Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Review: Couples Retreat


Let’s make a list about “Couples Retreat.” Pros: The movie promotes marriage as a lifelong commitment, and it promotes Guitar Hero. Cons: This movie is entirely about sex.

How many dirty jokes and sexual implications does it take to ruin a good film? “Couples Retreat” proves that sex, even when not explicitly shown, can overstay its welcome. Familiar actors and an endearing plot make this overblown film more enjoyable for viewers if they can get past the sex.

Four couples struggling with their marriages fly to Eden Resort, a tropical paradise with lots of relationship-building activities thrown in. While Jason (Jason Bateman) and Cynthia (Kristen Bell) are anxious to work their problems out, Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis), Shane and his 20-year-old girlfriend Trudy, and Dave (Vince Vaughn) and Ronnie (Malin Akerman) sign up thinking the couples’ activities are optional.

Reality hits, however, when they realize the couples program is not optional. This paradise may be closer to an abyss that will reveal, rather than solve, problems. Jason and Cynthia, who communicate through perfect slideshows, must learn to loosen up and to not hold each other to standards of perfection.

As Joey and Lucy begin to cheat on each other, they realize the joys of the world are not as enjoyable as a loving marriage. Trudy’s energy wares Shane down, and an unexpected visitor forces him to reconsider his past decisions. Lastly, Dave and Ronnie become dependent on each other. All the adventures lead up to a battle of the sexes, and a Guitar Hero battle between Dave and a resort employee.

“Couples Retreat” focuses on Dave and Ronnie in particular. While the other couples add plenty of comedy, their relationships don’t get enough screen time for the audience to care about the resolutions to their stories. Scenes with couples activities go by too fast for any chemistry or plot to develop. In the end, Dave and Ronnie’s reconciliation stands above those of the other couples as truly relatable, believable and enjoyable.

While Vaughn and Akerman make their characters real and honest, the rest of the cast becomes wasted talent, especially Jean Reno (“The Pink Panther” and “The Da Vinci Code”), who plays the mystic Marcel, the head of Eden Resort and a well-known “couples whisperer.” Reno’s scenes are pointless and do not take advantage of his potential to create any good laughs.

When Marcel appears, it feels like the film will take a Will Ferrell route or turn into a version of “Balls of Fury.” Marcel’s mystic approach to marriage feels fake, and scenes that show his resort employees fooling around and playing Guitar Hero don't help. Perhaps Marcel is meant to make the viewer laugh, but most of the time he doesn’t.

The constant sexual jokes do not add to the laughter either. Some jokes do amuse, but sexual references in front of kids and frequent scenes of women in their underwear warrant some question. Although the film’s one sex scene shows nothing explicit, a man’s naked backside appears, and one scene shows the couples practicing yoga positions that are clearly sexual.

How many of these scenes are really needed? There are other, cleaner ways to show a man is unfaithful to his wife – ways that are not nearly as raunchy and distasteful as the ones shown in “Couples Retreat.”

Does sex sell? Obviously writers Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Dana Fox (“What Happens in Vegas”) think so. And we can’t forget the typical jokes like the little boy peeing in a home decor store’s display toilet.

“Couples Retreat” may be a comedy, but it disgusts just as often as it entertains. Director Peter Billingsly (You remember, that kid from “A Christmas Story”) has not done as well as he could have for his directorial debut.

Despite its cons (sex, sex, and more sex) “Couples Retreat” has its pros and still makes for a fun comedy, if viewers can get past the sexual content. The film’s small amount of genuine comedy and its ultimate message of lifelong commitment and loving relationships make it worth seeing — at least once it reaches the dollar theater. Plus, a little Guitar Hero makes even the worst movie more enjoyable.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Toy Story 3-D Review



Who can say anything bad about Pixar? The company consistently puts out amazing stories filled with incredible characters that always manage to captivate large audiences.

