On The Come Up (Angie Thomas)

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Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.

On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

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On The Come Up is not technically a sequel to The Hate U Give, but it does take place in the same neighbourhood, one year later.

I highly recommend you listen to this book. Not only is the narration excellent, but it allows you to actually hear Bri’s rap as it was intended to be delivered, rather than trying to figure it out as you read.

Personally, I think that (Mom) Jay gives some excellent advice to Bri, that I intend to take to heart:

There will always be people with something to say but that doesn’t mean you have to listen to it.

At times, I was really frustrated with Bri for being so easy to manipulate and continually reacting, rather than acting with intention. This made it a little more difficult to read than The Hate U Give but it was no less enjoyable. I just found that instead of periods of intense sobbing, I experienced mild frustration.

Angie Thomas has become a one-click author for me. I think she would interest teens and adults and wish that more high schools would incorporate these books into their curriculum.

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Freedom Writers (2007)

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Freedom Writers was released in 2007, starring Hilary Swank. It is a drama based on the nonfiction book, The Freedom Writers Diary, and is based upon a true story.

The book and the movie tell the story of a remarkable teacher and group of kids from Woodrow Wilson Classical High School, in California. At the time of the book’s writing, this was one of the roughest schools in the country, filled with gangs, violence and a failing academic record.

Hilary Swank portrays teacher Erin Gruwell, a novice teacher who reshaped the kids in her classroom, helping them catch up academically and exposing them to the wider world. She worked two part time jobs to pay for opportunities and teaching resources – including English books – that were not funded by the school.

Here is the trailer.

I have seen this movie several times, but was inspired to re-watch it after listening to the book The Hate U Give.

The themes of racial tension, gang violence, education and growing up in rough neighbourhoods are similar.

The movie is entertaining and inspiring. There is violence, which flows well with the storyline and themes without becoming graphic. Although the subject matter isn’t happy, it also brought back a slight sense of nostalgia for the 90s.

I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching this film, and now I am am more interested in the Freedom Writers today. I want to google and see if any of them became activists or educators. I am also going to try to find a copy of their book to read.

Edit: Here is a link to 2017 news article, “where are they now”.

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The Hate U Give (Angie Thomas)

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Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

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The Hate U Give. This is a revolutionary book.

I know I’m late to the party. Everyone and their mother has already read this book. Or seen the film.

It is truly amazing though. I highly recommend it to everyone.

Shocking though it is, this is the debut novel for author Angie Thomas. She has recently released another, On The Come Up, that I will definitely be listening to as well.

The Hate U Give deals with racial relations, growing up poor and black, and the tensions between black communities and the police. It incorporates pop culture, humour and heartbreaking pain. This is definitely one book that you will want to read in some privacy, because if you are anything like me, it will have you ugly crying for sure.

The main character, Starr, is incredibly easy to relate to. Ms Thomas created an entire world of fictional characters interacting in a very realistic setting. Starr’s voice is clear throughout the narrative. I couldn’t put this audiobook down, draining my phone from 100% power to 4% multiple times.

Even if you are not a reader of young adult fiction, I hope you will give this title a try.

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Incredibles 2 (2018)

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Incredibles 2 takes place immediately after the conclusion of the first movie. Jack Jack is still a small baby, and his family is not yet aware of his powers, although the audience certainly is!

This book highlights the struggles the kids face in adapting to their dual identities as “normal kids” in school and supers. In addition, all supers are still illegal and fighting back to regain their place in society and embraces their powers.

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I was not a fan of Incredibles 2. It definitely is not a movie that I would watch again. For a company like Pixar that had 14 years to put together a blockbuster sequel to their hit first film, I really felt let down.

The movie is meant for kids admittedly. But in my opinion, Pixar and Disney usually aim at making films that can appeal to the whole family. Parents are generally roped into watching movies with their kids, and certainly it is the adult taking the family to the movie theatre.

Now, the film generally received positive reviews from the critics and has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award so my opinion seems to be an uncommon one. But I would not recommend this movie.

