five reasons why ‘Gladiator’ is an astounding epic

Warning: I wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone without several caveats, especially because of the violence and the villain’s incestuous tendencies.  Definitely not a movie for immature viewers.

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#5 – ‘Gladiator’ respects the precedent set by ‘Ben-Hur’

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‘Gladiator’, like ‘Ben-Hur’, is an epic tale of revenge, love, and redemption that hinges on incredible characters that interact with each other in believable ways.  Yes, there’s violence.  Yes, there’s spectacle and intense action sequences and military triumphs.  But Maximus, Lucilla, Juba, Proxima, and even Commodus are at the centre of the film and that is a large part of what makes ‘Gladiator’ so well-loved.  In the end, it’s not about the gore or the glory.  It’s about the characters.

#4 – ‘Gladiator’ is a revenge story

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Arguably, the best stories are revenge stories.  The Count of Monte Cristo, True Grit, Hamlet…all great classics that have vengeance as one of their main themes.  Though I doubt a Roman emperor would lower himself to the level of a slave and fight in the arena, is makes for sweet revenge.

#3 – The emotions are real

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So real.  An aching lump in your throat that refuses to go away during the final minutes of the movie. (And at various other scenes as well.)  “I will see you again, but not yet…not yet.”  “There was once a dream that was Rome.”  I’m honestly choking up just typing all that because IT’S SO BITTERSWEET.

#2 – Hans Zimmer outdid himself

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My next ‘favorite composer’ post will be about Zimmer and I’ll talk a little more about his soundtrack for ‘Gladiator’ then, but I’ll say that the score for this film is incredible.  Evocative, moving, thrilling – there’s every emotion you can think of.  ‘Now We Are Free’ is unbelievable. (Lisa Gerrard also had a hand in composing it.)

#1 – Maximus Decimus Meridius

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Commander of the armies of the North.  Father to a murdered son.  Husband to a murdered wife.  And he will have his vengeance.  Russell Crowe, the screenwriters, and Ridley Scott created one of the 21st century’s greatest film heroes in the character of Maximus.  His grief, his courage, his struggles all command your respect.  He’s one of my favorite fictional characters.

(My uncle, whose favorite movie is ‘Gladiator’, said he wanted to name his son Maximus Decimus Meridius – I’m still not sure if he was serious or not.)

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Have you seen ‘Gladiator’?  Do you love it like I do?

Eva

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the outsiders read-along: chapter 9

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There is triumph and tragedy in this chapter.  No spoilers for those who are reading The Outsiders for the first time, but the ending of this chapter is an emotional kick in the stomach.  It was almost inevitable, but heart-wrenching nonetheless.

When Ponyboy and the others are preparing for the rumble with the Socs and Ponyboy keeps asking himself (and the others) why they’re fighting in the first place, I realized something.  I don’t think that, before Bob’s death, Ponyboy would have asked that (or at least been able to articulate his doubts so well).  But with Bob’s death he now knows that greaser versus Soc and the greaser lifestyle can get a person into serious trouble.  And he doesn’t want that so he’s questioning the logic of things that he’s always gone along with. (It’s also a sign of growing maturity.)

Though, if you’ll notice, he flip-flops between not wanting himself or any of the gang to participate in the rumble and “Oh no, I thought in mortal fear, I’ve got to be in it.  Right then the most important thing in my life was helping us whip the Socs.” (p. 134).  There’s some confusion there and that’s realistic as well.

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On the lighter side, the interactions between Ponyboy, Soda, and Darry are hilarious and legitimately how brothers behave.  And Two-Bit always makes me laugh with how he imitates The Typical Soc.

A few other things of note: it makes me happy how Ponyboy determines to go farther than most other guys in his neighbourhood and make something of himself. (According to S.E. Hinton, he went on to become an author.  But she also said that Soda died in Vietnam and Darry died of cancer so I’m not sure how accurate she is.)  It’s so cool how Dally shows up to the rumble and he and Ponyboy work together in the fight.  And the doctor in the hospital is awesome.  Just sayin’.

Quotes I like:

What kind of world is it where all I have to be proud of is a reputation for being a hood, and greasy hair?  I don’t want to be a hood, but even if I don’t steal things and mug people and get boozed up, I’m marked lousy.  Why should I be proud of it?  Why should I even pretend to be proud of it? (p. 132)

If everybody jumped in the Arkansas River, ol’ Two-Bit would be right on their heels. (p. 137)

If you want to see something funny, it’s a tough hood sticking out his tongue at his big brother. (p. 137)

I mean, you take a guy that calls a rumble “bop-action,” and you can tell he isn’t real educated. (p. 140) [The irony…]

“Stay gold, Ponyboy.  Stay gold . . .” (p. 148)

Discussion Questions!

