Reviews

 I review books, movies, apps, and products on this tab. If you want to give your two cents, add your opinion in a comment at the bottom! Questions are welcome. You might want to add suggestions for products, books, etc. for me to feature in my Reviews section 

Key

😀 = Drop everything and buy/read/watch this!!

🙂 = Enjoyed it!

😕 = Meh…

🙁 = Not a happy camper.

 

Books

The Hot Zone by Richard Preston

What’s it about? The Hot Zone is essentially a dramatized account of the origins and journey of the ebola virus, focusing mainly on the discovery of its implications and strains through research and outbreaks in the 1980s. Richard Preston has done some stunning research and writing in order to bring the reality of the fragility of human beings to life. Turning every page seems like a brush with death as Preston takes the reader across continents and on small airplanes to follow the biohazard specialists trying to assess how big a crisis they’re dealing with with each new outbreak. If you read this book you will become intimately aquatinted with proper monkey-dissecting procedures in the presence of a hot agent and an all-new appreciation of modern medical technology in the U.S. The book is oddly personal and Preston has an eye for details that causes the reader to form some attachment or at least intimate regard of each new person described on the forefront of the battle against this incredibly dangerous virus. I highly recommend immersing yourself in the terrifying world of deadly viral strains with The Hot Zone.
Rating: 😀
Comments: If you faint at the mention of blood or discussion of ebola symptoms, this book is obviously not for you.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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What is it? This deeply touching novel by Markus Zusak narrates the early life of Liesel Meminger, an orphan growing up with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in Molching, Germany during World War II. The story is told by omnipotent and sometimes darkly humorous death (yes, you heard me right– death is the narrator). Along with playing soccer with her best friend Rudy Steiner and joking with her papa, Liesel loves learning new words and picking up new books. However, as she is poor and censorship is rigorous in Nazi Germany, books are not widely available to Liesel. So, she steals them, her first book — The Gravedigger’s Handbook — taken from the snowy graveyard where her six year-old brother Werner is buried. Even as she accumulates books by various means, Liesel largely lacks someone to share them with– until the widow of her father’s best friend asks for a much deserved favor. This is how Max Vandenberg, a young German Jew seeking refuge in the Hubermann’s basement, befriends Liesel. Together they share their love of words even as Hitler rises and threatens to tear apart the world as they know it.

Rating: 🙂

Comments: Towards the end I really couldn’t put it down. The writing is interesting and easily plays with one’s emotion. Additionally I gained insight into the heart and mind of a young boy (Rudy), something I don’t encounter often in the books I read. Despite any annoyances I experienced with the self-possessed narrator (the narrator very much enjoys giving things away) on occasion, I would recommend The Book Thief.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

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What is it? Nimona is the first graphic novel I’ve reviewed! It’s the sweet and surprising story of a rebellious shapeshifter named Nimona, who charms (well, more or less) her way into the heart of Ballister Blackheart, an infamous villain who soon makes her his sidekick. At first it seems that Ballister is simply the “evil” of the “good v.s. evil” struggle that plays out in the kingdom in which they live.  But an outbreak of a mysterious sickness in the kingdom leads them on a mad chase for truth and many a confrontation with the kingdom’s hero, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. As backstories unfold and secrets come to the light, Ballister and Nimona fully come to terms with each other and their fears and realize what really constitutes a “good guy”.

Rating: 😀

Comments: Couldn’t put it down! I loved the setting– a medieval kingdom that also somehow has modern technology. It seems like it would be weird, but it works so naturally with the story!

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

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What is it? Skipping Christmas is the charming and somewhat tumultuous tale of Luther and Nora Krank, recent empty-nesters who decide to skip Christmas and go on a cruise for a change. Their decision soon turns their world upside down as their displeased neighbors, unbelieving friends, and concerned priest try to convince them that Christmas is worth it, despite all the chaos and stress the holiday season causes. But Luther and Nora remain firm and go through all kinds of shenanigans to keep their dream alive until an unexpected phone call turns their plan on its head and forces all their bitter friends to come to the rescue.

Rating: 🙂

Comments:  Very amusing and slightly scary. I mean, the Kranks’ neighbors are really into Christmas. Way too into it. Maybe they should just move.

Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor 

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What is it? If you haven’t heard of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, go do so now. Go hear of it. Go hear it. Go to YouTube or your Podcasts app and listen. If you have heard of it, it is likely that you have also heard of the book that has been written as a sort of extension of and companion to the podcast. This book zooms in on the lives of Night Vale residents Diane Crayton, her son Josh, and Night Vale pawnshop owner Jackie Fierro. For my WTNV listeners: remember the man in the tan jacket? Maybe you’ve heard of King City? And the library? They are all featured and further explained in this novel, which explores Josh Crayton’s search for his birth father, his mother’s reluctance to let her irresponsible boyfriend and father of her son back into her life, and Jackie’s role as a girl who finally learns to grow up. With the help of a forgettable mayor, the weird ways of time, a pile of plastic flamingos, and a few annoying slips of paper, these three lost characters finally unite and find their way in this quest for family and a meaningful life.

Rating: 😀 for both the book and the podcast.

Comments: So much weirdness. Even more weirdness than usual. I love it. Also, the book includes a few chapters that are simply the transcripts of some of Cecil’s radio broadcasts.

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt 

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What is it? This incredible book (based on a true story) follows Turner Ernest Buckminster III , minister’s son, and his move to Phippsburg, a town on an island in Maine. At first, Turner is miserable in the town. Everyone expects him to act “like a minister’s son”, prim, proper, and polite. But Turner just wants to have fun, which is exactly what he finds when he meets Lizzie Bright Griffin, an eccentric girl from Malaga, a neighboring island inhabited by former slaves. Lizzie is spirited and Turner sees in her the freedom that he wishes to have. However, when the town is looking into using Malaga island for their own business purposes and Turner’s friendship with Lizzie is discovered, Turner must fight for the people of Malaga, even though he knows the consequences he will face may hurt him beyond what he could ever imagine.

Rating: 😀

Comments: DO NOT BE SUPRISED BY THE BOOK’S CAREFREE COVER! It gets very intense at times and can be both infuriatingly heart-breaking and hilariously delightful. So be warned!

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 

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What is it? Jane Eyre is a story of fighting and figuring out your fate or that which others tell you is your fate. It takes place in northern England during the earlier part of the 19th century. The book follows Jane Eyre (it’s pronounced “air”) , an orphan who is raised by a cruel aunt who sends her to a miserable charity school. These experiences make her into an earnest andefascinating character. After school she leaves to become a governess at Thornfield Hall, home of Edward Rochester, a sullen man who is Jane’s elder by 20 years and looks after Adele, a ward who was left to his care. Jane puzzles and amuses Mr. Rochester, who delights in her presence even though he has to keep a terrible secret from her all the while. As the mystery deepens so does Jane’s affection for her enigmatic employer.

Rating: Personally, I give it a big 😀 — however, Brontë’s writing style may not be everyone’s cup o’ tea.

Comments: While this book often verges on being downright depressing, Brontë throws in charming bits of odd humor in the dialogue between Jane and Mr. R that I absolutely loved.

Hard Choices by Hillary Rodham Clinton 

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What is it? In this powerful memoir, Hillary Clinton describes her experience at the State Department and offers reflections now that she has stepped down as Secretary of State. She talks of difficult decisions, stubborn leaders, messy diplomacy, and even the occasional humorous moments she has encountered during her years as Secretary. Each chapter focuses on a country, region, or issue she worked with closely. She gives advice, apologies, wisdom, and describes her search for truth and justice in every situation overseas. I came to marvel at her determination during negotiations between stubborn countries with their own interests in mind or narrow-minded world leaders.  This book not only explored diplomacy, but the people behind it. It demonstrates how human skill and failure affect our world. In many places, especially towards the end of the book, she even offers some deep personal thoughts that let me see the woman behind the pantsuit. After reading this I can wholeheartedly say that when it comes to being President, Hillary is the woman for the job.

Rating: 🙂

Comments: This straightforward book makes diplomacy and what goes on behind the scenes in our government easier to understand and more meaningful to the layperson.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

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What is it? The rabbits portrayed in Watership Down are not your picturesque fluffy bunnies. The book follows the adventures of a tough and diverse band of wandering bucks (male rabbits) who flee their home warren (a series of rabbit burrows) on account of a slight but wise rabbit named Fiver, who seems to have the gift of Second Sight and warns them of a danger that will destroy the warren. This group of wanderers journey boldly through the wilderness in order to find a safe new home. They encounter predators, challenges, and strange, new (and often deadly) warrens filled with secrets. The plot twists never end, even when the rabbits reach Watership Down, seemingly a welcoming new home. The author brilliantly tells of rabbit culture, friendship, and lore while keeping the action running down to the bittersweet ending which will leave you stunned.

