Archive for category Works of Others

Wednesday Reflections #21 – Something About You by Julie James

201003-something-about-you1Title     Something About You

Series     FBI/US Attorney #01

Author     Julie James

Genre     Contemporary Romance | Romantic Suspense

Publisher      Penguin/Berkley

Publication Date      March 2nd 2010

Format      eBook

Setting     Chicago, Illinois, USA

ISBN     1101185805

Synopsis: When Assistant U.S. Attorney Cameron Lynde checks into an upscale hotel for the weekend as the newly tiled floors in her house dries, she expects a peaceful night’s sleep. Instead, she finds herself kept awake by very noisy copulation by the guests next door. But calling in security on the lovers lands Cameron as a key witness for a murder case – a case that involves a dead escort, a philandering Senate, and Cameron’s nemesis FBI Agent Jack Pallas. Three years ago, Cameron and Jack had a falling out when Cameron was made to axe a case for which Jack had worked undercover and been tortured. Not knowing that the decision to shut down the case was Cameron’s boss’s idea, Jack had slandered Cameron on national TV. With no love lost between them, Cameron is reluctant to work with Jack but her sense of duty has her cooperating. She is put under police surveillance when they discover the Senate did not commit the murder and the real murderer is a faceless man at large. Though most of the surveillance work is handled by the CPD, Cameron and Jack are thrown together more often than they desire since he is the lead investigator. Tension mounts as they continue to bait each other at every encounter but their raw sexual attraction is also undeniable. And then the murderer appears masked in her house one night and Jack enlists himself to act as her live-in bodyguard.

Experience: I’ll admit, the humor in opening scene of this novel was very forced. The loud headboard banging from the next guest room occupied half of it and I thought a bit unnecessary to prolong. But luckily, the book then took a very positive turn and I LOVED IT! In fact, I loved it enough to breeze through the rest of the series and found that James sustains her ability to hold me as a reader.

It was a feel-good romance, which is what got me into writing romances in the first place. Both the heroine and the hero were solid individuals that I could like and become friends with if they were real people. There were some great tête-e-tête between Cameron and Jack that made me laugh outloud (or at least sport a goofy smile in public). And I really admire how James generally makes her female characters such women of the world, professionally successful and settled, and the men so driven. That the men are so mucho doesn’t hurt either but I appreciated that their moral radar is so intact even more.

Yet, they are not without imperfections. I admired how Cameron travelled with a whole case of cosmetics to make herself presentable or that she put on makeup after a shower even if she was staying in. This made her more real, more accessible to the contemporary women of our generation. James broke the mold of gorgeous romance heroine who look shiny and brand new even when they wake up in the back alley of a seedy bar after passing out from participating in a night of drunken carousel – not that traditional romance heroines would participate in such activities. The supporting characters are equally charming, with men owning up to watching chick flicks and having heart-to-hearts even while the hero tries to remain alpha though with twitchy smiles. Stereotypes, be damned.

Julie James also has gone intersectional with her romance. In fact, all of the books in the series had people of color, different faiths, sexual orientations, etc. who were NOT put in negative roles. And since the books were written in the pre-Trump campaign era, I would have to say James demonstrates a lot of foresight by portraying the true face of America today. It wasn’t that she was blaring her endorsement of tolerance but had the presence of mind to not white wash all her characters. In Something About You, Cameron’s best friend is a homosexual man who is a sports writer and Jack’s partner is a heterosexual African American man top cadet from Harvard who dresses like a fashionista and is unabashedly in touch with his feminine side. Again, out with the stereotypes.

The plot was totally plausible and there wasn’t too much hullaballoo over the setting to draw attention away from the matter at hand – the blooming romance between two professional adversaries. But the one thing that I thought could have turned out better is the element of surprise. For a romantic suspense, there wasn’t much suspense. In fact, reader is introduced to the murdered from act one, name, role, and POV. We are informed why he committed the crime, we are exposed to his moral sense, and we are hinted on what his next move will be. The only thing left to do was read how it all pans out. In essence, the suspense belonged to the characters within the story and not for the readers to work through. But I actually understood why James did not sweat over arranging the scenes in the novel in a way that bolstered the mystery. Despite being a murder mystery, the main motivator for the story is romance. And when all things are said and done, for a reader of romance, that is okay too.

Recommendation: I recommend reading the entire series, even though I am not reviewing all of it. If you love contemporary romance that stays true to the modern society, this book is a great read.

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Wednesday Reflections #20 – Deep Dish by Mary Kay Andrews

Via: Daily Prompt – Polish

1197456Title     Deep Dish

Author     Mary Kay Andrews

Genre     Contemporary Romance, Chick-Lit, Southern American

Publisher      HarperCollins

Publication Date      February 26, 2008

Format      eBook

Setting     Atlanta, Georgia, USA

ISBN     0061579912

Synopsis: Everything in Regina Foxton’s life is not peachy but she can make do. Sure the kitchen from which she tapes her television cooking program is held together by scotch tape and she wished she had better wardrobe to host in and she wished her new car would run without failures, but at least she finally has her own cooking show and a car and a house and a sweet boyfriend who also happens to be her producer. But then she finds out that she is out of a job because her sponsor has canceled the show because her boyfriend did the sponsor’s child bride. Now she faces a prospect of moving back to her hometown in with her parents and has to tag along her baby sister who is already a handful with her cutting college classes to play on Xbox and party-hardy. Regina Foxton is what one would call has paddled “out of her depth”. But then The Cooking Channel is scouting her show and she really has a shot at landing the major leagues, except there is another cooking show that has rolled into town to vie for the position. Tate Moody is ruggedly gorgeous and his cooking style (kill and cook your dinner) is the polar opposite of Regina’s (Southern meals with a healthy twist) and so are their attitudes toward life. Tate is as popular in the south as Regina and often their viewers’ demographics overlap but the two become enemies on sight. She thinks he’s a brute and he thinks she’s a princess. Sparks fly and the producers at The Cooking Channel ride on the heat wave to host a reality cook-off challenge for the position for their new network chef. What no one, including Regina and Tate, is prepared for though is that some of those sparks are caused by mutual attractions.

