Archive for category Works of Others

#AuthorToolbox 04: the art of landscaping in fiction writing

Via: Daily Prompt – Soil

The cold was bitter, different from New England’s. Outside the city the wind spilled across the sweeping, open land dotted with abandoned farm machinery and old houses buckling in on themselves. You wouldn’t think such houses were habitable, but once in a while there would be a tacked-up sheet in the doorway, or plastic nailed over the windows, and the trace of smoke from a chimney.”

~ Brown, Karen. “The Clairvoyants.” Henry Holt and Co., 2017

51htld99dbl-_sx328_bo1204203200_I finished reading this book over the weekend. And like most well-written (or poorly written, for that matter) novels throughout my reading experience, it left me with a heightened sense of awareness of that “something-something” to consciously add to in my own work. After all, authors learn by reading the works of other authors. I thought, for this month’s blog hop, I would review some of this novel’s more beautifully written passages to summarize how fiction can be enhanced by adding descriptive imageries that are carefully composed and artfully woven to match the subject of the story [I’ll try my best to titillate without giving away any irrevocable spoilers]:

Relevance. Without a doubt, the prose was the strongest suit in The Clairvoyants. Brown approached its various outdoor and indoor sceneries to set the mood for this novel with poetic gusto, addressing both the mental state of the story’s protagonist, Martha, and the themes that adhered to the overall plot, i.e. an observant and slightly self-absorbed young woman with the ability to “see dead people” and a sense of victimhood towards her entire life, who stumbles upon a potential murder mystery when she is abandoned in a new environment. In fact, the landscape mirrors the one prevailing ethos of every character in the novel, who make a motley group of disturbingly selfish individuals, gravitating towards one another in search of companionship one moment and then forsaking each other the next.

Now, beyond my mother’s profile at the wheel of the car, Route 79 wound alongside green swaths of hills still damp from the recent rain. This was an isolated valley with a poor yearly sunlight allotment and haphazard cell phone reception—another version of a sanatorium, a place my mother could tuck me away, the way you pressed a photograph into the back of a drawer—and be free of me. But I might be free of her, too, and I might find someone else to love me.”

Precision. A bit of mastery in the medium of your writing can go a long way – and, of course, shorten the sentences. Words hold connotations that pose parity even among synonyms. Instead of depending on generic nouns and verbs to describe each action, character, object, or surrounding, knowing specific words to allocate to them will not only contribute to their appropriate portrayal but also provide the reader with a richer sensory experience. Obviously, this means having a strong vocabulary is important but does it also mean you need to swallow the dictionary? If you can, kudos to you; otherwise, do a little extra research on each subject matter you introduce in the story, as Brown has in this novel when labeling architectural attributes.

The house stood on a street of similarly grand old places, each shaded by a tree, their roots disrupting the cement sidewalks in front. Mine was a brick Italianate house with a wide cornice and elaborately carved brackets and window caps. The apartment was up a staircase that once might have been glamorous when the house was still a single-family residence. The place had been advertised as a “studio.” I would be living in one room with a twelve-foot ceiling, a decorative fireplace, and an efficiency-sized stove, sink, and refrigerator—so small they seemed like playhouse furnishings.”

Economy. We all know about the taboo on overusing adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives and adverbs are to be preserved for blurbs, and yet, funnily, that is where authors tend to scrimp thanks to a misguided sense of modesty – but that is a topic for another day. Furthering the argument for precision, knowing specific nouns and verbs is particularly useful when editing redundant descriptors that only serve to weaken and obscure the image you are trying to depict.  Consequently, you may also reveal more information about the plot and characters when relinquishing modifiers.

I had thought he wanted me. But when I touched him he took my hands away, like a correcting parent. I was resigned to kissing him, and even that he interrupted with a story about his motorcycle, a Triumph he was eager to ride again in the spring.”

POV. At every turn, it is crucial to ask oneself if the character whose POV is being used to narrate a scene, would actually experience the situation in that manner. For example, cold is a recurring premise in the novel, of which Martha is constantly aware. Other than simply using it to describe the winter that persists throughout the plot or the relationship fostered among the characters (and the wide range of dead people, in retrospect), Brown also associates it with how Martha undergoes the changes in her life or encounters new phenomena, e.g. when she tries martini for the first time.

