Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

First one to post a comment wins a free book!

Congratulations to 2 people who won copies of my books on recent Goodreads contests!

Shelia Albright of Norris City, IL won:  

Someone just posted a review for this book on Amazon saying: 5.0 out of 5 stars Wish I'd have had this YEARS ago!! By Courtnay Format:Paperback Growing up I didn't receive guidance or directions on finance. Therefore I've made many mistakes. This book is a MUST for anyone wanting to know what to do - with great suggestions on ways to do it! Easy to read and follow. I would encourage anyone who struggles in today's economy (and who ISN'T struggling?!...) to get this book!

Micke Best of Duboistown, PA won a free copy of: 

I found a review for this book on Amazon too: What a great resource! 5.0 out of 5 stars. What a great resource! By Jeanette on December 31, 2013 I am serving in the Young Women's and miss Relief Society. I enjoy this resource material because it helps me learn on my own the material I miss. This is a valuable resource for teachers, as well as those that miss the classes for various reasons. Thank you Trina for all your hard work on this!

Now, for a quick and fun contest.....the first 5 people who respond to this blog post with a comment will automatically win one of my ebooks for free!  So many to choose from!  Pick out which one you want on my author web site:


Saturday, January 25, 2014

When literature is created like I, Frankenstein

When Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, she probably could have never imagined Aaron Eckhart's remade character in this weekend's newest opening of I, Frankenstein.

Movie Title:
I, Frankenstein
Grade:  B-

In a Nutshell:  I know a guy who was Aaron Eckhart’s college roommate.  He said that Aaron often talked about becoming a movie star some day.  He did it!  I’m sincerely happy for him.  I love Aaron Eckhart’s eyes because one of my sons has the exact same eyes. 

Based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux, I, Frankenstein features a teeth-gritting monster who struggles with who he is as he fights demons and Gargoyles in a battle to save mankind.  I wanted this popcorn flick to be a hit for Aaron, but sadly, it falls short of a blockbuster that’s going to get audiences really excited.  

There is not much of a plot, as the CGI effects and production design take center place.  True Mary Shelley fans will be disappointed that the classic tale has been re-invented with a ripped and skilled mixed martial artist, of sorts, as the “unholy abomination” of a monster.  If you’re into Sci-Fi or dystopian genres, you’ll the awesome special effects.  You feel mildly attached to Frankenstein , but there is not much time spent on real character development. 

Gideon is a name known to many Christians, but this character is so filled with hate that he doesn’t seem to be representing heaven.  He declares to Frankenstein “God will surely damn you.”  Frankenstein growls back “He already did.”

Uplifting theme:  Victor Frankenstein never named his creation, so Leonore, the queen of the Order of the Gargoyles symbolically names him Adam.  I’m a sucker for symbolism.  He is the first man of his kind.  He is made in the image of his maker, but has the free will to create his own life.  Like this new Adam, we often spend years trying to figure out who we really are.  It’s when we realize we need humanity and begin to love and serve others for a greater cause that we truly find ourselves.

Things I liked:
  • I loved the way Gargoyles died in a brilliant beam of light and were instantly sent heavenward.  In contrast, the demons turn into a fiery blaze that descends to hell when they’re killed.  The battle scene at the beginning panned out and you could see beams ascending and fire bursts swirling, notifying you how many gargoyles and demons were killed in combat. I thought that was pretty cool.
  • The slow-motion fight sequences looked like a video game. I’m sure this will come out as a video game and it could actually be pretty good.
  • I love Bill Nighy in everything.  He played a lovable and wise father in About Time as equally well as he plays a clever demon prince in this film.
  • There are some interesting weapons and cool slow-motion fight scenes featuring them.

Things I didn’t like:
  • You know when you see a big towering structure created by the bad guys that it’s going down at the end of the movie.
  • Everyone has a British accent except Frankenstein.  Come on Aaron.
  • The demons’ faces looked like masks from an old Star Trek episode.
  • It’s so clich├ęd that the brilliant, young scientist happens to be a beautiful girl.  SPOILER ALERT…So, will Yvonne Strahovski be the bride of Frankenstein in the sequel?
  • Shouldn’t the gargoyles have been nicer since they were working for God?
  • There is a complete lack of humorous moments, as the film seems to take itself too seriously.
  • Frankenstein doesn’t have a soul, but yet somehow he can feel pain and wants to do good, as well as have the desire for a female companion.  How does that work?
  • Of course, Frankenstein is supposed to be a grungy creature, but I really wanted him to take a bath.  He rinses off his face once, yet his face remains dirty.
  • We are told that Leonore is the direct link to the Archangels, but she mostly stands around while the gargoyles do all the work.  She prays and seems to have the best sense of morality, so I was disappointed when  (SPOILER ALERT) she turned against Adam and issued an order to kill him.  Despite that, it was great to see Lord of the Rings starlet Miranda Otto again.

