Friday, February 24, 2017

REVIEW: Chocolat by Joanne Harris

Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Penguin/Random House
Genre: Magic Realism/Literary

3/5 stars
PG-13 for domestic violence, sexual content, language
Recommend most likely for fans of the genre. I was disappointed enough with the ending I'd be very particular who I recommended it to.

Greeted as "an amazement of riches ... few readers will be able to resist" by The New York TimesChocolat is an enchanting novel about a small French town turned upside down by the arrival of a bewitching chocolate confectioner, Vianne Rocher, and her spirited young daughter.

The Review
I'm torn about this book. The thing is, I really enjoyed it. By page 9, with the line 'Old habits never die. And once you've been in the business of granting wishes, the impulse never quite leaves you.' I was hooked. Hooked. In my mind, our heroine Vianne Rocher took on the image of a subtle fairy godmother, just trying to spread a little good in the world, and I fell quite willingly into these pages. It was the end, unfortunately, that kind of ruined it for me. And no matter how much you enjoy a book, an unsatisfactory ending can really taint it.

I love the quirky characters. Old Armande with her childish glee and impish rebelliousness, Luc with his stutter and journey of self-confidence, Roux, Anouk, Josephine- I loved them all. Chocolat blends the small-town eccentricities and happenings of Gilmore Girls with an easy vein of magic realism that tastes reminiscent of The Night Circus.

They're all interesting characters, with their own quirks and demons to overcome, but the one who most intrigued me was the nemesis in the priest, Francis Reynaud. Chocolat is told from dual perspectives between he and Vianne, so we become quite familiar with him, his own struggles, his frustrations, and his flaws. As the story unfolds, we are fed bite-sized pieces of his backstory and the events that led to his current state. He intrigued me. He was broken, misled, trying to do the right things for all the wrong reasons and utterly failing, so I was watching his development pretty darn close.

Heavy issues and topics are gently courted on the luxurious comfort of fresh chocolates, which were described so vividly that I almost didn't need to have a box of them at my side while reading. (Almost, I said. Almost.) There is tragedy and its aftermath, self-doubt, domestic violence, the sorrow of death and the joy of life, but all told in a lighthearted lilt that keeps it from ever becoming too heavy. It is, fittingly, so like the chocolate Harris describes:
...the brief resistance of the chocolate shell as it meets the lips, the soft truffle inside...There are layers of flavor like the bouquet of a fine wine, a slight bitterness, a richness like ground coffee; warmth brings the flavor to life...  -Page 298
It's an interesting story and beautifully told.


Bet you sensed that coming. FYI, expect spoilers from here down.

In a nutshell, the ending did nothing that I anticipated, and what it did do actually unraveled what I had conceived of as the main theme of the story, which destroyed the 'light hearted, feel-good' vibe I'd had up until that point.

My main issue with Chocolat is that what seems to be a story of righted wrongs, repaired relationships, self-awareness, and mended wounds -when looked at closer- really isn't. The town of Lansquenet doesn't come together, its people don't overcome their differences and become stronger and happier for it. The status quo is merely overturned, building up the confidence and strength of the outcasts, and granting them rule over the previously accepted class, who are in turn cast down. There aren't any reconciliations between the two groups, even within families, and that's really what I wanted to see in this story. I wanted the characters of the town to find some common ground and start fresh. Instead, they merely swapped out one bigotry for another and the town isn't any better off as a whole than it was before.
The unsatisfactory ending was a culmination of several little tidbits throughout the story that I didn't like. It is, on the whole, a cliched pitching of religion against happiness. The antagonists of the story are the priest, his so-dubbed 'Bible groupies', and an abusive husband whose behavior is excused because he pays penance for it. I didn't pitch the book because of  this vilifying of religion initially because I really believed that it wouldn't remain. I thought characters on both sides of the story would grow and develop and it would eventually lead to a happy ending for most everyone on some common ground.

Reynaud especially! I was ready for Reynaud's flash of revelation. I was waiting for reality to come crashing down around him, to see him dismayed at his own hate and spite, humbled and chastened by it. I wanted to see Reynaud's redemption; to witness at least the beginning of a change in him; for he and Vianne to part, perhaps, with a line not unlike the closing of Casablanca: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship." Alas. Reynaud is instead made into a pig, a bigot, a zealot, a laughingstock, with no hope of reform and not a shred of dignity left, and it really steamed my broccoli!

I had hoped Chocolat would break the mold, especially in terms of Reynaud's character -so much potential for a redemption arc!- but it disappointed, leaving as an aftertaste not just the luxury of divine chocolate, but a hint of stale cliche and the sour pinch of prejudice.

