Monday, August 31, 2015

7 Steps to Midnight (Book Review)

Veering: to change direction or turn about or aside; shift, turn, or change from one course, position, inclination, etc., to another.

A top secret assignment.

A hitchhiker.

A wager. 

"Reality is a shifting and confounding phenomenon. Never think otherwise. Your life will be the worse for it if you deny the truth of that." ~ 7 Steps to Midnight

From the late-author Richard Matheson (probably best known for his work on The Twilight Zone), comes this intriguing psychological thriller. 7 Steps to Midnight follows Chris Barton, a genius mathematician working on a secret project for the U.S. government. But when he leaves work one evening and finds his car missing, he quickly realizes that reality as he knew it will never be the same again. Then after picking up a mysterious hitchhiker, he soon discovers his entire life has been stolen. Barton becomes a fugitive that takes him from Arizona to the cities of London, Paris, Lucerne and Venice. 

In a cross between The Matrix and Dan Brown's Robert Langdon series, 7 Steps to Midnight is full of espionage and suspense as it takes the reader on a whirlwind adventure which will have you trying to decipher what is real and what isn't. Has Barton found himself on an alternate universe or is this just a nightmare?

"We know full well that the tissues of what we say is real are thin indeed. That they can be torn asunder with more ease than people realize." ~ 7 Steps to Midnight

7 Steps to Midnight definitely has a fascinating premise, but despite a great concept and being well-written overall (way too many editing errors), there are some holes in the plot. For example, how was he able to board a plane for overseas without a passport? Also, a connection between me and Barton never solidified. I thought the romance between the enigmatic Alexsandra and him seemed forced, a bit cheesy, and not consistent with Barton's analytical mind.  

Probably the biggest complaint I have with this novel is its predictability. While Matheson definitely tried to put in numerous plot twists, most were transparent to me and remained so throughout the entire story. 

However, 7 Steps to Midnight is worth a read especially for fans of psychological thrillers and spy novels. In what was a nearly-perfect executed plan, the reader discovers just how far the government will go to protect its secrets. 

Read more of my Book Reviews

Friday, August 28, 2015

Wreck-It Ralph: Family Movie Review

I seriously can't believe Wreck-it Ralph was released in the U.S. nearly three years ago and I just now got around to watching it for the first time.  It was my 11-year old's pick and he had seen it before and likes it. Me? Not so much, but, hey. That's not really the point of my reviews so let's get on with it, shall we?

For thirty years, Wreck-it-Ralph (John C. Reilly) has been the bad guy in an arcade video game. He's not really a bad guy - it's just his job to be the villain in the game called "Fix-it Felix." However, even after hours, when the arcade closes for the night and all the characters in the games come to life as "off-duty" personalities, no one likes Ralph. To them, he is still just the bad guy. 

What if Ralph doesn't want to be the professional villain anymore? 

Tired of being disliked by the other characters, Ralph sets out on a mission to earn a medal of honor and prove everyone is wrong about him. He travels from one video game to the next in search of a way to earn recognition for being a hero. 

"Without Ralph, we're doomed!" ~ Wreck-it Ralph

However, trouble begins when Ralph doesn't make it back to his game before the arcade opens again, causing "Fix-it Felix" to go on the brink.  The arcade must post the dreaded "Out of Order" sign. This proves to the others how valuable Ralph's role is to the game. 

The majority of the film takes place in a game called "Sugar Rush" where Ralph meets a computer glitch named Venellope von Schweetz (played by Sarah Silverman) who is being bullied by the legitimate characters. From that point on, the story focuses on these two misfits uniting to prove their worthiness. Their friendship provides some tender moments, but not enough substance for me to really care about the outcome of this film. 

"Heroes have to make the tough choices." ~ Wreck-it Ralph

The basis for this plot was so promising, but didn't really catch my attention. However, as far as family films are concerned, most young kids will like this one. Wreck-it Ralph is rated PG for some rude humor (in other words, lots of "bathroom" humor) and mild action/violence. Most of the heavy violence comes from Ralph's visit to another video game called "Heroes Duty." Although animated, these particular scenes depict violent war re-enactments. 