Funny lines:  There really aren’t any.  This movie takes itself too seriously and could have benefited from some levity at its own expense.

Inspiring lines:
  • “Each of us has a higher purpose.  Yours is yet to reveal itself.”  - Leonore
  • “All life is sacred.”  - Leonore
  • “Just because something has yet to be found, does not mean it does not exist.” = Niberious
  • “It is not for you or I to deny God’s purpose.” – Leonore
  • “You’re only a monster if you behave like one.” – Dr. Wade

Things to look for:
  • The symbol seen from the aerial view that the bushes make outside of the Institute entrance.
  • There is a certain symbol of the Order of the Gargoyles that you start to see everywhere: on Leonore’s necklace, on the fabric sashes, on the dagger, on the cathedral, formed by the structure of the cathedral as seen from an aerial view.

Tips for parents: Young children may be afraid of the scary demons.  There is a gruesome scene with hundreds of corpses hanging in a large facility underneath the Institute.  There is a lot of bloodless fighting, but not much profanity.  The lighting in the scenes, as well as the general theme are quite dark.

If you're a Frankenstein fan who can't get enough, check these out:

Monday, January 20, 2014

A movie to honor Martin Luther King Jr on his day

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I wanted to share areview of Lee Daniels' The Butler , released just last week on DVD.   I simply don’t understand how a mediocre movie like “American Hustle” can get nominated for Golden Globe and Academy awards when powerful movies like Lee Daniels' The Butler are completely overlooked.

Movie Title:  Lee Daniels' The Butler
PG-13, 2 hours 12 minutes

Grade: A

In a Nutshell:  Packed full of awesome star power, Lee Daniels' The Butler is a sobering look at U.S. history and the evolution of black Civil Rights. The film begins with the quote “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”   “Light” has long been a symbol representing knowledge, truth, and understanding.

Lee Daniels' gripping movie begins in 1926 Macon, Georgia where slavery was outlawed, yet still practiced culturally in the south.  “The only thing I ever knew was cotton” are the first words you hear from Cecil Gaines, a black man whose family worked on a plantation and destroyed by the bigoted, evil property owner.  Cecil’s journey takes him to the White House to serve as a butler and experience first-hand the political changes that affected a family and a nation.

For those unfamiliar with black history in this country, this “crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice” is shown in a Forest Gump-like overview through significant milestones in Civil Rights, such as: the Executive Order in Little Rock, 1960’s Fisk University, Freedom Writers [Blu-ray] , 1965 Malcolm X speaking tour, Bloody Sunday, Vietnam, The Black Panther movement in the 1960’s, and on up through President Obama. You hear the “N” word used a lot, a word defined in the film as a “white man’s word filled with hate.”

Uplifting theme:  There are many uplifting themes throughout the movie that should spark interesting conversations about equal rights at your dinner table.  It was fascinating to watch father and son approach their desire for equality and respect in different ways: one with dignity and patience, the other with reckless passion.  The screen shows the words “This film is dedicated to the men and women who fought for freedom in the Civil Rights movement.”  Thankfully, the movie points out that the group includes both white and black patriots.  It’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago, black Americans were not allowed to drink out of the same drinking fountain as Caucasians.  While our society still has a long way to go in regards to racism, we have come far.

Things I liked:
  • I thought the White House dinner scene was extremely powerful, combining it with scenes from the famous Woolworth restaurant scene.  Many of the film’s montages were very well done.
  • I love Robin Williams in everything.  He plays President Eisenhower in this movie.  Cecil serves eight presidents during his tenure as a butler.
  • I love Alan Rickman in anything.  He was a delightful Reagan.
  • I also adore James Marsden and thought he was perfect as John F. Kennedy.  I appreciate it when actors actually try to use the correct accent when playing the role of a real person in history.
  • I loved seeing real TV clips from history as the movie progressed through significant times in our country’s history.
  • The beginning and end of the movie both show an old man sitting in a chair in the White House.  I love it when movies take you in full circle.

