Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Catch a Falling Star: Five Stars...albethey late in falling

Catch a Falling Star, Meg McKinlay
I received an advance reading copy for this back in December.  As to why I am only now sharing my thoughts on it, I have pieced together thus:

It took all of one voracious evening for me to read it from title to end matter.  After I closed it, I felt full.  I luxuriated a few minutes in satiated afterglow, then apparently clickety clicked my way onto GoodReads, smugly stamped it with a whopping 5/5 stars, then...fell asleep.

There is nary a sentence of accompanying praise to go with those stars, there's not a word saved in my phone's "Notes"about my reading (which I thought I always did), and there's certainly no drafted review post to be opened now and polished.  How could this be?  This was so unlike me!  Something had gone seriously amuck.

This has come back to me because I did some digging.  And by digging, I mean I scrolled down a smidge on GoodReads to find the date I read Catch a Falling Star.  Bingo. New Year's Eve.  It was this discovery that brought it all back to me.  My husband worked New Year's Eve.  After an hour's read aloud for the offspring (Wildwood Dancing, if you must know) and a dance party thereafter, I tucked in my beloved listener-dancers for the night and welcomed 2019 by crawling into my bed for an uninterrupted book binge.  It was quite an after-party!

The next day we spent at Long Beach playing pole tennis, sun-worshipping, body boarding and throwing back half-thawed popsicles.  Reading thus (without making notes or drafting a review upon completion) and relaxing outdoors with my family thereafter robbed this title of the glowing and timely review it deserved!  I loved this book.  I mean, it was how I saw in the new year, and I 100% would do it all again the same way if given the chance.

I had to get that out of the way -- you must know the delay is not a reflection of mediocrity by any means, but rather an unfortunate price paid for the opposite -- this book was my delicious treat for myself at a time I thought little of homework and more on pleasure.

Now, why did I love it? 
  • The writing is charming and accessible.  I felt like Frankie was confiding in me conversationally.  This helped make a single sitting reading possible.
  • And the curation of details is just so.  What this student is wearing, what that child said -- it's a highly effective highlight reel of Frankie's experience. (One reoccurring specific in the ARC drew a blank for me though; a texta was regularly used to write things. From context I guessed this would be a Sharpie in terms-familiar-to-me, and a good google confirmed as much.  You're welcome, if you are also non-Australian or in the dark on this one.)
  • The 70s setting for this novel lends a warm filter to its accompanying imagery; space station Skylab's omnipresence charges the narrative with quirky fascination and fervour-- a motif that feels rich with relevance.
  • There's a delicate suspense for having these physical and emotional trajectories mapped alongside each other. 
  • As the reader juggles both of those balls, there's no room for romance.  This is a family story and a story about grief.  Don't wait for a love interest to appear. 
  • The interplay between relationships is the meat of it; how imperfect people do their best to be there for each other but how hard that can really be.
  • In the best way, it shares some of the refined magic and messages of The 10pm Question, only I'd venture in a less confronting way (and so perhaps could be suitable for a younger audience).
  • But in terms of suitability and advisory notes on content, Catch a Falling Star is refreshingly clean and a slam-dunk on the tasteful front.
So these are my words, to go with my 5/5 stars; Catch a Falling Star is a winner.  It captures the fragments of warmth and tenderness that flutter and fall through mortality's sieve of pain.  Highly recommended.

I read an ARC from Walker.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

On the Come Up

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

Before I attempt to frame some of my thoughts about this story, I'll quote Neil Gaiman:

“Fiction gives us empathy: it puts us inside the minds of other people, gives us the gifts of seeing the world through their eyes. Fiction is a lie that tells us true things, over and over.”

This idea -- that reading fosters empathy -- is the main reason I decided to review On the Come Up.  Because if I'm completely honest, as a middle-class white person, I'm pretty nervous about writing a review on this book.  Because: What do I know?  And what right do I have to comment?  Those questions tugged on my anxiety strings.  But louder, was a call to Empathetic Arms; my belief that more middle-class white people should read more widely, acquaint themselves with more voices -- hear diverse stories (and then talk about them).  So though I can't tell you if Angie Thomas writes these voices authentically or confirm whether her novels capture the spirit of the neighbourhoods she describes (though I have it on good authority she does), I can do what I do for any other work of fiction I read -- share what the narrative voice says to me and what feelings I feel are captured (although I'm still a little nervous).

