Books, Movies, Thoughts

Since I decided to change this to a once a month feature instead of twice a month, different formats have come to mind. I could write one review about one movie or book I really enjoyed, or I could do mini reviews of everything that I’ve been reading and watching. For now, this seems more appealing. Enjoy:



The Lost, a Search for Six in Six Million

By Daniel Mendelsohn

This book was one of those captivating non-fiction reads that reads more like a novel than a true store. Daniel takes you with him on his search for his uncle, aunt, and four cousins murdered in the Holocaust. He travels the world desperately trying to speak with someone who knew them before the last few Jews from their small town pass away taking their history with them. The book was riveting. Two side notes: 1) I’ve never read anyone since John Owen with so many run on sentences. As a fast reader, I could not read this book fast. Some of his sentences where the length of the whole paragraph with so many clauses I had to reread them multiple times to sort through what he was talking about. I was able to read faster after I grew accustom to his style. 2) This book gave me very clear insight, for the first time in my life, about where the Jews and the Christians separate on theology in the Old Testament. The level of humanism brought to their theology surprised me, although it probably shouldn’t have. Over all, an amazing book.

Rated R: Due to the difficult nature of what was done to the Jews during the Holocaust.

Stepping Heavenward

By Elizabeth Prentiss

I read this for my personal devotional this last spring. At the beginning, I found it very hard to stay interested in. Reading the thoughts of a self-focused teen, even one from back in the 1800’s, isn’t high on my list of fun things to do. Push through. If you will read to the end you will find the story of a girl who becomes a woman, a sinner who becomes a saint. Watching her go from whining about everything to loving all those who are difficult in her life was very encouraging. The two things I noted about this book: 1) While the overall book was very encouraging spiritually, I did find in interesting to see the seeds of Christian American Individualism. The focus very often is on the personal prayer and bible study while the church is rarely mentioned. 2)I found it very convicting, upon one scene in the book, to realize I didn’t bring my daily tasks before the Lord in prayer and ask for his wisdom in managing them and that he be glorified in them. This is something I now try to do every morning. This is a good book for women of all ages.

Rated PG: Due to the lack of focus on the church and the high focus on emotionalism, so parents may wish to guide their children more closely.

The Silvered

By Tanya Huff

Given to me by a dear friend, The Silvered had me glued from about ten pages in to the very end. The Silvered is a steam-punk-esque fantasy with werewolves, mages, technology, torture, kidnapping, and lots of other fun things. The story switches through the point of views of several main characters giving the reader a full-orbed sense of what is going on. This was a very fun read with a well-paced plot, fun characters, and just enough spine-tingling horror, to keep me sneaking a page here and a page there throughout my day. I even managed to make me feel like I was walking in two different worlds for a time: this one, and the oh-my-what’s-going-on-with-my-pack! one. I like it when a book does that. I enjoyed the very sensible nature of the female characters. They were a good balance of emotion and mind. I enjoyed the way Huff handled werewolves far more than most fantasies I’ve read. Most of all, I loved how you realize as you go along that the lead female is important. It’s very nicely played as opposed to shoved in your face. My only two minor issues were her well, obvious homosexual leanings, which where overall minor, and I wish Huff had given us just a little more description about the world.

Rated R: While the book does a very good job of keeping objectionable things mostly behind closed doors, there is one very dark scene and a few sexual inferences.



Now this was a film. Switching from my normal fare of cheesy action flicks that are perfect for a tired Saturday date night, I rented Prisoners. This movie had me on the edge of my seat from the opening moments. The acting was brilliant. Jake Gyllenhaal was amazing. Everything seemed accurate from what I could tell on the police work side, with the police not painted as idiots for once. The story is about two little girls who are kidnapped on Thanksgiving Day, but the real story is how their fathers react to their kidnapping and how the detective in charge, Gyllenhaal, reacts to them while still trying to save their daughters. Even with an unexpected twist the solving of the case doesn’t ruin the re-watchability of the film. In fact, as soon as you realize what is going on you want to start the movie over and see what clues you missed the first time through. While this isn’t a relaxing film, it is a great film. This is a movie I would buy.

