Monday, October 17, 2016

Movie Monday: Hell or High Water

Hell or High Water

Directed by David Mackenzie
Genre: Heist, Crime
Running time: 102 minutes
Released: 2016
Produced by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment

Toby is a divorced father who's trying to make a better life for his son. His brother Tanner is an ex-convict with a short temper and a loose trigger finger. Together, they plan a series of heists against the bank that's about to foreclose on their family ranch. Standing in their way is Marcus, a Texas Ranger who's only weeks away from retirement. As the siblings plot their final robbery, they must also prepare for a showdown with a crafty lawman who's not ready to ride off into the sunset.

Hell or High Water is the best Western film I have seen all year. The film is almost perfectly made. Not overly ambitious, it knows exactly what it should do without overreaching.

Hell or High Water focuses on two brothers, Toby and Tanner, who are introduced as bank robbers. As the film progresses, they continue to make their way around robbing different branches of the Texas Midlands Bank. Toby is attempting to save his family ranch from Texas Midlands Bank before it is seized, so his family can escape poverty and his two sons can live a better life. In the meantime, Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton and his deputy are assigned to catch the pair of bank robbers. The film alternates between the two sides until they inevitably clash.

While Texas is a common setting for Western films, the Texas landscape depicted in Hell or High Water is not generic in any way. The film takes place during the economic downturn; poverty, lost opportunities, cynicism, and desperation are constants throughout the film. There are no heroes. The banks are portrayed as villainous and exploitative. The people refuse to cooperate with Texas Ranger Marcus in his investigation. Even the protagonists are painted as flawed. Tanner is a thrill-seeker, actively seeking to break the law for the adrenaline it gives him. Toby, while his motives for robbing banks may be better, knows he is committing sins through his crimes.

The pacing is brilliant in Hell or High Water. It progresses slowly but surely towards its climax, and background information is slowly given to the viewers organically. The slow pacing is backed by strong acting with the characters as the main highlight of the film. The brothers have a compelling motivation behind their robberies, and the men chasing them are well fleshed out too. While narratively the film brings nothing overly special, Hell or High Water still feels fresh and is extremely well made. I strongly recommend this film to anybody not turned away by its R rating.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Movie Monday: Finding Dory

Finding Dory

Directed by Andrew Stanton
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Running time: 97 minutes
Released: 2016
Produced by Walt Disney Studios, Pixar Animation Studios

Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) is a wide-eyed, blue tang fish who suffers from memory loss every 10 seconds or so. The one thing she can remember is that she somehow became separated from her parents as a child. With help from her friends Nemo and Marlin, Dory embarks on an epic adventure to find them. Her journey brings her to the Marine Life Institute, a conservatory that houses diverse ocean species. Dory now knows that her family reunion will only happen if she can save mom and dad from captivity.

Finding Dory brought everything you could want from the sequel to Finding Nemo. It is beautifully animated, has strong performances from its voice actors, and manages to have both lively, funny moments and emotionally moving moments.

The plot to Finding Dory is largely the same as that of Finding Nemo. Dory is seeking her family and so she travels the ocean to find her parents. Since childhood, Dory has struggled with her memory problems and while her parents tried to protect her, she became separated from them and forgot almost everything. Eventually, Dory beings to remember bits and pieces after the adventures in Finding Nemo, and so she seeks out her parents once more with Nemo and Marlin.

Finding Dory was an enjoyable film. It was visually stunning, had its heartwarming moments, delivers relatable lessons, and also has fun, colorful characters for children. Memorable characters can bring both humor and heart to films, and this one was no different. Finding Dory introduces the grumpy octopus Hank, the nearsighted whale shark Destiny, and the insecure beluga whale Bailey, all of which bring natural humor to the film.

Finding Dory might have been an incredible and memorable film if not for its predecessor Finding Nemo. It brings many of the qualities that make a great Pixar film, being beautifully animated, strong voice actors, and both lively moments and emotionally moving moments. However, its plot is heavily reminiscent of Finding Nemo, and it also seems heavily skewed towards a younger demographic. Pixar’s best films manage to deliver to both younger and older demographics, but Finding Dory is a heavily simplified film, as it relies more on chase scenes and childish humor. Overall, I would still recommend Finding Dory as a fun summer film. While I did not find it to be memorable, it was still enjoyable.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review & Giveaway: Fancy Nany Tea Parties for Fancy [Insert Child's Name] by Jane O'Connor

Fancy Nancy Tea Parties for Fancy [Insert Child's Name]
Jane O'Connor

Illustrator: Robin Preiss Glasser
Genre: Picture Book
Hardback: 40 Pages
by Put Me in the Story

Fancy Nancy, hostess extraordinaire, can’t wait to share her party-planning expertise with your little one! From recipes and crafts to etiquette tips and French lessons, this precious personalized book contains everything your child needs to throw the perfect tea party. A personalized letter from Nancy herself to your fancy kiddo? Oui! Plus, your child’s name is worked into the text and adorable illustrations throughout the book. Wrap up with a set of recipe cards from the Kitchen of Fancy Nancy, and best of all, cut out and frame the certificate declaring your child a graduate of Fancy Nancy’s Tea Party Course! Que magnifique!


