Showing posts from 2013

Snapshots - #39: Coco, Pitch Perfect 3, Star Wars: Episodes VII and VIII

Coco (2017), (♦♦♦♦): Miguel, a young aspiring singer, is afraid to defy his family's forsaking of music. On the Día de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday to celebrate the dead, Miguel is, unwillingly, granted night passage to the Land of the Dead, where he meets his ancestors and gets valuable life lessons.

This Disney/Pixar production has great animation and music, is colorful, fun, has endearing characters (both living and dead). Coco also has meaningful lessons about the value of traditions, the importance of family, loyalty, and honoring one's ancestors, all in a very entertaining package. Don't let the fact that it is an animated movie deter you from enjoying this gem. Coco is a great story to ponder for kids and adults alike.

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017), (♦♦♦♦): The members of the a cappella singing sensation ‘The Bellas’ have graduated from college and are realizing that they suck big time at real life. They miss the singing, the mischief, and the camaraderie. The father of on…

Happy New Year 2014

Happy 2014 to all those casual visitors of my site and those assiduous visitors along the year. Your support has made me appreciate writing for you all the more.
Thanks from the bottom of my heart and please keep on visiting. Hopefully there will be plenty of more things to say in the years to come.
May 2014 be a healthy, joyous and prosperous year for you all!

Best Books I Read in 2013

The following is a compilation of the books I read and liked best in 2013.

A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦½):  This bookis a heart pounding adrenaline ride and the best novel among the first four books in the series. This book is part exposé and overall a terrifying account of the horrors experienced by Jews during the Holocaust and the guilt and the sense of abandonment of the survivors who in many cases didn’t know how to keep on living.
Prince of Fire by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦½): It starts already in the middle of the action and what follows is not only a great detective story but a tale of betrayals, rebellions, murders and double-crosses. Despite being an adrenaline ride is not as intense as it should be given the topic. Still, Silva knows his history and makes ample use of it to deliver a very convincing case against Arafat and company.
The Messenger by Daniel Silva (♦♦♦♦½): Nail-biting suspense and international intrigue of the highest order are the hallmarks of The Messenger.

Frances Ha (♦♦♦½)

Frances (Greta Gerwig) is a 27 year-old dancer in NY City aspiring to become a professional with a dancing company. She lives with her best friend Sophie.
When their lease is about to expire, Sophie tells Frances that she is moving in with her friend Lisa whom, according to Frances, Sophie despises. So begin Frances troubles because she cannot afford to live alone. Frances moves in with two guys but she loses her place in the dancing company and she's forced to improvise to make ends meet.
I liked Frances Ha. It's the coming-of-age story of an adult, or rather an adult finding herself at last. I think that Frances Ha is a reflection of the times we're living in which young people finish college and find themselves either criminally underemployed or unemployed and unable to forge a destiny for themselves. It's sad but a reality nonetheless.
To all adults who have fibbed to fit in or to those that are talented yet can't find a way to make it, this movie is for you.

Prisoners (♦♦♦½)

Two young girls vanish in front of their house in the suburbs in midday. The only clue pointing to their whereabouts is a white van parked in the street but no one knows to whom it belongs.
Early on in the investigation an unlikely suspect emerges, one supposedly with the IQ of a ten year-old. A young detective with a perfect record assigned to the case divides his time between following the limited leads and trailing the father of one of the girls after the main suspect disappears.
As I was watching, the plot of Prisoners kept reminding me of the novel Down the Darkest Road by Tami Hoag, among other things because of the unassuming nature of the suspects and ultimately of the killer. I have to say that the screenplay was successful in not giving much away. I couldn't figure out the culprit before the end but I'm glad they didn't make it up; the killer was there all along.
Despite a star-studded cast composed by Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, Paul Da…

Jobs (♦♦♦♦)

In 1977, Steve Jobs together with Steve Wozniak launched the first Apple computer to the market. As the company grew, so did Apple’s problems since Steve’s ego managed to alienate his former contributors and his new employees. As his dreams of making Apple stand out from the competition, Steve began to see his role in the company he founded diminished until he was voted off from it by the Board of Directors. After several years and many corporate woes, Steve Jobs was brought back to the company he founded to steer it in the right direction.
Jobs lets the human being behind Steve Jobs, the Apple founder, shine, and we get to see creativity and a genius in the making. His irreverence was both annoying and endearing. Rather than finding the man disagreeable, I found him blunt, and his brain possibly beyond the wavelength of the normal, square box thinker. Jobs did justice to an original thinker who proved that it’s not by making things better but by doing them differently that we ultimate…

Blackfish (♦♦♦♦½)

