Friday, September 30, 2011

Movie Review: Beyond the Prairie, Part 2: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder (2002)

Beyond the Prairie, Part 2 continues the story of the Wilder family. Having set out in a covered wagon, they cross the Missouri River and leave Dakota behind.

While optimistic about their new home, troubles plague them. Almanzo's health continues to impair his ability to clear  the land and plant the apple trees left behind by the previous owners. They must hire help, but have no way to pay anyone other than in firewood. Rose is bullied at school and begins keeping to herself. She runs away and gets lost in a cave.

As the years pass, things improve for the Wilders, until Laura is called back to De Smet to visit her beloved father on his death bed.

A curious thing happens between the two movies. At the end of Beyond the Prairie, narrator Tess Harper, who plays an older Laura, tells viewers that the Wilders traveled for six weeks and arrived at their final destination in Missouri. Amazingly, Rose Wilder, who was a toddler (probably about 2) when she left De Smet, is school age at the beginning of Beyond the Prairie, Part 2. Now, I love Skye McCole Bartusiak's portrayal of the highly intelligent, moody Rose Wilder, but I thought the rapid aging of characters was reserved for soap operas. This seems to be one of those cases where the storyline dictates throwing common sense out the window.

Meredith Monroe and Walton (Walt) Goggins reprise their roles as Laura and Almanzo Wilder in this movie. Their performances are stellar, despite the inaccurate and somewhat lackluster storyline they are handed. We see the young couple thrilled to discover the new home they hope to turn into a prosperous farm. We ache with them when they believe the $100 bill Laura had tucked into her writing desk has disappeared, just as we rejoice when Laura finds the money that had slid into a crack. We are inspired by all the hard work they do to get their farm up and running, and we feel their anxiety when Rose is lost.

An interesting exchange takes place between Laura and a stranger on the wagon train. A young immigrant stops the Wilders on their way to the river, and encourages them to come into their camp for conversation. This is where the Wilders meet Beth and George Magnuson and their son, Charlie, who is played by a young Cody Linley (Jake Ryan, Hannah Montana). This immigrant approaches Laura at night when she is writing and asks her what their story is. She mentions the death of their son. In The Ghost in the Little House by William Holtz, it is said that the Wilders never spoke of their son's death. Rose didn't even know she had a brother until after her mother died. I find it curious that she would speak of something so personal to a stranger.

A tiny nitpick for the house on the Wilders' new property having a rusted box spring mattress that was left behind. While spring mattresses replaced the timber frames late in the 19th century, it's highly unlikely many pioneers would have been able to afford one, especially if they were living in a house as small as the first one that stood on what would be named Rocky Ridge Farm. It's kind of like spotting a red metal toolbox on the floor when Manly (Almanzo) brings Bessie (Laura) to see their new house under construction before they're married in the first movie. Also, for some reason, I recall there being a scene where Laura asks Rose if she took the $100 from the desk when they discover it missing. That's not on the DVD. It might not seem like an important scene, but just like the tense scenes between Rose and her mother where Laura insists she stop speaking her made up language or when Laura tells Rose she must return to school even if the girls are mean to her, it shows the somewhat difficult relationship they had in real life.

The viewer doesn't get a chance to see all of what happens in the near decade they lived at Rocky Ridge before the new house is built. As the first harvest of apples begins to ripen, Laura imagines for Rose what she thinks their future will look like, and suddenly we have this picture of the new house waiting for its coat of white paint. We get a chance to see the Ingalls family one last time and for Pa and Flutterbudget to share a moving moment.

What I find most interesting in Beyond the Prairie and Beyond the Prairie, Part 2 is how many people encouraged Laura's writing. Her own father toward the end of the movie instructs her not to forget about the pioneering era and not to let Rose forget it either. While poetry and writing articles seemed to come naturally for the real life Laura, it's truly not until she is encouraged by Rose, as a successful writer, that Laura considers penning her now classic books. Perhaps the writer and producers of the movie are attempting to show us that this was who she was meant to be all along, but I didn't get that feeling from the historical information I've read.

Overall, Beyond the Prairie, Part 2 has its place in the world for Laura fans. Those who don't care for the liberties Michael Landon took in producing Little House on the Prairie probably aren't going to be fond of this movie either. For those of us who grew up loving the television show, Beyond the Prairie, Part 2 and its predecessor is another way for us to honor the legacy that Laura left behind.

Actors: Terra Allen, Alandra Bingham, J. Scott Bronson, Courtnie Bull, Lindsay Crouse
Directors: Marcus Cole
Writers: Stephen Harrigan
Producers: Dori Weiss, Robert M. Rolsky, Stephen Harrigan
Format: Color, DVD, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Paramount
DVD Release Date: November 23, 2010
Run Time: 96 minutes
Dean Butler (Almanzo Wilder, Little House on the Prairie, NBC) is working on a production of Laura's life. It has been shown at some of the festivals celebrating the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Hopefully it makes it to TV or directly to DVD soon.

Movie Review: Beyond the Prairie: The True Life of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1999)

Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beyond the Prairie, Part II were released as TV movies in 1999 and 2002, respectively. These movies have been packaged together and released by Paramount on one DVD (2010) for Laura fans. I will be reviewing each movie separately, as they both cover several years.

Before I go any further, let me state I have one pet peeve about both movies: the title. If you are going to put the word "true" in your title, then you should follow real life events and not exercise creative license all over the place. Now, I have clients who write fictional autobiographies of historical figures, but they clearly place, "A Novel," on the cover, so we all know the book is a healthy blend of fact and fiction. I don't even mind that the writers and producers of Beyond the Prairie opted to exercise creative license. Just don't put that four-letter word in the title, and all is good.

In this first movie, the viewer is introduced to a teenage Laura, living on the Dakota prairie with her family: Ma, Pa, Mary, Carrie, and Grace. A prairie fire threatens their home, and they work together to save it. Laura and Pa saddle up to go help others who might have been threatened by the fire. On the way back, they stumble upon a claim with a house frame on it. A man's jacket is hanging over one of the beams, and a curious Laura lifts an envelope out of the pocket to discover an odd name, "Almanzo." Pa scolds her, but Laura can't get that name out of her mind. She even talks to Mary about it one evening as she is describing the setting sun to her blind sister.

We move swiftly along to where Laura leaves home for the first time for her first teaching job. Then the town of De Smet is cut off  from the rest of civilization by the Hard Winter, and Almanzo and Cap Garland travel many miles to find seed wheat to save the town from starvation.

Laura and Almanzo marry and have a daughter. Things won't be happy for long, though. Almanzo and Laura lose their first crop to a hail storm. They have no way to pay their debts. They battle diphtheria. Laura gives birth to a second child, but he soon dies. Then a fire destroys their home.

Now living with the Ingalls family, Laura and Almanzo decide to move to Mansfield, Missouri. The movie ends with the a tearful goodbye.

When I first watched this movie on CBS, I truly enjoyed it. Granted, it didn't capture me the way Little House on the Prairie did in the 70's and 80's, but I'm older, and probably a lot pickier since I've learned more about Laura and Almanzo's real life. I have to admit, however, it was challenging to see new actors in roles that had been portrayed on television for so long by others.

This Ingalls family and the townsfolk of De Smet were more serious, sometimes sullen. Charles and Caroline actually have a fight in front of the children about his desire to move farther west. That said, I feel this was probably much more realistic than the romanticized version of events that we got from the classic books or the television show.