Watch Official Trailer

This is NOT one of those brilliant animated films that I could suggest to people of all ages. But for the right audience, it could be fun and make an enjoyable family movie night.  There is a sequel in the works, so go ahead and check this one out before it's released. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Wine, Chocolate, and Naked Twister: Hurricane Readiness

Oh bloody hell! For over a decade I have been very deliberate in preparing for hurricane season. All supplies including water and non-perishable foods purchased before June 1 - the official first day of the season. This year, well......nothing. I haven't done a thing to prepare. I have some flashlights and batteries I purchased years ago (wonder if they still work) but besides that, I will officially be doomed in the event my area is hit with any storm that may cause power and phone outages, water restrictions, and flooding.

At the time of this writing, Tropical Storm Erika is expected to make landfall right over me on Monday morning. But there is a 240-mile leeway in either direction.  We affectionately refer to this as the "cone of uncertainty." Don't you love meteorologists? There are currently eight - EIGHT - different possible tracks. In other words, they really have no clue at this point where it's going.  

I still remember living in Orlando when Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992.  It was coming right for Central Florida. Instead, I woke up to beautiful blue skies while south Miami-Dade County was nearly wiped from the map.  Then there were the hurricane seasons of 2004 AND 2005 where one hurricane after another just rolled into Florida causing at least one evacuation to Georgia by my boys and me.  My youngest was only 6 weeks old. Things quieted down after that, but Floridians are no strangers to the chaos that even the mere mention of a possible storm can cause. A friend of mine just notified me that the local Costco was already experiencing the mania.

So today after dropping my boys off at school, I will head over to the grocery store to pick up necessities.  As always, there will be a frenzy of concern (after all, it has been years since my area got a direct hit - we all know our time may be up!) as shoppers load up carts with bottled water, bread, peanut butter, and chips. This weekend, unless the storm path changes significantly, every household will start cooking everything in their freezer. The lines at the gas pumps will sprawl out into the streets and plywood will fly out of home improvement stores faster than you can say "holy guacamole!"

For those of us in hurricane prone areas, storm preparation and risk is an annual tradition. We know the drill, we choose to live here anyway, and we spend half the year wondering is this the year the big one hits?

So, sure. Go ahead and get all your necessary supplies. But for sanity sake, don't forget to include the following:

1) PET SUPPLIES: food, litter, medications plus wee wee pads for your pooch. You may not be able to walk him for hours. Prepare a "safe space" such as a crate or box for your furry friends as well.

2) KID SUPPLIES: non-electronic entertainment. Yep, families will actually have to talk to each other. Time to dust off those board games.  Twister is a great game because it allows kids to get up and move, releasing the pent up energy they will suffer from due to being cooped up in the house. Also, grab every spare blanket and sheet you can find because nothing is cooler than sleeping in a fort built in your pitch black living room. 

3) PARENT SUPPLIES: wine (or booze of your choice), chocolate (sshh, no need to share with the kids, they won't need sugar during this period of house arrest), and, since history shows an increase in births nine months after big storms, make sure you have necessary precautions in that department too.  After the kids are asleep, Twister can come in handy for all you grown-ups as well. Think naked Twister! No? Maybe?

Well, anyway, if you should find yourself in a boarded up house Sunday night waiting for Erika, be smart and be safe and toast a glass of wine to me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Daily Challenge: Happiness

This morning I came across this article I wrote last October. I had only been a stay-at-home mom for a couple of months at that time. I realized I never published it. Coincidentally, it is also Wednesday, the day I try to post a more personal entry (Book Reviews on Mondays / Family Movie Reviews on Friday - have you noticed?) After reading it, I thought, "Wow, it is, unfortunately, still relevant to me."

Of course, I had to go back and tweak some things. A lot can change in ten months, but the premise is basically the same. I am no closer to figuring out my life goals as I was when I originally drafted this last fall. True, I am more confident in where I am headed with this blog. In addition, my goal of working with authors is coming to fruition. But outside of that, I don't feel like I have a clear path. If I had unlimited funds I could give you a list of things I'd like to try. However, when you factor cost and time restraints into the equation, it seems like there isn't a whole lot for me to successfully accomplish.

With the exception of these last twelve months and the first eleven months after the birth of my oldest son, I have been employed in some capacity my entire adult life. So, this time off is supposed to be about me simply being a stay-at-home mom and getting involved in things that interest me while exploring possibilities for my future.  But, I truly feel I am falling short in this regard. So what's the problem?

