Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes

Photobucket Summary: After finally catching serial killer and occult "sorcerer" Lord Blackwood, legendary sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson can close yet another successful case. But when Blackwood mysteriously returns from the grave and resumes his killing spree, Holmes must take up the hunt once again. Contending with his partner's new fiancée and the dimwitted head of Scotland Yard, the dauntless detective must unravel the clues that will lead him into a twisted web of murder, deceit, and black magic - and the deadly embrace of temptress Irene Adler.

Review: I've been wanting to see Sherlock Holmes since I began to see the previews months ago. The biggest hurdle for me was getting my husband to go, he's not a movie guy. A few people said it was really good so I was able to talk him into going. This movie is not a let down in anyway. The action is constant, the mystery is good and Holmes is a brilliant boxer/fighter. Watson is more than a silly sidekick and Jude Law is excellent in this role. I love how Holmes is eccentric and needs Watson to keep him in the real world. There is quite a bit of humor throughout the movie to lighten the mood. I loved the late 1800's London that the film is set in. The movie can be a bit dark at times, both in mood and in lighting, but it works. It seems to the be the thing right now to have a "secret" society in movies/books and Sherlock Holmes has that element to it as well.

The entire cast was excellent, including Rachel McAdams as the mysterious Irene Adler. Although I will admit that every time Rachel is in a movie I can't help but think that Jennifer Garner could have done the part as well. Just my little quirk.

Of course you know that there is going to be a sequel, not that I mind. I think Guy Ritchie did an excellent job with this new, updated Sherlock Holmes. I'm hoping that he sticks around to direct the sequel as well. Warner Bros could have another great movie series on its hands, if they don't screw it up.

I will admit to never reading the books and short stories of Sherlock Holmes but I have put both volumes on my wish list for future purchase. I do remember watching the older movies with my dad though.

If you are looking for an entertaining movie with a bit of everything for everyone, I highly recommend Sherlock Holmes. I'd actually pay full prices to see it again.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Julie's Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

Summary: Following her breakout bestseller, The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger returns with Her Fearful Symmetry, a haunting tale about the complications of love, identity, and sibling rivalry. The novel opens with the death of Elspeth Noblin, who bequeaths her London flat and its contents to the twin daughters of her estranged twin sister back in Chicago. These 20-year-old dilettantes, Julie and Valentina, move to London, eager to try on a new experience like one of their obsessively matched outfits. Historic Highgate Cemetery, which borders Elspeth's home, serves as an inspired setting as the twins become entwined in the lives of their neighbors: Elspeth's former lover, Robert; Martin, an agoraphobic crossword-puzzle creator; and the ethereal Elspeth herself, struggling to adjust to the afterlife. Niffenegger brings these quirky, troubled characters to marvelous life, but readers may need their own supernatural suspension of disbelief as the story winds to its twisty conclusion.

Review: I just finished this book an hour or so and pretty much don't know what to think of it. I didn't love it and I didn't hate it. I guess I'm indifferent about it. There were parts of this novel that I loved: the setting, London; the story of sisters; the historical nuances of the cemetery that is essential to the novel. Essentially this is a ghost story that goes awry. We meet Elspeth Noblin as she is dying of Leukemia and leaves her estate to her nieces that she's only met a couple of times. Through her death we meet the people in her building who have their own stories. Probably the most interesting is Martin. A man so debilitated by OCD that he can't leave his own apartment when his wife of 20 years leaves him. With Martin we see someone overcome their demons and truly grow.

I've read some reviews about this book that weren't too kind on Julia and Valentina but honestly I just think they are typical 20 year old girls...self-centered and naive. I'm not a twin but I've read that they have an uncommonly strong bond with each other. Even stating that, the bond with Julia and Valentina is a bit eerie at times. Neither one lives their own life, with their own interests. Instead they are intertwined in a pretty unhealthy way. You can't be that dependent on each other and have it be good for either of you. Valentina's nickname is "mouse" and this is because she's the quiet and skittish one. Julia is the strong one, the leader. Valentina doesn't even want to go London for the year but doesn't resist Julia's insistence in going.

There are a lot of things in the book that I can't even go into because of the way the book unravels. There are two big twists that I didn't see coming, although with one of them I feel like I should have seen it.

The characters are interesting, even if they aren't particularly likable. I found Elspeth to be extremely well-written but extremely unlikeable. She is self-centered and egotistical. In my opinion she never even truly loved Robert but only used him for her own reasons.

I do love the way Audrey Niffenegger writes her books. She has a gift for crafting a story that transports you to that place. I could picture the cemetery and the flat.
As with a great many sophomore novels, this one just doesn't live up to that of The Time Traveler's Wife even if they are completely different novels. In other words, if you are looking for another TTW, don't pick up Her Fearful Symmetry.

