McFarland, USA – a film review

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McFarland, USA is 2014 film, set in McFarland, California in the 1970’s. It is based on a true and very inspirational story.

Trailer via Youtube

If you don’t wan to watch the trailer, here’s the jist of it: a down-on-his-luck high school teacher/football coach and his family move to one of the poorest school districts in the country. Most of the children in this school are the kids of “pickers” (fruit and vegetable pickers in the fields) and are lucky if they graduate. The penitentiary is directly across the street from the school for heaven’s sake. But after Coach White has been fired again, it is the only school desperate enough to hire him.

To make matters worse for the White family, at least in their minds, is that they have to live in this shitty little town because the family cannot afford to live in one of the wealthier, neighbouring communities and commute. Living in a dirt poor, predominantly Mexican community in the very south of California is seen as an extremely temporary and unpleasant experience to start.

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However, as tends to happen in movies, the family resolves to try to make the best of their situation and in doing so, realizes that it isn’t so bad. Mr. White, and his wife and kids make connections with their neighbours, and then others in the community.

After White is removed from the football coaching staff after a disagreement with the Head Coach, he starts a track and field team, visualizing a success story as his ticket out of there and back into an affluent school district.

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The rest of the story you can probably figure out from there. At the end of the day, you don’t watch coming-of-age sports movies for the intrigue. The teacher is either a do-gooder out to save her students, or out to rescue themself from life, but in the process develops all the feels, and begins to care more about his/her students.

I really like the story outlined in McFarland, USA. It is a typical Kevin Costner movie, but I felt that there was a very healthy balance between the sports plot-line and the lives of the runners and the White family.

This was a movie I have been wanting to see for awhile, and I’m glad I finally found some time. It was sweet, enjoyable and entertaining, and gave me a positive feeling at the end of the movie, that carried me through the day.

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My favourite aspect of this film, is the scene depicted just above. During the credits, the typical flash-forward to present day occurs, and you see the retired Coach cycling alongside a group of runners. Intermingled are the cross-country runners of McFarland high school today, with the grown, real men whose stories were told in the film.

In a place where anyone who can get out does, it was amazing to hear how the bond between these men returned them all to McFarland after university. Many now work at the school and are landowners. One even became a police detective (funny story. The camera panned to him and I thought, wow he looks like a cop. Then they say he’s a detective … a hot one too!). This moment was just the icing on the cake for me.

If you’ve read my recent run of film reviews and don’t know which one to pick, choose this one. Hands down, my favourite of late.

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Finnish baby boxes are coming to Canada

This article is a comment on a news article published on CTV News. You can see the original article here.

Well, to Alberta at least. According to this article on CTV news, Alberta has a pilot program operating under research grants from Alberta Human Services.

In Finland, moms of every background receive a baby box each time they have a child. The box itself has baby-safe foam padding so that it can double as a crib for newborns, and is full of all the basics a new baby and mama need, including onesies, receiving blankets and washcloths, nursing pads, paci’s, etc.

The Finnish program is actually one I learned about several years ago and am a huge fan of. It is designed to give every baby the same, safe start in life, regardless of the parents’ economic background. It is widely supported by the populace, possibly because it is provided to all families, not just those who are financially unprepared for caring for a new baby. This program is just one part of the outstanding system of maternal and childhood care that give Finland one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. Lower than Canada’s. Much lower than in the United States.

Obviously, I am a huge proponent of the baby boxes. It is reassuring to first time Mums that they have everything they need, and probably feels like a safety net to leave the hospital with, and the round the clock care/reassurance provided by medical staff. While I’m not afraid I’m going to break a baby just by holding him/her, I an terrified of giving it my germs, whether I’m sick or not. I never breathe on newborns when holding them, I exhale of my shoulder just in case.

So I have reason to believe that I might be a slightly neurotic first-time Mum who drives her own Mum and older sisters crazy for a few months, before things start slipping to place and feeling comfortable.  And the box could prove to be exactly what is necessary. I hope that Ontario starts a program like this and that in Alberta, it evolves from a pilot program with 1500 families to a full-fledged service offered by Human Services. Especially considering the levels of debt and unemployment in Alberta right now.