There is a whole lot of the G-U-I-L-T crap happening. Feelings of guilt for not working (oh, right, like caring for two children and a home isn't work), guilt for not having concrete plans for my future, and, oh, yes, guilt for the occasional "me time" I am getting.  Even when I was working, I typically felt a pang of guilt for the alone time I allotted myself.  So, in a way, these feelings aren't new.  They started with motherhood -  the beginning of the thought process that all my pleasure had to be centered around doing things for my children. (HINT: Don't fall into this trap, mothers!)

I've thought about returning to school, but honestly, I'm not even sure what I would go back for. The costly liberal arts degree my parents so generously paid for just hasn't cut it. But there are also anxieties and, quite frankly, technicalities that would need to be overcome with that. For example, money, sure, but even more so would be scheduling. Most classes I would need or want would be offered in the evenings only, maybe on the weekends. But then I have to deal with the clear conflicts of my sons' school schedule and homework, soccer, and husband's work hours.

And forget the fun, non-academic classes.  Even the belly dancing class (Oh, come on! How fun would that be?) at our local community center is only offered at 7:30p.m.  This is the case for all adult classes they offer. That doesn't help me.  I want something I can do during the day while my children are at school.  The last thing I want is something that will take me away from my family, and, subsequently, cause more guilt.

So, here I am beginning my second year as a stay-at-home mom and I don't feel like I am any closer to reaching, or even setting, specific goals.  I've never considered myself an overly ambitious person. I like simple things and a simple life. I am definitely not the over-achieving kind. So, maybe, that's it. Maybe just living my life simply and happily is all the goal-setting I need. Yes, perhaps instead of stressing over my lack of goals, I should recognize that the biggest goal in life is to just be happy. If I concentrate on that one goal, the rest will surely fall into place. Right?

Read more of my Personal Favorites.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Nik's Piks: Women's Fiction

I recently came up with a new series for my blog called Nik's Piks. It is a way to share more book suggestions with my readers without going back and and writing full reviews for every book I've ever read, an impossible feat! In the first installment, I focused on four of my favorite MEMOIRS.  Here, I feature two very different women's fiction novels.

I've included excerpts from their official book blurb taken from Amazon with a few sentences on my personal thoughts.

Enjoy and Happy Reading!


Lunch In Paris by Elizabeth Bard

From Amazon:
"In Paris for a weekend visit, Elizabeth Bard sat down to lunch with a handsome Frenchman--and never went home again. LUNCH IN PARIS is a memoir about a young American woman caught up in two passionate love affairs--one with her new beau, Gwendal, the other with French cuisine. Packing her bags for a new life in the world's most romantic city, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and size 2 femmes fatales In the delicious tradition of memoirs like A Year in Provence and Under the Tuscan Sun, this book is the perfect treat for anyone who has dreamed that lunch in Paris could change their life."

My Thoughts:

I recently spotted this novel on my bookshelf and suggested my mom give it a read. It is a sweet love-story that throws the reader into life in Paris (doesn't get much better than that!). But, what makes this novel so unusual are the recipes the author includes for all you cooks out there (I'm just not one of them) that will prove Paris is the city of love and fine cuisine.  If you are a cook, you will love the recipes. I just loved the story! 


The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

From Amazon:
"A coming of age tale set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees will appeal to fans of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, and tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. 

When Lily’s fierce-hearted black “stand-in mother,” Rosaleen, insults three of the town’s most vicious racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina—a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love—a story that women will continue to share and pass on to their daughters for years to come."

My Thoughts: 

It's been a while since I've read this book and I've been meaning to watch the film adaptation. This may sound crazy, (although not really if you know me well) but the part of this story that really stuck with me is the beekeeping. It changed the way I look at bees, not just the importance of them, but their precious, little souls. I can now confidently hold a bee fearlessly while projecting love, confident I will not get stung. Yeah, maybe that sounds mad. But it is the coolest thing in the world to pick up a bee and feel it walking along your skin. This is a unique story filled with strong female characters with even stronger connections to each other. 

Check out my Book Reviews too!  

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bee Movie: Family Movie Review

“According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way that a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway. Because bees don't care what humans think is impossible.” ~ Bee Movie

Bee Movie written by and starring Jerry Seinfeld (Barry Benson) along with Renee Zellweger (Vanessa Bloome) is a 2007 DreamWorks Animation production that also features the voice talents of numerous other actors such as Matthew Broderick (Adam) and Kathy Bates (Mrs. Benson) including a whole slew of cameos by celebrities such as Chris Rock, Sting, Larry King, Ray Liotta, and Oprah Winfrey.  However, despite this amazing collection of voice talent, the film was met with very mixed reviews making it easily forgettable for many moviegoers. 