If you are looking for a love story that is also a ghost story, I highly recommend
Peony in Love: A Novel by Lisa See.

Even though this book was a bit of a disappointment, I will continue to check out Ms. Niffenegger's future novels.

Final Take: 3.5/5

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Julie's Review: Symmetry

Summary: Jessica Cassady must reevaluate her marriage while also dealing with the realization that her hair pulling is more than just a nervous habit. When her husband Lee attends a sportswriters’ convention and Jessica calls his hotel room, another woman answers the phone. He swears things aren’t what they seem, but she insists he move out while she decides whether or not to forgive him. With the increased stress of the separation, Jessica’s hair pulling escalates and she realizes she might have a physical condition called trichotillomania. As if she doesn’t already have enough to deal with, her domineering mother shows up for a surprise visit. Jess tries to avoid her mother’s disapproval by attempting to conceal her marital problems. While Lee works to win Jess back, things grow complicated when she runs into Noah Hamilton, a sweet, unassuming history teacher from her past. Jess’s interest in Noah makes her think that maybe—as her best friend Deb loves to tell her—she needs to forego the beefcake brigade and give the sensitive type a try. Conflict escalates when Lee realizes just how much he’s lost in losing his wife. Sparks fly as these two polar opposites on the testosterone scale compete for Jess’s affection. Will she find her emotional center, decide which man is right for her, and finally achieve the symmetry she craves in every aspect of her life?

Review: I first want to thank Ms. Scarbrough for stopping by the blog and finding it interesting enough to offer me her book Symmetry. I found Jessica Cassady a very smart and sassy young woman except in one area of her life, her love life. She just can't shake the addiction she has to her former football player husband, Lee. You can pretty much gather from the beginning of the book that Jessica is not going to leave/divorce Lee. You know that by the end of the book he'll say the right thing to get her back.
This wasn't the storyline I was interested in.

What I enjoyed most was Jess's journey to figuring out why she liked to pull out her hair, strand by strand. This leads her to a self-diagnosis of trichotillomania or TTM for short. She begins to try to understand the triggers for this and takes actions to stop. I also liked how she developed a relationship with a young girl named Cara who did not have the support of her family in treating this disease. As a psychology major, I found it extremely interesting that this is a phyical disease and not a mental illness. I can see why it would be misdiagnosed a lot of the time.
I liked how this also brought her closer to her younger sister in law, Lexie and she was able to help Lexie with her own issues with OCD.

Normally I would think that author's would have to do a lot of research on a disease like TTM but not Ms. Scarbrough, for her this was a personal novel because she deals with TTM personally. I always like it when author's use a subject matter that they know personally as a source of inspiration for a character. I have a feeling that Jessica is a lot like Joyce in her way of dealing with TTM.

Ms. Scarbrough has quite a fan base around the web and I was happy to read her book to help her promote it.

If you are looking for a quick, fun and informative read, go grab yourself a copy of Symmetry and curl up on the couch.

Final Take: 3.75/5

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Book to Movie: Confessions of a Shopaholic

Summary: Fall in love with the adorable Becky Bloomwood (Isla Fisher) in the hilarious romantic comedy Confessions Of A Shopaholic. Becky s desperate for a job writing for a high-fashion magazine in glamorous New York. She gets her stilettos in the door writing a personal finance column at a sister publication. Much to her surprise, her column, The Girl In The Green Scarf, becomes a hit, and she falls head over high heels for her handsome, overworked boss (Hugh Dancy). But Becky has a secret that leads to some hilarious high jinks that could unravel it all. From the best-selling novel, and featuring the perfect comedic cast, it s the feel-good romantic comedy you'll fall in love with over and over.

Review: Ok so I was a huge fan of the Shopaholic Gift Set (Shopaholic Ties the Knot / Shopaholic Takes Manhattan / Confessions of a Shopaholic) until Shopaholic & Baby. Needless to say I wanted to hate this movie because they had changed so much about it. London = New York and other nuances. But I loved it! Sure, it didn't stick to the book but what book to movie does?? Isla Fisher was perfect as Becky Bloomwood and while Hugh Dancy is not Christian Bale, he is quite dreamy as Luke Brandon.

The one thing that really bugged me about it was that I don't remember Becky being a fashionista. I just remember her having a shopping problem, not necessarily because of Prada. That being said the character of Becky was as I remember her. Not really a complete space case but just unable to handle her finances. She's hilarious and really quite smart if she'd only take her own advice. Krysten Ritter is great as her best friend Suz. And parents are played quite well by John Goodman and Joan Cusack. Now that's some great casting!