I've loved Richard Thomas in everything else I've ever seen him in, but he didn't quite make it as Charles Ingalls. Some of the lines he delivered were totally flat. I also didn't care for how certain aspects of his character were portrayed. When Laura is asked to teach school by Mr. Bouchie, she tells Pa that she won't do it. Charles pushes/guilts her into it by saying the family needs the money, especially with Mary in college. In an early scene from the movie, the devout, religious Charles said the word "damned." Granted, faith did not play a role in this movie at all--something else I have a problem with considering the time period and the people--but anyone who has studied the Ingalls family knows their faith was a big part of who they were.

Meredith Monroe, who I loved as Andy on Dawson's Creek, delivers a good performance here as Laura. I don't care for the fact that we have a blonde Laura, considering how in the books Laura was jealous of Mary's golden hair. In this movie, Mary is a red-head. It's odd. This Laura does not seem as feisty as one would expect, but she's older and that feistiness has turned into a desire to live her life as she pleases.

Laura's love of freedom is a bit warped in Beyond the Prairie. After accepting the teaching position from Mr. Bouchie, Laura tells Almanzo she feels she's been, "sold into slavery." If we consider that this takes place less than twenty years after the end of the Civil War, it's not an appropriate statement. It seems modern-day thinking has wormed it's way onto the De Smet prairie. Though in real life Wilder later admitted she didn't enjoy teaching, she felt a responsibility to her family and paying jobs for women were few. After her teaching time is over, she tells Almanzo her life is going to be her own and no one is ever going to tell her what to do. I feel the not wanting to say "obey" in her wedding vows is a bit embellished here.

Walt Goggins captures the shy, quiet Almanzo Wilder well. At moments he's a bit awkward, but out of all the main characters, I felt his was the most realistic portrayal. I also appreciate that Beyond the Prairie showed how Almanzo's illness permanently impacted his health, which is part of why they decided to leave De Smet.

Having watched Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder for the first time since it  originally aired on television, I'm not as enamored with it as I was then. Part of that is because Little House on the Prairie is now available on DVD and I can watch my beloved show whenever I wish, instead of needing a TV movie to give me my Laura fix. I do, however, believe it has its place in Laura fandom, because it portrays a more realistic view of what the pioneers endured. The historically accurate fashion is a bonus, and filming in Utah and Texas made it look more like a prairie than California, where Little House on the Prairie was shot.

In the end, you're either going to like this movie--which I do--or be bothered by the creative license that was taken with Laura's life.

Actors: Terra Allen, Alandra Bingham, J. Scott Bronson, Courtnie Bull, Lindsay Crouse
Directors: Marcus Cole
Writers: Stephen Harrigan
Producers: Dori Weiss, Robert M. Rolsky, Stephen Harrigan
Format: Color, DVD, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: NR (Not Rated)
Studio: Paramount
DVD Release Date: November 23, 2010
Run Time: 96 minutes

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Product Review: Sift & Toss Litter Liner

Recently I purchased Sift & Toss™ Litter Liners from the company's website. This is an As Seen on TV product that is not available in stores.

We have four cats, so cleaning out the litter box isn't a fun task. All that scraping to get waste off the bottom of the litter box takes forever and it makes a mess that I have to constantly sweep.

Sift & Toss is currently running a Buy One, Get One Free promotion. For $14.95 plus shipping and handling, I received 28 nested Litter Liners and 50 Scent Lock Bags. The shipment also included two free gifts: a grooming mitt (my cats are petrified of this) and a kitty fresh pouch (still don't know what to do with it).

I wasn't able to picture these items in  my mind when my husband explained them to me, but once I received them I could see how they would work. The mesh bottom of the liner is surrounded by white plastic sides consistent with garbage bag material. Once inserted into your litter box, all you have to do is grab the white sides and the mesh bottom sifts out the used litter.

Though these liners are geared toward normal size litter boxes, not the over-sized ones we have, I was immediately able to find advantages to using Sift & Toss.

Not only do they leave less mess around your litter boxes, they also reduce the amount of time spent cleaning the box each night, and they significantly reduce the amount of cat litter you use. With the initial shipment of liners, I cut our cat litter purchases from a one 20 lb. container of litter each week, to one same size container every three weeks. Wow! I like those savings.

Because our litter boxes are larger than normal, the liners didn't sit as upright as those you see in their promotional photos online and in commercials. This did cause some waste to fall outside the liner (but still in the box). I highly recommend using gloves when removing the liners. What I believe would make this product even better is for the sides to be higher or for the company to offer an extra-large size liner for families with multiple cats who own larger litter boxes.

The Scent Lock Bags are small, but amazingly hold a significant amount of waste. I could usually use one bag to collect the waste and all three liners.

The one thing I can say I found disappointing, which I don't think is unusual for As Seen on TV products, is the delay between order time and actual shipment of the product. I placed my order on August 3rd, but didn't receive shipment notification until August 26th. It then took an additional 6 days to arrive at my home. After paying almost as much in shipping as I did for the product, one would think the shipping time could be reduced.

I would definitely buy Sift & Toss Litter Liners, but I truly hope the manufacturer comes out with an additional size that will work better for our family.

This review contains my honest opinions, for which I received no monetary compensation of any kind.

Mystic Predicts Future Accurately! by Graham Parke

I’ve recently become a master in Goki Feng Ho, the ancient Chinese art of decoding license plates. It has, you can imagine, changed my life dramatically and for the better.

Like most practitioners, I’ve always had this suspicion that there’s more to life. That we can’t be mere random collections of molecules with no higher purpose than figuring out how not to soil ourselves while we keep our bodies running as long as possible. Such a view has always seemed too arbitrary to me. So, ever since I was a child, whenever I saw my initials – or part of my date of birth – pop up on a car license plate, I’d get that uneasy feeling. As if there was something I needed to do, or that I was supposed to realize. As if someone was sending me coded messages. Even at a very young age, I understood that something like Goki Feng Ho must exist, and that I was drawn to it like a moth to a particularly nice lady moth.

So, I was both surprised and not-really-all-that-surprised when a friend gave me this book on Goki Feng Ho. I started reading and became hooked. Even the relatively scarce historical background was interesting to me on so many levels. Although much is lost about how Goki Feng Ho first came to the west, the stories about its initial discoverer, master Hung Lee, survive, and I dare say they’d constitute fascinating reading for even the hardened skeptic.

From the early days of receiving his gift in the mail (though some claim he received it in a dream) to his struggles to find disciples to whom to pass it down, Hung Lee’s story is a heartwarming one. Obviously his life was made particularly challenging by the absence of license plates, or even cars, at the time. I have found no record of what the first Goki Feng Hoos practiced and honed their skills on, but I assume they invented plates for each other to decode, or borrowed some from the Germans.

At the time, though, Chinese mystics were known to keep their gifts a secret, passing them down only to family members. Lee broke this mold when he became the first mystic to offer up his gift to the general public. But even then, the story goes, he had trouble finding anyone who was remotely interested. There are parables of Lee raffling off free Kindles and iPods among his disciples, but, again, he was too far ahead of his time. No one understood what he was talking about. He finally found a handful of willing participants at a local mental hospital, after raffling off a small pig and some sticks. And even though lived to be a hundred and fifty, it is said he never managed to earn those back.

Graham Parke is responsible for a number of technical publications and has recently patented a self-folding map. He has been described as both a humanitarian and a pathological liar. Convincing evidence to support either allegation has yet to be produced.

The award winning No Hope for Gomez! is his fiction debut:

Boy meets girl.
Boy stalks girl.
Girl already has a stalker.
Boy becomes her stalker-stalker.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Book Review: ONCE WE WERE KINGS by Ian Alexander

Be drawn into an epic battle of good versus evil in a world of shape-shifting spirits, deception, and powerful forces in ONCE WE WERE KINGS by Ian Alexander.

