Friday, May 15, 2015

Moving On

Hello, Everyone! I have decided to move on over to Wordpress. I've been thinking about taking a different approach to blogging for a while now, and it felt easier to start fresh. I'll be exclusively reviewing picture books over on my new Wordpress site. So, if you want to take a look, my new blog will be at: raneasurbrook.wordpress.com. So if you're interested in children's books and story times, join me at Wordpress!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Favorite Movies Watched in 2014

Okay, one last post to wrap up my favorites from 2014. Then I can get back on track and start writing about what I'm currently reading and watching. I saw a lot of movies last year, but I've narrowed it down to eight favorites. The first four were movies that actually came out in 2014 that I saw in the movie theater, and the last four are movies that came out in 2013 that I saw on video last year. Here we go:

#1 The Grand Budapest Hotel: I love Wes Anderson. I own all of his movies, and I try to see everything he directs at least once in the movie theater. He is my favorite film director. And The Grand Budapest Hotel did not disappoint. The humor is dark, the cast is outstanding, and the sets and cinematography are incredible. It is everything you would expect from a Wes Anderson film. [Side-note: My brother got the DVD for me for Christmas this year, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the special features include the recipe and instruction video for Courtesan au Chocolat. See this video: How to Make Courtesan au Chocolat]



#2 Captain America: The Winter Soldier: If you have yet to join the Marvel Studios party, I would highly recommend that you do. It has been so much fun going to see all of these movies as they come out in the theater. I love waiting to the end of the credits for a hint of what's to come next. I love tuning into Agents of Shield after an opening weekend to see how the events unfolded in the latest film will effect the next episode. Captain America has become a favorite in this new movie universe Marvel has created. And The Winter Soldier is definitely one of my favorite movies in the entire series of Marvel films.




#3 Guardians of the Galaxy: Another Marvel Studios favorite from this year. This movie was simply a ton of fun! As I came out of the theater, I told the friend standing next to me, "I want to turn around immediately and watch it again." The soundtrack! I can't say enough about the soundtrack. The moment Chris Pratt started dancing to Come and Get Your Love  during the opening credits, I knew I was going to love this movie. [Side-note: I also fell in love with the character Groot because he reminds me of my brother, Will. When he smiles at the end of this scene his face transforms into my brother's for just a second. And I think if my brother didn't have MD, he would be a superhero with a heart of gold, just like Groot. (He's already a superhero, in my book.)]

#4 The Fault in Our Stars: I know that I have mentioned before that I am a huge fan of John Green. I really am. I took tissues to the theater the day my friend Jeanne and I went to see this because I'd already read the book, and I knew what was coming. This movie did such a wonderful job capturing the spirit of John Green's book. I was very pleased with the outcome. And yes, the story made me cry... again. But it's a beautiful story, and I would highly recommend reading the book and seeing the movie, if you haven't already. If you are so inclined, you can also visit the post in which I wrote about The Fault in Our Stars when the book first came out.



#5 Snowpiercer: If you do not like violence, I'm going to tell you right now: do not watch this movie. However, if you do like interesting, and somewhat strange, post-apocalyptic stories, then you might enjoy this one. And to truly enjoy this movie, you must be a person who can suspend their disbelief because it is about an impossible train that can circle the globe without ever stopping. In the Snowpiercer universe, the Earth is frozen over, and it's last inhabitants live on said impossible train.  A class system emerges on the train, and the lower class, tired of being mistreated, plan a revolt against the higher class and the leadership. I really enjoyed this movie, even though there were a couple of scenes I had to turn away from.


#6 In Your Eyes: This is a wonderful film by Joss Whedon about two people who discover they have an inexplicable telepathic link. The movie was never released in theaters which is kind of a shame because it is really good. But it is currently streaming on Netflix, and I believe you can also purchase a digital copy on Amazon. I would highly recommend seeing it. It was definitely a favorite from this year. It's sweet and charming, and I'm becoming increasingly impressed with Zoe Kazan. She is a marvelous actress and does a phenomenal job in this film.




#7 What If: This is another film starring Zoe Kazan, and her leading man is Daniel Radcliffe. He's not Harry Potter anymore, folks. Daniel is all grown up, and he's quite funny in this quirky romantic comedy about two friends who are seemingly perfect for each other. I've come to think of it as my generation's When Harry Met Sally.








#8 Begin Again: Starring Kiera Knightly and Mark Ruffalo, this movie is about a down on his luck music producer who discovers a musical talent that might save his career. The film was directed by the same people who directed Once, so it is, not surprisingly, a heartwarming story full of great music.