The movie had me laughing out loud in several different parts (see the dancing scene) and had me feeling for Becky when she realized just really how bad it had gotten for her. I'm actually hoping for a sequel and that's coming from someone who didn't want to see it.

Book to Movie Final Take: 4/5 (I'd give it higher but it wasn't similar enough to the book, although it captured the spirit.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book to Movie: Angels and Demons

Summary: If the devil is in the details, there's a lot of wicked fun in Angels & Demons, the sequel (originally a prequel) to The Da Vinci Code. Director Ron Howard delivers edge-of-your-pew thrills all over the Vatican, the City of Rome, and the deepest, dankest catacombs. Tom Hanks is dependably watchable in his reprised role as Professor Robert Langdon, summoned urgently to Rome on a matter of utmost urgency--which happens to coincide with the death of the Pope, meaning the Vatican is teeming with cardinals and Rome is teeming with the faithful. A religious offshoot group, calling themselves the Illuminati, which protested the Catholic Church's prosecution of scientists 400 years ago, has resurfaced and is making extreme, and gruesome, terrorist demands. The film zooms around the city, as Langdon follows clues embedded in art, architecture, and the very bone structure of the Vatican. The cast is terrific, including Ewan McGregor, who is memorable as a young protégé of the late pontiff, and who seems to challenge the common wisdom of the Conclave just by being 40 years younger than his fellows when he lectures for church reform. Stellan Skarsgard is excellent as a gruff commander of the Swiss Guard, who may or may not have thrown in with the Illuminati. But the real star of the film is Rome, and its High Church gorgeousness, with lush cinematography by Salvatore Totino, who renders the real sky above the Vatican, in a cataclysmic event, with the detail and majesty of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Review: I admit it, I never finished the book of Angels & Demons. I was pregnant with my daughter and my mind was just too foggy to read it. I did get about half way through it when I stopped, so I remember glimmers. Having said that this movie adaptation is so much better than The Da Vinci Code which sucked compared to the book. It didn't do the book justice at all. Instantly, Angels and Demons brings you in and you are enthralled.

Angels & Demons is fast-paced and the action never lets up. The story is extremely interesting and follows Brown's typical plot science vs. religion. What I thought was the most interesting was how the Cardinals pick a new Pontiff. The other thing that I felt was an important character was Vatican City itself. I didn't realize that while it's inside Rome, it's a separate city with a separate police force.

I'm not Catholic but their history is definitely interesting and very intriguing. The archives were extremely modern and I was very surprised by this. Then I reminded myself that the Catholic church is one of the richest institutions in the world.

I will say that I pretty much figured out the bad guy in the beginning of the movie but that doesn't matter much because I still loved watching Langdon figure this one out.

I'm a huge Tom Hanks fan and was much more pleased with this Robert Langdon movie than with The Da Vinci Code. To be honest, I never saw Mr. Hanks as Robert Langdon but now I can't picture anyone else.

So, even if you haven't read the book, I would definitely watch the movie. You won't be disappointed.

Movie Final Take: 4.5/5

Monday, December 21, 2009

Julie's Review: Knit the Season

Summary: Knit the Season is a loving, moving, laugh-out-loud celebration of special times with friends and family. The story begins a year after the end of Knit Two, with Dakota Walker's trip to spend the Christmas holidays with her Gran in Scotland-accompanied by her father, her grandparents, and her mother's best friend, Catherine. Together, they share a trove of happy memories about Christmases past with Dakota's mom, Georgia Walker-from Georgia's childhood to her blissful time as a doting new mom. From Thanksgiving through Hanuk?kah and Christmas to New Year's, Knit the Season is a novel about the richness of family bonds and the joys of friendship.

Review: I pre-ordered Knit the Season: A Friday Night Knitting Club Novel when it was released knowing I would want a Christmas/Holiday book to read right around this time of year. I'm glad I picked it up and read it in a weekend. I needed something to boost my spirit since work tends to get extremely hectic this time of year. For those of you who have read the other "Friday Night Knitting Club" books, this one is a great fit into the rest of the series and yes, it makes you want more.

This is like grabbing a cup of coffee and catching up with friends you haven't seen in a while. It's also meant to remind us what the holiday's are really, friends and love. What I liked about this book is that we got to know Georgia a bit more through memories of her friends and family. We also get to know her parents, Tom and Bess, better and this also lends to us understanding Georgia.

Like Knit Two, Knit the Season is told from Dakota's point of view and I felt that it was a real voice of a 20 year old that has a lot on her plate. She's trying to live up to her own expectations of herself and those she feels other's have for her as well.

There is a bunch of change at the end of the book and I'm interested in seeing where Ms. Jacobs takes this series. She certainly has a lot of material to work with if she chooses to continue writing the characters.

I've said in the past that some of the characters annoyed me, but not this time around. They have all seemed to mature a bit.