Toy Story, the first ever feature-length computer animated film, and Toy Story 2 are no exceptions, so it’s obvious that Pixar’s decision to re-release the two films in 3-D would only amplify the phenomenon. The colors, the creativity, the fun, and the fact that beloved toys have returned to reach beyond the screen and touch the viewer’s heart ... Oh, yes, the Toys are back in town! You’re never too old to have some fun with these characters.

After the 1995 release of Toy Story, fans waited four years for Pixar to release the sequel, but now they can watch the two films back to back for the price of one ticket (a bonus, especially for broke college students).

Toy Story follows Woody the cowboy’s fight to keep his spot as Andy’s favorite toy when Andy gets the latest and greatest Buzz Lightyear toy. In Toy Story 2, Woody finds out that he’s a collector’s item with a toy family he never knew about including Jessie the cowgirl, Bullseye the horse, and Stinky Pete the Prospector.

The successful films inspired two rides at the Disney Resort parks and a cartoon television series about Buzz Lightyear. Now, Toy Story 3-D will make new fans and reacquaint old friends before the release of Toy Story 3 on June 18, 2010. Before the movie begins, a new trailer for the third installment plays alongside a trailer for A Christmas Carol in 3-D. A 10-minute intermission between movies will also entertain audiences with its fun facts, trivia, and film shorts.

It’s always a delight to see classics revamped for the modern audience, but what happens when you take two films not made for 3-D and convert them to the new format? Unfortunately, you’re bound to get a result that could have been better had it only been made originally for 3-D. If only the angle of vision given to viewers would change just a few degrees in certain scenes and there were a way to make these 3-D versions fresh and exciting. Some viewers who don’t consider the big screen a major factor in the enjoyment of a film may prefer to stay at home and watch the DVDs.

As the opening credits jump out at viewers, they can only hope the rest of the films will feel just as real and as much a part of the room. The use of 3-D technology in the double feature does create a clear and crisp picture, and it brings extra life to the living toys. A few scenes shot from character’s points of view make the 3-D effect seem special, but for the majority of the films viewers can take their 3-D glasses off and see just fine. On the bright side, this makes it easier for audience members with weak vision to enjoy the movies.

Despite the defects, the 3-D does add something to the films, and this reviewer can’t get past the Pixar factor. 3-D or not, Pixar films are always able to display crisp animation, realistic characters (even if they are toys), and touching stories. These films will remind viewers of their own favorite childhood toys. In the eyes of a child and with a bit of imagination, toys in the real world can come alive, too.

At the core of these films, a child’s spirit comes to life and uplifts audience members. The films show that, like Woody, Buzz, and Jessie, everyone needs to feel loved. A talented voice cast helps convey the emotions that come with such friendships, rejections, and decisions. With Tom Hanks as Woody, Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear, Joan Cusack as Jessie, and Kelsey Grammer as the Prospector, the double feature makes for a delightful break from life’s complications. The only thing missing is a traditional Pixar short before each film.

Pixar fans will not want to miss this limited, two-week engagement of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3-D, which opens October 2.

Student Newspaper Articles by Me





Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Fresh Start


To get our of our sinking sand pits, we must recognize God's power to help us change and decide to actively cooperate with God... says Doug Fields in his book "Fresh Start: God's Invitation to a Great Life." Fields provides a re"fresh"ing look at the things of life that often leave us stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do we get out of those rough spots? That takes a lot of effort, but just as much trust -- trust in God.

Fields goes beyond the obvious "sins of the past" that make us feel stuck. He does spend an entire chapter on guilt, but he also talks bout pride, hurt, anger, conflict, community, rejection, and evangelism. Each chapter contains simple, but deep truths as well as humorous thoughts and stories from Fields' own life. A humble man, Fields is not afraid to admit that he had been stuck, but he's also not afraid to share his story, and he encourages readers to share their stories, as well - to live boldly for God. Fields' book will not only give readers the beginning steps to a "fresh start," but also what to do after they have started again.

Highly recommended.

