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Movie Monday: Inside Out

Monday, June 29, 2015

Inside Out

Directed by: Pete Docter
Genre: Animated Comedy-Drama
Running time: 94 minutes
Released: 2015
Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animated Studios

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley's emotions -- led by Joy (Amy Poehler) -- try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness (Phyllis Smith) to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters are Anger, Fear and Disgust.


Pixar’s latest film Inside Out puts an interesting twist on internal conflicts by depicting them through anthropomorphized emotions. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear take the form of little colored people that influence human actions through a panel in our heads. Each emotion believes that it serves a pivotal role for Riley with Joy considering herself the most important. She behaves like the leader and attempts to control everything; in the process, she ends up alienating Sadness, whom she doesn’t consider necessary for Riley’s happiness.

The story of Inside Out is fairly straightforward. Riley, an 11-year old girl, seems to have the perfect life until her parents move to San Francisco, and the adjustment throws her emotions into a mess. Shortly after Sadness turns one of Riley’s happy memories into a sad one, Joy and Sadness get into a fight and wind up in the outer reaches of Riley’s mind by accident. Chaos ensues as only Disgust, Fear and Anger are left to hold down the fort until Joy and Sadness can make their way back.

Inside Out does a great job at appealing to a wide range of age groups. An ambitious film, Inside Out explores a more mature idea of existential crises while being an animated film targeted at entire families. For the children, there is childish humor and comical and exaggerated animations and personalities. For more mature viewers, there is intelligence and beauty in its exploration of Riley’s existential crisis as she begins to the Personality Islands within her mind.

Inside Out has some interesting and light-hearted moments. It physically portrays how the little people in our heads are affected by brain freeze and how they respond to annoying TV jingles getting permanently stuck in our heads. It also has some tear-jerking moments, including a scene where Riley’s imaginary friend realizes that Riley has completely forgotten about him.

At its core, Inside Out is a film about self-discovery. It speaks on how important each emotion is to our identity and how, while we sometimes want to shut out our negative emotions, they are just as important to our identity as our more positive emotions. I was pleasantly surprised with this film and would definitely recommend it.

Interview: James Morris, Author of What Lies Within

Tuesday, June 16, 2015
I'm delighted to feature author James Morris here on the blog today to talk about his experiences as a writer and a little about his latest novel What Lies Within.

What Lies Within
James Morris

Genre: YA Thriller
Kindle: 226 Pages
Publication: Junes 2, 2015
by Kindle Press

"You’re going to die."

A single text message and Shelley Marano’s world is upended. A normal high school senior, Shelley discovers she is adopted. She goes on a journey to uncover her past, only to find she was part of a horrific experiment to test the theory of nature versus nurture. In a culture of violence committed by young people, she may be one of these killers. With the lives of her and her friends in the balance, one thing is certain: she will never be the same.

Author Interview

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.
I grew up outside of Chicago in a small farm town, and I always loved reading and movies. After college, I moved to Los Angeles and tried my hand in the entertainment industry, where I worked as a TV writer as well as on a few feature assignments. It’s not the easiest career, and sometimes not the most stable, but I enjoyed it. I’ve since segued into novels, and I love the idea of writing something that stands on its own (unlike teleplays, which need actors, crew, etc.)

How has writing for television influenced your writing style?
I definitely have pacing in mind when I write. TV episodes move quickly, lest someone get bored and change the channel. Every scene has to play a role in moving the story forward, and your project is only as good as the worst scene, so I try to find the areas that need a little more TLC. On the other hand, TV doesn’t always allow time to delve into scenes, to allow more breathing room, and that’s something I continue to work on in novels. I sometimes have to remind myself I don’t need to rush so much. Then again, at least with this project, it’s a thriller, so I wanted it to move fast.

What inspired the writing of What Lies Within? Did you do any research for your novel?
My inspiration, really, has always been about identity, and who we say we are versus who we really are, or who we are versus who we really want to be. There’s great dramatic tension between those opposites! I did research genetics, even interviewing a doctor of genetics at UCLA, Dr. Wayne Grody, who was kind to offer his time. At the end of the day, though, it’s fiction, and I took liberty with the science.

Around what themes did you write What Lies Within?
Akin to the inspiration, it was about identity. I think it’s a potent theme for most adolescents (and even adults, really). I’m always curious: can we escape the forces that shape(d) us?

What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
First and foremost, just to have a good time. This is a ride of a novel, something you can read in big gulps, and enjoy. I’m not a fan of preaching or messaging; entertainment must come first. Afterwards, if it gets readers thinking, that’s great, too. But I want the reader to have fun.

If you could hang out with one of your characters for a day, who would it be and what would you do?
I think I’m most like Winston, so I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with myself all day! I actually think the villain would be interesting. You wonder how some people function throughout the day when they do such bad things.

Who were your favorite authors growing up and have any influenced your writing?
Ray Bradbury, for sure. He really was my first literary love. My other influence, and it’s a bit of a cheat, is Rod Serling. I am a “Twilight Zone” addict, and those stories still hold up! How crazy is that? They are written so well. I think I learned as much from “Twilight Zone” about dialogue, pacing, theme and structure than any other book or teacher. As far as influencing my own writing, it’s odd, because I would definitely love to write with some of the elements of say, John Greene, or Jess Walter (who wrote Beautiful Ruins), but you find you write like you write, for better or worse.