Final Take: 4.5/5

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top Books of 2009: Julie's List

I can't believe it's almost the end of 2009 and I've been working like a dog. Since it's that time of year again, it's yet again time for our Top 10 Lists. I'm on my 49th book for the year as I'm doing this list, so I guess it could be edited if the books I read between now and 12/31 deserve being on the list.

Perfect on Paper by Maria Murane: Looking for an American "Bridget Jones"? Well let Waverly Bryson fill that role for you. A laugh out loud, feel good book. I loved it! Perfect on Paper review

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran: Talk about learning something new. You always hear the name Nefertiti but how many of us know anything about her? Ms. Moran does a fantastic job incorporating facts and fiction. Above all this is a book about sisters. Nefertiti review

The Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly: I have to thank Lisa (again) for turning me on to this brilliant writer. Even though I read them out of order I loved getting to know a young Fiona and Joe. This is a historical romance book at it's finest. You can tell Ms. Donnelly does her homework. The Tea Rose review

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: I loved this coming of age story set during WWII. I also learned a great deal while reading the book about the US treatment of Japanese citizens that I found appalling. Although for me it was a love story in the end. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet review

The Last Bridge by Teri Coyne: What a haunting story about how we all fight our own demons but how we can fight our way back into the world. This was a deep and dark book but it was superbly written. The Last Bridge review

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran: Well can you tell I'm a big fan of Ms. Moran's? Well there's a very good reason, her writing is phenomenal. This is another historical fiction book set in Egypt and the main character, Nefertari is intriguing, youthful and wise. She's an excellent character and you cheer for her the whole book. The Heretic Queen review

Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella: After a lackluster Remember Me in 2008, Ms. Kinsella hit it out of the park with this book. A ghost story that is clever, witty, and a hoot. I highly recommend this book if you are in the mood for something a bit lighter but still with a strong message. Twenties Girl review

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe: What an outstanding first novel. Sure this book was about Salem witches and if they were really witches, but most of all it was about finding and understanding yourself. Sometimes that comes from family history. The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane review

Darling Jim by Christian Moerk: I'm not into Goth books at all but I loved this one. The writing was entrancing and I really wanted to know what happened at the end. It was definitely a book I highly recommend to fans of a good mystery. Darling Jim review

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark: A renaissance, coming of age story. Ms. Newmark really puts you in renaissance Italy and how it was to live in that time. What a fantastic book about food and alchemy. The Book of Unholy Mischief review

I can't wait to see what will make the list for 2010. I highly recommend any of these books if you have not yet read them.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Random Musings

Photobucket I have made a decision...I'm done with Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, which mean I'm done with Ms. Evanovich since I don't read any of her other books. I think the divorce has been coming for a while but I realized today that I haven't read book 15 and I don't feel like I'm missing anything.

Someone will just have to tell me when the last book is written so I can find out if Stephanie ended up with Morelli or Ranger. I'm on Team Morelli.

With so many authors out there who has the time to waste on characters you just don't care about anymore.

Anyone else divorcing an author?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book to Movie: New Moon

I've really been looking forward to this movie. Although I promised myself I wasn't going to re-read the book prior to seeing it, I couldn't help it. The anticipation was too great.

I have been hoping that the interpretation of this book comes off better on film than Twilight (my review of the first film) where I think they removed too much of the romance from the story and as a result Bella comes off as a manic, love crazed teenager and Edward a slightly scary stalker. I was not disappointed.

I think this is one of the best Book-to-Movie translations I've seen. It's right up there with the Sorcerer's Stone in that it made an effort to include EVERYTHING and created a magical world. The pervasive blues and greys of Twilight were replaced by the lush color that Meyer so vividly describes. I even thought the 'voice' of Edward in Bella's head was done well, with ghost like apparitions of him.

Were there things excluded that I missed? Of course (Alice & Charlie's conversation when Alice returns, Alice & Bella's conversation on the plane, Edward & Bella's final conversation in her room (which is severely truncated), Bella's fight with Charlie). But many things were inserted elsewhere or even rewritten better (like Harry's heart attack). In truth, you'll always miss something but they left out nothing that was essential to the plot. They even went back and picked up the conversation that was skipped in the first film that was necessary plot exposition for this film, Carlisle's history.

Though I'm still not a huge Kristen Stewart fan, I think the rest of the movie brilliantly makes up for her. The only scene that was truly cringe worthy for me was her solo scene after Edward left her in the woods. (Interestingly enough, in one of her recent interviews Stewart claimed that this was her favorite book in the series because of the emotional gamut for the character of Bella; I found this amusing, because it certainly isn't portrayed on film. ~I have serious doubts that she will be able to pull off Breaking Dawn, the fourth and final film). However, she was the only dull spot in an otherwise sparkling film (pun intended) and even that was almost something to overlook.

