Hope everyone has a wonderful new year!!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Flicks: The Lincoln Lawyer

A weekly review of a book to movie adaptation.

Michael Connelly's 2005 novel, The Lincoln Lawyer, garnered critical and commercial success. The film adaptation stays loyal to the novel, and is very entertaining. 

Matthew McConaughey portrays the main character Mickey Haller as a kind of lovable, bad boy. Haller is a lawyer who has made a career of representing criminals and outcasts. He runs his practice out of his old Lincoln, and drives around town looking for his next case. Early on in the film, we are introduced to his ex-wife, played by Marisa Tomei, with whom he has a young daughters. It is in these moments that we get to see the softer side of Haller. 

The story really gets moving when Haller is called to represent Roulet, a high profile, Los Angeles playboy who is accused of murdering a prostitute. Despite a bad gut feeling, Haller knows that this case could be the high point of his career. With the help of his own investigator Frank Levin, played by a show-stealing William H. Macey, Haller soon finds a connection to a previous case that has haunted him for years. 

Overall, the film is a great mix of action, intrigue and comedy. McConaughey's everyman persona really helps Haller to be relatable and an effective protagonist. Ryan Phillippe is surprisingly effective at staying in the grey area as Roulet. The real star of the movie is Macey, who's appearance is cut short way too soon. This movie effectively captures the essence of Connelly's novel while still adjusting to the new medium. While this adaptation is pretty black and white, it is still very entertaining.  

Have you read the novel or seen the movie? If so, what did you think of it? What book adaptations would you like to see as a future Friday Flicks post?

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review: Merry Christmas, Alex Cross

Title: Merry Christmas, Alex Cross
Author: James Patterson
Series: Alex Cross (#19)
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: 
 November 12, 2012
Reviewer: Ethan

Review: Merry Christmas, Alex Cross is the nineteenth installment in James Patterson's Alex Cross Series. Initially, I was hesitant to dive into this novel. Despite having read all of the previous books, and enjoying most of them, giving Alex Cross a Christmas story seemed to be stretching things a bit thin. The Alex Cross series is one of the few projects that Patterson has maintained sole writing credit on, so I decided to trust that he would continue to deliver the quality that has remained in tact throughout the series.

The novel opens on Christmas Eve, as Alex is enjoying the holiday festivities with his family, after a mostly normal day. In this opening, we reconnect with Alex's children, wife, grandmother, and newly adopted daughter who readers of the previous novel will remember. As always, Patterson writes these family scenes with an honesty that is undeniable. Perhaps this is why Alex continues to be one of my favorite Patterson characters.

Of course, all of this peace and goodwill doesn't last. Soon, Alex is called to intervene on a hostage situation. A disgraced lawyer has taken his young children, ex-wife and her new husband, and a senator's wife hostage in his former home. Alex learns that the man, who suffers from severe drug addiction, is seeking revenge on the people he blames for his downward spiral, his family. As the hours progress, Alex tries to use his expertise and personal experiences to convince the man to free his family before he destroys Christmas for both his and Alex's families.

Across town, more trouble is brewing as a known terrorist is spotted in Union Station. The FBI has tried to keep tabs on her, but is genuinely surprised at her resurfacing. Alex was the lead the profiling on the initial investigation on her, and is called by the FBI to discover her motives before she takes action. As he attempts to unravel the details of her plans, he uncovers a terrorist mission that threatens the security and well being of the entire nation.

After a disappointing effort in the previous novel, Kill Alex Cross, I was happy to see Patterson return to top form with what is certainly the best Alex Cross novel in years. As with most of my favorite Patterson novels, this story finds the perfect balance between fast paced action and relatable character development. More than any of his previous novels, Patterson delves into the psyche and motivations of the villains and reveals deeper connections between them and his hero, Alex Cross. More so, Alex begins to question his years of risking his life and family for the well-being of others. This kind of tragic outlook juxtaposed against the cheery backdrop of the holiday season makes Merry Christmas, Alex Cross an undeniable hit.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review: The Language of Flowers

Title: The Language of Flowers
Author:  Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publisher:  Ballantine Books
Publication Date:  August 23, 2011
Reviewer: Elisa

Summary: A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market has her questioning what’s been missing in her life, and when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness. (goodreads)

Review:  This novel follows a foster care kid, Victoria who moved around the system. It begins on her 18th birthday, emancipation day.  Each chapter alternates between now and when she was nine and adopted by Elizabeth, a woman who owns a vineyard and taught her the language of flowers.

