Thursday, February 26, 2015

Silver Linings Playbook (Yes, I'm late to the party)

So you know how you watch the Oscars, note all of the interesting movies you want to watch when they hit DVD and then... don't watch them for two years? Even when they hit Netflix?

Movies that deal with mental illness are touchy for me. I have Aspergers, have struggled with depression which was compounded by endometriosis. There have also been a lot of people close to me who have battled various mental health struggles of their own. Even a well-done movie about the topic can just be too depressing to watch. Since I'm working to reduce my stress this year, I've been staying away from upsetting movies.

Now "Silver Linings Playbook" could very well be upsetting to some viewers. It definitely would be traumatic if regular use of the f-bomb is a trigger for you, or domestic abuse, or bipolar disorder. This is an R-rated movie. I don't take R-rated movies lightly.

Still, last night Nathan and I decided to start it. I wasn't feeling up to watching a whole movie... but I couldn't tear my eyes away from the screen. Nathan had to pretty much force me to take a bathroom break. I was riveted.

This isn't a movie about someone falling into depression, or even about dealing with it. It's about finding oneself again, about finding reasons to keep on going, about finding that silver lining. It's a messy movie because this stuff is messy, but it's also a beautiful movie.

Short synopsis - Bradly Cooper plays Pat, a man who looses control over his undiagnosed bipolar disorder after catching his wife in an affair and nearly beating her lover to death (very brief flashbacks, side nudity and violence in quick shots). The movie starts right as he is released from the psychiatric hospital. He comes home to stay with his parents, who are not perfect but doing their best to support him. Robert De Niro does a wonderful job of playing his father, an avid football fan who has been banned from the local stadium due to his own anger issues. Mutual friends connect Pat with Tiffany, a young widow played by Jennifer Lawrence, who has her own emotional issues. The friendship between these two is what makes the movie beautiful and it is about two lost people finding their way back to the surface together.

It's all set against a lower middle-class background. This isn't a celebrity dealing with the fallout of loosing his fanbase. This isn't an artist striving to find his next big creative achievement. This isn't a politican in their twilight years. This is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman, facing the heartbreak that strikes every day, fighting the mental issues that can strike any of us, regardless of background.

Mental illness is hard. There are a lot of components that go into fighting it - medication, exercise, diet, support systems, counseling, motivation, distraction - and the movie touches on most of them and for the most part in ways that ring true to me. I watched this movie and I saw myself and people I know - and I saw hope.

Indeed, the only criticism I really have about the film is that the ending is almost too easy. But it needs to be. There's only so much you can cover in two hours and the movie is stronger with the positive ending. It's a film you can rewatch again and remind yourself that it's worth it to keep going. It lifts you up in the end.

But at the same time we can't finish the film and imagine that it will be so easy for our loved ones still fighting the battle. Some will fight for months, some for years, and some will still have to watch their medication and their light therapy and their exercise requirements until the day they die. But their journey is easier if the people around them are willing to understand and support them.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Marking Another Year

I turned 26 this weekend. It's not a big year for anything except "I'm past 25. I really feel old now."

Nonetheless, I had a good birthday! I told Nathan "I really want to do something for my birthday, but I'm so tired of planning it." So Nathan was an awesome husband and set up a fancy dinner along with my friend Janny. We dressed up and ate quesidillas. It was lovely!

Janny set the table super nicely - I really appreciate formal table settings. Too much "Downton Abbey" viewing or something? ;)

Not to loud, but with plenty of laughter. So special to have such dear friends around me!

This is just a really fun group. 

My sister celebrated with me the week before when she was home from college and we watched "The Princess Diaries" out of nostalgia. Great fun. 

Mom and Dad took Nathan and I out to eat yesterday, then the four of us settled in to watch the 87th Academy Awards, which is the only live broadcast I ever care about (I mean, dresses!)

All in all, it was exactly the sort of stuff I enjoy to mark momentous occasions. And I'm one of those people for whom celebrating birthdays is pretty important, so it meant a lot to me that the people in my life made the effort to celebrate with me. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

"Cinder" - when a Fairy Tale is Post-Apocalyptic

Usually I'm the one recommending books to my sister, especially if they are of the science fiction variety. So when Carolyn told me last week "I'm reading this book that's a post-apocalyptic retelling of Cinderella who is a cyborg and it's REALLY GOOD" I thought "How did you hear of this and I didn't?"