I admitted I’d never had one, and she insisted I sample hers. She held her glass toward me by its stem, and I took a cautious sip. I said it was like drinking partially melted snow, and she laughed and poured me one, too.”

Pace. While the vivid narration is what I enjoyed most about the novel, the accompanied tangential style also led to its biggest holdback. I could fully understand why, given that the novel was written in first-person and people tend to digress when relating their experiences, Martha would oscillate between her past and present, actions and expositions. In fact, it even added to the mystery. But at one point, this became monotonous when the tempo should have picked up. The mystery began to chase its own tail and Martha’s continued attention to the mundane details of her surrounding seemed unnatural, relatability yielding before consistency, such as while escaping the scene of a supposed murder.

We drove through farmland spread for miles in either direction. Del fiddled with the radio, her hand shaking, and found a station playing Dixieland jazz, and we passed through a landscape distorted by the windshield ice—the wide open space, the few remaining outbuildings of an old farm, their gray, splintery wood darkened by the sleet, jutting like carcasses. “There are bones of families out there,” I said. Spread under layers of soil, compacted in their separateness. The Dixieland band played its tinny hopefulness. We drove this way for a long time until we could see nothing of the land we passed through save an occasional kitchen light in a house set off the road. Then we reached an intersection, a small town, like Milton, with a gas station and a diner, and Del pulled into the diner’s parking lot. After David Pinney died we’d gone on, pretending he hadn’t. I could say we were murderers now. This didn’t happen to other people twice.”

To wit, this novel made me sit up and take notes. My own stories tend to consist more of dialogues and actions than discussions on the setting but I could certainly appreciate the patience with which Brown weighed in the haunting atmosphere in her narrative. It reminded me of something I learned a few months back while attending an online course on writing fiction. There was a lot of emphasis on note taking and journal keeping throughout the syllabus. Until I took the course, I always wondered how writers sit in public places such as cafes and parks while composing tales without becoming distracted by their environments. Turns out they don’t become distracted at all because they are too busy recounting what they witness on their pages and screens.

 

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2Finally, a word on the Author Toolbox Blog Hop:
#AuthorToolboxBlogHop is a monthly event, hosted by the gracious Raimey Gallant, featuring various resources and learnings for authors written by authors. It is open to writers at all stages of their careers and the rules of sign-up are available in the overhead link. Also, if you are just interested in connecting with actual authors and see what they have got to say, the sign-up page has a list of participants to direct you to their pages. Happy reading and writing, fellow authors!

 

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WEDNESDAY REFLECTION #24: The Americanization of Emily starring James Garner & Julie Andrews

Via: Daily Prompt – Grit

220px-americanization_of_emily_posterTitle     The Americanization of Emily

Starring     James Garner, Julie Andrews, and James Coburn

Director     Arthur Hiller

Writer(s)    Paddy Chayefsky (screenplay), William Bradford Huie (novel)

Genre     Comedy Drama War

Release Date     October 27, 1964

Filming Location    Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill, London, England, UK