This is a wonderful book about a prickly girl who really had a horrible childhood bouncing through the foster care system.  She would act out to get her foster parents to kick her out, like she knew they would anyway, basically a self-fulfilling prophecy.  While Elizabeth is willing to take her on, thorns and all, you know something happened down the line because she is living in a group home when emancipated.  This novel is about finding out what the event was and her figuring out her life now.  They are somehow connected.
At nine, when she finds out that flowers can be used as tools to convey messages, she becomes engaged and embraces the idea fully.

I thought about this. Misanthropy. No one had ever described my feelings in a single word. I repeated it to myself until I was sure I wouldn't forget. (pg 77)

Present day, she still doesn't trust anyone but has a way with flowers and has memorized their meanings. She finds work and finds something she is extremely good at. It isn't until later in life that she realizes flowers can have more than on meaning.

Victoria is a strong character whose actions were quite upsetting to me, but she was acting by instinct, a defense mechanism of not trusting, or believing, or hoping in anyone because of what life has taught her. Though it is still difficult to read when she does something particularly nasty and the surrounding characters are amazingly sympathetic and forgiving.  I don't know that I would have been able to be so forgiving and generous with time, patience and understanding.

I read this book fairly quickly, within two days, but I would get nervous about picking it up, because I was sad for the characters and wanted to avoid the big emotional scene I felt was coming. (I am a nervous-nelly when it comes to emotional conflict, chalk that up to being the oldest kid who was also the peacemaker). But it worked, tugged on a few heart-strings without being overly sentimental and seemed to end somewhat realistically. I quite enjoyed it and will be suggesting it for our bookclub. We will see if it sounds good to them too.  Four+ stars curiously resembling the following flowers, carried by a beaming bride down the isle. white carnation (sweet and lovely) with coriander (hidden worth) daffodil (new beginnings) and hawthorn (hope).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

New Release Tuesday 5/28

The First Rule of Swimming by Courtney Angela Brkic
Little, Brown and Company, 336 pages

A woman must leave her island home to search for her missing sister-and confront the haunted history of her family.
Magdalena does not panic when she learns that her younger sister has disappeared. A free-spirit, Jadranka has always been prone to mysterious absences. But when weeks pass with no word, Magdalena leaves the isolated Croatian island where their family has always lived and sets off to New York to find her sister. Her search begins to unspool the dark history of their family, reaching back three generations to a country torn by war.

A haunting and sure-footed debut by an award-winning writer, The First Rule of Swimming explores the legacy of betrayal and loss in a place where beauty is fused inextricably with hardship, and where individuals are forced to make wrenching choices as they are swept up in the tides of history.

Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz
Bantam, 352 pages

How do you make sure a crime that hasn’t happened yet, never does? That’s the critical question facing Odd Thomas, the young man with a unique ability to commune with restless spirits and help them find justice and peace. But this time, it’s the living who desperately need Odd on their side. Three helpless innocents will be brutally executed unless Odd can intervene in time. Who the potential victims are and where they can be found remain a mystery. The only thing Odd knows for sure is who the killer will be: the homicidal stranger who tried to shoot him dead in a small-town parking lot.  
With the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock riding shotgun and a network of unlikely allies providing help along the way, Odd embarks on an interstate game of cat and mouse with his sinister quarry. He will soon learn that his adversary possesses abilities that may surpass his own and operates in service to infinitely more formidable foes, with murder a mere prelude to much deeper designs. Traveling across a landscape haunted by portents of impending catastrophe, Odd will do what he must and go where his path leads him, drawing ever closer to the dark heart of his long journey—and, perhaps, to the bright light beyond.

These are a couple of the books we at Jagged Edge are most excited to see released this week. Which newly released books are you excited to get your hands on?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Tricks

Title: Tricks
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: 
 August 25, 2009
Reviewer: Stephanie

Summary: Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Three girls. Two guys. Four straight. One gay. Some rich. Some poor. Some from great families. Some with no one at all. All living their lives as best they can, but all searching...for freedom, safety, community, family, love. What they do not expect, though, is all that can happen when those powerful little words "I love you" are said for all the wrong reasons.

