The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)


A tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that, despite its profound flaws, gave the author the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

Jeannette Walls grew up with parents whose ideals and stubborn nonconformity were both their curse and their salvation. Rex and Rose Mary Walls had four children. In the beginning, they lived like nomads, moving among Southwest desert towns, camping in the mountains. Rex was a charismatic, brilliant man who, when sober, captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and above all, how to embrace life fearlessly. Rose Mary, who painted and wrote and couldn’t stand the responsibility of providing for her family, called herself an “excitement addict.” Cooking a meal that would be consumed in fifteen minutes had no appeal when she could make a painting that might last forever.

Later, when the money ran out, or the romance of the wandering life faded, the Walls retreated to the dismal West Virginia mining town — and the family — Rex Walls had done everything he could to escape. He drank. He stole the grocery money and disappeared for days. As the dysfunction of the family escalated, Jeannette and her brother and sisters had to fend for themselves, supporting one another as they weathered their parents’ betrayals and, finally, found the resources and will to leave home.

What is so astonishing about Jeannette Walls is not just that she had the guts and tenacity and intelligence to get out, but that she describes her parents with such deep affection and generosity. Hers is a story of triumph against all odds, but also a tender, moving tale of unconditional love in a family that despite its profound flaws gave her the fiery determination to carve out a successful life on her own terms.

For two decades, Jeannette Walls hid her roots. Now she tells her own story.

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I found this book very difficult to listen to at times, not just because of the subject matter, but because of the author’s approach to her story. Ms. Walls reflects upon her childhood with frankness and affection, seemingly content with her eccentric parents decisions for the family. She talks about growing up “wild” and how she appreciated the freedom her parents gave the four Walls kids to explore, make mistakes and

Walls comes across as very matter of fact regarding the many abuses she and her siblings faced growing up as a result of her parents decisions, and more often, as a result of their neglect. Her father’s drinking and mother’s distain for housekeeping or mothering made me ache for these children who often missed the barest of essentials, including food and warm clothes.

As the listener, I felt that Jeannette had been brainwashed by her father growing up, a mentality that exists today to some degree. She doesn’t seem to find fault with their poor decisions that put her and her siblings into danger, and at times brought the attention of medical personnel, and children’s aid employees. It was difficult to listen to her seemingly idolize her parents at times, even as an adult reflecting on the past, knowing how selfish, neglectful and at times abusive her parents were.

The mother’s whining that she didn’t want to get up and go to school to teach – knowing this paycheque was the only thing that was feeding her children at the time – was so bizarre and highlights the irresponsible and selfish nature both parents exhibited, as did hiding her chocolate snacks while her children are literally starving because neither parent is working and the family doesn’t receive food stamps.

Despite their actions, I cannot doubt Rex and Rose Mary Walls loved their children, particularly Rex. And as Jeannette muses, I think we make the lives we want in the end.

The Glass Castle is well-written and compelling. I didn’t love this book because I felt the author was overly sympathetic to her parents and her parents’ behaviour made me angry, but I am still giving this book four stars.

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Deepwater Horizon (2016)


Synopsis from IMDB:

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, igniting a massive fireball that kills several crew members. Chief electronics technician Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his colleagues find themselves fighting for survival as the heat and the flames become stifling and overwhelming. Banding together, the co-workers must use their wits to make it out alive amid all the chaos.

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I was expecting Deepwater Horizon to be an intense movie. The events happened not that long ago and I remember seeing the trailer in the movie theatre and turning to my friend and saying “it’s too soon”. Well, it was definitely intense! More so than I expected, that’s for sure.


I don’t know if it’s ever been mentioned on this blog but I am a huge environmentalist. I studied it at University and got my undergraduate degree in that field. So when this tragedy happened most of my focus was on the pollution and the devastation to the ecological systems that were affected in the Gulf of Mexico and up the coast line of the United States.


The movie didn’t actually touch upon this at all though. It starts with the crew arriving on Deepwater Horizon and takes place all on the same day. The plot of the movie takes you through the different key players who were on the scene and the things that failed. A large part of the movie was the surviving crew trying to stabilize the rig by cutting off the oil that was fuelling the fires, and then getting the hell off and into rescue boats.

As intense as I expected the movie to be, it was so much more so. I can’t stress enough how well portrayed the events were of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. It is a high-action movie with a lot of big name stars, including Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell, and Mark Wahlberg.

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Brain on Fire: my month of madness


An award-winning memoir and instant New York Times bestseller that goes far beyond its riveting medical mystery, Brain on Fire is the powerful account of one woman’s struggle to recapture her identity.

When twenty-four-year-old Susannah Cahalan woke up alone in a hospital room, strapped to her bed and unable to move or speak, she had no memory of how she’d gotten there. Days earlier, she had been on the threshold of a new, adult life: at the beginning of her first serious relationship and a promising career at a major New York newspaper. Now she was labeled violent, psychotic, a flight risk. What happened?

In a swift and breathtaking narrative, Cahalan tells the astonishing true story of her descent into madness, her family’s inspiring faith in her, and the lifesaving diagnosis that nearly didn’t happen.