Parental Guidance     PG for thematic semi-nudity, carousing, and war imagery

IMDB Rating     7.4

Synopsis: Lt. Cmdr. Charles Madison (James Garner) of the US Army is a “dog-robber”, or batman, to Adm. William Jessup (Melvyn Douglas) and is known for managing the best supplies to make his superior’s lifestyle near the frontline of WWII opulent. Even based in London, Charlie can arrange the best prime cuts for the Admiral’s lunch, the most lavish food, drink, and women – down to the preferred hair color – for the evenings, and the biddable bedpartners for his best friend and co-worker Lt. Cmdr. Paul ‘Bus’ Cummings’s (James Coburn) nocturnal exploits with less than 24-hour notice. Such blatant display of pleasure-seeking in the middle of war rationing is something that Emily Barham, a driver from the British military motor pool and a woman who has lost her father, brother, and husband to the war, finds deplorable and has no compunction informing Charlie of her feelings to his face. Charlie too is wary of her moralization and forthright about giving her a piece of his mind. Charlie, who openly advocates his anti-war sentiments and is a self-proclaimed “practicing coward”, enjoys his position as the Admiral’s adjutant because it keeps him from having to actually fight in the war and feels Europeans have caused wars for centuries, which is nothing to boast about. However, soon Emily realizes that there is a kind of charm in his cynical honesty and approaches him to initiate a no-strings-attached affair, which quickly develops into a more serious meet-the-parents kind of tableau. When the Admiral, already depressed from the death of his wife, has a mental breakdown over the Army and Air Force overshadowing the Navy and initiates an idea of filming a “reality” movie of the bombing on the French shore of Omaha Beach on D-Day, Charlie is assigned the responsibility of getting it made and Bus is adamant to get Charlie onto the war site, putting a damper on his amorous plans for Emily and even risking his very life.

Experience: I think there is a bit of a pattern among my celebrity crushes and I realized it after seeing James Garner in this movie. It’s a weird revelation too. I like men who have wide foreheads with horizontal creases on them. Do you see it?

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Be still my heart! There is something similar about their physique as well, though at different levels of buff. I just had to get this out of the way before I carried on with the review.

Aside from Garner, there is another heart-stopper to sigh over in this movie. I think the whole world has been crushing on Julie Andrews since The Sound of Music. With additional star actors Melvyn Douglas and James Coburn, this movie was destined to shine. But it’s not only the cast that makes it a success but also the eccentric plotline, the unabashedly candid characters, the snappy dialogue, and the unique theme for its time that helped it win hearts – at least, it did mine.

Let’s talk about the message of the movie. There is no doubt that the producers and director of the film took a big risk when they decided to make an anti-war dark romantic comedy at a time when the US government was only becoming more aggressive in its foreign policies throughout – or maybe it was just the perfect time. Sure, there was also a rising anti-war sentiment among the public but did it constitute the dominant segment of the public? Hardly. So the movie could have tanked.

But the plot carried the message of the movie by ensuring that it was “the virtue of war” and not the men and families who sacrificed their lives and loved ones that deserved criticism. We see an old man, bereaved by the loss of his wife, dictating and demanding what the movie should feature: a make-believe unnamed soldier who is the first to die on D-Day to stir up public sentiments for the glory of the Navy. He goes on as far as to enlist the president’s endorsement for a monument for this fake martyr. The idea reeks of the same self-indulgence that is depicted earlier in the movie where we see the American military that “can buy anything with a Hersey bar” enjoying a good bout of hedonism. With a finely written script, the argument cuts deep and succinctly.

Speaking of his lines, I was quite taken with how magnificently Garner delivered his dialogues. There is no apology in his expression when Charlie presents a set-down to Emily after she demonstrates her disdain for the amount of “swanky goods” occupying the bedroom-converted-pantry in the Admiral’s quarters. You would never imagine that he was talking to a beautiful woman that he had been slapped by after patting her bottom during their initial meeting. And Andrews, always the epitome of sophistication, demonstrates a starry-eyed enchantment even as she sincerely tells him why he is just all-wrong.

In fact, there is a bit of name-calling between the two throughout the movie that aptly describes the traits of each character. She is “something of a prig” with an “ingrained British morality”, “facile” yet a “fancy Euro”, and “emotionally sticky” with a propensity for “sentimental contempt” who takes “sensual satisfaction in grieving”; he is a “rascal”, “charmer scoundrel”, the “most immoral man [she] ever met… a shameless coward, selfish as a child, and ruthless about what he wants”, “a Yank who can’t even show affection without buying something”, “dotty” but who “cuts to the core of things”. Gee, tell us how you really feel. But it really makes you want to see the two actors saying it all to each other, doesn’t it?