Render is a mistreated orphan from the Kingdom of Valdshire Tor. He escapes his life of slavery to seek his true identity and stumbles upon conspiracies.

Ahndien is the sole survivor of a heinous raid on her village in the Eastern Kingdom of Tian Kuo. She sets off in search of her father, who has been captured by Torian troops.

Both discover abilities they never knew existed. Neither realizes their destinies are entwined.

They meet as enemies, but soon discover they have been called to unite their kingdoms against a powerful enemy that threatens to destroy both realms.

I'm not a huge fan of fantasy novels, but I saw this book reviewed at Life in Review in May, and I knew I had to have a copy. Render and his brother Kaine are orphans who live as slaves for different masters; so Render feels alone much of the time. He wants to know more about their parents, but Kaine isn't too keen on sharing. These boys are plucked out of slavery and brought to the Citadel, where Render finds more than he bargained for: like preternatural powers that allow him to wield the destructive forces of nature.

Ahndien, is a peasant girl living with her family--father, mother, and younger brother. While she is in the woods, her peaceful village is attacked, killing everyone. This pivotal moment will change Ahndein's life forever. With the help of Lao-Ying, she discovers she can manipulate fire. They make haste to the Sojourners Council, but are hurt and angry by what they find. When Render comes along with his group--his cat, Greifer and Branson, the bratty son of Lord of Argon, Ahndien is quick to assume the worst of those who live in the opposing village.

The influence of C.S. Lewis is clear throughout ONCE WE WERE KINGS. As I was reading, I couldn't help but think of Narnia. Not that the stories are so similar, but there were moments as the plot unfolded that reminded me of the feel of these classic novels. Valhandra is like Lewis's Aslan. As I got to know Branson, he reminded me of the Pevensies' annoying cousin Eustace. Readers of the Bible will find passages that feel familiar as Valhandra speaks to Render.

My only tiny pet peeve in an otherwise perfect young adult fantasy novel, is the use of a third person omniscient point of view. Now, I'll admit, this is my personal pet peeve, so it's nothing to do with the book itself. This is a fast-paced, action-filled adventure story that will draw in older teens and adults alike. Using this point of view, however, pulls me out of the story when the narrator tells the reader something a character doesn't see or know.

I could easily see ONCE WE WERE KINGS on the silver screen. It's outstanding! Lovers of this genre won't want to miss this one.

Author: Ian Alexander
Publisher: Dawn Treader Press
SRP:  $3.99

I received a mobi version of this book from the author in exchange for my honest opinions. I received no monetary compensation of any kind to provide this review.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book Spotlight: The Full Moon Bride by Shobhan Bantwal

What makes a marriage-love or compatibility? Passion or pragmatism? Shobhan Bantwal’s compelling new novel explores the fascinating subject of arranged marriage, as a young Indian-American woman navigates the gulf between desire and tradition…

To Soorya Giri, arranged marriages have always seemed absurd. But while her career as an environmental lawyer has flourished, Soorya is still a virgin, living with her parents in suburban New Jersey. She wants to be married. And she is finally ready to do the unthinkable…

Soorya’s first bridal viewings are as awkward as she anticipated. But then she’s introduced to Roger Vadepalli. Self-possessed, intelligent, and charming, Roger is clearly interested in marriage and seems eager to clinch the deal. Attracted to him in spite of her mistrust, Soorya is also drawn into a flirtation with Lou, a widowed colleague who is far from her family’s idea of an acceptable husband.

In choosing between two very different men, Soorya must reconcile her burgeoning independence and her conservative background. And she must decide what matters most to her-not just in a husband, but in a family, a culture, and a life…

Read an excerpt!

Chapter 1

Like most second-generation Indian-Americans, I’d dismissed arranged marriage as a ridiculous and antiquated custom. Tying oneself to a man one hardly knew, and pledging life-long love and fidelity on top of that?

“For a modern woman it’s nothing short of insanity,” I’d mocked many a time.

But after reaching adulthood and realizing that everybody in my big South Indian Telugu family was married in that fashion and looked utterly content, except for my uncle Srinath, whose wife was suspected of being a hermaphrodite, the concept didn’t seem so absurd. I figured I’d even give arranged marriage a try. That is, if I could find a man to marry me—and it was a huge if.

So far, I’d acquired an Ivy League education and moderate success as a big-city attorney, but I’d come up empty in the marriage department, perhaps because I’d distanced myself from the madness of the dating scene.

If it weren’t for the fact that I really and truly wanted to get married, I wouldn’t have ventured into the old-fashioned Indian form of torment called bride viewing. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as it was in India, where girls were often put on display and expected to tolerate their potential in-laws’ scrutiny like cows at a cattle auction.

Here in the U.S. it was just a matter of boy meeting girl and family meeting family in an informal setting. There was generally no undue pressure exerted on either party to marry. But convention required them to be polite and respectful of each other. However, the system was biased in our male-worshipping culture. The respect shown by the girl and her parents to the boy and his family often bordered on sycophantic.

At the moment, standing before the oval mirror in my elegant bedroom with its honey oak and pastel furnishings, I gave myself a once over. In spite of the clever use of cosmetics, the face staring back at me seemed rather plain—ordinary nose, full mouth, curious eyes fringed by dark lashes, tweezed eyebrows. Nothing beyond plain Miss Soorya Giri.

Being the potential bride in yet another bride viewing was hardly pleasant. The mild fluttering in my tummy was gradually escalating into an anxiety attack at the thought of meeting one more eligible man.

With a damp palm pressed against my belly, I waited for my bachelor and his family to arrive. I stood in my bride viewing finery—the whole nine yards—or in this case, six. The sari happened to be six diaphanous yards of silk—soft, glossy, South Indian silk.

My suitor and his family were coming all the way from Kansas City, making the occasion all the more unnerving. Looking outside the picture window, I contemplated if I should make a quick and silent escape into the backyard.

Read the reviews!

Bantwal has created credible characters, with all their vulnerabilities, flaws, quirks, virtues and vices. The characters were so true to life that I found that I missed them a lot when I finished reading The Full Moon Bride . . . This one is a real page turner, don’t miss it!

Book Pleasures

I loved the reality of this book. Children of immigrants often feel torn between who they want to be and who their culture dictates they be. This story deals with this complex issue with honesty and heart. We feel for Soorya as she must decide for herself what is right and we see how torn she is about making a choice.

Eye on Romance


Shobhan Bantwal calls her writing Bollywood in a Book, romantic, colorful, action-packed tales, rich with elements of her own Indian culture, stories that entertain and educate.

Shobhan writes for a variety of publications including The Writer magazine, India Abroad, Little India, U.S. 1, Desi Journal, India Currents, Overseas Indian, and New Woman India. Her short stories have won honors/awards in contests sponsored by Writer’s Digest, New York Stories and New Woman magazines.

Visit her website at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pleating For Mercy by Melissa Bourbon Giveaway at Reviews By Molly

Do you love cozy mysteries? I sure do. I still  miss Murder, She Wrote on TV.

Melissa Bourbon is the pen name of talented author, Misa Ramirez (something I just learned today). Pleating for Mercy is the first book in her Magical Dressmaking Mystery series.

All the Cassidy women possess special gifts. Harlow Jane Cassidy’s is creating beautiful dresses. But she’s about to discover secrets in her own family, and another gift—one that can reach beyond the grave…
When her great-grandmother passes away, Harlow Jane Cassidy leaves her job as a Manhattan fashion designer and moves back to Bliss, Texas. But soon after she opens Buttons & Bows, a custom dressmaking boutique in the turn-of-the-century farmhouse she inherited, Harlow begins to feel an inexplicable presence…

One of her first clients is her old friend Josie, who needs a gown for her upcoming wedding. But when Josie’s boss turns up dead, it starts to look as if the bride-to-be may be wearing handcuffs instead of a veil. Suddenly Josie needs a lot more from Harlow than hemming a dress. Can Harlow find the real killer—with a little help from beyond?