HOWEVER, this film remains an enjoyable pick for both my sons who recently sat down and watched it again with me. 

"By taking away our honey, you're not only taking away everything we have, you're taking away everything we are." ~ Bee Movie

While my sons enjoy the very "Seinfeld-ish" humor, with funny one-liners, I really loved the story itself that reflects not only on the perfectly functioning bee society, but emphasizes the important role bees have in the environment. The way Charlotte's Web helped some children get over their fear of spiders, Bee Movie shows the softer side of bees.  They are truly the heroes of the insect world. Without bees to carry out pollination, there would be catastrophic effects to the entire plant and animal kingdom.

The day has arrived for young bees, Barry and Adam, to pick the jobs they will perform for the rest of their lives within the hive.  Barry is uncertain about what he wants to do and desires to leave the hive just once before committing to his new position. He joins the pollen-jocks, the only bees allowed to venture outside, and is exposed to a whole world he didn't know existed.  Can he ever go back to "normal" life inside the hive again? 

"Why does his life have any less value than yours?" ~ Bee Movie

Barry quickly learns that life outside the hive isn't all that glamorous.  When one human, Vanessa Bloome, saves him from being squashed, the two develop an unlikely friendship. He discovers the honey industry's exploitative tactics and decides to sue the human race for stealing the honey and abusing the bees.  There is a slightly drawn out court case, but the film successfully makes it's point. The honey industry is not without victims. 

Watch Official Trailer

Overall, Bee Movie is a colorful adventure with witty humor to entertain the adults and a unique story line and likable characters to capture the attention of children. I promise you won't ever look at bees the same way again. The film is rated PG for mild suggestive humor, but is suitable for the entire family in my opinion. It was underrated by critics and one that should not be missed by Seinfeld fans.  Again, the most important, but undoubtedly overlooked, aspect of the story line is the fact that bees are exploited by the commercial honey industry - enslaved in artificial and inhumane ("smoking" of bees) environments. And, yes, this is why honey is not vegan. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Writer's UN-Block

We've all heard the term, and probably experienced, writer's block. But another ailment facing the writers of the world is writer's UN-block, the simple fact that our minds won't shut up. There are constant dialogues going on inside our heads. Entire poems, essays, novels, and thoughts being written on some brainwave frequency. It is exhausting. For me, unfortunately, this is most prevalent at 3 o'clock in the morning when I'm trying to get much needed sleep.

Insomnia is something I suffer from on a regular basis.  Usually, I will stir for some reason and then, if I'm not careful, my brain fires up - and won't stop. 

All my best material has been composed in my head at three in the morning. Of course, no one will ever get to read these brilliant masterpieces of mine because by the time the sun rises and I sit down to actually write, my brain, upset I didn't take it more seriously hours earlier, boycotts any notion of regurgitating the same flow of words.

"Nope, you had your chance," it torments. "Now see what you can come up with without ME!"

I have often joked about the fact that I have written the perfect sentence, thought of that elusive word that is just right to capture a feeling, or even written entire blog posts all in my head while desperately trying to get back to sleep, only to forget it all by daybreak. I keep a notebook and pen on my nightstand so I can jot things down in the middle of the night.......but rarely do so.   Instead, I rely on my ability to recall the words the next morning. 

HA! Yeah, like that actually happens.  I have way too much confidence in my ability to remember things.  I've even come up with little memory games to help me recall these perfect thoughts in the morning. But, they hardly work either. 

I end up tossing and turning in bed, fighting with  my thoughts to shut the hell up. "Come back in the morning, PLEASE," I beg. But the truth is, they rarely grace me with their presence again. Usually, by the time I crawl out of bed in the morning, my brain rebels and enters shut-down mode.  

So tonight I gave in. 

Having already been awake for two hours, I decided to get up, turn on the computer, and type out the thoughts my brain couldn't wait to get out. However, now that I have dragged myself out of my comfortable bed to write this post, I've got nothing! Sure, NOW, my brain is asleep. Yet, when I was trying to get some shut-eye, the words wouldn't stop flowing. Perhaps my body is so pissed off that I gave into my overactive brain, that it has cut off all communication with it. If that's the case, why can't it do that between 10pm and 6am each night instead.