Written for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Review: The Complete Guide to Bible Translations


The Bible tells Christians to “as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2), but it also warns against false teachers who will wrongly interpret or add to God’s Word. So, what is a Christian to do in a modern world abounding in Bible versions? In his book The Complete Guide to Bible Translations, Ron Rhodes attempts to help Christians pick the right version for them. He gives Christians basic overviews of the various versions available in most Christian bookstores, including the King James Version, the Amplified Bible, the New International Version, the New King James Version, the New Living Translation, the English Standard Version, the Message, and two Catholic Bible versions.

Rhodes, president of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, spends three chapters introducing the general theories of and controversies over Biblical translations and paraphrases. Translators, he explains, cannot create a perfect, word-for-word translation. Due to language differences, no version exists without some amount of interpretations. Some translators do their best, however, to adhere to the formal equivalence (or word-for-word) method as much as possible. Others, however, seek to create versions that modern readers can thoroughly understand (especially modern readers with lower reading levels), adhering to a dynamic equivalence (or thought-for-thought) method. Some versions take a middle-of-the-road approach, but the fact remains, differing opinions on translation methods have led to debate and controversy, including the debate over gender-inclusive language. Rhodes notes that most versions are not meant to stand alone, and that despite certain negatives, each version has positives that, when put side-by-side with other versions, make for great Bible studies.

Rhodes also includes helpful appendices at the end of his book on the textual basis of translations, how divine names are translated, whether the Apocrypha (which Catholic Bibles include) belongs in the Bible, whether the King James Version is the only reliable version, and whether cultic (Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness) versions of the Bible are accurate. The section on textual basis may confuse some readers because Rhodes spends such a short time on it. The information he presents would have been more helpful incorporated into the rest of the book. In the area of textual basis, Rhodes also misses some key arguments for certain texts, and he makes his own opinion well known.

Rhodes does a good job of covering each version without inserting personal biases, however. While he often leaves behind hints of which versions he “is proud to have on his shelf,” Rhodes manages to objectively discuss each version’s history, translation philosophy, content, pros, and cons. His observations open the eyes of readers to whether most modern versions are as bad as they seem The Complete Guide to Bible Translations, a great summary for any Christian interested in deeper study of God’s Word, will help most readers decide which Bible version best suits them.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: The Expanded Bible


I began reading the new Expanded Bible with critical eyes. Although put together by accomplished scholars, these scholars base this version on the New Century Version, which tends to make more liberal translations, especially when it comes to gender related terms. As I skimmed through The [expanded] Bible, however, I learned that you can’t judge a book by your presumptions; at least not this book. Although this version follows the more liberal New Century Version, it also includes more traditional wordings in brackets from versions such as the King James Version. The version does not leave the liberal wordings to stand by themselves, either. This version includes numerous notes, “expansions,” alternate wordings, literal wordings, references, and textual variants that allow readers to explore deeper meanings of the text.

All these notes are included within the text, however, and can get a little annoying after a while. It becomes easy to skip over the “expanded” parts and just read the regular wording of the New Century Version, which is in bold print. The version also lacks introductions to books, and it only covers the New Testament.

Overall, The [expanded] Bible accomplishes its goal of enabling the reader to study while he reads, but the version does not stand on its own. Readers should not rely on this version alone for their Bible studies.

Written for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Review: A Man of His Word

Description of Book:
Betrayed by the one man Moriah Miller thought she could trust for the rest of her life, she must face a future of loneliness. Her husband, Levi, has left her for the Yankees (non-Amish), and when he refuses to return despite knowledge of Moriah’s pregnancy, she can only wonder what might have motivated him to stay away. Will she ever trust anyone again? Especially Levi’s brother, Gabriel, who has secretly loved Moriah for years. Moriah's heart will only be safe with A Man of His Word. Meanwhile, Moriah’s brother, Tobias, struggles with his feelings for local tomboy, Rachel. Do opposites really attract?