Rating: 😀

Comments: Watership Down is not a “girl book” or a “boy book”, a “kid’s book” or an “adult book”–it is an “everyone-who-can-read-needs-to-read-this” book.

Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene 

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What is it? Moral Tribes is a book in which biology, sociology, neuroscience, philosophy, and even a little politics meet. With thorough evidence to back up his theories, Joshua Greene explains how our brains have evolved to solve the Tragedy of the Commons, the basic issue of cooperation (Me versus Us), and why our brains and “cognitive gizmos” struggle to solve the Tragedy of Commonsense Morality, the issue of tribalism (Us versus Them). He further tells how he believes we can find a metamorality–an ultimate way of defining what’s moral that suits all of us in this modern age.  Among many other things, he explains how the different areas of our brain help us to make different decisions, why “rights” aren’t real, and why certain behaviors (e.g. violence–even simulated, pseudo-violence) make us cringe–and why other behaviors appeal to us. As you’re reading it, you basically begin to understand yourself, which is a very strange experience. Greene gives lots of examples and hypothetical scenarios to express his points. He also describes many mind-boggling experiments done by himself and his colleagues that are teaching us how we think and why we think in these ways. In fact, Moral Tribes will open your eyes to questions that you’ve probably never bothered to seriously consider, like: Why are we racist? Why do we pick the chocolate cake over the salad? Why do we cooperate? Why does pushing people make us feel bad? How do we measure happiness? Does money provide us with happiness? He applies his suggested way of thinking, utilitarianism, to real-life political issues such as abortion and global warming, which really ties everything else discussed in the book together into a fantastic finish that explains how utilitarianism and moral thinking pertain to everyday life.

Rating: 😀

Comments: As you may have noticed, Moral Tribes is the first non-fiction book that I have reviewed on teensplaining; hopefully it will not be the last. Also, an important thing for all of you who may think this book will be too complicated for you to understand to know is that Joshua Greene’s writing style is very simple and inclusive (he writes as if he is taking you on a journey, and he is the tour guide).

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

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What is it? Rebecca is a mystery-romance that takes place around the 1930s. There are a few remarkable things about this book: 1. The main character (and narrator)’s name is never directly said. 2. It leaves you feeling sad, frightened, and happy at the same time. 3. You will never expect the plot twists. This book is the story of (once again, they never say her name, so we’ll call her H) H. H is a young servant girl of sorts who is vacationing in the South of France with her employer, Mrs. Van Hopper. There H runs into the famous, reserved estate owner, Maximilian de Winter. Soon they become quite fond of each other despite his strange moods, and Maxim realized that H will have no future if she continues to work for Mrs. Van Hopper. So he proposes to her and the happy couple leave the bewildered Mrs. Van Hopper for Italy. When they return to England (where Maxim lives), H is introduced to Manderley, Maxim’s large estate, and the household staff, as well as Frank, Maxim’s friend and the estate’s record-keeper. H is astounded by the beauty and grace of Manderley, but she soon comes to terms with a harrowing fact: she is not the first Mrs. de Winter. The first was a the late Rebecca, a lady of unspeakable beauty, who presided over Manderley and held grand parties. Rebecca enchanted everyone who met her. H is feeling awkward and inadequate as Maxim’s new bride, and she sees Rebecca everywhere–her writing around the house, her clothes, untouched, in her old room. H is miserable living under the mysterious first Mrs. de Winter’s shadow. She believes it will always be this way. However, H soon comes to find that nothing is quite what it seems. Maxim has secrets, the house-staff has secrets, and the dead Rebecca has the biggest secrets of all.

Rating: 😀

Comments: A must-read. Delightful characters. You can really imagine them as if they are standing before you.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien

(The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King)

What is it? This imaginative trilogy (The Lord of the Rings is actually one book, but was split into three for ease of publishing) is one of the most beloved fantasy series in history. Written by the brilliant J.R.R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings trilogy follows the unexpected adventure of Frodo Baggins, a hobbit who resides in quiet Hobbiton, spending his days conversing with Sam Gamgee, his gardener, and the occasional visitor. Little does he know, Frodo is in possession of a ring of unimaginable power. One day Gandalf the wizard arrives in Hobbiton to warn Frodo of the power this ring possesses and tells him that soon he will have to take a journey to far away lands in order to destroy the ring and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands–the hands of the Enemy, the Dark Lord of Mordor, Sauron. Along the way Frodo will meet brave and endearing characters such as the cheery Tom Bombadil, the manipulated Saruman, the kings Theoden and Denethor, the elves of Rivendell, the brave Aragorn, Faramir, and Éowyn (she’s my personal favorite :D), the unforgettable Gollum (magnificent character!) , and Gimli the Dwarf. At the end of this journey, though, Frodo comes to find that maybe the biggest hero is the person he least expected–himself.

