Review

#Review: Hobbs and Shaw 5/5

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I admit it: I agreed to see Fast and Furious Presents: Hobbs and Shaw for one reason—Joe Anoaʻi, aka Roman Reigns. Gosh, that man is gorgeous. It didn’t matter that his role was tiny, or that he didn’t utter a word. This was his film debut and I needed to see it. In that regard I was not disappointed. Joe/Roman was prominently on screen anytime he was in a scene. 

The movie as a whole also does not disappoint. The premise is engaging. Who doesn’t love family drama, especially when you know all parties truly have everyone’s best interest at heart? The action scenes get your adrenaline pumping and, unlike some movies, didn’t drag on so long that whatever disbelief you suspended crashed back. 

 The glue that holds it all together is the cast. Idris Elba and his fine self makes the perfect villain. Vanessa Kirby as Hattie Shaw steals the show in terms of her fight scenes. She is totally bad-ass. But as the two protagonists, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham carry the full weight of the movie, and no one could do it better. 

The chemistry between them reels you in. Their physical prowess and impressive comedic timing make you glad you showed up and stayed for the ride. I know I am.

Overall rating: 5/5 stars

PS Stay for the credits!i

My 600lb Life and Me

I have been trying to lose weight for a few years now. I’ve joined Weight Watchers, Tops, followed Atkins, Body Clutter, and the Body type diet. You name it, I tried it. I might have lost a pound or two but always gained it back. The desire for sweets and potato chips was stronger than my desire for fitness.

I also have the bad habit of watching TV while I eat. This adds to my tendency to overeat because I’m not paying attention to the food. Then I discovered the TV show My 600 Pound Life, which follows a patient for one year in their weight loss journey. Now, if I watch TV while I am eating, I watch this show. Trust me, this makes me acutely aware of how much food I eat.

I binge watched every season in their entirety, fascinated with the success stories and in awe that the doctor, renown bariatric surgeon Dr. Nowzaradan, didn’t throw in the towel with several of these patients. I certainly would have. 

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The show is mesmerizing, and I believe it’s at least partially responsible for the combined 64 pounds my partner and I have lost since starting this “Program”. I recommend it to anyone who is struggling with their weight.

As a writer, I also realized that the show closely follows the Hero’s Journey. Each episode begins with the ordinary world of the patient. We see the patients at home sharing their backstories. It’s a bit of an info dump but it works.  Next, they are offered the chance of help, but something stands in their way. Transportation to Houston where the doctor is located can pose a huge issue. Finally, a call to adventure forces the patient to make the trip and they meet the mentor, Dr Nowzaradan. Entering Houston, they cross the first threshold to become his patient. Win, lose or draw, their lives are never the same.

After the call is answered, we follow the patient through a series of tests and challenges. The doctor’s first order is to go on a very low-calorie diet and lose a large number of pounds in a month. Most patients fail this test and fall prey to temptation, some several times. They receive assistance from nutritionists, physical therapists, counseling for their emotional issues, and sometimes drug rehabilitation. With the help of these allies they deal with their issues (or not), and experience a revelation. Their reward is weight loss surgery. But the surgery is not the magic elixir many of them believe it will be.  

Now the patient must learn to eat properly and increase their activity using all they’ve learned. There is usually a setback but with the mentor’s help, they pull things together and begin to lose again. The show ends on a hopeful note with the patient making progress towards their transformation.

Over the course of their multi-year journeys, these heroes can loose 400-500 pounds. By their example, I’m reminded that I too can reach my weight loss and fitness goals.

#Review:John Wick 3 5/5 Stars

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As usual, when going to see an action movie that’s been in the theater a while, my partner and I were the only women in the audience for John Wick 3. Not that it matters; I just find it interesting.

Keanu Reeves did not disappoint. As Wick, a classic “bad guy that you root for”, he swaggers. And smolders. Moreover, he made all of the improbable fight and torture scenes believable. And there were many such scenes. The action seemed unrelenting, and created fast pacing that skirted the edge of being too much. Exhilarating.

The situation the protagonist found himself in was interesting. He’d been excommunicated from the ruling order of bad guys and forfeited his life. His quest was to get his life back.

