Movie Time . . . Queen Latifah Rules in Last Holiday

* For my course, I could submit a film report for extra credit. J

Wang, W., Latifah, LL Cool J, Hutton, T., Witt, A., Esposito, G., et al. (2006). Last holiday. Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures.

New Orleans native Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) lives a quiet, lonely life. She works in cooking area of a department store and pines after the shy Sean Matthews (L.L. Cool J.), a fellow employee in the outdoor equipment department. She is a good girl who goes to church, sings in the choir, and dutifully helps the community. She dreams of being a chef in her own restaurant. When Georgia finds out that she is terminally ill and does not even have a month to live, she cashes in her policies and pursues her dreams by traveling to the extravagant resort in the French Alps and eating the delicious food of Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu). While spending money like there is no tomorrow, Georgia captivates the attentions of those around her.

Last Holiday is the 2006 remake of the 1950 movie bearing the same name. The first movie starred Alec Guinness and, thus, the characters are not the same in the 1950 and the 2006 movies. However, the premise is similar. This Last Holiday is rated PG-13 for sexual references and is nearly two hours long.

This movie is a romantic comedy, for the most part. Some might consider it a chick flick since the main character is a female who has been sentenced with terminal illness. However, the happy ending and the positive tone of the movie does not fit the bill of chick flick in my eyes. Since Georgia does venture to the French Alps and does all sorts of crazy things like ski and jump off a cliff, it could be considered an adventure.

I would recommend this movie to most viewers. I believe the sexual references would go over the heads of younger viewers and I liked the movie’s upbeat tone. I particularly liked that this movie had little offensiveness in it. The foul language was minimal and there was no sex or violence. Georgia is a very likable character and she is kind and encouraging to the other characters in the movie. Even when she does not like some of the characters, she does try to help them and direct them to look on the bright side.

Have Moral Compass, Will Travel?

Goodreads | The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, #1) by Philip Pullman

Pullman, P. (1996). The golden compass. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 9780679879244

The Golden Compass is the first of Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. Before the story begins, Pullman says The Golden Compass takes place in universe like ours, the second book is set in our universe, and the third one shifts between these universes.

Eleven year old orphan Lyra Belacqua has lived at Jordan College, Oxford, in a world similar to that of the reader but not exactly the same. Adventurous and precocious, Lyra and her dæmon (a small creature peculiar to a human in this alternate universe), Pantalaimon, are normally left to their own devices. She and the children of servants at Jordan College can do as they please. While spying from a wardrobe upon return of Lyra’s uncle, Lord Asrael, from the Far North, Lyra and Pantalaimon save Lord Asrael’s life. Lord Asrael has remarkably found something in Far North that he refers to as Dust, an element drawn only to adults. With Oxford’s support, Lord Asrael can do more field research of Dust in the Far North, and Lord Asrael is on his way.

After Lord Asrael’s departure, Lyra notices numerous disappearances of children in Oxford at the hands of an enchantress and the Gobblers. When her best friend, Roger, vanishes, Lyra becomes frantic. However, she is distracted by the enchanting Mrs. Coulter and her dæmon’s, a golden monkey, appearance at Jordan. Shortly, Lyra is the apprentice of the charming Mrs. Coulter and they move to London. Before she leaves, though, the Jordan College Master gives her an alethiometer, a golden compass, which detects truth. The Master warns her not to show it to anyone and tells Lyra she must learn to use it herself. Being lavished with luxury and attention by Mrs. Coulter, Lyra begins to ease into her new life. However, upon hearing of a connection between Mrs. Coulter and the Gobblers, Lyra escapes and strives to rescue the kidnapped children from the Gobblers in the Far North.

Numerous elements within The Golden Compass secure this book’s place in the fantasy genre. The dæmon is a distinctive part of the story. Each dæmon represents its human owner. A child’s dæmon can take all sorts of shapes while one of an adult is fixed into one form. Throughout the first story, Pantalaimon morphs into all sorts of creatures – from an ermine to a moth to a dragon. However, Lord Asrael’s dæmon remains a snow leopard and Mrs. Coulter’s never shifts from the form of a golden monkey.