All the movies I've mentioned in this post are currently out on DVD and you should be able to find them at your local library. Happy viewing! :)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Favorite Picture Books of 2014

It's still January, so it's still okay to post about my favorites from 2014, right? Right. Next on my list is picture books. Some of my all time favorite books are picture books. One of my favorite things in the world is to read out loud to just about anyone who will listen. I don't care if you are two or 92, I will sit with you and read a picture book, and I promise you'll laugh. Or cry. Or sometimes both.


Oliver Jeffers

My #1 picture book of 2014 is the best alphabet book I've read since LMNO Peas, by Keith Baker. And, of course, it was written by the very talented Oliver Jeffers. It's called Once Upon an Alphabet. Seriously, Oliver Jeffers is amazing! One of my favorite books to read for story time is This Moose Belongs to Me because you get to yell the phrase, "Hey! This moose belongs to me!"

My #2 picture book is about a shy little boy who loved words. His name was Peter Mark Roget. This lovely picture book tells the true story about his invention of the thesaurus. The book is called The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, by Jennifer Fisher Bryant. 

The next book on my list is by Philip C. Stead. A couple of years ago, I fell in love with his book A Sick Day for Amos McGee, a lovely story about the a zoo keeper who has to take a sick day, and how the animals of the zoo surprise him because he's sorely missed. In 2014, he wrote a book about a boy who goes on an adventure in a hot air balloon made from quilts and afghans called Sebastian and His Balloon. This story is beautiful and magical, just like Amos McGee.

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads, by Bob Shea has to be on my list. I read this out loud with my coworker Linda. We were laughing to the point of tears, passing the book back and fourth and doing voices for all the colorful characters. The Kid Sheriff doesn't know a whole lot about law enforcement, but he certainly has a vast knowledge of dinosaurs. It's hysterical. It's inspired us to do a cowboy theme at the library this spring.


#5 would have to be Gaston, by Kelly DiPucchio. An adorable story about two dogs that were unknowingly switched at birth and couldn't figure out why they didn't quite fit in with their families. I love the illustrations by Christian Robinson, and the story is very sweet. It would be a great pick for children who love dogs or for a dog themed story time.

The first book I ever read by Mac Burnett was called, Mustache, and I loved it! It told the hilarious story about a terrible and vain king who was obsessed with his looks, but not very good at taking care of his subjects. His latest book is called Telephone, and it cleverly describes what happens when important information is passed from person to person along the grapevine (or in this case, from bird to bird along the telephone wire.)

The Pigeon Needs a Bath, by Mo Willems. The Pigeon is back! My list would not be complete, if I didn't include a story by Mo Willems, and I'm so happy he brought Pigeon back in 2014! Mr. Willems is hands-down my all-time favorite writer of children's books. I've read Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus out loud so many times, I practically have it memorized, and still, it never gets old. I just can't say enough about Mo and his wonderful books from Elephant and Piggie to Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. Every book this man publishes is a treasure.

The final book on my list of favorites is Mister Bud Wears the Cone, by Carter Goodrich. I fell in love with Mister Bud and his little pal Zorro in the 2011 favorite Say Hello to Zorro, a classic story of opposites reluctantly attracting. In this new installment, Mr. Bud has to wear the "cone of shame." Poor Mister Bud! It's always something. Mister Bud and Zorro would also make a great addition to your dog themed story time or a great gift for dog lovers of all ages.

I hope you have a lot of fun reading these wonderful stories!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Favorites of 2014

Every year, I participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. And I always challenge myself to a ridiculously high number because I read a lot of picture books and comic books. I was looking through the titles I read in 2014, and decided I would create a list of my favorites from the year. It's been over a year since I've updated this blog, so I thought this might be a good way to get back into the swing of things. I'll begin with adult fiction.

The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman
Coralie Sardie's father owned The Museum of Extraordinary Things on the Boardwalk near Coney Island in New York. He preferred to call the people in his employ wonders, rather than freaks. Coralie grew up thinking of The Wolfman and The Butterfly Girl as friends and not freaks of nature, as the world outside had come to see them.

I fell in love with Alice Hoffman's book, The Dovekeepers, in 2011 and just knew I would love this book too. The Museum of Extraordinary Things is a wonderful love story, and a beautiful portrait of New York in the early 20th century. If you're like me, and you really enjoy historical fiction with a little bit of weirdness, I would highly recommend this one.

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, by Therese Anne Fowler
After reading The Great Gatsby in my Literature of Conflict class my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to study English in college. That book also began my life-long love affair with the books and stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. So when a novel about Scott's wife Zelda, told from Zelda's perspective, crossed over the circulation desk at the library, I had to read it. I've always been a little fascinated with the mythology of the Fitzgerald's. I've come to learn over the years that a lot of what we believe about them is, in fact, fiction. But they did lead quite extraordinary lives. And even though their marriage was rocky, they were, in fact, passionately in love.

