Monday, January 30, 2017

Movie Monday: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Two weeks ago, my husband and I went out to the theater to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. We don't often get out to the theater, but this is one we definitely wanted to see on the big screen. It didn't disappoint. Rogue One is an excellent addition to the Star Wars canon, and we both enjoyed it very much.

First, let me explain something that took me a while into the movie to figure out: when Rogue One takes place in the Star Wars timeline. The events in this movie take place immediately before the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope (that would be the fourth episode, but the first one to come out, in 1977). So, it is kind of like Episode 3 1/2. Once you see it, you understand that the events in the original Star Wars movie occurred just after this.

OK, now that that is out of the way, here is a brief overview of the plot set-up. A scientist named Galen Erso is kidnapped in the first scene by Empire stormtroopers and forced to work with them to complete building the Death Star. Galen's little girl, Jyn, successfully escapes and hides from the stormtroopers and is then rescued by Saw Gerrera (played by Forest Whitaker), a friend of her father's. Saw brings Jyn up and when she is a young woman (played by Felicity Jones), she meets up with Cassian (played by Diego Luna). Eventually, she decides to join the Resistance with him. They are accompanied by an old Empire robot named K-2S0 and an old, blind man named Baze (played by Wen Jiang) who knows how to use the Force.

After joining the Rebel Alliance, they go off on their own on a rogue mission to steal the plans for the Death Star from a heavily armed Empire data facility and name their ship (you guessed it) Rogue One. As I'm sure you know if you've ever seen any Star Wars movie, this is a great simplification of a very complex plot. Suspense builds, with good versus evil, their rogue mission, and a great battle scene at the end.

My husband and I both enjoyed Rogue One and found it to fit nicely into the Star Wars canon, with all of the elements you would expect: interesting characters, nasty bad guys, a noble but seemingly doomed mission, and massive battle scenes. I was a bit hesitant to see this one because I had heard some reviewers criticize it for a lack of humor, pervading darkness, and too-lengthy battle scenes (something I don't have much patience for). I didn't find any of this to be true, though! We both thought the tone of the movie was well-balanced and that it had a nice sense of humor (much of the humor comes from the robot, K-2S0). As for the battle scene at the end, it was just right - exciting and suspenseful, not at all boring, and just the right length. Bottom line: we both enjoyed it very much and liked seeing what led to the events in the original Star Wars movie.

You can still find Rogue One in a few theaters, but it is on its way out, so hurry! It is due out on DVD in April 2017 and should be available via streaming sometime before that (TBA) - you can use the Amazon link below to pre-order.

Have you seen Rogue One yet? Which is your favorite Star Wars movie?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Another busy week but a good one. Both sons are home from college for winter break, and we got to spend a little time with each of them this weekend, including having 8 young men here for breakfast on Saturday! Piles of pancakes, eggs, and sausage. It was great to have them all here, back together - felt like old times! I had a very social week myself, with my neighborhood book group on Wednesday and a lunch meeting with our local chronic illness support group on Friday (that's a lot for me in one week). Still plenty of time for reading, of course.

Here's what we've all been reading last week:
  • I finished The Whip by Karen Kondazian, a novel based on the real-life story of Charley Parkhurst, a woman who moved out West in the 1800's and pretended to be a man in order to work as a stagecoach driver. It was very interesting, though also heartbreaking to read about the losses she suffered. Most in our book group enjoyed the story, though some thought the writing was too simple and shallow, so this one got mixed reviews from our group. I enjoyed it - review to come!
  • I also finished a review book (due out in May), 'Round Midnight by Laura McBride, author of the highly acclaimed We Are Called To Rise (which I haven't read yet). This new novel is about four women in Las Vegas whose lives are intertwined. I would definitely recommend this one - it was warm and absorbing and fascinating to see the surprising ways that these very different women's lives intersected over time.
  • I forgot to include this one last week: I read a middle-grade graphic novel, Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. I like graphic novels because you can squeeze them in when you don't have much reading time! This one was very good, a modern take on Jack and the Beanstalk, a fantasy story about a boy and his mute sister who grow a very unusual garden with the help of a neighbor friend. Both story and pictures were very well done, and I look forward to the next book in the series.
  • I just started another middle-grade book, Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss, about a boy who becomes friends with a ghost. It's great so far - I am really enjoying it.
  • On a bit of a middle-grade binge, I am still listening to a middle-grade audiobook, The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen. It's about a dystopian world where a disease is ravaging its citizens and one young girl learns some secrets while being held in a quarantine colony. It's good so far.
  • My husband, Ken, is reading a Christmas gift from me, The Trespasser by Tana French, the latest (#5, I think) in her books about the Dublin Murder Squad. He loves her literary murder mysteries, though he's been laughing over some of the Irish slang! I have only read the first one so far - I have some catching up to do!
  •  Jamie, 22, has been reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. He is up to book 3, The Dragon Reborn, and enjoying it.
I'm not yet completely caught up on blog posts (still need to sign up for 2017 Reading Challenges), but I did manage quite a few posts last week:
Movie Monday: Mr. Holmes, an elderly Sherlock Holmes with dementia looks back on his last case

