Tag Archives: review

Be Like Jack: Thoughts on Mary Poppins Returns

I saw the movie “Mary Poppins Returns” today with a friend. 

Mary Poppins Returns (2018 film poster).png

Plot synopsis from IMDB: “Decades after her original visit, the magical nanny returns to help the Banks siblings and Michael’s children through a difficult time in their lives.”

A few things I liked:

  • It mirrored the original movie (and the books) quite well but doesn’t copy.  It is a continuation of the story. 
  • The music is fun and whimsical.
  • Emily Blunt’s Mary Poppins is more smiley than Julie Andrews’s. She seems to care more for the kids and have more fun with teaching them life lessons.
  • The new Banks kids look ready to stumble into Narnia.
  •  Lin-Manuel Miranda’s character, Jack, is joyful to watch and I dare you not to fall in love with his happy eyes and cheerful demeanor.
  • Dick Van Dyke is over 90 and he still dances the happiest little jig in his cameo. 

Dislikes:

  • Jane Banks’s clothing. Good colors but hideous patterns and combinations. 
  • …That might be it.
  • I did find the songs a little too on the nose for the storyline. Nothing existed just to exist, it all tied in somehow with a moral lesson. 

Final thoughts:

I was skeptical about the character of Jack – who is the Bert stand-in as companion in this movie. The genius of Lin-Manual Miranda aside, you cannot surpass Bert. Or perhaps you can. But Jack (who is connected to Bert, but you should watch the movie to find out how) does not try to surpass him. He develops a character all of his own. He is the rare adult character who recognizes what Mary Poppins can do and marvels at it but does not need to be taught by it. 

And that, I think, is why his character really is the best in the movie. He worked with Mary Poppins in the past. He knows Bert. He comfortably takes part in all the adventures as a matter of course. Yet he still marvels and laughs with joy at it all. He is not like Michael and Jane, who forgot about their adventures with Mary Poppins. Neither is he like the children, who need to learn some life lessons. He bridges the gap between childlike wonder and adult responsibility. In doing so, he shines as an example of what a good adult should/could be like. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this happy sequel.


Heist Society by Ally Carter

I did not actually read this book recently but I stumbled upon my review of it from 2011 and chuckled so hard I knew I needed to share. Don’t ask me what I meant as serious and what I meant in jest! 

My Dear Sister Anna,
I begin…with a protest. I may have spent the last year at school but I happen to go to one of the most conservative colleges in the country. To say that I might find the awkwardness in this book “not that bad” is nonsense! Of course I recognized it. Did I find it dreadfully awful? Maybe not. But please don’t consider me utterly lost because I find guys (shall I whisper this?) discussing a girl’s bra size less than utterly deplorable. 
I understand you didn’t necessarily appreciate this one. I found it amusing. Consider, though, I count The Italian Job and Man on a Ledge as two of my favorite movies. I love books involving young people coming together, art, and thievery. In books, anyway. This combines all three…and that is just the beginning! 
The characters aren’t particularly dimensional. Kat may be fun to read about, but who buys she’s only sixteen? Or fifteen? Or however old she is supposed to be? But let’s ignore that fact. She does have some good emotional beat but its really rather lost. I like her by the end and that’s what is really important.
Hale, did you find him adorable? I found him adorable. Gosh, he has potential. Pity he is about as dimensional as a piece of computer paper. I love his butler and that he’s a billionaire and the hint of parents-not-home. Oh yeah. He’s Artemis Fowl without the genius. Batman without the vendetta. 
What this book desperately needed was some flash backs. Something besides a half-formed memory of hot chocolate and red doors. Something solid. Like, Kat’s Mom’s death. Or how Hale and Kat met. Or….or something. Even a better description of a heist previously preformed. 
Overall, it was an adorable plot with lots of fun lines and characters. Not precisely to my taste, but clean enough that I might pick up the sequel. Maybe. Light, fluffy, action packed and creative, I enjoyed it. It is, after all, in the line of all my favorite stories. 
I’m sure you will have much to say to me when you return home. Hopefully it won’t all be about my deplorable taste in novels. 
Adieu!
Amy