I thoroughly enjoyed it ~even with a 'Team Jacob' teen sobbing behind me and a teen a few seats over, who had obviously never read the books, remarking loudly at each new development. I'd even go see it again in the theatres before it hits DVD ~which is already on my wish list... ok, well, at least signed up to be notified of when it becomes available to put on my wish list...

Final take: 4.75/5

Friday, November 27, 2009

Julie's Review: The Maze

Summary: Full of karate, pistol-whipping, and other malevolent mayhem, Catherine Coulter's The Maze could be described as a junior-varsity version of Silence of the Lambs. As in that novel, the heroine in The Maze, Lacey Sherlock, becomes an FBI agent to help unravel the mysteries of her own past. Seven years after her sister was brutally slain by a serial killer (the wonderfully creepy "String Killer"), Lacey is assigned to the FBI's Criminal Apprehension Unit (CAU). The CAU, headed by brawny bureau egghead Dillon Savich, uses computer modeling to catch the baddest guys around--it's like profiling, but with databases. Before you know it, Dillon and Lacey are tangling with the String Killer. Even when the scenarios are not terribly inventive--"Let's use Lacey as bait! What a great idea!"--Coulter makes sure that her bad guys are good and twisted. A touch of bloody-mindedness can cover up a multitude of sins, and on that score, The Maze satisfies.

Review: Maybe starting a series 11 years after it's been published isn't such a good thing but since I've heard a lot about this series from both my dad and Jenn, I gave it a whirl. My verdict, interesting case that did keep me going back and forth about 'who dunnit' but the dialogue that I suppose was sharp and witty 11 years ago fell flat. I knew going in that Savich and Sherlock were a couple so I knew I'd be coming at it from a different view point. I mean it was pretty evident from the get go they'd hook up but them getting there is part of the ride. I do think they make an interesting team and am interested to see where this series goes.

As far as the crime in the book goes, it gave me chills. It kept me wondering who really killed Sherlock's sister Belinda. I just had a hard time believing that Savich would let her in on a case with such a personal involvement. Then again, this is fiction.

Ms. Coulter seemed to know enough about the FBI and inter workings to make it believable. I've always been intrigued about the training of an FBI agent. The beginning of the book somewhat satisfies that curiosity.

There's quite a cast of characters from Lacey's (aka Sherlock's) family to Quinlan and Sally. I'm actually anxious to meet Savich's family. The writing in the books leaves something to be desired. It seems stiff and contrite to me at times. I will say that Catherine Coulter certainly knows how to build of the sexual tension between her characters. I believe all her books are this way, because I've read a couple of her non FBI books. Is this the best book series I've read, um no, is it entertaining: yes. Will I continue to read the books? Yes. They aren't horrible but they aren't Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben or David Baldacci, whom I think are the premiere writers of the crime/thriller/mystery genre. Plus between my dad and Jenn I have all the books. I'm also kind of hoping they getting better as they go on unlike Stephanie Plum which has sharply declined.

Final Take: 3/5

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book to Movie: Marley and Me

Summary: When a dog wriggles his adorable rear end into a human's life, the human will never be the same. And both Marley, the dog, and Marley & Me, the movie, manage to endear themselves deeply despite a few wee flaws. Readers of the John Grogan bestseller already know the raffish charm of the incorrigible yellow lab puppy, Marley, adopted by Grogan and his wife because she's "never seen anything more adorable in my life." But Grogan's simple tale of love, in all its forms, shines on the big screen, thanks to deft comic turns by Jennifer Aniston--in top form here--and Owen Wilson. Their chemistry is utterly natural and believable as Marley's owners, as is their interaction with the very naughty but ultimately irresistible Marley. As Marley grows up, the film follows his escapades--flunking out, spectacularly, from puppy training at the hands of a wickedly funny Kathleen Turner. And as Marley grows up, John and Jenny build their life together and weather some tough emotional blows. Like My Dog Skip, which it resembles in its affection for its subject, Marley & Me is a tear-jerker, but in the sweetest, most lovely way--because it, and its four-legged star, have wriggled into our hearts. Good boy

Review: I will say this, I'm not an Owen Wilson fan and when I found out he was going to be in this adaptation I was a little miffed. I mean he doesn't look like John Grogan at all. I'm a pretty big Jennifer Aniston fan and knew that she'd be fine as the wife because really the book/movie is about Marley and John. I didn't love the book when I read it but I thought the movie would be good for a Sunday afternoon. It was good but it wasn't great. I laughed and I cried a lot. I even said to my husband, "Why do I watch these dog movies, they always make me cry?"