You know that feeling you get when you know two characters would get together or when characters could solve a problem if only they were honest with each other, if only one person knew what the other knew? Well, that's how I felt as I read Kathleen Fuller's Christian romance A Man of His Word. I suppose that's the deal with most romances. You could just "kill" the characters for not doing or understanding what seems so obvious to you. You scream and shout out of frustration, but you put up with it because you know everything will comes together in the end; and you actually get enjoyment from the suspense. Who knew frustration could be a good thing?

And that frustration gets even better with detailed descriptions, lovable characters, and clever plots. Fuller successfully weaves two beautifully written story lines together, switching between plots to add to the suspense. As characters grow through their hard circumstances, readers become attached to them and the lovely world of the Amish, one not too different from the readers’ own world. I’ve often wondered why Amish novels are so “hot” on the market right now, but if all Amish novels are this lovely (and I’ve read a few that aren’t), it’s no wonder they’re popular. I can only complain about the ugly cover of A Man of His Word. It cannot reflect the beautiful, addicting, and wonderfully written contents that await every reader that picks up A Man of His Word.

Written for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Review: Sheila Walsh's Let Go


“Let go. Let God.” The famous saying populates the church, but what does it really mean? Sheila Walsh attempts to answer this question in her new book Let Go. She covers the various things in life we need to let go of in order to embrace God’s grace and blessings: prejudice, anxiety, forgiveness of self and others, self-hatred, past wounds, fear, and lack of purpose. Walsh leads readers into a deeper understanding of key issues including trust in God, finding deliverance, accepting yourself and others, hope, and realizing you are loved.

This book could go by several different names. True, Walsh covers deep issues, but her points are varied and unorganized. Her book does not flow as well as her previous books. Chapters cover intriguing topics that Walsh manages to slap together with the “let go” theme at the end of every chapter. These topics are certainly applicable to every woman’s life, but they are also issues that have been covered in plenty of other books. The themes of Let Go do not coincide with the typical meaning of “let go, let God” saying, either. Walsh’s book has no real focus. She could have pulled things together much better if she had just focused on how to let go in hard circumstances and trials, and let God take control.

Let Go does include reader’s materials such as quotes at the beginning of chapters and prayers and questions at the end of chapters. Walsh also starts each chapter off with an applicable story. Her chapters, although lacking in organization and unity, do touch hearts with their touching stories and Biblical examples. Let Go could let go of some of its contents and add more contents that would unify the book, but, in the end, it manages to make itself a worthwhile read.

Written for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: What's He Really Thinking? How to be a Relational Genius with the Man in Your Life


I can’t help but wonder what a man would think of Paula Rinehart’s What’s He Really Thinking? How to be a Relational Genius with the Man in Your Life. After all, a woman did write the book. What would the book be like if a man had written it? And if a man had written it, would women really read it?

Considering Rinehart’s counseling experience and extensive research for her book, I trust that she writes truthfully. And she does provide plenty of insight into the male psyche. Whether men would agree with her verdicts, I do not know, but I do know that Rinehart fills What’s He Really Thinking with what men are really thinking. Even better, she discusses the roles of both males and females as found in the Bible. Although she uses very few Biblical examples or Biblical verses for support, everything she says has a firm Biblical foundation. Rinehart’s ultimate point focuses on the fact that God made man and woman to fulfill different roles and have different types of emotions and abilities. Thus, to woman, man seems like a creature from another planet, but man and woman are actually meant as counterparts that can fit together under God’s supervision.

Rinhart also covers the male urge to “do,” why sexual identity is so important to men, the male’s need to feel adequate and needed, the female’s need to understand the background of the men in her life and how their backgrounds affect who they are, how men handle change, why men do not show emotion as much or pick up on female emotions, and how women fit into male lives.

I read Rinehart’s with my father in mind, since I have yet to date or marry a man. Rinehart makes it clear that her book is applicable to all kinds of relationships with men, but she does refer to “sex” quite often, something that may make parts of her book an awkward read for singles. We all know there’s no way avoiding the topic. My dad, himself, made a joke about how a woman took an entire book to explain a topic that men could explain in one word.