Rated R: for child abuse, kidnapping, torture, language, violence.


To be honest, I’m pretty burned out on remakes. I wish directors would make their own cool movies instead of digging back through my childhood and teen years to steal ideas. Overall Robocop wasn’t bad. It was less violent and gory than the first Robocop, but it also lacked something. My husband really enjoyed it, but we both agreed on two things: 1) Too much story for one movie. Robocop had three main plots that didn’t all weave together perfectly creating a lack of focus and a false ending which was ultimately unfulfilling. 2) Due to too much story for one movie, the ultimate story—man vs. machine—lacked struggle. Oh, Robocop struggled, yes. But not in a way that gripped the viewer. It just lacked heart.

Rated PG-13: Violence, language, intense scenes.

3 Days to Kill

Now, back to the cheesy action flicks. 3 Days to Kill takes us along for the last ride of a retiring CIA agent as he finishes his last case while trying to reconnect with his wife and daughter. The movie was fun, well executed, and a great daddy-daughter type movie. Kevin Costner does a great job as the CIA agent/struggling father. Because they were able to secure some decent actors, like Costner, the movie retained a ring of realism and heart without just being cheese with a little cheese on the side. Overall there’s not much to say about this film other than it was fun, touching, and cute: the perfect movie after a long week. If you enjoyed Transporter, you’ll probably enjoy this film.

Rated PG 13: other than the violence, a few mild torture scenes, some language, there is only one inappropriate scene.

Downton Abbey (Season 4)

I was really not sure about watching anymore Downton after they killed Matthew off in Season 3. I just couldn’t imagine the house, the characters, and the story without him. But, my sister told me I should give it a try, and here we are. I loved it. It was a slower moving season with less over the top drama and more subtle drama. I felt like they gave Matthew’s death his due without wallowing in it. Mary and Isobel do a wonderful job showing the effects of losing a husband and son. My favorite point in the show is when Mary, Branson, and Isobel are in the nursery together sharing what they’ve lost. Laughing and crying at the same time. Anna and Bates are put through some very trying times. Bates is such a good man. When the curtain closed on this season, I found myself excited for what next season will bring. Mrs. Hughes is still one of my favorite characters alongside Maggie Smith of course.

Rated PG 13: Lots of fun topics for parents to discuss! 😉

This has been my life in stories for the last few weeks. If you’ve read or watched any of these books or movies, I’d love to know what you think! You can also follow me on Good Reads

Writing Lesson: Suffering

I’m a storyteller. You put me in a group of people and I’ll tell stories to avoid awkward silences. You leave me alone and I’ll write, read, watch, or make up my own stories. About the only time I can get the story part of my brain to shut off is if I’m listening to music, and even that is no guarantee.

My husband is analytical. He’s the researcher, the studier, the teacher in the family. He taught himself how to program computers and now he’s teaching himself to be a preacher. He loves to analyze everything. We’ve had lively discussions about Star Trek, Chuck, Rambo, Godzilla, the Apprentice, Metallica, Downton Abbey, and of course theology.


Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes

Both of us are Metal Gear Solid fans. That’s a video game, fyi. As far as I’m aware, this story started in the 90’s with Solid Snake as the main character. He appeared in five games. His father, Big Boss, was the villain in several of those games. Big Boss is the main character in 2 games, a demo, and the up and coming Phantom Pain. The story is complex, riveting, unique, and moving. As you play, you start to put the pieces together of how Big Boss became the bad guy you face as Solid Snake. You realize he wasn’t always evil. In fact, he was an honorable and good man for many years until one too many betrayals by the US government and people he trusted drove him to the dark antagonist we encounter as Solid Snake.

