Posts tagged ‘Reviews’

Movie Review: La La Land

lalaland

We saw La La Land last night, and it was great, if…

…if you like musicals. This is not deep drama. It’s a musical. With people out of their cars and dancing during rush hour, with people breaking into song. You know, the things that make the old-fashioned musical fun. I was told that this movie was about song and dance, that the plot was unnecessary, and I have, in the past, condemned stories with no deepness, no real artistic value. That is not the case, here (but it IS a musical). To me, the music pervaded the story, rather than the story being a flimsy vessel for the music. I left inspired. And sad. Too bad I don’t do spoilers, or I would explain what it is that bothered me about the story but yet I wouldn’t change.

…if you like a sweet love story. There is no deep conflict between the two lovers, but rather between their love story and their dreams. They live in Los Angeles, the city of dreams, after all. That’s the feel-good, inspirational portion of the story; each of them was encouraging the other to be the hero of his/her own life story. When I think about it, that makes each of them a hero in the other’s story. See? Feel-good. Such an interesting and difficult-to-pull-off concept that their love and their dreams are the enemies of each other, while also motivating the other. What’s more important? Romantic love or dreams? (Christian note and perhaps spoiler: There is no sex in this story at all—again, it is the characters’ La La Land dreams that is the story’s focus—however, the couple does live together.)

…if you like jazz, or would like to learn to understand its musicians.

…if you ever had a dream you feared was only a pipe dream.

Otherwise, you won’t like it. 😉 The secondary characters are kind of placeholders, not bringing much to the story. And there is the odd part I wouldn’t change (no spoilers). BUT it is a musical. Some of these things take a back seat or happen because of the music. Which was enjoyable.

So enjoy.

Blessings,

Voni

Review: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay

A Portrait of Emily Price by [Reay, Katherine]

“Francesca sported a perfect American accent–one that stretched flawlessly from Chicago to Seattle, dipping down through Colorado rather than passing up near the Canadian border.”

This…this is why I loved Katherine Reay’s Book, A Portrait of Emily Price. These characters are friends to me, now. Emily simultaneously broke my heart and warmed it with her instinct to fix everything, whether it be a pan with a loose handle or a teenager whose home Emily was restoring from a fire, whether it was her sister or her mother-in-law. I don’t do spoilers, but this instinct to fix things comes from Emily’s childhood, and it is the very thing that brings her family to a boil. And solves their problems, in a way, ultimately through faith and family. I loved watching the art come out of Emily the way pizza came out of Ben, pasta out of Donata, and bread from Lucio.

And that’s the thing. Often in a Hallmark movie, a character has a job…something artsy or community-service oriented in some way. But the writers/actors fail to make that a real part of who the character is in their core. It’s kind of a token designation that a character is a florist or a poverty lawyer or whatever.

Reay has no such failure! The artsy, fix-it side of Emily, the food-and-family side of Ben made them who they are, and it made the story what it is. I want to be frowned at by Donata, given a book by Lucio, and fed by Ben. I want to help Emily fix something and watch Joseph paint. These are people I feel like I know. This is a family whose Sunday Dinners I want to join.

I was surprised not to find myself in Atlanta or Italy when I had to look up from the book…Oh, the field of sunflowers! I wanted to go sit there until they turned my direction. I want to go truffle hunting with their dog.

But the story of Emily and this family stopped my heart in places, as it frequently stopped Emily’s heart, left her not knowing what to do, panicked. As warm as these people are, as close as they are…the secrets buried in this family are heart-breaking. And heart-warming.

It’s that kind of book.

So what did I not like about A Portrait of Emily Price? The end. I literally flipped the page on my Kindle, desperate to read more, not conscious I had reached the end. But it was over. Reay does not tell us what happens with Joseph (oops, almost committed a spoiler there). She leaves us hanging, having to think it through for ourselves. Heart-warming. And heart-breaking.

Yep. It’s that kind of book.

Blessings,

Voni

When the arts make you angry

 

I have to tell the truth. I’ve seen ads, and I watched a trailer for the movie Sausage Party. That’s it. That’s all I needed. Some of the obvious imagery I won’t mention here, but really, food saying the f-word?

Let me back up…

collateral_beauty_poster

The other night was date night. Rich and I really wanted to see Collateral Beauty, so that’s what we did. Pizza and a movie.