The movie captured what the book did as well, they were not good dog owners but they sure as heck loved that misbehavin' dog. I know that most dogs need to be trained on some level and Labradors are pretty active but I think Marley was a bit rambunctious. He sure was adorable though.

I think it was pretty true to the book but it's been 3-4 years since I've read it.
All in all a good family movie to plop down on the couch and watch, if you and your kids can handle the sad parts.

Book to Movie Final Take: 3.5/5

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Julie's Review: The Scarecrow

Summary: Forced out of the Los Angeles Times amid the latest budget cuts, newspaperman Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, using his final days at the paper to write the definitive murder story of his career. He focuses on Alonzo Winslow, a 16-year-old drug dealer in jail after confessing to a brutal murder. But as he delves into the story, Jack realizes that Winslow's so-called confession is bogus. The kid might actually be innocent. Jack is soon running with his biggest story since The Poet made his career years ago. He is tracking a killer who operates completely below police radar--and with perfect knowledge of any move against him. Including Jack's.

Review:  I love mystery/thrillers and I'm psyched when I get turned onto a new author in the genre. My dad introduced me to Michael Connelly a while back and I've read a couple of his books. While he's a newer to me author, he's definitely not a new author. This is the first book that I read with Jack McEvoy as the lead character and let me tell you, I liked him. The Scarecrow is a high octane, wild ride to catch a serial killer that no one knows about until Jack and his writing partner, Angela Cook happen upon him. What I like about Connelly's books is that he's always up on the latest thing and in this book it's technology. I can understand some of that talk up to a point but then you lose me...aka it goes over my head. Connelly doesn't quite go over my head, he gives me just enough to understand the depth and seriousness of the IT security business and what is at stake.

I was glad to see Agent Rachel Walling of the FBI show up in the book, since I've liked her in the Harry Bosch books I've read prior. I like that she's a profiler. I've always thought that would be a cool job, but it can put you in harms way. In other words, I'm not sure I'd want to be profiling serial killers all the time. I'm sure that would make you nuts.

The book starts off quickly and never stops. At first it's about proving that an young man was innocent of murder, even if he wasn't an innocent young man. It quickly becomes a whole nother story that Jack begins to unravel. What I really found intriguing was the newspaper aspect. I worked for the high school paper for a nanosecond because I thought I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. Connelly captures the energy of the paper extremely well (I know that he's a former crime beat reporter). I liked learning how a crime reporter gets his stories and the connection he has to the police department.

The ending of the book leaves it open for another Jack McEvoy novel, that I hope will feature Rachel as well.

Final Take: 4/5

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Book & Movie: Bridget Jones's Diary

I've been wanting to read this for ages, and, in need of some light heartedness, I finally grabbed it off my shelf. It took me a little bit to get into the book as it truly is written as diary entries, but once I did I found myself thoroughly enjoying it.

In many regards, the movie is very true to the book, from characters, to dialogue, to events (fire pole, blue soup, et al). However, this is one case where I like the movie more than the book. The movie expands on certain events (eg. Daniel leaving Bridget) and puts more depth into both Daniel Cleaver and Mark Darcy than Fielding's diary style writing can include. The movie took time to build the relationships a little better... and added more to the tension between Mark & Daniel.

In the book Bridget's relationship with Mark comes a little out of left field and I was left wondering whether Bridget was just grateful or really in love with him. (The book actually ends more like the second movie, with Mark rescuing Bridget's mum out of a jam with her seedy boyfriend.)

Is it worth the read? Definitely. Julie says reading the sequel's even better... oh, and look! It just moved to the top of my 'To be Read' pile!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And The Winner Is....

Congratulations to Mary,our winner of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Womenby Harriet Reisen. Please email me(Julie)your mailing address so we can get it to you as soon as possible.

As always, I used to produce the winner.

Thanks to Ashley @ Henry Holt for allowing us to do this giveaway.

Book News: Perfect on Paper

More exciting news from Maria about Perfect on Paper. Amazon has announced that it'll be one of 3 books that they publish early in2010 as they launch Amazon Encore, their new publishing venture. You can read about it from the press release. Perfect on Paper will be reissued on 2/9/2010.

I loved her original cover but I do think the new cover is lovely. I love the bright colors. Photobucket

Maria wanted me to let our readers know that she has some first edition copies that she'd love to autograph and sell to you guys. It's pretty rare to have a first edition, so I might just jump on this as well. If you are interest drop her a line at and let her know you read about it here.

What do you guys think about Amazon venturing into publishing? Natural for them or a mistake? I think it's kind of brilliant myself. I don't know about you guys but I buy the majority of my books from them and if they do the marketing well, it could really take off.

I'm extremely excited for Maria! Although, Maria (if you are reading this), I'm ready for your next one. :)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Julie's Review: Shanghai Girls

Summary: May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides. But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know. A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.

