Shug

Finished Shug by Jenny Han.

Summary (from Goodreads):

SHUG

is clever and brave and true (on the inside, anyway). And she’s about to become your new best friend.

Annemarie Wilcox, or Shug as her family calls her, is beginning to think there’s nothing worse than being twelve. She’s too tall, too freckled, and way too flat-chested. Shug is sure that there’s not one good or amazing thing about her. And now she has to start junior high, where the friends she counts most dear aren’t acting so dear anymore — especially Mark, the boy she’s known her whole life through. Life is growing up all around her, and all Shug wants is for things to be like they used to be. How is a person supposed to prepare for what happens tomorrow when there’s just no figuring out today?”

This is a seriously amazing book.  It reminds me a lot of old-school Judy Blume, and Shug (or Annemarie) is a worthy successor to my beloved Margaret.

All Annemarie wants is for everything to stay the same, but things are changing all around her.  Her sister and her best friend have both gotten boyfriends, and so she feels like she’s being left behind.  And she has feelings for her best guy friend, Mark, except he doesn’t seem to like her that way…or any way, really; he’s been ditching her a lot lately to hang with his guy friends.

Things are made even worse by the fact that her dad is gone almost all the time, her mom clearly has a drinking problem and probably some undiagnosed depression issues and her sister is reacting to this by staying gone as much as possible.  Annemarie seems to be holding everything together by herself, and that’s a lot for a 12-year-old to deal with.

This is a fantastic book.  Highly recommended.

Kramer vs. Kramer

Why I picked Kramer vs. Kramer: it won best picture and is one of the AFI’s 10 best courtroom movies.

Have I seen it before? Yes.

Would I recommend? Absolutely.

Oh, you guys.  I’d seen this movie a few years ago and I remembered liking it and I remembered crying at the end, but I didn’t realize just how emotionally devastating this book would be.  Part of it is due to the fact that I read Her Again, and there’s so much behind the scenes stuff that makes this even more intense.

It’s about a couple who gets divorced and the kid ends up staying with the dad (Dustin Hoffman) instead of the mom (Meryl Streep), who basically checks out.  It’s complete chaos at first; he has no idea how in the world to be a dad, and Billy is a good kid but he’s only five or six years old.

It doesn’t take too long for him to become a good dad, though…and eighteen months later, Joanna comes back and she wants custody of Billy.

The last few scenes (custody trial through the end of the movie left me absolutely gutted) and this is such an amazing movie.

The interesting thing though is that Dustin Hoffman apparently went full-on Method which would be fine except that he was seemingly determined to make Meryl Streep do it, too.  Her fiance had just died of cancer, and he kept bringing that up to get a more emotional performance from her.  (Even though she was apparently like, STOP THIS NOW.)

Her Again

Finished Her Again by Michael Schulman.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A portrait of a woman, an era, and a profession: the first thoroughly researched biography of Meryl Streep—the “Iron Lady” of acting, nominated for nineteen Oscars and winner of three—that explores her beginnings as a young woman of the 1970s grappling with love, feminism, and her astonishing talent.

In 1975 Meryl Streep, a promising young graduate of the Yale School of Drama, was finding her place in the New York theater scene. Burning with talent and ambition, she was like dozens of aspiring actors of the time—a twenty-something beauty who rode her bike everywhere, kept a diary, napped before performances, and stayed out late “talking about acting with actors in actors’ bars.” Yet Meryl stood apart from her peers. In her first season in New York, she won attention-getting parts in back-to-back Broadway plays, a Tony Award nomination, and two roles in Shakespeare in the Park productions. Even then, people said, “Her. Again.”

Her Again is an intimate look at the artistic coming-of-age of the greatest actress of her generation, from the homecoming float at her suburban New Jersey high school, through her early days on the stage at Vassar College and the Yale School of Drama during its golden years, to her star-making roles in The Deer Hunter, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. New Yorker contributor Michael Schulman brings into focus Meryl’s heady rise to stardom on the New York stage; her passionate, tragically short-lived love affair with fellow actor John Cazale; her marriage to sculptor Don Gummer; and her evolution as a young woman of the 1970s wrestling with changing ideas of feminism, marriage, love, and sacrifice.

Featuring eight pages of black-and-white photos, this captivating story of the making of one of the most revered artistic careers of our time reveals a gifted young woman coming into her extraordinary talents at a time of immense transformation, offering a rare glimpse into the life of the actress long before she became an icon.”