Experience: Deep Dish is something that I would refer to as a pretty good read. It’s not what I’d call award-winning literature but far as romance novel goes, it hits the spot and you can polish off and devour (pardon the food-pun) the whole thing in one sitting. Having said that, there are a couple of noteworthy positive things about the way Mary Kay Andrews went about writing the novel, starting with the setting and world-building.

There are some great contemporary romances out there with chefs as the main characters but rarely do they remain as true to the premise of the character’s career as Deep Dish did. In most cases, novels about chefs draw on the sexiness of heating it up in the kitchen with a passive-aggressive chemistry between the hero-heroine and leave it at that. Andrews did not take the shortcut. Instead, she thoroughly researched cooking show productions and sifted through her minefield of knowledge in Southern cooking (she has her own cookbook published) before sitting down to write the novel, allowing the reader to enjoy a very hands-on experience of the stresses of producing a TV program. We even get to pick up on a few recipes of wholesome Southern meals along the way. I loved the quirky addition at the end of the novel where a few choice Southern recipes were shared, apparently created by Regina and Tate themselves.

The world-building was also rather vivid and something I enjoyed a lot. It may be due to my personal preference for geography and maps but halfway through, the story takes you to this island in Georgia called Eutaw Island. Now I looked for it and there is a geological formation in Georgia of this name and a city as well though no island fit for human habitation. But Andrews beautifully illustrated this exotic location with beautiful wild and marine life and delicious local palate. I totally believed it might be a real place until Google told me she made it all up. As a writer, I can always appreciate such in-depth dive into the author’s imagination.

With regards to character development, obviously, it being a chick-lit, Regina’s character received more attention than Tate’s. I thought their passions and insecurities nicely complemented each other. She has a one-track mind about getting her canceled show onto The Cooking Channel; her adversary-and-romantic-interest is a gorgeous man-of-the-wilds who likes to catch what he cooks and does not have the same sophisticated taste as she. You can’t do much wrong with that; in fact, it’s great recipe for romance (sorry, I can’t seem to help myself here).

The rest of the characters equally complement the two MCs and plot. Her ex-boyfriend is a self-serving jerk with enough good looks to get away with it in most circles is using her to get the show running again; her sister is a college student with badass fashion sense who studies less and parties more; her close friend and makeup artist is a bald gay black man; the production people from The Cooking Channel have all the single ruthless attitude as her boyfriend but are at different stages of life; except the assistant producer who is a shoe-in for the secondary romantic plot opposite the sister is a man with a conscious that balances his boss’s lack of one. It was actually all very smoothly written in and I could appreciate the relatability. Although I would have to say none of the major or minor characters stepped too far out of their stereotype – except maybe the hero but this was not fully explored or explained.

Which brings me to the part of the novel that I could not completely see eye-to-eye on. I found it interesting that he was a single red-blooded heterosexual man with natural sex appeal had he would turn down a voluntary booty call from a hot female celebrity and I wanted an explanation. Especially when he showed the same prudence when another hot minor league celebrity (read heroine) offered the same. If Tate was turning down women up and down the southern states despite his hot celebrity status, there must have been a reason. Being one of the MCs, he deserved a little more backstory. And the thing is there was plenty of opportunities to build up the reader’s understanding of the character since Andrew used an omniscient POV in the novel. There are quite a number of times when Tate’s POV was tapped into and that could have been more productively utilized.

But the use of POV, in general, was another thing that I had difficulty aligning with an author of Andrew’s caliber. There were a number of scenes where the POV kept jumping from major to minor to major characters and I did not understand why that was necessary. If an alternate POV was absolutely necessary for a scene, it could have been broken down and presented in separate sections or reflected by the character in question on hindsight. The use of frequent POV-switching in these scenes, though were not haphazard enough to cause distractions or confuse the reader, created a sort of comic book effect – you know, where you have the dialogues in the speech bubbles followed by the fuzzy thought bubbles and then the off-panel comments about the actions? Like the narrator took the most advantage of his/her freedom to source the characters’ thoughts. I guess it was a technique Andrews used to speed up the plot and thankfully it did not injure the reading experience too much for me other than make me conscious of the flaw as a writer.

Recommendation: It was an enjoyable read. There were a few plot elements that reminded me of Welcome to Temptation (an absolute favorite re-read of mine) by Jennifer Crusie, such as the relationship between the sisters and the visit to a new location and video production crew, etc. so obviously I felt right at home with it. And it warms the heart as a straight cut contemporary romance novel. For another, it had great food culture and I have mentioned in a previous blog Books and Cravings They Inspire how much I love it when writers explore characters’ dietary dynamics. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading Andrew’s Homemade Sin.