Unfortunately, a situation(or set-up) is not a plot. Stuff happened. No rising action, no darkest moment, no arc of growth for Wick.

Still, Keanu on the screen for two hours kicking ass and not taking names is worth the price of admission. Add to his presence a couple of well trained, beautiful attack dogs and you have a blockbuster. My rating:5/5 stars.

Spawn of Lilith—A Review 4/5 stars

Spawn of Lilith—A Review 

4/5 Stars

I recently finished Spawn of Lilith by Dana Fredsti. I liked this book and would recommend it to others. It seems to follow none of the “rules” we have come to expect in books. There is no inciting incident (or ordinary world, I couldn’t tell which was missing), no rising action. Most of the book is simply Lee, the main character, doing things. Lee buys beer. Lee take a job on a bad movie.  Lee takes another job with another bad movie. Although she’s a stunt woman, I’m not sure any of those scenes are necessary for the story. In fact, I wasn’t sure what the story was until the end of the book.

According to Lee, the movie industry is full of supernatural creatures. But they are not on the page, at least not in a way that impacts the plot or characters’ development.

So why do I like the book enough to recommend it? I like the characters. They were well developed and engaging. I like Lee. I like Lee’s friends— Eden, an actress, and Randy, a stuntman and a shapeshifter who never shifts. In a roundabout way, they help her grow and become more independent. I might have found Sean and Seth (her father and pseudo-foster brother) more interesting if they had been around more.  

I’d put the book back on the shelf several times because one of the blurbs described Lee as snarky. I hate snarky characters, but eventually I decided to give it a try. I did NOT find Lee snarky. Snarky is just bitter and angry, which Lee isn’t. She had humorous moments that were well done.

All in all, I couldn’t put this book down.  I’m looking forward to reading Lee’s next adventure.

Click on the cover to go to Amazon.

Click on the cover to go to Amazon.

Review: Wolfblood 4.5/5 STARS

Click on the picture for a link to amazon and the series DVD.

Click on the picture for a link to amazon and the series DVD.

Okay, I admit it. Occasionally I binge watch shows on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Sometimes, the results are terrible, and I’m left wondering how I am going to get back the hours I’ve wasted. Sometimes, I enjoy myself thoroughly and wish my binge didn’t have to come to an end. This is the case (so far) with Wolfblood, written by Debbie Moon..

In this world, you are born Wolfblood. You can’t get “turned” into one like in many Were stories. It’s the tale of Maddie and Rhydian, two young Wolfbloods. Maddie lives with her parents, and Rhydian, who is a newcomer to their small town, lives with a foster family who do know know what he is.

Over the course of the first three seasons, much happens. As I don’t like to give spoilers, suffice to say the stories are a blend of typical teenaged angst (belonging, independence, parental issues, love).

There are many wonderful aspects of this series. First, it’s refreshing to have teenagers actually played by teenagers. In addition, every episode has a rich story arc in which a character changes or grows or learns something new after overcoming an obstacle or solving a problem. There hasn’t been one episode that wasn’t moving in some way.

The “bad guys” are usually three dimensional and occasionally likeable. You understand their motivations, and that makes them sympathetic. I also value that Maddie is the pack Alpha. Not her parents, not Rhydian. Maddie. The girl is fierce, in both human and Wolfblood terms.

The challenge in this series, however, is that at the end of Season 2 there is a significant cast change. I understand that this is also true after Season 3. For people like me who get connected to well-written characters, shifts in casting and therefore story premise are hard.

Overall, however, I enthusiastically recommend this series. You’ll cheer for the characters and wonder what they are thinking, smile at the humor and find yourself moved when their lives get hard. What more can you ask for?

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Binge-Watched: A Review of Umbrella Academy

A remote control pointing to a blurry television.

A remote control pointing to a blurry television.

Umbrella Academy is a new series on Netflix. I’d say it’s urban fantasy, my favorite genre to read and watch.

Despite some irritations, I loved this show.  I had no knowledge of the comic so had no expectations, which may have allowed me to enjoy the show instead of looking for where it diverged.