I am so certain of this rift between my brain and my body that I am convinced the minute I decide to turn off this monitor and try to return to dreamland, my brain will wake back up and scream, "JUST KIDDING!"

Read more of my blog here

Friday, August 14, 2015

Insurgent: Family Movie Review

Now that I am writing reviews for parents, I am noticing how wide the span is in PG-13 films. Each one is very different and parents should decide on a case by case basis which of these films their children can watch. Some of them are just a step past PG while others are a mere step away from an R-rating. With that said, here are my thoughts on Insurgent, the second film in the Divergent series, now available on DVD.

I couldn't convince my 7th grader to go see Insurgent with me when it hit theaters in March of 2015. This is despite the fact that he had read the book and enjoyed the film adaptation of Divergent, the first in this young adult series by Veronica Roth.  If you recall from my review of Divergent, I didn't love this book series, however, I thought filmmakers did a good job with the first film installment. The trilogy starts off with a great concept but quickly became tedious and predictable by the third novel.

The series is set in a dystopian society in former Chicago after humans have all but completely destroyed the planet.  In order to keep peace, the founders separate the population into five different factions based on dominant personality traits, such as honesty, intelligence, kindness, etc.

Insurgent picks up right where Divergent leaves off (I do NOT suggest watching it without having seen the first film.) Government leader, Jeanine Matthews (Kate Winslet), has pledged a full war against all divergents (individuals who do not neatly fall into the faction system) blaming them for jeopardizing the peaceful makeup of their society.  This group of insurgents is led by Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) who fought back and are now fugitives on the run.  Matthews has convinced the other citizens the divergents were the ones responsible for the attack against the Abnegation faction.

While Tris tries to deal with her past actions that cause her nightmares and play a dangerous psychological mind-game, she is consumed with the need for revenge.  Matthews' primary goal is to use divergents to open a secret message left by the society's founders.  This is the same message Tris' parents died trying to protect, putting her on a mission to protect its secrecy.

The Divergent Series is very popular among middle and high-school students. But the films are much more graphic and parents should know what they are getting into before allowing their children under 13 to watch.

Watch Official Trailer

Insurgent is rated PG-13 for intense violence and action throughout, some sensuality, thematic elements and brief language.  But what does that mean exactly?

If not for clever editing, this film could have easily been Rated- R for violence. As in the first film, there are numerous hand-to-hand fight scenes, some bloody. There is a ton of gun violence, plus another suicide jump, physical torture and execution style murders. Sure, a lot of the "outcomes" are left to the viewer's imagination, but the implications are there nonetheless. While there isn't any nudity, there is more physical intimacy between Tris and Four. There is also some minor language which will go unnoticed next to all the violence.  

I am a sucker for finishing a series once I start it, so as with the books, I will finish watching the movie series. Insurgent was okay, certainly not as good as Divergent. I am hoping filmmakers can finish this trilogy off strong with Allegiant (which, by the way, I understand they are unnecessarily making into TWO films - UGH!)

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Nik's Piks: Memoirs

Too many books, too little time!

Yet, even if time permitted, it would not be feasible for me to go back and review all my favorite novels. Why? Because I write my reviews immediately upon finishing a book in order to capture my first impressions and how the book made me feel. BUT, unfortunately, that means that there are tons of great books out there that I've read but I will not get to share with my readers.

Until now that is.

I've come up with the idea to periodically share miscellaneous book suggestions. Not reviews, but books I feel are worth a mention and ones I think you will enjoy.

So here goes. My first list  consists entirely of  memoirs, some I'm sure you've heard of, a couple perhaps not. But all worth reading.  I've included excerpts from their official book blurb taken from Amazon with a few sentences on my personal thoughts.

Enjoy and Happy Reading!


The Story of Rose: A Man and His Dog by Jon Katz  

From Amazon:
In the Fall of 2003 "...Katz embarked on a quixotic quest, moving from the suburbs of New Jersey to a sprawling farm in upstate New York to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. And by his side was Rose, his unswervingly loyal and unflappable new dog. With warmth, insight, and emotional honesty, Jon Katz has written a joyful remembrance of a one-of-a-kind dog. The Story of Rose reaffirms the profound bond people share with their pets, and the ways that animals indelibly shape our lives." 

My Thoughts:
It's been a few years since I read this heartwarming story of the author and one of his beloved farm dogs, Rose, yet it still resonates with me. This e-book exclusive is a must-read for all dog lovers. Of course you are going to cry. Read it anyway.


Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom 

From Amazon:
"Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class”: lessons in how to live. Tuesdays with Morrie is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie's lasting gift with the world."

My Thoughts:
I will go as far as to say you must be living under a rock if you haven't heard of Mitch Albom or his numerous books, of which I've read several. Tuesdays with Morrie is by far my favorite. I cannot comment on the movie because I never sat through it, just read the book!


Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert 

From Amazon:
"A transformational journey through Italy, India, and Bali searching for pleasure and devotion—

This beautifully written, heartfelt memoir touched a nerve among both readers and reviewers. Elizabeth Gilbert tells how she made the difficult choice to leave behind all the trappings of modern American success (marriage, house in the country, career) and find, instead, what she truly wanted from life. Setting out for a year to study three different aspects of her nature amid three different cultures, Gilbert explored the art of pleasure in Italy and the art of devotion in India, and then a balance between the two on the Indonesian island of Bali." 

My Thoughts: 
While this novel remains one of my most favorite books of all time, I do know people who disliked it. Ironically, I could not get into the sequel, Committed, and this remains the only novel by Gilbert I've read.


Christian the Lion by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall

From Amazon:
"As Ace and John, two friends, are searching for holiday gifts in London, they come across a lion cub for sale in Harrods, the famous department store! Unable to bear the thought of leaving the cub, Ace and John take him home and name him Christian. After a year of fun and mischief Christian has grown up, and Ace and John realize that their pet needs to be among other lions and deserves to live free, in his natural environment. Luckily, friends help introduce Christian to the African wild. Christian the Lion tells the riveting true story of one animal’s ability to adapt to life in the wild, and captures the unexpectedly enduring connection between man and animal."

My Thoughts:
This is actually the youth version of the true-story A Lion Called Christian that tells of the remarkable, and now, thanks to the Internet, famous bond between two friends and the lion they raised and then, with the help of the Born Free Foundation, returned to the wild. I read this along with my son years ago and it touched my heart.

Check out my Book Reviews too! 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Fantastic Four: Family Movie Review

Fantastic Four Review

Considering this was opening weekend for Fantastic Four and only playing in one theater at the multiplex, the attendance was low.  Perhaps because the film is being received with mixed reviews or because there aren't any big name stars. Maybe people are just Marvel-ed out, but I doubt that. Fantastic Four was just very different than other Marvel summer hits. The big question,then, is - Is this film right for your family?

WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW: The film is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence (some gruesome) and language (quite a bit and some non-verbal). There are many scenes that are too intense for young viewers AND, quite frankly, many others that are too disturbing. I suggest parents use serious caution when deciding whether or not to take their children. This film has been advertised on popular children's television networks for months and frankly, I don't get it.  Not only is Fantastic Four inappropriate for these reasons, the core content would prove over the heads of young viewers. 

The film is a scientific look at the birth of Marvel's Fantastic Four and the creation of super-villain Dr. Doom. Unfortunately, before the film gets to any of the Superhero action, we must sit through over an hour of science-technology talk. Don't get me wrong.  I found it all fascinating, but don't take your young kids expecting the heroic actions of the Avengers or Ant-Man. This is a much darker film. 

The story begins with a young Reed Richards trying to become the first person to build a teleportation machine. Reed spent his entire youth being discouraged, even ridiculed, by parents and teachers. Yet, the child genius along with friend, Ben, spend half their childhood working on the contraption.  They successfully unveil the working invention at a high school science fair where they receive the attention of Franklin Storm,director of the Baxter Institute, a very unique science facility.

Watch Official Trailer

It is here that Reed meets Susan, Johnny, and Victor. Together they perfect the teleportation device, known as the Quantum Gate Project, that is able to transport matter to another dimension, later named Planet Zero. This alternate universe has the potential to provide humans with resources that would help them change the course of history and save earth. But when things go wrong, the survivors find themselves transformed and with out-of-this-world superpowers. The U.S. military is quick to use these subjects for their own gain while continuing the research on the Quantum Gate Project and Planet Zero. No surprise, right? 

We are left with the questions of whether or not earthlings deserve their fate. Are we even worth saving?

"It's not enough to ruin your world. Now you want to ruin mine." ~ Dr. Doom, Fantastic Four

This was only the first chapter of these four superheros. Expect a sequel or two in the future. My 11-year old enjoyed the film but not nearly as much as other Marvel films we've seen. Afterwards he told me he was shocked by the amount of language and graphic images.  It was NOT what he expected either. 