Reviews by Molly has one copy of this book to giveaway. Visit for details.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pirates Gold: Treasure to Die For by Evelyn Uslar-Pietri Giveaway at Linda Weaver Clarke's Blog

Click on over to the blog of my friend, Linda Weaver Clarke. She is running a giveaway for a copy of Pirate's Gold: Treasure to Die For by Evelyn Uslar-Pietri.

Pirate's Gold is not for the faint of heart... It's a roller coaster of a ride that will plunge you into a world of dizzying adventure: a place of hideous monsters, evil wizards, enchanting nymphs and unimaginable riches! Tag along (if you dare!) with Captain Johnny B. Wilde and his motley crew as they sail the infamous islands of Vasquez searching for long-lost treasure.

From Skull's Island, where beastly terrors haunt, to the magical empire of Encantada, and on to the treacherous deserts of Cursyu, a trail of clues leads to an ancient and deadly secret--a secret that may spell eternal doom for our daring pirates... On behalf of Captain Wilde, author Evelyn Uslar-Pietri cordially invites you to take a deep breath (perhaps your last!) and hop onboard for this thrilling ride. But just remember, mate, you've been warned!

Doesn't this sound like a fabulous book? Linda has an interview with the author, where you can find out more. And don't forget to check out Evelyn's website. It's amazing!

Deadline to enter is October 1st, so head on over to and comment for your chance to win!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Movie Review: Joshua (2002)

The small community of Auburn is home to a lot of heartache. Though everyone knows each other, they have no sense of community. Maggie is aching to leave Auburn behind so she can forget about the car accident that took her husband's life and shattered her world. Joan and Steve's marriage is on the rocks so they are leading separate lives. A young guitarist named Kevin is at odds with his dad. Father Pat, a funny, awkward priest at the Catholic church is dismayed that he never seems to garner the approval of his superior Father Tardone.

But the appearance of a mysterious stranger changes all that. Suddenly, people are talking about Joshua, who seems to know how to get everyone to work together for the greater good--which seems to be troublesome to the serious Father Tardone.

This 2002 movie is based upon Joseph Girzone's novel, Joshua: A Parable for Today. The idea behind the story is that Jesus has returned to earth to help his people find their way and teach them how to love again. I read the book many years ago, along with Girzone's other Joshua books. My husband purchased Joshua, the movie, for me a few years ago as a Christmas gift.

While the premise is basically the same, as is typical with book to movie projects, Joshua barely resembles the written story. The story was modernized a bit, so the residents of Auburn now have cell phones, but overall filmmakers captured simple, small town American well. I was less than thrilled, however, with certain aspects of the movie: the romantic feelings Joshua's appearance awaken in Maggie (though handled in a family friendly way); having Joshua make a statue of Peter for the Catholic church instead of a statue of Moses for the synagogue (book); and the divisive relationship between Father Pat and Father Tardone.

Part of the appeal of the book, is that Jesus comes back and reaches out to all people, just like he did during his first time on earth. By having the movie focus on the Catholic church and Joshua helping rebuild a Baptist church that was destroyed by a storm, they remove the powerful element of Joshua reaching out to the Jews, which was a big part of the book. They make a point to mention there is a Jewish person in Auburn, but it's a humorous moment where this man enters the Catholic confessional to tell Father Tardone about one of Joshua's miracles.

Maggie's interest in Joshua, while depicted purely, adds nothing to the film. Perhaps they were going for a modern-day Mary Magdalene--as some people believe she saw the Lord as something more than a teacher--by portraying the character this way, but I felt it fell flat. Besides, Maggie wears her tops a bit too tight. In most shots, her "headlights" are on. Somehow, I think that's a no-no for a family film.

While the book did have the religious leaders of Auburn confronting Joshua about his motives, the man steering the destroy Joshua committee is Father Tardone. He preaches more about fear of God, than about God's love. At one point, Father Tardone invites Joshua to Mass, where he proceeds to give a sermon on how you cannot hide your sins from God. They exchange words after the service, and it's obvious they have a different version of who God is and the message he gives to us through his Word.

It is the moving scenes when Joshua interacts with certain people that save this movie. Joshua and the blind woman at the revival meeting; Joshua and Theo after his accident; Joshua and Father Tardone in Rome (where Joshua has been called to be interviewed by the cardinal about his actions); and the tear-jerking scene between Joshua and the Pope.

Despite its departure from the book, Joshua is filled with many talented actors who perform well with the material they were handed. I also feel, the message of God's love shines through.

Actors: Tony Goldwyn, F. Murray Abraham, Kurt Fuller, Stacy Edwards, Giancarlo Giannini
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD, Full Screen, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo), English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: Lions Gate
DVD Release Date: October 22, 2002
Run Time: 91 minutes
Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars See all reviews (206 customer reviews)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Guest Blogger: Chamed, Author of My Heart Stopped Beating

Fourteen year old Italian girl, Chamed, is a living miracle after fighting illness since birth to live a normal life. Now fourteen years old, she feels a thrill of freedom when she convinces her parents to let her stay home alone while they go on holiday. She soon regrets that decision when she receives a call from her aunt Patrizia that the worst has happened: her parents have died in a car accident.

Living with My Past by Chamed

Things only get worse for Chamed as she mourns the deaths of her parents and suffers under the care of her aunt and uncle. Her aunt repeatedly abuses her and convinces others that she is an evil child. When Chamed’s best friend’s father sexually harasses her, the blame is placed on Chamed. Deeply depressed, she attempts suicide, only to find herself waking up in a mental hospital. Her nightmare is only beginning as she is subjected to electroshock therapy against her will – and worse from the nurses and doctors.

Finally she finds hope again in Dr. Franco, but will he be enough to save her from this living nightmare?

A few years ago, I was thinking to myself about the destiny of the people who were in asylums before they closed, in Italy, at the end of the Eighties.

Where are they now? I was wondering. Those asylums, which still exist in other countries or under other names, are not usually places of cure, but of segregation.

What are the problems these people must face to integrate in our world?

I am now out of the madhouses but I have to live with my past. Day after day I must face my past. In the attempt of overcoming my past, once for all, one day I decided I would read the diaries I had written as a 14-year-old girl, and I would tell my story in a book. I have published my book this year, My Heart Stopped Beating (MindLeaves, second revised edition, August 2011).

In this book I tell the story of the time when I had fallen into an inferno of torture and abuse after my parents passed away. I was abused by my stepmother, and administered electroshock. I didn’t remember anything, they obscured my mind, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t even scribble and I encountered complications in relating my ideas to my way of expressing myself, in verbal language most of all.

Then for many years, for fear, I withdrew into myself and fought with my past.

I hope my book will help other people overcome an unbearable past. I think of my book as written for an ethical purpose. If the 'moral issue' might be given more importance, you may create, day after day, in every place and corner of the earth, the words, the big and small deeds that are the conditions for a better world. A world where everyone is given the opportunity to live a more human life.

At the end of the game what remains is only the love that has been given. I thank God for giving me four wonderful parents and I would not know who to choose among all four. The first two gave me a strong base of concrete and the other two have built on this basis, which with any storm doesn’t fall down, I believe.

It certainly can be damaged, ruined, but can never fall, and without their teaching I would not be here to tell my story. So many people of the asylums had incredible stories to tell, but the lack of real care for their world silenced their word forever.

