'You know you've read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend.' ~ Paul Sweeney

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Are you brave enough to explore...A Murder Country?

A Murder Country
Author: Brandon Daily
Published by: Knox Robinson Publishing
Publication date: September 9, 2014 

Available in eBook format.

In this novel set in the late 19th century, the reader is taken on multiple journeys through the eyes of three very different men who each have their own agendas. From the zealous and violent Rider to the contemplative William to the innocent Josiah, the future for the three at the center of this tale all rest on one thing: the consequences of their choices, both past and present. 

"What is life but a series of meetins and greetins and farewells and goodbyes strung together by some higher callin unknown from ourselves? It all leads us to some eventual knowin of one another, I imagine. And only then can we really hope to understand ourselves. That’s what I think, at least. I’ve come to see that life is truly one choice after the other. And still I have been appointed the job of decidin what choices are right." 

Daily weaves an interesting and complex read with storylines that cross one another but never really let you see what is around the next corner. At times grim and gruesome, this story is not your typical feel-good read but rather a study in humanity in its many facets through the eyes of Daily’s characters and the world in which they live.

One man seeks to exact God’s justice, one seeks distance from his dark past while moving toward a peaceful future, and another seeks revenge against the one who took his family from him. Along the way, the men find that what they seek may not bring them the satisfaction, peace, or justice they desired.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Interview: Production Designer Michael Curry talks Diagon Alley

In the months leading up to the July 8 opening of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Diagon Alley, information about what the new area would look and feel like began to circulate. Those attending LeakyCon were already planning on making their way either before or after the convention to the new park and began eagerly searching for any information on what to expect. As a first-time LeakyCon attendee and having never visited Universal Orlando, I also joined the masses in researching the park and the wonders it would behold. In doing so, I came across a single sentence in a small article that caught my attention.

As if the Universal team hadn’t already included everything that should be in Diagon Alley, they were adding more interactive shows like those included in Hogsmeade. Rather than the “Triwizard Rally” or the “Frog Choir” shows currently running, Universal brought us not only Molly Weasley’s favorite songstress Celestina Warbeck but also a story from The Tales of Beedle the Bard: “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” brought to life by award-winning artist and production designer Michael Curry and his team. The reason this tiny tidbit had caught my eye in the first place is that Michael’s studio is located only minutes from my small hometown of St. Helens, Oregon, where he is well known and a bit of a celebrity.

I was lucky enough to see the show in Diagon Alley before speaking via telephone with Michael, who then invited me to tour his studio in Scappoose, Oregon. In this exclusive interview for MuggleNet, I was given an intimate look at how Michael got started as an artist, how he became involved with Diagon Alley, what his staff and family thought of the project, and what he thinks the future of Harry Potter holds for his company.

You can read my full interview and see pictures from Diagon Alley over at my other home, MuggleNet, and don't forget to check out my weekly posts in the Casting News section to find out what all the Harry Potter actors and crew are up to these days!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Movie Review: "After the Dark"

Starring Bonnie Wright and Freddie Stroma
Reviewed for MuggleNet.com

While the film has been marketed as an apocalyptic survival story, the apocalypse in question is really more of a manifestation of a subplot that will move to the forefront of the film towards the ending scenes. I also scanned more than ten reviews of the film to see if my reaction was on target with other viewers, but stunningly, I found myself in the minority. Is it strange that I actually enjoyed the movie? I don’t think so.

One could argue that because I’m a fan of the Harry Potter universe and all that inhabit it, I’m likely to support any project that happens to have employed one of the Potter stars. That’s simply not true – I hated The Haunted Airman with Robert Pattinson and couldn’t get behind that film at all no matter how much I tried.

The fact is that After the Dark is a smart film. The premise is interesting, posing questions of logic and emotion throughout three apocalyptic scenarios which are posited by the teacher of a philosophy class for seniors graduating from an international school in Jakarta. As you and I have never actually been through an apocalypse, we can’t say for sure how we would react, but writer/director John Huddles allows the viewer, along with the characters, to ponder how we might react given specific sets of factors to consider.

Let’s get past the shocking deaths of the poet Toby in two of the three scenarios. This is window dressing, something to distract you from the real plot twist that comes at the end. Graphic – yes. Attention getting – absolutely. They’ve played this portion in the trailers to pull you in. This story doesn’t belong to Toby. It belongs to someone else entirely.