Speaking of Mrs. Coulter, she certainly has number of ways to enchant children into doing as she wishes. Lord Asrael also seems to be able to manipulate things to his liking. Lyra is regarded as someone to be well treated and often “gets by with a little help from her friends.” To some extent, they are all characters that the other characters like to some degree.

As previously mentioned, The Golden Compass is set in a different place. The time seemed reminiscent of the Victorian Era and additional literature about this trilogy draws parallels between His Dark Materials and The Chronicles of Narnia. Also, The Golden Compass seemed slow to start due a lot of plot thickening and explanation of this world.

To place The Golden Compass within a subgenre is much trickier. Like high fantasy, The Golden Compass alternates between parallel worlds. Additionally, there are humans, dæmons, and talking bears with opposable thumbs. Later on, Lyra goes on a quest to save kidnapped children from the diabolical hands of the Gobblers. When the reader finds the depravity of Mrs. Coulter’s soul, the narrative becomes very dark. Magical animals such as the dæmons and the aforementioned bears are pivotal in The Golden Compass.

I chose The Golden Compass for this assignment for a multitude of reasons. What sparked my interest was that a movie based on the novel is about to come out in theaters. Due to the movie, a nay saying forward regarding The Golden Compass has made it to my inbox a number of times. This forward says the book is inappropriate for children and gives them bad information about organized Christianity. As both a Christian and a children’s library employee, I felt compelled to find out for myself. Personally, I did not find the first book offensive nor did I feel that it was inappropriate for young adults. When I discovered it was Pullman’s version of Paradise Lost, I found no objections. The bottom line is that it is fiction.

Personally, I had difficulty reading the book because the pace in the beginning was slow. If the reader, regardless of age, has the patience to read it, then I do not see any problems in recommending The Golden Compass. Someone who enjoys a somewhat dark twist on fiction, science fiction, and a struggle between good and evil would probably like The Golden Compass.

Three and a half out of Five Pearls

For more on The Golden Compass, check out the following links:

Dust Bunnies, Great Balls of Fire, & Ghost Hunter

Goodreads | Ghost Hunter (Harmony, #3) by Jayne Castle

Castle, J. (2006). Ghost hunter. New York: Jove Books. 9780515141405

Ghost hunter is a book written by Jayne Castle, a pseudonym used by Jayne Ann Krentz when she writes science fiction, and is part of the Ghost Hunters series. Castle’s books take place on a planet called Harmony. Sometime in the near future, a curtain between Earth and Harmony opened, making travel and trade quite simple for humans. Harmony is a planet that was apparently deserted long ago by a race that was as alien to it as humans. The aliens left baffling catacombs of green quartz and perhaps a security system of ghosts, balls of destructive energy. Some creatures that live there are dust bunnies; six legged, four eyed, animated pieces of lint. Then, the curtain between Harmony and Earth closes mysteriously, blocking any sort of exchange between the two planets. Life on Harmony is rather primitive for the humans but settlers manage to survive. One of their survival mechanisms is “psi energy” or psychic abilities that are helped along with amber, a kind of fuel for the psi abilities.

This particular book starts 200 years after the curtain fell. Small town woman and botany professor Elly St. Clair is the daughter of powerful ghost hunters, people who channel psi energy to wipe out these ancient ghosts. Her father is a council member of the ghost hunters’ guild in their town of Aurora Springs, her brothers are ghost hunters, and her fiancé, Cooper Boone, is the new, seemingly humorless guild boss. Upon hearing gossip that Cooper and Campbell Frazier, another ghost hunter, engaged in a duel over her, the daughter of a powerful ghost hunter, Elly ends what she views as a loveless engagement with Cooper hangs up life in Aurora Springs and heads for the more cosmopolitan Cadence City. She opens an herb emporium and quickly makes friends with her neighboring shop keeps. A dust bunny named Rose wanders into Elly’s life and moves in with Elly. Things are going well until Elly’s friend Bertha disappears in the catacombs. Elly is worried enough to contact her former fiancé when he comes to Cadence City in order to handle the ghosts of the catacombs. Yet, does she realize that Cooper intends to reestablish their engagement?