Fancy Nancy Tea Parties for Fancy [insert child's name] provides an introduction for young readers to tea parties from Ensembles and Etiquette to hosting Classic Tea Parties, Buffet Tea Parties, Tea Parties Alfresco (outdoors), Tea for Tea, and Doll Tea Parties.

I love how the "Put Me in the Story" edition invites children to interact with the story and actively work on hosting their first tea party. For a child, knowing that a book is yours is a special feeling. Knowing that this book was printed with your name makes it an especially significant gift, and Put Me in the Story tells children just that from the cover page, which features the name of the child in the title and the name of the giver in the bottom left corner.

When purchasing this book, I recommend uploading a photo of your child (especially one in which your child is all dressed up) because the second page opens to a gorgeously illustrated border that has a large box inside reserved for a photo of your child. Above, it says "Fancy [Your Child's Name]." The box is approximately 3.75" x 4.5", so make sure the photo is high quality. The accompanying page on the two-page spread is reserved for a message to your child. There's a lot of room, so make use of it! :)

Like other "Put Me in the Story" books, Fancy Nancy Tea Parties makes good use of your child's name to make it interactive. What makes this book unique is that it is nonfiction and instructs your child in activities that can actually be carried out. There's even a page at the back filled with mini recipe cards that can be cut out, so your child can save favorite recipes for future reference. I really wish that I hadn't started reading this book before my plane flight because I was sorely tempted to prepare for a tea party and invite my friends over!! In fact, this book would make a fantastic gift before a birthday party or other special event, so you and your child can plan a tea party together!

If I have any complaint, its that the color scheme and choice of crafts might seem a bit off-putting for some children. (I'm a girl, but I was a tomboy. Any pink clothes I had were gifts from relatives.) I'd like to see a toned down version that's isn't as much about the fancy. That said, there are benefits to teaching children how to make an idea their own. To a child who doesn't like pinks, sparkles, and other fancy accessories, it's perfectly fine to give them this book and teach them how to make the ideas their own. Decorations don't have to be rhinestone-studded butterfly cutouts but can be stars and planets, and the dress code doesn't have to be fancy. It can be as casual jeans and a t-shirt! This book is about making your own tea party.

I hope Put Me in the Story keeps this book in their lineup because I would love to purchase this book in the future for a child. Its interactive nature and the opportunity to share a special tea party with a special child make it a perfect gift choice!!

A copy was provided by Sourcebooks for review


Enter the tour-wide giveaway to win a Fancy Nancy Tea Party Kit!

The Fancy Nancy Tea Party Kit includes the following

• Personalized copy of Fancy Nancy Tea Parties 
•  Personlized TuTu Basket
•  Feather Boa
•  Children’s Tea Set

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Movie Monday: The BFG


Directed by Steven Spielberg
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Running time: 117 minutes
Released: 2016
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios

Ten-year-old Sophie is in for the adventure of a lifetime when she meets the Big Friendly Giant (Mark Rylance). Naturally scared at first, the young girl soon realizes that the 24-foot behemoth is actually quite gentle and charming. As their friendship grows, Sophie's presence attracts the unwanted attention of Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater and other giants. After traveling to London, Sophie and the BFG must convince Queen Victoria to help them get rid of all the bad giants once and for all.

Going into this film, I wasn’t sure what to expect. While I had enjoyed reading The BFG as a child, I did not know how well the book would translate into a full 2-hour film. Overall, I found that while it seems whimsical and immature, and at times the plot was all over the place, the film has its definite charms.

I’m sure most of us already know the general plot to The BFG. It is about the plucky orphan Sophie, who finds herself abducted by a friendly giant, affectionately referred to as the BFG (for Big Friendly Giant), and is taken to Giant Country. There, she discovers his fellow giants are not so friendly and regularly eat human children. Sophie eventually convinces the BFG to help her stop the other giants.

One major problem with The BFG was simply that its plot did not warrant a 2-hour long film. While the main plot to The BFG is extremely simple, it fills 2 hours with its extravagant portrayal of its world. The storyline takes a few rather large detours, as the BFG not only hunts dreams but also creates them and gives children dreams at night. How these detours portray themselves in the film is up to the viewer, as the world that Spielberg paints through this film can be absolutely beautiful at times. However, while the dreams and Dream Country were animated beautifully, the fact still remains that the film’s plot was thin and many of its side sequences did not lend much if anything at all to it.

The BFG is not without its charms. Mark Rylance does an incredible job as the BFG. He brings pure joy to the character, and I couldn’t help but smile listening to the BFG’s clumsy dialogue. In addition, the animations were incredible and created incredibly visually pleasing moments as Spielberg creates and portrays a beautiful world of wonders.