Being the fan boy and girl we are, we have spent hours playing this game and hours discussing the plot, characters, and unraveling the complex threads of the story. I stand in awe at Hideo Kojima’s ability to move me from anti-Big Boss to feeling very sympathetic towards him and what he becomes. As his story unfolds and you see everything he goes through, all the men he loses, and the betrayals he faces, you begin to understand how and why a man could become such an antagonists.

Discussing our favorite video game, my husband said this: To tell a good story you need great characters, and to have great characters you need great suffering, and to have great suffering you need context.

Big Boss context is war. From WWII, to Vietnam, to the Cold War, including children soldiers, his context is the battlefield. He suffers betrayal by his government which leads him to kill his mentor. He’s betrayed by everyone he counts a friend. He loses soldiers in useless battles. He has been trained to be a weapon and then is shunned because he is that weapon. This betrayal is his suffering. This context and this suffering creates a great character. Big Boss has three sons. The least of his three sons goes through similar sufferings at the hand of his government, but he is able to overcome them in the end. This creates a juxtaposition between Solid Snake and his father Big Boss. This allows you, the viewer, to see a mirror image of one man going bad and one man going deeper and stronger.

200_sTheir story reminds me of Lore and Data in Star Trek:NG. Two brothers created in the exact image of their father, one is evil and one is good. Big Boss and his sons are that way. Solid Snake is forced to destroy both his brothers who take on the evil of their father.

As a storyteller, I found my husband’s analysis of what makes a good story to ring true. A good story has to have good characters. But what makes a good character? Suffering. It is what they go through and how they react that we are interested in. We want to see them suffer because that’s something we can all relate to. From a child who loses a parent, is bullied, bullies, to soldiers, mothers, and growing old, we have all suffered. That suffering and how we react to it is what makes us who we are. Whether good or evil, it’s suffering that paves the path we are walking.

That suffering needs a believable place to happen. That’s our context. It’s not so much about being in space, or on the battlefield, or traveling through time, as it is creating the suffering which makes sense. A princess forced to live a life of ease is not suffering, but a princess trapped in a betrothal to a man she’s never met is suffering. A boy adopted into a wealthy home after living on the streets isn’t suffering. But that same boy now in a new home who discovers his friends aren’t all they seem, and then finds himself in a battle for his soul is suffering. Context enriches the suffering of your characters. It gives you a structure to guide suffering the rest of us can get.

Marcus Luttrell, the Lone Survivor

Marcus Luttrell, the Lone Survivor

Think about the stories that stick with you. Think about the characters that stick with you. Harry Potter sticks with us because every year of his life the suffering ratchets up a notch. The Hunger Games don’t just deal with suffering at the hands of oppressive governments, but the psychological suffering of Katniss as she becomes a darker and darker character. To this day, I’m haunted by Henry in The Time Traveler’s Wife. He suffered his whole life and even suffered in his death. In real life, we think about the Holocaust. Those stories of great suffering continue to reverberate through history. Think about the haunted look on a soldiers face in Vietnam when his country couldn’t back him. Look in the eyes of Marcus Luttrell knowing he was the only one of his buddies to survive. Suffering is what connects us.

Do you use suffering to help us bond with your characters? Are you afraid to put your characters through the fire? Remember the Bible teaches that we are refined in a fire to clear away the dross. God uses suffering to make us more like Christ. Suffering burns away pride, self-reliance, and hardness leaving soft gold shimmering behind. In antagonists, suffering brings bitterness, blame, self-protection, and self-love creating a monster.

Suffering is one of the best ways to create believable characters, both your protagonist and antagonists. I’m pretty good at making my heroes suffer, but I think I need to start working on my villains a bit more.


Just an FYI:

Metal Gear Solid is rated M for mature.

Harry Potter is PG – PG13.

Hunger Games is PG 13.

Time Traveler’s Wife is rated R.

Star Trek: NG is PG.

Chuck is PG-13.

Rambo is R.

Godzilla is PG-13.

The Apprentice is PG-13.

Metallica is PG-13.

Downton Abbey is PG-13.