It is rare to leave a movie touched to the core the way we left that movie.

Tears were shed. We clung to each other’s hands.

It should win an Oscar. Hopefully Will Smith, too, though Naomie Harris and Helen Mirren were standouts…the whole cast, really.

DON’T—I repeat do not—read a synopsis or review before you see it. You do not want spoilers for Collateral Beauty. And that’s not what this is. Let me continue.

So, anyway, on our way out of the theater (the Billiken on base at Kodiak, which has some of the most honest people around—but that’s another story), Rich picked up a printed movie schedule for next week to show me in case I wanted to see any of them.

My eyes stopped at Sausage Party. Yes. Sausage Party.

That’s when I got angry.

Movies like Collateral Beauty are possible.

     Movies that make us cry.

     Movies that make us laugh.

     Or take a new look at history.

     Or leave us breathless like a fun, crazy roller coaster ride.

     Movies that make us think about life.

     Or take a deep look at ourselves.

     Movies that touch our hearts.

     Movies (like Collateral Beauty) that touch our souls.

All that is possible.

 

And then there is Sausage Party.  The makers obviously had the talent, time, and money to make a well-marketed feature movie.

And they wasted—wasted—it all on Sausage Party.

 

I am not against fun movies. Sausage Party had the potential to make us laugh, make silly family memories. But the writers and producers and actors and animators and all the people involved did not go down that path. No. The makers aimed not at fun and humor, but at titillation. A low aim.

How pitiful.

 

Why did God give us the arts?

To draw our eyes upward. To inspire. To help us to really see the world. Collateral Beauty is not a sweet, safe movie. (Read, boring, right?) Nor is it out to teach a lesson (Read, boring, again!) It is not even a Christian movie per se. But it is raw. It is real. It is authentic. It aimed high.

Why did God give us the arts?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

God, may I follow You as my creator in this, no matter whether I’m creating a home, an afghan, a novel, or a text. In Jesus’ name!

Blessings!

 

 

Review: Warror’s Seal by Ronie Kendig

I was enjoying my lunch out (it was my birthday, and Rich was traveling for work). I took my Kindle and was reading Ronie Kendig’s novella, Warrior’s Seal.

The waitress walked up to ask me if I wanted a refill. “Oh! Sorry!” she said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Yep.

I was that into it.

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Ronie has a way with a military novel. She has a way with imagining an impossible (fiction) situation, and making it more impossible. She has a way of connecting your heart with the characters, so that when they are nervous, you are; when they are determined, you are; when they are exhausted, you are; when they are happy, you are.

All these things are very evident in Warrior’s Seal. Thus, the waitress’s ability to startle me.

What did I like about this novella? The situation, first and foremost. The main character, Tox, is the leader of a military team tasked with a mission to save the President, a mission that is complicated by his personal relationships (no spoilers here, but this is a doozy). I absolutely love how Ronie was able to bring in ancient history, too. Do we today have the ability to save the world from the ancient toxin that is released?

What did I not like about Warrior’s Seal? Not much. It makes me angry that Tox is in trouble (I told you it was a doozy), though his loyalty to his team is very evident in the end. It makes me even more angry that Tox accepts the trouble. He is an extraordinarily capable warrior of integrity and yet sees no way out? He obviously feels powerless, destined to the trouble. He has more strength of character than this; If he told his story, explained why he did what he did, America would be on his side.

Of course, it’s complicated (I told you it’s a doozy), and Tox himself is complicated.

I did not like the ending: I wanted more!

But that’s the purpose of this free prequel. (Get it here) It’s setting up her Tox Files series, the first book of which is on preorder now, and releases tomorrow. It’s called Conspiracy of Silence.

Ronie is sending the more that I’m craving.

Thanks, Ronie.

Blessings,

Voni

Book Review: Shades of Chocolate by Cecelia Dowdy

Cecelia Dowdy wrote a Bakery Romance series that, just by its designation, intrigued me. I read the first, Raspberry Kisses, and enjoyed it enough that I was glad to read book two, Shades of Chocolate. (I was offered this book free for purposes of review, but a review was requested, not required, and a “good” review was never mentioned. These are my fair opinions.) Book three just came out mid-summer, Sweet Dreams, and there is a Christmas novella I own, but haven’t read yet; saving it for Christmas. A fourth is soon coming out!