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Friday, August 7, 2015

Paddington: Family Movie Review

Paddington Movie ReviewWhen Paddington hit U.S. theaters in January, my sons (ages 12 and 10) weren't keen on going to see it. Looking back, this was probably a good call considering the cost of movie tickets these days.  Don't get me wrong, this was an adorable film, but they were a tad bit too old for the target audience. 

Therefore, I was thrilled that they decided to join me when I sat down to watch it on DVD. (Although, I'll admit. My oldest didn't make it all the way through.)

"A home is more than a roof over your head." ~ Paddington 

Paddington is based on the beloved, literary character Paddington Bear, a favorite in a series of children's fictional stories by Michael Bond. The film centers around the arrival of Paddington from Peru to London.  Why London? Forty years earlier, a British explorer discovered this new species of bear with an obsession for marmalade and the uncanny ability to talk! When their habitat is destroyed, Paddington sets off to London to find the explorer and a new home. 

However, London proves to be a cold, unfriendly place. He is lucky to meet the Brown family who is smitten with this lovable bear and agrees to take him in on a temporary basis. All except Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) that is, a very stern, pragmatic risk manager who wants to ship him off to social services.  While Paddington gets adjusted to life in the big city, he finds himself in all sorts of mischief, which gives the audience lots of laughs. But the main theme of the film is whether or not Paddington can bring a family together and teach Mr. Brown to open his heart once more? 

"This family needs that bear every bit as much as he needs you." ~ Paddington 

The film adaptation, naturally, uses some artistic license to create a full-length film.  The biggest of which was the addition of our antagonist, Millicent Clyde played by Nicole Kidman.  The daughter of the explorer, Millicent is a museum taxidermist who likes collecting endangered animals. Her long-term goal has been to acquire one of the bears of Peru her father discovered, yet no one believed were real, hence proving their existence. The Brown family must come to his aid before he is stuffed and added to her collection.  

Watch Official Trailer

Paddington is a sweet film suitable for the entire family, even the youngest members.  It is rated PG for mild action and rude humor.  Both my sons said it was good (yep, even the one who didn't stay for the end, go figure) but the film is definitely geared toward younger children.  

Read more of my Family Movie Reviews

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Me Before You (Book Review)

".....things might change, grow, or fail, but that life did go on. That we were all part of some great cycle, some pattern that it was only God's purpose to understand." 
~ Me Before You

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes was another book I stumbled upon while perusing my library's e-book selection.  And, boy, am I glad I did. This novel will definitely be on my list of favorite books read in 2015.

Louisa Clark finds herself unemployed after the cafe she works at closes. Desperate for a job, she takes a chance on an unusual position working as a caregiver for a quadriplegic, Will Traynor.  She discovers that Will suffered his injuries in an accident only two years earlier, but prior to it lived a very active lifestyle filled with a high-powered job, luxurious travel and physical adventures.  Now, confined to a wheelchair, Will has lost all desire to live. Louisa, determined to make Will see life is worth living, sets out on a mission to help Will enjoy himself again. They find much more than either of them anticipated. Yet, sometimes love isn't enough.

Through Will and Louisa, Moyes reminds readers to live in the moment. They both must learn to let go of a past that prohibits them from living in the present.Throughout the story, you will be asking yourself, just who is saving who? Sometimes what seems like a selfish act becomes the most unselfish act of love imaginable.

"You only get one life.  It's actually your duty to live it as fully as possible." 
~ Me Before You

I normally take a ton of notes when I'm reading a book for review. However, with Me Before You I didn't. I just felt this story more than I have any other novel in a very long time.  This beautiful and unusual love story takes readers deep inside the unique relationship between these characters.  Louisa and Will are so alive, so real. Moyes' writing style is carefree and flowing, yet sensual and extremely intimate at the same time. 

Me Before You is not your typical love story. Rather, it is a love story of the mind, friendship, and deep connection.  It is a close look at how one human being can inspire another to be the best he can be. It will leave you on an emotional overload craving for more. I personally didn't want this one to end and had to pace myself so I wouldn't finish it too quickly. The sequel is due out in September of this year and the film adaptation is due out in June of 2016! 

Read more of my Book Reviews.