I have written my book in the most authentic and honest way for me, putting in it all my heart and all of my life and reality. I wanted to keep my story essential, going straight to the heart of the matter.

I think of my book as a message in a bottle, as my diaries were. A bottle that now, with the English edition, has crossed the ocean, and reached a public that includes many people and many countries. In most of those countries many people are still imprisoned in asylums. I wish somehow my message could reach them, adding some hope, or at least awareness.

Chamed is not the registry office name of the author, yet it is not a pseudonym. She lives in Tuscany, she works mostly abroad, as a painter on canvas and porcelain. Some of her porcelain works are displayed in exhibitions in Italy, Sweden and Poland, France, Portugal and Brazil. My Heart Stopped Beating is her first novel. A second novel by her is forthcoming.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Spotlight: While There is Still Time by Terrence Dunnum

God always sends messengers to warn his people before a special event. He sent Noah before the flood. He sent angels before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He send John the Baptist before the arrival of Jesus Christ.

In the same way God spoke to Noah and John the Baptist, he has spoken to Terrell Dunnum. Terrell had released the Lord’s messages into a book of poetry that will bring hope and healing to all who read it.

While There is Still Time is filled with poetry that is enjoyable both for its messages and its unique rhythms and rhymes. The poetry in While There is Still Time will touch all people, whether saved or unsaved. The lost will be drawn back to God, the weak in faith will be strengthened, and all readers will find encouragement and inspiration.

Read the Excerpt!

Yearning for You
Like a whistle from a kettle as steam is set free
Is my yearning for you
Like a hand that rocks the cradle
With a soft, gentle touch
Is my yearning for you
My fragrance is sweet, so why don’t you sit, relax
Let it warm your feet
I am warmer than milk and sweeter than honey
With words of love as gentle as a little baby bunny
So come into my presence, my dear, my sweet
I have all the bread and wine and so much more to eat
For I will satisfy your longing no man can fill
With my words full of comfort
I’ll carry you to this great and awesome hill
So be still and know that I am
You are my bride
Prepare yourself

Available from the publisher or in a Kindle edition.

Read the reviews!

"For individuals of faith WHILE THERE IS STILL TIME is a book of hope that tells us exactly what is needed to make sure we are living the life destined for us. Poignant without being preachy, it is a poetic message that will resonate with individuals of all walks of life."

--C.A. Webb, Conversations Book Club

"You will be touched by the message and the thoughtfulness that Mr. Dunnum puts into his work."

--Katherine Boyer

Terrell Dunnum is the founder of Total Freedom Ministries, Inc., an organization that provides mentoring and biblical counseling to youth and families in crisis. He holds a master’s degree in Christian counseling from American Bible College and Seminary. While There is Still Time is Mr. Dunnum’s first poetry book.

At the age of 12 he began to teach Sunday school and help his mother prepare for her missionary license. Terrell’s unique message is one that has inspired, educated, and challenged individuals of all ages in making life changing choices.

At the age of 18, Terrell Dunnum’s mother died from an aneurism and a year later his father died from a coronary heart failure. Finding it difficult to continue with life and questioning God about the traumatic events left Terrell in a confused and depressed state. Terrell graduated from High School and continue through college receiving a bachelors degree in education through the help and encouragement of his older sibling.

Terrell says,” it was not easy, but I had to let go of the past, and learn to trust God in ways that my intellectual mind could not understand.” Through prayer and fasting, Terrell began to witness the miraculous effects of forgiveness and faith. Terrell later received his master’s degree in Christian Counseling from the American Bible College and Seminary.

Terrell Dunnum now encourages others as a motivational speaker. He has a gift to touch the hearts and minds of individuals struggling with identity crisis and relational barriers. He has helped thousands of young men and women find true meaning and purpose in life.

Visit the author online at

Product Review: PackIt® Lunch Bag

If you've watched any kids channels on TV, you've probably run across the ad for PackIt® lunch bags. According to the PackIt website, this revolutionary new lunch bag allows you to pack foods and keep them cold for up to 10 hours.

After incessant bugging from my girls, I broke down and bought two--actually, they are currently running a Buy One, Get One free sale on PackIt, so I spent $19.95 plus shipping and handling (for both) and got two lunch bags. The bags are currently offered in three colors: aqua, orange polka dot, and grey plaid. I place them in the freezer at night and then remove them the next morning to pack their lunches.

In the two weeks that I've used the PackIt bags for my girls' lunches, they've lived up to their claim. I send the girls off to school in the morning and the bags are still cold when they return home seven hours later--even though both girls have recess before lunch and the bags sit out in the heat for 15 minutes before they take the bags back inside to eat. If they have leftovers, I feel confident in returning them to the fridge and packing them for the next day's lunch. I'm sure I'll be bringing PackIt with me next year when we visit the Outer Banks again. It should be great on the beach.

I don't feel they are the best for small children, because the bags are bulky and heavy due to the material built into the sides of the bag that freezes and keeps the food cold. My oldest daughter can't fit the PackIt into her book bag with all the folders and notebooks she carries back and forth each day, so she has to carry it separately. She's complained about it a few times, but luckily once the bag is empty it folds up and is secured by a strong Velcro® fastener, which does allow her to toss it in her bag on the bus ride home.

The one major downside to the product is that you can't pack lunches the night before, which is what I used to do. I don't know how your mornings are, but with two adults getting ready for work and bugging two kids to eat and get dressed so they don't miss the bus, having to wait until the morning to pack their lunches is a big obstacle. What I've taken to doing is making the lunches the night before and leaving them in the fridge, so all I have to do is take the PackIt lunch bags out of the freezer and fill them; but it seems even that throws a kink into the routine that was the same for years. The inside of the bag gets a little wet as it warms up too, so it's a good idea to wipe it down before folding it back up and placing it in the freezer again.

Overall, PackIt was a good purchase. These bags allow me to pack foods and drinks that I wouldn't have packed in the past. Salads stay crisp. Milk stays fresh. Cold cuts don't get warm and slimy. Considering you can spend almost $10 on a regular lunch bag, PackIt is definitely a wiser choice. Right now, when you purchase your PackIt, they include an eBook with 30 days of recipes. With names like "Go Texas" and "Lunchbox Luau," these recipes will be as much fun to make as they are to eat.

I purchased my PackIt from their official website. I received no monetary compensation of any kind to provide this review.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Door At The Top Of The Stairs by Alison Holt Giveaway at Reviews by Molly

Stop by Reviews by Molly and enter for your chance to win an e-version of The Door At The Top Of The Stairs by Alison Holt.

Undercover narcotics officer, Jesse Shaunessy, is kidnapped and tortured, then thrown away by her department as damaged goods. The mind is a powerful ally, and 26-year-old Jesse has no memory of the abduction or the subsequent torture. Inevitably, as Jesse drifts from one itinerant job to another, the protective walls carefully constructed by her subconscious are beginning to crumble.

Fate lands her on a farm owned by Dr. Ryland Caldwell, a retired psychologist and her partner, Morgan Davis, the master of the Myrena Fox Hunt club. Ryland suspects there is more to Jesse’s foul temper than meets the eye. When Morgan and Ryland accidentally discover vicious scars on Jesse’s back, Ryland knows that without their help, Jesse’s descent into insanity will rapidly overwhelm them all.