Review: Anyone who reads this blog with regularity knows that I'm a big historical fiction fan. Lisa See is my "go to" author when it comes to historical Chinese fiction. Shanghai Girls is the 3rd book of hers that I have read. It does not disappoint. Maybe it's because I'm an older sister but I definitely identified with Pearl more than May. There were moments when I thought May had logical points but overall I found her to be a spoiled, petulant brat, even as an adult. Although, I wonder if I'd feel the same way if she was telling the story. That's why I always think that the voice authors chose to tell their story in can make or break the story.

The book spans over 20 years from Shanghai to Los Angeles. From young women with no cares in the world to women who have to realize that lives are not going to be what they envision. I love historical fiction because I really do always learn something new. I even would stop reading to inform my husband of something, he would nod and I would continue to read. I mean I didn't know that Angel Island even existed! Does it still exist as a tourist attraction like Ellis Island? Yes, it's a State Park.

I'm proud to be an American but man oh man do we have dark spots in our history. The treatment of the Chinese immigrants was deplorable. I didn't even realize that our country had Acts stipulating how many Chinese were allowed to come into the country.

I had no clue about paper sons, paper wives, etc. It amazes me what people will do to get into our great country. The things that they sacrificed to get here and it wasn't always an optional move. I admire these people because frankly I don't know if I could hack it. We as Americans are spoiled. We take our freedom for granted. Books like Shanghai Girls reminds me that it's not always so easy to gain your freedom.

So, yes the book is a history lesson but it's a story of family and the duty you feel to them. It's about how we view ourselves and how other views us and how we get stuck in our ways. It's about fear and living your life within those fears or how you deal with those fears.

The ending of the book was left open ended for a continuation. I loved that it wasn't tied up in a nice neat bow because how many situations in life end up like that? I'm hoping that Ms. See continues this story at some point in her writing career. I must note too that in the 3 books of hers that I have read always have strong female characters. I'm certain that this is what draws me back to her writing.

If you love books about family and history, I encourage you to pick up Shanghai Girls.

Final Take: 4.75/5

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Author Interview: Mark Rosendorf

Photobucket Earlier this week I posted my
review for The Rasner Effect by Mark Rosendorf. I'm excited that he's taken time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions.

GJR: I’ve always heard, “write what you know” and it seems like psychosis is something that you know from your field of study and experience. Was this book easy for you to write?

MR: I don’t think any book is easy to write. The entire process from writing to publication, for me, was as challenging as it was rewarding. My experience as a counselor working extensively with emotionally impaired students (and at times, the workers) with psychotic tendencies, however, has certainly helped me to develop the personalities of the characters and show their internal rationalizations. Many of the anti-social tendencies that I’ve worked with are present in both the Duke Organization members and in the Brookhill facility.

GJR: Have you ever met someone who is similar to Rick Rasner in your work? If so, how scared were you? With those types of personalities it seems like they are a walking time bomb, did you find this to be true?

MR: I’ve certainly worked with my share of Rick Rasner-types, but never anyone to his extreme. He, and other characters in The Rasner Effect, have aggressively enhanced personality types, not to mention some are trained assassins. Luckily, I haven’t dealt with any of THOSE yet.

I find it interesting that no matter how my students act on the streets, they tend to show a calmer side in the school. At home, life is inconsistent and there are very few adults who care about them. In our specialized small school setting, our kids get consistency and adults who want to see them succeed. They know this and many of them react positively to a constructive environment. Unfortunately, if the environment is overwhelmingly negative, and I’ve worked in a few of those schools as well, the kids will react negatively.

The one character who is a good example of children I’ve worked with is Clara Blue. Many of our students come from poor and difficult urban backgrounds. By their teenage years, they’ve assimilated into their environment, but you get a few that do know there are better lifestyles out there and want something more for themselves. Unfortunately, they’re not in a position to achieve success, not without a great deal of help. That help is very hard to come by. Clara Blue, trapped in the Brookhill Children’s Psychiatric residence, fits that mold.

GJR: The book for me touches on a bit of conspiracy theory regarding the government, was that your intent? Do you think something like what Dr. Obenchain did to Rick exists in some form?

MR: I do believe the government tells us what they want us to know and keeps us in the dark about the rest. I’ve seen it firsthand. Prior to my career as a guidance counselor, I worked in the hotel industry. In that time, I worked in many hotels while attending college. One hotel I worked in housed the crew of an international airline company from overseas as they flew to and from the United States on a regular basis.

We had major issues with one of the co-pilots who got into a great deal of trouble each time he stayed with us. We had to kick him out of the hotel many times, but the airline company kept sending him back. One evening, before getting on the bus that took them to the airport, he handed all of his money to the bellman that loaded his luggage and said, “I won’t need this anymore.”