Things I didn’t like:
  • Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and many of the film’s actors did an excellent job, yet were left out of Golden Globe and Oscar nominations.
  • I thought it was actually offensive to see Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan.  Casting her in any political role is sure to spark controversy.
  • Mariah Carey wasn’t entirely believable as a wife of a black man, although she plays one in real life.   Oh, snap!
  • Because there was so much history to cover in a short amount of time (although the movie is 2 hours 12 minutes long), some scenes seemed a bit rushed and superficial.

Funny lines:
  • “We have no tolerance for politics here at the White House.”  - Maynard at the job interview.  The audience I sat in howled with laughter.
  • John F. Kennedy says “I’ll be looking forward to working with you the next four years.”  Jacqueline Kennedy quickly corrects “Eight years.”

Inspiring lines:
  • Referring to the White House, Gloria Gaines says “I don’t care what goes on in that house.  I care what goes on in this house.”
  • “A hero is one who fights to save the soul of our country.”  - Louis
  • “Americans always turn a blind eye to our won.  We look out to the world and judge.  We hear about the concentration camps, but these camps went on for 200 years in America.”  - Cecil Gaines

Tips for parents:  I thought it was interesting that the only F-bomb in the movie was spoken by the white Vice President of the United States.  There is some profanity, infidelity, lots of racism, and violence.  Not a movie for young children, but older teens may be introduced to some history that they never learned about in school.  

To see more of my movie reviews, visit my blog at Movie Review Maven!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Who tells the 47 Ronin story best?

Many books and movies have been created to inspire others with the famous story of the Japanese Samurai and these 47 loyal Ronin.  I've never read any of the books or seen the movies until now.  Have you?  I'm curious which ones have held true to the tale.  Here's my take on the newest film to bring the story to life from my movie review blog, Movie Review Maven:

Movie Title:  47 Ronin

Grade: B

In a Nutshell:  It’s as if this long movie couldn’t decide which one it wanted to be: epic war history or CGI action fantasy.  I love Keanu Reeves and wanted this movie to be legendary for him, but it just falls short of being very memorable.  It prides itself as telling a true Japanese story, yet it mixes in modern CGI villains that spoil the authenticity.  The movie takes itself very seriously, but has a few humorous moments, such as when a pudgy Ronin tries to cut a branch with Keanu’s sharp sword.  (Is Ronin plural?  What’s one Ronin called?  Roni?)

In case you didn’t know already, a Ronin is a masterless Samurai and the film is a remake of others made in 1994 and 1941.  While many critics have been quite rough on this version, if you’re interested in Japanese lore, you’ll still find plenty to enjoy here.

Uplifting theme: I thought the ceremony with bloody thumbprints on paper was powerful.  Oishi inspires with this short speech: “We will leave this record of courage so the world will know who we were and what we did.  Tonight, we will regain our honor and avenge our Lord.  None of us knows how long he shall live or when our time will come.  But soon, all that will be left of our brief lives is the pride our children feel when they speak our names.”

At the end of the movie, the narrator explains “the memory of the 47 Ronin who put duty and justice before their fear of death has lived down through the centuries as one of the greatest examples of loyalty and honor in Japanese culture.”  The screen then shows text, telling the reader that each year, on December 14th, thousands of people from around the world visit the graves of the 47 Ronin to pay their respects.  This film was inspired by their story.”  That statement alone made me want to learn more about the true tale.

Things I liked:   I love symbolism and the movie provides a few touches, such as the candles blowing out when one of the Samurai dies or when the Ronin wear white robes to show purity in obedience, surrounding a white tree in the middle, representing the pillar of tradition.  I also love it when Keanu calmly tells someone he’s going to kick their butt.  Rinko Kikuchi gave a sexy and bewitching performance.

Things I didn’t like:  The boy who plays Keanu’s character (Kai) when younger speaks with a British accent, but the older Kai does not.  Someone should have caught that little inconsistency.  The prejudice against Kai, the “half-breed” seemed a little too familiar and tired for a movie theme, although certainly experienced in many societies still today.  Maybe I’m just tired of ignorance.

Funny lines:
  • “I knew it was you.  I saw your belly sticking out from behind the tree.”  - Kai
  • “I knew you’d come for me.”  - Mika  (Wow, how many times have we heard that from melting starlets?)
  • My niece lived in Japan for a year and a half and told me oishi means “delicious”, so I thought it was interesting that one of the character’s names was Oishi.