Rating: 😀

Comments: I enjoyed The Return of the King best, but all of them are great, and you can’t read one without the others. Also, Tolkien is a superb writer. In the  backs of the books he has put maps and indexes concerning Middle-Earth. These are a great help. This trilogy is one of those book series you will never forget.

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool 

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What is it? This miraculous book is the authentic story of Abilene Tucker, a 12 year old girl who’s lived her whole life on the road, traveling from town to town with her father, Gideon. One summer Gideon tells Abilene he’s gotten a job on the railroad and will have to send her away for a summer to the town of Manifest, where he grew up. Abilene reluctantly makes the journey by train to this middle-of-nowhere town expecting to learn about Gideon’s past. She stays with an old friend of Gideon’s — Shady, the proud owner of First Baptist Church and Bar.  Abilene becomes accidentally indebted to a mysterious townsperson — Miss Sadie, a diviner who always has a good story to tell. The more stories she hears, the more Abilene becomes intertwined with the mystery of Manifest: her father’s past, a bootlegging con, and a spy called the Rattler.

Rating: 😀

Comments: An absolutely marvelous book. Almost too good to be true. If you enjoy mysteries, you’ll 100% fall in love with Moon Over Manifest, Winner of the Newbery Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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What is it? After reading this classic by the reclusive author J.D. Salinger, I realized that it isn’t really much of a story. There is no real plot and there isn’t a whole lot of action.  The Catcher in the Rye is more of a collection of thoughts. The thoughts of the main character, Holden Caufeild, as he wanders aimlessly around the city after being kicked out of his preparatory school because he was failing almost everything. Although there are many brilliant observations and funny moments, you have to have a lot of patience to finish this book. Also, the book is rather saddening, because Holden is depressed, and he becomes more depressed by the minute. Also, everything seems to depress him. Still, I enjoyed Holden’s many brutally honest thoughts about the world. Here are a couple of quotes from the book:

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 “That’s the thing about girls. Every time they do something pretty, even if they’re not much to look at, or even if they’re sort of stupid, you fall half in love with them, and then you never know where the heck you are. Girls. Good Lord. They can drive you crazy. They really can.” – Holden Caufeild, The Catcher in the Rye 

Rating: I can’t give it a rating. It’s a very unusual book. I do recommend it though.

Comments: Just be prepared for a heck of a lot of swear words.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

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What is it? This brilliant book by a great author features 17 year-old Cadence Sinclair Eastman, a depressed heiress to the fortune of a wealthy family. After a mysterious serious of events a couple of years earlier, Cadence was left with serious head injurious that have caused her to skip several months of school and left her with unbearable pain. Cadence has never really been a Sinclair, her once-blond hair has been dyed black, she does not spend frivolously and she disapproves of their deceitful ways. Cadence also has trouble remembering the summers spent at her large family’s private island off the coast of Massachusetts with Mirren, Gat, and Johnny, three of her many cousins. Their little group had come to be called The Liars, and they had spent many happy moments together, until one fateful day that Cadence can never fully remember. And the more she remembers, hears, and sees, the more she realizes how corrupt and unhappy her supposedly perfect family is and how, inside, all of them are liars.

Rating: 😀

Comments: If you liked The Fault in Our Stars, you will LOVE this book! The author is actually a good friend of John Green.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

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What is it? Catherine’s life is taken over by the life of her autistic brother, David, and being twelve, Catherine wants nothing more than to be her own person, Catherine, a budding artist and teenage girl, instead of David’s Sister. She tries to prevent his embarrassing behavior by writing rules for him, because David loves rules. But then her David-filled life begins to change the summer she meets Kristi, the girl who moves in next door, and Jason, a mute and disabled boy from David’s therapy sessions. They will pull at two sides of her, and as she looks inside herself, she will be forced to ask, “What is normal?”