Z is also a work of fiction, but the author tried to remain as true to reality as she could. It is a fast paced and enjoyable read, and it got me interested in doing some research of my own. So I read The Romantic Egoists, a book of pictures and scrapbook pages compiled by their daughter Scottie Fitzgerald. I would recommend both books to anyone interested in learning a little more about Scott Fitzgerald and his very exuberant wife, Zelda.

The Beginning of Everything, by Robyn Schneider
This book would definitely qualify as the best YA book I read in 2014. Our protagonist, Ezra Faulkner, is a tennis star at his school, until a debilitating accident takes away his ability to play and with it, his popularity. He has to make a decision: eat lunch alone or reconnect with his childhood best friend, Toby. Toby is not the most popular guy in school, but he is definitely one of the happiest. Since he and Ezra parted ways in middle school, Toby has come into his own. He is confident and comfortable with who he is.

This book is darkly humorous and thoughtfully challenges high school stereotypes.  It reminded me a lot of this really interesting nonfiction book I read a few years ago called The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth. I would recommend The Beginning of Everything to anyone who enjoys the books of John Green or Maureen Johnson. It has a similar type of humor and is full of fun literary and pop culture references.

Trillium, by Jeff Lemire
Trillium tells the story of two people, one from the distant past and one from the distant future, who meet by traveling through space and time. It is a beautiful and a little unusual love story that has one of the best meet-cutes I've ever seen in a comic series.

I really love Jeff Lemire! After reading his comic book series, Sweet Tooth, I was completely hooked. I get really excited when I find out he's going to start something new. He wrapped up his eight issue series Trillium in 2014, and I absolutely loved it! The series is now out in trade, so I would definitely recommend that you go to your local comic shop (or library) and pick one up.

I think I will leave it there, for now, and write a separate post for children's and picture books because a lot of good ones came out in 2014.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Star Trek




My dad and I have a somewhat strained relationship. We do not agree on anything, and we both like to have the last word. Not a good combination. Religion, politics and Harry Potter (yes, I did say Harry Potter) are all hot button issues with the two of us. Just a minor mention of the boy wizard can send my father into an angry tirade about the evils of black magic. I’ve learned, over the years, there are topics you just avoid when my dad is in the room. You don’t even joke about certain things because the consequences could create a lot of tension, yelling and eventual tears. It isn’t always easy, but I’ve also learned to just keep my mouth shut and let go of my pride. I do not have to agree with him, but I do not need the last word, either. 


However, despite all of this, we have managed to find a little common ground over the years with television; particularly, Star Trek. We watched every series, growing up: re-runs of the original series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. We watched them all from start to finish. (The only series I did not watch with my dad was Enterprise, and it was only because it aired while I was away at college.) The fact was, and still is, if you wanted to spend time with my dad, you’d have to spend that time watching television. But Star Trek was something our whole family enjoyed watching, and that was rare. It was a weekly event in our home.


So, naturally, in 2009 when I found out J.J. Abrams had made a new Star Trek movie, I was really excited. I hadn’t really thought about Star Trek since the last episode of Voyager. And I really loved the new movie. I watched it over and over again. After it came out on DVD, I bought it for my dad for Christmas, and we watched it together. It made me feel nostalgic, and I experienced one of those rare moments of connection with him. People talk about television like it’s this terrible thing that’s rotting our brains, but I’ll gladly give up some brain cells to have those peaceful moments with my father that are so rare and so precious to me.
  

My Christmas present to my dad this year will be Star Trek: Into Darkness, and we will watch it while I’m home, and it will be wonderful.  (I was also thinking I might get him one of those "Trek Yourself Before Your Wreck Yourself" t-shirts.)


This blog’s intention was really to recommend the new Star Trek films because I've been meaning to write about them for a while now, but it looks as though I had something else whirling around in my brain. However, I will say they are fantastic films, and even if you’re not familiar with the entire Star Trek universe, they are still highly enjoyable. So I suppose my real recommendation is this: take home some Star Trek, put aside your differences and spend some time in front of the television with your family.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Anna Karenina

My battle with the book Anna Karenina is still waging. I read the first half of the book over the summer and absolutely loved it! Then, in the fall I moved to a new city. Between moving and searching for a new job, Anna Karenina was put on hold. The hold was only supposed to be temporary, but not so much. I lost my momentum. But I decided to steal an idea from a friend who runs this amazing book club.

