Showing posts from 2012

Circe by Madeline Miller (♦♦♦♦)

Granddaughter of Oceanus, daughter of Titan Helios and sea nymph Perseid, Circe was different from the start. While her siblings discovered their unique gifts very early on and gained their independence—either by claiming their inheritance, like Perses and Aëstes, or by marriage to a wealthy demigod, like Pasiphäe—, Circe remained among her family in the halls of the gods. Her love for young fisherman Glaucus changed everything. Circe used a potion to transform Glaucus into a worthy suitor. Glaucus, seeing his station changed, fell in love with one Circe’s cousins, a sea nymph named Scylla. Out of jealousy, Circe put a potion on Scylla’s bath and, unintendedly, transformed her into a monster. Circe’s confession forced Helios to go to see Zeus, for witchcraft is something that gods fear can tip the balance of power. Zeus declared an eternal banishment for Circe from the halls of the gods to the island of Aiaia.

Exile was not easy but, as Circe learned, it had its advantages; being away f…

Best Books I Read in 2012

The following is a compilation of the books I read and liked best in 2012.

Ghost Walk by Heather Graham (♦♦♦♦): Though I found the ending implausible the rest of the story is compelling and engaging, the characters very well outlined. The legends of New Orleans are as quaint as the city itself. I felt the urge to book a trip!

Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag (♦♦♦♦): The characters are utterly human, multidimensional. I liked the banter going on at the Sheriff’s Office: it was funny and distracted at times from the gritty plot. The story was magnetic, compulsively readable, true detective’s work in the pure sense of the phrase.

The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose (♦♦♦♦): I liked this book very much. It flows and draws you in like a pleasant dream. It is marvelously narrated, described effortlessly and beautifully. The literary images are well constructed and evoke memories from the reader. I did like the premises of the book: it is about family legends and tragedies, broken dream…

Top Ten Acting Performances of 2012

Top Five Female Performances

Sally Field: hers is the best female performance of the year in my opinion. As Mrs. Mary Todd Lincoln in Lincoln, she was vibrant, in a role marked by the loss of a child and the desperation to save another from the claws of war. The Mary Lincoln portrayed in the film was a steady supporter of her husband’s cause and, as many other politicians’ wives, an adviser and confidante.

Jennifer Lawrence: with two films among the best of the year, namely The Hunger Games and Silver Linings Playbook, she is one young talent to watch as she grows more and more comfortable in her roles. The Hunger Games franchise proved that she has the dramatic power to carry a lead role that will cement her as a superstar among young fans.

Anne Hathaway: with two great movies under her belt and among the best of the year, this was possibly Anne Hathaway’s year. She almost stole the show as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises and sang the most spirited, well-known anthem of hope in Les Mi…

Top Film Directors of 2012

Ben Affleck (Argo)

David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook)

Steven Spielberg (Lincoln)

Robert Zemeckis (Flight)

Tom Cooper (Les Misérables, 2012)

Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski (Cloud Atlas)

Christopher Nolan (The Dark Night Rises)

Sam Mendes (Skyfall)

Peter Jackson (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (♦♦♦♦)

Gandalf appears one fine morning at Bilbo Baggins’ doorstep in the shire to mark his door, unbeknownst to him, and invite rude, mean-looking dwarves to a banquet in Bilbo’s home. The reason? An extraordinary adventure that will lead the dwarves to reclaim the land they were driven away from by Smaug the dragon, and Bilbo to embark on a quest no other hobbit before him has ever been. On their way to Lonely Mountain, Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves will encounter many obstacles some of whom are orcs intent on killing them, and trolls with different motives.

If anyone had any doubts that director Peter Jackson had lost his Middle Earth mojo, those doubts have been dissipated with the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The magic is back and so are the luscious visual effects and the fantastic creatures that populate a realm only J.R.R. Tolkien could have imagined and only someone with the imagination and creative genius of Peter Jackson can bring to life. The result is breathta…

Les Misérables (2012) (♦♦♦♦)

Jean Valjean is a man condemned to almost two decades in jail for stealing a loaf of bread and then trying to escape prison. He is finally given his freedom but with the condition that he’ll be on parole forever. Eight years later Valjean has straightened out, has become a wealthy man and is the major of his town, but a blast from the past comes in the form of Inspector Javert, the man who as a jailer made Valjean’s life a living hell.