Blackfish is a documentary, part exposé, part eye-opener about the incredibly lucrative industry of Seaworld parks. Half emotional journey and half business-like, Blackfish presents interviews with former Seaworld trainers who admitted having been part of a culture that misleads the public repeating factoids surrounding orcas such as how most male orcas develop collapsed fins even in the wild and how orcas live for 25-35 years when in reality male orcas can live up to sixty years in the wild while females are known to live up to 100 years.
Blackfish explores the beginnings of Tillikum as a bullied young calf separated from his mother and put in a dingy pool about 20x30 feet with two dominant females in a sea park in Canada, until Tillikum as a young adult kills a trainer for the first time and his subsequent transfer to Seaworld as a breeding bull, where he was kept in more isolation and with little stimulus.
The counterpart to Tillikum and other orcas' incidents involving animal tr…

Rebelión en la Granja (Animal Farm) by George Orwell (♦♦♦♦½)

In Farm Manor, Mr. Jones’ farm, the animals, discontent with the treatment they receive from the humans, rebel and rid the farm from them. But what starts as a dream of equality and prosperity for all animals, devolves into a system where the smartest and the fiercest—pigs and dogs—rule and impose their wills. Years go by and the oldest animals no longer remember if their lives were better before or after the rebellion; meanwhile the pigs become the mere enemies they meant to defeat.
When I first heard of Animal Farm, it was a banned book. My father borrowed it secretly from a friend, and I lent it to a friend in similar fashion. I didn’t read it until many years later when living in the U.S. I could freely buy a copy and I suddenly understood why the book was banned. I’ve read Animal Farm again and again over the years and I find it poignant, bittersweet, right on target and just plain genius. I wish I could write that way!
At first glance Animal Farm is just a fable describing how “ab…

Eye of The Needle by Ken Follett (♦♦♦♦)

It's 1944 and the Allies are putting the last touches on the invasion of France via Normandy. The Allies have orchestrated a massive deception with a faux army to fool Hitler and his generals when reconnoitering from the air. The deception seems to be working until a ruthless German assassin and spy code-named The Needle obtains photographic evidence of the Allies' plans and travels through England and Scotland to rendezvous with a U-boat in the midst of the North Sea.
Heavy on The Needle's scent are well known scholar Percival Godliman and Frederick Bloggs-- formerly with Scotland Yard-- now with military intelligence. Thanks to the spy's crimes, Godliman and Bloggs are able to chase him all the way to Scotland. Little do they know that it'll be up to the inhabitants of a small island in the middle of nowhere to stand their ground and defend England and the Allies' secrets if they're to win the war.
Eye of The Needle is pulse pounding suspense. In the first…

Coming in November... A book review of The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh

I'm excited again because author Heather Walsh contacted me to find out if I would accept a free copy of her latest book The Drake Equation, which came out at the beginning of October. When I read the blurb I had to say yes, that sounds so like me! Please visit this site in November for my review.
The Drake Equation by Heather Walsh
She’s a Democrat, he’s a Republican. She spends her days fighting
global warming at an environmental non-profit; he makes his living
doing PR for Bell Motors and their fleet of SUVs. But as soon as they
meet, Emily Crossley and Robert Drake realize they have encountered
their intellectual match. “You’re never challenged”, he tells her.
You’ve surrounded yourself in a cocoon of people who think exactly the
same way you do. She hurls the same accusation back at him, and the
fiery debates begin.

Despite both of their attempts to derail it, there is no denying that
they are falling in love. But their relationship is threatened by
political differenc…

Captain Phillips (♦♦♦♦)

“Chances are they are fishermen.”
“They're not here to fish.”

In April 2009, the Maersk Alabama, an American cargo ship containing among other things food aid for Somali people, was attacked in international waters near the African Horn by Somali pirates--natives of a fishermen’s village. At request of Captain Richard Phillips (Tom Hanks), the crew hid in the engine room and managed to wound two of the pirates, but in a dangerous twist of fate, Captain Phillips was taken hostage aboard a lifeboat with only the pirates for company. Quarreling among themselves, the pirates were surrounded by US Navy frigates which had to intervene to rescue Captain Phillips.
Leave it to Tom Hanks to carry a movie like this on his shoulders. Captain Phillips is a taut thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat virtually from the start and Tom Hanks shines the most, though Muse, the pirate Captain and his crew are excellent in their roles as well.
The tension is palpable all along the film, among th…

Gravity (♦♦♦♦♦)

Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) is a female medical doctor who is in space testing a prototype of her own design. Matthew Kowalski (George Clooney), mission captain, is a veteran in space travel. When the Russians bomb one of their satellites by mistake, the debris reach their aircraft and Dr. Stone and Kowalski get stranded in space. With little oxygen left, they rely on each other to arrive at the International Space Station (ISS) first, to get a Soyuz in which to drive to the Chinese station that will get them home. However, due to the obstacles inherent in the plan, it would be easier to surrender.
Gravity is the first Wow movie of the year and has been getting Oscar buzz. All the praise is well deserved. Gravity breaks with convention in more ways than one. For example, it's well known that sound doesn't travel in space; in spite of it, most sci-fi movies depict explosions in space as the loud affairs they're here on Earth. To fill the silent void, Alfonso Cuarón, who dire…

The Conjuring (♦♦♦♦)

Rhode Island, 1971. The Perron family buys an old property from a bank at an auction. They happily move to the country, but they couldn't have predicted their charming property was possessed by a demonic entity feeding on their fears.
Enter Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple of demonologists who help the Perron family at the mother's request. The entity becomes so malevolent that Ed and Lorraine must perform an exorcism on a family member to rid them of the incubus for good.
Did I like The Conjuring? I say it was very good and free of cheap tricks so used in the genre to make the audience jump from their seats. It was effective and scary, more psychologically so than most of the movies meant to do so. Let me say that The Conjuring is the typical example of why I avoid this kind of movies.
My mother kept interrupting the showing and for once I was grateful; I don't think I would have been able to watch the entire film without feeling a bit apprehensive without my mother's in…

The English Teacher (♦♦♦♦)

Linda Sinclair (Julianne Moore) is a dreamy English teacher who at forty-five years of age hasn't found the ideal man to settle with. She is virtuous and proper, and believes the world to be like it's in literature. A casual encounter with a former high school student turns into a less than ideal partnership when she believes him to be bullied by his father and after consoling him, ends up having a tryst with him.
I expected this movie to unfold along the lines of Notes on a Scandal, but I was utterly surprised when I realized it was a comedy, or rather a dramedy. It is wonderfully acted by all characters, but Julianne Moore is spot on as the prim teacher whose life unravels due to this entanglement. Moore looks more the part of a repressed librarian than an English teacher, and as I said, she is superb in this role.
Moore received early acclaim for her performance and I wouldn't be surprised if she is nominated to this year's Oscars for this role.
Also notable are the pe…

The East (♦♦♦♦)

Jane Owen (Brit Marling) is an executive in an intelligence company that does business with industry leaders in every sector of the economy. Jane wins a coveted promotion and is sent undercover to infiltrate an eco-terrorist group known as ‘The East’, which has been giving CEOs a taste of their own medicine.
At first, Jane, known to the group as Sarah, gets to report the group's activities via a carefully concealed phone, but the sudden exodus of a member forces Jane to take a more active role in the organization. As she gets more prominent roles, she also becomes emotionally immersed in those people's lives, until it becomes problematic for Jane to keep both of her lives separate.
The East is a taut, very provocative thriller about eco-terrorism, but it's also a study into a cult- like group and how a charismatic character can shape or bend circumstances at will under the cover of defending a cause. In that respect, or at all, The East doesn't disappoint.
The screenplay,…

Mud (♦♦♦)

Ellis and 'Neck' are fourteen year-olds dealing with issues common to their age, but a shared passion for boating gets them close to a boat with potentially no owner in an uninhabited island and a fugitive named ‘Mud’ running from the law for defending a damsel in distress. Neck follows Ellis' lead and both begin helping Mud, but that fragile alliance is put under test when people come to town looking for Mud and his girl.
Mud is a coming of age story with dramatic elements that distinguish this film from the rest in its genre. Ellis is a boy dealing with a tense home life and the no-nonsense life education his father is imprinting in him. He is a good friend and can't resist jumping to the rescue of a lady in trouble even if it means getting a black eye or his butt kicked. All those things bring Ellis and Mud closer, but is Ellis becoming a better person with Mud's help? Or, is Mud using both Ellis and Neck?
There's very good acting in Mud starting with the title…

Live Chat with Carla Neggers at BookTrib

BookTrib is hosting a live chat with Carla Neggers on September 27  at 3:00 pm EST.

During the Chat you can:
Ask Carla questions directlyWin a free copy of Declan's CrossHere it's a slideshow of Carla Neggers' photos while vacationing/working in Ireland.

