Boys (Jongens) Movie Review

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Review:

Boys (Jongens) stars Gijs Blom as Sieger, a 15 year old track star living with his widowed father and troubled older brother. When Sieger is selected to run in a championship relay race, he is teamed with free-spirited Marc (Ko Zandvliet) and falls in love. He struggles with accepting his newly realized sexuality and with his attempts to keep the peace between his father and brother, but ultimately this is a truly sweet and uplifting coming of age story about first love, and I highly recommend it for teens and adults alike.

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Lord of Scoundrels Book Review

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Review:

I was enjoying this book immensely right up until the point where the heroine shot the hero.

It’s pretty annoying how female violence against men gets brushed aside as inconsequential or even treated as a joke in media. If the hero had shot the heroine, people would rightly be horrified, but because she’s small and female and he’s a big brute of a guy, we’re supposed to be okay with it? Ugh.

So needless to say, after that my feelings were more mixed.

Overall, though, I have to say Lord of Scoundrels was a pretty terrific read and I can see why it’s considered a classic of historical romance.

Most of the first half of the book is taken up by what’s essentially a game of Chicken – he one ups her, she one ups him, things escalate, and then escalate even more (somewhere in there, the gun shows up) until she ends up suing him for a considerable quantity of money and he goes for Ultimate Chicken and proposes marriage, figuring if she’s going to live comfortably for the rest of her life on his wealth, he may as well get something out of it.

Or at least, that’s what he tells himself. The reader certainly isn’t fooled!

Aside from the shooting incident, I liked the heroine, Jessica Trent, a lot. She was smart, sensible, determined, and definitely gave as good as she got in her verbal sparring matches with Dain (and we all know how I adore a bickering couple). I had a few more reservations about Dain himself. Any tender-hearted reader (and I’m about as big a bleeding heart as they come) will feel bad for him due to his appalling childhood and the considerable internalized self-loathing he developed as a result, but his tendency to jump to conclusions and assume that Jessica was thinking the worst of him got more annoying the more evidence accumulated to the contrary.

Nevertheless, their arguments were witty and frequently laugh out loud funny, and the sexual tension delicious, though the language in some of the sex scenes got a little too romance novel-y for my taste. (No “quivering members” though, thank god.) My issues with the shooting and a few other things aside, I did have a LOT of fun reading this book.

By the way, romance novel covers are often terrible, so I’m not going to pick on this one too much, but it is pretty terrible. I guess it’s prettier than some, but, uh, not only does the picture bear almost no physical resemblance to Jessica Trent as described in the novel, but the impression it gives of her personality couldn’t be more incorrect. Jessica shouldn’t look so melancholy and pensive, she should be staring out at the reader with fire in her eyes!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The Deal Book Review

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Review:

The whole time I was reading The Deal, I was thinking that the style of writing seemed familiar, and when I finished, I finally realized that it’s because Elle Kennedy is also the co-author (with Sarina Bowen) of Him, which I read and reviewed last summer. D’oh! Even the same sport.

The Deal uses the same alternating point of view as Him, and follows Hannah Wells, a music major, and Garrett Graham, a star college hockey player.

I enjoyed Him, but I liked The Deal more. As I’ve mentioned, I imprinted on The Cutting Edge at a rather impressionable age, so I adore a good bickering couple, and Garrett and Hannah’s bickering was lots of fun to read and never descended into mushiness after they got together. I also have to say that I ended up really liking Garrett. He comes off initially as a bit of a cocky, arrogant douchebag, but proves himself to be a real sweetheart and much more respectful of women than he seemed at first.

I am not a big fan of rape as a backstory (or abuse either, for that matter), but I thought it was handled okay in The Deal and it didn’t have me rolling my eyes or anything. I just wish it wasn’t such a common trope in New Adult romances.

Overall, a pretty enjoyable read.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Back To the Future Movie Review

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Review:

Would you believe that I’m over 30 years old and I had never seen this movie? In honor of Back to the Future day (October 21, 2015) the other day, I finally decided to remedy that, and was really pleasantly surprised. I kind of expected the movie to be corny and/or have terrible special effects, but I ended up enjoying it a lot. The story held my interest from beginning to end and there were some extremely funny lines. (Two days later, I’m still occasionally bursting into random giggles over “it’s already mutated into human form!” and “better get used to those bars, kid.”) The special effects definitely weren’t up to modern standards, but they weren’t terrible or silly looking like some older movies either.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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The Martian Movie Review

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Review:

Topping my list of 5 Movies I’m Looking Forward To Seeing This Fall was The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s novel of the same name, which has been one of my favorite reads of 2015 so far. (Check out my review.) And I didn’t waste any time going to see it!