-Ponyboy asks Darry, Soda, and Two-Bit why they like fighting (Steve volunteers his reason, unasked).  What answer do you think Dally would give?  Johnny?

-On page 141, Ponyboy says “…people don’t ever think to blame the Socs and are always read to jump on us.  We look hoody and they look decent.  It could be just the other way around – half the hoods I know are pretty decent guys underneath all that grease…but people usually go by looks.”  Have you ever judged someone by their appearance and then had to drastically revise that judgement later?

Eva

christian authors that are actually awesome

I don’t know about you, but I end up DNFing most of the Christian novels I try to read, simply because they’re boring.  Like, ‘sleep for a century, melt into a puddle of boredom on the floor’ boring.  I’m not going to name names but most Christian historical romantic inspirational fiction is mind-numbing.  However, there are a few authors who have risen above the rest to become some of my favorites and I thought I’d share the list with you.

(I’m not including Great Christian Authors like Spurgeon, Tozer, Lewis, etc. because I’m focusing on more modern works.  But all of those authors are great!)

-Jack Cavanaugh.  One of my absolute favorite authors.  His historical novels have such a broad scope and depth of detail that always blows me away.  His (few) contemporary stories have a distinct Frank Peretti vibe – but better. Best book: His Watchful Eye (but you’ll have to read the other two books in the Songs in the Night series as well).

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This one’s good, too.

-Lynn Austin.  Loooove this author.  She might just be my favorite Christian author.  Austin writes books that focus on family, relationships, and the connections between generations.  She has a real knack for capturing different characters’ voices in both dialogue and deep POV.  Best book: Eve’s Daughters.

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-Nadine Brandes. I’ve read a few Christian dystopian novels, but Brandes’ Out of Time series is the only one that has resonated with me, the only one that really made sense.  She weaves spiritual themes into her work in such a believable, intricate way.  I’m in awe. Best book: They are all utterly amazing and I can’t pick a favorite.  However, if you don’t have time for a full series right now, I’d recommend Fawkes.  It’s a stand-alone.

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-Angela Hunt. While I don’t usually connect with Hunt’s characters the way I’d like to, her writing is ferociously good.  You honestly can’t stop reading once you start.  (Though I will warn that her books push the boundaries of acceptable adult content in Christian fiction.) Best book: I really enjoyed her retelling of Esther.

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-Roseanna M. White. Sometimes it takes me a little while to get ‘into’ White’s books, but once I do I love them.  Her novels are a little more traditional, in that they have that Downton Abbey vibe that Christian publishers seem to adore.  But she’s not afraid to take her characters out of the drawing room and into real danger (like war-time missions).  It makes for higher stakes, which is great. Best book: A Song Unheard.  Touched my heart in so many ways.

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-Frank Peretti. The master himself.  I don’t like Peretti’s adult fiction too much (except for The Visitation) but I grew up reading his Cooper Kids adventure stories (think “Christian Indiana Jones”).  They’re still hugely nostalgic for me.  Best book: The Deadly Curse of Toco-Rey.

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-Beverly Lewis. Lately, Lewis has fallen into the ‘mediocre writing, predictable plot’ rut that so many other Christian authors have so her books aren’t interesting anymore.  But The Shunning was the first ‘adult’ novel I read (and reread, endlessly) and I do enjoy many of her earlier stories. Best book: Either The Shunning (and its sequels) or The Redemption of Sarah Cain.

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Who are some of your favorite Christian authors?

Eva

mini movie reviews {#9}

Mudbound (2017) – Spectacularly depressing.  Gave me a headache.  But Garrett Hedlund was amazing so I don’t really regret watching it.

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Jurassic Park (1993) – YESSS.  So good.  Loved it and watched it twice and still loved it, so yeah.  The music was my favorite part, I think.  That or Jeff Goldblum.

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Wonder (2017) – Not quite as good as the book, but still thoroughly heartwarming.

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Goodbye Christoper Robin (2017) – Really heavy and a little boring.  I think I’ll enjoy ‘Christopher Robin’ much more.

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Unconditional (2012) – Actually one of the better Christian movies I’ve seen.  Great characters, good acting, and some pretty emotional scenes.

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Tarzan (1999) – One of my new favorite Disney movies!  Jane is awesome.

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A Monster Calls (2016) – Made me ugly sob.  A beautiful movie, though, and the Monster warmed my heart.

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Room (2015) – It’s rare that a film actually makes me bite my nails, but I’m pretty sure that ‘Room’ did.  My heart was pounding so hard.  The second half was a little boring, but overall a great film.

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Earth to Echo (2014) – This movie is a tribute to films like ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘E.T.’ and I really dug it.  All the characters were so sweet and small and perfect.