This book made watching Kramer vs. Kramer almost unbearably emotional (see my review of that tomorrow for more) and I think it’s always nice to be able to get a more thorough picture of a good movie.

As the synopsis says, this book doesn’t cover her whole career (or her childhood).  It’s basically a little of high school, a lot more of college and then her career through Kramer vs. Kramer.  Because of that, we get a really in-depth portrayal of Meryl Streep right as she’s on the cusp of becoming MERYL STREEP.

I’m not sure if this book is for everyone, but if you’re a fan of hers (and who isn’t, really? She’s a phenomenal actress and I don’t think many would argue that she’s the best actress working today) it’s required reading.

Recommended.

Krampus

Why I picked Krampus:  I wanted something funny and, despite the fact that this is not likely to show up on Movie Week, I thought this would fit the bill nicely.

Have I seen it before? No

Would I recommend it? Yes? But only to someone with a really twisted sense of humor.

Easily the best part of this movie is the casting.  It’s solid throughout but it’s helmed by Toni Collette and Adam Scott, two of my favorites.

It’s sort of the anti-holiday movie, but one that shows Christmas as it actually is, with everyone stressed out and kind of snapping at each other.  (I refuse to believe that’s just my family’s Christmas.)

So the family’s youngest kid, Max, throws a little bit of a tantrum and rips up his letter to Santa…and that basically brings Krampus to town.  (Krampus is the dark version of St. Nick and, as the German grandma who knows all about it says, he doesn’t come to give—he comes to take.)

And so yeah, that guy Krampus? Kind of a jerk.

(But it’s still pretty funny.)

A Change of Pace

So as you may have heard if you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, I’m planning on trying out for movie week of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

Last year, the Baltimore tryout was the first Friday in June.  It’s now late April, and the fact that I haven’t really trained that hard is starting to stress me out.  So I’ve adjusted my April and May reading schedule to add some movie posts.  I’m going to watch stuff from a variety of genres—some I haven’t seen before and some that I just haven’t seen in a while.  I’m going to try and focus on award-winners and AFI movies, but that won’t be everything.  And you know me, there’s going to be some horror movies in there, too. :)

I’ll talk about the movie, as well as why I watched it and maybe some interesting things about it.

There will still be a lot of book talk here, but I hope you stick around for the movie chats, too.  And if you have any movie trivia I should know, please leave me a comment.

Like my cinematic idol, Robert “Rocky” Balboa, I hope to go the distance.

Fish in a Tree

Finished Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.”

I absolutely loved this book.  It’s clever and heartbreaking and shows just how much a great teacher can change your life.

Ally sees herself as dumb because she can’t read or write very well.  (But she doesn’t realize how talented she is in other areas or just how smart you have to be in order to convince the entire world, pretty much, that you can read when you can’t.)

And then her new teacher, Mr. Daniels, takes over the classroom and he sees everything that Ally is trying to keep hidden. And best of all, he figures out how to help her without making it obvious that she needs help.

This book is absolutely charming.

Highly recommended.

Dear Luke, We Need To Talk—Darth

Finished Dear Luke, We Need to Talk–Darth by John Moe.

Summary (from Goodreads):


We all know how Darth Vader shared his big secret with Luke Skywalker, but what if he had delivered the news in a handwritten note instead? And what if someone found that letter, as well as all of the drafts that landed in the Dark Lord’s trash can? In the riotously funny collection Dear Luke, We Need to Talk. Darth, John Moe finally reveals these lost notes alongside all the imagined letters, e-mails, text messages, and other correspondences your favorite pop culture icons never meant for you to see.

From The Walking Dead to The Wizard of Oz, from Billy Joel to Breaking Bad, no reference escapes Moe’s imaginative wit and keen sense of nostalgia. Read Captain James T. Kirk’s lost log entries and Yelp reviews of The Bates Motel and Cheers. Peruse top secret British intelligence files revealing the fates of Agents 001–006, or Don Draper’s cocktail recipe cards. Learn all of Jay-Z’s 99 problems, as well as the complete rules of Fight Club, and then discover an all-points bulletin concerning Bon Jovi, wanted dead or alive—and much more.

Like a like a bonus track to a favorite CD or a deleted scene from a cult movie, Dear Luke, We Need to Talk Darth offer a fresh twist on the pop culture classics we thought we knew by heart. You already know part of their story. Now find out the rest.”

This book is an absolute delight.  You may not be able to get every single reference, but even the ones I didn’t get (Star Trek, Walking Dead) were entertaining.  And the Yelp reviews chapter is probably my absolute favorite.  Or Dorothy’s note to Glinda.  Or Don Draper’s cocktail recipes.  Or Bruce’s (the shark from Jaws) diary.