The Martian is the best space movie I’ve seen since Apollo 13, and it’s very similar in theme. There’s no human antagonist in this film, only the harsh realities of outer space, which Mark, his fellow Ares mission crew members, and scientists from around the world must struggle against in order to, in the words of the film’s tagline, Bring Him Home. Like Apollo 13, it’s full of really smart, competent people being really smart and competent. The science is quite a bit less detailed than the book (and there are fewer disasters and near disasters), but there’s more than enough to get a feel for it without overwhelming the audience with exposition dumps. Despite going in knowing the story, I thought the film did a great job of keeping the tension high.

The cast is amazing. Matt Damon as Mark Watney obviously has the largest role, but the supporting cast is also full of outstanding actors, including Jessica Chastain, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jeff Daniels, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Kate Mara, Michael Pena, Donald Glover, and more, to the point that a bunch of them actually felt underutilized. I really appreciated how diverse the film was, with many women and characters of color presented casually and without comment as skilled and respected scientists and leaders.

Although I thought the other five members of the Ares crew (Chastain, Stan, Mara, Pena, and Aksel Hennie) were among the most underutilized as actors, they did provide much of the film’s emotional depth and heart. The mutual friendship and respect they all shared with Mark was palpable and resulted in several powerful and emotional scenes as they confronted together the possibility that he might not survive. At the same time, they weren’t afraid to tease each other. Pilot Rick Martinez (Pena)’s first message to Mark after the crew discovered that he’d survived was especially funny, and Mark’s distaste for Commander Melissa Lewis (Chastain)’s love of disco music made for a great running joke.

Most importantly, I hope this film is a huge hit because after spending trillions on wars over the last decade and a half, I’d really like to see the next decade and a half spend money on things that actually move humanity forward, like science and space exploration. A manned Mars mission? Would be awesome. And though the movie is unflinching about the harshness of life on Mars (and the book even more so), it’s impossible not to look at the amazing Martian landscapes (actually Jordan’s Wadi Rum) and not want humanity to someday set foot there. So go forth, watch this film and be inspired!

Note: this review is for the standard version – I hate how dark 3-D films are and avoid watching them whenever possible.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)


 

The Martian Book Review

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Review:

I’ve been reading a lot of romance lately, so I decided it was time for a change of pace. While I was contemplating what to try next, the Sebastian Stan fans on my Tumblr dashboard (of which I have many, thanks to my current obsession with the Captain America films, where he plays Bucky Barnes*) started sharing a new viral trailer for his upcoming film, The Martian, also starring Matt Damon, Jeff Daniels, and Jessica Chastain.

I’ve heard great things about the book, which was written by Andy Weir and originally self-published, and it’s been on my to-read list for awhile, but then one of the aforementioned Sebastian Stan fans bumped it up to the #1 spot it by describing it, essentially, as the “square peg in a round hole” scene from Apollo 13 expanded into an entire book:

To which I was like, “heck yeah, baby!” because that is my favorite scene in one of my favorite movies, and so I bought The Martian and started reading it straightaway.

Bonus: it turned out to be only $5.99 on Kindle! Yay! So many traditionally published books try to charge $9.99 or even more for the Kindle edition, which is just stupid. I’m not going to pay as much as a paperback for an ebook. But $5.99 is within reason.

So, the plot of the book is that humanity has managed to get its act together with NASA funding (hint, hint) enough to do manned missions to Mars. On the third mission, the astronauts are forced to abort the mission six days into their time on Mars due to a powerful dust storm, but during the evacuation, astronaut Mark Watney, the mission’s botanist and mechanical engineer, gets hit by a flying antenna and is presumed killed. The crew attempts to recover his body, but are forced to leave the planet before they can find it.

However, Mark’s not dead, and once he regains consciousness and realizes what happened, he sets about figuring out how to survive alone on Mars for four years until the fourth mission can come along to rescue him.

The description of the book as the “Square peg in a round hole” scene from Apollo 13 was not misleading at all. I was in nerd heaven, especially reading Mark’s log entries. Although I’m not enough of a nerd to know how accurate some things were, the stuff I knew anything about seemed reasonably accurate, and I thought that Weir did a really good job overall of describing extremely technical stuff in an understandable and entertaining way.

In addition to the delightful nerdiness, the story was really tense and gripping from beginning to end, and very hard to put down. The great pacing and consistent tension was especially impressive considering that a lot of what Mark had to do was pretty damn mind-numbing. Crossing 3000+ kilometers of barren wasteland at 25 km/hr? Kill me now.