Inspector Javert soon begins to suspect the true identity of the major and makes inquiries, which prompts Valjean to flee the town. As a debt to Fantine, a factory worker turned prostitute out of necessity, Valjean takes young Cosette under his wing before he flees. Nine years later, France is on the brink of revolution and Valjean once again meets his archenemy, but under duress he makes a decision that may very well impact the rest of the story.

This year’s version of Les Misérables is a big screen adaptation of the homonymous stage musical. Though s…

Silver Linings Playbook (♦♦♦♦½)

Patrick has an onset of bipolar disorder when he walks up on his wife Nikki cheating on him with a one of her coworkers. The fallout is such that Patrick is hospitalized and issued a restraining order to keep away from Nikki, except he is obsessed with rebuilding the relationship they once shared.

When Pat leaves the hospital he goes back to live with his parents, but part of the arrangement is that he must attend therapy. That turns out to be challenging enough because Pat doesn’t want to take any medication. In the end, Pat manages to fix his life with the help of a friend named Tiffany who has her own baggage.

Silver Linings Playbook is the feel good movie of the year. Masterfully directed and acted, this film is heartwarming and funny. Even though the mental problems the protagonists face get them into funny situations, hysterical even, the movie makes no fun of those issues, it embraces them. Silver Linings Playbook is at the core a romantic movie with plenty of issues worth expl…

Hyde Park on the Hudson (♦♦♦)

President Franklin D. Roosevelt is in need of company as dictated by his mother. Daisy, a cousin of his, is called to cheer him up. What ensues is an intimate friendship until Daisy finds out there are other women in the president’s life aside from his wife Eleanor, of course. Amidst all this, King George VI of England pays a visit to the States to secure an alliance in case Germany invades Great Britain.

Despite the hype surrounding this movie, I confess I was disappointed. Bill Murray’s performance as Franklin D. Roosevelt is good but not great, not on the same acting level as Daniel Day-Lewis’ Lincoln. Bill Murray is refreshing in the role of Roosevelt, maybe too refreshing given the political climate that he was facing at that time.

I particularly enjoyed the scenes of King George VI’s visit to Roosevelt’s Hyde Park mansion and they shared the flaws each had and the uniqueness they brought to their political roles. When King George VI complained about his stutter, Roosevelt repli…

Lincoln (♦♦♦♦)

Based on the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lincoln the movie focuses on the last four months of Lincoln’s presidency, on his role in bringing an end to the Civil War, his relationship with family, allies and political foes and his push for passing the thirteenth amendment to the US Constitution granting equal rights before the law to people of color.

Lincoln is not a great movie, but it is a very good one. Steven Spielberg directs and co-produces the film. Lincoln suffers greatly due to its running for close to 3 hrs, and the heavy political discussions involved that have more resonance these days due to the partisan bickering ubiquitous in Capitol Hill. Despite these flaws, Lincoln shows acting performances for the ages, particularly the ones belonging to Daniel Day-Lewis in the role of Lincoln, Sally Field as Mary Lincoln and Tommy Lee Jones as Stevens.

The resemblance of Daniel Day-Lewis to Lincoln is uncanny. Day-Lewis physic…

Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier (♦♦♦♦)

It’s 1804…Mary Anning is a young girl who lives with her family in a coastal English town named Lyme Regis. Since the family is poor, Mary’s father has taught her to hunt for unusual stones in the beach and clean them to be sold for a small fee. Mary’s family survives with little, but that changes for the worse when Richard Anning, Mary’s father, dies suddenly, leaving them buried in debts.

In London, twenty-five year-old spinster Elizabeth Philpot-- along with her sisters Margaret and Louise and Bessie, a servant—is making arrangements to move away from the city due to the marriage of her brother John, whose wife may not want to share her new quarters with her sisters-in-laws. Upon a visit to Lyme Regis, the Philpot sisters decide to settle there.

Mary and Elizabeth meet months before the death of Richard Anning, who is a carpenter, when Elizabeth pays a visit to the Annings to order the making of cabinets to exhibit her growing collection of fish fossils. What begins as a shared pa…

The Dark Knight Rises (♦♦♦♦½)

After the death of Harvey Dent in Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has gone into exile, or rather, he never leaves his mansion anymore. All that changes with the emergence of a dangerous criminal named Bane, whose devious plan consists in bringing Gotham City to its knees, both figuratively and literally. Bane proves to be a powerful opponent and he is not to be taken lightly. He’s trained with the League of Shadows, alum of Wayne’s master Ra’s Al Ghul.