I felt it was overly predictable, even for a children’s film. It lives in the shadow of the original, and all the other superhero movies that have emerged in the past decade. Another example of the sequel failing to live up to the original.

You can watch the trailer here.

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Becoming (Michelle Obama)

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In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments.

Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.

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I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Michelle Obama herself.

I have always been a fan of Michelle and Barack and family. I liked that they appeared to stand above many political pundits, as evidenced by Michelle’s “when they go low, we go high” slogan. I was also a fan of her political and social movements, championing health and fitness for children.

Listening to this book made me feel closer to her. That is a weird idea, considering that we have never met, but I felt like I gained a much deeper understanding of her as an individual – not just FLOTUS – and appreciated what I learned. She comes across as more of the high-achieving girl next door, rather than as the “elite” I always pictured her as.

She is relateable.

She is the epitome of the American Dream.

I am a Canadian citizen. I agreed with a lot of the policies and values that were championed by the Obamas but I think I was granted some emotional distance from the political drama that always seems to unfold in the USA, by nature of my geographical distance. I remember thinking about the insane and unrealistic expectations everyone seemed to have of Barack Obama when he was first elected. He was optimistic and a talented politician, but he was still just one man who was forced to work within the same political machine as each of his predecessors and successors.

Becoming obviously tells Michelle’s personal history, as well as chronicling many of the key points in her journey through the White House. It is very informative. It also put certain things into perspective.

I am white. Michelle is black. I am Canadian. She is American. I grew up in a small town, she grew up in the inner city of Chicago. We are a lot alike though.

History that seems to have occurred so long ago – like Jim Crow laws – isn’t so long ago when you think of them in terms of generations. To have grown up knowing people who were oppressed by those laws. To know that their grandparents – your great great grandparents – were slaves…. that is a heady realization. It makes you realize that those periods of history weren’t so long ago after all. I have greater awareness for the lingering affects of this history today.

As I mentioned, I was easily able to relate to Michelle at times. I never would have imagined that she was burned out by school. That she trained to get a prestigious degree in a career that she quickly discovered she had no love for. To feel burdened down by school debt, expectations, and difficulty conceiving. I was extremely emotional listening to her talk about her Dad’s death. And incredibly impressed over her career trajectory, and professional self-confidence.

One thing I learned about her husband is that President Obama always had to have something to attain and reach for. I couldn’t help but wonder, when you have held the highest office in the country for 8 years, what else is left to do afterwards?

On a more technical note, I did find that the recording of the book dragged. The narrative itself was great, but I sped up the playback to 1.5x, very unusual for me. Most of the word count is devoted to Michelle aged 5-30, with less than I expected devoted to the Obama Family’s time in the White House.

I particularly loved the stories related to her experiences with Queen E.

One lingering question I still have, silly though it may be, is how much freedom does the first family have to redecorate the private residence? Like, did Sasha have a pretty pink bedroom when they first moved in and she was still a young girl? If I ever had a chance to meet Mrs Obama, that would definitely be a question I asked!

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I Owe You One

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From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sophie Kinsella, an irresistible story of love and empowerment about a young woman with a complicated family, a handsome man who might be “the one,” and an IOU that changes everything

Fixie Farr has always lived by her father’s motto: “Family first.” But since her dad passed away, leaving his charming housewares store in the hands of his wife and children, Fixie spends all her time picking up the slack from her siblings instead of striking out on her own. The way Fixie sees it, if she doesn’t take care of her father’s legacy, who will? It’s simply not in her nature to say no to people.

So when a handsome stranger in a coffee shop asks her to watch his laptop for a moment, Fixie not only agrees—she ends up saving it from certain disaster. Turns out the computer’s owner is an investment manager. To thank Fixie for her quick thinking, Sebastian scribbles an IOU on a coffee sleeve and attaches his business card. But Fixie laughs it off—she’d never actually claim an IOU from a stranger. Would she?

Then Fixie’s childhood crush, Ryan, comes back into her life and his lack of a profession pushes all of Fixie’s buttons. She wants nothing for herself—but she’d love Seb to give Ryan a job. And Seb agrees, until the tables are turned once more and a new series of IOUs between Seb and Fixie—from small favors to life-changing moments—ensues. Soon Fixie, Ms. Fixit for everyone else, is torn between her family and the life she really wants. Does she have the courage to take a stand? Will she finally grab the life, and love, she really wants?