Overall, Rinehart succeeds in giving her readers just enough information to help them in their relationships with men. She could have used more facts, more research, more details (and there were certain parts she should have expanded on), but Rinehart chose to appeal to the common person with stories and examples. She hits core issues that most women deal with, and she addresses the female role and how it fits in with the male role. What’s He Really Thinking provides a short, easy read for any woman wanting an inside look at the male psyche... or for any man curious enough about the female perspective on men.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Review: So You Think You Can Dance Get Fit: Cardio Funk

So You Think You Can Dance Get Fit Cardio Funk gives viewers more fun and variety than your typical dance workout video. Most fitness workouts based on TV shows cash in on the said show’s popularity and leave the consumer with nothing to show for their money spent. So You Think You Can Dance Get Fit Cardio Funk avoids this mistake. I’m not saying Cardio Funk will appeal to everyone -- I, myself, do not care much for the “dancer’s” workout -- but this DVD workout stands high above many others. It’s not as much fun as Richard Simmons, nor is it as easy as Tae Bo, but Cardio Funk offers a fairly simple workout led by real people who actually seem to care about the viewer’s well being. Get ready to put your personality into your workout, and burn those calories!

Led by former contestants of So You Think You Can Dance, Lauren, Travis, and Courtney, the DVD includes a warm up and cool down, as well as hip-hop, contemporary, and disco workouts. The routines presented aren’t the real thing -- something you can only get with a regular practicing time with professionals and perhaps a partner -- but they follow the basic steps and general ideas of their dance styles. The routines require a lot of room to move around, and they do work viewers to the max -- thus, the name Cardio -- but they also have their own, as the title also suggests, fun Funk. The routines are also fairly simple, yet challenging. Viewers can go at their own pace (and are encouraged regularly to do so). Each dance style includes a lesson, a dance to count, and slow, medium, and fast dances to music. The music isn’t exciting, but its beat keeps exercisers on track.

Some exercisers may have a hard time with the steps, but encouragement from the dancers in the video and fairly simple steps makes it easy for the exerciser having trouble with coordination to believe in herself and to believe that with enough practice, she can do the steps perfectly. Despite how good-looking the dancers on the DVD are (which may intimidate some viewers), their encouraging words, explanations of what muscles the exercise works out, and fun personalities (along with coordinated outfits and colorful lights in the background) make this a motivating and fun workout for most everyone.

Special Features include a bonus dance routine using the best moves from all the exercises and behind-the-scenes interviews with dancers Lauren, Travis, and Courtney.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Movie Review: A Plumm Summer


NEWS FLASH: Froggy Doo has been frognapped! Repeat: Froggy Doo, the beloved and famous frog marionette from televisions top children’s show, has been frognapped! Officials canceled the special benefit local park appearance of Froggy Doo when they were forced to tape off the park and search for clues. Happy Herb, Froggy Doo’s faithful companion, reported that Froggy Doo was last seen safe and comfortable in his case backstage. After a short appearance, Happy Herb went backstage to escort the famous frog to his fans, but Froggy had disappeared. The innocent Montana town has never seen so much drama in one day. Local authorities are on the case, and after the recent discovery of a ransom note, the FBI has come to town. Have you seen Froggy Doo?

But the government has company in its efforts to solve the mystery of Froggy Doo’s disappearance. Elliott Plumm and his younger brother Rocky are also on the case. This will be A Plumm Summer they will never forget.

Narrated by Jeff Daniels, A Plumm Summer is one family-friendly film you won’t want to miss. You’ll love Froggy Doo! And all his pals too! But the story isn’t so much about Froggy Doo. Although writers T.J. Lynch, Frank Antonelli, and Caroline Zelder based the film’s mystery on real events, the movie actually focuses on the fictional elements of the plot – that is, the characters and how they change as Froggy Doo brings them together. The Plumms aren’t perfect, but their flaws ultimately capture the audience’s sympathy and love. True, the acting could be better, and the script could use a few more laughs and a less obvious villain, but by the end of the film, most viewers can’t help but have a “Plumm” of a time.