What are your thoughts about current YA trends in the book market? What would you like to see more of?
My only bummer is the labels publishing houses place on books in order to market them better. “Young adult” didn’t really exist when I read as a teen. Good stories were just good stories! I guess my second thing is publishing is probably much like Hollywood, in that, once a trend hits that’s successful, then it’s replicated. Publishing is a business like any other, geared toward profit, which I understand, but when a trend hits, then in the act of replicating the trend, other books don’t make it market because they don’t fit the theme of the moment, which is a loss for readers.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a (yes, I’ll say it after the previous question and labels) New Adult alternate history novel with a love story. No matter the project I’m working on, I always think the current one I’m working on is the best I’ve ever done, and I feel the same about this one. I’m excited about What Lies Within, but I’m really excited for the book coming soon!

About the Author

James Morris is a former television writer who has worked on include Smallville, The Dead Zone, and Are You Afraid of the Dark?. He now works in digital media with companies such as with copywriting, blogging, and editing. His goal is to use his love of storytelling to help corporations tell their own stories while continuing to write his own. When he isn't writing, you can find him scoping out the latest sushi spot, watching 'House Hunters Renovation', or trying new recipes in the kitchen. He lives with his wife and dog in Los Angeles.

Connect with James Morris
Website | GoodreadsFacebook | Twitter

Movie Monday: Jurassic World

Monday, June 15, 2015

Jurassic World

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Genre: Science Fiction Adventure
Running time: 124 minutes
Released: 2015
Produced by Amblin Entertainment

Located off the coast of Costa Rica, the Jurassic World luxury resort provides a habitat for an array of genetically engineered dinosaurs, including the vicious and intelligent Indominus rex. When the massive creature escapes, it sets off a chain reaction that causes the other dinos to run amok. Now, it's up to a former military man and animal expert (Chris Pratt) to use his special skills to save two young brothers and the rest of the tourists from an all-out, prehistoric assault.


The dinosaur amusement park that John Hammond dreamed of setting up has finally been created, and Jurassic World is a real spectacle. While the characters feel flat and the writing is nothing special, the film brings incredible scenery, great camerawork and visuals, and thrilling action. It does a great job of breathing life back into the Jurassic Park series.

The plot to Jurassic World is straightforward and predictable. People are growing tired of the regular dinosaurs, so Jurassic World has created a bigger and badder dinosaur through genetic mutations. Of course, everything goes wrong and the dinosaur gets loose. All hell breaks loose on the island with peoples’ lives hanging in the balance.

All of the prominent characters in the film were extremely stereotypical and flat. First, there are the classic brothers who don’t seem to get along too well but bond with each other while facing life-threatening situations. Their aunt is your typical career-focused adult that pushes the responsibility of her nephews onto her assistant, who is the stereotypical irresponsible babysitter that quickly loses track of the brothers while chatting on the phone. Plus, there is the greedy businessman who wants to exploit the dinosaurs. While some of the characters were likable, particularly the dino trainer played by Chris Pratt and the manager played by Bryce Dallas Howard, they were all very one-dimensional. There was little to no character development. I didn’t particularly feel invested in any of the characters.

While the characters don’t bring too much to the film, this is Jurassic World. We all watch it for the dinosaurs. The director did a great job with the action sequences, and the constant action keeps you busy enough to overlook the faults in the plot and characters. Jurassic World brings everything you’d expect from it. It’s bigger than its predecessors and provides plenty more dinosaurs, making for a great summer spectacle. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a fun and thrilling film.

Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Jane Austen

Genre: Historical
Paperback: 334 Pages
Publication: March 29, 2012 (originally December 1817)
by W. W. Norton & Company

Eight years before the story proper begins, Anne Elliot is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?


During my junior year of college, I signed up for a British Lit class where we read nothing but Jane Austen. Since the assignment of this book came so dangerously close to the end of the semester, I didn't have the chance to finish the novel, and we never really got the chance to discuss it as I would've liked in class. This ended up being the first time I read the book from beginning to end, and my feelings about the book overall were mixed.

The biggest issue I had with this book was noted from the very beginning. This novel picks up with a really, really, really slow start. We open with a debriefing on the genealogy of the family of Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet who is very, very proud of his status as such. We're introduced to his three daughters: the eldest Elizabeth, the novel's protagonist Anne, and the youngest and already married Mary. Because Sir Walter has no living sons (the only son he and Lady Elliot had was stillborn), his heir is a distant cousin of his daughters' named Mr. Elliot, with whom the family has been estranged from at the time. From the opening chapters, we clearly see the distinct personalities of the family members. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are vain and superficial, more interested in money, extravagance, and rank than anything else, Mary constantly seeks attention, and poor Anne, who is probably the only really sane person of the bunch, is stuck with a group of people who don't really appreciate her as they ought to.

The plot feels like it really starts to roll when several of the characters decide to pay a visit to Lyme, among them Anne and Captain Wentworth. There is a moment when Anne's intelligence and calmness comes into play, and it's there that I really started to wonder just how she felt about Captain Wentworth after having broken off their engagement and maintaining feelings for him after such a long time. Perhaps because it's because of the introduction of some friction, but the chapters at Lyme were what really got me hooked and made me genuinely curious about what would happen between Anne and Captain Wentworth, especially because it's around this part of the book where the Elliots are reintroduced, if briefly, to Mr. Elliot, who also brings some conflict with him.