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Hour of the Lion – a review

Does it ever feel like time just gets away from you?

As previously announced, my favourite author Ms Cherise Sinclair is releasing a new book in her erotic-fantasy series, The Wild Hunt Legacy, on January 26th. I wanted to review the first two books prior to the release of the third so that I had the whole series reviewed … here we are two days before and I’m just starting. Gosh dang it!

Nonetheless, it is time to push on, so here is my review for the fantabulous (yes, that’s a word) novel, Hour of the Lion.

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Blurb:

As a dedicated covert ops agent, Victoria Morgan follows two rules: accomplish the mission and protect the innocent. When bitten by a werecat—yeah, that was a sucky day—she must investigate beings that shouldn’t exist and are hard as hell to identify. Just how can she tell if a person is human–or an animal-shifter who enjoys Bambi-sized snacks?

During her investigation, she finds a real home and friends for the first time. Sweet, right? But there’s a flip-side: the bad guys are waiting for her to turn into something four-legged with a tail, the shifters suspect her of spying, and she has fallen in love with a pair of Thumper-eating werecougar brothers.

Her duty is to expose their existence. Or she could follow her heart and protect them with all of her deadly skills.

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The first time I heard that Sinclair’s new release was going to be a menage romance,  I was a little wary. You can read a lot of things that wouldn’t actually appeal to you in real-life, but this was one of those topics I didn’t think I could get past. But I love her writing and she has helped me through some tough spots in the past so I gave it a try anyway. There is something to be said for having an author who is an automatic buy!

I loved Hour of the lion!!!

The world that she created is so magical and much more complete than I was expecting. Instead of just the were-creatures that are the focus of the series, the author also builds her world with brownies, pixies, fire salamanders, et al, all in the background but contributing to the feel of this otherworldly community hidden in a remote mountain town.

Victoria was an incredibly spunky and vivid character, a really inspirational role model for any woman. I find that when I read many books in a row whose female protagonists exhibit the same major characteristics, I tend to unconsciously take on some of those attitudes. “Vic” attacks life with a take no prisoners approach and doesn’t let fear stand in the way of anything, so she is a great role model to be reading about.

This is one of my favourite quotes:

Okay, she was braver than this. She wasn’t a little girl unable to fess up to her actions. She’d done the deed – deeds – and not it was time to pay the piper. She stared into the fire and confessed …

Victoria isn’t afraid to do a lot of things that I am. Like stand up to a mean guy who stole a waitress’ tips, or break up a barroom brawl. Of course she is a marine and CIA agent with lots of training behind her. I’m certainly not. And she is a book lover to boot! What’s not to love?!

Calum and Alec, the two male leads in Hour of the Lion, are entirely drool-worthy. Both are strong, protective, thoughtful males who aren’t afraid to stand up to their mistakes when they get it completely wrong. And boy do they get it wrong sometimes! I like that both are patient and slow to pass judgement, even if they have quick tempers. I love heroes who have an edge of danger to them, something both Calum and Alec have in spades. De. Lic. Ious.

I loved Hour of the Lion and encourage everyone not just to check it out, but also all of Cherise Sinclair’s books. Here website is: cherisesinclair.com or her author page on goodreads can be found here.

I can’t wait to read Eventide of the Bear this week, but I will try to review the second in the series before I get to it. The OCD perfectionist in me will grump if I review out of order ; )

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xx

Hidden Monsters – a review

Hidden Monsters is the fourth full novel in the Volkov Bratva Mafia series.
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Blurb:

Until Luka…

Aleksandra Volkov happily escaped into the oblivion that alcohol and pills provided, longing to forget the memories that plague her. But sometimes, it takes someone as equally broken to mend the fractured pieces of her life.

Until Alex…

Luka Sergeyev willfully courted death by living in the midst of the very people who would have him killed if the truth of who he was ever came out. But he would gladly take that risk if it meant she would look at him like he mattered for just a little while longer.

When it comes to life within the Volkov Bratva, love comes at a price, secrets are common, and most of all, one’s survival is not guaranteed.