Chris Massoglia plays the troubled Elliott, who must deal with his younger brother’s obsession with Froggy Doo as well as all the rest of the annoying things that come with being an older brother. Rocky (Owen Pearce) looks up to his brother, who holds a heavy burden keeping his brother ignorant of their father’s alcoholic habits and helping his brother to maintain his childhood innocence. At first, Elliott thinks of his brother as an annoyance and shoves him to the side, but as he begins to solve the case, he not only grows closer to his brother, but he also becomes a stronger, more self-confident person. Any member of a dysfunctional family can relate to Elliott’s troubles, and any teenager can relate to Elliott’s journey as an adolescent.

Henry Winkler, as Happy Herb, will bring a smile to anyone’s face. The true highlight of the film, he treats Froggy Doo and his television audience like children of his own. Although it’s hard to buy the chaos that erupts out of the disappearance of a puppet, no one can question the genuine love of Happy Herb for his marionette. It’s a shame the rest of the acting couldn’t follow Winkler’s footsteps. William Baldwin barely holds up as Elliott’s father, and some of the townspeople’s dialogue doesn’t hold up to par.
Plumm Summer is director and writer Caroline Zelder’s first attempt at a movie; and it shows. With a mystery villain who’s not so mysterious, and with an ending that leaves viewers wondering what happens to the villains, the script doesn’t entertain to its full potential. The movie does stay true to the old-fashioned feeling of the 60’s era in which it takes place, however, and it does keep the viewer’s attention. The FBI agents, in particular, provide quite a few laughs, including a short at the end of the credits.

The DVD includes a good amount of features for such a low-budget film that took more than a year to come out on video. A commentary features writer/director Caroline Zelder and writer/producer Fank Antonelli, a gag reel provides a few chuckles (but nothing that will have viewers laughing out loud or rolling on the floor), three short deleted scenes (of little significance or entertainment value), and a theatrical trailer. The DVD also includes a music video with shots of action going on behind the scenes – something that those involved in the film might find interesting, but not the average viewer – and a behind-the-scenes feature with interviews of cast and friends on the red carpet of the premier. The last feature might have been more interesting if the filmmakers had made an actual behind the scenes feature and combine the footage from the music video with interviews of the cast.

The special features may not satisfy, but put together with the film, the DVD makes for a great family night. A Plumm Summer will have viewers hopping to its family-friendly tune.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Review: The King's Daughters


Three out of four stars. Would be four stars if it didn't have that one sex scene.

Sci-fi, action, mystery, romance... Nathalie Mallet successfully combines them all in the second installment of her Prince Amir’s Adventures series, The King’s Daughters. Normally, such a large grouping of genres would ruin a story, but Mallet manages to focus all these genres under the roof of her fantastical world, a world very much like our own.

As Prince Amir travels with his beloved Princess Eva, he has high hopes for a marriage approved by Eva’s father. Amir and Eva enter an increasingly hostile environment, however, when they arrive in Eva’s homeland, Sorvinka. Bandits have already attacked Amir and his men on the roads surrounding the kingdom; and once he arrives at the castle, Amir receives a greeting as cold as the icy winter environment that surrounds him: The king does not like Amir, one of Eva’s four younger sisters has been kidnapped, and an unclassified beast revisits the castle every night, killing anyone in its path. The king fears that his enemies, the Farrellians, are behind the evil deeds, but Amir suspects something far more mysterious and evil. Already having trouble making a good impression, Amir adds to the difficulty of his stay as he determines to solve the mystery. He explores the castle, meeting ghouls, gods, magic, and suspicious characters that all seem to have a motive. Meanwhile, the queen’s health fails and Amir begins to wonder whether more than just the princesses are in peril.