With still more surprises under his belt, Christopher Nolan has outdone himself with the last installment of his Batman Trilogy. There are lots of explosions, threats, lots of gun fights and not for the sake of destruction but with plenty of justification within the context of the story. The coolest gadgets were yet to appear, and appear they did: a flying batmobile—which as Lucius Fox would put it “[there’s] nothing like a little air superiority”--, a twisting motorcycle (of which Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman makes plenty of use) and army ga…

Ape House by Sara Gruen (♦♦♦♦)

Mbongo, Bonzi, Lola, Jelani, Sam and Makena are Bonobos Apes living in a research facility annexed to the University of Kansas. Isabel Duncan is the scientist in charge of conducting linguistic experiments with the Bonobos. When an intentional explosion renders the lab unusable, the apes are sold away later to reappear as properties of a porn magnate--now turned media mogul—in a television experiment called Ape House.

As TV ratings dwindle, the magnate begins to wonder just what to do with the apes. A journalist friend of Isabel and the Bonobos exposes a conspiracy that explains how the Bonobos came to be in the mogul’s possession in the first place.

Ape House by Sara Gruen is utterly entertaining. It’s an easy, compelling, edge-of-your-seat read with funny story development. In Ape House there is intrigue, both of criminal and the professional variety, there’s love, physical attraction, explosions and animal sex—lots of it.

Lately I haven’t been enjoying literary books that much beca…

Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn (♦♦♦)

Will Cochrane is MI6’s most valuable asset; he is the agent called Spartan, killer of killers, one whose identity is known to just two men in England one of whom is the Prime Minister. After a failed mission in NY City, Cochrane is extracted by a CIA man who knows his identity all too well. Upon his return to England, Alistair, Cochrane’s controller, summons him to be debriefed on his most recent mission and a new one, one that will put him in a collision course with his father’s killer.

The mission is to capture alive a general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, an agent called Megiddo, who is planning an attack somewhere in the Western hemisphere. Will Cochrane must track that man and make him talk about his genocidal plans. The problem is…Megiddo is one of the most elusive men anyone has ever met and in getting to him many lives will be in jeopardy.

Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn is a good book, but not great. The plot is intense, Will Cochrane, its protagonist, is one of the most hu…

El Alquimista (The Alchemist) by Paulo Coelho (♦♦♦♦)

A young shepherd from Andalucía, Spain, has a twice-recurring dream. He dreams that he travels to the Pyramids of Egypt where a treasure is supposedly waiting for him. A gypsy confirms that he should go to Egypt. An encounter with a centuries-old king puts him on the path of realizing his dreams, but as you can guess, it is anything but easy.

The first time I read El Alquimista my reaction was wow! What a book! Every time I needed to know there’s magic in life I picked up the book and read it again. This time I didn’t feel the same way, but I assigned the rating for old time’s sake.

El Alquimista (The Alchemist) is a very easy read; I read it last night in a few hours. It is a profoundly beautiful reflection on the mission of each and every being on Earth. It is a philosophical story that it’s anything but preachy. Great storytelling and the roundness quality of its ending, a-la classical myths, make this book a contemporary classic.

Book: Life of Pi by Yann Martel (♦♦♦)

Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short to avoid embarrassing mispronunciations, was born and raised in India, until his family decided to leave the country for good in mid-summer of 1977 for Canada. Pi was fifteen years old. The Patel family sailed away in a ship named Tsimtsum, but in the middle of the Pacific the ship mysteriously split in half and sank. Pi was the only survivor of the shipwreck.

Suddenly on his own in a lifeboat, accompanied by four wild animals—an injured zebra, a hyena, an orangutan and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker—that attacked each other until only the tiger was left standing, Pi had to learn survival skills that kept himself and the tiger alive for the 277 days that took their voyage throughout the Pacific until they reached civilization. During the journey, the castaway encountered the strange and the amazing that helped him keep his faith in God intact.