This book is notable for being one of Austen's novels that was published posthumously. She passed away in July of 1817, and the book was published in December of that year (though it's usually dated 1818). It was published together with Northanger Abbey (the other posthumous Austen work released), as both stories take place for the most part in Bath, a city Austen spent some unhappy years in. This dislike of Bath apparently really hit Austen, as this novel makes it clear that the social environment of the city is based more on superficiality and frivolousness than anything else. Though Austen is famous for the social commentary in her writing, the commentary in this book is sharper than that featured in previous novels, and it appears to be at its sharpest in the chapters at Bath.

When it comes to the title of the book, it turned out not to be her choice, but that of her brother, Henry. There is no official word on what Austen herself was going to title the book, though she referred to it in her notes as The Elliots, which may have been what she was going for in the end. Persuasion is definitely the strongest theme in the book, what with all the moments in which characters attempt to or successfully persuade one another (or even themselves in some instances). The persuasion that probably affected me the most while reading was the one that occurred before the current events of the novel, when Lady Russell persuaded Anne to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth. The fact that Anne did so but maintained her feelings for him could be seen as a hint of how much she stands out from the people around her.

Personally, I thought the most notable aspect of this novel was its heroine. At twenty-seven years old, Anne stands out as the oldest of Austen's heroines, who are usually in their late teens or very early twenties. Much like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, Anne is the only truly level-headed person in a family of, for lack of better words, a bunch of nonsensical ninnies. The fact that she was essentially duped into breaking off her engagement to the man she loved was sad for me as a reader, but seeing her reconnect and ultimately reconcile with him was what really saved this book from being a disappointment. I read somewhere that the novel ends up being a Cinderella story for Anne: she marries for love and not money, ends up in better standing financially, socially, and emotionally, and ultimately finds herself surrounded by people who can really appreciate her. Not to mention the fact that the more antagonistic characters get the endings they deserve, and the few people who remain part of Anne's close circle of friends get rewards.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as I've enjoyed other Austen works. It isn't terrible, but it just doesn't quite have the charm of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It could be the fact that Austen was ill while working on this book, or the fact that it was basically reconstructed using the drafts and notes she left behind after passing away that makes it feel a bit rough around the edges when compared to other Austen novels. However, this book does have its merits, in particular the character of Anne. If you decide to check it out, I would recommend doing so mainly for her.

Rating: 3 stars



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  • N/A

Review: The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Jesus Cow
Michael Perry

Genre: Humor
Hardback: 304 Pages
Publication: May 19, 2015
by Harper

Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor’s heart, a Hummer-driving predatory developer is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm, and inside his barn is a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ. His best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to avoid the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called “a scene.”

Then the secret gets out—right through the barn door, and Harley’s “miracle” goes viral. Within hours pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a percentage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want—and raise enough money to keep his land—and, just possibly, win the woman and her big red pickup truck?

Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park—think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and t-shirts. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.


The Jesus Cow is a novel that I have been waiting for. I enjoy reading novels that use absurd elements to explore humanity. (For example, the bug / vermin in The Metamorphosis. Or, in the case of The Jesus Cow, the calf bearing the image of the Son of God.) I do want to say upfront that you cannot take the religious component seriously while reading this novel. I know that some people may not be comfortable with the religious content or how it is handled. I totally understand. For me, I read this novel with the understanding that it is not about religion. Rather, "religion" is used to explore humanity and show the absurd direction that it can take. (Cue: spiritual theme park and Harley making money off his "holy" calf.)

From the moment that I read the title of this book, I knew that there would be humor in it. And there is plenty of humor to go around in The Jesus Cow! Better yet, it comes packaged in a very well-written novel. (Know that I, the English major, rarely say this.) There are many, many lines that I reread and underlined or put in brackets because I love the way Perry worded them. For example, Perry describes one of Harley's past relationships in one sentence: "Harley himself had once named a Holstein heifer calf after a high school girlfriend; sadly the relationship ended before the calf was weaned" (P. 15 of the ARC). I love this sentence because it says so much about Harley's relationship in a unique way that fits into the context. Perry doesn't say something generic that could speak to any protagonist; instead, he describes Harley's relationship in a way that draws from pieces of Harley's life. In a way that I can imagine Harley himself thinking about his past relationship.

I also like how different characters in the town take turns narrating their story. As I mentioned in my review of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (read my review here), such sketches give us insight into characters coming from different backgrounds and allow us to build a deeper understanding of the culture of a place and how it influences the people that live there. In The Jesus Cow, we see how small town life has contributed to the development of each character, how each character reacts to their environment, and how each character, in turn, influences the lives of other characters. For example, if I had only learned about Klute from Harley's perspective, I might have dismissed Klute as a greedy developer out to get Harley. By reading about Klute's story from Klute's own perspective, I could sympathize more with his situation. These are but two of the many characters in the small town of Swivel.

The Jesus Cow is a highly entertaining and well written novel that explores themes about humanity.