Mandie and the Secret Tunnel by Lois Gladys Leppard

Image result for Mandie and the Secret Tunnel lois Gladys Leppard

Almost 20 years separates me from the first time I read Mandie and the Secret Tunnel. I loved this series growing up. I read every book and deeply mourned when Lois Gladys Leppard died before finishing the Mandie College Days series. I still remember the day my Mom took me up to the kids section of our local library and suggested I try the first book. I remember finding it slow at first, and then fascinating. I remember staying up till 9 pm reading Mandie books in the living room and feeling quite spooked when it came time to go to bed. I remember my joy when, after I thought I read them all, my library got Mandie and the Quilt Mystery (2002). I remember impatiently waiting for Mandie and the Missing Schoolmarm (2004) to get published. (Incidentally, I still own that one.) I remember reading New Horizons in 2010 and feeling such delight at being reunited with my old friends. For me, the Mandie series remains a dear, integral part of my literary childhood.

Heady with feelings of nostalgia, I picked up Mandie and the Secret Tunnel for a quick trip down memory lane. Unfortunately…or fortunately…well…see my reaction for yourself: (Spoilers to follow.) 

The story centers around Mandie Shaw, a 12 year old girl whose father dies and whose step-mother decides to quickly remarry. She then send Mandie to work as a nursemaid which prevents her from going to school. Finding this intolerable, Mandie decides to run away to the house of her uncle (whose existence she previously had no knowledge of) with the help of Uncle Ned – an old Cherokee Indian who befriended her father and vowed to watch over her. 

As a kid, this set up a fabulous adventure. Of course she should run away. What an evil family! However, as an adult, I sympathize with the step-mother. What do you do with a rambunctious 12 year old when you do not have food to go around? You send her to a place where she will get food and shelter and be useful. Maybe not kind by modern standards, but perfectly acceptable for the era!

Meanwhile, Mandie travels to her uncle’s home where she learns he is away traveling in Europe. The servants accept her with no questions asked (even though we later learn her uncle only recently learned of her existence, so how they know who she is I-don’t-know) and begin to spoil her. This includes making her fancy new gowns from a special sewing room in the house filled with silks and lace and buttons. (We never do learn why an old bachelor maintains such a glorious sewing room.) Unfortunately, a messenger then arrives to say Uncle John died in Europe and the lawyer cannot find his will. This leads to the crux of the plot, the search for Uncle John’s will. Meanwhile, various people show up claiming to be nieces and nephews of the deceased. Everyone knows they are phonies, but no one can apparently do anything about it. 

In fact, at one point, an old family friend blatantly informs one of the phonies that he knew the family for over 27 years and John never had a sister. Instead of kicking out the phony, the servants go, ‘eh, we knew it was smoky! Pity we can’t do anything about it.’ 

Exactly what these phonies hope to accomplish, especially if a will does turn up, never becomes clear. They really play almost no role in the plot. No one doubts Mandie’s claim as niece, so they don’t even serve to make her role more uncertain. 

Anyway, turns out Uncle John is not dead, but only pretending. Apparently he wanted to find out who was trustworthy to take care of his newly fatherless niece should anything happen to him. The niece, I might add, he completely ignored after her father’s death and left to become a drudge. As he could not know Mandie planned to run away to his house before enacting this scheme, and as the only people who appear affected by his death are his servants, I have no idea what he hoped to accomplish by his plan. Literally, it is the most convoluted, useless scheme possible. But it does create the necessary tension to keep the story going. 