Where I thought the novel came up a bit short was the characterization. You get a pretty strong sense of Mark’s personality – as you’d expect, since you’re basically reading his thoughts (via the log entries) for most of the book – but the other five astronauts and the various NASA staff were less well defined and the dialogue between them was very basic and functional at best. However, this isn’t exactly an unusual complaint with hard sci-fi novels, and I thought the great pacing and fascinating survival story made up for it.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

I definitely plan to see the movie, which is scheduled to be released October 2, 21015, and am now really looking forward to it. Here is the official trailer:

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A Fashionable Indulgence: A Society of Gentlemen Novel Book Review

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Review:

Think of England, by KJ Charles, was one of my favorite reads in 2015 so far, so I was excited to see that she has a new series coming out, and even pre-ordered the first book, which I rarely do.

A Fashionable Indulgence, the first in her new Society of Gentlemen series, is a Regency-era m/m romance with many of the same things I enjoyed about Think of England. It’s plotty and heavily influenced by the politics and social issues of the period (you may want to scan the Wikipedia article on the Peterloo Massacre to get a refresher course before diving in), has lots of witty dialogue, and an appealing cast of characters, including several excellent female characters.

The story centers on Harry Vane, a young man who was raised by radical, reformist parents but never shared the strength of their convictions. After the deaths of his parents in a cholera outbreak, Harry discovers his father was actually the son of a noble family, and he is set to inherit a fortune… if he drops his radical beliefs and marries an appropriate young lady. Harry is quite happy to do both in exchange for a more safe and comfortable life, and his newly discovered cousin, Lord Richard Vane, takes him under his wing and convinces his friend, the dandy Julius Norreys, to help remake Harry into the image of a proper gentleman. His dreams for his new life almost immediately get complicated: Harry, who is bisexual, thinks Julius is just about the most beautiful person he’s ever seen, and as he gets deeper into the world of gentlemen, he realizes increasingly that neither his attraction for other men nor his political beliefs can be quite so easily cast aside.

As with KJ Charles’s other series, The Magpie Lord, I did not think the UST was as strong between Harry and Julius as it was between Archie and Daniel in Think of England, so I didn’t feel as much emotional connection to their actual relationship, but her characterization is excellent, both for Harry and Julius themselves and for the well-developed supporting cast of characters. (It appears that the Society of Gentlemen series will focus on a different one of Lord Richard’s friends and relations in each novel, and I’m pretty eager to learn more about several of them, including Dominic Frey, who will be the focus of the next novel in the series, A Seditious Affair.) The period atmosphere and details were also excellent, and inspired me to look up more about the reform movements of the period.

A very enjoyable read!

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

The Song of Achilles Book Review

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Review:

I’ve loved the legends of the Trojan War since I was a young girl reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, but I have to confess, I’ve never been a big fan of Achilles. The qualities that made him Aristos Achaion , the greatest of the Greeks, are not, for the most part, the sort of qualities that endear him so much to modern audiences, let alone a pacifist like myself. Still, as the greatest of the Greek heroes who fought in the war, his story is inescapable, and there are many parts I love.

One of these is his relationship with kind, gentle Patroclus, which brings out the best in Achilles and, in the end, the worst as well. The exact nature of their relationship has been a matter of controversy for hundreds of years, if not thousands. Close friends or lovers? Personally, I lean towards the latter camp, and so, it’s clear, does Madeline Miller, whose debut novel, The Song of Achilles, tells their story as a love story through the eyes of Patroclus.

Reading the novel, I was struck by how many passages from it I already knew. The most famous, of course:

I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.

But also a bunch of others that I wouldn’t have guessed came from this novel, like:

Perhaps it is the greatest grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.

and

“Name one hero who was happy.”

“You can’t.”

and

Fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another. We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.

Despite the lyrical style, The Song of Achilles was an easy read. There were a few points where I thought the story or characterizations were a little over-simplified, most notably the council scene from Book 9 of the Iliad, which is one of my favorites, but overall, I thought it did a good job of sticking to the legends while also managing to give enough of a different perspective to be absorbing, despite how well I know the story.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Unteachable Book Review

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Review:

It’s kind of funny what a 180 degree turn Unteachable was from my last summer read, despite being very similar in genre and setting. I identified pretty strongly, maybe even overidentified, with the characters of Fangirl. I have almost nothing in common with the characters of Unteachable.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book a great deal. The main character and narrator, Maise O’Malley, is pretty severely fucked up – major daddy issues thanks to the father she’s never met, as well as a mother who’s a meth addict and dealer and who turns tricks on the side – but she’s vibrant and alive in a way that makes it pretty clear why men in general (and one man in particular) are drawn to her.