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Napoleon Dynamite (2004) – Some friends of mine HIGHLY recommended this movie to me so I watched it and, yeah, now I love it.  Which is weird because none of the characters are super likable, there’s no plot, and the humour isn’t even my kind of humour.  But there’s just something about it that keeps me coming back for more. (Also, it’s one of the most quotable films everrrr.)

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Annie (2014) – Loooove.  Makes me so happy.

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Anna Karenina (2012) – I cannot get over the dresses and coats and hats in this film.  Incredibly, unbelievably gorgeous.  But that was pretty much the only thing I enjoyed in ‘Anna Karenina’.  (It was filmed a little oddly as well.)

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The Breakfast Club (1985) – Two words: JOHN. BENDER. *heart-eyes emoji*

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So what movies have you watched recently?  Have you seen any of the ones I reviewed above?

Eva

P.S. My bi-weekly excuse for no read-along post – my weekend was crazy busy with the birthday party sleepover I hosted.

‘dancing & doughnuts’ virtual world tour: interview with Rachel Kovaciny!

40200640Today on the blog I’m honoured to interview Rachel Kovaciny.  She’s the author of the newly released novella, Dancing & Doughnuts, which is a Western retelling of the classic (but little known) fairy-tale ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’.  Rachel is a talented writer – read this interview to learn some cool things about her and her stories and then visit her website for more!

Hey, Rachel!  Welcome to the blog and thanks for agreeing to answer a few of my questions. 🙂  To start…is there one character in Dancing & Doughnuts that you like a teeny bit more than all the others?

I’ve actually got four favorites in this book, which is unusual for me. I generally have two favorites, but not this time! However, Jedediah Jones is the dearest to me. He’s my protagonist and the narrator, and he has been a delight to write.

And a delight to read!  I love getting things from Jedediah’s unique viewpoint, especially all those descriptions of doughnuts – they sound soooo good.  What’s your favorite kind of doughnut?

I love sour cream doughnuts! And these Dutch doughnuts called Crullers that are buttery and flaky.

I love both those kinds as well. (No wonder we’re friends. *grins*)  So, were there any stories (besides ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’, obviously) that helped inspire Dancing & Doughnuts?

I’ve definitely had Homer Price by Robert McCloskey on my mind for some of these scenes. That book has a wonderful sequence where they have to make hundreds of doughnuts, and I kept thinking about it while my own characters produced veritable mountains of doughnuts.

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Oh my word, that Homer Price story is one of my favorites.  So much nostalgia for me.  And speaking of the past…did you have to do a lot of research for Dancing & Doughnuts?

I did, actually. I spent a lot of time researching the history of doughnuts to be sure I knew what forms they took in the 1860s. It turns out they were a really popular treat for Civil War soldiers! I also did a lot of research into how long carbonated beverages have been around — people first started adding fruit juice to carbonated water in the 1600s! So fascinating. I also researched dances that were popular in that era, and what dancing shoes looked like. I also looked into when different Christian denominations started congregations in Kansas. And I think my favorite thing that I researched turned out to be the duties of sergeant majors in the Union Army — my protagonist rose to that rank during the war, and is justifiably proud of doing so.

That’s a lot of research! (But all completely necessary.)  To talk about the actual writing process, though, what time of day are you the most productive, writing-wise?

Mornings have long been my very best writing time because my brain is fresh. My mind isn’t cluttered up yet with all the things I need to get done, and I can concentrate better. But these days, I do most of my writing at night after my kids are in bed. Not my favorite time but I make it work.

I’ve been getting up earlier and writing and it’s pretty fun.  But I also enjoy writing in the evenings, afternoons – pretty much any time is good for me!  If you could put your writing aside for one day and spend it with one of the characters from Dancing & Doughnuts, who would it be and why?

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I’d love to spend a day listening to Jedediah Jones tell me all about his amazing experiences growing up on the frontier and then being in the Union Cavalry during the war. He’s been talking to me for a year now, as he narrates this story, and I can’t get enough of him!

However, if I had to pick one character to spend the rest of my life with, it would be this rather marvelous rancher named John Kittredge. I think we could get along quite comfortably for decades.

Jedediah and John are both excellent choices.  I’d probably choose the same (though I believe Clara would be fun, too).  Unfortunately, I can’t keep asking you questions for forever, so I’ll close out the interview with just one more: can you tell me and my blog followers what fairy-tale your next ‘Once Upon a Western’ novella will be based on?

I’m really hoping to do Snow White next — set in a wagon train filled with former slaves on their way to new lives out west! But I have a lot of research to do for that one, so I may end up putting it off and doing a different one next. That’s the one I’m hoping to tackle next, anyway!

Thanks so much for this fun interview, Eva!