And the two actors wear their roles like finely fitted gloves. Andrews manages to generate a certain softness towards him even as she is exasperated with him and listing out all his negative qualities. While there are such competence and cockiness to Garner that a girl cannot but help swoon. In fact, there is this scene early in the movie where Charlie goes about folding clothes and running baths and doing all the things a valet does while preparing the bedtime rituals for the Admiral, and I was so mesmerized watching him in action of domestic efficiency that I had to keep replaying the scene to catch what the Admiral was yammering about. It made me think there’s a man who is comfortable in his skin no matter what the situation. Garner in motion is a graceful thing to watch. That scene alone is worth re-watching the movie.

Recommendation: It’s a fine movie, as efficient in delivering the message as the actors were in playing their roles. Prepared to be riveted.

 

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Wednesday Reflections #23 – Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Via: Daily Prompt – Pluck

13552311Title     Seducing Mr. Knightly

Series     The Writing Girls #4

Author     Maya Rodale

Genre     Historical Romance | Regency | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      October 30, 2012

Format      eBook

Setting     London, Great Britain, 1825

ISBN     0062088955

Synopsis: It has been exactly three years, six months, three weeks, and two days since Ms. Annabelle Swift fell in love with her boss Mr. Derek Knightly, the owner and editor of The London Weekly. This is precisely the amount of time she has been employed as one of the Writing Girls to feature in her own advice column and since the day she laid her eyes on the tall, dark, and determined Knightly. Unfortunately, not only is he totally unaware of her feelings but he seems also oblivious of the fact that she is a living breathing flesh-and-blood single woman worthy of male attention. Exasperated with being continuously overlooked and desperate to get out of her brother’s house where she lives as an unpaid servant and governess to her malicious sister-in-law, niece, and nephews, Annabelle decides to resort to drastic measures – she courageously reaches out to her readers for advice for a change on how to attract the attention of the nodcock! she’s in love with. Suddenly all of London swoops in to assist her cause, sending mails carrying the most outlandish and scandalous advice and, with the additional help from her fellow Writing Girls, she finds herself in lowered bodices and silk unmentionables, waltzing with lords of the ton, flirting up a ruse with fellow male colleagues, and being dropped off home after work by Knightly in his private carriage. Her quarry is finally paying attention but one obstacle still stands in the path of true love. Knightly, who has built his empire and reputation as a media tycoon to raise himself from the status of a by-blow of a late earl, has one other life goal: marry high into the aristocracy so that his half-brother is finally forced to acknowledge him as one of his class. Unfortunately, this puts Annabelle squarely out of the running for his affection… or does it?

Experience: I came to know about Maya Rodale a little late. Only this year, in fact, upon watching the live feeds of the #RomanceisFeminist discussion hosted by Avon Romance at The Strand bookstore in NY, NY where Rodale was on the panel of authors. I appreciated a particular comment she made about being more than willing to “throw historical accuracy under the bus” for the sake of diversity and inclusion. That is precisely what I have found – as much as the realm of believability will allow – since I began reading her works (three novels so far) and thought I should do a review of at least one. I picked Seducing Mr. Knightly because I have a soft corner for heroines who write professionally and this is the most hilarious piece of Rodale’s works I have come across thus far.

Imagine Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy and you will get a rough idea of the kind of scrapes Annabelle gets into in this novel. Short of hitting our hero in the eye with her spilling bosoms, she has done it all – leave a shawl behind to find herself alone with him at work during after office hours, fake a swoon and fall lush into his arms so she can awaken his “baser inclinations”, make all of London – including the hero’s best friends – fall in love with her and defend her heart for her candid attempts to lasso the hero, and climb into his bedroom via a gradually-splintering bark in the middle of the night in hopes of ravishment, etc. And Knightly likewise reciprocates with a steady repeat of “Oh Annabelle, you have some explaining to do” whenever he finds himself at the end of her courtship tactics. It makes the relationship between our heroine and hero positively adorably frustrating – just what good romances require.

But apart from the cat-and-mouse conflict development of the romantic plot, the individual characters of Annabelle and Knightly are also fully plausible. I enjoyed how much pluck Annabelle demonstrates as pushes herself to cross her self-imposed boundaries to blossom out of her shell even as her natural timidity continues to attempt to keep her in check. She may be meek by genetic disposition (her brother shows fairly submissive traits in his marriage too) but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t dream big or aim high. After all, she pulls the wool over her family’s eyes for over three years pretending to go out on charity work while really working for a national newspaper and saving up for rainy days. She continuously challenges her shortcomings and faces her fears, which is a lovely display of feminism.

