What I did on summer vacation this year

Well, not everything I did, but I’m going to list the books and movies I watched/read and give a brief review of each.  One or two sentences, that’s it.

So, here goes:
Books

1.  Fifty Shades of Grey, E.l. James — great summer read.  Wonderful inspiration for the bedroom.  Total fantasy, but addictive as hell.

2.  Blue Shoes and Happiness, the latest book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith — these books always make me smile.  They’re sweet and gentle and full of lessons on how we should live our lives.  Finally, Mma Makutsi finds happiness, although not through her new blue shoes.

3.  Fallen, by Karen Slaughter — a crime drama.  My mother gave me this book.  It’s a good read.  Fast-paced, action driven.  Surprising ending.  Strong, capable, believable female protagonist(s).  I’d read more of Slaughter’s books.

4.  The Friday Night Knitting Club — can’t recall the author, sent this one home with my mother because she’s a knitter.  Not a great read.  Dull, plodding and sappy.  Sure it was written hoping to be made into a movie.

5.  The Fall of the Templars, Robyn Young — this is the third book in a trilogy.  It’s slow and plodding, reads like a history lesson.  But, it is interesting for the historical facts it imparts.  Glad I didn’t read the first two.  Characters are wooden and uninteresting.

Movies

1.  Batman, The Dark Knight Rises — loved it?  No.  It’s too dark and very disturbing.  Is it a good movie?  Definitely.  Christian Bale is excellent as Batman, and the story was strong and well-paced.  I’m convinced Jeremy Renner has a cameo as the evil Bane character during one of the prison scenes.

2.  Brave — absolutely fabulous.  I don’t care if it is an animated movie!  Loved everything about this movie — the story, the perfection of the images and the flawless recreation of animal and human movement.  Not just a ‘girls’ movie.  An ‘everybodys’  movie.

3.  The Bourne Legacy — latest of the Bourne movies.  You can’t compare Jeremy Renner to Matt Damon.  And neither can you their characters.  This was a complete departure from what we got with Matt as Jason Bourne.  If they keep making these movies they’re not going to be able to keep trading on the Bourne name.  Was a great summer hit — story driven but with just enough action to satisfy our needs.  Only complaints — didn’t explain the connection between Aaron Cross and the doctor well enough and the motorcycle chase scene was too long.

4.  Dark Shadows — dreadful.  First time I’ve ever been disappointed by a Johnny Depp flick.  (He was good, though.)

5.  Singing in the Rain — what is there to say?  This is a one of my all-time fave’s.  Have seen it on television numerous times, but WOW seeing it on the big screen is an experience and a half.  Woke up singing “Good Morning, Good Morning” this morning.  And Gene Kelly — sigh.

And that, folks, is my entertainment diary for the summer of 2012.  What books did you read?  What movies thrilled you?

Friday, March 23, 2012 The Hunger Games Review

Okay, so I’m going to attempt this again.

Big drum roll, and. . .

. . . the CUPE convention is done.  I only have a half day of a parliamentary procedure class to get through tomorrow and then I’m on my way home.  Yay!

Now,for The Hunger Games.

I finished the trilogy about 3 weeks ago.  I enjoyed the series, though got through the first two books a lot faster than the third.  This was for two reasons:

1.  the first two books are better
2.  I didn’t have as much time for reading with the third book as I did for the first two

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed these books.  Because they’re written for young adults I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Collins, though, writes quickly, clearly and with definite purpose.  And these books aren’t all about girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl finds boy again, girl lives happily ever after — Collins deviates from that formula just enough to make these books smart, intelligent and gritty.

I found myself really liking and caring about Katniss Everdeen, her friends, and family.  Collins creates a female protagonist who is very real; she’s got definite problems and they don’t just go away because a boy comes along.

The books are incredibly violent and deal with some pretty deep themes, which given the age they’re written for might seem surprising, but, if you stop to think about it, maybe not so much.

After all, Collins’ audience is one that watches movies like Saw, Hostel and the like, and that also plays some of the most violent and gruesome video games ever made.  These kids have been raised on this kind of material.  What Collins does do, though, is provide a backdrop of psychological terror and consequence that the characters in her stories must suffer as a result of the world they inhabit. It’s not just about who is stronger, and characters don’t get the living shit kicked out of them and then stand up victorious with barely a scratch to show.  And I think this is the real genius of her tale.

Katniss’ world is one of horror and hardship, but it’s a world she’s used to; she’s not looking for a knight in shining armour to come along and make it all better for her.  Despite her many problems, all she’s had to endure and all the horror that awaits her after winning the Hunger Games, Katniss survives because she thinks for herself.  Collins gives us a young female character who is fiercely independent, flawed and resourceful.  She is often wracked with self-doubt, as most girls that age are, but she never gives up on herself.

I hope that girls everywhere get that message.  The world is a messy place and you better be prepared to handle it on your own terms.  Bad things happen, but you can rise above them — and you don’t need anyone to hold your hand while you do.  No one makes it out of life without scars, it’s how you wear those scars that determines who you are.

Now for the nitty-gritty about the books themselves.  The first two were an incredibly fast read.  Book three, not so much.  It felt, as it does with most trilogies, not including The Lord of the Rings, that by the third book Collins was beginning to run out of steam.  It seemed rushed, like she just wanted the story to be over.  She does a credible job of ending it all, without the usual trite, happily ever after baloney, but I found it left me feeling a little flat.

Because these books were written specifically for a younger audience I often found myself frustrated by the lack of depth regarding secondary characters.  I found this especially troubling when it came to President Snow.  I wanted more — more history, more detail, more reaction.  It often felt like Collins took an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ approach to her characters.  Still, in all, the books captured my imagination, and not once did I ever think ‘oh, get on with it, will you!’

Was I sad when they were finished?  No.  Did I wish they hadn’t ended?  No.  Did I find myself entertaining thoughts of a fourth book?  No.

If I were to use a star rating here’s what it would look like:

Book One, The Hunger Games — 5 stars
Book Two, Catching Fire — 4 stars
Book Three, Mockingjay — 3.5 stars