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I have been reading Sophie Kinsella’s work for more than a decade, and I have never not fallen in love with one of her books. I Owe You One is her more recent novel and another great story. It was so good, that I have actually read it twice, before even getting my review written!

This book has some of my favourite romantic tropes: family drama, a cast of secondary characters, and a hot wealthy man ready to sweep her off her feet.

The main character is nick-named Fixie, and this perfectly personifies her. I think it is cute and (too my way of thinking) common in British literary humour. I was reminded of the book I’ve Got Your Number (also by this author) but I still didn’t feel like I was reading the same book twice.

Now I need to point out here, the book wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I misread the promotional blurb and thought that it said the IUD that changed everything, not the IOU. lol, the story is still amazing!

The best things about Kinsella’s stories are that you can always count on a happy ending and the story itself is fairly light. I recently read some “romances” that had me bawling my eyes out and that is not my cup of tea. With Kinsella, I know exactly what I am getting: humour, romance, entertainment and maybe a moral lesson or two!

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The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

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They were the Princess Dianas of their day—perhaps the most photographed and talked about young royals of the early twentieth century. The four captivating Russian Grand Duchesses—Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia Romanov—were much admired for their happy dispositions, their looks, the clothes they wore and their privileged lifestyle.

Over the years, the story of the four Romanov sisters and their tragic end in a basement at Ekaterinburg in 1918 has clouded our view of them, leading to a mass of sentimental and idealized hagiography. With this treasure trove of diaries and letters from the grand duchesses to their friends and family, we learn that they were intelligent, sensitive and perceptive witnesses to the dark turmoil within their immediate family and the ominous approach of the Russian Revolution, the nightmare that would sweep their world away, and them along with it.

The Romanov Sisters sets out to capture the joy as well as the insecurities and poignancy of those young lives against the backdrop of the dying days of late Imperial Russia, World War I and the Russian Revolution. Rappaport aims to present a new and challenging take on the story, drawing extensively on previously unseen or unpublished letters, diaries and archival sources, as well as private collections. It is a book that will surprise people, even aficionados

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I listened to this audiobook on the advice of my friend, Ewa, who has been talking about it since Christmas. And I am using it as one of the categories on my 2018 Reading Challenge 🙂

The Romanov Sisters is a clearly written and detailed account of the lives of the four sisters and the little Tsesarevich from the time of their births until their deaths during the Russian Revolution.

Listening to their story changed many of the perceptions that I had – and clued me in to how many of those stemmed from the Disney film Anastasia – but also created duelling portrayals of Tsar Nicholas II in my mind.

Nicholas II and Alexandra lived rather modest lives in terms of possessions. Their daughters shared bedrooms with single size beds, and were not over-run with presents, although what they did have was of very high quality. Alexandra was much more heavily involved in her children’s upbringing than was common among the aristocracy of Europe at the time, even breastfeeding her children which was unheard of. The main theme throughout the entire book is the deep love shared between these seven people, and it is tragic that it eventually led to their deaths.

The Imperial Family was not well suited to governing the country. Nicholas and Alexandra would have been far more content to remain minor royalty and retreat into a quiet, idyllic life with their children than to be on the international stage. Their love for each other and their family led them to make many decisions that sacrificed image, popularity and power in Russia, further destabilizing an already tumultuous autocracy. Their ends certainly indicate the necessity of Royalty to remain visible and (at least somewhat) accessible to the masses, even at the sacrifice of privacy at times.

The last Tsar of Russia was pious, deeply religious and professed a deep and unfaltering love for his wife and children. Many accounts point to his being a moral man who was just unsuited to ruling. And yet, he showed little understanding of, or compassion for, his suffering peasantry and is the man behind mass jailing of political dissidents, pogroms and Bloody Sunday.