The premise seems to be this: On October 1, 1989, 43 women who had not been pregnant that morning gave birth. A rich entrepreneur adopts 7 of them.  He trains them as superheroes to combat crime. Each child has a unique superpower. For some reason, unexplained but perhaps hinted at, the children go their separate ways. This story takes place when they reunite at their father’s death.

Many of the characters are a bit stereotypical. But can we expect more from comic book villains and heroes?  We saw their flaws and strengths in concrete terms. However, I found most of them to be sympathetic. I tend to be attracted to stories of broken heroes and this one gives me three--Luther, Diego, and Klaus.  

There were a few others worth mentioning. I adored Hazel and the donut lady. I liked Bobo and felt so much emotion from “mom” even though she was supposed to be an automaton. I cared and worried about these people. On the other hand, one major irritant was the show’s inconsistencies. Luther’s size was all over the board.  And the speed of the relationship between Leonard and Vanya was hard to believe. Speaking of Vanya, I also couldn’t believe her total personality metamorphosis took only 3 or 4 days. As this was a major part of the season’s arc, I had some difficulty staying connected to the storyline.

 Even with the irritants, what the series does well had me hooked--Giving viewers a reason to care about the characters.  I watched the entire season in two days. And I’m sure I’ll watch it again.

I Can Hardly Imagine Worse

I don't understand negative book reviews, and I have never been compelled to write one. If a book doesn't click with me, it doesn't click with me. Maybe if the book were racist, sexiest, and undecipherable, maybe I'd think that it would benefit society to hear my opinion. Otherwise, I recognize that nothing pleases everyone so if I read a book I don't like, I move on to the next book. My opinion about negative reviews was, unfortunately, exacerbated by my very worst one. You see, my worst review was also my FIRST review.

That's right. The very first review I received for my debut novel, HOUSE OF THE RISING SON, was a 1-star review. And it gets worse. The reviewer remarked, "I admit it. I skimmed it." She went on to say that she didn't like the main characters.

She hadn't even read it.

I am a realist. I hadn't expected the world to fall in love with me at first reading. I didn't think I was the next Laurell K. Hamilton. I just hoped some folks would find my book and enjoy the story, maybe connect with my characters. I knew that a book about a bisexual incubus with kids and a screwed up childhood wouldn't be everyone's cup of tea. Still, I couldn't have anticipated that someone who "skimmed" the book would be so publicly and permanently negative. Yes, 1-star reviews are permanent. They affect an overall rating in a way that is difficult to overcome, mathematically speaking. Fortunately, I'm surrounded by kind, generous, and experienced authors who talked me off of the ledge. I recall, in particular, a letter from syndicated columnist and author Vicki Williams. Her words of support and encouragement meant (and still mean) so much to me.

For giggles I read the 1-star reviews of my favorite books.Doing so helped me to understand something about the review process. Since nothing pleases everyone and we live in a world where the internet makes it easy for people to express all sorts of views, negative reviews are the cost of being a writer. Our work is public, therefore opinions about it will be too. It is also clear to me that most people don't understand the ramifications of negative reviews and consequently don't hesitate to give a very low rating for peculiar reasons. For instance:

  • "I skimmed it."  How do you know if it was good or bad?
  • "I hated the cover." Not a commentary on the story.
  • "Just got the book, I'll change the review after I read it." No. Just no.
  • "Not the type of book I care to read." And that deserves a low rating?
  • "I skipped every scene this character was in...The book was confusing." Of course it was confusing.

Overtime, House of the Rising Son received more reviews, including many 4 and 5-star accolades. The fact that readers enjoy Cheyenne's story (and find him as sexy as I do) is encouraging, and has strengthened my commitment to continue writing. I do still read my reviews (can't help myself) but I take them for what they are: One person's experience. Bad reviews are going to happen. So are good ones.

Binge Watching #Stranger Things: A #Review

I never seem to have time to watch a show while it's playing in real time. Consequently, I occasionally fall victim to binge watching. My latest is the Netflix series, Stranger Things. I saw the trailers and meant to watch but—no surprise here—I forgot. That is, until my nephew connected with me to tell me his opinion. He said the acting is good, the cinematography and music are “leaps and bounds ahead of other shows”, and the story is so good each episode feels like a movie. Since we tend to like similar things, I knew I had to try it. I watched the first episode and was hooked. I didn’t stop until I’d devoured the entire season.