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Hidden Monsters is the fourth book in the Volkov Bratva series, featuring Russian-American monsters and the women they love. It is the only story between Alex and Luka.

Much like the previous books that I also reviewed, Hidden Monsters is a young/new adult romance novel about the Russian Mafia operating in NYC. Alex is a ballerina, whose brother Mishca is the Pakhan (or leader) of the NY organization.

Luka is the only one who sees that she is drowning after the revelations of the last few years. Not wanting to intrude on her brother and sister-in-laws newly wedded bliss, a stranger from her newly discovered brother Klaus and half a world away from her school and professional ballet friends, Alex spirals further and further, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain inside. Until Luka discovers what she is doing and steps in, putting her in rehab, the Mafioso version.

I love the completed web of plots that the author mixed into the novel, from the complicated relationships between Luka and Alex, Alex and Mishica, and Luka and Mishca, to the Albanian ties that existed from the beginning of the series, it felt like the fitting finale missing at the conclusion of The Final Hour.

I like the sense of closure that this book brought to the series. My only regret is that I felt the ending was rushed.

** Minor Spoilers **

This is a romance novel with a happily ever after, so of course Luka survives and reunites with Alex. I felt like this section was too rushed, a couple more chapters would have been useful. I wanted to see bits and pieces of Alex and Mishca repairing their relationship, the fragmentation of which was covered so thoroughly.

A lot of authors tend to do this, reunite the couple and then quickly end the novel. Um hello?!! We just had the big climax and then one chapter of reunion and that is it? Maybe I’m a little sensitive but I want to be led out of the story more slowly. Ease me back into the real world. Tie up loose ends such as the mains’ relationships with supporting characters. You spend an entire book (or series!) developing these relationships and making us believe in them, don’t ignore them now!!!!

Ok, baby rant aside, I loved this book. I hope that the author has plans to write a novel for Klaus. I suspect she will from the tidbits we have gotten, but it might be more the first novel of another series, rather than a part of this one. He seems to have a lot going on away from this cast.

I loved Hidden Monsters and read it very quickly. London Miller has matured in writing since starting with Lauren and Mishca, and it has become my second favourite Russian Bratva series.

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xx

 

 

Kingsman- a film review

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Synopsis: A juvenile delinquent is recruited into a top secret British spy agency by a stylish mentor who trains him tin the skills of his craft.

Trailer (via Youtube)

Kingsman is a cross between James Bond and a B teen movie, but somehow it works. I remember laughing at the trailer for this when it was in theatres and declining an offer to go, but I was bored and it was on netflix …

I caught it last weekend and Kingsman was actually pretty entertaining! Parts were pretty fantastical, such the bullet-proof umbrella and the whole slicing a man in half bit. There is an incredible dearth of blood up until the end, despite all the violence. All in all, it was a completely unbelievable – yet amusing – story.

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I was very impressed with Colin Firth’s performance. I love actors who can play a wide variety of roles and this one is about as far from King George as you can get.

My favourite parts were the testing stages, from underwater escape rooms to Halo jumps.

I have a little bit of adrenaline junky in me and it would be cool to do this. Not saying I would do the first, because I don’t actually want to experience a likely-to-die scenario, but it would be an AWESOME story to tell, if you did survive.

There isn’t all that much story in Kingsman, but what is plentiful is the fun. It made me laugh. I said it above, but this movie is very James Bond with all the impossible situations and crazy tech, but I was more so reminded of Ethan Cross, from the Mission Impossible series. Firth’s motto “manners maketh the man” is a good one to live by, and something a lot of us could use the gentle reminder of.

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I didn’t understand the the “R” rating that the movie received. It felt very Disney because despite the violence, there was little blood, gore, or repercussion. I certainly feel that 14A would have sufficed.

Minor, minor spoiler:

The only questionable bit was at the end, where the Norwegian Princess offers the young hero anal sex in exchange for saving the world. If the movie was bumped up to an R rating for that one small line, and a quick glimpse of bare ass, it’s a little bizarre compared to some other movies out there that are 14A.