Giveaway ends on September 23rd, so enter right away. Visit for full details.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Special Features in November and December -- Looking for Authors

Looking for authors for the months of November and December. See details below:

November - Women's Fiction Month

If you would like your book to be featured in November, please email me the following information:

  • Book blurb in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email  
  • Short Excerpt in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email  
  • Author's bio in third person in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email  
  • Author photo in jpeg format  
  • Cover art in jpeg format 
  • Up to three review blurbs in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email 
  • Links to your website and/or blog  
  • Links to where your book can be purchased  
Email this information to me by October 20th at cg20pm00(at)gmail(dot)com. Please put Women's Fiction Month in the subject line.

December - Seasonal Titles Month 

I am interested in featuring books that are set during Christmas or Hanukkah. If you would like to have your book featured, please email me the following information:

  • Book blurb in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email 
  • Short Excerpt in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email  
  • Author's bio in third person in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email  
  • Author photo in jpeg format  
  • Cover art in jpeg format  
  • Up to three review blurbs in Word .doc or .docx format or copy and paste it into the body of the email  
  • Links to your website and/or blog  
  • Links to where your book can be purchased  

Email this information to me by November 15th at cg20pm00(at)gmail(dot)com. Please put Seasonal Titles Month in the subject line.

Pump Up Your Book Live! Sept 2011 Author Chat on September 30th!

Strike up the band and join the chorus…Pump Up Your Book will be hosting the September 2011 Authors on Tour at a chat/book giveaway party on Friday, September 30, 2011 starting at 8 p.m. eastern (7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain and 5 p.m. Pacific) and ending at 10:30 p.m. (eastern time). Tell your book friends that not only will this give them an opportunity to chat with their favorite authors there will be a huge giveaway at the end of the chat!

* 8 p.m. eastern * 7 p.m. Central * 6 p.m. Mountain * 5 p.m. Pacific *

Here’s how it will work:

The party will kick off at our brand new chat room with an approximate 2 to 3 hour chat in which all authors touring with Pump Up Your Book in September 2011 will get a certain time slot to answer questions. All time slots are listed below so you’ll know when your favorite author is going to appear. When the party winds down, it’s time to dish out the goodies! All winners will be announced below after the chat is over so be sure to check this page to see if you’ve won a prize! If you are a winner, you have 48 hours to contact us in order to win your prize. We will be using to determine winners.

In order to get into the chat room, you will need to click on the link above and put in your real name. Only those with real names are eligible to win prizes. Ignore the part that says password, and hit Login. The chat room will magically appear before your eyes!

The doors will open at 7:45 to allow everyone to get in and the first author will start at 8:15. Because of the amount of authors participating, we have extended our usual end of the month chats to 3 hours. You do not have to stay the full 3 hours to win prizes. All you have to do is ask one of the authors a question to be eligible.

You have to be logged in under your real name as no prizes will be distributed under false names.

Once the chat starts and the first author is announced, all questions will then be directed to that particular author for the 10 minute timed segment. If you ask a question during the time limit and the it’s time for the next author, the author still can answer the question. OUT OF COURTESY TO THE AUTHOR, PLEASE NO CHIT CHAT WHEN THE AUTHOR IS TAKING QUESTIONS.

Because the authors only have 10 minutes to answer your questions, it would help to get acquainted with them before the chat and start writing down your questions to ask. To help you come up with questions (you must ask a question to be eligible to win prizes), here are the authors participating in the chat:

These prizes will be given away!

■Tamara Elizabeth will be giving away a paperback copy of Fabulously Fifty and Reflecting It!

■Richard Blunt will be giving away a paperback copy of Lucas Trent: Guardian in Magic!

■Greg Messel will be giving away a paperback copy of Illusion of Certainty!

■Bri Clark will be giving away a digital copy of Glazier!

■Mary Carter will be giving away a paperback copy of The Pub Across the Pond!

■Allan Leverone will be giving away a digital copy of The Lonely Mile!

■Vincent Zandri will be giving away paperback copies of The Remains and Moonlight Falls!

■T.M. Wallace will be giving away a paperback copy of Under a Fairy Moon!

■Christa Allan will be giving away a paperback copy of The Edge of Grace!

More prizes announced soon!

Schedule of Events (please again note these times are in Eastern Standard Time, please consult top of page to convert it to your time)

8:00 – 8:15 – This time is designated for everyone to get into the chat room, get comfortable.

8:15 – 8:25 – Tamara Elizabeth

8:25 – 8:35 – Richard Blunt

8:35 – 8:45 – Greg Messel

8:45 – 8:55 – Bri Clark

8:55 – 9:05 – Mary Carter

9:05 – 9:15 – Allan Leverone

9:15 – 9:25 – Vincent Zandri

9:25 – 9:35 – T.M. Wallace

9:35 – 9:45 – Christa Allan

9:45 – 9:55 – TBA

9:55 – 10:05 -TBA

10:05 – 10:15 – TBA

10:15 – 10:25 – TBA

For more details and to read information about participating authors, please visit the Pump Up Your Book ! website at

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Product Review: Kashi Whole Wheat Biscuits: Cinnamon Harvest

There are days I think I'm a cereal connoisseur. I've always been a big cereal eater. As a kid it wouldn't be unusual for me to have 3 or more bowls a day.

Back then it was usually the sweet stuff, but now that I'm older, I don't want all that sugar for my first meal of the day. Cereal is still convenient for a busy mom like me, though, so every week I walk up and down the cereal aisle looking for something that tastes great and is good for me too.

Our entire family likes shredded wheat, but let's face it, without sugar it can be a bit blah. I saw Kashi Whole Wheat Biscuits at Walmart on one of my recent trips. I hate the thought of spending money on a full box of cereal without knowing if we'll like it, so I requested a free sample of the Cinnamon Harvest flavor.

My family loved it! I'm happy because I'm trying to get my oldest daughter and I to eat better. This allows us to do that without sacrificing great taste. Kashi Whole Wheat Biscuits: Cinnamon Harvest are USDA organic. They contain 47 grams of whole grains. They're also high in fiber, low fat, and sodium free. Each serving only contains 9 grams of sugar. Honestly, can you find a better cereal?

I bought a box this week when I visited the grocery store again. I am so thrilled to have discovered this new cereal.

The other great thing about Kashi, is that they are dedicated to a healthier you and a greener world. If you visit the Kashi website at you can sign up to use their Lifestyle Tools. They have a guide to all things natural in your community, offer a place where you can accept challenges and post your accomplishments toward a healthier and happier you. There's even a place to take surveys. There are also articles and recipes online.

I look forward to being an active member of the Kashi community.

I requested a free sample of this product to be featured during Product and Movie Review month. This review contains my honest opinions, for which I received no monetary compensation.

A Lancaster County Christmas Giveaway at Reviews by Molly

What could be better than combining Christmas with a book by one of my favorite authors?

Stop by Reviews by Molly to enter her giveaway to win a free copy of A Lancaster County Christmas by Suzanne Woods Fisher. There's also information about an iPad giveaway that Fisher's publisher is running, so you don't want to miss out on this one.

Visit Reviews by Molly at for all the details.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Product Review: Poise® Liners by Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc.

Childbearing was not kind to my body. A petite woman who bore three average size children, my body has taken a beating inside and out. One of those maladies started after the birth of my first child, at the ripe old age of 19.

The stretchmarks weren't pretty, but it was the light bladder leakage (LBL) that really didn't sit well with me. I was young, though, and I wasn't about to start wearing panti-liners every day. In addition to the fact that they curl up on the sides, they were too thin to serve any real purpose where this was concerned. So, I tucked a spare pair of underwear in my bag to have in case I needed it.

As I've gotten older, had two more kids, and developed asthma that is accompanied with fits of coughing, the instances of leaks increased. I knew I had to do something. I had seen the hilarious commercials with Whoopie Goldberg talking about "spritzing," so I went out to the Poise® site and requested a free sample.