My first note, is that reading this from the outside, I felt some acclimatising needed to take place.  The dialogue read like a dialect of my own tongue so foreign to me I had to sometimes pause, re-read, and decode characters' speech.  Perhaps this might be taken as an indicator of authenticity in and of itself, ha! 

The messages -- that women can have ambitions and that's more than okay, that dreams may take a fight, and that breaking with expectations can be part of that fight -- will speak to a lot of people, from all walks of life.  Those translate loud and clear.  The harsh and heart-aching struggles for low-income families hit me hard.  Hard too, was riding the climbing click-click-click of Thomas' carefully-plotted rollercoaster alongside Bri -- knowing we both would need to come slamming down before the ride was over.  Because for sure, Bri makes some choices that had me going, "No!  Don't do it! She did it..."  But after the climb and slam, there was also relief, progress, learning and closure.  The plot is tight.

Lastly, advisory-wise, there's some heavy content references, so concerned parents could consider reading alongside / before their kids.  There are no sex scenes. There's a fair amount of cussing. 

If you loved The Hate U Give, you don't need this review -- you'll be lining up to get your hands on a copy of this (same neighbourhood, new people) sequel next week.  But if you're someone who sees these covers and doesn't identify with what you see, this review's for you: Read wider; support more voices; empathise more. 

ARC received from Walker.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sometimes the movie is better

So often I hear people echo the catch-cry, "Seen the movie?  The book's way better, but that's always the way..."  

I disagree.  

Sometimes a film adaptation elevates a story for me; be it an exceptional score, better pacing, incredible acting, moderation for minorities or a certain narrative tightening, sometimes a big team and/or a big budget can make magic from a book and leave me whispering, "I think I enjoyed that more than I did the book!"  I'm surprised when it happens, because I agree -- often my imagination's direction of a book can't be topped -- but sometimes, sometimes a film moves me in a way its source book does not.

I've been compiling a list of such anomalies for a while.  This is not to say I loved all of these movies (though the ones I did love are marked with an asterisk), it is to say they moved/thrilled/entertained me more than the books from which they are adapted did.  Some of the source books I couldn't even finish (so perhaps you could argue it's not a fair trial?), but I definitely finished their movie counterparts.  I think that's telling.

Here we go.  

Movies that moved me more than their books:
Mortal Engines
Never Let Me Go
To All The Boys I've Loved Before
The Princess Bride*
The Davinci Code
If I Stay
Mockingjay 1 and 2
How to Train Your Dragon
Paper Towns
P.S. I Love You
Forrest Gump
The Prestige*
Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
The Lord of the Rings* Trilogy (comments are turned off, don't bother)
The Notebook

Books I anticipate will be better as movies:

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Mini Movie Reviews: Bulk Hit No 54


Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
I prefer the Newt franchise to the HP films.  I don't love number two as much as the first, but I still liked it very much.  It's way too dark to show my kids anytime soon.  Haki thought the story got a bit too convoluted.  I hear that, but then...it still seemed predictable, so is it too much then? 

The Good Lie
I count this as one of Netflix's hidden gems.  Have watched twice and loved twice.  All thumbnails and posters misrepresent the story, baiting with Witherspoon's face.  Do not watch this film to see her.  My favourite Netflix watch of this year.  Not a romantic comedy.  Not for young ones.  After the second viewing with Haki he said, "Good pick, hon'". 


To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before
I enjoyed the movie more than I did the book (which I found fun but oddly juvenile in patches) and overall, I found this better than the average high school movie. Well acted and good dialogue. I'll definitely watch the sequel.

Murder on the Orient Express
Haki and I both really enjoyed this.

The Clapper
A nice subtle little film.  We found it interesting to watch and talk about; a discussion-piece.