This book did not age well. Uncle Ned speaks awkward, broken English that 90% of the time consists of the words “papoose” or “happy hunting grounds.” If I remember correctly, this does not change throughout the series. Joe – Mandie’s neighborhood friend who reached heights of romance in my eyes as a child with his repeated statements about marrying Mandie someday – informs her she can’t go to school for too many more years because he “does not want a wife who is smarter than him.” Also, let’s talk about the fact that he is 14 when he says this. What 14 year old thinks that far into the future? You say, ‘ah! They grew up faster then!’ I say, you can’t pick and choose when you want to be historically correct. The characters definitely use the word “boyfriend” – a phrase that would hold no meaning at the time. Finally, I’m not saying he is a gold digger, but I am saying he went from saying “I’ll take care of you” to “I’ll marry you” only after she learned she was an heiress…

Throw in several other slightly sketchy plot elements (like the way Mandie’s real mother kind of get strong armed into marrying Mandie’s uncle) or really off the wall statements (like Mandie’s mother telling her mother she could move away since she knew her mother “had the servants to take care of her”) and you get one weird book. 

But not a bad book. You see, I went in excepting a mystery novel. The plot elements baffled me because no mystery really existed, and the motives of the characters made no sense. I do not think this book ever intended to stand solely as a mystery novel, though. It resembles much more the genre of ‘adventure books for girls.’ 

From a writing perspective, it screams plot inconsistencies. From an adventure book for grade and middle school girls? Oh, it rocks. An orphan heroine, strong friendships, secret tunnels, missing wills, ghosts, wealthy relatives, fabulous dresses, a Cherokee spy network, long-lost relatives…this book contains it all! When you focus on the adventure, plot consistency matters less. What does matter is an exciting story with crazy twists and scary turns. And this book contains those elements in abundance. 

While this book lost some of its nostalgic glow (poor Uncle Ned), overall I am pleased with it. It remains a romping adventure for young girls. It made me wince occasionally, but it also reintroduced me to some of my favorite characters and awoke a bunch of dormant memories. I consider this re-read a success. 

 

 

 

And finally, to the person who told me it did not matter that Lois Gladys Leppard would write no more Mandie College Days because fans could write fan-made sequels, I’ve thought about what you said for 8 years and I disagree. It is not the same. 


Most Liked Review

My most liked picture got me thinking about my favorite form of social media: Goodreads. That got me wondering what my most liked book review was. And…I don’t actually know. Goodreads does not apparently feel it incumbent upon themselves to send me random updates about my like stats. But, based on the number of notifications I’ve received, the main contender is my review of Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier with 62 likes and 13 comments. While this number is hardly high for Goodreads…it is for me! 

I reshare the review here with this caveat: I wrote it in 2012. That’s my only excuse. (Also this review is laced with some minor spoilers. And grammar mistakes. And….um. Teenage wrath.)

Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier – 2/5 stars

Pre-Review

Oh my gosh, do I really have to wait for OCTOBER for this book to be translated into English???? AHHH! I’m so excited. And I suppose by October I’ll be stuck back in dinky Dayton so I’ll have to wait even longer to get my hands on a copy. 
^.^ 
Maybe I should just re-read Ruby Red…