Rating: 🙂

Comments: If you are a fan of The Fault in Our Stars, you will love this book! The author has an autistic child herself, and this is a bittersweet, heartwarming portrayal of life with an autistic brother.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart 

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What is it? Frankie Landau-Banks spent the last whiff of summer she had left with her bothersome cousins, two divorced uncles and pestering mother, and she’s looking forward to her second year of high school at Alabaster Preparatory School in northern Massachusetts especially because Frankie evolved over the summer from an awkward lanky freshman into an attractive 15 year old sophomore. However, when Frankie becomes  the envied girlfriend of Matthew Livingston, an upperclassmen and one of the big men on campus, she is drawn into the world of The Loyal Order of the Basset Hound, a secret Alabaster all-male society her father once was a part of. However, the deeper into the school year and the secrets of the Bassets she gets, the more Frankie realizes she is being treated as inferior and decides to do something about it. She manipulates and maneuvers the boys, including Matthew and his sly friend Alpha, to do her bidding and soon becomes a powerful but anonymous leader of the Loyal Order. Frankie will teach them not to underestimate her…

Rating: 😀

Comments: Great for anyone who likes mysteries! Also contains messages about feminism and power. A thrilling read with many plot twists.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

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What is it? Hazel Grace Lancaster was diagnosed with cancer in her lungs when she was thirteen. An oxygen tank and nose tubes are the only things keeping her alive. Basically friendless, she has nothing to really live for until she meets a peculiar boy, Augustus Waters at a Cancer Support Group meeting. Augustus, a cancer survivor and amputee, shows Hazel how to make the most of the short time she has left, and seems intent on making her every wish come true when he spends his cancer Wish (which he was given in exchange for the amputation of his leg) to take her to Amsterdam to meet her favorite author, a recluse name Peter Van Houten. Hazel realizes that the more she falls in love with him, the more she will hurt him if and when the cancer finally kills her.  This brilliant book is one of my favorites, and a must-read.

Rating: 😀

Comments: Contains some iffy content. Probably best for 12+.

Looks by Madeleine George

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What is it? A searing book about an obese girl named Meghan and Aimee, an extremely thin goth poet who has a quick temper. Both girls feel invisible until they are drawn into each other’s lives when they plot revenge on Cara Roy, who has hurt them both beyond compare. This book takes on all the tough stuff: bullying, anorexia, friendship, and much more.

Rating: 😀

Comments: The book is written in 2nd person, which is an amazing feat for any writer. It has a beautiful beginning, end, and everything in between is a complex narrative that shows just how much more there is to everyone than first impressions.

Not Exactly a Love Story by Audrey Couloumbis

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What is it? A summary: Just when Vinnie Gold’s life seems as if it’s hit rock bottom, his parents are divorced, he has a huge acne breakout, and “his girl” moved to California without saying goodbye, his mother decides she’s in love with his gym teacher and they get married, dragging Vinnie along with them to Long Island, NY.  However, Vinnie’s life is turned upside down when he spots the girl next door. Patsy. She’s gorgeous and smart, and he’s awestruck by her. Someone drops her number, and Vinnie musters up his courage and gives her a call. The first time, he doesn’t say anything and she hangs up. The second time he accidentally says something obscene, and then he calls her again and again in a sequence of frenzied apologies. However, eventually they actually begin to have conversations, though she still doesn’t know who he is.  Vinnie thinks he may finally have a chance with her. But the deeper and deeper the phone calls get, the harder he finds it to be two people at one: Vincenzo, a mysterious, suave mystery caller, and Vinnie, a high schooler who’s thin as a stick and is the target of ‘Biff’, school jock. Here’s an excerpt from one of their midnight calls:

“Who gave you my number, anyway?”

“Someone dropped it,” I said, relieved to have the conversation move in another direction. I fell back on my pillow.

“Come on.”

“Swear. It was on a piece of paper, lying on the ground.”

“Just a phone number?”

“And your name,” I said, “Patsy.”

“What’s your name?”

I hesitated, then said, “Do you really think it’s in my best interest to tell you?”

“I have to have something to call you. Besides creep.”

Rating: 🙂

Comments: I loved this flirty, funny book, and thought it was a unique YA novel because it’s set in 1977.

The Secret Identity of Devon Delaney by Lauren Barnholdt

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What is it? Devon’s parent’s sent her and her five year old sister, Katie, to their grandma’s house for the summer because they needed to work on their marriage. While she was away, Devon meets Lexi Cortland, and Devon tells Lexi that she is with the popular crowd, is dating Jared, only the cutest and most popular guy in her school, and basically lies up a whole new dream life, figuring that Lexi will never find out about her real, ordinary life. Then one day, right in the middle of math class, Lexi shows up, a new student. Now Devon has to undo her tangled web of lies; but what toll will it take?