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WRITING CHRONICLE #20: Of narrators and POVs

Via: Daily Prompt – Imaginary

hands-woman-apple-desk

I thought I would go back to the basics this week with a brief on the various types of narrators and POVs fiction writers employ. I have gotten my reading mojo back thanks to The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide by Debby Holt (you can read my review here) and have been indulging heavily in my TBRs since. Needless to say, I have written very little in the meantime but it’s okay for once since I just published a book, yay. But the point is, I was reading a novel over the weekend and it made me reflect on how even established and traditionally-published authors sometimes get their POVs all mixed up. I pondered maybe it’s because once we become “mainstream”, we stop revising the guidebooks on creative writing, maybe we become complacent.

For me, keeping my POV on the straight and narrow is fundamental. Your story is the product of your imagination but that does not mean it does not deserve your full attention in selecting the right devices and techniques to make the storytelling impactful. And jumping POV-to-POV, and selecting different narrative styles in one book is a rookie mistake that should have been corrected during the editing process. So I hit the academic texts and Googled and brushed up on the subject because part of choosing the right narrative style and POV for your story is knowing all the options out there. I thought I’d share my notes with fellow writers here just in case there were others also needing to pace themselves.

Narrator – According to my ‘A’ Level textbook Literature, Criticism, and Style by Steven Croft and Helen Cross (Oxford), the narrative is “a piece of writing that tells a story”. So by means, the narrator is the person, animal, or object that is telling the story. This storyteller is inserted into the text most often as an imaginary entity separate from the author whether or not he/she is a character living within the story. In essence, it is the voice that describes what is happening.

Point of View (POV) – The POV is the perspective from which the narrator tells the story. Whether the narration is conducted from a singular POV or multiple, I have always felt that the POV breaks down and identifies the various components of the storyteller’s voice, i.e. the personality, style, tone of the narrator. It demonstrates to us the level of involvement with which the narrator relates the tale, how far into the story the narrator is willing to insert themselves.

While the narration and the POV are closely related and often overlap, the distinction is that the former is the device with which the plot is moved forward, the characters are revealed, the setting is built, etc., while the latter allows the reader to experience the story from the angle(s) that makes these various illustrated components relevant and relatable.

The most common forms of narrators are the first person, second person, third person limited, and third person omniscient. However, academicians have further broken down the types of narrators to include the [detached] observer or third person objective, commentator, and unreliable narrator. The following is a description of each of these major types of narrators with an example of popular works where they were successfully employed:  Read the rest of this entry »

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Wednesday Reflection #19 – The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide by Debby Holt

51yq82nv1sl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Title     The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide

Author     Debby Holt

Genre     Women’s Fiction, Chick-Lit

Publisher      Pocket Books

Publication Date      February 1, 2006

Format      Paperback

Setting     England

ISBN     1416502467

Synopsis: With her twin sons’ yearlong pre-college trip to India coming up, Sarah Stagg is finally ready to put up her feet and spend a little quality time with her actor-husband Andrew, star of their local theater. But Andrew has other ideas. He has been having an affair with his new co-star and soon moves out. Now, with the kids gone and the house empty, Sarah is experiencing an existential crisis. She spends her days waiting for her husband to realize his mistake and come home or wondering how she will spend the rest of her life alone if he doesn’t. Her best friend Miriam suggests she spends her time more productively by doing everything to prove she’s enjoying the independence – especially if Andrew is to find her desirable again – and pushes Sarah to join their town’s upcoming play, placing her at the scene of her husband’s crime. Suddenly Sarah finds herself cast as the female lead and the male lead Martin Chamberlain – an already divorcé with a cheating former spouse – becomes her closest confidante and comrade, and real-life savior too. Sarah’s life turns into a whirlwind of misadventures, between starring in the theater, adopting a psycho-dog bent on killing everything in the neighborhood, helping her neighbors spy on their husbands, and being whisked away to Majorca by her best friend where she enjoys a little fling with her college crush with a potential to relocate. The only problem is Sarah’s still too busy wavering between trying to reclaim her husband and finding solutions at an off-shore island to realize true love may be found in the most unexpected of person living closer to home than she realized.

Experience: It’s been a while but I really enjoyed reading this novel. Ever since I took up full-time writing, it has been really difficult for me appreciate works for the sheer pleasure of the entertainment but The Ex-Wife’s Survival Guide brought me home. It reminded me why I love reading and writing stories so much – for the sheer joy of living many lives. I could totally put myself in Sarah Stagg’s shoes and it was a pretty nice pair to boogie in.

It wasn’t so much that the characters were deeply explored. In fact, everything that took place was only observed from Sarah’s POV, and she is the type of character for whom the other shoe drops only in the distant future. But this aspect of her personality was so consistently pursued that I have to raise my hat to Holt for her patient custody of not revealing the plot to Sarah too soon. Rather, Sarah’s oblivious observations of her surrounding while keen perception into the characters of those with whom she is detached but taking close one’s for granted, all the while wincing and tiptoeing for things to only get worse, was hilariously adorable.

Moreover, Holt isn’t afraid to introduce a host of funny characters. As writers, we are always told to keep the character count limited to those absolutely necessary. Well, since Sarah is a neighborhood sort of gal, her many wacky neighbors are necessary. It is perhaps one of the reasons why no one’s but Sarah’s character is explored in depth. When you have the main character accidentally molesting priests, her maniac dog chewing up the town gossip’s guinea pig, your closest local pal trying to project her need to cheat onto her husband, and your best friend planning romantic getaways without her husband, it is difficult to dedicate much of the text to anyone but the main character. But on the whole, it worked out fine because they each helped to build up or reinforce Sarah’s own flaws and fitness.