Monday, August 3, 2015

For Cecil, For Them All

Nxai Pan, Botswana
Photo by Emelie Johansson 

I had the pleasure of knowing a black-maned African lion twenty plus years ago. I cared for him, along with many other animals, at a conservation center for exotics that were confiscated from those who had them illegally. He was a typical adolescent - grumpy, stubborn, and spiteful....but, then again, who could blame him? Despite being very well cared for and loved, his situation wasn't ideal. It wasn't the African plains.  However, despite his often less than pleasant personality traits, he was......pure perfection. Majestic and regal even at his young age.  Several years later, I saw a picture of him in full black-mane glory. What a spectacular vision. 

The lion truly is a universal sign of all our breathtaking wildlife. So, yes, when I saw images of Cecil's skinned and beheaded body at the hands of trophy hunter Walter Palmer, when I heard how local guides illegally and immorally lured this trusting lion out of the preservation only to be killed, it was a personal defeat for me. After all, I view animals as belonging to Mother Earth - not us. Although, aren't we fortunate enough to get to witness their magnificence? Trophy hunters are clueless or heartless to the effect their actions have on an entire pride, or herd, or.....species. Unfortunately, too many humans believe we have dominion over them and commit heinous acts against them.

Nxai Pan, Botswana 
Photo by Emelie Johansson 

For the sake of this post I am only going to discuss trophy hunting - the ultimate waste of life imaginable. And for what?  Money. Greed. Ego!  Many African nations continue to allow legal hunts of their indigenous animals, including Zimbabwe. And, Cecil is far from the only lion, the only animal, to be illegally hunted and poached. Tourism income alone just doesn't pay the bills, I suppose. I am not going to get into a political discussion of what can be done to change these practices, but there are ways to end this financial dependency. But, perhaps, not enough hearts currently care.

To those who criticized us for caring too much about the death of ONE lion, I will remind you that the majority of us react this way when any psychopath proudly poses with his or her kill on social media.  Cecil happened to have a name and was a known figure in his homeland, therefore, the news of his murder quickly gained international attention. But what about all the other innocent animals taken for sport? Many of them are victims of canned hunting - bred, caged and drugged only to be killed by some spineless, ignorant coward who needs an animal's head on his wall to prove he is....what exactly?

Sudan, the last male white rhino, is under constant guard in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. (above)

This is about so much more than Cecil. This is about the fact that scientists estimate there are only 20,000 - 30,000 lions left on the planet, a 40% drop over the last twenty years. There are only four - FOUR!!! - white rhinos left on the planet (wild or captive). Just typing that sentence makes me cry. Imagine such creatures going extinct in our lifetimes and it is OUR FAULT! As a young girl I remember learning that elephants could become extinct in MY lifetime, and, unfortunately, we are on course for such a travesty. It's just wrong. It's gut-wrenching.
Etosha, Namibia 
(Photo by Emelie Johansson )

Yet there are entire countries allowing the destruction of these natural wonders and not enough governments that care. There are airlines that agree to transport the bodies of dead trophies and countries that allow them through customs. There are poachers who disregard laws and track animals using the GPS function on tourists' cell phones, among other means. And, of course, there are the people who create a market for such things as ivory. 

People often ask me why I am so passionate about animals, especially when there are "human" causes that need my attention. I can only say it is due to some deep-rooted connection to all animals within my heart.  My soul sees into their souls. They belong to our planet and it is our job to protect them. We are their guardians, not their superiors. When an animal is killed a piece of me dies with it.  If the human race wants to destroy itself, so be it. But I will not stand idly by and watch them take down the rest of the planet. 

Makgadikgadi, Botswana 
(Photo by Emelie Johansson) 

I hope Cecil's death becomes a cry to stop ALL trophy hunting. Hunters and poachers do not have a right to take what belongs to the earth. YOU can make a difference. Cecil's death doesn't have to be in vain. Donate your time and money to such organizations as Continue to make people aware of such acts and the plight of animals via social media. Teach children to respect all life. Put pressure on government organizations for stricter laws and punishments. Do something!

Together we can make a difference.

Sincere thanks to photographer and dear friend, Emelie Johansson, for allowing me to use her breathtaking photos where noted. You may see more of Johansson's photography on Instagram @emelie.linnea and at

Related Articles: 

Confessions of an Eco-Terrorist

Leaving Time: A Novel About the Plight of Elephants

Larger Than Life: A Novella Regarding the Effects of Elephant Poaching

Teach Your Children to Respect Animals....or I will!