Our hero too has his demons to fight and has been fighting them quite successfully for over a decade. Being the firstborn son of and earl and a renowned stage actress, he craves acknowledgment from his step family and society. He has slogged day-and-night to build up his newspaper, laboring at the press himself and pushing boundaries of polite expectations, to get himself noticed, following three simple rules of life: “Scandal equals sales, drama was for the pages, and be beholden to no one”. It’s has made him a bit stoic but it has worked for him. And even as his heart tugs while watching Annabelle amidst her antics and his heart begins to unfurl the more details of her he starts to notice, he refuses to examine the burning question being asked in parlors across London, “Who is the nodcock that has yet failed to fall in love with Annabelle?” because he is afraid the answer might demand he surrender his heart to the heroine, which he is not in the position to do. Because all he wants to do is marry Lady Marsden, claim his rightful place in society while avoiding getting his newspaper shut down by her brother Lord Marsden’s mass inquisition against media extortion and nefarious means of procuring news, and kill two birds with one stone. The struggle is real.

Yes, I truly did enjoy reading this book. The only thing perhaps that did not suit me entirely was Rodale’s roundabout way of prolonging the story. While I loved each scene, I found reading through all the inner workings that bracketed each scene that mostly related the same conclusions over and over a bit tedious. Frankly, I felt there was more room for editing and perhaps leaving a little for readers to infer. But this is easily discounted for the fact that the overall content was engaging and oh-so-funny.

Recommendation: Well, if you haven’t read it already, what are you waiting for? I thoroughly endorse this novel as an experienced romance reader.

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Wednesday Reflections #22 – The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn

Via: Daily Prompt – Illusion

31931722Title     The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband

Series     Rokesbys #02

Author     Julia Quinn

Genre     Historical Romance | Adult

Publisher      Avon

Publication Date      May 29, 2017

Format      eBook

Setting     Manhattan, New York City, New York, USA, 1779

ISBN     0062388185

Synopsis: When Cecilia Harcourt receives a letter from the British front in Manhattan that her brother Captain Thomas has been injured, she decides to travel across the Atlantic to take care of him regardless of the fact that the Colonies is in the middle of a war and the Brits are no longer welcome. The fact that her self-serving father has finally passed away and that her oily cousin has taken the opportunity to make untoward advances on her only fuels her cause. However, when she arrives at the war-torn continent, she learns her brother is missing and his best friend Captain Edward Rokesby – second son of the Earl of Manston, pen pal to Cecilia via Thomas’s letters, and righteously handsome to boot – has been injured and lying in a coma for some time. Nurses are scarce but given his station in life, only family members may care for him. So Cecilia does the only thing she can do – she claims to be his wife. When the local army believes her story, she promises herself she will come clean soon as he wakes up because obviously, he will know that they are not married. But when Edward wakes up, he can’t remember a thing about the past four months and confusedly accepts her as his wife. And when she learns that being the wife of the son of an earl can help her get the military assistance to locate her brother, she decides to prolong the charade. Soon the pretend-wife is working her magic to return Edward to his former health and the make-believe husband is helping Cecilia work through the mysteries of one missing brother. The only problem is, playing house with the handsome captain is churning Cecilia’s heart into deeper affections. And while he may only believe them to be married, make-believe is becoming all too real for her. Worse still – or maybe it’s the best of all – Edward is falling in love just as deeply.

Experience (Mini-spoilers ahead but maybe not): Sounds like the plot for a wonderful rom-com, right? I thought so too. That plus the knowledge that it is written by the very talented JQ had me salivating for over a year (ever since I finished Because of Miss Bridgerton last year in March). Unfortunately, the anticipation came to naught. The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is not the stuff that makes reading Quinn’s books so giddily special. And I say this as a die-hard fan who is slightly heartbroken.