The film starts with the idea that humans are flawed in both their logical and emotional decision-making abilities in life and death situations. What I found more poignant about this film beyond the marketed apocalyptic theme is the subtle undercurrent of the true reason for the given scenarios in the first place. I won’t ruin the movie for you by actually giving a summary that includes the twist – you need to see this film for yourself. What I will say is that Sophie Lowe as Petra and James D’Arcy as Eric give amazing performances in this film, allowing the finer nuances of their characters to fall into place just as they should and not a moment before. I wish there had been more of Bonnie Wright, but her character Georgina took the teacher to task a few times and allowed the Potter fan in me to see more of what this young actress is capable of. Lastly, I have to say, I never could get behind Cormac McLaggen as a character in either of the Potter books and films, and Freddie Stroma’s performance as Cormac made me dislike the character as much as I ever did. His role in After the Dark is completely the opposite of Cormac and shows a side of this actor I wasn’t aware of. Freddie is utterly charming in his role as Jack and provided most of the comic relief the film needed due to the heavier nature of the storyline.

In truth, the film is a bit of a mind-fuck, but one that can be thoroughly enjoyable if you allow yourself to go where the story goes rather than trying to stuff it into a specific categorical box. After the Dark is not what you’re expecting, but it is a film that will make you question everything.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Movie Review: "Separate We Come, Separate We Go"

Written and Directed by Bonnie Wright
Starring David Thewlis
Reviewed for MuggleNet.com

In this ten minute short film, written and directed by Bonnie Wright, a young girl named Thea discovers the power of her imagination with the help of a stranger she meets along the beach in her coastal town.

In the opening of the film, 10-year-old Thea comforts her depressed mother, and when she is sure her mother is on her way out of this episode of depression, takes a walk outside. She briefly explores an old boat that has been left aground, before happening upon a man looking at rocks near an abandoned set of train tracks.

The stranger invites her to have some tea at his house, which is close by. As she waits for the tea, Thea notices how messy the house is, and hiding under the mess on the coffee table is a picture of the man, his wife, and his son. While he doesn’t reveal all, the stranger indicates that he lost them both, and then asks Thea if she has brothers or sisters. When she says it is only herself and her mother, the man stands and invites her to see something. He gives her a coat to keep her warm, and the pair exit the home and head back towards the beach.

The man asks her if she could go anywhere, be anywhere, where would she be? In a very matter-of-fact answer, Thea explains that she is only here, in Dungeness, and can’t be anywhere else. The man laughs, and tries again, stirring her imagination until she says she would love to go to Paris. As seagulls fly overhead, he instructs her to tell the birds to go to Paris since they are flying the right direction. They both run after the flying birds, shouting instructions. It is only then that we finally see the 10-year-old Thea, and not the wise-beyond-her-years Thea, who has been caring for her depressed mother. Finally, the two introduce themselves, both Thea and the stranger named Norman smiling at one another before parting ways.

The short film immediately grabs at the heart strings as we see Thea dealing with more than any child should have to deal with, and then gives the viewer a moment of joy when the little girl emerges, yelling at the birds to go to Paris. Wonderfully, over the final scene of the film, Thea reads for the viewer a letter she has written to Norman, leaving us hopeful that the girl will continue to embrace and retain that child-like wonder and imagination that Norman introduced her to on the beach of Dungeness.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Movie Review: "About Time" - Starring Domhnall Gleeson and Bill Nighy

Film directed and written by Richard Curtis
Reviewed for MuggleNet.com

From the previews, About Time looks like nothing more than a standard romantic comedy with the obvious obstacles – young love, meeting the parents of the one you love, overcoming embarrassing moments when your significant other meets your friends who have no filter…

About Time is so much more than a romantic comedy. In his first romantic lead role, Domhnall Gleeson (Bill Weasley in Harry Potter) charms the audience with his awkward portrayal of Tim, a pale, ginger-haired young man just waiting for his life to start. When Tim turns 21, his father reveals a secret about the male members of their family, passed down through generations: they can travel through time. Immediately, one begins to think about all that we could do if we had such a power – what would you change about your life if you could? Tim is no exception. He uses his new power to erase his responses to various moments in his life, allowing himself to not only take back the moments that seem to be the most embarrassing, but to also give himself the boldness to react the way he wants to without fear. Unafraid, Tim seeks out opportunities in his life that he might otherwise not have experienced – taking a chance on love, altering history for his loved ones in order to turn negative experiences into positive ones, and along the way he discovers what is truly important in his life.