Content (contains potential spoilers)
  • Don't read this unless you're prepared for religion not to be taken seriously. You can't when the Son of God is stenciled on the calf's side.
  • Some language.
  • A lot of absurdity in the process of exploring humanity.
  • *** Note: I started my Teach For America summer institute before I was able to finish reading this novel, so I ended up skimming / flipping through a good chunk of the book. At this time, the content does not reflect the whole of the novel. I did very much enjoy what I have read of the novel and do plan on returning to it to savor it at a slower pace. I will update my content list then! ***

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

  • N/A

Similar Books
  • Religious irreverence
  • Some language

About the Author

Michael Perry is a humorist, radio host, songwriter, and the New York Times bestselling author of several nonfiction books, including Visiting Tom and Population: 485. Perry’s essays and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Backpacker, Outside, Runner’s World,, and Men’s Health magazine. He lives with his wife and two daughters in rural Wisconsin, where he serves on the local volunteer fire and rescue service and is an intermittent pig farmer.

Connect with Michael
Website | GoodreadsFacebook | Twitter Instagram

This post was made as part of the TLC Book Tour for The Jesus Cow
Click here to see the full tour schedule

Review: Remember Me by Romily Bernard

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Remember Me
Romily Bernard

Series: Find Me #2
Genre: YA Mystery Crime
Hardback: 368 Pages
Publication: September 23, 2014
by Harper Teen

Wick had thought her troubles were over.

But she should’ve known better.

Not only is she embroiled in a new murder case, which starts with a body with “Remember Me” carved into it and doesn’t stop there, but she also discovers new evidence surrounding her mother’s suicide…which leads her right back to her imprisoned deadbeat dad. And she has to deal with her flirty new hacker friend, Milo, sniffing around—which her boyfriend, Griff, isn’t too happy about.

The pressure might be too much as secrets—including Wick’s own—climb to the surface.

Remember Me is an edge-of-your-seat thrilling read that’ll have readers turning the pages at lightning speed! The paperback of Find Me is on sale simultaneously, and a digital original novella from Romily, featuring Griff, is on sale just a few weeks before!


Upon the discovery of a body with the words “Remember Me” carved on it, Wick becomes embroiled in another case. On top of that, Wick mysteriously receives DVD tapes about her mother, she makes a hacker friend in Milo, and Griff begins to pull away from her. Needless to say, Wick has a lot going on.

I love how Wick's internal struggles are deeper explored in this sequel to Find Me. Wick realizes that she can't live a normal teenage life. Like any other teenager, she struggles with who she wants to be, but her situation is complicated by the situations she deals with. The past always finds a way to catch up to her. Willing to sacrifice her own freedom to protect the ones she loves, Wick keeps pushing away everyone she cares about. It is sad to see Griff's lack of understanding about Wick's situation. He doesn’t seem to see eye to eye about how Wick is being forced to work for Carson. Admittedly, Wick hides many secrets from him. I think that she should be more open with Griff, so he can better understand her.

Despite his flaws, Griff is very protective and supportive of Wick even when he disagrees with her actions. Nevertheless, Wick wonders if Griff loves her for who she is or what he believes she ought to be. Milo is the opposite of Griff. Whereas Griff will go to authorities with problems, Milo will seek revenge. Milo and Wick are both hackers, so they have a lot in common, and they get along perfectly well. I love how he involves himself into Wick's life, and being helpful to her.

Remember Me is full of twists and turns. Not only does Wick work for Carson, she discovers new information about her mother’s death. The novel explores Wick’s trust issues, relationship with her adoptive mother, Bren, Griff, Milo, and her past. By adding all these subplots, the story keeps the pace moving quickly through the book. I definitely recommend Remember Me to readers who enjoy young adult suspense and thrillers. I am looking forward to reading the next novel in the series.

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 4 stars

  1. Find Me
  2. Remember Me
  3. Trust Me

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Review: Deception's Pawn by Esther Friesner

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Deception's Pawn
Esther Friesner

Series: Deception's Princess #2
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Hardback: 368 Pages
Publication: April 28, 2015
by Random House BFYR

Maeve, princess of Connacht, seems to have won her freedom. Her father, the High King, is finally allowing her to explore the world beyond his castle. But Maeve soon discovers that being the High King's daughter doesn't protect her from bullying or the attention of unwelcome suitors.

Struggling to navigate a new court, she must discourage the advances of her father's rival, who is vying with her host's son for her hand in marriage. Maeve is a pawn trapped between these two boys. Her bold defiance will bring her to the brink of disaster, but her clever gamble may also lead to her independence. Though she faces danger and intrigue, Maeve will also discover what kind of person-and queen-she's destined to become.


Warning: contains some spoilers from the first novel in the duology.

I loved Deception's Princess because it stepped out of the constraints of the brave, independent, kickass girl trope that is all too common in YA lit today. While Maeve is a courageous young woman who isn't afraid to fight for herself, she has proven to be clever and relational-oriented. She uses a daughter's wits to fight when she cannot use a son's weapons, and she has been shown to be close to her friends and family. In Deception's Pawn, however, the character that has been built for her in Deception's Princess falls apart, and Maeve becomes another foolhardy girl who charges recklessly into situations and somehow gets through tough situations that could have easily gone bad.