I received three individually wrapped Poise liners and a coupon for $2 off a future purchase. The first day I tried one, I was surprised by how soft and comfortable they are. I honestly couldn't tell I was wearing a liner, which is a big plus. No one wants to walk around feeling like she has on a diaper. That's the reason I switched to using tampons for the heaviest days of my period. No one wants to feel wet either. When a leak occurred, I didn't need to change the liner immediately--which was good because I wasn't in a place where I could. I stayed comfortably dry and was confident that odor would not be an issue.

Poise liners are different from period pads. They are so soft and comfortable, I forgot I was wearing one. I noticed the difference once I ran out of samples, but that's because I felt more confident and comfortable wearing one than being without it. I'm using my coupon next time I go grocery shopping to pick up a package.

You can visit Poise online at to learn more about LBL and to review their products. The site offers a short series of questions so that you know which product is right for you.

I requested a free sample of this product so that I could review it during this month's product and movie review special feature. I received no monetary compensation of any kind to provide this review.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Movie Review: The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of The Dawn Treader (2010)

Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are called back to Narnia by Aslan. Along with their cousin, Eustace, a spoiled rotten, selfish young boy, they arrive on the Dawn Treader, a ship captained by King Caspian.

Caspian, played by Ben Barnes, is searching for the seven lords his uncle sent out over the ocean. When they find the first lord, he gives them a magic sword. They soon discover that they must find the remaining swords and place them on Aslan's table in order to defeat the evil spreading over the islands.

They will be tempted in many ways. Can they overcome these temptations and find all the swords to dispel the mist?

From all the reviews I've read, it seems producer Andrew Adamson, and executive producers Douglas Gresham and Perry Moore opted to make The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the biggest departure from C.S. Lewis's classic children's books. The reviews, like those for the other two movies, are varied and conflicting. People who haven't read the books (like me) enjoy the beautiful settings, epic adventure, and special effects this movie provides. Lovers of Lewis's books, however, decry the departure from the books' storylines and the stripping away of the more Christian elements.

Our family saw The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in the movie theater not long after it came out. In 3D, it is a spectacular addition to the series. While Peter (William Moseley) and Susan Pevensie (Anna Popplewell) only appear in cameos during one of Lucy's dreams, fans of the movies are treated to seeing Lucy (Georgie Henley), Edmund (Skandar Keynes), and Caspian (Barnes) again. Liam Neeson and Simon Pegg also return to offer their voices to Aslan and Reepicheep respectively.

I was disappointed that Peter and Susan's departure to America is never explained in the movie. We don't know why the Pevensie children were separated; though we know by the end of the second movie the older two will not be returning to Narnia. Also interesting, and a bit lazy, is that like Peter in Prince Caspian, Edmund is finding it hard to be an average kid in England after being a king in Narnia. Lucy reminds him he's not a king in England, just as Susan reminded Peter they would need to get used to the fact that they may never return to Narnia at the beginning of Prince Caspian.

Will Poulter's Eustace Scrubb is an annoying little brat--a character you love to hate. Poulter did a fine job of creating Eustace to be so unlikable in the beginning that you wish Reepicheep had thrown him back into the water instead of keeping him on the Dawn Treader.

Each character is tested while on the journey. Lucy desires to be beautiful like her older sister Susan. I never got the feeling from the first two movies that Lucy was jealous of her sister, so this is a bit of a surprise. It's also not part of the book if the reviews I've read are accurate. Edmund and Caspian are tempted by a pool that turns everything into gold. But the focus in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is definitely more on the transformation of Eustace.

Being the selfish little runt that he is, Eustace finds a stash of gold and treasure, and gives into the temptation. As a result, he is turned into a dragon. It is the lessons he learns while a flying dragon and his contribution to the battle to place the swords at the table of Aslan that bring about his amazing transformation. While the battle moves the plot forward, it is not the focus of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as it was in the previous two installments. Even Edmund is surprised that he and Lucy were called back to Narnia when there are no wars to fight.

The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe is definitely my favorite out of the three, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a close second. Eustace's transformation is a big reason for that. While my understanding is that his conversion back to a boy is handled much differently than it was in the book, I do feel, overall the movie captured Lewis's message. This is the only movie of the three that I felt a PG rating was okay.

While opening weekends for the second two movies were significantly less than for the first one, the movies still did well. The Silver Chair is listed on the IMDB as in development for release in 2015. A lot can happen in four years, so we'll see what happens.

Actors: Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Will Poulter, Gary Sweet
Directors: Michael Apted
Writers: C.S. Lewis, Christopher Markus, Michael Petroni, Stephen McFeely
Producers: Andrew Adamson, Cort Kristensen, Douglas Gresham
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: April 8, 2011
Run Time: 113 minutes
ASIN: B004M1A21K
SRP:  $29.98

Monday, September 12, 2011

Book Spotlight: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, aster for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating grief, mistrust, and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.

Now eighteen and emancipated from the system, Victoria has nowhere to go and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. Soon a local florist discovers her talents, and Victoria realizes that she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But a mysterious vendor at the flower market inspires her to question what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.

Read an Excerpt!

For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose. Even so, the moment my mattress started to burn, I bolted awake. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

Standing in the middle of the room, I located the source of the fire. A neat row of wooden matches lined the foot of the bed. They ignited, one after the next, a glowing picket fence across the piped edging. Watching them light, I felt a terror unequal to the size of the flickering flames, and for a paralyzing moment I was ten years old again, desperate and hopeful in a way I had never been before and would never be again.

But the bare synthetic mattress did not ignite like the thistle had in late October. It smoldered, and then the fire went out.

It was my eighteenth birthday.

In the living room, a row of fidgeting girls sat on the sagging couch. Their eyes scanned my body and settled on my bare, unburned feet. One girl looked relieved; another disappointed. If I’d been staying another week, I would have remembered each expression. I would have retaliated with rusty nails in the soles of shoes or small pebbles in bowls of chili. Once, I’d held the end of a glowing metal clothes hanger to a sleeping roommate’s shoulder, for an offense less severe than arson.

But in an hour, I’d be gone. The girls knew this, every one.

From the center of the couch, a girl stood up. She looked young—?fifteen, sixteen at most—and was pretty in a way I didn’t see much of: good posture, clear skin, new clothes. I didn’t immediately recognize her, but when she crossed the room there was something familiar about the way she walked, arms bent and aggressive. Though she’d just moved in, she was not a stranger; it struck me that I’d lived with her before, in the years after Elizabeth, when I was at my most angry and violent.

Inches from my body, she stopped, her chin jutting into the space between us.

“The fire,” she said evenly, “was from all of us. Happy birthday.”

Behind her, the row of girls on the couch squirmed. A hood was pulled up, a blanket wrapped tighter. Morning light flickered across a line of lowered eyes, and the girls looked suddenly young, trapped. The only ways out of a group home like this one were to run away, age out, or be institutionalized. Level 14 kids weren’t adopted; they rarely, if ever, went home. These girls knew their prospects. In their eyes was nothing but fear: of me, of their housemates, of the life they had earned or been given. I felt an unexpected rush of pity. I was leaving; they had no choice but to stay.

I tried to push my way toward the door, but the girl stepped to the side, blocking my path.

“Move,” I said.

A young woman working the night shift poked her head out of the kitchen. She was probably not yet twenty, and more terrified of me than any of the girls in the room.

“Please,” she said, her voice begging. “This is her last morning. Just let her go.”

I waited, ready, as the girl before me pulled her stomach in, fists clenched tight. But after a moment, she shook her head and turned away. I walked around her.