Could the culprit be the witch in the woods, known for kidnapping children? What about the one-armed lord and his three sons, loved by the people and next in line for the throne after the king’s nephew? Perhaps the two barbarians that don’t speak the country’s language and that seem to have the ability to walk through walls and be in two places at once had something to do with the kidnapping. Or maybe the green-eyed girl seen near the plant used to make deadly potions? It seems that even those closest to Amir cannot be trusted.

Mallet keeps her readers guessing, revealing clues that may or may not contribute to solving this mystery. A master at deceiving the reader until the very end, Mallet weaves characters and their stories together. Characters blend, clash, and fight, making for the perfect mystery filled with action and adventure.

Now, don’t forget the romance. There’s plenty of that in store, even a racy, yet non-explicit sex scene that lasts about a page. Although Mallet could have easily left the sex scene out (this is not a Harlequin romance), she does a good job of describing the lovers’ actions without becoming too detailed. Eva and Amir are the only characters in King’s Daughters that appeared in the first book, making it easy for anyone who has not read the first book to follow the plot. Some might worry that a continued romance from the first book would ruin the second book (just look at TV: every series ends after the couple gets married), but Mallet does not disappoint. Eva stays away from Amir for the majority of the book, but she plays a crucial role in Amir’s motivation to find the missing princesses, as well as in the book’s conclusion.

Mallet’s talent for words amazes readers, as she wrote both her fantasy books in her second language: English. Her characters are lovable, believable, and easy to relate to. One character named Diego proclaims himself a “dandy” and resembles the famous literary hero The Scarlet Pimpernel in both his wit and his charm.

Mallet includes all the details needed to make the setting feel real, leaving only one or two gaps unfilled -- not enough to confuse the reader or stop the reader from reading. In fact, Mallet pulls everything together in the end with a satisfying finale that leaves the way open for future books. A page-turner for young-adults, adults, and fans of fantasy and mystery, The King’s Daughters delivers big time. Unlike its story, the book’s success will be no mystery.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review: Secret Life of the American Teenager Season 2


The “secret lives” of these “American teenagers” aren’t so secret. 15 year old Amy (Shailene Woodley) is pregnant. Amy’s parents are getting a divorce, and Amy’s boyfriend, Ben (Ken Baumann), struggles to find his place in Amy’s and the coming baby’s life. Ben and Amy want to get married. The father of the baby, Ricky (Daren Kagasoff), is sleeping with Adrian (Francia Raisa) who is sleeping with her step-brother. Ricky’s sexually abusive father wants to cash in on Amy’s baby. Ricky’s Christian girlfriend, Grace (Megan Park), is really in love with Jack (Greg Finley), and refuses to have sex before marriage. Grace’s mentally disabled brother wants to marry his new girlfriend after only one date. Meanwhile, high school students Henry (Allen Evangelista) and Alice (Amy Rider) are sleeping together.

The Secret Life of the American Teenager revolves around one thing: SEX. Characters struggle to balance high school, dating, and, of course, the hot topic of sex (although viewers never see characters actually having sex). Gossip resounds in the halls of the institution known as high school, and melodramas erupt. Soap opera for teenagers, it’s no wonder that this show has lasted for two full seasons. People like drama, and they’ll definitely find it in American Teenager.

But beyond the seemingly mindless and unending soap opera drama, American Teenager has heart. Despite the bad acting and the sometimes boring script, the show deals with real issues that many teenagers face on a daily basis. While some parts may offend conservatives – a gay couple wants to raise Amy’s baby and a Christian family doesn’t put the most positive light on Christianity – Amy’s story, connected to the stories of those around her, rings true. She learns to accept responsibility for her actions, Ben learns that he can support Amy without becoming her husband just yet, and Ricky learns that he is not his father. Meanwhile, there are plenty of laughs in store for viewers with characters like Amy’s sarcastic sister’s dry sense of humor and Amy’s father’s “delight in vexing” his soon to be ex-wife’s nerves.

As with any television show, American Teenager takes the viewer on a journey. As the characters come together in the hospital to await the arrival of the new baby, they realize that they are all connected in one way or another to Amy and the situations that have surrounded her pregnancy. The viewer, too, connects with the characters and the stories they tell.