I’ve read this book in anticipation of the movie release. I liked this book, though not as …

Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult (♦♦♦)

Luke Warren, a famed biologist, is an expert in wolves’ behavior. He was adopted by at least two wolf packs in captivity before leaving his human family for two years to live in the wild, meanwhile searching for a wild pack of wolves to welcome him as a member. Luke Warren has always felt more comfortable among animals than with humans, thus is no wonder he can’t understand nor keep together his own human family.

Edward and Cara are Luke’s children. Edward is twenty four years-old and has lived away in Thailand for six years since he left his family in a hurry after a supposedly heated argument with his father. Cara has lived with Luke for the past four years, ever since her mother Georgie got remarried and gave birth to twins. Edward has hated his father since he left his family to live with wolves. Cara adores her father; for her, Luke is a god. She shares everything with her father.

When Cara’s best friend implores her to go to a party and Cara accepts, she consumes “one beer” bef…

Skyfall (♦♦♦♦½)

An operative for hire steals from MI6’s computers a list of NATO officers infiltrated in terrorists organizations around the globe. James Bond must recover the list, but gets entangled in a fight with the rogue on top of a running train. Eve, another MI6 agent, is ordered to take a shot at the fighters and Bond gets thrown off the train towards a river below and presumed dead.

After the theft of the list, Gareth Mallory, a bureaucrat, calls “M” to his office and tells her that she has exactly two months to plan her voluntary retirement and a smooth transition to take place. Only, terrorist attacks start happening all around London and it appears it’s someone connected to the MI6 and who knows things from “M”’s past.

After the first attack, James Bond comes back from the dead, and must join forces with a captive beauty to lead him to Silva, the man behind all the horrible machinations, who is determined to make “M” pay for decisions made in the past.

Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes, is…

Flight (♦♦♦♦½)

William “Whip” Whitaker, a commercial pilot, is an alcoholic who also consumes drugs recreationally. The night before a flight he has a drinking, drug consuming “orgy” with Trina, a flight attendant who frequently flies with him. In the morning, after a sleepless night, he gets high on cocaine and goes to fly as usual, only it turns it out the flight is anything but ordinary.

Shortly after takeoff, they encounter turbulence and Whip takes the plane to higher altitude than recommended; the pressure is sky high. Thirty minutes before landing, the co-pilot makes a maneuver to take the plane off autopilot and chaos ensues. The plane starts nose diving. In a desperate maneuver, they invert the plane and when they turn it back, they are gliding over an isolated field, and just before the crash, a wing of the plane collides against the steeple of a church and the plane brakes in two but doesn’t explode.

The crash kills six people, including two crew members, and someone must be held account…

Taken 2 (♦♦♦½)

Bryan Mills’ family is beginning to recover from the shock of Kim having been sold as a slave by human traffickers. This time, Lenore (Bryan’s ex and Kim’s mother) is separated from her second husband and going through a rough patch. Kim is dating a young guy and taking driving lessons from her father.

On short notice, Lenore’s soon to be ex-husband cancels plans he has to spend time with Lenore and Kim, and Bryan invites them to travel to Istanbul to spend time with him where he will be on an assignment. Soon after Lenore and Kim arrive in Turkey, the family of the men who took Kim last time come looking for Bryan to avenge the deaths of their relatives. Lenore and Bryan are kidnapped but Kim escapes unscathed. It is up to Kim this time around to find out her parents’ location and save the day…with her father’s help, of course.

Good movie but not great, not even remotely to the level of the first Taken; there is less drama in spite of the obligatory chase scenes round Istanbul, and …

The Confessor by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦½)

Gabriel Allon is in Venice, under the name Mario Delvecchio, restoring Bellini’s Madonna in the Church of San Zaccaria, when he is summoned by Ari Shamron to a secret rendezvous in the Ghetto Nuovo. Once again Gabriel is called to action when he learns that Benjamin Stern, a colleague from his early days in the Office, has been assassinated arguably by Neo Nazis.

Gabriel puts the restoration of the Madonna aside and travels to Munich where Stern lived and meets with the detective in charge of the investigation. As he inspects the apartment and the offensive graffiti left behind by the assassin, Gabriel realizes that the killer is a professional who has taken precautions to take all incriminating evidence from the house.