I had an hour before Meredith would come for me. Opening the front door, I stepped outside. It was a foggy San Francisco morning, the concrete porch cool on my bare feet. I paused, thinking. I’d planned to gather a response for the girls, something biting and hateful, but I felt strangely forgiving. Maybe it was because I was eighteen, because, all at once, it was over for me, that I was able to feel tenderness toward their crime. Before I left, I wanted to say something to combat the fear in their eyes.

Walking down Fell, I turned onto Market. My steps slowed as I reached a busy intersection, unsure of where to go. Any other day I would have plucked annuals from Duboce Park, scoured the overgrown lot at Page and Buchanan, or stolen herbs from the neighborhood market. For most of a decade I’d spent every spare moment memorizing the meanings and scientific descriptions of individual flowers, but the knowledge went mostly unutilized. I used the same flowers again and again: a bouquet of marigold, grief; a bucket of thistle, misanthropy; a pinch of dried basil, hate. Only occasionally did my communication vary: a pocketful of red carnations for the judge when I realized I would never go back to the vineyard, and peony for Meredith, as often as I could find it. Now, searching Market Street for a florist, I scoured my mental dictionary.

After three blocks I came to a liquor store, where paper-wrapped bouquets wilted in buckets under the barred windows. I paused in front of the store. They were mostly mixed arrangements, their messages conflicting. The selection of solid bouquets was small: standard roses in red and pink, a wilting bunch of striped carnations, and, bursting from its paper cone, a cluster of purple dahlias. Dignity. Immediately, I knew it was the message I wanted to give. Turning my back to the angled mirror above the door, I tucked the flowers inside my coat and ran.

I was out of breath by the time I returned to the house. The living room was empty, and I stepped inside to unwrap the dahlias. The flowers were perfect starbursts, layers of white-tipped purple petals unfurling from tight buds of a center. Biting off an elastic band, I detangled the stems. The girls would never understand the meaning of the dahlias (the meaning itself an ambiguous statement of encouragement); even so, I felt an unfamiliar lightness as I paced the long hall, slipping a stem under each closed bedroom door.

The remaining flowers I gave to the young woman who’d worked the night shift. She was standing by the kitchen window, waiting for her replacement.

“Thank you,” she said when I handed her the bouquet, confusion in her voice. She twirled the stiff stems between her palms.

Meredith arrived at ten o’clock, as she’d told me she would. I waited on the front porch, a cardboard box balanced on my thighs. In eighteen years I’d collected mostly books: the Dictionary of Flowers and Peterson Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers, both sent to me by Elizabeth a month after I left her home; botany textbooks from libraries all over the East Bay; thin paperback volumes of Victorian poetry stolen from quiet bookstores. Stacks of folded clothes covered the books, a collection of found and stolen items, some that fit, many that did not. Meredith was taking me to The Gathering House, a transitional home in the Outer Sunset. I’d been on the waiting list since I was ten.

“Happy birthday,” Meredith said as I put my box on the backseat of her county car. I didn’t say anything. We both knew that it might or might not have been my birthday. My first court report listed my age as approximately three weeks; my birth date and location were unknown, as were my biological parents. August 1 had been chosen for purposes of emancipation, not celebration.

I slunk into the front seat next to Meredith and closed the door, waiting for her to pull away from the curb. Her acrylic fingernails tapped against the steering wheel. I buckled my seat belt. Still, the car did not move. I turned to face Meredith. I had not changed out of my pajamas, and I pulled my flannel-covered knees up to my chest and wrapped my jacket around my legs. My eyes scanned the roof of Meredith’s car as I waited for her to speak.
“Well, are you ready?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“This is it, you know,” she said. “Your life starts here. No one to blame but yourself from here on out.”

Meredith Combs, the social worker responsible for selecting the stream of adoptive families that gave me back, wanted to talk to me about blame.

Read the reviews!

“A deftly powerful story of finding your way home, even after you’ve burned every bridge behind you, The Language of Flowers took my heart apart, chapter by chapter, then reassembled the broken pieces in better working condition. I loved this book.”

—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"The Language of Flowers is the first book by this author and it’s hitting the Internet by storm. Exceptionally well-written, it’s a book that should definitely be shared with others. Complex and romantic, it’s sure to be on the list of this year’s best reads."

--Reading Frenzy
"The Language of Flowers is an excellent book, full of emotion, characters that have dimension, and a fresh premise in a world of tired story lines."

--Backseat Writer

"...5 out 5 stars."

--Reviews from the Heart

Vanessa Diffenbaugh was born in San Francisco and raised in Chico, California. After studying creative writing and education at Stanford, she went on to teach art and writing to youth in low-income communities. She and her husband, PK, have three children: Tre’von, eighteen; Chela, four; and Miles, three. Tre’von, a former foster child, is attending New York University on a Gates Millennium Scholarship. Diffenbaugh and her family currently live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where her husband is studying urban school reform at Harvard.

You can visit Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s website at


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11th

No matter how much time passes, we will never forget.

We will tell our children about the patriots who died.

We will tell them of how an entire nation cried.

They'll learn that there was no left or right.

Only a nation united, coping with strife.

We'll teach them no one wins in a world filled with hate.

We'll teach them now, before it's too late.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Book Spotlight: Chronicles of the Apocalypse: Revenge, Everything is Nothing by Zachary Richardson

Former assassin Jin Sakai sets out on a vicious battle for revenge and redemption against the clan of assassins who murdered his family.

When you sacrifice the lives of your wife and children to prevent the world’s most powerful clan of assassins from unleashing the Apocalypse, what does that make you? And what do you do when you learn that it was all in vain? For Jin Sakai, that sacrifice turned him into a mere shell of a man, filled only with guilt and hatred. When he learns that it was a sacrifice made in vain, he instantly sets out on a violent one-man war to tear the assassins’ clan down around their ears. After all, who better to destroy them than the man who brought them together?

Things soon turn down a darker path as Jin uncovers the disturbing truth behind his family’s sacrifice; a truth he was never meant to learn. Undone by the revelation, Jin is consumed by doubt and confusion and very nearly loses his life. It is only later when he meets Leah Lawson, a woman with a past almost as dark as his own, that his doubt and confusion vanish and he begins to see a path that will not only lead him to his revenge, but to his redemption. Unfortunately, there is far more going on behind the scenes than Jin realizes. Forces are at play that have been manipulating the course of his life ever since he was born. By setting out on his quest for vengeance, Jin unknowingly cements his destiny as one of the key warriors in the apocalyptic war that’s brewing just beneath the surface.

Book Information

Title of Book: Chronicles of the Apocalypse: Revenge, Everything is Nothing.

ISBN: 978-0-578-02176-8

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 20th, 2009

# of Pages: 291

Zachery Richardson, casually Zach, was born in Seattle WA on August 8th, 1989, and was raised in Lake Oswego, OR. It is perhaps the greatest irony of all that his chosen career is that of an author when as a child, his second least favorite subject in school was writing. Math was number one, and their relationship remains strained to this day.

However, the switch was flipped in middle school when his teacher assigned a creative writing project. Having finally been given a productive outlet for his wildly active imagination, Zach dove headfirst into the world of author-dom and never looked back. By his freshman year of high school, he’d completed his first “book”; a 300 page fanfiction set in the Mobile Suit Gundam universe. Afterwards, he turned his attention to a series of wholly original works that would become Chronicles of the Apocalypse in the subsequent year.

While Chronicles of the Apocalypse (or COTA as he likes to call it) remains his central focus, Zach has also begun work on several other projects in the Young Adult and High Fantasy genres. He currently lives in Wilsonville, OR.
You can visit Zach’s website at