Her personality leaps off the page via vivid, impressionistic prose. In fact, I bought the book kind of on a whim, without checking the sample like I usually do, but I knew I was going to enjoy it as soon as I read the opening line:

When you’re eighteen, there’s fuck-all to do in a southern Illinois summer but eat fried pickles, drink PBR tallboys you stole from your mom, and ride the Tilt-a-Whirl till you hurl.

Maisie is cynical, blunt (“Thanks, Dad, for leaving a huge void in my life that Freud says has to be filled with dick“), and often funny, but desperate to escape her small Illinois town and sad, messed up life. In the way of smart, creative teenagers everywhere, she swings sometimes into melodrama and pretentiousness, but she’s also very raw and honest in a way that makes you feel for her, and root for her even when she’s making mistakes. Her dream is to direct films, and she experiences the world in a very immediate way, like a series of overlapping but often fleeting sensations, so the book is filled with evocative sensory descriptions, from the steamy sex scenes to the sights and sounds and smells of the carnival. I tore through it really feeling like I was experiencing the world through someone else’s eyes.

It was a bit less clear why Maise felt so drawn to Evan Wilke, the stranger she hooks up with at a carnival shortly before the start of her senior year of high school, who’s soon revealed to be her new Film Studies teacher. Neither Maise nor Evan is shy about admitting the lure of forbidden fruit for both of them, but the extent to which their relationship exists outside of mutual lust, mutual fucked-upedness, and the irresistability of the taboo is left a little ambiguous. (Deliberately, I suspect.)

The book ends hopefully, but if you like your endings Happily Ever After, it’s the sort of hopeful ending you don’t want to examine too closely with a realistic eye. As someone 10 or 15 years older than the intended audience of the “New Adult” genre, there were several things that set my alarm bells clanging about Maise and Evan’s real prospects for a happy future together, including, most alarmingly, the revelation that Maise wasn’t the first student Evan had slept with. (In real life, girls, this is the point where you run the fuck away and don’t look back.) By the end, it seemed clear to me that despite the 15 year age gap between them, Maisie was in many ways the more mature of the two of them and the one who really knew what she wanted out of life and was willing to do what it took to get it. Evan finally took action toward the life he wanted for himself at the end, but will it be enough to change it or will he continue to drift? The book leaves the question open, and frankly you could easily make an argument for either outcome.

In short, it’s not a comfortable book with characters or actions that are easily slotted into neat pigeonholes, but if you’re okay with complicated people in complicated and not always healthy relationships making complicated and not always healthy choices, it’s an intense and absorbing read that you may find will stick with you for a long time.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

Inside Out Movie Review

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Review:

After 2013’s disappointing Monsters University, it’s great to see Pixar back to form in Inside Out. While I don’t think Inside Out reached the heights of Monsters Inc. or Finding Nemo, it’s smart, creative, charming, and moving, just like all Pixar’s best works.

The film takes place mostly inside the head of an 11 year old girl named Riley. Five emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust – live inside her brain’s control center and help Riley navigate life. Riley’s a lucky little girl with a happy and loving family, and up until this point, Joy has mostly been in charge, but after the family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, Riley struggles with the transition and the emotions start to panic due to the repeated failure of their attempts to keep Riley as happy as they believe she deserves to be. In the ensuing chaos, Joy and Sadness are accidentally sucked out of the control center and into Long-Term Memory, where they’re unable to help Riley cope. Taken over by Fear, Disgust, and Anger, Riley’s happy life starts to fall apart.

There are lots of funny moments in Inside Out (many of my favorites were the brief glimpses into the control centers of other characters, including Riley’s mom and dad, her teacher, and a dog and cat on the street) and it’s ultimately a feel-good film, but it also deals with some weightier issues than most Pixar films, including an attempt to run away from home and a very effective visual metaphor for depression, so I think older children will get more out of it than younger children. In fact, I think it could be really helpful for older children, because it offers a safe framework to talk about feelings (via the personified emotions in the control center) and some valuable lessons about how important “negative” emotions (especially sadness) can be to our physical and emotional health, yet at the same time, how dangerous it is to be controlled exclusively by them. As someone who, like Riley, had a really happy and loving childhood yet struggled with depression beginning around age 11 or 12, I found myself wondering if a movie like this could have helped me understand and express more clearly what was happening to me back then. Maybe it would have helped and maybe not – loving as they are, my family does Emotionally Repressed WASP like champions, and I’m no exception. But I definitely don’t think it would have hurt.

My rating:4 Stars (4 / 5)

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