That night, the plane went down, taking hundreds of passengers with it.

The FBI stayed in our hotel for a month conducting their investigation. We all told them our dealings with this co-pilot. Meanwhile, the staff of the hotel, were told that if reporters called or showed up asking us for information, we were to tell them nothing, otherwise, we would lose our jobs and we could get arrested for interfering with a federal investigation.

It took 2 and a half years before the FBI’s findings about the plane crash were made public. They basically said it was engine trouble.

I understood the reasoning behind the story given to the public. Just imagine the panic the truth would have caused, not to mention, the financial harm to the airline industry. But, since this incident, I’ve held some skepticism towards the news. Are they always telling us everything? Would it be that hard to lie to us? I’m not saying this is the case, I’m just saying that the idea was a big influence on the conspiracy aspect of The Rasner Effect.

GJR: Your book has some pretty disturbing scenes, do you think that art imitates life or life imitates art?

MR: It’s interesting how both can apply. When the movie Independence Day came out, and we saw the buildings fall, I remember thinking “Wow, this looks so real.” Then, during the horrors of 9/11 hitting us here in New York, I remember seeing the Twin Towers fall and saying “Wow, this looks like a movie scene.”

GJR: If The Rasner Effect was made into a movie, who would be your ideal Rick? Obenchain? Jake? Jennifer? Clara?

MR: Wow, that’s a tough question. Frankly, I’d be so ecstatic if The Rasner Effect was turned into a movie, I’d be thrilled even if they told me the Geico lizard was playing the lead role.

If I had a choice, I think international actor, David Tennant could do Rick Rasner justice. For Jennifer Duke: Lara Gilchrist. When I saw her on Battlestar Galactica, I thought, “Wow, her smirk is exactly how I envision and describe Jen’s.” If she goes blonde, and I have a say, she can have the part.

GJR: Are you currently working on another novel? What is the basic premise? Will we see any of the characters from The Rasner Effect return?

MR: “Without Hesitation: The Rasner Effect II” has been set for release by my publisher, L&L Dreamspell, in late January, 2010 (wow, that date is creeping up fast). Also, in 2010, L&L Dreamspell has an anthology coming out called “Cat in the Dreamspell” featuring a short story by me titled “Cat in the cockpit.” Unlike The Rasner Effect series, this is a very campy story that has a twilight zone-feel to it.

I’ll be adding information on those, plus other writing projects, to my website, markrosendorf.

GJR: Who are your favorite authors to read? Why?

MR: I don’t base my readings on authors, rather on the premise of the story. If it’s one that intrigues me, I’ll read it. If the concept doesn’t grab me, then I won’t read it even if it is written by an author whose work I enjoy.

The authors who I have read consistently include H.G. Wells, Stephen King, Stephen Baxter, Douglas Adams and a little bit of Mark Rosendorf.

GJR: What are you currently reading?

MR: At this time, I am reading “Flood” by Stephen Baxter and Eoin Colfer’s new sequel to one of my all-time favorite series, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” titled “And Another Thing…” It’s just a shame Douglas Adams is no longer alive to have written the sixth book himself.

GJR: Where do you write and what is your typical writing process?

MR: My ideas work like lightning, one brilliant flash, and then it’s gone. That’s why I always keep a notepad on me, ready for when that idea pops into my head. I never know when that will happen, but I have to be ready. One of the weirder places my creativity takes over is in the shower. Because of this, I keep a notepad and a pen hanging in the bathroom on the wall outside the shower door. Luckily, I’m left handed and the shower door is on my left so it’s easy to reach out with that arm and write the thought down.

GJR: What author’s have influenced/inspired you?

MR: Stephen King was a big influence on my becoming a writer. I always loved the way his writing was so descriptive I could picture the scene in my head. “Misery” was the first of his books I read as part of my senior high school English thesis. The topic was about extreme personalities causing extreme situations (the other book I read for this thesis was Robert Bloch’s “Psycho”).

At the time, I had no idea I would find a career as a school counselor for students with emotional disabilities, nor did I know I’d end up writing novels about characters who have extreme personalities and cause extreme situations. Either the experience of putting that thesis together influenced all my future decisions more than I realized…or it’s all one huge coincidence.

Thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer the questions and Paula Krapf at Author Marketing Experts for sending the book and hooking us up with Mark.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Giveaway: Louisa May Alcott biography

We are so excited to sponsor a giveway of Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women by Harriet Reisen. None of us had the opportunity to read the book, but Henry Holt was lovely enough to still offer 1 copy for us to giveaway.

Please leave a comment here by midnight EST on November 16th to be eligible for the book.

Good luck!!