This does, however, lead to some interesting discussion on my Book vs. Movie comparison coming in March, so don't miss that!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ten Favorite Movies You've (Probably) Never Heard Of | Worth Watching

When I make a new friend, one of the first things I do is introduce them to a specific list of my favorite movies. I don't know why or how, but a lot of the movies my family would watch over and over again when I was growing up are incredibly obscure titles that almost no one has heard of, but they are so Worth Watching.

1.) Undercover Blues (1993)

Genre: Action/Comedy
How I Discovered It: Growing up, a local store had a $5 VHS movie bin -yes, VHS tapes- and my family would raid it for new flicks. None of us had ever heard of this one, but it had Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner and that fantastic cover so we took a chance.
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Kathleen Turner, Stanley Tucci, Saul Rubinek, Larry Miller, Obba Babatunde, Fiona Shaw, Tom Arnold.

Jane and Jefferson Blue work for the FBI. Or is it the CIA? While on a long-earned break for maternity leave to spend time with their newborn, these espionage eccentrics wind up taking a case involving stolen explosives and Czech terrorists in scenic New Orleans with their little girl, two suspicious police detectives, and a vengeful second-rate mugger in tow.

Jane and Jeff are one of my favorite movie couples EVER. Seriously, if I could pick any fictional relationship for myself, it would probably be this one.

Plus, Stanley Tucci! Tucci is a magnificent character-actor and this was the first thing I ever saw him in. He plays a low-life, back alley mugger who insists on the name 'Muerte', vows to take the Blues down if it's the last thing he does. No matter how many teeth he might lose in the process.

Only one friend was already familiar with this movie. When we sat down to watch it, she kept saying pieces looked familiar. Come to find out, it's a favorite of her dad's played in the background at home a lot. She doesn't watch very much television, so she'd never actually seen it all the way through.

2.) My Blue Heaven (1990)

Genre: Comedy
How I Discovered It: That $5 movie bin again.
Starring: Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Joan Cusack

Gold-hearted mobster Vinnie Antonelli winds up in Witness Protection in his own special brand of hell -the suburbs. While waiting to testify, Vinnie keeps himself amused simultaneously infuriating and playing matchmaker to his uptight FBI handler and the local DA. Can the clean-living locals handle this not-so-reformed, smooth-talking mobster?

Martin and Moranis are a fantastic duo and their characters Vinnie and Barney an interesting twist on the 'buddy cop' story.

3.) Oscar (1991)

Genre: Comedy
How I Discovered It: Friends of the family. This was an all-time favorite of theirs and they loaned it to us, insisting we watch it. We didn't want to give it back and found a copy of our own as soon as possible.
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Tim Curry, Peter Riegert, Kurtwood Smith, Don Ameche, Chazz Palminteri

Angelo 'Snaps' Provolone is one of Chicago's big-name gangsters in the 1930s but to make amends with his father he swears to fulfill the old man's dying wish -to go straight.

The movie takes place over the course of this momentous day, when Snaps does everything he can to stay on the straight and narrow but everything insists on going wrong. Between suit fittings and elocution lessons parades a hilarious madhouse of misadventures and revelations from his daughter's secret suitor coming to ask for her hand, to the police stakeout watching his every move, to the arrival of a woman pretending to be his daughter, to rival gangsters.

Snaps is determined to keep his promise but, even hardened gangster that he is, the stress of his first day going straight just might kill him.

The only trailer I could find for this I didn't like very much; it only focused on one aspect of the movie, so instead here's a clip of the beginning, to give you a taste of what you're getting into:

4.) Last Action Hero (1993)

Genre: Action/Comedy
How I Discovered It: When my sister and I were about 14/15 and the family desperately needed something new to watch, my parents decided we were old enough to pick a movie from The Drawer. In one of their dressers, they kept all the movies we weren't allowed to watch yet and as we aged, they'd pull out whatever movies they deemed now appropriate. This one of the first.
Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, F. Murray Abraham, Austin O'Brien, Art Carney, Charles Dance, Tom Noonan, Robert Prosky
Bonus: Ian McKellan appears in a small role as Death

Tagline: This isn't the movies anymore.

Thanks to a magic ticket, Danny Madigan is transported into the world of his favorite movie series, the Jack Slater action films! All kinds of chaos ensues while Danny and Slater try to thwart the schemes of the latest film's villain and wind up bringing all that silver screen trouble into the real world. Danny gets a dose of real life amid the fun and explosions; after all, the good guys might always win in the movies, but what happens after the credits roll?

I like this one not only for the fun concept and great action, but because it handles really well some darker aspects of what life would really be like in an action movie.