However, there was one character I wish who deserved a little more than Sarah’s self-absorption. Martin was such a swell guy, I couldn’t but feel sorry for him. He was dependable and sweet and all things that would make most girls take him for granted, which is exactly what Sarah does throughout the book. But there were a few moments when his dependability and sweetness came out very masculine and I wish there was more of that. As far as the potential hero goes, I wish he stepped out of the shadows a little more and asserted himself. He was fully capable of it. For the sake of the plot, however, he was much sacrificed.

For the most part, the book shows that Sarah is a character to whom things happen rather than one who makes things happen. It wasn’t only being cheated on, but also all the mishaps that followed that were just a great way of preserving that Sarah Stagg had no control over her life. There was such a Bridget Jones appeal to her that made the reading fluent. Of course, as the story progresses, we see her attempting to take a bit more charge and stand up to – or at least try to stand up to – what is right, but she is essentially a pushover. Thankfully, not forever, which was hinted upon somewhere in the middle to keep the reader’s hope alive.

Recommendation: An excellent chick-lit that deserves to be read if you enjoy rom-com and women reclaiming girl power.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #17: English Vinglish starring Sridevi

Via: Daily Prompt – Pursue

english_vinglish_ver2Title     English Vinglish

Starring     Sridevi, Adil Hussein, and Mehdi Nebbou

Director     Gauri Shinde

Writer(s)    Gauri Shinde

Genre     Comedy Drama Family

Release Date     October 05, 2012

Filming Location     NY, NY, USA; Pune, Maharashtra, India

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     7.9

Synopsis: Shashi (Sridevi) is a dedicated wife, loving mother, dutiful daughter-in-law, and an efficient homemaker. She is also a small time entrepreneur, filling orders for celebration sweets from her home kitchen, and her laddoos are to die for. But her talents and individuality are overshadowed by the responsibilities she fulfills for her family; her gracious and unassuming personality has only enabled them to take her for granted. She is often ridiculed by her preteen daughter Sapna (Navika Kotia) and corporate husband Satish (Adil Hussein) for her inability to converse in English and very traditional manners, with only her mother-in-law (Subha Deshpande) to sympathize and younger son Sagaar (Shivansh Kotia) as a source of solace. And while she accepts the indignities with a pinch of salt, she is observant and is fully aware of what is lacking in her life. She believes if she learns English, she will belong better. When her elder sister Manu (Sujatha Kumar) invites her to the USA for her niece’s wedding, Shashi finds herself navigating a new world and discovering independence despite her language barriers. She finds a friend in Manu’s younger college-bound daughter Radha (Priya Anand) who encourages her to explore her potentials and give in to her desires. A chance observation at a bus stop takes her to a four-week English course, where Shashi finds a host of new friends and one potential romantic diversion Laurent (Mehdi Nebbou) whose admiration of her is apparent to all.

Experience (some spoilers to tempt you): This is one of those movies that capture the everyday life and the characteristics of the human soul with acute awareness. Nothing world shattering transpires other than the transformation of a woman through her ability to recognize the void in her life and mustering the courage to fill it. With superb acting by the legendary Sridevi in her returning role and excellent effort by the rest of the cast, the movie captures the complexity of Shashi’s dilemmas with the simplicity of her personality.

Gauri Shinde, film’s director and screenwriter, does not waste time in exposing the conflict in this movie. We straightaway see the efficiency with which Shashi manages her household as well as her business and how her achievements are overlooked. We see that Shashi is a keen observer of her surroundings, she is conscious of the injustice in her life, and that a lack of confidence stops her from righting the wrongs committed against her. The abuse is cruel though not always intentional, but it is abuse all the same because it is slowly crippling her very existence.

Alternatively, we see her happiest when she is out delivering sweets to her clients, where her talent is celebrated. We see her attempting to share her joy with her husband but he is too busy to appreciate the value of her accomplishments. Then we see her walk off the resulting disappointment by dancing like Michael Jackson with her young son, who is still too young to be busy for his mom. Shashi’s fears and desires are exposed without any delay, making the story an effortless journey.

Intelligently titled English Vinglish, Shinde uses the traditional take of Hindi speakers to add rhyming suffixes any word to portray English as an active agent in class stratification. Her daughter openly treats her with contempt for her lack of English proficiency unlike her friends’ mothers even though her friends love Shashi’s cooking. We see her worry that her husband may one day tire of her and run off with a more modern woman. We watch her practice correct pronunciations in isolation. We know she needs an English course. It piques the audience sympathy for every step of the way.

Language barrier is a tangible tool in Shinde’s exploration of lifestyle and status quo in both India and the USA. At the same time, we also get to see that if two persons truly desired to communicate with one another, they may understand each other’s needs without even speaking the same language. There are some notable exchanges and moments in the movie that demonstrate its value:

SHASHI TO SHATISH: “Important discussions only happen in English?”

AMERICAN VISA OFFICER TO SHASHI: “How will you manage in our country if you don’t know English?”

INDIAN VISA ASSISTANT WITH TIMELY PRESENCE: “Same way you manage in our country without knowing Hindi.”