There’s a lot to love here, basically.  And if you are at all into pop culture, I can guarantee you that something here is about to become your absolute favorite, too.

Highly Illogical Behavior

Finished Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But how can she prove she deserves a spot there?

Solomon is the answer.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa thrusts herself into his life, introducing him to her charming boyfriend Clark and confiding her fears in him. Soon, all three teens are far closer than they thought they’d be, and when their facades fall down, their friendships threaten to collapse, as well.”

This was my first John Corey Whaley novel, which is embarrassing for someone who loves contemp YA as much as I do.  His first two novels have both been very well received (especially the first one) and I definitely want to read both—especially after reading this one.

I loved Solomon immediately.  He’s agoraphobic and hasn’t left the house in three years.  (I can’t even imagine and I’m someone who’s happiest when at home.)  And then he meets Lisa, who enters his life only to be able to write a college admissions essay about him (she wants to be a psychologist).  Except they end up becoming really good friends, which leads to guilt.

Obviously, right? Because how do you tell your new friend that you initially started hanging out with him to get into the college of your choice (preferably with a full scholarship)?

I absolutely adore this book and hope to get to his backlist quickly.

Recommended.

Dreamology

Finished Dreamology by Lucy Keating.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

For as long as Alice can remember, she has dreamed of Max. Together they have traveled the world and fallen deliriously, hopelessly in love. Max is the boy of her dreams—and only her dreams. Because he doesn’t exist.

But when Alice walks into class on her first day at a new school, there he is. It turns out, though, that Real Max is nothing like Dream Max, and getting to know each other in reality isn’t as perfect as Alice always hoped.

When their dreams start to bleed dangerously into their waking hours, the pair realize that they might have to put an end to a lifetime of dreaming about each other. But when you fall in love in your dreams, can reality ever be enough?”

I love this book.  I’m not sure how to classify it (magical realism?) but it’s smart and sweet and just a lovely novel.

The disparity between Real Max and Dream Max is jarring and made me feel sad for Alice.  And it’s not even like Real Max is horrible.  He’s pretty awesome.  But Dream Max is basically Cary Grant.  Who can compare to Cary Grant?

Throw in the fact that they could be in actual danger if they keep dreaming of each other, and I was completely hooked.

Disbelief may need to be suspended but it’s worth it.

Recommended.

The Haters

Finished The Haters by Jesse Andrews.  I received a copy from the publisher for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From Jesse Andrews, author of the New York Times bestselling Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and screenwriter of the Sundance award–winning motion picture of the same name, comes a groundbreaking young adult novel about music, love, friendship, and freedom as three young musicians follow a quest to escape the law long enough to play the amazing show they hope (but also doubt) they have in them.

Inspired by the years he spent playing bass in a band himself, The Haters is Jesse Andrews’s road trip adventure about a trio of jazz-camp escapees who, against every realistic expectation, become a band.

For Wes and his best friend, Corey, jazz camp turns out to be lame. It’s pretty much all dudes talking in Jazz Voice. But then they jam with Ash, a charismatic girl with an unusual sound, and the three just click. It’s three and a half hours of pure musical magic, and Ash makes a decision: They need to hit the road. Because the road, not summer camp, is where bands get good. Before Wes and Corey know it, they’re in Ash’s SUV heading south, and The Haters Summer of Hate Tour has begun.

In his second novel, Andrews again brings his brilliant and distinctive voice to YA, in the perfect book for music lovers, fans of The Commitments and High Fidelity, or anyone who has ever loved—and hated—a song or a band. This witty, funny coming-of-age novel is contemporary fiction at its best.”

I very much enjoyed Jesse Andrews’ first book, Me & Earl & The Dying Girl.  This is much different than that one.

Well, let me dial that back.  It’s got the same sense of humor (try and read this without laughing, I dare you) but it doesn’t have the book’s underlying current of…can I say “a good heart” without getting booed?

The Haters kept my attention from start to finish, and the comparison to High Fidelity is incredibly apt. It’s absolutely a book for people who love music, and there are so many music references that I think would just delight readers.

I have to admit, though, that this book felt a little flat for me.  I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it the way I did his first novel.  I’m not sure what kept me at a disconnect, but reading the reviews, it seems like I’m not the only one who felt that way.  (Maybe if I knew more about music? Maybe if I were a boy?)

Still, Jesse Andrews has so much talent, and I cannot wait for his next book.