The entire cast is truly enjoyable – Bill Nighy is always a delight to watch and his role in this film is what grounds the entire premise of the film. The chemistry between Rachel McAdams and Domhnall will give hope to nerdy gingers the world over. I would not be surprised if this movie launches Domhnall permanently into the role of a romantic lead – he comes across as relatable and completely adorable, and I’m not just saying that because I have a thing for gingers.

The guy can act! On a small side note for the Harry Potter fans, Richard Griffiths appears in an uncredited role in the film, one of his last roles before he passed away last March. Now, I can’t go into any more detail about the film itself without spoiling the movie for you, so I won’t. What I will say however, is that the movie is funny, quirky, and deeply emotional. This is a movie, literally and figuratively, about time. It reminds us all that time is fleeting and to make the most of it, even those who secretly have the power to time travel. Most of all, Tim and his time-traveling father reveal to us the ultimate secret to a happy life.

You’ll have to watch the movie to learn what the secret is! Go out and see it today!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Television Review: "Run" starring Katie Leung

Film directed by Charles Martin (episodes 1-2) and Jonathan Pearson (episodes 3-4)
Written by Daniel Fajemisin-Duncan, Marlon Smith
Starring: Olivia Coleman, Katie Leung, Lennie James, Katharina Schuttler
Reviewed for MuggleNet.com

‘Run’ is a four-part dramatic mini-series that aired in the UK this year and is now available for American audiences for free via Hulu. Focusing each episode on the life of one character, the four vignettes intertwine and connect, showing how one person’s decision can affect any random stranger. The timeline of the movie is a bit blurred, but it felt like it should be blurred, considering the different perspectives of the characters. Katie Leung (Cho Chang) is featured in the first two episodes of the mini-series.

The first episode focus is on Carol and her two sons, Dean and Terry, who have just beaten a man to death and try to hide it from their mother. While Carol suspects something is wrong, she goes about her life, including stealing from the company she works for so that she can make extra cash on the side by selling cell phones to an Asian girl she meets at a laundry mat. Carol eventually learns the truth about her sons and despite the anguish it causes her, turns them in to the police.

The second episode continues the story of Ying, the young girl from the laundry mat. Ying has been brought to the country illegally and is forced to sell items on the street in order to pay Gao, the man who made it possible. When an immigration raid takes place, Ying is forced to run and hides out with a man who owns a barber shop. Her past catches up with her when Gao finds the shop and beats up the owner to try to learn her whereabouts. To save herself, and the barbershop owner, Ying goes back to working for Gao.

In the third episode we meet Richard - a heroin addict who is trying to get his life back together so that he can see his daughter. After being falsely arrested, he loses his home and tries to sell a stolen car for cash to give to his daughter. The car is towed before he can make good on his promise to his child. In a last attempt to repair the relationship with his child, he steals items out of a car for cash and leaves it at her house with promises that one day he will be better and they can be together.

The final episode opens with the owner of the stolen car, Katerina, at the morgue, identifying the body of her boyfriend. As she prepares to bury him, she finds out he had an affair and a child was the result of the relationship. While her bills mount, she reaches out to her boyfriend’s shady business partner Peter and agrees to marry a man from India for ten thousand pounds. When she accidentally sees where her potential groom hides his cash, she goes back the next day and steals it. Peter finds out and chases her to get the money, but she narrowly escapes him by sneaking onto the subway, taking a seat next to Carol, who sons are the men responsible for Katerina’s boyfriend’s death.

Final thoughts

The series is well-written, with all of the storylines weaving together to show cause and effect. The viewer’s preconceptions of the characters prior to their specific episodes are really turned on their heads as aspects of the characters troubles are brought to light during the series. The blurred timeline, which I mentioned before, serves its purpose for the stories – providing a real-time feel for each character while still keeping the pace for the audience. The audience is left wondering what happens to all the characters and if there is any resolution to the situations in which they find themselves, but I think that Carol appearing in the final scene tells us what happens to them: Life goes on after bad things happen, just like it does in real life. Until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes, you have no idea the darkness or struggle they may be dealing with. While the series is not a feel-good movie by any means, it is an interesting and thought-provoking film.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I posted anything on my book review blog!  If you know me at all, you know that writing is a passion, as is reading almost any book I can get my hands on.  The last year has been a rough one for me personally as I juggled a full time job, a full college course load, and the death of my grandmother.  I know anyone who has had to experience any of these things will understand why my little blog has been left alone so long. 