But first, let’s talk about the good stuff, which in this case is the ending. I know. It sounds wrong to go straight to the end of a novel but the ending really is where the book picked up that Julia-Quinn-esque charm that has me returning to her works over and over again. Edward was desperate-to-the-point-of-being-brash in his efforts to finally make Cecilia his wife, and I do love a hero who knows what he wants and is willing to raise the stakes to obtain it. And the dialogues also made the experience more authentic. Also, there was a brief entrance of a captain of a ship who was one of Edward’s classmates from Eton that I found intriguing and funny and wished there was a bit more of. Alas, just when things were beginning to look up, it had to end.

And speaking of Edward, he was also good. JQ’s heroes are invariably good because they are so honorable even when led awry. Even when they are belligerent or worrying about their own interests amidst personal dilemma’s, you can’t help rooting for them to succeed because you know they will do the right thing. And moreover, they tend to perfectly turn-out the grand gesture so readers are guaranteed to sigh. Edward was no different. Even with his brain addled with amnesia, he had faith in a woman he only knew through correspondences made via his best friend. JQ men know how to treat women right and that is sexy as all hell. And even in his physically weaker form, he tried his best to remain self-sufficient but sometimes ceded to needing a bit of help, another thing we twenty-first-century readers can admire. Also that he doesn’t completely disregard her deception when he cottons on but has to struggle to accept it for what it is only makes his love more valuable. Yup, Edward Rokesby is swoon-worthy.

Regrettably, same cannot be said about his heroine, who is heroine only situationally. While Cecilia’s initial reason for pretending to be his wife seemed totally selfless, this impression began to gradually disassemble as the plot progressed. Which is quite the opposite of usual romance novel MO where what seems to be a selfish act on the part of a hero/heroine gradually unfolds as a selfless sacrifice, so I’m hoping Quinn intended it that way? But I sort of doubt that is what happened with this novel. Cecilia risks life and reputation to sail across the Atlantic to war-riddled America to care for her injured brother but she probably would not have done it if her oily cousin at home (next in line to inherit the family estate) was not on her tail. Cecilia claims to be Edward’s wife to take care of him but probably wouldn’t have done that either if she didn’t need to stick around until he woke up and could shed some light on her brother’s disappearance. Cecilia continues to deceive everyone, including the man she is falling in love with, to bolster her search for her brother, and when she feels remorse over her actions, she treats herself to good food and better sex. When the truth about her brother finally unravels, her first reaction is to cry over what this means for her future. And when it’s finally time to come clean with the man she loves, she bolts for England, leaving him a letter (though she claims it is to release him from doing the righteous thing since she has been compromised). This final act is equivalent to breaking up over a voice mail, isn’t it? Cecilia Harcourt is weak and possibly almost as self-serving as her father. But maybe I’m being too harsh, I don’t know. I just feel she had plenty of opportunities to be honest but she kept taking the easy way out. She did not possess the integrity of Sandra Bullock’s character in While You Were Sleeping and that was a bust for me.

Which brings me to the plot. It was unnecessarily convoluted, where other characters do a bit of deceiving themselves to prolong Cecilia’s deception prolonged. I guess to give the hero and the heroine an opportunity to fall thoroughly in love. But given that Edward and Cecilia had a healthy dose of flirtation going on over letter exchanges and that Thomas aided and abetted such interactions, I think they had a good chance of falling in love without all the deception. I mean they were in the middle of a war – not many romantic prospects, are there? Besides, if Cecilia continued to help Edward heal and Edward continued to give her his protection, there is plenty of opportunities for them to mingle on its own. Yeah, it just did not click for me but I get the feeling Quinn herself did not have her heart in it. I’m thinking having deadlines sometimes gets to even the best of authors and, unfortunately, it showed.

Recommendation: If you are a Julia Quinn fan – and those who have ever read any of her previous works would be – then you have probably buckled in for the Rokesby ride. In which case, you have to read it so get on with it if you haven’t already. But if you are not planning to go through the series, still read it. I think every author goes through a phase and this is probably hers, which is fine with me because she is generally very very good at what she does.

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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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