Rating: 🙂

Comments: this book was funny and heartwarming, and really showed the necessity for truth. Loved it!

Shooter by Walter Dean Myers

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What is it? Cameron and his family and friends are interviewed about a horrific and peculiar shooting at Madison High School, involving Len, a quirky close friend of Cameron who was the suicidal victim of bullying. A thrilling teen murder-mystery that is written in interview form to tell the story. It follows an interesting plot and is a window into the life of the bullied.

Rating: 🙂

Comments: Very interesting, explores race, bullying, life, death, and many other themes.

Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer

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What is it? Jenna, at 16, is a fabulous shoe-saleswoman living with her mother and sister in Chicago. She is hired by the elderly owner of the successful shoe company, who wants Jenna to drive her from Chicago to Texas, so that she can attend meetings, inspect stores, and confront her son, who is forcing her into retirement and attempting to take over the company. On the way, Jenna learns more about the rules of the road, and the rules of life.

Rating: 😀

Comments: This is a heartfelt coming-of-age story and convinced me to get a job selling shoes when I get older!

Movies

Wonder Woman 

What is it? The long-awaited DC superhero movie featuring a female superhero as its main character– Diana, a particularly combative Amazon with more power than she knows. The island of Diana’s female warrior kin, Themyscira, has always been protected by a barrier put there by Zeus to make the women undetectable to the vengeful god of war, Ares. However, when World War I begins to reach its climax, an American pilot and spy serving the British forces crashes through the shield followed by German naval soldiers. A ruthless band of Amazons slay the Germans but spare the pilot (Stever Trevor, played by the ever-charming Chris Pine) at Diana’s request for questioning. After learning of the war, our heroine is convinced that Ares has put evil in the hearts of men, who are being used as vessels of war by the powerful god. She accompanies Trevor back to London (to the sorrow of her mother Hippolyta), intent on finding Ares and killing him with a powerful sword entrusted to the Amazons by Zeus– a weapon, she was told as a child, that is the only way to kill a god. Trevor is impressed by her strength but very skeptical of her seemingly frivolous myth-peddling. Trevor’s own rebellious and risky intentions (supported by a gaggle of goggling rebels) lead Diana to the front lines of the war and to a man she supposes to be Ares in disguise, only for her to discover unexpected truths both good and bad about the human capacity for destruction.

Rating: 🙂

Comments: I’m not a superhero movie junkie but the action scenes, while quite obviously fake, totally gave me goosebumps. The acting and dialogue were both strong and charming (and sometimes a little testy). A very magnetic and sometimes heartbreaking movie to be sure. Deserving of its PG-13 rating. Likely because of the female director the movie carries a certain womanly intuition.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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What is it? You know very well what it is. TFA is the daring next installment in the Star Wars  movie series. A couple of rookie characters, a new plot, and some familiar themes and voila! We’ve got TFA. The new movie follows Rey, the young female protagonist and the adventure she accidentally tumbles into when she meets BB-8, a droid who belongs to the Resistance (the new and improved rebel alliance). Soon Rey finds herself trapped in a mission to find Luke Skywalker and defeat the First Order (new and improved Empire). A few new characters are thrown into the mix along with some classics in this epic that will have you screaming your brains out when Harrison Ford steps into view.

Rating: 😀

Comments: It was worth the hype. Nice job, Abrams.

Inside Out 

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What is it? Inside Out is an unusual and charming Disney movie that follows the Riley, an 11 year old girl who loves hockey, her best friend, and goofing around. Things take a turn for the worse for her when she and her mother and father move from Minnesota to California. What makes this movie interesting is that it does not simply show Riley’s experiences, it takes a journey inside her head to find out what’s going on in there during this turbulent time. A colorful cast of characters can be found inside Riley’s mind– Fear, Joy, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness. Each of these emotions has a special role to play in determining how Riley feels and perceives the world. Pixar takes us on the ride of our lives when Sadness and Joy encounter a problem with Riley’s “core memories” and are accidentally thrown out of their HQ. The two complete opposites must work together to restore Riley’s balance of emotions and teach us a lot about ourselves in the process.

 Rating: 😀

Comments: The concepts explored in Inside Out are really brilliant and have a lot of potential. This was definitely the best animated movie I’ve seen in a long time.