Set It Up
Risqué for sure but excellent rom com in all its rom-comishness.

Mother’s Day
It's okay.  Has some funny moments.  Way to make a watcher feel frumpy though.

I can't believe I haven't shared...I love this movie.  Cried through it with a sister-heart in the theatre.  Bought it.  Girls love it too, have watched more than once.  Adore the book and film both in different ways.

The Shack
Eugh.  I see there's value here but...this chewed up my heart and spat it out.  I can still get upset thinking about it now, months and months later.

Battle of the Sexes
I wasn't adequately prepared for the kind of film this turned out to be, and thus was quite disappointed.  Tonally, I expected a grand slam comedy.  It isn't.  It felt more about the battle against queer prejudice than gender prejudice. 

Maze Runner: The Death Cure
It's alright.  I like the whole trilogy, even if it's only alright.

The Dark Tower
Forgettable, sadly.  Haki had read the comic and had particularly high hopes that weren't satisfied.

A Monster Calls
I don't think this is a bad adaptation, but I do mourn the warmth and humour that came through in the book being lost in this considerably darker film. The movie had a lot to live up to.  Great book.

City of Ember
Fool's gold, this.  I thought I'd found a Netflix gem -- it looked so interesting -- but it was weak.  Also, wanted to scream at characters, "Come on, parents!"  I think my girls may like it sometime though, ha!  The set is great.

Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
The first one is so much better.  I was still entertained, but I don't think I'd watch it a second time.  Haki was very disappointed (he really liked the first one!).

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
See previous review; Ctrl + V here.

My irresistible sub-genre.  I found it very intriguing and unsettling in the right way.  Not for those who don't like sci fi.  Quite steamy.

The Cloverfield Paradox
Not the best but not time wasted, sometimes I crave a wee space thriller; this is that.

The Titan
It starts swell then gets too weird.  Haki was mad at it at the end, like, throw your shoe in regret for having stayed so long, kind of mad.  I don't recommend it.

Never Let Me Go
More irresistible subject matter to me.  Liked the book.  Think the movie made it even better.  I'm gonna write a whole post about this rare phenomena.  There's sex scenes and full shots of someone looking at 2D porn in this...I'd avoided the film for a long time because of the sticker warning, but I really wanted to see the adaptation so opted to watch and AE (avert eyes, lol).


Sierra Burgess is a Loser - it's wrong, people

How it Ends - sweary and poorly executed

The Princess Switch - I was hoping this would be one of those cross-over ones where my girls like it and I like it; no such luck (but the girls did)

Yesterday's 20 here.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mini Movie Reviews: Bulk Hit No 53

These bulk hits are growing title-wise but the word count doth shrinketh.  You can decide if me posting now about some movies I saw in-cinema a year (+) ago is a neg or not.  Maybe I failed to spare you purchasing a ticket for something it turns out we agree wasn't worth it.  Sorry.   Or...maybe you'll get to enjoy these as back-catalogue titles that slipped through the cracks.  (It really has been a long time I've been saving these up.  So when you see how many are here, take pause before you panic I do little else, I haven't posted a hit since August of last year.  I'll break this up over two posts, one today, one tomorrow.)

Here we go...

Mortal Engines
Haki and I saw this in-cinema just this week, that's why I'm leading with it.  I read the book two years ago because Peter and Fran were attached to the adaptation project.   I enjoyed the film.  It's worth watching just to see the premise realised, if nothing else -- it's a fascinating idea and the film opens with a punch delivery of Reeve's vision.  There's some unfortunate preaching, heavy-handed imagery and glaring disappointments that undercut the overall power of the film (including a moment that is too Death Star to ignore), but I'm so glad I saw it!  Because: older protagonists, incredible effects and well-paced action improve on the original story for me!  I found the book revolved around Tom, who I found unlikable and unworthy of being the hero.  The film is Hester's story, and it's better for it.  Sadly one of the biggest disappointments is that Hester is robbed of something that should have been hers (and so is Anna Fang; let's discuss).  Shrike? Brilliant. Visually, I devoured it.  It really tickled my post-apoc-tastebuds.  Is it my film of the year?  No.