This is a work of romantic suspense and science fiction, putting it into the Our Strange World and Genre Blending subgenres. In her futuristic setting, Castle asks “What if there was another planet that was isolated from Earth and dwelled by humans?” Furthermore, Castle contemplates the survival and evolution of humans on Harmony. Humans have had to condition themselves to the ways of Harmony. She explores various psychic abilities in her Harmony books. This particular one focuses on ghost hunters, those who can dismantle detrimental balls of energy.

In some ways, Elly appears to be an outsider since she does not appear to have any really strong psi power. This may have her looking like Marilyn Munster to readers. Another characteristic which sets Elly apart is that she has adopted Rose, a dust bunny. Despite all of this, most characters in the book genuinely like Elly. I was impressed by the sense of community and good neighbor behavior Elly inspired in Cadence City as well as in Cooper.After having the web chat with Jayne Ann Krentz, I decided I wanted to read a Jayne Castle book for the science fiction assignment. I am not the biggest fan of science fiction but I certainly admire its goals and practices. Without science fiction, I do not believe we would ask about things which seriously need to be questioned. Nevertheless, I wanted to read something that could easily fall into multiple genres. The psychic ability concept fascinated me, too.

I liked this book because it had a good plot and did not bog me down with details of this alternate reality. Within this book, Castle shows readers like me that virtues are still valued in another setting. My only complaint about the book has very little to do with the novel or its writer. The book has some hunky Fabio-esque man on the cover. Not only would I be embarrassed to read anything with such a cover in public, I thought the guy on the cover looked nothing like the “male lead” in the book. If I had not wanted a Jayne Castle book, I would have passed this one up altogether due to the cover. Thank goodness for canvas book covers!

I would definitely recommend this book to women who like romantic suspense and science fiction. I think it would be a good gateway for women interested in trying science fiction. There is bad language and sex involved in the book but these elements naturally work with the plot. Readers easily offended by bad language and sexual situations probably should avoid Ghost hunter.

Three Out of Five Pearls.


Scary Carrie – Carrie; a novel of a girl with a frightening power by Stephen King

Goodreads | Carrie by Stephen King

King, S. (1974). Carrie; a novel of a girl with a frightening power. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. 9780385086950

Stephen King’s Carrie; a novel of a girl with a frightening power relates the story of Carrie White, a telekinetic (the ability to move things remotely with only the mind) teenage girl, who has been pushed too far by her peers and her mother’s cruel treatment of her. The story is related through third person narrative as well as multiple reports and testimonies.

Opening with a news report of how rocks fell from the sky onto the house where three year old Carrie and her beyond fundamentalist mother, Margaret White, lived, the reader sees Carrie’s first telekinetic act. Later on in the novel, the reader is told of how Margaret would punish Carrie by shoving her in a closet for long periods of time and subject her to praying for forgiveness.

Then, the story slips into third person narrative and brings the reader to a teenaged Carrie showering after gym class with the other girls. Carrie has long been made to endure the harassment of the other students for the odd way her fanatical mother has reared her and for being beyond awkward. Ringleader and mean girl Chris Hargensen instigates group terrorization of Carrie in the locker room. Even the nice, pretty Sue Snell gets in on the act. Carrie becomes so upset she breaks the locker room light bulb, showing another instance of her telekinetic ability.

Being caught by their coach, Miss Desjardines, these girls are punished for their mistreatment. Chris balks and is further punished by not being able to attend the Spring Ball/ Prom. Sue feels guilty for her part and convinces her popular boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to take Carrie to the prom. When Carrie accepts Tommy’s invitation, she still wonders what joke her peers will pull on her. Defying her mother, she attends the prom. All is well for Carrie until the inevitable proves to be the last straw and the somewhat dormant power within Carrie takes over the rest of the night and the town.