Or watching the first time Shashi successfully navigates the subways and streets of NYC and Manhattan to locate the NY Language Center. Or the way she can speak in Hindi to Laurent while he speaks in French to her but they are able to perfectly communicate their individual needs and troubles.

Yet, while language barrier is used as the central tool to explore Shashi’s struggles, the story exposes a more prevalent predicament faced by housewives – that of allowing one’s herself to become lost in the roles. This is not only a lifestyle perpetuated by housewives in India but the world over. We see an underappreciated and often disrespected supermom and cheer for her as she reclaims her individuality. We are pointed out how loved ones can hold her back from reaching her full potential when they fail to appreciate her contributions and talents. How the family for which she sacrifices everything can fail to make her feel like she belongs.

LAURENT: “But your food…” (gestures A-Ok)

SHASHI: “No, no. Your cooking… hotel… expert. I’m… in-house cooking… Very small.”

LAURENT: “Not small, not small. Food is… food is art.”

SHASHI (REFLECTING ON HER HOME LIFE): “Man cooking – art. Woman cooking – duty.”

LAURENT: “Food is love. You cooking with love. Good food. You make people happy. You artist. Not small.”

SHASHI SMILES TO HERSELF WITH SELF-APPRECIATION.

SHASHI TO RADHA: “I don’t need love, I need just a little bit of respect.”

SHASHI’S WEDDING TOAST: “This marriage is a beautiful thing. It is the most special friendship. Friendship of two people who are equal. Meera, sometimes you will feel less. Kevin, sometimes you will also feel less than Meera. Try to help each other feel equal…”

The movie aims to encourage homemakers to take me time for herself and not become a martyr to her family’s needs and demands.

And all through this, Shashi is also presented with temptation in the form of a handsome Frenchman who is a professional chef (sharing her talent) and belongs to her language class (facing her struggle) who can’t keep his eyes off her because he finds beauty in all her actions. We wonder if she will give in, we would even understand if she does. Will she pursue a new life as well as she has pursued a new skill? Her family is her weakness in more ways than one and we wonder if she will seek escape. Nebbou’s personification of kindness is just what Sridevi’s demonstrations of self-awakenings deserve. It increases the tension in a perversely hopeful way.

Recommendation: Well, language barrier to Hindi might put off some audience but this movie can be watched for that very reason – to appreciate cultural differences (I have seen this movie in my hotel room in Bangkok once in Thai). Moreover, stories this valuable if missed is a great miss. I can tell you that it is not the first I have watched it nor will it be the last.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #16: Mr. Church starring Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone

Via: Daily Prompt – Roots

mr-church-posterTitle     Mr. Church

Starring     Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, and Natascha McElhone

Director     Bruce Beresford

Writer(s)    Susan McMartin

Genre     Comedy Drama

Release Date     September 16, 2016

Filming Location     Los Angeles, California, USA

Parental Guidance     PG-13 for thematic elements

IMDB Rating     7.7

Synopsis: In 1971, 10-year-old Charlie Brooks (Natalie Coughlin) wakes up one morning to find “a black man cooking in their kitchen”. Mr. Henry Joseph Church (Eddie Murphy) is the cook Richard, her mother Marie’s (Natascha McElhone) ex-lover, hired to take care of Marie for the next six months that she has to live while cancer consumes her. Charlie, who is unaware of her mother’s condition, is immediately put on edge by the absent Richard’s overstepping their privacy to place this mysterious man in their home though his meals are “like a party all the time” and her friends all cotton onto the advantages of having a cook quickly. Mr. Church raises a lot of conflicting emotions in Charlie with his jazz and his books (that he offers to lend books to Charlie from like a library) and, especially, his cooking. Over time, Charlie gives in. Six months turn into six years and Marie continues to live while Mr. Church continues to take care of them. An older Charlie (Britt Robertson) is now an avid reader, a student who has been accepted to Boston University but might not be able to go due to financial constraints, and she is weary of expecting her bed-ridden mother to pass on any minute. She avoids her mother even as she checks her breathing to ensure she lives and finds solace in the presence of Mr. Church, to whom she has latched onto as the surviving parent. But Mr. Church remains a mystery as much as ever and protects his off-duty hour whereabouts determinedly. Friendship has bonded the three into a family and Mr. Church is ever-present to soften the blows while Charlie ventures onto adulthood and navigates its many curveballs.

Experience (a few spoilers): I have always loved Eddie Murphy, ever since I watched a re-telecast of Coming to America on TV when I was about ten/eleven. So I put on Mr. Church fully expecting him to live up to his acting prowess and he did not disappoint. Generally a comic actor, Murphy put on his drama mask with the grace and appeal that made me want to run a Murphy Marathon featuring all his classics.

From the get-go, he had me hooked. The quiet efficiency with which he chopped and stirred and sauteed in the kitchen to his gracious compassion for the young Charlie and her sick mother. The character is beautifully written and presented, not needing to be thanked but doing his best to fit into the lives of this pair without trying to do any more than his job. But behind his humility lurks humor, which peeks out whenever he presents a dish to Charlie and watches her battle with herself to continue rejecting him while devouring his food.