Gabriel further learns that Benjamin Stern had been writing a book before his untimely death; a book whose subject may be crucial to unlock the identity of his killer or killers and their motives. As it turns out, Stern had been working on a book relating the actions …

Cloud Atlas (♦♦♦♦)

In the past, a young, aspiring musician gains a coveted position as the assistant of an aging composer; another young man of means embarks on a quest to foreign lands to assist his father-in-law in managing a estate whose labor force is slave; this young man’s life is saved by an escaped slave, thus changing both men perceptions of each other and slavery as a whole. In present day, a journalist stumbles upon a story--surrounding a nuclear plant-- that endangers her life and those of the people connected to it. In a distant future, a mass-produced woman leads a revolution to topple the status quo.

Karma, the connection of lives through the fabric of time is what Cloud Atlas is about. The stories are told in glorious detail; this movie is a feast for the eyes, a giant leap of imagination. Great makeup, costume designs, and astonishing visual effects are almost breathing elements in the story…The subplots are hard to follow, though; it’s difficult to summarize what the movie is about. A…

Argo (♦♦♦♦♦)

Tony Mendez, a CIA operative expert in extractions, has a seemingly bad idea: to stage a fake sci-fi movie set in Iran with the purpose of providing a cover story to free six Americans hiding in the residence of the Canadian Ambassador during Iran’s hostage crisis in 1979-1980.

Argo is a wow movie the like of which I hadn’t seen this year. It’s co-produced, and splendidly acted and directed by Ben Affleck. Out of the myriad of movie directors out there, no one does climatic, full of tension movies as Affleck does. He proved it when directed the devastatingly gritty The Town and Gone Baby Gone, but in my opinion he has outdone himself with Argo.

The movie delivers funny lines such as “If I’m going to make a fake movie it’s going to be a fake hit”, but it is the edge-of-your-seat tension enhanced by a climatic musical score that make the audience feel close to a “benign” heart attack if that’s even possible, at least I felt that way.

Ben Affleck’s performance is one for the ages: subdue…

Looper (♦♦♦½)

In the not so distant future, time travel has been invented. A man from the future travels to the past to order hits and settle scores; his paid assassins are called “loopers”, they kill their older selves. Enter Joe, a young man who is a looper and is secretly stashing bars of silver to make a life in France once he decides he’s had enough of that life.

Thirty years from Joe’s time, with time travel already invented, a man named Joe has recovered from a troubled past and lives peacefully in China with his beautiful, younger wife. Problem comes knocking when a criminal called The Rainmaker bursts into his house, killing Joe’s wife. Older Joe travels to the past with the purpose of killing The Rainmaker as a kid, only Joe doesn’t know that he has an appointment with his younger self who has been ordered to close his own loop, unbeknownst to him.

Looper has one of the most intriguing plots since Inception, though it is less pretentious. It is mind-bending and imaginative though at its c…

Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carré (♦♦♦)

“Perry finally lifted his head.
   ‘How what?’
   'Save England how? From what? All right, from itself. What bit of itself?’
    Now it was Hector’s turn to reflect. ‘You’ll just have to take our word for it.’
   ‘Your Service’s word?’
   ‘For the time being, yes.’
   ‘On the strength of what? Aren’t you supposed to be the gentlemen who lie for the good of their country?’
   ‘That’s diplomats. We’re not gentlemen.’
   ‘So you lie to save your hides.’
   ‘That’s politicians. Different game entirely.’”

               Excerpt from Our Kind of Traitor by John Le Carré, Page 120

In the Caribbean island of Antigua, Perry and Gail, two British lovers on vacation, are approached by a flamboyant Russian named Dima, self-proclaimed “number one world’s money launderer”. As Perry and Gail get entangled with Dima and his entourage, Perry feels himself sympathizing with Dima to the point of agreeing to act as a middleman between him and England’s intelligence services to negotiate the Russian an…

The English Assassin by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦½)

Gabriel Allon, former Israeli spy and assassin, is secretly commissioned by Swiss banker Augustus Rolfe to restore a Raphael’s in his possession, but when Gabriel arrives to the banker’s villa, he finds him dead. Expertly, Gabriel rushes out of the villa and tries to leave Zurich in the first train out; instead, he is captured by police and interrogated as the main suspect of Rolfe’s murder.