Determined not to be her father's pawn, Maeve has entered fosterage to gain greater freedom. Whereas I found Maeve a mature character in the first novel, Maeve feels youthful and headstrong in the sequel. She often acts based on her emotions instead of relying on the wits that she espoused in the first novel. For example, despite the gossip floating around, she continues to hang out with a young man alone outside of the walls because of her personal desires (to learn how to fight and to hang out with Ea, the kestrel she loves). She is also hopelessly naive in her interactions with the foster girls and continues to consider them her friends for much of the novel in spite of their contradictory behavior.

The characters and their relationships lose depth. The foster girls are extremely shallow and focused on (1) self-preservation and (2) getting a guy. If they take an interest in the other girls, it's because they have their self-interests in mind. Considering how the novel is told from Maeve's perspective, I  would understand if Maeve taking a superficial interest in the other girls led her to portray them shallowly, but she actually takes an interest in them. Furthermore, Maeve doesn't interact consistently with any one character; as a result, the other characters tend to come and go at random. There isn't a consistent plotline that involves any one character. I find it problematic that the guy who forces a kiss on Maeve ends up being the most reliable character at the end. Other guys (and girls) that ought to have been reliable end up being shallow, cowardly, and inattentive. I'm especially disappointed in Odran. I understand that his love with Maeve in the first novel was youthful and naive, but his reaction to the changing dynamics of their relationship was poor. This was very, very disappointing.

The ending was very cheesy and unrealistic. First, Maeve resolves conflicts with different people rather quickly and unsatisfactorily. I know things won't always wrap up cleanly in reality, but the way things stand at the end of the novel, the characters remain superficial. Second, given his actions thus far, I highly doubt that Maeve's father would go and give her what she wants especially without her having to bring it up. What it is I won't say because I don't want to spoil the ending.  He's a guy who does things because he has an agenda, not because he wants to do someone a favor. (Third:) What I did like is that Maeve stands up for herself and gains the freedom and independence that she desires. Furthermore, she is shown to be a strong woman who does not need a man but rather stands equal to men in a traditionally patriarchal society.

While Maeve's pursuit of freedom is admirable, her character is too youthful and naive to make her "success" realistic. While she wants to be independent, she does not exhibit the wisdom and skill set necessary to be a leader among her people. That said, she is a young woman in the process of learning more about the world, and I do believe that she has the charisma to be a strong leader. I just wish that she showed more growth in this novel, for she showed a lot of potential in the first novel. As it is, Deception's Pawn is a disappointing follow up to the first novel.

Content (contains potential spoilers):
  • Maeve runs away from fosterage to live with Odran. They make out with fiery passion, and it is implied that they have sex. Some of the other foster girls have lovers; it is implied at least one of them has sex with her lovers.
  • The foster girls can be very mean. The bullying among the foster girls gets pretty bad. For example, some of the girls sit on top of Maeve so that it is hard for her to breathe, and they stay there until she cries. In the past, the bullying got so bad that a girl ran away never to be seen again (it's highly likely that she died out there).
  • Two guys get into a (physical) fight over Maeve.

A copy was provided by Random House for review

  1. Deception's Princess
  2. Deception's Pawn

  • Kissing
  • Sex (implied)
  • Bullying

Movie Monday: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya

Directed by: Isao Takahata
Genre: Animated Fantasy Drama
Running time: 137 minutes
Released: 2013
Produced by Studio Ghibli

A tiny nymph found inside a bamboo stalk grows into a beautiful and desirable young woman, who orders her suitors to prove their love by completing a series of near-impossible tasks.


Based on the old Japanese folktale "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter," The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is yet another amazing Studio Ghibli film directed by Isao Takahata, Hayao Miyazaki’s less well-known partner. While it lacks the bravado of some of the more iconic Studio Ghibli films like Spirited Away, the film has a haunting beauty and evokes a melancholy mood in the viewer. Given some patience, it gives a heartfelt message on the meaning of love and finding happiness.

Princess Kaguya is based on the old folktale in which a poor and elderly bamboo cutter discovers a magical princess in a bamboo stem that he cuts. He further discovers piles of gold and beautiful dresses in other bamboo stems as he raises the magical child, and he decides that these gifts are a message from God that the child is destined to become a princess. Consequently, he raises her to become the perfect princess. As she grows up, princes and ministers across the land begin to seek her hand in marriage. However, Princess Kaguya harbors a longing for a simple life in the countryside.

Princess Kaguya is not a children’s film, nor is it your traditional fairy-tale story. At first glance, the film does not seem as impressive as some household titles from Studio Ghibli, like Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. Its plot moves pretty slowly. It is not as action packed, and it does not include magical creatures or majestic fantasy backgrounds. The film has a deeply melancholic undertone to it, its plot progress slowly and focuses heavily around Princess Kaguya’s emotions, and it carries undertones of social satire and feminism. In addition, its art style is less visually appealing. The art style is rough and is heavily reminiscent of old Japanese paintings, which was a nice touch in my opinion.

I would recommend this film heavily to anyone looking for a unique animated film with a heavier focus on the emotions.