Carrie; a novel of a girl with a frightening power is a story that produces fear in the reader. The reader asks, “How many people have hurt Carrie?” and “What is Carrie going to do to them?” In this case, Carrie and her telekinetic ability are the monster of the story. She is very human and has been hurt too many times. She has a paranormal ability of telekinesis and she is tired of taking people’s garbage. In essence, she is a woman scorned by her peers. Yet, Carrie is absolutely sympathetic. She has been pushed over the edge not only by her mean peers but by her insane mother. Perhaps this is fantastical for readers who have been at the wrong end of a cruel joke.

Also, with the reports and testimonies and the narrative entwined, the reader knows some sort big action will take place and it will be very bad. Early in the novel, it is mentioned that only a few people survived and that serious investigations were taking place after the climatic event.

The Devil is referred to often by Carrie’s mother, Margaret, as The Black Man. According to Margaret, Carrie’s frightening power comes from The Black Man. While Margaret won the battle with The Black Man, Carrie lost because she was telekinetic and attending the Prom in a dress showing off too much of her body. This novel definitely contains violence, gore, sex, and foul language. Ultimately, it presents the dark underbelly of human behavior. The reader not only sees this in Carrie but all of those around her.

I chose Carrie; a novel of a girl with a frightening power for a number of reasons. Stephen King is referred to as the King of Horror and I thought I should read something by him other than The Green Mile. Additionally, I had tried to read this book as a high school senior but I did not manage to finish it at the time. Another reason was that I remembered seeing the movie and feeling as though Carrie was justified in what she did. I even saw this as a morality play or a cautionary tale (as many horror stories and urban myths are) as to why one should not mistreat peers in high school.

While I enjoyed the narrative parts of the book and I especially appreciated Sue Snell’s first person narration in other sections, I did not like research and investigative reports. In this respect, I prefer the movie. I felt like I was watching a soap opera when it had been interrupted by a breaking news bulletin on one of the soap opera character’s reasons for being an alcoholic. I had to keep myself from skipping these parts in favor of the narrative. In addition, I was distracted by what I found to be King’s sarcastic tone throughout the book. A recurring thought for me was that “While I am reading this book, Stephen King is laughing all the way to the bank.” Nonetheless, I do see that King is a great writer in that he evokes fear and loathing so well. I now question whether Carrie was justified in what she did.

After warning patrons about the research reports (only because they irritated me) and the sex and violence, I would recommend Carrie; a novel of a girl with a frightening power to fans of horror and perhaps fantasy. To me, it seemed like a fantasy for anyone who has been slightly mistreated at school or felt that his/her parents were unfair to him/her. That could be a whole lot of people.

Two Out of Five Pearls

Total Eclipse of the Harte . . . Dawn in Eclipse Bay by Jayne Ann Krentz

Goodreads | Dawn in Eclipse Bay (Eclipse Bay Trilogy, # 2) by Jayne Ann Krentz

Krentz, J. A. (2001). Dawn in Eclipse Bay. New York: Jove Books. 0515130923

Dawn in Eclipse Bay is the second installment of Krentz’s Eclipse Bay trilogy which focuses on a small coastal Oregon community that provided the setting for infamous falling out between friends Sullivan Harte and Mitchell Madison. Ever since this notorious argument over a woman, these men and their families have been in a feud reminiscent of Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues. The previous Eclipse Bay brought together grandchildren Hannah Harte and Rafe Madison. In Dawn in Eclipse Bay, Hannah and Rafe are now married. In Portland, Lillian Harte (granddaughter of Sullivan, sister of Hannah) successfully runs Private Arrangements, a matchmaking agency which relies heavily on computer software and Lillian’s instincts. Rafe’s brother, Gabe Madison, is a self-made CEO of Madison Commercial. He decides to seek out Lillian’s help in finding a mate. However, after five disastrous dates and a true calling to painting, Lillian wants Private Arrangements Gabe out of her hair. Lillian suspects Gabe lied on his questionnaire and feels she cannot further assist him. She offers to refund his money for a promised sixth date. Obstinately, Gabe insists on having his last date. However, what Gabe really wants is a date with Lillian. Can these two successful people successfully pull off having a relationship? Also, how can they make their relationship work when all sorts of roadblocks such as the family feud, Gabe’s ambitious former paramour, and a devious sex therapist after Lillian’s matchmaking software?