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Brain on Fire is sooooo good you guys. I read it in one sitting after work and it is a decently large nonfic. It was already on my radar and then my amazing coworker April was talking it up in the breakroom one day so I picked it up as soon as she returned it. I already knew the premise of the story and that it was based on a true story, but I could not put it down all night.

Cahalan spent months researching her “lost period” by putting together diary excerpts her parents wrote at the time, watching video feed of herself, reading medical reports and interviewing anyone who she had contact with while she was slowly losing her mind.

Using her journalism skills, she recreated the account of her illness as closely as possibly and turned it into a compelling story that not only touches the reader but has transformed the lives of so many others who would ultimately be diagnosed with the same rare illness, thanks to the publicity Cahalan’s story has created.

As incredibly smart as most medical specialists are, and as remarkable as the machines and tests mankind have devised are, when you are in a situation such as Cahalan’s, you realize that medicine is more of an art than a science. Doctors don’t know as much as you think they do.

At first I thought that Cahalan would be diagnosed with schizophrenia or something similar, and to be fair she was. Incorrectly. Her medical diagnosis would be much more difficult to pin down and require dozens of tests, more than a million dollars, and a considerable amount of luck.

As the book progresses, less and less of the story is told from Cahalan’s own recollections and journal entries of the time and therefore becomes more heavily reliant on third party testimony, as her ability to communicate deteriorated. It has the potential to be depressing except that it is an autobiography of sorts. So you know that there is a happy ending coming from somewhere, even if you don’t know from where.

Brain on Fire: my month of madness is a compelling story of a mystery medical diagnosis, and the race to discover a young women’s illness before her dire symptoms become irreversible.

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The Finest Hours – a review


The synopsis:

On Feb. 18, 1952, a massive storm splits the SS Pendleton in two, trapping more than 30 sailors inside the tanker’s sinking stern. Engineer Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck) bravely takes charge to organize a strategy for his fellow survivors. As word of the disaster reaches the Coast Guard in Chatham, Mass., Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Cluff orders a daring rescue mission. Despite the ferocious weather, coxswain Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) takes three men on a lifeboat to try and save the crew against seemingly impossible odds.

Deep breathe. Wow.

This movie certainly has anticipation down. I think I was holding my breath for half the movie, and when I left the theatre, my ticket was shredded into ribbons in my pocket from working it through my fingers during the many tense moments in this film.

I love a story that can invoke so much emotion. That is surely the point of creating anything in the first place. The last time I felt so much anticipation in a film was Unstoppable, also based on a true story. I may have to re-watch it and put a blog of here sometime soon.

In the mean-time, go watch The Finest Hours.

One of the best aspects of this movie is that it shows the harrowing events taking place both on-board the stern of the sinking oil tanker, and the experiences of the Coast Guard crew trying to reach them. Both stories were incredibly interesting and could have comprised a movie in themselves, but having both perspectives in the same one shows how incredible it was that the rescue was able to succeed and the narrow odds both crews were up against.


Although I suspect that some creative liberties were taken in the scenes depicted, mostly due to the extremely dramatic nature, this was still a remarkable feat of will. As I sat in the theatre, I couldn’t help but think how awe-inspiring humanity can be the iron will every man exhibited to keep struggling towards life. From the actions of the sailors fighting to buy time and keep a sinking ship alive for as long as possible, in the hopes (not knowledge) that someone was coming to save them, to the Coast Guard crew who went out on a suicide mission, fully expecting to never even make it to the sinking ship, it was one heroic moment after another.

And the Coast Guard seemed to think their cutter was a surf board, cruising over, and under, massive stormy waves.


The story made me think of soldiers in war and this movie inspired a whole new level of respect for Coast Guard members, and their families, for the dangers faced and sacrifices made, in serving. We all know that the Navy can be grounded due to poor conditions, but the Coast Guard cannot. Their mandate is to serve; if there is a ship in distress, the Coast Guard will respond.

One of the themes repeated throughout is that the Coast Guard always goes out. They don’t have to come back. This is so very different from the Marine motto of never leave a man behind and it shows the differences in mindset between the two organizations. Management in other corps will weigh the costs and benefits of performing a certain mission, and plan for the least number of casualties possible. The Coast Guard just goes out, because they don’t have the option to re-plan, re-schedule or just the “null”.

Casey Affleck and Chris Pine were both magnificent in this film. Although I was more drawn to Affleck’s character, I couldn’t help but compare Chris Pine to some of his other notable roles such as Captain Kirk (Star Trek) or Prince Charming (Into the Woods), simply because this one was so different. I love versatile actors and consider them one of the greats when they can inhabit such different characters with apparent ease, rather than sticking to the same role in thirty different productions. Chris Pine is surely a great.

Clearly I am a huge fan of The Finest Hours. It brought up a whole lot of similar feeling films that I want to go re-watch now. Hopefully I will get some blogs up on here shortly.

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McFarland, USA – a film review


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.


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.


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.



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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