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xx

Volkov Bratva Series Review

Hi ya’ll,

I’m going to review this series as a trilogy instead of as individual books, because I kinda read them all in one weekend…. whoops! Makes it hard to distinguish where one book leaves off and another begins when you do that.

The Volkov Bratva books are a Russian Mafia romance set in New York, where pre-med student Lauren meets NYC’s Mafia Prince, Mishca.

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Book One

Blurb:

Twenty-year-old Lauren Thompson left her small town in Michigan to begin a new life in the Big Apple where no one knows her name or the tragedy that had rocked her family fifteen years prior. With new friends and an intriguing new love interest, starting over is easier than she expected…but Mishca Volkov isn’t what he seems. As the son of a Russian Mob boss, he thrives in a world of chaos and fear, earning the title of Bratva Captain through blood and pain.

When the two cross paths, lines blur and passions ignite, bringing them closer than they could ever imagine. Until secrets from the past threaten to tear them apart. Can they fight past their demons…or were they doomed by fate before they ever met.

Something that I really like about this series is that it unfolds over several years without taking multiple time jumps by the author lazily writing “nine months later”. As fantastical as fiction can be, I still want it to be believable and a whirlwind happily ever-after-romance, that has a “solid foundation” of 4 days is as believable as the sun rising in the west and  setting in the east. Sure it is fun once in a while, but it gets old fast with the amount of romance that I read.

Mishca and Lauren’s tale is continued in the second and third books in the series.

Mishca and Lauren have time to grow as individuals and as a couple. The weight of their problems feels legitimate because they are not overcome in a weekend, but through weeks and months of effort. They continually choose each other, at times over things and people that use to have real meaning to them. Love is hard work. It requires that continual effort, dedication, and sacrifice,  and choosing each other again and again. It might become more familiar or comfortable, but it doesn’t get easier.

These books are awesome because it takes a fantastical experience (falling in love with a Mafia Prince) and humanizes it. The author takes you through the experiences of disapproving parents and conflicting morals merging into one unified sense of direction for a couple.

One of my favourite scenes is when Lauren allows Mishca  to tattoo his (thieves-in-law) stars on her shoulders, denoting his possession of her in his world. For Lauren, this is as serious – or more so – than a wedding band and something that she was reluctant to do for ages. This step symbolizes her acceptance of him, not just as a lover or friend, but in his entirety, and declares her dedication to him in a pretty public way.

There series end felt natural, although I was reluctant to let the characters go. Luckily, there is also a “post-script” novella written after The Final Hour.

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The fourth, and final, full novel in the Bratva series is about Aleksandra, Mishca ‘s sister, who is introduced early on in the series. I think of her novel as a bit of side-quel, because you see her developing through the first three books, but Aleksandra and her beau only have their moment in Hidden Monsters. As such, I will review it in a separate post in a few days.

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xx

Dirty Billionaire – a review

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I did not have high hopes for the Dirty Billionaire romance series. I stumbled across it online and decided to give it a try as I had nothing else to read, but it was a pleasant surprise.

An aspiring female country artist has a one night stand with some guy she met in a bar, a billionaire CEO roughly a decade her senior, then slips out before he awakens. He decides that he is going to marry her and launches a public appeal to try to find her. They meet up again a week later and decide to elope in a marriage of convenience, each for their own reasons.

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Creighton immediately starts falling for his new bride, but remains so focused on his career and needs that he makes some pretty obvious and stupid mistakes. Likewise, Holly is utterly convinced that he could never have feelings for her, and is in this relationship for physical attraction only. She has been let down constantly in her life and is terrified of putting herself out there. In fact, although she is slowly falling for Creighton just as hard, she convinces herself otherwise.

It is interesting to watch them learn about each other and work out how to be in a committed relationship while juggling two very busy careers and the travel requirements of Holly’s tour. Add in sudden appearances from estranged family members and vicious exes, and the story gets even more entertaining.

While the author’s writing isn’t the best, the story is entertaining and that is all that really matters when reading. Her story reminds me of those in Fifty Shades, and particularly in the Crossfire series, although the sexual content is not so extreme. I am looking forward to the final book, which was released earlier this month.

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