My plate will never be empty, as I still must work for a living and am only a little over halfway through my Bachelor's degree program, but I try to make as much time as I can for things I am passionate about.  I still run my fan forum and connected social media sites for my favorite actor, Nathan Fillion, and I also continue to run the social media sites for my other fan forum for Jeffrey Dean Morgan.  And while it seems my life could do with a little less stress and responsibility, I have taken on a few other projects because they are such good opportunities for my ultimate goal that it would just be idiotic not to snatch them up as they float past me.

What are these opportunities?  Glad you asked!  I am still reviewing books of all genres for a wonderful site called Novels Alive, I occasionally do a review for a company called Knox Robinson Publishing, and I recently applied for an unpaid internship for a little site you may have heard of that revolves around the world of Harry Potter called Mugglenet.  I honestly didn't think I would get the intern position simply because of the sheer massiveness of the site and how popular it is for HP fans.  There are people who would probably literally kill to get a job with Mugglenet.  I just found out today that my application and writing examples were considered and found to be kick-ass enough that they offered me a position! 

I have to thank everyone who has supported me, in big ways and small - it means the world to me to have you all happy for me and encouraging me, even when you know I probably don't have time to add another thing to my already full plate.  This internship could mean big things for me if I play my cards right and do a good job, so I am adding it to my list of things to do and will do so with pleasure.

Now, enough explaining where the hell I've been and why the blog has been treated like a red-headed step-child.  On to the reviews!

Wealthy By Design
Author: Kimberly Foss
Published by: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication Date: June 18, 2013

 Available on Amazon in Hardcover

Wealthy By Design by Kimberly Foss is a thought-provoking read.  With her knowledge of the industry, she knows all the right questions to ask of her clients to help them make the most of their investments and shares them in this self-help guide to building wealth.

“Drawing upon her twenty-six years of experience as president and founder of Empyrion Wealth Management, where she advises clients of all financial backgrounds and life situations, and her own rise from humble beginnings, Kimberly offers powerful and enlightening stories. Through them, you will learn how to leverage personality, situation, and belief and apply proven wealth-building strategies to fulfill your needs and dreams.”

Foss uses personal experiences with her clients to demonstrate different goals and levels of commitment that any reader can relate to. This book, however, does not appear to be for someone who is just starting out in the investment world. There are many terms used by Foss during her anecdotes and examples, but no real explanation of those terms for those who are unfamiliar with them.  However unfamiliar these industry insider terms are, any reader can take away the feeling of hope in preparing for their future and having the power to control their money so that all dreams and goals can be achieved.  Foss empowers her readers, giving sound, practical advice to take into consideration before moving forward with any investment decisions.

The Libra Affair
Author: Daco
Published by: Crimson Romance
Publication Date: April 8, 2013

 Available on Amazon Kindle

With a plot akin to hit silver screen action thrillers, Daco jumps into the deep end of an international spy love story with her romantic suspense, The Libra Affair.

Daco wastes no time getting right to the point, leaving all character build-up and background to be expertly disbursed among the action and instead choosing to thrust the reader directly into the complicated life of CIA operative and double agent Jordan Jakes.

Jordan must give up the man she falls in love with in order to finish the job she started with the CIA to pull off a global political power play.  With her life, and Ben’s, on the line, Jordan has to switch gears when Ben refuses to accept the end of their relationship and follows her to the Middle East where he unwittingly entangles himself in Jordan’s secret and dangerous life.

“Surviving takes more than being one step ahead of their enemies.  Jordan and Ben must peel back the layers of their emotional armor to overcome a series of obstacles before they can accomplish Jordan’s mission. If they have any hope of making it out of the Middle East alive and forming a lasting relationship, they must surrender to love.”
The entire read was entertaining and fast-paced.  There were no slow builds or moments where my attention span wandered.  While full of what I assume is common “spy-speak”, the terms and phrases were explained immediately and in a way that did not distract me from the story but instead drew me further into Jordan’s world and all the danger it holds.  This is actually my first suspense novel, and I find, paired with romance, it’s a genre I could be fan of, as long as Daco is writing them!