After endless negotiations between Bern and Tel Aviv, Gabriel is released with the condition to never re-enter Swiss soil. Gabriel is picked up by Ari Shamron, who tells Gabriel that the late Rolfe had approached Jewish sources and was willing to say something, only they don’t know what because of his untimely death. Gabriel swears to find out who killed Rolfe and why. Enter Anna Rolfe, the only surviving member of the Rolfe family, Augustus Rolfe’s estranged daughter. With Anna’s help, Gabriel learns that the apparent motive behind the killing is the theft of famous paintings that came into the …

Book: Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay (♦♦♦♦♦)

Ten year old Sarah Starzinski is taken along with her parents, and other thousand of Jewish families with children, in the middle of the night in the midst of the summer of 1942 and transported to the Vel’ d’Hiv, a velodrome in the heart of Paris. For days, they endure the most inhuman conditions then all of them are temporarily moved to concentration camps in the outskirts of Paris where parents and their children are separated and subsequently shipped in cattle wagons by train to Auschwitz and their deaths.

Sixty years later, investigative journalist Julia Jarmond is assigned to write a story of the roundup at Vel’ d’Hiv due to an upcoming commemoration. As Julia begins interviewing witnesses, she uncovers a link between the family she is married into and Sarah, a secret that has been kept for sixty years, and her life gives a 180 degrees turn.

As promised not long ago in this blog, I read Sarah’s Key. And after I finished all I said was, wow! Sarah’s Key is haunting, harrowing. Th…

Ashes to Ashes by Tami Hoag (♦♦♦♦)

In the City of Minneapolis a serial killer who has been dubbed The Cremator is causing mayhem. He is taunting police by killing prostitutes and later incinerating the bodies in public places in the middle of the night. When The Cremator’s third victim appears to be the daughter of a billionaire, John Quinn, the star profiler for the FBI, is brought onboard to aid in the investigation.

Coinciding with the discovery of the third victim is the surfacing of witness Angie DiMarco, a troubled teenager with history of self inflicted wounds brought about by mental distress. What she has seen the killer do is enough to trigger fear of retaliation and anxiety. Kate Conlan, a witness/victim advocate is given the task to carefully prod Angie to surrender her memories of the killer and come up with a composite drawing to help the police catch a break in the investigation. Only Angie gives a general description of a man who can be just about anyone.

When Angie DiMarco disappears leaving behind eno…

The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦)

Gabriel Allon, former Israeli spy and assassin, is restoring an altar piece in Cornwall, England when Ari Shamron goes in search of him and recruits him for a very special mission. One of the goals of this mission is to restore the image of the Office, which has been pummeled with several fiascos in the field; the main goal, however, is to execute a Palestinian terrorist to whom Gabriel is linked by blood. Only Shamron and the PM know who is involved in the operation, thus Gabriel must recruit people he knows to carry out the task. An aging French model and an audio tech are Gabriel’s helpers, but when the model-turned-secretary gets in too deep, Gabriel and Shamron will have to aid an adversary they’d rather live without.

This book is the first in the Gabriel Allon series and it already starts on a high note, amidst the Middle East Peace Talks from the Clinton administration. Characters such as the dashing yet whimsical Julian Isherwood and the demanding Ari Shamron are introduced. …

One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf (♦♦♦♦½)

One gunman bursts into a school--in Broken Branch, Iowa-- prompting school’s officials to order a mandatory lockdown. This is the one school where all the kids from kindergarten to high school who live in the small Iowan town attend. As the hours go by, we get insights of events in their respective lives and within school from five points of views: Augie Baker, Will Thwaite (Augie’s grandfather), Mrs. Evelyn Oliver (the third grade teacher), Meg Barret (the only female police officer in Broken Branch) and Holly Baker (Augie’s mother and Will’s estranged daughter). With the little clues provided by the witnesses as they are released, police officers must figure out the identity of the gunman if they are to end the standoff without any loss of lives.

I really liked this book. It is engrossing to the point of keeping you awake at night in more ways than one. I found myself having nightmares about the fire and a gunman the night I started reading this book. In a no-non sense style, Heath…

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (♦♦♦♦½)

Hector Bowen, a.k.a. Prospero the Enchanter, is a well known magician who has a prodigy daughter named Celia. When Prospero discovers that Celia’s illusionist skills are beyond her years, he begins to train her for a challenge that will forever alter her life.