5.) The Medallion (2003)

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure/Comedy
How I Discovered It: A locally-owned video rental store featured $1 Monday Movie Rentals and we went through a lot of their films. This was one of the good ones.
Starring: Jackie Chan, Lee Evans, Claire Forlani, Julian Sands, John Rhys-Davies

JACKIE CHAN! My family are big fans of Jackie Chan and this is one of our favorites. It's a little ridiculous, featuring supernatural elements and melodramatic bad guys and lots of Matrix-esque fight scenes and special effects, but it's so much fun.

The Medallion is a source of supernatural power that can only be used by a child born every 1000 years and the villain Snakehead is determined to get his hands on both. Hot on Snakehead's trail is Hong Kong cop Eddie Yang, grudgingly reunited with an old partner, the slightly bumbling Interpol agent Arthur Watson, and an old flame, tough and high-kicking Interpol agent Nicole James. When Eddie dies protecting the child, the boy uses the Medallion to resurrect him and, with his newfound powers, Eddie hopes to save the people he cares about and stop Snakehead once and for all.

6.) Mickey Blue Eyes (1999)

Genre: Comedy/Crime
How I Discovered It: This was another obscure favorite of family friends. I only first saw this a few years ago, but it's definitely a favorite. I think this is actually the only one on the list I don't own yet.
Starring: Hugh Grant, James Caan, Jeanne Tripplehorn

In the same comedic vein as Oscar, an innocent art-house auctioneer determines to get on good terms with his future father-in-law -he just wished he'd realized the man was a major mobster before he agreed to do a 'favor'. Mistaken for a fellow mobster, 'Mickey Blue Eyes' gets in deeper and deeper with the mob as he unwittingly opens up the auction to launder money, tangles with the FBI, and tries to keep it all a secret from his fiancee.

The taglines alone for this film should make you want to grab it!
"They've created a mobster." & "A romantic comedy you can't refuse."
But adding to that Caan's brilliant and easy tough-guy persona and Grant's hilarious attempts at the same makes this a golden comedy.

7.) Silverado (1985)

Genre: Western
How I Discovered It: This was a favorite film of a friend's family and I fell in love with it. One of the rare films I've discovered that my family doesn't actually like. Why, I have no idea. I should make them re-watch it because they love Linda Hunt in NCIS: LA.
Starring: Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, Rosanna Arquette
Bonus: John Cleese as a Sheriff. In a western.

Growing up on a steady diet of John Wayne films, classics and obscure titles, I ate up this more modern attempt at the Wild West. What I love most about it is how authentic it remains to the John Wayne-style western, in story, character, and feel. Each of our four cowboys have great depth, personality, and back stories and that, above all else, is what really makes this film work for me. While the story is good -villainous cattlemen, revenge, and a crooked sheriff- it's the characters that make it great. It's a refreshing new(ish) Western that isn't all shoot-em-up, with plenty of action, shady characters, a dry sense of humor and, at it's core, the classic western theme of standing up to make your own justice when it can't be found anywhere else.

8.) Main Hoon Na (2004)

Okay, so we've gone from simply 'obscure' to foreign flicks, so I don't fault you for not knowing this one.
Genre: Action/Comedy/Drama Oh, and Bollywood
How I Discovered It: I mentioned to a friend that I always wanted to watch Bollywood and it turned out she was something of a connoisseur. This was the first she introduced me to and it's still my favorite. ^_^
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Sushmita Sen, Sunil Shetty, Zayed Khan, Amrita Bao

I adore this film! It's something like True Lies meets Grease, I kid you not. Like the trailer says, this movie has EVERYTHING. When Major Ram Sharma's father is killed by a terrorist scheming to frustrate relations between Pakistan and India, he is assigned to protect the school-age daughter of a General working to ease tensions between the countries. Sent undercover as a student in the school, Ram is vigilant for attack but has an ulterior motive. Before his father died, he revealed that Ram has a stepmother and a younger brother, who attends the same school. Between battling terrorists, cheesy action scenes, and even cheesier explosions, Ram tugs at our heartstrings as he struggles to form his own relationship with his estranged family without revealing his identity as the older son who ruined their family. Oh, and he falls in love with the new chemistry teacher, complete with violins and music numbers.

The title means I'm here now/Here I am. This is both the best Bollywood film I've seen and one of my favorite films ever, Bollywood or not. Loosely based on the legend of Ramayana, this is a fantastic genre melder, switching between ultra-military action film to a family/school drama, which sounds ridiculous, but they make it work so well.

Not all of this is in English, but you get a good gist of the film from it.  