Finished 12/28/12
*sigh*
So much potential. So, so much potential. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to it.
The plot is still interesting. In fact, its creative and fun and quite enjoyable. 
But the characters!
Oi. 
The characters absolutely ruin this book. 
Lets take our fearless hero, Gideon, for example. He’s a boy toy with no real purpose but to look pretty, be occasionally vexing, and be good at kissing. He is unlikely in the extreme and every high school girls fantasy. Of course, he is also the most misunderstood character around and really in love with the heroine. 
In love. Psha. That brings me to my main problem with Gideon….
His awful, awful declaration of love. It abrupt, random, and dreadful. It sounds like someone on a Jane Austen-high. He’s barely known this girl a few days and he’s “declaring his love”…which, apparently, translates to “when I see you, all I want to do is makeout so obviously I’m head over heels.” 
There is no real conception of what love is in this book. Its all lust and hormones and emotional hype. Gideon’s character is, as I said, a teenage girl’s characterization of the perfect guy. There is nothing wrong with him, his main goal is to protect the girl, oh! yeah, and all he wants to do is kiss.
There is nothing more to him though! Sure, he plays the violin and piano and hates musicals, but is any of that depth? No. Its nonsense to make it appear more attractive to our hormonal town crier…I mean, our heroine. Gwen.
Gwen, Gwen, Gwen! Oi vey. Her main issue in life is Gideon. Its almost sickening. Because here is the deal…he’s all she thinks about. Ever. Even though the entire bloody world is counting on her, even though she can travel in time, even though she has a pet gargoyle, her every waking moment is spent in contemplation of Gideon’s hair.
Or his clothing.
Or how hot he is.
Did I mention the paragraphs upon paragraphs about how attractive he looks at random moments? 
Delete that from the book, and you have an interesting, entertaining story. Its not needed. In fact, it would be so, so much better without it! Because honestly, Gwen has no depth. She’s hormonal in the extreme, dumb on top of that, and makes such obvious blunders in judging poor Gideon’s character that it really is irritating. 
This book is also rather crude. Its crass. Whether its her random (and unneeded) commentary about The Pill with her Grandfather, or the random (and unneeded) groping in the eighteenth century, or the reference to kissing and sex on every page…this book is just not good. Yet it is all somehow “love.” 
On top of our two obnoxious love-birds, the plot has several puzzling inconsistencies. Like, where the heck did Lesley and Gwen find those numbers? Yes, I know, in the library, but when were they looking? Just a randomly added details.
And sentences like “I’ll get to that in a moment” (when explaining why the gargoyle wasn’t there)
Or Gideon’s younger brother conveniently liking Lesley and knowing where the numbers came from? 
I’m looking forward to the next book being translated, and I will read it. I enjoyed a lot of Sapphire Blue Unfortunately, I was also frustrated by it. There is a lot that could have been done with it, but instead all that is left is one hormonal scene fraught with tears and the breaking of hearts after anther.I hope the final installment in the series will prove to be a delightful tye-in to everything but…I don’t have high hopes. We can only pray that it won’t descend lower than falling on the couch.


Poems of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln wrote all of 3 poems in his life (that survived). You can find them in a charming little volume titled…Poems of Abraham Lincoln. It is 32 pages. The first poem is about lost childhood, the second about a mentally deranged person, and the third about a bear hunt. 

They are pleasant enough poems but odd subjects. It is easy to read a lot into them because Abraham Lincoln is so famous. However, I think from anyone else I’d be more confused and less tolerant. 

Worth a flip through if you stumble upon it but not worth seriously pursuing. 


Officially An Adult

Today I turn 25, making me officially-officially an adult. At 18, people say you are an adult, but in reality your options are fairly limited to voting and buying lottery tickets. At 21, you can buy alcohol, which is nice, but can’t rent a hotel room.

But once you reach 25…then you are legit. You can rent a car without getting charged extra. You can rent a hotel room without worrying about age restrictions. You can basically do anything. Go anywhere. Be anyone.

All while remaining on your parents’ health insurance for one more year. Because, wouldn’t want to grow up too fast, right? (I’m kiddddingggg.)

I’m excited to turn 25. It means I made it a quarter of a century, quite a respectable achievement if I do say so myself. I’m solidly in my mid-twenties now. (Which, actually, makes me feel quite young, because who says mid-twenties? I feel like you don’t worry about the decades slipping by until you hit your 30s)

It also means my 24th year finally comes to an end. And I’m so okay with that.

It was a strange year for me. Not a bad year. I find myself quite content with the way things worked out. Many good things happened. But also many stressful things.