I definitely consider Dawn in Eclipse Bay to be a contemporary romance. The events could have easily happened in 2001, when the book was published. Krentz is not shy about talking about sex and the main characters do go to bed. Another contemporary quality of this book is that the characters do struggle to define their relationship but the issue of premarital sex does not plague them terribly. The heroine and the hero are truly the good people. Prior to Dawn in Eclipse Bay, Gabe and the other Madisons were not doing as well financially as the Hartes. Yet, Gabe becomes an extraordinarily wealthy CEO and Lillian is not hurting for money. So, Gabe and Lillian are comparable in this regard. Also, the book features “The Kiss.” Readers can easily see that these two would get together happily in the end but, of course, there would be speed bumps. I can see readers identifying well with the main characters, Lillian especially. She is an intelligent person who is empathetic when it comes to others but, ultimately, sees she must follow her passion for painting as Gabe has pursued his business work. Ultimately, readers want to see these people to come together and have marriage for Lillian and Gabe to be imminent.

I wanted to read book by Jayne Ann Krentz for this report since our class will be chatting with her this week. In the past, I have read some of her books when I was not too busy with school and work. A few years ago, I read the first book in this trilogy Eclipse Bay. It had been a long time since I visited Eclipse Bay, Oregon when I picked Dawn in Eclipse Bay. I had a hard time remembering all the dynamics between the Hartes and the Madisons. When I got into the middle of the book, I starting recalling what had happened in the first book. I liked that the characters had the Krentz signature of wit and spunk. Still and all, I would recommend that readers start with the first of the Eclipse Bay trilogy and read all three books pretty close together.I would recommend the Eclipse Bay trilogy to fans of contemporary romance. Since there is sex, particularly of the premarital nature between the main characters, I would hesitate to suggest this for the Christian Fiction fans. Nevertheless, I found this to be easy reading for people seeking relaxation. This is a good read for people who want contemporary fiction.

Three Out of Five Pearls

A Turn of the Wheels; Katherine by Anya Seton

Goodreads | Katherine by Anya Seton

Seton, A., & Gregory, P. (2004). Katherine a novel. Chicago, Ill:Chicago Review Press. 9781556525322

Katherine tells the story of actual Katherine Swynford (neé de Roet), a pivotal player in the history of English royalty. In the Fourteenth Century, lady in-waiting to Queen Philippa, Philippa de Roet sends for her younger sister, Katherine. Katherine de Roet has been living at a small, country convent. With the prioress, Katherine makes the journey to London. Innocent Katherine takes the London court by storm with her beauty. She comes to the attention of rough knight, Hugh Swynford, and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of the king and Blanche, the Duchess of Lancaster. Katherine more than reluctantly marries Swynford but the Lancasters do not forget Katherine. In a few years, while John of Gaunt and Swynford are dealing with the 100 Years War, a plague claims many victims including Blanche of Lancaster. However, Katherine eases Blanche’s suffering and finds a priest to administer the Duchess’s last rites. In grief, John of Gaunt takes notice of the lovely Katherine and gives her her own coat of arms, bearing three wheels which signify St. Catherine and Katherine’s maiden name, de Roet. From there, the relationship escalates into an affair which has stunning and long lasting effects on not only their contemporaries but their descendants as it precipitates the Wars of the Roses.

This particular work of historical fiction is remarkable in the amount of research done on an era long past in order to make the novel seem authentic. Having published this in the 1950s, Anya Seton had to research. While most of the narrative takes place in England, Katherine and other characters are Flemish and speak French. Seton’s characters sometimes converse in an older form of French. In a note preceding the novel, Seton explained that she used the names of people she saw in registers. Also, most of the characters are real: Katherine, John of Gaunt, Katherine’s brother in-law Geoffrey Chaucer, John Wycliffe, etc. Seton provides much detail of Medieval English life. With this, the reader experiences the difficulty of survival, particularly of women such as Katherine.