Declan’s Cross by Carla Neggers (♦♦♦♦)

Ten years ago on a dark November night, a thief entered a mansion in Declan’s Cross and stole three valuable Irish landscape paintings and a Celtic cross dating back to the fifteenth century. The thief was never caught or the bounty recovered, though the Sharpe family has some evidence that the same thief had been at work in other cities across the globe since that fateful night.
FBI undercover agent Colin Donovan and FBI agent with the art crime division Emma Sharpe are vacationing in Ireland when Colin receives an e-mail from his brother Andy telling him that Julianne Maroney, Andy’s ex-lover, is heading to Declan’s Cross for two weeks in advance of an internship she is starting in Ireland in January.
Julianne has met a rich woman whose family is connected to a well known oceanographic research institute in the States. This woman invites Julianne to Declan’s Cross where she is planning to build a research facility to study marine species. Since Julianne is a marine biologist working t…

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand (♦♦♦♦)

On June 17, high school graduation night on Nantucket Island, Jake Randolf, Demeter Castle, and Hobby and Penny Alistair drove off from a beach party in the early hours of the morning after three of them had been drinking heavily. Penny was sober and at the wheel. She was upset because of a secret she had learned at the party. Penny was crying, driving at high speed, and not wearing a seat belt as her twin brother Hobby. At the end of a road before the beach, Penny accelerated and the car took flight. Upon landing she was killed and Hobby was left in comma. Jake and Demeter were physically unscathed.
As the summer unfolded, Demeter--who was severely overweight, socially ostracized and was known for her drinking-- started drinking more often and stealing liquor from the houses she worked at…Until her employer received a complaint and she was exposed to her parents as an alcoholic and a thief.
Jake’s father decided to uproot the family to Perth, Australia—the place Jake’s mother was from …

CARLA NEGGERS Blog Tour for DECLAN'S CROSS kicking off in September!

Two weeks ago I was contacted by a media company to see if I was interested in hosting a Blog Tour stop for Carla Neggers’ latest book Declan’s Cross. I was ecstatic, though I confessed that I didn’t know how to do it, so I would instead promote the Tour, which is kicking off on September 12 across the blogosphere, and post a review on September 19. So please tune in for my review of Declan’s Cross by Carla Neggers on that date.

Praise for Carla Neggers
"Heron's Cove gives romantic suspense fans what they want...complex mystery with a bit of romance. Negger's skillfully created a compelling puzzle, refusing to reveal all the pieces until the very end." - Top Pick, RT Book Reviews
"Once in a while, a writer who's been at it seemingly forever reaches a new pinnacle. Such is the case with Carla Neggers in her latest superb adventure of romantic suspense!" - Providence Journal
"Carla Neggers has emerged as the queen of the romantic suspense novel...Heron'…

Sylvia (♦♦♦♦)

American poet Sylvia Plath is studying in England. After a scathing review on one of her published poems she goes to a party and meets British poet Edward Hughes. Thus begins a tempestuous love affair that ends up in marriage. They move to America when Hughes wins a poetry award, while Sylvia takes a teaching job. Then the demands of family life start pressing on Sylvia for she suffers from jealousy and writer’s block while he becomes a celebrated poet.
Fearing he can’t write as well in the limelight, they go back to live in England but soon he starts attracting female attention for his work while Sylvia takes care of the children. A heated affair with an acquaintance of the couple leads Hughes to leave Sylvia. By then it’s virtually impossible to coexist with Sylvia’s fits.
Sylvia and Hughes love each other madly. They understand each other at a very intimate level, but they cannot live together. When Sylvia offers Hughes to come back home and he refuses, she takes her own life.

Lee Daniel’s The Butler (♦♦♦♦½)

Cecil Gaines was born in the cotton fields in the American South in 1920. When he was six years old, Cecil saw the landowner--of the fields where he worked along his parents-- kill his father from a shot because he raised his voice to protest the rape of his wife. That very day, Cecil was transferred from the fields to house service where he learned how to become a house servant.
At thirty years old after working at a luxurious hotel in Washington DC, Cecil was invited to the White House and the next he knew he became a butler at the White House. He got to serve eight seating presidents while his family life was crumbling in part due to his wife’s unhappiness and his elder son’s affiliations to pacifist protests that derived in the Civil Rights Movement. For years Cecil saw his elder son go to jail for his protest activities to gain equal rights for African Americans in society.
Cecil lost a son in the Vietnam War, which he supported but really didn’t understand, and had a fallout with …

Blue Jasmine (♦♦♦)

Jeanette, or Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) as she makes everyone call her, is a neurotic woman in part due to a high lifestyle that was taken away when her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) was sent to jail for investing people's money illegally. When Jasmine was rich, she avoided her adopted sister, but now that she's broke she moves from New York City to San Francisco to live with her sister and nephews while she gets back on her feet. Soon enough, Jasmine's neurosis, pathological lying and her expectations about her life and that of her sister's become a sore point in the family.
This Woody Allen's film misses the mark in humor and tone. If Midnight in Paris and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are among his best movies, Blue Jasmine definitely isn’t. Cate Blanchett is OK as Jasmine, but her neurosis far from being funny is not only annoying but borderline manic. That was probably Allen's intention and in that sense she does not disappoint, but after watching her for a while it …