For starters, I slept on a mat on the floor of a living room for most of it because there was not enough space in the apartment I shared for me to have a bed. I moved into the world of undergraduates and nightly fell asleep to the sound of pounding music, drunken carousing, and the occasional whiff of pot. I gave up my van and a paycheck and learned to be a broke, dependent student again. I limped by on student loans and survived financially only because of my parents’ and Signe’s generosity. I experienced gut-wrenching anxiety for the first time in my life and spent days battling nausea that was all in my head. I struggled to make meaningful friendships and find my footing in the pressure cooker of law school. I spent my first semester back in school wondering daily if I should drop out (and if I did, how I would pay off all those law school loans!) It was a whirlwind.

But so many sweet things happened too. I made it almost my entire second semester without wanting to drop out. I found community in the Federalist Society, the Christian Legal Society, Ridgeway Church, and my AFP network. All the stress and panic about finding a summer job led to three different, amazing internships (and let me tell you, I probably would have dropped out without those internships and their reminders that 1. yes, I am an adult, and 2. there is a light at the end of the tunnel.) I gained mentors and experience and discovered a passionate hatred for the public trust doctrine. 

Law school aside, 24 involved reading 124 books, wrapping up a summer in Idaho, standing up in two weddings, seeing old friends, making new friends, flying to Tennessee, white water rafting, moving to Colorado for an incredible, restful, fulfilling summer internship, and becoming an aunt! 

My 24th year centered around learning to live in the tension of being not-quite-an-independent-adult but also not-quite-an-inexperienced-student. I didn’t always find the right balance, but I like to think I am ending on a high note. I made Law Review. I am President of my school’s Federalist Society and Treasure for the Christian Legal Society. I was accepted to study abroad in Thailand in 2019. I’ll have my own apartment this fall with an actual bed. 

There is a saying about law school: first year they scare you to death, second year they work you to death, and third year they bore you to death. As I look to 25 and the upcoming year, I already feel flickers of anxiety about how crazy my schedule looks. But I’m also excited and eager to take it on. I do not think I will ever learn to love this social place of half-student/half-adult, but I’m going to enjoy it while I can. It certainly affords me many unique opportunities. 

Today I turn 25. I’m officially-officially an adult. And maybe in being an adult, I can more confidently be a student, because no matter how it feels, the two are not mutually exclusive. Just mutually challenging. Here’s to one more (hopefully-slightly-less-roller-coaster-ish) year!


#TBT Skulduggery Pleasant

In the spirit of re-reading more, I thought it might be fun to do a few #TBT (Throwback Thursday) posts with books I really enjoyed but never re-read. The first one I chose was Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. Unfortunately, I think I hyped this one up too much to myself over the years. It wasn’t nearly as funny as I remember it being. I originally rated it 3 stars and I think that is fairly accurate. 

Plot: When 12-year-old Stephanie’s uncle dies, she inherits his entire estate and the friendship of the very strange Skulduggery Pleasant. Skulduggery is a skeleton. He should have died centuries ago but he never did so, instead he became a detective. When Stephanie’s new possessions put her in the path of her uncle’s killer, she teams up with the skeleton detective and enters a hidden world of magic to stop an evil maniac bent on destroying the world. 

My thoughts: This is a very creative story with lots of snappy dialogue and unique characters. The action starts right at the beginning and never lets up. Considering that hidden, magical worlds are not exactly new territory, this is book manages to stay fresh and fun even when handling occasionally old tropes.

However…I never found my care-factor fully engaged. Ultimately, I blame the constant action. Someone is always being kidnapped or betrayed or tortured or shot at. There is hardly a moment to catch your breath and actually process what is all going on. The characters are clever and snappy but experience very little character change. It isn’t that I would want this book to be longer, it is already too long, but it needs to be a bit more developed to appeal to a wider audience. Then again, perhaps it has no plans to appeal to a wider audience, and is simply aimed at the Middle School crowd. 

Originally I wanted to re-read this entire series but I don’t think I will. My former reviews and ratings of this series get lower as the books progress and there are other series better worth re-reading. It is a pity, really. I remember this book being so funny. However, I don’t think I laughed out loud once. It merely amused me.