The complete second season DVD comes with a music video recapping the first season, “Character Secrets” – in which cast members talk about the plot of the show, and “Cast Close-Ups” – in which a random young girl (who doesn’t have the best interview skills) asks cast members about their own “secret lives.”

Book Review: The Noticer

Five out of Five Stars Recommended

Quick Review:
Sit down to a relaxing and thought provoking conversation with The Noticer, an old man with much wisdom and a new perspective on your circumstances. Readers never discover who this Christ figure really is, but they observe the seeds of light that he leaves behind in the lives of others, and they are invited to become one of those seeds.

Based on a true story, Andy Andrews’ The Noticer is a simple, but inspiring story about an old man, the people he notices, and the wisdom he has to offer. Jones, an old, dark-skinned, white-haired, blue-eyed man who wanders from person to person carrying only an old suitcase and who meets each character where they are, under a pier, on a dark road, at a restaurant, under a tree... forget formality, these are not business meetings, although they involve serious business. With a humble attitude, Jones digs into his listeners’ hearts without judging them, and he establishes relationships and helping his new friends to live in hope, peace, gratitude, and grace.

Jones, meets with people of all sorts: a homeless man who thinks he has no hope for a positive future, a couple about to divorce because they don’t speak the same love language, a man with suicidal thoughts, a few teens wondering what positive boyfriend-girlfriend relationships should look like, an old woman who feels useless now that her husband has died and her children have grown, a workaholic so busy that he makes ethically wrong decisions and forgets to see those around him as people, a soon to be father worried he’ll be a bad influence on his child, a rich man gone bankrupt, and a woman facing her husband’s death. Each person learns a valuable lesson, lessons that the reader, too, can learn -- lessons that all lead to one ultimate lesson: The best has yet to come. So take on a new, positive perspective and live life to its fullest.

Jones leaves each character changed, and perhaps the reader, too. But whether you like The Noticer will depend on the one thing Jones seems to focus on: perspective. You can pick this book up as a quick, time-filler read (and it is a quick and easy read) and think of it as a rehashing of books that already exist, or you can sit down and allow its characters and their stories to speak to you. If you take the time to think about the wisdom Jones offers, you’ll find you gain a new perspective, a new wisdom, and a new desire to share that wisdom with others. Andrews provides enough variety in situations and lessons, allowing most readers to relate to at least one of the characters. Weaving historical lessons, real life situations, and Christian advice (without forcing doctrine on the reader) together, Andrews gives the reader a new way of looking at life.

Readers never discover who this amazing old man really is, but the man’s purpose in life gives them more than enough information about him. As Jones visits and revisits characters' lives, teaching them to never give up because the best it yet to come, he takes on the persona of Christ on earth.

Could Jones be Jesus in person? Or an angel in disguise? After all, Jones does seem all knowing, and he often disappears when characters look away. He takes on different names, appearances, and languages depending on who He talks to. His name does start with the letter J, and, like Jesus, he does act as a character that readers will both want to have and reflect in their lives.

How many of us could use a Jones in our lives? And how many of us have the potential to become a Jones in the lives of other? The Noticer opens and ends with Jones‘ invitation to step into the light. We have a light to step into -- God’s light. God has given you a new perspective; now, use it to give new perspectives to others. Show them the way to the light.

Written for Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers
To visit Andy Andrews' website, click here
To learn more about the Noticer Project, click here
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Blog of Harmony Wheeler

Keep updated on Harmony Wheeler and her writings through this blog, where she will post reviews and other published writings as she continues to build her resume.

Wheeler, freelance writer and author of numerous movie, book, and CD reviews, has written for various publications including StaticMultiMedia.com, ChristianBookPreviews.com, The Aboite Independent, Christian Communicator, Church Libraries, TUFW Alumnus, All American Homes, TUFW Student Newspaper The Express, and The Modesto Bee.