My nephew was right. It was a beautiful show with gorgeous camera work and music that set a mood so well it was as if I was in the scene with the characters. But reflecting on the experience, I think if I’d I watched one episode each week I may have gotten bored and wandered off like I have with so many other shows—Beauty and the Beast, Legends of Tomorrow, Haven, to name a few.

On the surface, Stranger Things seemed to have huge flaws. Too many one dimensional adult characters—the doctor, the government agents, the police, the ex-husband. Most of the acting was so over the top it verged on parody—including Winona Ryder, who I’ve respected for years.The teenage drama storyline would have been hard to watch if it had dominated any episode. And at various places I thought, “Oh they're redoing Species, or ET,” or now that I think about it, any number of sci-fi tropes we’ve seen hundreds of times.

Worse, some of the twists and turns were illogical. For instance, the main character, Mike Wheeler (played by Finn Wolfhard) turns on the young girl (the one he’s risking a lot to help) for protecting him. Who does that? Or poor Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) a character so gratingly negative I kept wishing the monster would get him. Thankfully we had Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) who was completely adorable and softened my reaction to the others.

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Another clear bright spot in the show was young Eleven, played by Millie Bobbie Brown. Her expressive face (and acting chops that belie her age) made me care about her despite the plodding backstory that was explicitly designed to make her sympathetic. I also connected to Jonathan (Ryder’s oldest on, played perfectly by Charlie Heaton). These two, along with Gaten, are the reasons I watched episode after episode. I plan to watch the show again to figure out how they brought these young protagonists to life and what hooks kept me glued to my seat for eight hours.

Eight hours? Remind me to never admit that again.

The Devil Made Me: A Review

Lucifer has stolen my heart. That’s not a statement you hear every day. And I haven’t always felt this way. I try to watch at least the first episode of all new programs that have a supernatural element. Finding them on TV isn’t always easy but On Demand helps.

And not all get second views.

Lucifer almost did not get that second view. The show started out too predictable with the trope I hate…two men vying for the attention of the single woman. Early in the program I had told my partner that I didn’t think this was going to be a keeper.

Credit:Fox Television

I am not sure exactly when my opinion changed. Maybe it was to his loyalty to his friend Delilah? Maybe it was Maze? More likely it was his interaction with Linda. I love hearing the secret desires of these characters and his determination to see the bad people punished. His brazen behavior became humorous and his smarmy smile became endearing.

I’ve read that certain groups have tried to have the show cancelled and when it didn’t air one Monday night, I was afraid they had succeeded. After a bit of research I learned that the show was bought by HULU, which I do not get. So, I lost my On Demand option. But for now at least I have a reason to look forward to Monday night television  again

#Supernatural: Unforgettable

cropped-image1.jpgAfter watching Supernatural last night, I realized there will be a fissure in my world when the show ends. The Winchester boys are fully developed characters with hearts and souls that bring them alive on the screen. Their lives and their stories connect with viewers, and although we all know they are fictional characters, we cry for them, cheer for them, grieve with them.

A writer's dream, by the way. I often wonder if any one connected with Chey and Zander so deeply. Years from now (and hopefully with a few more of their stories in the world), will anyone remember them the way the Winchesters will undoubtedly be remembered?

Last night, the deaths of both men were foreshadowed. First Dean thought Sam died. In order to try to save him, he overdosed on stolen drugs to have a chance at making a deal with a Reaper. In the process, he nearly died. Thankfully you don't get more resilient or bad-ass than the Winchester brothers. They both survived against harrowing odds--even managing to kill three werewolves in the process. A rush of relief came first, then the usual smile at their hard-won victory.

For a brief moment in time, however, we glimpsed three possible futures. Sam, dead. Dean, dead. Both brothers gone. It was...devastating. Is that how the show will end? Hard to say. As Jensen Ackles offered in an interview, it's either going to end tragically or not tragically. For me, no matter how it ends, it's going to be gut-wrenching.

And unforgettable.

#teamdean #supernaturalforever