Inspiring lines:
  • “Mountains of corpses will not stand in our way.” - Witch (Wow, that’s dedication, eh?)
  • “What I propose ends in death.  Even if we succeed we will be hanged.”  - Oishi  (It’s hard to inspire people with a speech like that.)
  • “A Samurai does not take credit for victories of others.”  - Oishi
  • “I will search for you to a thousand worlds and a thousand lifetimes until I find you.”   - SPOILER ALERT  - Kai  (Now that’s romantic, right?)
  • When a crime goes unpunished, the world is unbalanced.  When a wrong is unavenged, the heavens look down on us in shame.” – Oishi
  • “My father told me that this world was only a preparation for the next.  All we can ask is that we leave it, having loved and being loved.”  - Mika

Things to look for:
  • wooden Japanese shoes worn by the King Lord guy
  • Samurai wear 2 swords

Tips for parents:  No profanity and mostly bloodless fighting.  It features honor and loyalty, but also revenge.  It’s certainly an opportunity to discuss those values as a family.  Young children may get a little bored.  

If you saw this movie, I'd love to hear what you thought about it!

In case you're interested in learning more about this famous Japanese story, check out these other versions of the retelling:

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Popular Tom Clancy books spurs prequel Jack Ryan movie

I love it when a good book becomes a movie. Now a good movie has created a prequel that will result in a book!

Movie Title:  Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
PG-13, 1 hour 45 minutes

Grade: A-

In a Nutshell:  Tom Clancy fans will love this prequel to the popular Jack Ryan save-the-USA stories.  Chris Pine, with his beautiful blue eyes, joins the club of fantastic leading men who have brought this patriotic character to life: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck.  I would have loved to see some short cameo appearances with those guys!

Sure, the film is formulaic: inexperienced CIA analyst uncovers an attack on the U.S. and is suddenly thrust into operative status as he dodges bullets, guided by a crusty mentor (played by Kevin Costner).  It’s still a fun spy thriller that will get your pulse going as you yell “Hurry!” at the big screen.

Uplifting theme:  Jack is wounded in Afghanistan in the beginning of the film, but finds two unexpected motivations to recuperate: Cathy and protecting his beloved country. I loved the look in his penetrating eye (one was swollen shut) as he was wheeled off on a gurney.  It said so much about how this country felt after the 9/11 attacks. Meaningful motivation can push you beyond what you thought you could do.

Things I liked: Kenneth Branagh directs and plays a vicious Russian in the movie.  He proves he can equally navigate Shakespeare and Thor.  I liked that the setting is modern day and spotlights a very real threat of the collapse of the American dollar.  Jack warns “They’ll call it the American crisis, but after six weeks, they’ll call it what it is…the second Great Depression.”

Things I didn’t like:  I usually like Keira Knightley, but I just didn’t feel the chemistry between her and Chris Pine.  She seemed a bit forced with her American accent. There is an obligatory car chase scene and many of the tense moments feature pounding at computer keyboards.  One disjointed scene that annoyed me included a fight scene with Jack and Aleksandr in the water under the streets, but then suddenly they’re exchanging blows in a van moving above-ground.  With all of the recent talk in the news of NSA spying, it’s interesting to see how quickly the field agents can gather intel and act on it.

Funny lines:
  • “You weren’t kidding…you ARE in the CIA” states Jack.  William Harper responds “Somebody has to be.”
  • “This is geo-politics, not couple’s therapy.” – William Harper
  • “You Americans like to think of yourselves as direct, but maybe you’re just rude.” – Viktor Cherevin
  • “You Russians like to think of yourselves as poetic, but maybe you’re just touchy.”  - Jack
  • “The first night can be brutal.” = Viktor Cherevin after he tries to get Jack killed
  • William Harper asks “Any way to get that Boy Scout look off your face?”  Jack laughs “Not a chance.”  Harper responds “Good.  That’s what I like about you.”
  • “He drinks, right?” Jack asks.  The response: “Like a Russian.”
  • “I’m in the CIA  - Jack    SPOILER ALERT:  After surviving a frightening ordeal, Cathy sighs “Thank God.”

Inspiring lines:
  • “Wait 2 minutes before you take that” counsels Cathy to her new patient Jack who wants some pain killers.  When he asks “Why?” she inspires “So you know you can.”

Things to look for:
  • Read the words on the movie screen when Jack passes the data on to a field agent in the dark movie theater for a symbolic undertone.
  • The 360 degree camera pan while Jack is in the taxi after just arriving in Russia.
  • The picture hanging in Viktor’s office.  What is it? “Battle Of Bunker Hill ”?  Interesting choice, right?