Then I saw the cover and realize that I have seen it pop up here and there, I just never looked at it closely enough to catch the science fiction elements. Let's be honest, when you're scrolling past thumbnails, what sticks out to you isn't the ghostly mechanical bones, it's the bright red shoe. This makes it easy to write off as "just another fairy tale retelling of Cinderella" and move on. Which is a real shame because "Cinder" by Marissa Meyer is something special.

Cinder is the best mechanic in New Bejing, but she has a secret - she's a cyborg, and in her post World War IV society, cyborgs are lower class citizens. In fact, they're so despised that they're forced to be test subjects for the scientists racing to find a cure for the worldwide plague. But when her stepmother hands her over to the testing program, Cinder finds herself caught up in a conspiracy that goes beyond our atmosphere.

I woke up at 4:00am yesterday and couldn't get back to sleep, so I picked up this book for $2.99 on Amazon and couldn't put it down. Two hours later I was 60% of the way through this 400 page book and had to force myself to get some more sleep. Last night I finished it and rushed on to the next book of the series, which brings in Little Red Riding Hood alongside the existing cast (she's a French farm girl in a red hoodie and she rocks).

Oh yeah, it's a series. And thankfully book four just came out, because I'm enjoying "Scarlet" just as much as I did "Cinder" and according to my sister, book three is just as good. Let's see if I can make them last until the end of the week!

Meyer's writing is tight, her plot is action packed, her characters well-rounded, and her mysteries intriguing (book one I could predict, but book two is more mysterious). It is definitely one of the best Fairy Tale retellings I've read and should be enjoyed even by fans who don't normally venture into the Science Fiction genre (If you can handle the Hunger Games, you can handle the science here).

(I've also reviewed Meyer's Wonderland story - "Heartless")

Monday, February 16, 2015

And the Winners are....

The winners of our "Rebel Queen" contest are:

Elaine J. Dalton - "Rebel Queen"
Marian Ninja - Indian Bangles 

I've contacted the winners and they'll be recieving their prizes shortly. Thanks to all of you who participated, and you can read my own review of the book here!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch...

Looking for a good book to curl up with by the fire? There are just two days left to win a copy of "Rebel Queen" so get your entry in!

I don't usually get to curl up in front of the fire these days, as our apartment doesn't have one. I do like finding a good chair near the fake fireplace at a nearby Caribou Coffee, but they don't give off heat - or do they? I've had conflicting results. I should ask my friends who work at Caribou whether there are different fireplace settings...

Some exciting news on "The Mermaid and the Unicorn" front! I have written through most of the climax, which means I just have the end of one chapter and the epilogue to write! Then it's editing time, as I get the manuscript into the shape I want, and then pass it on to my co-writer/editor, Matt, who will do his work on it before passing it on to our publishers at Chesterton Press for their edits. It's a bit different than the normal editing process since it is a multi-author series and a multi-author book, for a series which is owned by the publishing company, not the author.

Anyhow, the cool stuff is that my manuscript is currently registering at 115,000 words! The epilogue will add more, and the editing process will... well I don't know if it'll mean lots of cuts or whether additions will balance that out. But it's looking like a pretty nice sized novel that'll mean many nights of happy reading for those of you that pick it up!

Meanwhile I'm teetering between the two extremes of sick and healthy. When I'm sick, I'm pretty out of it, but as soon as I get well I'm going as fast as I can to catch up with everything. This means that blogging can sink through the cracks, as does keeping up with non-business correspondence. Eep!

Although I haven't had a chance to blog about them, I'm still keeping up with "Agent Carter" and "Downton Abbey" (Best season of Downton yet? Maybe...) and Nathan and I are also really enjoying the final season of "Parks and Recreation." We'll be so sad to see it go!

Speaking of finales, I cried absolute buckets (three tissues worth!) over the beautiful ending to NBC's "Parenthood." I just loved that show so much! If you haven't checked it out yet, all the previous seasons are up on Netflix.