Whatever decision Empress Alexandra made, it was the wrong one. She was either too formal and withdrawn from the Russian people; too heavily involved in raising her children; too pious; too unwilling to open herself up to the innate mysticism of Russian orthodoxy and everyday life in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Russian culture, yet too willing to accept the mystical and mistrusted Rasputin into her inner circle. During WWI, when she and her eldest daughters became nurses and worked daily in hospital with wounded soldiers, many considered it sacrilegious and a betrayal of Russian Imperialism for the Tsarina and Grand Duchesses to be working so closely with those of lower stations in improper circumstances.

The environment was poisonous and it is hard to imagine whether there could have been any other outcome for Russian Imperialism, even if Nicholas and Alexandra did everything differently.

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The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)

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A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.

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I found this book very difficult to listen to at times, not just because of the subject matter, but because of the author’s approach to her story. Ms. Walls reflects upon her childhood with frankness and affection, seemingly content with her eccentric parents decisions for the family. She talks about growing up “wild” and how she appreciated the freedom her parents gave the four Walls kids to explore, make mistakes and

Walls comes across as very matter of fact regarding the many abuses she and her siblings faced growing up as a result of her parents decisions, and more often, as a result of their neglect. Her father’s drinking and mother’s distain for housekeeping or mothering made me ache for these children who often missed the barest of essentials, including food and warm clothes.

As the listener, I felt that Jeannette had been brainwashed by her father growing up, a mentality that exists today to some degree. She doesn’t seem to find fault with their poor decisions that put her and her siblings into danger, and at times brought the attention of medical personnel, and children’s aid employees. It was difficult to listen to her seemingly idolize her parents at times, even as an adult reflecting on the past, knowing how selfish, neglectful and at times abusive her parents were.

The mother’s whining that she didn’t want to get up and go to school to teach – knowing this paycheque was the only thing that was feeding her children at the time – was so bizarre and highlights the irresponsible and selfish nature both parents exhibited, as did hiding her chocolate snacks while her children are literally starving because neither parent is working and the family doesn’t receive food stamps.

Despite their actions, I cannot doubt Rex and Rose Mary Walls loved their children, particularly Rex. And as Jeannette muses, I think we make the lives we want in the end.

The Glass Castle is well-written and compelling. I didn’t love this book because I felt the author was overly sympathetic to her parents and her parents’ behaviour made me angry, but I am still giving this book four stars.

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Yours and Mine by Christine Duval

Yours and Mine is the long-awaited sequel to Positively Mine. They are both books in the Freshman Forty Series.

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Picking up from the dramatic ending of Positively Mine, Yours and Mine continues the Freshman Forty series as we meet Danny Santoro, Laurel’s baby’s father, for the first time.

It’s been almost a year since he last saw her, that sultry morning she walked off the beach before dawn had even cracked the August sky. It seemed from her silence, she was out of his life forever.

But Laurel’s timing couldn’t be worse to tell him he’s a father. The last year hasn’t been easy. Danny’s own father was arrested for a DUI, his mother moved out, and Danny started sleeping with his brother’s old high school, drug-abusing girlfriend.

After Laurel shocks him with the news, she attempts to relinquish Danny of any parental responsibility leading to a heated custody battle. In an unorthodox arrangement, an eccentric judge orders Danny and Laurel to spend alternating nights with each other for the upcoming school year.

Told from Danny’s point of view, Yours and Mine explores the second chapter of a romance that never got off the ground, the challenges of young parenting, and the hope of rekindled love.

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I am so excited that Yours and Mine has finally been released! I have been periodically checking back on the author’s goodreads profile for a couple of years with no luck, only to find out this time that it was released at the end of last year! It was also pretty surprising that the entire book is written from Danny’s perspective, a character that we had barely met before.

But as surprising as this was, it worked. I like how the author planned it out.

This is a story of a custody struggle between two young parents. Its a story of growing trust and coming of age and working out relationships. It is the pinnacle of a new adult novel, and a fairly clean one. Yours and Mine starts the same way that Positively Mine ended, with Laurel telling Danny that they have a three month old daughter together.

Something that really stood out to me in this novel is that the characters stay very true to themselves.