Here, I must say something about the child actor. I truly enjoyed Coughlin’s performance as well. Short as her part was, she brought that sweetness to the character that made me feel more sympathetic towards young Charlie than annoyed, which could easily have happened given the level of her hostility. Though often rude with the openly belligerent rejection of Mr. Church, Charlie was apparently a kind soul in her heart, if wary. And even though the movie did not explore the angle that the advent of Mr. Church denoted her mother’s inability to keep up with chores, hence harking her imminent demise, I believe Charlie’s distrust may have stemmed from such intuition. In any case, every time Coughlin’s big blues rounded at the sumptuous food laid before her, I felt like giving her the auntie-cuddle.

The older Charlie did not always inspire as much hold though I could also like her fairly enough. It must be the overall sense of goodness that emanated from Charlie’s character, from childhood to adulthood. I could feel sympathy for her teen self as she transferred her sense of security to Mr. Church while trying to deal with her mother’s (a woman she continued to believe the most beautiful woman on earth) impending death. Her withdrawal is real and her acceptance of life’s pitfalls also feels real. Robertson does a good job performing the role of the watchful-yet-retiring teenager and later the transgressing-and-learning adult. She is the character that has to grow and Mr. Church is the rock on which she founds herself.

McElhone did a great job in playing a woman trying to make the most of her last days with her daughter. The mother’s love is apparent and there is a particular scene in the bathtub that she performed superbly. The scene could easily have turned sappy but Marie’s struggle to make her daughter understand the importance of not giving up on life while waiting for death felt chokingly real. She depicted physical weakness while trying to muster emotional strength as she confesses her biggest regret is something beyond her control. I think that is the scene that dotted her t’s and crossed her i’s for McElhone’s take on Marie’s role.

The overriding themes of this movie, home, acceptance, and friendship, is so beautifully slipped into the consciousness that even when tragedies strike, it’s ok – reassurance is just around the corner. It is as though the Mr. Church’s personality permeates the plot. It is one of those stories where nothing much happens other than life, and we are reminded every phase of the film that in life, tragedy is part and parcel of happiness. It allows the audience to realize that it’s not so bad. I cried many times through the movie but there was a joy. I felt peace. And the lovely way the scenes were scripted and directed, it did not allow any of the actors to overstep their roles. The steadiness with which the story progressed, I could have watched it for hours more. Again, it was as though Murphy’s portrayal of Mr. Church toned the entire movie, even the frames where he wasn’t present. And Robertson’s character did its best to compliment, reminding us that home is where you can trust to put your roots down.

Recommendation: Oh, yes, you must! Whenever you feel a bit down on luck, this movie is sure to make you feel more grounded. Although I really missed Murphy’s toothy grins, it might be my favorite movie of his now.

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #15: Zootopia

Via: Daily Prompt – Chuckle

1yzlawykxzzhydogjcqovq0gvycTitle     Zootopia

Starring     Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman and Idris Elba

Director     Byron Howard, Rich Moore

Writer(s)    Byron Howard, Rich Moore, et al.

Genre     Animation Adventure Comedy

Release Date     March 4, 2016

Filming Location     USA

Parental Guidance     PG

IMDB Rating     8.1

Synopsis: Judy Hopp (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a bunny rabbit. She’s the daughter of a farmer expected to become a farmer but she’s also an anomaly. She has taken the motto of the city Zootopia to the heart and truly believes anyone can become anything, regardless of their species of origin. And she wants to become a police officer. Her sheer determination gets her through police academy with top marks and she is recognized especially by the Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) of Zootopia, with the Assistant Mayor Bellwether, an under-appreciated lamb, as her staunchest supporter. Unfortunately, Judy’s new boss Chief Bogo the ram is not as convinced of her capabilities of facing danger and sets her up as a meter maid. Undaunted, Judy takes the criticism, however uncalled for, in her stride and is determined to prove herself. Once on the streets, she meets a fox, generally distrusted, Nick Wilde, whom she unwittingly helps con an ice cream parlor to selling him a popsicle that he goes on to melt and sell in bite-sized ones to corporate hamsters. When she catches up with Wilde, he describes how he was always within the limits of the law and goes on to set her down about her dreams. One night of reflection later, Judy finds herself in a chase for a thief and, instead of receiving Bogo’s approbation, she is reprimanded for public endangerment. It is while in his office she meets Mrs. Otterton (Olivia Spencer) whose husband has gone missing and Judy volunteers for the task against Bogo’s orders on the condition of finding the missing otter within 36 hours. As Judy sets out on her adventure, roping in Nick through blackmail, she discovers that the missing otter is linked to a series of other predators that have gone missing. Along the way, she learns just how much prejudice exists even in the city where only 20% of the population are predators and how political agendas are achieved by manipulating public sentiments.

Experience: I really enjoyed this one. I have never been an advocate of mollycoddling children, believing that kids should receive small dosages of perspectives on the true evils in the world from an early age, so as to allow them to appreciate the value of integrity and inclusion as they grow older. This movie is just such an eye opener and in a very spirited and funny way so as not to completely disillusion the younger audience.

Even though the themes of the movie were very adult, they were presented in such a lighthearted manner that does credit to Disney’s trademark sentiments. Add to that Bateman’s natural comedic flair and the movie just sparked with spirit. Goodwin too performed her part in providing the voice for Judy with great aplomb, making certain scenes rife with poignancy while others as plucky as the character required.