TV Tuesday: Mercy Street, a Civil War drama set in a hospital, with a great cast

Fiction Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch - I loved this mind-bending thriller!

Best of Books Read 2016 - Finally! My 2016 book summary

Saturday Snapshot: Sunshine and Blue Skies - a rare glimpse of blue skies this week!

What are you and your family reading this week?    

What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Snapshot: Sunshine & Blue Skies

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by West Metro Mommy Reads. 

Well, this is starting to get repetitive, but our weather continues to be mostly dark and gloomy here (including today), which really gets me down. But, as with last week, we did have a couple of little glimpses of sunshine and blue skies this week...amazing how much that can lift your spirits! My son said the same thing to me this week - he spend our nice, sunny day playing sports outside with his friends all day.

Anyway, here are a few pics from one day of sunshine and blue skies:

Brilliant blue sky with one puffy little cloud
I saw my shadow! Does that mean 6 more weeks of winter?

Bare branches against blue sky & sunshine!

Ah! Love that bright sky!

Hope you are enjoying a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Best of Books Read 2016

Finally! My 2016 book summary! Shouldn't there be trumpets or a drumroll or some kind of fanfare? It's not even February yet!

My lateness was not due to a lack of great books - 2016 was an excellent reading year! I read 75 books in 2016, and I have added all of them - with links to my reviews - to my Book Reviews tab. And you can see how I did on my 2016 Reading Challenges here.

Here are some summaries, fun facts, and my picks for Best Books Read in 2016:
Total Books Read = 75
Adult Fiction = 34
Adult Nonfiction = 7 (11 total nonfiction)
Adult Graphic Memoirs = 2
Teen/YA = 19
Middle-Grade = 13
Audiobooks = 28

(there is overlap in some categories, in case you are checking my math!)

Book Written by Women Authors = 46 (61%)
Diverse Books (with characters or by authors who are not white European-derived heterosexuals) = 23 (31%)
Books from my own shelves (TBR) = 23 (31%)

Now, for some of my choices in several Best Of categories:

Best Adult Novel 
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Best Nonfiction  

Best Memoir  
Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman

Best Audiobook

Best Teen/YA
Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 

Best Middle-Grade  
Pax by Sara Pennypacker  

And a few Top Ten (or Top Whatever) Lists:

Top Ten Adult Novels:
  • The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez   
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • LaRose by Louise Erdrich 
  • Marriage on the Street Corners of Tehran by Nadia Shahram
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah 
  • Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel 
    Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Summer Guest by Alison Anderson 
  • A Tale for the Time Being  by Ruth Ozeki
 Top 5 Nonfiction for Adults (including graphic memoirs)
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo 
  • How to Live Well with Chronic Pain and Illness: A Mindful Guide by Toni Bernhard  
  • Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman 
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi 

 Top 7 Teen/YA Novels
  • The Cage by Megan Shepherd
  • The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
  • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys 
  • Solitaire by Alice Oseman 
  • Unbecoming by Jenny Downham 
  • Vivian Apple At the End of the World by Katie Coyle  

Top 8 Middle-Grade Novels
  • The Big Dark by Rodman Philbrick 
  • The Lightning Queen by Laura Renau 
  • The Marvels by Brian Selznick 
  • My Name Is Not Friday by Jon Walter 
  • A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen 
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker 
  • This Side Of Wild by Gary Paulsen 
  • Swing Sideways by Nanci Turner Steveson  

What an amazing reading year!  Here's to more great books in 2017!

What were your favorite books read in 2016? Do you agree with any of my picks?