Mr. A.H., a.k.a. Alexander, used to be Prospero’s teacher, but when Prospero challenged Alexander’s theories and views, a perpetual duel began. Henceforth, Prospero and Alexander kept training students for the fight of their lives, only the rules of the game were never properly disclosed. When Prospero puts forth his daughter Celia as a contender for the latest challenge, Alexander searches for his own candidate. Enters Marco, a nine year old boy who has grown up in an orphanage and is glad to see the world for a change.

Years go by and Celia and Marco are trained constantly with unorthodox methods, each one without ever meeting the other; that changes with the genesis of a unique circus called Le Cirque des Réves or Circus of …

The Fallen Angel by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦½)

Retired Israeli spy Gabriel Allon is spending time in the Vatican restoring a Caravaggio’s painting, but when the body of a Vatican curator is discovered one morning in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Luigi Donati, Pope Paul VII’s private secretary, secretly asks Gabriel to conduct a private investigation for Donati’s eyes only. Gabriel reluctantly accepts, convinced that the death of the woman is not a suicide but a murder; her broken neck, a missing piece of jewelry and her apparently deliberate barefoot-ness tell him so.

When Gabriel begins to dig deeper, he discovers that the late curator had been calling a phone number outside Rome and he visits the house, only to find the owner has met an untimely, gruesome demise. Enters General Ferrari, an Italian policeman in charge of the Art Theft division, who tells Gabriel the story of the dead man’s true occupation: a capo zona of tombaroli, tombs robbers who deal with valuable antiquities.

When General Ferrari suggests that Gabriel have a talk…

Beneath the Shadows by Sara Foster (♦♦♦)

Adam Lockwood inherits his grandparents’ cottage in the North Yorkshire moors, and convinces his wife Grace to relocate there from London alongside their toddler Millie. However, a week after arriving at the moors, Adam vanishes without a trace leaving Millie on the front porch just after dusk.

Grace leaves the moors after Adam’s disappearance and travels to France with her parents to nurse her wounds, but after a year, she is ready to find answers and goes back to the moors accompanied by her daughter. When Grace arrives, she is welcomed by members of the Blakeney family, whose matriarch has lived in the village since birth. Not without difficulties Grace begins to find clues in the most unexpected places and only when it seems she is on the brink of losing her sanity, she has a daring thought that changes everything.

This is a good ghost story though not a memorable one. The desolate moors contribute to the sinister atmosphere and so does the folklore of the place, but in this book…

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (♦♦♦♦)

When Harriet Chetwoden-Talbot (Emily Blunt), an assistant with an investment firm in London, contacts Dr. Fred Jones (Ewan McGregor), a fishery expert, for an impossible fishery project in Yemen financed by a Yemeni Sheikh, Dr. Jones believes this idea to be the stuff of fantasy, a pet project destined to fail. Introducing salmon to a river in Yemen, according to Dr. Jones, is as “theoretically possible as man going to Mars”. Yemen supposedly doesn’t have vast water reservoirs to make the idea feasible, and the temperatures are too high…Yet, Harriet Chetwoden-Talbot convinces Dr. Jones to come up with a plan that ends up becoming a reality.

Against the backdrop of the dam construction is the bond emerging between Dr. Jones, a man of science with domestic troubles, and Harriet, a financial assistant whose boyfriend has been reported M.I.A. in the Afghan war. Through tribulations and triumphs, love blooms between Dr. Jones and Harriet, but on the day the finished complex is to be unvei…

To Rome with Love (♦♦♦)

A newlywed couple has dreams of impressing the groom’s powerful relatives and making it big in Rome; a prostitute mistakes the said groom for a paid client and must pose as the groom’s wife in front of his relatives while his actual wife gets entangled with a Roman movie star and a common thief; a normal guy finds sudden, unlikely fame and he gets a taste of the good and the bad sides of being a celebrity; an American architect who studied in Rome, meets a young architect student who invites him to his house to meet his fiancée.

I liked this Woody Allen’s movie, though it lacked the magic of Midnight in Paris or the quirkiness of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. While Midnight in Paris was an ode to the city and the enchantment of bygone eras, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona was a celebration of life, love and the madness of being in love, To Rome with Love has none of those underlying themes. The city of Rome is just a backdrop, and any backdrop would have suited this disparate story.