Review: In a Dark Wood by Joseph Luzzi

Friday, June 5, 2015

In a Dark Wood
Joseph Luzzi

Genre: Memoir
Hardback: 224 Pages
Publication: May 26, 2015
by Harper

In the aftermath of a heartbreaking tragedy, a scholar and writer uses Dante's Divine Comedy to shepherd him through the dark wood of grief and mourning--a rich and emotionally resonant memoir of suffering, hope, love, and the power of literature to inspire and heal the most devastating loss.

Where do we turn when we lose everything? Joseph Luzzi found the answer in the opening of The Divine Comedy: "In the middle of our life's journey, I found myself in a dark wood."

When Luzzi's pregnant wife was in a car accident--and died forty-five minutes after giving birth to their daughter, Isabel--he finds himself a widower and first-time father at the same moment. While he grieves and cares for his infant daughter, miraculously delivered by caesarean before his wife passed, he turns to Dante's Divine Comedy for solace.

In a Dark Wood tells the story of how Dante helps the author rebuild his life. He follows the structure of The Divine Comedy, recounting the Inferno of his grief, the Purgatory of healing and raising Isabel on his own, and then Paradise of the rediscovery of love.

A Dante scholar, Luzzi has devoted his life to teaching and writing about the poet. But until he turned to the epic poem to learn how to resurrect his life, he didn't realize how much the poet has given back to him. A meditation on the influence of great art and its power to give us strength in our darkest moments, In a Dark Wood opens the door into the mysteries of Dante's epic poem. Beautifully written and flawlessly balanced, Luzzi's book is a hybrid of heart-rending memoir and critical insight into one of the greatest pieces of literature in all of history. In a Dark Wood draws us into man's descent into hell and back: it is Dante's journey, Joseph Luzzi's, and our very own.


In a Dark Wood is a compelling memoir about Luzzi's journey through grief and the healing process following his wife Katherine's untimely death. A professor of Italian and a Dante scholar, Luzzi draws parallels between The Divine Comedy and his own experiences in the dark wood of grief.

Having studied English during my time as an undergraduate student, I appreciate how Luzzi relates Dante's great work to his personal experiences and finds meaning in one through the other (and vice versa). It's actually what drew me to this book in the first place, and I love how Luzzi intertwines his story with that of Dante's work. I do wish that I had read The Divine Comedy before picking up this book. It has been years since I've looked at Dante's work. While Luzzi does a good job explaining the connections that he makes between Dante's work and his own experiences, a refresher would have helped me to better understand the significance behind Luzzi's references from a more critical perspective (the casual reader shouldn't have too many problems).

That said, In a Dark Wood has a complicated narration. Luzzi not only intertwines his story following Katherine's death with that of The Divine Comedy, he also includes anecdotes from his college days and from his parents' lives. While I like all the connections that Luzzi makes, he jumps around a lot from scene to scene, from one point in time to another. Furthermore, though his book follows a general timeline, he does not entirely narrate events in chronological order, so it can be difficult to piece events together in their proper order, especially if you don't finish the book in one sitting. I would have preferred if Luzzi cut back on some points and focused more on the immediate storyline. I do appreciate how he ties in his Italian heritage and how he shows the importance of family and friends in his life. Luzzi shows the ups and downs and how his family supported him in his time of grief. The inclusion of his family members' stories also serves to show where he comes from and how it influences his relationships with different women.

In reflecting on his family, his personal experiences, and on Dante's work, Luzzi gives a profound commentary on love, life, and loss. As he tells his daughter Isabel at the end of his book, "it's not what lands you in the dark wood that defines you, but what you do to make it out—just as you can't understand the first words of a story until you've read the last ones" (quoted from ARC). In a Dark Wood is a heavy read in that Luzzi is weighted by his grief throughout much of the book. In his grief, he makes many poor decisions, including his neglect of his fatherly duties to Isabel, and he continuously finds himself unable to move forward with his life. The excruciatingly slow progress out of the dark wood can get frustrating to readers who haven't gone through similar experiences. Nevertheless, Luzzi's narration stays true to reality in showing readers the challenges of working through grief. Through it all, Luzzi is there reflecting on his thoughts and actions during his time in the dark wood, and he makes ample use of The Divine Comedy to comment on love and loss.

Content (contains potential spoilers)

  • Questions about the afterlife and if humans have a soul that lives on after death. (Includes some questions on religion and God's existence.
  • Relations with multiple women following Katherine's death, includes sex (not explicit).
  • In his grief over his wife's untimely death, Luzzi becomes an absent father and leaves much of the child-raising duties to his mother and his sisters. He also gets into heated arguments with some people, including a lover and his mother over his behavior. They aren't described in great detail.
  • I do not recall any language that ought to be mentioned. If there was any, they are few and sparse.

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

  • N/A

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  • Sex (not explicit)

About the Author

Joseph Luzzi holds a doctorate from Yale and teaches at Bard. He is the author of My Two Italies, a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice, and Romantic Europe and the Ghost of Italy, which won the Scaglione Prize for Italian Studies from the Modern Language Association. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Bookforum, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Connect with Joseph
Website | GoodreadsFacebook | Twitter

This post was made as part of the TLC Book Tour for In a Dark Wood
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Review: Compulsion by Martina Boone

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Martina Boone

Series: The Heirs of Watson Island #1
Genre: YA MysteryParanormal
Hardback: 433 Pages
Publication: October 28, 2014
by Simon Pulse

Three plantations. Two wishes. One ancient curse.