The other characters too are not too complicated and make the experience heartwarming. To a great extent, each character pays a tribute to the stereotype of their kind, the hard-to-impress police chief, the donut-chomping info desk cop, the wily-as-a-fox fox who is essentially a good guy but jaded to the point of petty criminal, the scared-of-her-boss assistant mayor, the brave mayor who isn’t afraid to play in the mud for “the greater good”, etc. But each of these stereotypes also breaks character here and there to add dimensions. I felt this a clever way to show kids how individuals can be more than their traditionally expected roles and to also allow them to aspire to become their greater selves. All is not as it seems is a great tool for whodunit mysteries and was fully utilized in this movie – although my childhood conditioning to Nancy Drew mysteries helped me guess the villain’s identity before the movie was halfway to end. *cocky grin here*

I also felt that the movie was a very timely release for the great election last year since parents will watch the movie with their kids and a lot of people had very important decisions to make. Addressing themes of prejudice, political manipulations, finding the courage to admit one’s own wrong-doing, and pure deception went well with the contemporary mood of the world population in general. The end lessons very relevant to some audience’s learning process. And while adults learned, it could help children make more sense of the way the world is turned on itself too and perhaps find the courage to improve the conditions in their own time.

And since it’s a kid’s movie, I feel it is necessary to comment on age-appropriate content. Violence and bad words exist in real life so violence and bad words exist in the movie too. But it is kept toned down while also not made unrealistic. Words such as “stupid” and “jerk” are used but the harm of using such words are quickly followed so kids should pick up on lessons not to use it. An eye does go missing and chemical weapons are also used, but only to demonstrate the evildoing by the villains. Parents, watch the movie with your kids – a follow-up discussion might be necessary. The PG is there to alert you of your required participation.

Recommendation: Without a doubt, it should be watched, by young and old alike. With such contemporary themes, everyone should walk away with some positive reinforcement to important life lessons.

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Wednesday Reflections #14 – The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

Via: Daily Prompt – Pleased

20053031Title     The Witches of New York

Author     Ami McKay

Genre     Historical Fiction, Paranormal Fantasy

Publisher      Knopf Canada

Publication Date      October 25, 2016

Format      eBook

Setting     New York, 1880

ISBN     978-0-307-36678-8

Synopsis: In the year 1880, as suffragettes roamed the streets of New York demanding civil rights and Cleopatra’s Needle slowly made its way from the banks of Hudson River to Greywacke Knoll, witches and witch hunts were far from being a thing of the past. But just as the settlers of Salem misdirected their fear and abuse, the religious fanatics of the Gilded-Age failed to appreciate the value of suffragettes and witches alike, in differentiating them as well as realizing their commonalities. At a time like this, Beatrice Dunn, a country orphan living with her spinster aunt responds to an advertisement placed by two self-sufficient witches, Eleanor St. Clair and Adelaide Thom, to help around their shop of alternate solutions to womanly woes, St. Clair & Thom: Tea & Sympathy. Beatrice’s arrival in New York City coincides that of the Egyptian Obelisk and her first adventure in the city is to touch the monument, her innate magic only serving to draw from its magic. Sensing her as a kindred sister, she is hired by Eleanor immediately, though Eleanor had first objected to Adelaide’s ad. Adelaide is slower to be convinced and only accepts Beatrice when the younger woman demonstrates an ability to see and communicate with netherworld dwellers. Adelaide takes on Beatrice as a show-stopper for their enterprise while Eleanor sees the girl as a magical apprentice to be honed and cherished. As the more experienced witches go about passing on their wisdom and craft to the newly initiated, and Beatrice tries to navigate between the two people looking out for her “best interests”, a sinister predator lurks in the background. Reverend Francis Townsend is a preacher revered by his parish for his austere regulations, but when no one is looking, he takes it upon himself to punish and rid the world of “devil worshipers”. And he is on the warpath to save the lovely Beatrice who has been “bewitched” by the ladies of the tea shop.

Experience: The first thing I noticed while reading this book was McKay’s unique writing style. With descriptive short sentences, she very economically sets up and explores the setting of the novel, flitting from scene to concise scene. It gives the readers glimpses of the various active characters (minor as well as major) of the plot from the get-go. At first, I was not able to comprehend why so many different characters were being introduced at once (I lost my place in the novel numerous times) but, eventually, the bigger picture began to form. It helped me, as a writer, to see how completely unrelated characters may go through the world [i.e. of the novel] to coalesce in a series of events that provides deeper exposure into the main characters of the plot. Once I managed to settle down with the book, I could appreciate the nuances of the various heroines, their counterparts, and the villain better. But it took me a while to settle down.

I think my favorite character of the novel was Adelaide Thom, who is apparently the heroine of a previous book, “Moth” in The Virgin Cure. Adelaide is not a typical heroine of all goodness. She has been abused by life, having lost an eye and been left with the scars from an acid attack by a jealous mad woman, and this has left her heart riddled with cynicism. She is often self-serving and refuses Eleanor’s (who really is the mothering type of good sort) advice as well as her magical visions when it suits her immediate agenda. This brews the main conflict of the novel and inadvertently propagates the climax. But essentially, she has a good heart and can be kind to those in need of kindness. What makes her interesting is her wholly unapologetic claim to procure that which she believes she wants and deserves, perfectly in line with the background activity of the suffragettes. The happy aspect is that while she runs from romance, she manages to find the perfect hero for herself in this book, a man with an equal number of imperfections but an open-minded and perhaps more compassionate spirit.