Overall, The BFG has some major upsides but also has its major downsides. The film rambles on for quite a while, as it attempts to dazzle its viewers with its beautiful world. Again, its plot is really insufficient to fill an entire 2 hours,and only takes direction towards the end as it builds toward the final confrontation with the giants. This final act is definitely worth watching. All in all, I would recommend this film. While I did find it to be forgettable in the end, it was definitely a charming film, and I personally found that its upsides outweighed its downsides, as I could not resist its charms in the end.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Review & Giveaway: The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan

The Woman in the Photo
Mary Hogan

Genre: HistoricalMystery
Paperback: 432 Pages
Publication: June 14, 2016
by William Morrow

1888: Elizabeth Haberlin, of the Pittsburgh Haberlins, spends every summer with her family on a beautiful lake in an exclusive club. Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains above the working class community of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the private retreat is patronized by society’s elite. Elizabeth summers with Carnegies, Mellons, and Fricks, following the rigid etiquette of her class. But Elizabeth is blessed (cursed) with a mind of her own. Case in point: her friendship with Eugene Eggar, a Johnstown steel mill worker. And when Elizabeth discovers that the club’s poorly maintained dam is about to burst and send 20 million tons of water careening down the mountain, she risks all to warn Eugene and the townspeople in the lake’s deadly shadow.

Present day: On her 18th birthday, genetic information from Lee Parker’s closed adoption is unlocked. She also sees an old photograph of a genetic relative—a 19th century woman with hair and eyes likes hers—standing in a pile of rubble from an ecological disaster next to none other than Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross. Determined to identify the woman in the photo and unearth the mystery of that captured moment, Lee digs into history. Her journey takes her from California to Johnstown, Pennsylvania, from her present financial woes to her past of privilege, from the daily grind to an epic disaster. Once Lee’s heroic DNA is revealed, will she decide to forge a new fate?


Novels that intertwine past and present have the potential to build a world and help us understand how a family has come to be in the present situation. The Taste of Appleseeds by Katharina Hagena and The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende are two fantastic examples of novels that do this well. The Woman in the Photo had the potential to do the same, but the execution and writing fell short of my expectations for a literary work. That said, some readers may enjoy this novel as one to pass away the time.

Elizabeth and Lee are heroines that are catered more towards the YA crowd. They are headstrong and set in their beliefs. Elizabeth in particular is ahead of her time and defiant of the cultural norms that dictate how a young woman from a well-to-do family should act. The similarities are especially striking given how quickly the novel alternates POVs. A scene has barely started when the POV changes. It feels especially rushed in the first chapters, as if the author wants to dump all the backstory on us before jumping into the actual plot.

Frankly, most of the first fifty or so pages could have been cut or the information given to us in small chunks later. Despite all the information that was dumped on us, I didn't feel as if I got to know the heroines at all. It was as if the author had given me fifty pages of paperwork to read instead of an actual story. On top of that, the language and writing is overly simple and immature. While there are detailed descriptions of the character and settings as well as other details that I look for in historical novels, the writing wasn't done well. Mostly, it told me the facts instead of playing it out for me; as a result, the writing didn't engage me, nor did it serve to bring the world to life for me. Modern day readers who have a hard time reading historical dialogue may appreciate the simple, modern language. However, those who appreciate more historical accuracy may not enjoy this novel as much.

Past the first fifty pages, I mostly skimmed the novel. It looks like the novel gets better. I believe readers who are able to get past the drawn-out exposition will get a lot more out of this novel than I did. If you think that you'd be interested in reading this novel but aren't sure if you actually want to purchase it (and also for those who are excited to read this novel!), I have a copy to giveaway for a lucky US or Canadian winner. For more details, continue below.

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review


The Woman in the Photo
Open to the US / Canada

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Giveaway: The Killer in Me by Margot Harrison

The Killer in Me
Margot Harrison

Genre: YA MysteryThriller
Hardback: 368 Pages
Publication: June 12, 2016
by Disney-Hyperion

Hasn't he lived long enough? Why not? I could take him like a thief in the night.

This is how the Thief thinks. He serves death, the vacuum, the unknown. He’s always waiting. Always there.

Seventeen-year-old Nina Barrows knows all about the Thief. She’s intimately familiar with his hunting methods: how he stalks and kills at random, how he disposes of his victims’ bodies in an abandoned mine in the deepest, most desolate part of a desert.

Now, for the first time, Nina has the chance to do something about the serial killer that no one else knows exists. With the help of her former best friend, Warren, she tracks the Thief two thousand miles, to his home turf—the deserts of New Mexico.

But the man she meets there seems nothing like the brutal sociopath with whom she’s had a disturbing connection her whole life. To anyone else, Dylan Shadwell is exactly what he appears to be: a young veteran committed to his girlfriend and her young daughter. As Nina spends more time with him, she begins to doubt the truth she once held as certain: Dylan Shadwell is the Thief. She even starts to wonder . . . what if there is no Thief?


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