Candy Jar
You know how some high school movies are wittier and better than the bulk of them? (for they are what they are)  This is one of those.  (Wardrobe is also a bonus.)

My third-favourite Marvel movie, which is to say I liked it.

Ant-Man and Wasp
This on the other hand, I did not like as much.  I didn't dislike it, but it was just okay.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The effects are top notch.  Not a fave. 

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
A bit funny...though the trailers gave me most of it.  *curse you, trailers*  (And having re-watched the original with my elder two this year, I have to say, the reboot doesn't give the same chills; seeing other-world in our world trumps entering other-world.  But I get it, it's an update.)

Orbiter 9
Spanish sub-titles.  I know I lost some people already.  This is the kind of premise I can't resist.    It wasn't all I hoped it would be and the sensuality registered higher on the heat scale than would allow me to recommend it to more people, but if a lonely woman in space appeals to you and you have some patience, this is worth a look (watched on Netflix).

Miguel's voice!  This one's attention to detail and strong story make it a happy addition to the Disney-Pixar canon; it's quite the all-rounder.

Pitch Perfect 3
I returned for Rebel and laughed at Rebel.  Otherwise not great.

A Quiet Place
This is one of my favourites of this year.   It sits in my scary sweet spot.  Haki and I saw it in the theatre for a day date.  We went in knowing nothing but the cast and the tagline (my favourite thing to do) and felt so rewarded for it.  It went there with the children (something I usually can't tolerate) and one scene was a little too done for my liking (ask me), but so much was perfect; the suspense, the performances, the showing instead of telling -- just right.  I wish I could show my kids this like an education tool (if the going gets tough you MUST listen to me and ask. no. questions!).  The day will come they can see it, but it's a ways off.  P.S.  Yes, I cried.

Kong: Skull Island
Humans are the worst.  Didn't like Samuel L.'s...anything, really (do I ever?).  Also didn't like that the only person in a singlet was a woman and that Samuel L. was wearing gauze around his face to protect from bugs at the same time woman wore said singlet.  Disappointing overall, and I remember little beyond these notes a year later.

A Country Called Home
Found on Netflix.  For all the sad things in this story I found it surprisingly hopeful; I appreciate the messages about redemption and fresh starts. Oft-times understated, consistently well-written and well-acted, supported by a strong soundtrack and an interesting end. There are no sex scenes, but there's swearing, alcohol misuse and mighty servings of disappointing choices. This one's not a family movie, though a message about being intentional in making people our family spoke to me.  It's pretty tough on the South, but one character represents a break from archetypes.

Robot & Frank
Another one found on Netflix. This one's pretty cute and funny.  A bit sweary.

Mary and Martha
Ones like this get me every time.  This film was the inspiration for my last charity dinner (you can help defeat malaria here).  Available on Netflix.  (Speaking of charity events, my girls hosted this year's one, and they did the work.  It was a lovely arrangement.)

Sheep & Wolves

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2
I want to like this.  For me: not funny.

Everybody Loves Somebody 
Spanish subtitles.  A bit rude.  Great script.  Enjoyed.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
A pretty good time.  Rogue One's still my fave.

Blade Runner 2049
Good.  Haki was disappointed.

The Greatest Showman
This is old news, I know, but in the sake of thoroughness, let it be documented, I thoroughly enjoyed this film when I saw it in-cinema (and the second time, with my kids).  Yes, it’s a flawed, inaccurate movie, but its radical oversimplification, gorgeous mise en scene and constant moving percussion have their own magic. As a work of fiction taken at face value, I consider it an utter delight.  I do think Barnum's actual life warrants a discussion, post-, and I'd really like to see more people from RL margins being cast in spotlight roles about marginalised people, but guys, this movie did something for me that movies don't often do.  It got me grinning and wishing it wouldn't end.  Even if it's been thrashed and over-alluded to since, I won't forget that.

Come back for another bulk hit -- 20 more reviews(!) in brief -- tomorrow.
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