9.) Clue (1985)

There's a 50/50 chance you've seen this because it's something of a cult classic. However, I'm sure there's a lot of people younger than me who have not had the pleasure of watching it.
Genre: Mystery/Comedy
How I Discovered It: Family favorite, definitely from Mom's side, but possibly from Dad's too.
Starring: Tim Curry, Madeline Kahn, Lesley-Ann Warren, Eileen Brennan, Christopher Lloyd, Micheal McKean, Martin Mull

It's not just a game anymore.
It was a dark and stormy night... Based on the board game, Clue is a ridiculous murder mystery about a dinner party turned deadly. When seven guests are invited to a reclusive mansion, they realize they all share the same secret: they're the victims of a blackmailer getting rich off their hard-earned money.
The lights go out. A shot rings out.
When the blackmailer is murdered in the dark, panic and hysteria ensues as the guests ban together to find the murderer and survive the night. But who's the killer? And where's the weapon?
This zany, darkly hilarious, screwball comedy is one of the most quotable films of all time -at least, for my family- with brilliant performances by an all-star cast, three separate endings, and a script that plays with every mystery trope it can and never, ever gets old.

10.) Rio Bravo (1959)

Another 50/50, simply because it's an older movie and for some people that seems to be synonymous with 'bad' or 'outdated', which is a shame. John Wayne westerns were standard fare growing up. This one and McClintock! were our go-tos, but this is the one people don't always recognize.
Genre: Western
How I Discovered It: I believe this was a recommendation from my grandpa when he heard we were going through John Wayne movies.
Starring: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Breannan, Ward Bond, John Russell
Bonus: With Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson on the docket, you got to know there's singing.

The whole town thinks Sheriff John T. Chance has bitten off more than he can chew when he arrests the brother of a powerful and amoral rancher for murder. While assassins and hired gunmen stream in for the final showdown, Chance hires the only two men crazy or desperate enough to pin on a deputy's star -the town drunk Dude, once a deputy and good shot before he got his heart broke, and Colorado, a wet-behind-the-ears gunslinger with good aim and little experience. The crew rounds out with Stumpy, an elderly deputy with a limp, Feathers, the card playing former girl of a cheat, and Carlos and Consuela, who run the local inn. It's a small force to take on a powerful rancher, but boy do they do it in style!

So there they are! Hopefully, there are a few titles here that intrigue you. These are my golden favorites and they're gems that definitely shouldn't stay hidden. If you watch any, I'd love to hear what you think of them!

What are your favorite obscure films?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Blogger Hop | Feb 17-23

The Book Blogger Hop was originally created by Jennifer from Crazy-For-Books in March 2010 and ended on December 31, 2012. With Jennifer's permission, I relaunched the meme on February 15, 2013.

I'm going to play with a new meme this week and Book Blogger Hop looks like a fun way to connect with other bloggers. So here goes. ^_^

Can you read and watch TV or listen to the radio at the same time?

(submitted by Elizabeth @ Silver's Reviews)

I CANNOT watch TV and read at the same time. I always get distracted by the bright pretty moving pictures, even if it's something I have zero interest in. (Actually, I hate when they have TVs playing in restaurants for the same reason. Unless I'm going to a sports bar to watch a basketball game, I don't want the distraction.)

Music, however, is 50/50 for me. Sometimes I can listen to music while I read, but commercials have a tendency to pull me out of The Zone, so I prefer my own music. I tell myself I can put music in the background and still read, usually when I'm obsessing over a new album or artist. I tend to get pulled into whichever holds my interest more and ignoring the other.

There is one exception:
If I associate a song or artist with a specific character, book, or story line, this is a beautiful sweet spot. The music serves as a soundtrack for my reading and turns it into a 'stereophonic, multimedia event!'
For example, while participating in a blog tour for The Ever Afters series, I featured the music playlists the author used while writing each character, so I loved listening to that on repeat. With the I Am Not a Serial Killer series by Dan Wells, I really listened to the lyrics of a song called Monster by Imagine Dragons for the first time and I think it's the perfect theme for John Cleaver, so I listen to that a lot while reading those. Any of The Blacklist tie-ins are obviously enjoyed with my Blacklist OST in the background. (Here's a similar version on YouTube.)