Thank you, Rachel!  I had a lot of fun with this.

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Don’t forget to add Dancing & Doughnuts to your Goodreads shelf and buy the Kindle or paperback edition on Amazon!  You can check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour here.  Rachel is also hosting a super awesome giveaway for the book tour that you can enter here!

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Eva

movie review: God Bless The Broken Road

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This is one of the most beautiful movie posters I’ve ever seen.  No lie.

Amber’s ideal life is shattered when she loses her husband to the war in Afghanistan. Two years later, she finds herself in a struggle to save her home while providing for her 9-year-old daughter, Bree. When up-and-coming race car driver Cody Jackson rolls into town, Amber and Bree become wrapped up in his pedal to the metal way of life. With her faith hanging in the balance, Amber is forced to decide between the broken road she knows so well or trusting in a new path that God has provided.

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There seems to be a trend lately among Christian film: take a famous Christian song and make a movie based on that song (however tentatively).  The God’s Not Dead franchise, ‘I Can Only Imagine’ (2018), and now ‘God Bless The Broken Road’ (2018).

WHAT I LIKED

-The director, Harold Cronk, knows how to make a quality film in terms of camera work and lighting.  I dug the vintage aesthetic of this film.

-On a whole, the characters were pretty likable.  Amber was a sympathetic protagonist.  Her daughter, her friends from church, and Cody were all sweet.  My favorite character was probably Amber’s mother-in-law, though.  She could be controlling and manipulative, but in the end all she wanted to do was keep her family close.

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-I felt that Amber’s struggles to provide for herself and her daughter were accurately – and heartbreakingly – portrayed.  Those scenes were some of the best in the film.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE

-It was just kinda…bland?  A little boring, too.  I found my interest straying through many of the scenes, which was disappointing.  But that’s basically my only complaint.  And for those who aren’t as nitpicky as I am, I think you could find ‘God Bless The Broken Road’ to be a hidden gem.

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Have you seen this film?  What’s your favorite faith-based movie?

Eva

Film has been provided courtesy of Pacific Northwest Pictures and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

book review: dancing & doughnuts

Dancing and Doughnuts blog tour 2 (1)

Fifty dollars just for asking a few questions? Jedediah Jones figures it must be his lucky day. What dancing and doughnuts have to do with anything, he neither knows nor cares. He’s only interested in earning that money so he can finally eat something other than the apples he’s been living off for days. Once his stomach and his pockets are filled again, he plans to move on.

But answering the advertisement plunges him into a forest of painted trees, twelve pretty sisters, trouble, and more trouble. And, yes, doughnuts.

So many doughnuts.

Can Jedediah Jones solve the mystery and earn that fifty dollars when the whole town has failed? Or will the twelve sisters lose their family’s business no matter what he does?

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I dislike mysteries, but Dancing & Doughnuts was the rare exception. The plot – complete with a multitude of suspects, red herrings, and other forms of misdirection – was so clever and interesting that I couldn’t help but be sucked in. There’s a charm about this story that has to be savoured (like Rachel’s previous book, Cloaked, but even better).

The descriptions are so evocative! I want to stuff my face with those delicious doughnuts – crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, filled with sweetness and spice and covered in sugar. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about them. Then there’s the apple cider and the lemon soda water…it all sounds so, so good.

Like Cloaked, Dancing & Doughnuts is chock-full of amazing, lovable characters. I know that the author loves reading books that include characters she’d like to be friends with and, as it turns out, she writes books like that too! It’s awesome. The main character/narrator, Jedediah Jones, has a fun way of looking at life, people, adverse situations, etc. but there’s also a depth to him that I like (he was a sergeant major during the Civil War and it’s affected him in more ways than one). All the Algonas are great. I especially like Alice, Clara, and Felicity. Alice is #goals and also #relatable, which is a great combination. Really, I like all the characters in this novella (with the possible exception of Mayor Gatz) – they’re all very real and and flawed, yet exceedingly pleasant and fun. ❤ I’d be more than happy to meet them in real life, if it were possible.

Dancing & Doughnuts is a retelling of the classic fairy-tale, ‘Twelve Dancing Princesses’, and it was soooo cool to pick out the references and parallels to the original story (and I’m sure I didn’t catch them all). The painted forest sounds so beautiful! And actually having twelve ‘princesses’ instead of cutting the number down? A bit tricky, but the way Rachel did it was believable.

Highly recommended to fans of westerns, mysteries, fairytale retellings, or just a good story in general!

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Don’t forget to add Dancing & Doughnuts to your Goodreads shelf and buy the Kindle or paperback edition on Amazon! You can check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour here. Rachel is also hosting a super awesome giveaway for the book tour that you can enter here!

Dancing and Doughnuts Giveaway Prizes

Eva