Paddington 

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What is it? Paddington is the charming story of a young, talking bear who leaves his jungle home after a family tragedy. He is sent to London, where he searches for a home and is taken in “for only one night” by the Browns, a family living in a townhouse in the bustling city. While Mr. Brown (played by the marvelous Hugh Bonneville) wants to turn the bear in to the authorities, Mrs. Brown is keen to help Paddington find a true home with the mysterious explorer who came to Paddington’s jungle home many years earlier and knew his family. During the search for the explorer (which becomes more intense and sinister once there is a curious taxidermist involved) Paddington begins to realize that his true home may be with the family who took him in rather than the family he expects to find.

Rating: 😀

Comments: This film is adorable, fresh, and great for the whole family!

The Book of Life 

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What is it? In this enchanting film that celebrates the magic of the Mexican Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), The Book of Life kick starts when two ancient beings, one the ruler of The Land of the Remembered, the other the ruler of The Land of the Forgotten, make a wager on the marriage of Maria, the belle of a small Mexican town. Her two choices–a soldier named Joaquin and a bullfighter turned musician, Manolo. Just when it looks like her choice of a groom is final, a medal, a snake, and a bandit change her fate forever and separate her from her true love. For her groom-to-be to rescue her, he’ll have to go on a soul-searching journey.

Rating: 😀

Comments: For a kids’ movie, it gets really deep. And there is a unique message of empowerment for women, which I was very pleased with 🙂

Big Hero 6

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What is it? Big Hero 6 is a sweet story of love and loss set in the futuristic city of San Fransokyo. Follow Hiro Hamada, a fourteen-year-old kid genius who wants to go to robot fights instead of putting his skills to work at a nearby university. However, after his brother Tadashi introduces him to the university’s teachers and students, Hiro decides to take a chance on his skills. Hiro’s future seems bright until a horrible accident claims his brother’s life. The only piece of his brother left is a healthcare robot named Baymax, Tadashi’s prized creation. The grief–stricken Hiro is reluctant to venture into the outside world until Baymax captures his heart. Hiro begins to investigate his brother’s death and realizes that there’s more to it than he thought. With the help of Baymax and four of Tadashi’s friends, Hiro takes off to find the man responsible for his brother’s death…but the adventure doesn’t end there…

Rating: 😀 

Comments: I really liked this movie’s messages! And this isn’t just a kid’s movie–adults will love BH6 too!

Whip It

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What is it? Whip It is the quirky story of Bliss, a high school girl whose life consists of working at the local BBQ joint in her small town and competing in dissatisfying beauty pageants. Then she takes a walk on the wild side as discovers roller derby, a rough and fascinating sport that she seems to have an almost immediate talent for. However, she joins a team–full of hilarious individuals–without her parents’ permission and has to sneak off to practice and competitions with the help of her best friend, Pash. While her fame as a roller skater increases, her friendship with Pash begins to weaken, and her naive judgement gets the better of her. Bliss has to learn to pick up the pieces and show her true self in this touching movie that celebrates the grit and courage we all have inside. 

Rating: 😀

Comments: It is PG-13, and rightly so, but it really has a realistic vibe that says “life is tough, but there’s always a way to pick yourself up”.

Pink Ribbons, Inc. 

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What is it? Pink ribbons, Inc. is the first documentary I’ve reviewed in the Movies  section and it’s a shame I haven’t reviewed more at this point, seeing as I absolutely indulge in documentaries. This particular documentary is a very unique one. It shines a new light on the breast cancer community, one that is full of hard questions and hard answers. Pink Ribbons, Inc. uses the viewpoints of researchers and striking footage to expose the other side of the Komen walks and whole “pink ribbon industry”. What may look like a innocent, powerful women’s movement is shown to have flaws behind the scenes. Many breast cancer survivors and patients interviewed in the documentary tell how they are repulsed by all the pink ribbon festivities and why breast cancer “is not pink or fluffy”.  One of the most shocking facts of all–the food companies that seem to support funding towards breast cancer research often use cancer causing products in their foods! This documentary will open your eyes and ears to the incredible and outrageous reality that lies behind the pink ribbons.

Rating: 😀

Comments: Seriously scary and eye-opening.

The Imitation Game 

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What is it? The best bloody British film ever! Benedict Cumberbatch shows his indescribably brilliant skill as an actor in this movie about the nearly forgotten WWII cryptographer Alan Turing. Turing was the astounding mind behind the cracking of the Nazi Enigma code. He and his computing comrades have to keep their cracking of this code a secret so that the Germans do not figure out that they have cracked it and reprogram the Enigma coding machine. However, this secret is only one of a host of them surrounding the brilliant Turing, one of which will ultimately lead to Turing’s own self-destruction.