All her life, Barrie Watson has been a virtual prisoner in the house where she lives with her shut-in mother. When her mother dies, Barrie promises to put some mileage on her stiletto heels. But she finds a new kind of prison at her aunt’s South Carolina plantation instead—a prison guarded by an ancient spirit who long ago cursed one of the three founding families of Watson Island and gave the others magical gifts that became compulsions.

Stuck with the ghosts of a generations-old feud and hunted by forces she cannot see, Barrie must find a way to break free of the family legacy. With the help of sun-kissed Eight Beaufort, who knows what Barrie wants before she knows herself, the last Watson heir starts to unravel her family's twisted secrets. What she finds is dangerous: a love she never expected, a river that turns to fire at midnight, a gorgeous cousin who isn't what she seems, and very real enemies who want both Eight and Barrie dead.


Compulsion revolves around three families descended from Watson Island’s original settlers. Each family has a gift (or curse). The Watsons have the gift of finding things that are lost, the Beauforts know what people want, and the Colesworth are blinded by jealousy.

Barrie is the last of the heirs from her branch of the family, the Watsons. She is sent to live with her aunt Pru on Watson Island after her mother dies and her godfather is diagnosed with terminal cancer. After arriving, Barrie finds herself in a feud with a cousin and her bloodthirsty father who want to use her gifts for their own gain. She also encounters family secrets and ghosts.

I especially love the mystery that surrounds everything on Watson Island. There are several storylines, so there is a lot going on in this novel. I enjoyed following the plot as Barrie uncovers the history of the three families, untangles family secrets, and learns more about the spirits, gifts, and curses. I especially love the ghostly aspect of the story, especially the mystery of the Fire Carrier who sets the river ablaze every night at midnight. I am anxious to know more about this spirit as well as the yunwi, mysterious shadows said to be souls who weren't buried properly.

The characters are well written. I love the interactions between the characters. Barrie has an emotionally absent mother for all of these years. We can see her yearn for a family, and her definition of family changes throughout the book. Barrie's character also grows. Barrie has a history of shutting people out. As the story progresses, she faces the struggle of actually letting others in.

I like Eight Beaufort. He is strong, dependable, and trustworthy. He protects and cares for Barrie. I enjoyed watching his interactions with Barrie as their relationship slowly develops over the course of the novel. Barrie's Aunt Pru is also a very intriguing character. She has a lot weighing on her ,and she tries so hard to keep everything together. I love her relationship with Barrie. I also like Eight's dad Seven and the mystery surrounding his past. There are a lot of mysteries in this novel!

An ARC was provided by Simon and Schuster  for review

Rating: 4.5 stars

  1. Compulsion
  2. Persuasion

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Review: Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibson

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fat Girl Walking
Brittany Gibbons

Genre: Memoir
Hardback: 288 Pages
Publication: June 2, 2015
by Dey Street Books

Brittany Gibbons has been a plus size her whole life. But instead of hiding herself in the shadows of thinner women, Brittany became a wildly popular blogger and national spokesmodel--known for stripping on stage at TedX and standing in Times Square in a bikini on national television, and making skinny people everywhere uncomfortable.

Talking honestly about size and body image on her popular blog,, she has ignited a national conversation. Now in her first book, she shares hilarious and painfully true stories about her life as a weird overweight girl growing up in rural Ohio, struggling with dating and relationships, giving the middle finger to dieting, finding love with a man smaller than her, accidentally having three kids, and figuring out the secret to loving her curves and becoming a nationally recognized body image advocate. And there's sex, lots of it!

Fat Girl Walking isn't a diet book. It isn't one of those former fat people memoirs about how someone battled, and won, in the fight against fat. Brittany doesn't lose all the weight and reveal the happy, skinny girl that's been hiding inside her. Instead, she reminds us that being chubby doesn't mean you'll end up alone, unhappy, or the subject of a cable medical show. What's important is learning to love your shape. With her infectious humor and soul-baring honesty, Fat Girl Walking reveals a life full of the same heartbreak, joy, oddity, awkwardness, and wonder as anyone else's. Just with better snacks.


Fat Girl Walking is an important book in that that it brings up topics that society has been hesitant to address. Topics that we should address: such as the impossible-to-achieve beauty standards that the media propagates. And about how beauty is subjective. At the same time, Fat Girl Walking is a book that I would hesitate to recommend to some readers because of the explicit content. I will be explaining my reservations about the content at the end of my review so that readers who may not be as comfortable with such content can determine if they should pick up this book.