My mom remembered reading this book as a teenager and this spurred her interest in both English history and literature. When I read it, I was fascinated by the book and some of the people who made cameos. The mention of John Wycliffe has spurred quite a bit of amateur research on my part. In reading the 2004 version, I was able to read a foreword by Philippa Gregory (writer, The Other Boleyn Sister). Like Gregory, I think Seton set the tone for the historical novel. Seton did her homework and her creation was a labor of love. Gregory also points out how Seton subscribed to Freudian concepts and had a 1950s mindset. Although I agree with this as well, I think Katherine is an excellent work.

I would recommend Katherine to the female historical fiction audience. It is a bit romantic. Also, this would be a great introduction to some nonfiction work on English history. The world’s interest in Katherine Swynford has led to many websites dedicated to her. Readers may catch the craze. Also, the reader must not be opposed to long novels; Katherine is over 500 pages.

Four out of Five Pearls



What’s in a Name? The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri


Goodreads | The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

*1001 Books Book (2008)

Lahiri, J. (2003). The Namesake. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 0618485228

Young Ashoke and Ashima Ganguli have come from Calcutta, India to live in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the late 1960s. Ashoke is an engineering professor at MIT and Ashima is desperately homesick and pregnant. In 1968, Ashima finds herself going into labor and she gives birth to a son in an American hospital. The Gangulis await a letter from Ashima’s grandmother to arrive; one which will have the name for their son. The grandmother has not told anyone the name. This is a Bengali tradition. Somehow, the letter becomes lost before reaching the Gangulis in Massachusetts and the grandmother dies. Another Bengali custom is to give children a pet name as well as a formal one. However, the pet name of Gogol (namesake of the Russian writer) becomes the formal name of the Gangulis’ son. Being an Indian American and the namesake of a Russian writer further complicates the experience of the first generation American in his search for identity. Throughout the rest of the book, Gogol struggles to find himself as a person who has one foot in his parents’ Bengali existence and the other in the pervasive land of his birth, America. Gogol even reaches the point of trying to solve his “name problem.”

The Namesake definitely tells of the Asian Indian experience in the United States. While the story is delivered in third person, most of the narrative is seen through the eyes of protagonist, Gogol Ganguli. A couple of key parts of the book are spent with Ashima Ganguli and these capture the confusion of a person in unfamiliar territory.Yet, it is Gogol and his younger sister, Sonia, who teach their parents about American traditions such as Christmas. Later in the book, Gogol faces further issues of bridging the gap of East and West. There are numerous events within the book where Ashima is hosting a party where Indian food is served and enjoyed in great proportions. As an adult, Gogol compares the experience of eating dinner with the Gangulis to that of dining with the family of a Caucasian woman he dates as an adult. Another element not to be missed in the book is the arranged marriage of Ashoke and Ashima versus marriage for “love” at which the American Gangulis seek.  

I decided to read The Namesake because it illustrates a contemporary immigrant experience in addition to one of a first generation American. When the reader is with Ashima, he or she sees life of a bewildered and lonely woman in a strange place. Then, Gogol shows what it is like to be the link between India and America for his parents. I found both Ashima and Gogol to be sympathetic characters making the best of their respective plights. These two are good hearted and well-intentioned. Also, the Gangulis and most of the other characters in this book were very easy to recognize for me and I am not Bengali. I learned a whole lot about some Indian traditions and moral dilemmas (i.e. vegetarianism, celebrating Christmas, etc).

Not only would I recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about Bengali life in America or readers looking for an experience similar to their own, I would suggest this to anyone who enjoys good literature. Jhumpa Lahiri’s characters and situations are very realistic and encourage readers to consider the answers to questions like “Who am I really?” and “Am I defined by my family or my name?” This is a great read for patrons wanting something a little different and edifying. Also, fans of Madame Bovary and ironic situations would appreciate this book. I do not imagine the Christian fiction audience would like it much due to bad language and sexual situations. This is not a light, fluffy book, either. I would be excited to encourage anyone else to read The Namesake.

4.75 out of 5 Pearls