Friday, November 25, 2011

Random Cat Videos

This is a photograph of my cat Jasmine, who passed away earlier this year. She was 17 years old and I adopted her when she was 5, so that's 12 years I'm very grateful I got to spend with her.

Because it's Thanksgiving weekend and we've all got places to be, things to do, and leftovers to eat, this week I've collected a series of random cat videos for your entertainment and in honor of Jasmine.

Pepper, An Actor's Life:

Ninja Cat:

I'm a Kitty Cat:

An Engineer's Guide to Cats:

Friday, November 18, 2011

5 Teen Movies You Probably Haven't Seen (and why you should)

I recently saw Hanna, an action movie that came out earlier this year about a 16-year-old assassin. I thought it did a great job of using YA tropes (friendship, boys, identity), plus it's a pretty kick-ass movie.

Hanna wasn't a mega-budget film and wasn't a mega-blockbuster, but there are good performances by Eric Bana and Cate Blanchett (if you can get past her Southern accent). And Saoirse Ronan as Hanna is amazing. (Oh, there's a pretty kick-ass soundtrack by The Chemical Brothers, too.) It's definitely worth renting, streaming, or putting on your Netflix queue if you missed it in theaters.

Here's the trailer for Hanna:

Hanna also got me thinking about some teen-centric movies you may have missed entirely, because I almost did. These are indie movies that didn't have wide distribution and that I stumbled upon, either through recommendations or dumb luck.

The Chumscrubber stars Jamie Bell as a teen in suburbia whose drug-dealing friend commits suicide. The bad boys at school want the friend's stash and think Jamie knows where it is. They kidnap his brother to get him to talk, except they kidnapped the wrong kid. There's an amazing supporting cast of self-absorbed adults portrayed by Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes, and Allison Janney, to name a few. If you like your comedy extra-dark, then The Chumscrubber is for you.

The Chumscrubber trailer:

Prom Night in Mississippi is a documentary I caught that explores race relations in a modern day Mississippi high school. Actor Morgan Freeman is from the small town of Charleston, Mississippi, and offers to pay for the high school's prom. But what makes this such an jaw-dropping offer is Morgan Freeman will only pay for it if the prom is integrated. This was filmed in 2008 and the school NEVER had an integrated prom. The school takes him up on the offer and the film presents some truly thought-provoking moments.

Prom Night in Mississippi trailer:

Another documentary, Resolved, focuses on the world of high school debating. I did Speech & Debate in high school (mostly Humorous Interpretation and Oratory), and this is a far cry from anything I did. More recently, my brother is a high school debate coach and has cajoled convinced me to judge at debate tournaments. The debates I judged were mostly urban kids, just beginners, and nowhere the level as seen in the documentary. But Resolved does raise compelling questions about how public speaking skills can be related to issues such as race.

Resolved trailer:

The Trotsky is a wonderfully quirky movie about Leon Bronstein, a high school student who believes he's the reincarnation of Communist leader Leon Trotsky. He unionizes the students at his high school, or at least tries to. Incredibly funny with a stellar performance by Jay Baruchel as Leon.

The Trotsky trailer:

The trailer for What Goes Up doesn't do justice to how good this movie is.
It makes it seem like a lightweight '80s throwback movie, which it is so not. It does take place in 1986, and it does star Hilary Duff, but don't let that put you off. The movie's saving grace is Steve Coogan, the British actor/comedian, who plays a newspaper reporter that befriends a group of misfit students. There's real poignancy in this movie and although it's mostly told from the adult's POV, I felt the teen characters were more than just standard Breakfast Club cliches.

What Goes Up trailer:

So pop some popcorn and curl up with a good movie. What teen movies would you recommend?

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer Book Review

Title: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer
Author: Michelle Hodkin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 27, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1442421769

446 pp.

Reading copy via local library

This book had a lot of buzz pre-publication and I can see why. Way cool cover. Intriguing premise of is-she/isn't-she crazy. And it almost delivers.  It kind of bums me that I didn't L-O-V-E it like I thought I would, but it's still a good read.

Mara Dyer (not her real name as we learn in a prologue) wakes up in the hospital after an accident has killed her best friend Rachel, frenemy Claire, and boyfriend Jude. Mara has no memory of the accident and starts seeing Claire and Jude. Mara tries to convince herself that she has post-traumatic stress disorder and these sightings are merely hallucinations.

Mara also convinces her family that what she really needs is to get away from places that remind her of her friends, so the whole family moves to Florida. There she enters a prep school and meets Noah, an annoying-but-hot-boy, who has a love 'em and leave 'em reputation.

As Mara tries to fit into her new school, she continues to have hallucinations. And these hallucinations are not just getting scarier, they're getting deadlier. No spoilers here, but Mara does finally confess what she sees to Noah. And we learn he has a secret of his own. No matter what his reputation is, he vows to help Mara. CUE gripping climax that sets up for the next novel.

The thing that bumped me as a reader was that I felt too much time was spent on the is-she/isn't-she crazy. There are sooo many hallucinations just to freak Mara out, but not many of them really moved the story forward. And one in particular, a phone call Mara convinces herself isn't real, is foreshadowed TO HAVE CONSEQUENCES. But when the shizz hits the fan at the end of the book, this phone call never comes up.

This is the beginning of a series, and I understand that some threads have to be left hanging, but some seem forgotten rather than deliberately crafted to be so.

But that's just me. Most readers probably aren't so picky. And I did enjoy this novel. I repeat, I did enjoy it. I would recommend The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer to readers who enjoyed Angelfire by Carolyn Allison Moulton or Through Her Eyes by Jennifer Archer.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer book trailer:

Bonus video: Michelle Hodkin discusses how the book came to be

Friday, November 4, 2011

Debut Author Challenge - October Update

It rained this morning, I'm wearing my favorite red sweater, and I'm drinking a bigass cup of coffee. Fall is very much in the air.

The year has zoomed by, but I've managed to keep on track with the Debut Author Challenge. Last month, I read and reviewed Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (and guys, seriously, read this book). And I'm almost done with The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin (review forthcoming).

Alas, I haven't had time to go back and finish any of the other books I'm reading. So I'm going to choose one of them to complete for my December read. One thing I've learned during the year is that unless I can get an egalley before the publication date, I just don't have the time to read a book during the month it's published. Fetching by Kiera Stewart, which was my December read choice so very long ago, ended up being published in November, and I missed the egalley boat.

But I'm halfway through How Lamar's Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy by Crystal Allen and halfway through Blood Red Road by Moira Young. Two completely different books, I know.

So help me decide! Which one should I choose to be my December read?


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