Five moving stories remain separate at first, and then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story -- a story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. A story about kids figuring out what sex and love are all about, at all costs, while asking them, "Can I ever feel okay about myself

Review: Have you ever had to make a decision that would change your life and the lives of your loved ones? Have you ever been in a situation, where you feel everything and everyone is against you? Well, this is what these five teenagers are facing. Ellen Hopkins' novel, Tricks, explores the lives of five troubled teenagers in such a powerful way; it will leave you shocked for many days to come.

Eden Streit is a girl, who was forced to live the way her parents want her to live. Her parents are against dating and love, and when they find out their daughter was with a person named Andrew. She is forced to live at Tears of Zion (a place for corrupted teenagers ).
Seth Parnell is gay and he struggles every day to keep that a secret from his father. When the truth is out, Seth's father cannot except it and forces him to live on his own. Now Seth has to make a decision that will change his life forever.
Whitney Lang is a popular girl. She is used to having things she wants, but not the attention she desires. When she hooks up with a popular person, she is very happy, but when the relationship ends, she is left with anger. That anger drives her in a rebellious direction that she will soon regret.
Ginger Cordell's life has always been filled with drugs. Her mother has six kids, with five different fathers. The only person she truly cares for is her grandmother, but when things get hard, Ginger cannot take it anymore. She decides on running away with her friend.
Cody Bennet's life was a good one, until his stepfather died and everything changed. Now he has to take care of his brother Cory and his mother. Money was a big problem and the only option Cody could see was gambling.

Five teenagers from different parts of the country. Their moving stories remain separate at first, but then interweave to tell a larger, powerful story. A story about making choices, taking leaps of faith, falling down, and growing up. Will they find the little light that is left in their souls? Or will they surrender to the darkness that is the devil.

Ellen Hopkins has put light in some very challenging subjects. There are many twists and turns throughout the book that leave you wanting more. This is a book for those who enjoy their poetry, but it is very revealing on many topics, that may not be so suitable for younger readers. Overall, Tricks is a great read.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Review: The Pope's Last Crusade

Title: The Pope’s Last Crusade
Author: Peter Eisner
Publisher: William Morrow
Publication Date: 
 March 19, 2013
Reviewer: Ethan

Summary: Peter Eisner, award-winning reporter and author of the critically acclaimed The Freedom Line, combines shocking new evidence (released only recently from Vatican archives) and eyewitness testimony to create a compelling journey into the heart of the Vatican and a little-known story of an American's partnership with the head of the Catholic Church. A truly essential work, it brings staggering new light to one of the most critical junctures in modern history.

Review: The year was 1938. Hitler was in complete power, leading Nazi Germany on a campaign through Europe, to spread his views. In the Vatican, Pope Pius XI, who was slowly declining into failing health, sought the assistance of an American Jesuit Priest, John LaFarge. LaFarge was a scholar, whose expertise on racial injustices perfectly fit into the Church's views on the situation. His goal was to publicly denounce the Nazism and anti-Semitism that he feared would destroy the teachings of the church. Coming from the Pope, the highest leader of the Catholic Church, this condemnation of Hitler could potentially impact the views of other world leaders, and in turn, World War II itself.

Of course, this process was easier said than done. Pius XI found himself in the midst of an Italian government that seemed to be, whether out of fear or agreement, embracing Hitler's Germany. They even invited the leader to visit their country. Pius XI would have nothing to do with the fanfare of Hitler's arrival. Instead, he retreated to a private Vatican estate, outside of the city, in a quiet protest. Met by resistance from even members of his own church who would rather keep peace with Hitler than provoke him with a damning proclamation, Pius XI stuck to his guns, to denounce what he knew was wrong.

I've always been fascinated by the many pieces to the giant puzzle that is World War II. This time in our history seems to show the best and worst aspects of our world, and I think there are many things to be learned. I was unfamiliar with the story of Pope Pius XI, but with all of the recent  actions taking place in the Vatican, it seemed like a good time to delve deeper into the church's history. I was immediately drawn to Pius's unassuming, humble ways. He really comes off as a kind of quiet force. This book gives interesting insights into the mysterious protocols and inevitable politics of the Vatican. Despite its rather brief length, the book is detailed, suspenseful account of this Pope's history making actions.

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