Tips for parents: One F-bomb, but not that much other profanity.  Lots of bloodless fighting scenes. Jack and Cathy are found in bed for a conversation only.

Add this one to your collection of other fun Jack Ryan movies.  These are some of my favorite movies of all time:

Two films to skip this weekend

See all the money I save you?!   Here are 2 films to skip this weekend and save your hard-earned money for something else.  Be sure to read my movie reviews to find out why:

  Read my review at Movie Review Maven at

     Read my review at Movie Review Maven:

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Golden Globe winner Cate Blanchett may have an Oscar to add to her collection

With the season of award shows beginning, I thought I would share one of my movie reviews that features Golden Globe winner Cate Blanchett.

Movie Title:   
Blue Jasmine
PG – 13, 1 hour 38 minutes

Grade: B+

In a Nutshell:  The best part of this Woody Allen film is the stunning Cate Blanchett, who just won a Golden Globe for this role, as well as an Oscar nomination with buzz of a win.  She plays Jasmine/Jeanette, a wealthy Park Avenue wife whose life unravels, leaving her to discover and reinvent herself. It’s a bit depressing, but darkly funny.  Some people will find some satisfaction in watching a rich snob fall to the bottom of the financial barrel.  Of course, Alec Baldwin is completely believable in his role as a Bernie Madoff type of husband.  Andrew Dice Clay hardly has to act and British actress Sally Hawkins is delightful as Jasmine’s sister Ginger.

Uplifting theme:  It’s a cautionary tale of sorts for women.  Girls, pay attention to your finances; don’t “let” your husband take care of it all.  Be an informed partner.  Jasmine’s brother-in-law Augie said about her “She’s a phony and had to know.”  Did she?  We hear one of Jasmine’s wealthy gal pal’s advise her “Just don’t file a joint tax return.”  Jasmine sighs “I sign anything…I’m very trusting.”  Famous last words.   

Jasmine’s step-son asks “Did you not suspect anything or did you not care?”  Good question.  She turned the other eye at her husband’s dishonest business dealings, but ironically, she drew the line at his cheating.  Jasmine is so delusional that she makes a remark about another man who can’t seem to live without a woman, but in reality, she is the one who can’t live without a man.  She criticizes her sister for choosing to date losers, but Jasmine’s husband Hal is the bigger loser, albeit an extremely wealthy one.

Jasmine said “There’s only so many traumas a person can withstand before you take to the streets and start screaming.”  Perhaps those who judge “crazy” people mumbling on the park bench will now stop to consider what pains and sorrows brought the person to that point.

Things I liked:  Cate Blanchett is simply mesmerizing to watch. Woody Allen is a master at building characters and choosing his leading women.  I loved Jasmine’s gorgeous home on the beach.

Things I didn’t like:  I hated watching women being lied to by married men.  I was surprised that there was nothing interesting to see at the beginning…just rolling names on the screen. I might have panned across beautiful homes of the “rich and famous” or the The Hamptons: Life Behind the Hedges .  Same thing.  The film is a bit messy at times, but I suppose that matches the lives of the people in it.

Funny line:
  • “I changed it. Yeah, Jeanette had no panache.”  - Jasmine
  • Can you believe I had to move out of my beautiful home and take a place in Brooklyn?”  - Jasmine
  • Ginger asks Jasmine “How did you fly First Class” and Jasmine answers “I don’t know.  I just did.”
  • “I suppose I’m going to have to invite them to my birthday party now.” – Jasmine
  • “Tomorrow I’m definitely taking the day off. I’ve neglected everything: my yoga, my pilates…”  - Jasmine
  • “Not bad taste for a Philistine businessman.”  - Hal when he gives Jasmine an expensive bracelet”
  • “Nurses are hot to go to bed with.” – Ginger’s new boyfriend
  • “They say every year millions of brain cells just die off.” – Jasmine as she throws back a glass of alcohol
  • “He’s sexy and he doesn’t steal.” – Ginger
  • Edison’s Medicine – because they use electricity to get you thinking straight again.” - Jasmine

Things to look for: 
  • The way she treats people in the service industry at the beginning.
  • The “infinity pool” in her backyard
  • Jasmine checks her watch when Ginger & Augie come to visit
  • Jasmine’s gigantic diamond wedding ring

Tips for parents:
This is really not a movie for children.  The film is a character study with no action.  In other words, they’ll be bored to death.  Some profanity, but no F-bombs.  Some sexual discussions and a terrifically awkward groping scene with a pathetic dentist.