What I like about the book:
  • Gibbons's story is relatable. No matter our size, most if not all of us have felt out of place in our bodies at some point. We've also dealt with growing pains, love and feelings of rejection, perhaps even depression and anxiety. We also, at some point, must decide who we are and what we should accept about ourselves. To this end, Gibbons gives us both the good and the bad. She doesn't prettify her story for us.
  • Gibbons is candid in the telling of her story. The way Gibbons tells her story, it's from one woman to another. I love how personal the reading of this book is. Gibbons isn't here to tell us what to do, nor is she here to make her story about her body. While her body does play a role in her experiences growing up, it is a part of her. It isn't something she talks about as if it were separate from her essence or as if it is something to be controlled. Her story is about a woman who has become comfortable with who she is, and learning to love her body happened to be a part of the process.
  • Important message: That said, it is important to remember that, if we don't love our bodies, we really can't love ourselves, and we won't treat our bodies, ourselves, right. As Gibbons mentions, it's not very comfortable to diet. It's much more comfortable to accept our size (though this doesn't mean that we should gorge on junk food—that's not very healthy).
  • The last pages: I especially love the last part of the book. The first, and larger, part of the book covers Gibbons's life and what she dealt with growing up. The last part of the book follows Gibbons after she becomes more comfortable in her body and is filled with opinionated statements that are humorous and also inspiring. For example, she covers the pros and cons of subjects such as pregnancy. There are also some humorous email exchanges between Gibbons and her husband.
  • We're beautiful when we love ourselves. Reading this book, I remember thinking that Brittany Gibbons is a beautiful woman. Yes, it's evident in the pictures that she includes in the books, but it's also evident in the words that she writes. When I read this book, I see a strong, confident woman who knows herself and loves herself. I understand that even now she might be dealing with some issues; our problems never entirely go away. However, she's chosen to confront her problems, and we can see in her story that her determination has made a great difference in her life.

What I didn't like so much: Brittany is a very candid and casual writer. This is charming and, at the same time, potentially off putting. While I love how she deals so frankly with issues that women face, I was not prepared for the explicit content. Rarely does a page go by when Gibbons uses explicit language. There is also quite a bit of frank talk about her sexual endeavors. While her language may seem commonplace to some readers, more conservative readers may find it off putting.

I was surprised that sexuality appeared as much as it did in this book. While I knew this wasn't going to be a weight loss book, I did expect a larger focus on body image, loving oneself, and having self esteem. I do understand that relationships play a large role in influencing how we grow up and how we view ourselves. It makes sense that Gibbons talks a lot about her relationships, especially about her relationship with her husband, and I respect that she wants to talk about sex given the role it plays in her coming to terms with her body. That said, it's a very personal subject. This book isn't for readers who aren't comfortable with explicit talk about sex (or about explicit, frank talk about any subject for that matter). This is a candid book in many ways.

Content (potential spoilers)
  • Casual use of explicit language and use of profanity (not in moderation)
  • Frank talk about sexual endeavors, including but not limited to a brief attempt at lesbian sex and her first lessons in masturbation as a ten-year-old girl. There is also frank talk of other matters. For example, when she was young, her dog slept on the bed with her and had its period, which got on Gibbons. Be prepared for a lot of frank talk on uncomfortable matters.
  • There are also some domestic problems. Gibbons's dad got into an accident when she was young, and his behavior causes problems for the family. For example, he follows a boy to school for a reason that doesn't seem to warrant such extreme measures.
  • Gibbons dealt with strong feelings of anxiety in college, and she talks about her experiences with it.

* There is a LOT of content in this book. I can't remember all of them. My advice is to treat this as a book filled with mature content. If this were a film, I'd give it an R rating for the language and sexual content. Do not read this if you aren't prepared to handle a lot of language or sexual content. Or frank talk about any subject.

A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

  • N/A

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  • Explicit language used in abundance
  • Explicit description of sexual activities
  • Some domestic problems, notably with the dad

Movie Monday: Kingsman: The Secret Service

Monday, June 1, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Spy Action Comedy
Running time: 129 minutes
Released: 2014
distributed by 20th Century Fox

Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), whose late father secretly worked for a spy organization, lives in a South London housing estate and seems headed for a life behind bars. However, dapper agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recognizes potential in the youth and recruits him to be a trainee in the secret service. Meanwhile, villainous Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) launches a diabolical plan to solve the problem of climate change via a worldwide killing spree.


Kingsman: The Secret Service was a pretty interesting take on the spy film genre. I found it to be a nice middle ground between James Bond and Austin Powers. Kingsman has its fair share of humor as well as some more serious thriller action scenes. However, I found that the film’s comical violence did not mesh well with a spy film.

The protagonist Eggsy is selected by his late father’s mentor Harry Hart to try out for a vacant spot in Kingsman, an international spy organization. While Eggsy undergoes his trials, Kingsman investigates a billionaire called Valentine and his connections to multiple VIPs that have been disappearing around the world. When Valentine’s nefarious plans come to light, Eggsy finds himself in a situation where it is up to him to save the world.

This film had its moments that appealed to me. I found Kingsman to be best when the tone is more light-hearted and pokes fun at classic spy film tropes, such as Samuel Jackson in his role of the billionaire James Bond-esque super villain Valentine with his dangerous henchwoman. However, the crudeness of the film’s attempts at humorous violence weighed it down. There were a number of Tarantino-style scenes that I found off-putting, like a scene in a church filled with people engaging in a last-man-standing fight to the death and another where peoples’ heads explode in fireworks.

While I found the film to be a good timewaster, I can see how others may find aspects of it to be ridiculous and over the top, like the comical violence and the super villain’s desire to wipe out the world’s population in the name of that which must not be named because of spoilers. If you are not put off by the film’s ridiculous nature, I would recommend this film for a good laugh.