Rating: 😀

Comments: This incredible, incredible, incredible story will make you feel insignificant and inspire you at the same time–a rare feat for any film.

The Fault in Our Stars

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What is it? This movie is a brilliant companion to the fantastic book.  I was surprised they didn’t alter more of it in the movie. It stuck pretty true to the book, and anything that was added just improved it. The acting was phenomenal, and Gus was more cute than you could ever have imagined!

Rating: 🙂

Comments: Bring a box of tissues, ya know, just in case you almost drown in your own tears.

Wadjda

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What is it? A cute and meaningful movie about a Saudi Arabian girl named Wadjda who doesn’t believe in rules. She is devoted to getting a bike so she can race the boy next door, but her mother will not let her. Wadjda’s mother struggles with the fact that her husband may be about to choose another wife (polygamy). It has a lot of social commentary, and Wadjda just melts your heart!

Rating: 😀

Comments: The movie is in Arabic with English subtitles. You can enjoy it just the same, though.

Oz the Great and Powerful

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What is it? The background story behind the Wizard of Oz, how he became the ruler of Oz, and how Glinda became who she was. This movie is basically the prequel to the Wizard of Oz, and includes many new characters.

Rating : 😕

Comments: I found the “moral” of the story to be confusing. It looked like the moral was “if you’re a good enough con-man, you can win”. Parts of it were cute, but the rest was mediocre. Not my favorite. Each to their own opinion though, my 10 year old sister seemed to like it.

Finding Joy

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What is it? A PG-13 movie about a writer who has to move back in with his dad and his dad’s girlfriend, as well as his brother, sister-in-law and niece to finish his book. While his is there, he meets a quirky woman who lives next door, Joy, who has a fear of clowns and thinks she is dying. She asks Kyle to write her obituary. What happens next is a hilarious and moving episode involving cement, senior citizens and a cat named Caesar.

Comments: My family watched this movie and we were splitting our sides with laughter.

Rating: 😀

Frozen

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What is it? This movie will melt your heart. Elsa and Ana are Scandinavian princesses and sisters but are distant because of Elsa’s dangerous ice powers. When Elsa , she is the eldest of the two, is anointed queen, she accidentally unleashes her powers, and Ana goes of looking for her. Along the way she finds a disillusioned but cute snowman, true love, and trolls.

Rating: 🙂

Comments: It is Disney, yes, but it is more mature than most Disney Princess-type movies. I fell  in love with the characters. Some of the messages are cheesy, but that’s just typical of a kid’s movie.

 Gravity

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What is it? The amazing journey of an astronaut as she and her crew undergo serious challenges of space. She struggles with the death of her daughter and with her faith. This movie is rated PG-13 simply because of a few bad words and the immense and overpowering feeling of being alone and helpless. It is a soul-searching adventure that will have you in tears.

Rating: 😀

Comments: Frankly quite terrifying. 10/10.

Tech + Trends

EOS Chapstick

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What is it? A cute, innovative new chap-stick that’s been popular lately.

Comments: Love these little guys! So convenient and colorful! You just have to smile when you see them. After you’re done with them you can scrape out the last of the chap-stick, clean the container and use it to hold earrings or other knick-knacks.

Rating: 😀

18 thoughts on “Reviews

  1. Hi again Hannah!
    Some reviews I would like to see:
    -Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy!!! (book series) Oh, and maybe Enders Game.
    -Apps like Geometry Dash or whatever that other one is that people have been playing a lot
    Also, have you considered reviewing TV shows or popular songs?

    1. Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy is on my list of to-read books!! Can’t wait ’till I get to it. I have considered reviewing TV shows, but then I’d have to review Doctor Who and I’m not sure I could handle that lol.

  2. Hi Hannah! Love the blog, first time reader. HUUUUUGGE FAN so far. Some books from a fellow bookworm for future review ideas:

    -Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
    -Anything by Terry Pratchett
    -The Book Thief
    -How I Live Now (probs my fav)

    Hope to see more excellent reviews soon.

  3. Gravity was freaking amazing. I saw it on my TV, and it was probably a good thing. Seeing that much intensity on a movie screen (or even worse, an IMAX screen) would’ve been absolutely terrifying for me. That said, did you see it in theaters?

  4. The Fault in Our Stars had earned a coveted place on my bookshelf! One of the best books I have ever read.

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