In her book club, they pick an extraordinarily difficult book and break it up over an entire year. They meet each month to discuss the assigned section. I thought to myself, I can do that with the second half of Anna Karenina! I'll break it up into six sections and read a section each month for the next six months. And when I'm all finished, I'll reward myself with Joe Wright's new film version of Anna Karenina.

However, I do work at a public library, and I catalog all new materials for said public library. So when the new Anna Karenina DVD crossed over my desk, the temptation was too great to resist. I ended up taking it home the same day I cataloged it. Reward? Ha! Oh, well. I suppose it will be reward enough to know I've finished the book, whenever that may be.

But I do recommend reading the book, and I recommend Joe Wright's new film, as well. Being a fan of his for several years, I'm glad to say he's done it again! Much of the film is set on a stage which reminded me a lot of the 2003 movie Dogville, starring Nicole Kidman and Paul Bettany, but Joe Wright took things a step further. The story weaves on and off stage, in and out of doors, and as in all Joe Wright films, the camera work is extraordinary!

Everything from the cinematography to the costumes to the music is just beautiful in this adaptation. I applaud Joe Wright for bringing this book to life in a very unique and surreal way. Whether you're a fan of the book or you've never heard of it, I'd still recommend this film. It's a magical experience. And it may inspire you to have a go at the book. (If you start now, you might even finish it before I do!)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More and More Masterpiece

     One of my regular patrons came in the other day, carrying the first season of Call the Midwife and saying, "You were so right! This is amazing!"
     I smiled and told her I'm glad she liked it, then my coworker, Karen, chimed in, "Do you watch Downton, too?"
     The patron said, "Yes, of course!"
     My coworker pointed to me and said, "I have this one to blame for my Downton addiction."
     "Me, too," my coworker Olivia now joining the conversation.
     "Yeah, me too," said the patron.
     "I can blame her for my Doctor Who addiction, too," said Olivia.
     Hmmm.... so this is the effect I have on people. That's okay by me. I really love quality television, and I love being able to share it with other people.
     I recently got my friend Laura to watch Lark Rise to Candleford, and as she was nearing the end of the series she said to me, "I don't want it to end! I'm going to need something else to watch when it's over."
     So this post is for all the people I've turned on to Masterpiece and other BBC dramas who are looking for that next thing to watch. I've compiled a list of all my favorites. Some of these I've probably blogged about before. Some of them I haven't. But I thought I'd make it easy for people and make one list for future reference.


My Favorite Austen Adaptations:

  • Sense & Sensibility (2008)  - This film version is absolutely stunning! As much as I like the Emma Thompson version from the 90s, this one is by far my favorite!
  • Emma (2009) - Again, I like the 90s version, but the new adaptation is just so lovely!
  • Northanger Abbey (2007) - This is the only film version that's ever been made of this book, as far as I know, but it's a really wonderful film, so I'm okay with that!
  • Persuasion (1995) - This is one of the rare cases where I prefer the older version to the newest one. The Persuasion that came out in 2007 is really awful, as much as I hate to say it. Masterpiece really let me down with that one. But I love the 1995 version! It's a much better production!


My Favorite Charles Dickens Adaptations:

  • Great Expectations (2012) - This is hands down the best Dickens adaptation I've ever seen! I love it so much!
  • Little Dorritt (2008) - A really close second to the 2012 Great Expectations.
  • Bleak House (2005) - Seriously, they should just put Gillian Anderson in every Dickens adaptation. She's so awesome!
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood (2012)







Elizabeth Gaskall:

  • Cranford (2007) - I love this mini-series, and I also love Return to Cranford, even though I'm pretty sure Elizabeth Gaskall never wrote a Return to Cranford book.
  • North and South (2004) - Not to be confused with the American North and South mini-series about the civil war.
  • Wives and Daughters (1999)



The Bronte Sisters:

  • Jane Eyre (2006) - Yes, the 2011 film version of Jane Eyre is beautiful and definitely worth watching, but the 2006 Masterpiece mini-series is still my favorite!
  • Wuthering Heights (2009) - The version with Tom Hardy is the only film version of this novel I've ever seen that's really worth your time. (At least in my opinion.)








Miscellaneous:
  • Daniel Deronda (2002)
  • The Way We Live Now (2001)
  • Under the Greenwood Tree (2005)
  • He Knew He Was Right (2004)
  • Call the Midwife (2012)
  • Upstairs Downstairs (2010)




I hope this gives you Masterpiece junkies enough to hold you over in the meantime. As I was looking at the Masterpiece website to refresh my memory for this blog post, I jotted down some mini-series I haven't seen yet that I'm sure will be great! So there will be more recommendations to come, hopefully in the near future.