The cha…

People Like Us (♦♦♦♦♦)

What happens when a married man has two families at the same time? Sam Harper’s estranged dad, Jerry, dies of cancer and leaves Sam his shaving kit full of $100 bills amounting to $150,000 to be given to Josh Davis, with the petition to “take care of them.”

Sam goes to the address his father provided and finds a young woman who he immediately suspects was his father’s mistress but who turns out to be a sister he didn’t know he had. Sam befriends Frankie and her son Josh without telling them they’re family, but what will Frankie do when she finds out the truth?

This movie is the best of the year thus far. I loved it! It made me cry so deeply. It is extremely well acted, free of profanity and the story will steal your heart.

People Like Us is touching and heartwarming. It explores themes of family dynamics: marital betrayal and trust and the emotional toll of having two families at the same time. The plot is original and very well developed. People Like Us has a robust screenplay and th…

Your Sister’s Sister (♦♦♦½)

Iris is secretly in love with her best friend Jack; the problem is that Jack is Iris’s late fiancé’s brother. Since Jack isn’t coping well with his brother’s death after a year, Iris recommends him to take time away from everyone at her father’s cabin. Jack goes to the isolated cabin to have some downtime on his own, but there he meets Hannah, Iris’s free-spirited sister who is dealing with a messy breakup.

I liked this movie, despite its unnecessary use of excess profanity. It is emotional and well acted by the three main characters that have great chemistry together. The complications that ensue from Jack meeting Hannah make for a great story albeit an odd one.

This movie is not a classic romance but it is worth watching and rather enjoyable.

Emily Blunt, Rosemary DeWitt and Mark Duplass co-star as Iris, Hannah and Jack, respectively.

Brave (♦♦♦½)

Merida is a Scottish princess who on the day of the announcement of her betrothal, escapes the castle, rides to the forest and is guided by Will o’ Wisps to the house of a witch. The witch tells Merida that she can have anything she wants, thus Merida chooses to have a spell concocted to change her mother so she can change her own destiny. However, as we’re often reminded, all magic comes with a price, and Merida must learn the importance of family and traditions if she is to save her mother, her siblings and her kingdom.

This is a magnificent family movie where a girl rules. It isn’t that funny for adults, but it’s visually lush and entertaining, and as all Disney films, there’s a strong moral to the story such as the powerful bond of family and people’s power to make their own destinies regardless of fate.

The film was made using motion capture technology, which I find mesmerizing because it looks like there are real people behind the animation. The musical score is fantastic; I wo…

W.E. (♦♦♦½)

Wally Winthrop, a young New Yorker, has given up her career at Sotheby’s to marry a prominent doctor and start a family, but her hopes of having a child soon begin to fade when she notices that her husband William has a roving eye. Wally, always fascinated by Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII’s love story, begins to frequent Sotheby’s again when she learns that things that belonged to her idols are going to be auctioned. Wally finds an admirer at Sotheby’s: Evgeni, a young Russian immigrant who works there as a security officer. When William finally reaches his breaking point, he sets in motion a series of events that will make Wally realize her dreams.

I was interested in this movie in part because it is a sister story of The King’s Speech. I was hesitant to watch it though because it was directed by Madonna. What good could it come from a film directed by Madonna, right? Wrong. I was pleasantly surprised! W.E. is haunting, the story of an enduring and all consuming love affair th…

Christopher Nolan’s Batman Films

Batman Begins (♦♦♦♦)

Haunted by the killing of his parents and the subsequent targeted execution of the culprit by a Mafioso, millionaire Bruce Wayne roams the four corners of the earth in search for something. He fights criminals, he steals to eat but when he is released from a prison in a far-away land, he learns to face his greatest fears and trains to become a fighter for justice. Only his trainers have other intentions for when Wayne is fully trained, they order him to return to Gotham city and rid it of evil by killing criminals.

Leave it to the creative genius of Christopher Nolan to reinvigorate a franchise that was in decadence. I never liked characters from the first movies such as the Penguin-man, who I consider ludicrous, while Michael Keaton’s Batman presence lacked raw appeal and larger-than-life allure. Val Kilmer was better looking than Michael Keaton but not better in the stance department. Under the steady guidance of Christopher Nolan, who directed and co-wrote the …