However, the novel is not without flaws. I felt that although the various glimpses into minor characters added to the main character developments, effectively the mystery of the novel was lost a little too early in the novel. While the arrangement of the chapters was such that it jumped from character to character so that each aspect of the story developed parallel to the others to accommodate the passage of time, but it left me a bit frustrated to have to keep breaking off just when things start to get interesting. Perhaps it also intended to keep the pages turning but it, in fact, made me slower to adhere to the novel with any form of gusto. I could easily put aside the novel and pick it up later (in fact, at one point I completely left to read another book), and by the time the story returned to one character development, the interest was lost. The whole business made it a very slow read.

Recommendation: This is a tough one. Although I found the story pleasant enough, if the purpose of reading is to be enthralled by a page-turning plot, I say leave off. Our TBR lists are long enough and those seeking entertainment are better off without this book. However, if you are a writer and wish to explore new writing styles and voices to find your place in the authorship, this might provide an interesting experience.

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #13: The Apartment starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine

Via: Daily Prompt – Champion

the-apartment-movie-poster-1960-1010144022Title     The Apartment

Starring     Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray

Director     Billy Wilder

Writer(s)     Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Genre     Romance Comedy Drama

Release Date     September 16, 1960

Filming Location     USA

Parental Guidance     PG-13

IMDB Rating     8.3

Synopsis: C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) works as a Premium Accountant at a top insurance company in New York City trying to work his way up the ladder. He is also a man who can’t say no to his superiors who all take advantage of his Buddy-Boy goodwill to use his apartment with the myriad of women they are having affairs with. In exchange, they put in a good word with the Big Boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) in the staff review. Sheldrake, in turn, also takes Baxter for a ride in exchange of a promotion scheduled in the coming month. Unfortunately, this time the other woman is the Elevator Girl Miss Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), on whom Baxter has had a crush on for ages. Miss Kubelik is truly in love with Sheldrake and is duped into believing that he will soon be out of his bad marriage to marry her. When things come to blow, Baxter finds Miss Kubelik in his apartment after she consumes too many sleeping pills, a situation he must rectify to avoid jail as well as heartbreak.

Experience: It’s one of those romantic comedies that hits you where it counts. I came to know about it when MacLaine’s acting in the movie received an honorary mention at this year’s Oscars by Charlize Theron as her inspiration for joining Hollywood. MacLaine was certainly charming in the film, delivering her self-deprecating dialogues with deadpan humor. Her pixie look was just what is required for the small-town naiveté of her role, which she fulfills with subtlety. However, it was Lemmon’s performance that had me regaled.

This was one of those movies where the protagonist is utilized in nearly every frame and Lemmon proves his stamina for the role. His happy-go-lucky attitude is undercut with frustration at just the right level to evade the perception of his superiors. He does not try to portray a better character than his role demands, which is just a chump trying to make it big in the corporate arena and is not immune to corruption himself. For much of the movie, he is aware of being “taken” by his coworkers but he is not a moralizing fool. He can take care of himself when necessary. We can’t like him if we put on a holier-than-thou air and must allow him time to prove his mettle in his own time, which he also does with poignancy. With refined expressions, Lemmon gently tugs the heartstrings for this comic anti-hero. The catch is that eventually, he must forgo his self-serving goodwill with the Big Boss to become our damsel’s champion and the audience can well feel his panic.

Playing the villain, MacMurray also does not complicate his screen presence. He assumes a reflective quality as the Big Boss taking advantage of his junior by using his apartment while having extra-marital affairs. The role of Sheldrake is one who does not want to come off as the bad guy and, for the most part, does not think he is a bad guy. MacMurray steps in and out of the limbo between selfish actions and self-justifications with the quick pace required of a dramedy.

The screenplay is written with aplomb and directed superbly. It is fast-paced and gets right to the heart of the matter with quick scene shifts that do not undermine the ethos of the story. For all purpose, it is a romantic comedy with a backdrop of drama. We see a degenerate world where the sanctity of marriage is abandoned by the whole corporate society and wonder how any love affair is to flourish in such a surrounding. But then we also see a family present to guide the derailed and weary back to the light. Even amidst the drama, comedy is not forsaken to remind us of the promise of a happy ending.

Recommendation: Of course it should be watched! Once, twice, own the DVD. This is the stuff of classic romantic comedy, lovely from beginning till end.

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WRITING CHRONICLES #13: Quantity Vs Quality

Via: Daily Blog – Pause & Prudent

 

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Image: Pixabay

 

My weeklong departure from writing gave me time to stop and reflect my goals for producing fictions. While visiting my Grandma’s, I took with me books and TV movies as a fallback plan if village-trotting no longer suited me. It suited me fine but I still found time to finish one novel and two sets of TV movies. They provided good points of activity and discussion with my cousin-sisters.

Living amid rural grace, I felt watching the BBC adaptation of Flora Thompson’s trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford and Hallmark Channel’s adaptation of Jannette Oke’s Love Comes Softly series would be fitting. Both were good choices but I think I was more swept away by Thompson’s work. I had read Love Comes Softly as a kid and, coming by the movies was a nostalgic experience. However, as my cousins and I worked our way through Lark Rise to Candleford, it dawned on me that writers whose work I have come to most revere all have produced so few books. Of course, I have contemporary authors on top of my list who have produced over two dozen novels each in nearly half as many years, but the works I believe to be truly timeless were written by authors who had very few books to pen. It got me thinking, was it the age-old trade-off between quantity and quality?  Read the rest of this entry »

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