Can you multitask read?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Post 002

Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead. See rules here: Sunday Post Meme

 Corny Joke Monday 

via The Geek Strikes Back
But you know what? I forgot to share last week's Corny Joke. So I'm putting that here too. Because it's the best EVER. ^_^

 Last Week on the Blog 

 This Week on the Blog 

EDIT: I got ahead of myself and posted the wrong week's schedule. I'll be reviewing 84, Charing Cross Road soon, but not this week. The planned Discussion Post is linked with 84, so it too is postponed. Sorry for the confusion!
Sunday Post Recap/Meme
Ten Of My Favorite Movies You've (Probably) Never Heard Of List/Worth Watching
Book Blogger Hop Meme
Chocolat by Joann Harris Review

 Internet Shenanigans 

Anyone seen The Lego Batman Movie yet?
I saw it last week and loved it. I haven't laughed that hard in ages. I was going to write up a review for it, but I luckily discovered an absolutely FANTASTIC one by Dave at Comic Book Herald. I agree with everything he says about it and he says it 10x better than I would have. So go read that.

 In Real Life

This one is actually total awesome sauce! So I'm scrolling through my Facebook feed the other day when I spy this news article:
I sat there for five minutes trying to figure out why this guy looks so darn familiar and finally went and read the article. It's a great article about some awesome programming going down at the Driftwood Public Library in Lincoln City, Oregon-

-which is when I slapped my forehead. Duh. Driftwood was my library. It's still my true library, in my heart, though I'm hundreds of miles away now. This is the library I grew up in; the library where I made friends with all the librarians; the library where I met most of my friends growing up, thanks to the MOST AWESOME children's librarian EVER; the library where I joined my first writers group and then formed my own; the library where I first started volunteering, that made me want to work in a library, and whose annual writing contests pushed me to write and publish.

So the guy whose face is expertly photoshopped onto King Henry VIII's body is the circulation supervisor, who always made sure I had a meeting room to meet with my crazy, awesome, teens-only writers group and never told us to quiet down when we got a little loud.

This library -and all of the people who work there- were pivotal to my development as a reader, a writer, and a person. I was a shy, quiet, little kid with no friends when I innocently signed up for a library card and my first Summer Reading Program. Thanks to Driftwood and the librarians, when I left I was a young woman not only with a voracious reading habit, but years of writing experience, a personality, job experience, and a few of my best friends.

So if people ever ask you why libraries are important -this is why.

 New Additions 

Avis Blackthorn: Is Not an Evil Wizard! by Jack Simmonds

Good Wizard. Evil Family. Magic School. What could go wrong?

Avis Blackthorn's family is the most evil family in all of the Seven Magical Kingdoms. The problem? Avis isn't evil. Not one bit. His magical wizarding family will do anything to make Avis's life a misery. Even the horses that pull the flying carriages don't like him.
But he has a way out at last... “Hailing Hall School for Wizards” -- a sanctuary, a place for good wizards, where he can make some nice, normal friends, learn magic and live a normal life, finally escaping the notoriety of the Blackthorn name... or so he thinks.

Is anyone else thinking this is basically the Draco story line we all wanted?! This showed up in an InstaFreebie last week and I could. not. resist. It could be a while before I get to it, but I'm really interested to see how it is.

Young Does Disney, Vol 1 by Jonathan YoungJonathan Young is fantastic. He's covering DISNEY SONGS as metal & rock, and he's always talking about pizza. There's literally nothing wrong with this, guys. Go subscribe.

My aunt was weeding out her VHS collection and, since I've still got a VCR, I snagged a couple:
  • Slipstream: I have no idea. It's from 1989, it's a sci-fi/adventure, it's got Ben Kingsley, F. Murray Abraham, Bill Paxton, and MARK HAMILL. I'll let you know when I watch it.
  • Stargate: Yes, I admit I'm a little Spader-crazy right now, but I grew up watching Stargate SG-1 and I didn't have a copy of the original film. And yes. I get the giggles watching Spader as Daniel Jackson.


I'm rediscovering the joy of using GIFs in reviews. They amuse me oh so much. I got to use this one in one of next week's post:
Now you have to come back to check it out!

  What's new with you? 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thursday Quotables | 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Thursday Quotables, hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies, is a weekly feature to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.

Author: Helene Hanff
Publisher: Penguin Books
Book Club Read

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene's sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.

My Quotable comes from page 8. The unmistakable personality in the writing of Hanff's letters tickles me pink but I laughed out loud when I read this epistle.

14 East 95th St.
December 9, 1949
I sent that package off. The chief item in it was a 6-pound ham, I figured you could take it to a butcher and get it sliced up so everybody would have some to take home.
But I just noticed on your last invoice it says: "B. Marks. M. Cohen." Props.
ARE THEY KOSHER? I could rush a tongue over.

Helene Hanff

So far, this book is fantastic. I can't wait to finish it, but I'm looking forward even more to my next book club meeting to discuss it! ^_^

What Quotable captured your attention this week?