 

Shades Of Chocolate (The Bakery Romance Series Book 2) by [Dowdy, Cecelia]

I love stories in which someone’s dreams and passions and talents are at stake. This series follows the lives of women chasing the dream of owning their own bakeries. (Each is stand-alone, connected by theme more than characters.)

In Shades of Chocolate, Toni runs a bakery inherited from her aunt, who raised her in many ways and taught her to bake. Baking—and the bakery itself—is a deep part of who Toni is. The offerings of Toni’s bakery are all chocolate themed…even the coffee. Here’s the problem. Dowdy does such a fantastic job of making the bakery real, I want to go! Alas, it’s a fictional bakery, and the book doesn’t come with any samples.

Toni and her love interest, Jason, are written in the same way. So real, I’d like to sit and talk with them. At the Shades of Chocolate bakery, of course. Alas, they, too are fictional, but I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn with them.

But if you think this is just a sweet story where they fall in love over sweet chocolate treats, you are wrong. Their very real pasts wreak havoc, but I won’t offer any spoilers. As a writer, Dowdy is unafraid to look face on at very real, contemporary issues through the medium of her fictional world…without wallowing in those issues as certain books and TV shows and movies do.

She is also unafraid of Christian faith. The characters in this book grapple with faith issues, as do the most committed Christians. (Book one, as well.) So many authors are unable to do that.

So, what do I not like about the book? Well, the writing can be overdone, the dialogue full of the truth of the characters, but unnatural-sounding in places. However, when you are immersed in the setting and characters that seem real, that’s a relatively minor flaw.

Blessings,

Voni

Book review: Nerve by Bethany Macmanus

The creators of Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew have nothing on Bethany Macmanus. Her novel, Nerve, is a breathtaking roller coaster of a dream ride.

You’ll find yourself on the sultry hot streets of Fort Lauderdale, in secret science labs, a small house created in a van, a concrete bunker…

No one, but no one does setting like Bethany Macnanus.

Like I said: It’s a wild ride as Wren Masterson hunts for her father’s scientific invention, perhaps his killer, but no spoilers here.

A former nurse, Macmanus has both the writing chops and the medical knowledge to pull this novel off, and her faith is woven through the story in an organic, unpreachy way.

My favorite element of Nerve (besides setting): Wren’s abiding love for her father. Wren’s artistic streak. The sea turtle scene. Okay, I should have said, elements, plural.

My least favorite element: The plethora of characters in the climax, but that didn’t take away from the book at all.

Not to read this book for yourself is to sit at the amusement park and watch other people ride.

Here is the Amazon link for you to check it out!

Tomorrow, tune in for some flash fiction by ME! And or the winner of Kelli Hughett’s Red Zone. Comment on my Saturday blog featuring Kelli’s flash fiction in order to put your name in for the drawing.

Blessings, Voni

Book Review: Six Solitude Road by Bethany Macmanus

In Six Solitude Road–a Christian suspense novel by Bethany Macmanus–Louisiana school teacher Kate Marset’s student goes missing. Her husband of four months is suspected of the kidnapping, and  she is nearly swallowed by the darkness of what she uncovers as she works to clear his name and keep her daughter safe.

I was so frustrated as I read the book. Everything I figured out kept turning out to be wrong.

Frustrated exactly like main character Kate Marset, who finds herself in a maze of lies and seeming lies, truth and seeming truth. Macmanus has the incredible talent of bringing the reader right along for the ride with her heroine.

Don’t worry. The author ties it all up in the end, reminiscent of the old crime shows like Perry Mason or Agatha Christie.

In Six Solitude Road

…you truly get a feel for life in the Louisiana bayous.

…you truly feel the oppression that Kate feels, the darkness of the mystery that entwines the story’s characters. The author thankfully does not tiptoe around the dark issues. (Nor does she wallow in them).

…you truly feel the release that the truth finally brings.

My favorite part of the book? Macmanus is the queen of the perfectly-placed metaphor.

My least favorite part? I didn’t think the main relationship in the book (I don’t want to give any spoilers) received much closure for the reader. However, I have to say, considering what happened in the book, that was probably appropriate and more true to life than any closure would provide. Perhaps there’ll be a Book 2 that will explore that relationship more.

I highly recommend this book, and here’s a link. You’ve gotta see the cover. It’s amazing, and I’m unable to link it here.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CZBZKPM/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img

Blessings,
Voni