgreen's in the Kingdom of Orleans. Pity. Because that would be an excellent way to cheat the system.

In the Kingdom of Orleans, all people are born devoid of color (are they albinos? not sure.). And the only way they can become "beautiful" is to be worked on by The Belles, a magical race who can transform anything and anyone, no matter how hideous, into something gorgeous. At a cost, of course. At this rate, only the most elite can afford to be pretty. 

The story centers on Camellia, one particular Belle who hopes to become the Belle who works on keeping the royal family looking their best. This is obviously a huge honor, and only the best of the best are chosen for this duty. The competition is stiff and the reward promises to be great. But much like those reality shows about wannabe supermodels and bachelorettes, being the Next Top Belle isn't all roses and gourmet chocolate. Plus there are the cat fights, pettiness, tears from those not chosen, and warnings about being careful what you wish for. Obviously you should always be careful what you wish for. Especially in these stories.

Although this whole book read like the script for a reality TV show, and although it was just as predictable, it was an interesting commentary about beauty and beauty's role in the world. About how some people will pay any price, endure any pain, in order to meet society's standards of what is "beautiful." 

Fans of Kiera Cass' Selection series will enjoy this one. --AJB

Monday, February 5, 2018

Despicable Me 3

Despicable Me 3 picks up shortly after the events of Despicable Me 2. Gru and Lucy are settling into married life, and Lucy is (very awkwardly) trying to get used to her role as mother to Gru's three adopted daughters. The Minions are...well, The Minions. 

But just when life seems just about perfect, Gru gets fired from the Anti-Villain League (AVL) when he fails to bring in the notorious child star-turned mullet-headed villain, Balthazar Bratt. This whole scene causes quite a bit of tension in the former villain's household. And more drama is on the way when Gru learns he has a long-lost twin brother, Dru. And Dru wants nothing more than to become as great a villain as Gru was back in the day. The only problem is Gru is reformed. And Dru is just plain awful at being bad.

Hoping to make everything right with his family and the AVL, Gru enlists Dru to help him bring in Bratt. Only Dru thinks they're on an evil villain mission. With all the lies, drama, and impossibly crazy schemes, it's not a spoiler to say this probably won't end well.

Despicable Me 3 wasn't as good as the first or even the second Despicable Me movies. There was too much going on, for one thing. And it just didn't have the heart of the previous films. Almost all the feels that should have been there were sacrificed for gross humor and overdone jokes. Still, the movie had its moments. My particular favorite scene was when Agnes goes Unicorn Hunting. The Minions also got their musical moment in the spotlight. The Minions make everything better.

Overall: A, entertaining film, but not nearly as awesome as previous ones in the series. 


It Should Have Been You, by Lynn Slaughter

Having just re-read We Were Liars (an excellent twisty mystery by E. Lockhart), I was in the mood for something with equal page-turning potential. So I picked up Lynn Slaughter's new novel, It Should Have Been You. And I was not disappointed. This thrilling story was everything I hoped. 

Clara, a shy teen who moonlights as the advice columnist for her school's paper, has not been having a good semester. Her popular twin sister Moura was mysteriously murdered only months earlier. And many people suspect Clara did it--including her classmates and the detective in charge of investigating the case. And maybe she did. After all, Clara was supposedly the only one home when Moura met her untimely demise. Nothing can be proven, though. And Clara insists on her own innocence.

Then Clara begins receiving threatening emails, hinting that the wrong twin was killed and that Clara could be next. Are these cryptic messages from the killer himself (or herself)? Or are they simply a sick joke from one of the many classmates who blames Clara for Moura's death? When not even the local authorities will take the threats seriously, Clara takes the mystery into her own hands. But is she prepared for what she'll discover?

It Should Have Been You is one of those books that hooks you from page one and keeps you up reading long past bedtime. Because you HAVE to find out what happens! (Who needs sleep, right?). If you're looking for an awesome mystery with lots of twists and turns and a surprise ending, this is the book for you! --AJB

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Throwback Thursday (sort of): Anne of Green Gables: A Graphic Novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden, illus. Brenna Thummler

I admit it. I've never really been all that inspired to read the L.M. Montgomery's classic Anne of Green Gables series (although I did enjoy her much lesser-known stand alone novelThe Blue Castle). As a child I watched the PBS adaption of Anne, though. I remember being entertained by it, but don't recall much more than the scene where Anne falls off the roof. I kind of forgot the series existed except in the periphery of my bookish awareness. There are just too many other books out there for me to pick up on a chick-lit series that's almost 100 years old. Then Netflix rebooted the series and, with it, came a renewed interest in the story.

Author/illustrator team of Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler even created a graphic novel adaption of the first Green Gables book. Curious and in need of something to read, I picked it up. It was a quick read. A fun read. Like any good graphic novel, there was very little dialogue and the illustrations picked up most of the slack of telling the story. And seemed to do an excellent job of doing so. And it was a cute story. Very quaint. And I remembered more from the PBS series than I thought. 


I may catch some flack for saying so, but I really didn't like Anne's character. She was rude, pushy, annoying, and would do anything to get her way/get out of trouble. She often lied. She was overly dramatic, beyond typical teenage hormones. She's basically the quintessential Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a particularly irritating (to me) trope that was popular a few years ago thanks to authors like John Green. True, Anne did begin to redeem herself, but not until the last few pages. Perhaps I would feel differently had I read the book rather than base my impression on the graphic... Or perhaps if I had encountered the story as a tween rather than as an adult... Maybe I would have liked Anne better. Maybe not. I couldn't tell you.

Overall, though, the graphic adaption of Anne of Green Gables was a worthy one. I think fans of the series will be pleased. --AJB