Being sick in January meant that we needed a show to binge-watch. I started ABC's "Revenge" by myself, but Nathan quickly went from casually eavesdropping to actively theorizing. We just finished Season 3, but won't be able to catch up with Season 4 until it hits Netflix later this year. No spoilers, please! (If you haven't watched the show, it is really well written for all of the soap advertising. Basically it's as if the Count of Monte Cristo were a young woman in 21st century New York society. Superb acting and writing.)

What's on your Netflix?

Monday, February 9, 2015

"Enchanted, Inc." It's almost magic to get a story this fun...

When my friend and editor Matthew Bowman recommends me a book, I've learned to trust his suggestions. That's why when he sent me a preview of his review for "Enchanted, Inc," I snapped up the e-book, even though I did not yet have time to read it.

Well I picked it up early last week and due to having plenty of reading time with another weekend illness, I found myself whipping through books 2, 3, 4, and 5 over the weekend (I'm currently nearly finished with book 6). Safe to say that this series was a spot on recommendation!

Katie Chandler is an ordinary girl with a boss so nasty that it's all she can do to keep sane during the workday. However she soon finds out that her very ordinary-ness makes her a desirable asset for a mysterious company...

You see, Katie is not just ordinary, she's an immune, which means that she not only has no capability for magic herself, she isn't even susceptible to the illusion and cloaking magic the fairies, gnomes and wizards of New York City use to keep their wings and spells under wraps from the mundane population. This makes her valuable to MSI, inc, the "Microsoft of the Magical World" which needs these "immunes" to check up on what addendums their associates might be slipping into contracts.

However, our heroine soon finds herself wrapped up in the magical power-struggle of the company, and on a journey which involves all manner of mythical creatures, spells gone wonky, and epic quests, not to mention good ol' romance and comedy.

"Enchanted, Inc" and its sequels merge the best of chick lit and urban fantasy. There's humor, memorable characters, and a romance more endearing than cliche'd. Furthermore, it's quite wholesome, in the best way. There are no sex scenes, nor long descriptions of rippling biceps or hot make-out scenes (although there are some memorable kisses!) I actually highly suspect that author Shanna Swendson is a Christian, as her characters regularly attend church (a background feature of the novel, this is not at all a religious book) and the hero and heroine more or less live lives pretty consistent with a Christian worldview (Katie has had sex previously, but it is such a little thing in the past that it feels more like the author trying to be culturally relevant than otherwise).

All of the books are available for under $5 at Amazon, although they're a little on the short side so if you're not in the habit of rereading books, you might prefer to pick them up from the library. Although they were more than I usually pay for books of that size, I will be rereading them and am quite happy to have them conveniently stored on my Kindle.

And while this is obviously a female oriented series, it shouldn't have escaped your notice that it was a dude who recommended this to me. Chick lit with cross gender appeal? Just another reason why this series is a winner.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Win a copy of "Rebel Queen" by Michelle Moran!

Contest is CLOSED! Check out my review of "Rebel Queen" here!

A while back, I wrote a review covering all five of Michelle Moran's works of historical fiction, all of which I greatly enjoyed. So you can imagine how excited I was when she contacted me and asked if I'd like to run a giveaway on this blog for her upcoming book, Rebel Queen!

I'd already been greatly looking forwards to reading this installment, as it takes place in India which is a country I've been interested in but know little about. Happily, in addition to the contest opportunity, Ms. Moran is also sending me a copy for review, so I'll be sharing my own thoughts on the new book as soon as it arrives!

If the cover isn't intriguing enough, check out the synopsis from Moran's website:

From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life.

Interested? How would you like to win your own copy? All you have to do is leave a comment below and let me know either a) why you're excited about reading a historical novel set in India or b) visit Ms. Moran's website and let me know which of her other books intrigue you. Make sure you include an e-mail address or facebook page link in your comment so that I can contact you if you win!

The contest will run until February 15th, when I will randomly pick a winner to receive a copy of "Rebel Queen." There will also be a runner up, who will win a set of bangles that Ms. Moran brought back from one of her trips to India. (Aren't they gorgeous?)