Laurel is 3-4 years younger than Danny and has had much less responsibility throughout her adolescence, and certainly more financial privilege. Her experiences of being emotionally estranged from her father and of burying her mother as a pre-teen shaped her to be secretive and withdrawn. She has a difficult time sharing and recognizing other’s feelings. Especially since find out she was going to become a mother herself, Laurel relied only on herself and has a difficult time letting Danny into her and their daughter’s lives.

Danny has been working a fulltime job for years, and is now juggling that job with a Masters program in Homeland Security and adjusting to the news of fatherhood. He also has to worry about his mother and help her to recover from his father’s alcohol and gambling addictions.

Although Laurel is a good person and a good Mother, her relative immaturity is apparent. She often fails to communicate with Danny, and clings to the idea that she can be a normal college girl on the nights that Danny has physical custody of their daughter. When things don’t work out the way she had dreamed, she is initially heartbroken and doesn’t know how to move forward and make it right. Although changed by mommyhood, Laurel clearly has less experience in relationships and less confidence in herself. Her go-to move is to hunker down and completely withdraw.

I loved reading Yours and Mine from Danny’s point of view, but at times I wish we could have also had Laurel’s. It was a little funny to not be in her head at all, after the first book was entirely from her perspective.

At the end of the day I loved this book, but I can’t give it 5 / 5 stars because I felt that it was too short and that their problems were resolved too easily. I was expecting the same format as the first book, which covered the entire academic year, but Yours and Mine resolves by (American) Thanksgiving. The ending was also fairly predictable but I loved the happily ever after fans were left with so I can’t really complain about that.

I hope that the author writes another book, and that this time the wait isn’t so long!

Edit: I also love this cover! It is perfect in its simplicity and represents the story and characters wonderfully.

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Sisters – film review

Sisters is the hilarious new comedy from Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. Two sisters struggling to move on in their adult lives come home to Mom and Dad’s to clear out their childhood rooms in preparation for the sale of the house. While reminiscing, they decide to throw one last epic high-school style party with all their old friends. Cue the shenanigans.

Trailer (via youtube)

Ok, I have to admit I didn’t think this movie was going to be all that great. I went to the theatre with my Mother and oldest niece (14) to see something else but tickets were sold out and this was the only other film playing at the right time.

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It. Is. Hilarious. I freaking loved this movie. I almost had to leave the theatre because I was seriously worried I would pee my pants from laughter.

Now, it was also completely INAPPROPRIATE for a  14 year old girl. I was worried about that but the theatre said it was rated 14A. Um, no. After seeing the movie, I definitely feel it was Rated R and now I can see that is what the trailer was rated as well….. So my sister might be a bit mad but thankfully that will fall on “Nana’s” shoulders, not mine. Phew.

But seriously, I highly recommend that you go and watch this movie. Both my Mum and I agreed that it was the most we had laughed in a theatre in a very long time.

The part with the music box, between Maura and her beau …. good lord. You can’t get funnier than that.

There were two things that really stood out to me in this film.

John Cena’s part actually should have been expanded. He does have his tough guy-bouncer moment but it was very comedically done. Not bad since this is a comedy but I think the film could have afforded for him to be a bit more … well more, in that moment.

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I also would have loved to see him and Kate (played by Tina Fey) develop a relationship. I thought he was going to help her rescue Hayley; it would have been cute to see them together in the “post-script”, and would have been in keeping with Kate’s personality. Sure, she learns a little more responsibility, but no one changes overnight. He might not have been the best parental role model, but that wasn’t really the moral of the story.

Secondly, and as I said to my Mother as we walked out of the theatre, “I didn’t take you and Dad selling the house that badly”. If you don’t know, I am highly resistant to change, and didn’t exactly handle it well. In fact, when they sold my childhood home I stopped speaking to them for a bit and it took several years before I was completely over it.

Because I am.

Over it.

Totally.

As I was saying … Sisters is cute. It’s funny. It is even romantic. And it reminded me that I’m all grown up when the sexiest point in the movie was James repairing the ceiling he fell through for Maura, while the party rages on around them.

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