Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Way: Movie Review

This is one of my rare movie reviews, so I ask you to bear with me if it doesn't read like the usual reviews some of you may be be used to.

I'll begin with this caveat:
I watch maybe 12 movies a year, tops. I used to watch many more, but now I don't find anything that comes out of Hollywood worthy of my spending two (or more!) hours of my time. I don't watch comedies, other than Woody Allen films, I try not to watch any movie that has any kind of advertised chase scene, or explosion, or that features a comic book character. There is also a long list of actors that I simply refuse to watch, and I'll save that lengthy list for a later post. I'm also not a fan of trolls, goblins, witches, or any kind of supernatural creature, so that leaves me with...?

What have I watched, so far in 2013? Four movies come to mind: For Greater Glory (*****), starring Andy Garcia, Joyeux Noel (*****), Just Henry (**), and, more recently, The Way (*).

This short review is about The Way, released in 2010. The movie is directed by Emilio Estevez and stars Emilio's father, Martin Sheen.

The Way Movie
The Way is supposed to be a movie about a pilgrimage on the world-famous El Camino de Santiago, the 800 km route that St. James traveled from France, through the Pyrenees, and into Spain. Daniel (Estevez) wants to live his life on his own terms and decides to travel to Europe instead of finishing his PhD in Sociology, a decision that doesn't sit well with his father, Tom (Martin Sheen), a very successful optometrist. Daniel no sooner decides to make the pilgrimage on the El Camino de Santiago, when he dies in an unfortunate accident. This is not a spoiler, the incident takes place five minutes into the film. Tom flies to France to reclaim the body of his son. Once there, in a sentimental moment, Tom decides to make the pilgrimage on behalf of his son.

On the way, Tom meets up with three characters, none of whom are true pilgrims (understood by me as religious), and eventually learns the lesson that he doesn't need to make this pilgrimage by himself.

I would have given The Way five stars had it been marketed as what it actually is: a fictitious documentary travelogue. I found Eat, Pray, Love to be more spiritual than The Way, which isn't saying much. The scenery along the route is truly spectacular. The film is interspersed with the obligatory shots of the cross, many, many crosses, and many religious-themed statues, and also a few churches. It includes many scenes of the hostels where the pilgrims can stay overnight. And all the pilgrims seem to have one heck of a party on their pilgrimage. Apparently, there are plenty of drugs and booze to go around on the El Camino. You can get fresh goat cheese in some places, and there seems to be great wine everywhere. There are even some four-five star hotels where a travel-weary pilgrim can rest her swollen feet and get some much-needed pampering.

But there is no soul to The Way. At least, there is no Catholic soul, since the ultimate aim of the movie is flawed, again, from this Catholic's perspective. I won't reveal the ending, because that would be a spoiler of sorts, so you'll have to either watch the two hour trek, or find another review that reveals more.

As Emilio probably discovered during the filming, showing a character's interior spiritual life on the big screen isn't easy. But to simply show some random Catholic imagery without providing (or showing some understanding of) spiritual context is just more Hollywood fluff film-making. It looks great, but the film means nothing. I don't mind that the movie is so shallow. After all, I'm the guy who doesn't expect anything substantial to come out of Hollywood to begin with. I just thought that since this was an indie production, and it actually dealt with a religious theme as its subject matter, that there might have been some spirituality to the film.

The Way, unfortunately, lived down to my expectations.
Still, I'm undaunted and would jump at the opportunity to embark on my own pilgrimage on the El Camino.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Author Interview: Faye Hollidaye!

Today is a ground-breaking day on my blog. No, I haven't come up with a clever title for it. I am conducting my first guest interview! For this special occasion, please welcome author/friend Faye Hollidaye, of Susie Chapman Series fame!

Hi Faye, I hope you've got your thinking cap on, 'cause I've got a bevy of questions for you.

1. First of all, tell us a bit about yourself. Share whatever you'd like.
Hello. I’m a writer, a reader, a wife, and mother of only my and my husband’s pets. I have a doggy named Bade, who’s big enough to take me for walks, but I have a pretty strong leash, so I don’t ever lose him, though sometimes he’s quite harsh on my shoulder and wrist. We also have a few snakes for my husband’s high school biology classroom, named Hannibal, Diamond, Sagan, and Scarlet. We have a red-foot tortoise named Autumn, and also a Saharan Uromastyx

Uro - Saharan Uromastyx

who’s nicknamed Uro. My hubby and our pets are my life, pretty much, except for writing and doing whatever odd jobs I can to earn us a few extra dollars. It’s not exactly ideal to be living on a single income, and that of a high school teacher, so I do whatever I can to help make ends meet, since I’m currently unable to get a decent job with my degree in language.

2. Maybe you should consider going back to school and getting a degree in Philosophy. Just a thought. So, who/what are some of your favorite authors or books?
There have been a lot of books over the years that I’ve just had to buy for my bookshelf. I’d have to say a few of my all-time faves are Cindy Holby’s Chase the Wind, which is a historical romance but a book I find I can really enjoy over and over again because I can relate to it so much – when I became a Christian and threw out all the smutty romances, that was the one I just couldn’t let go of. Also, I must mention Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which I’ve read at least three times, and it does have religious implications I don’t really support, but it is so much of a fantastic adventure, it’s hard to read and not enjoy the journey. Another is June Rae Wood’s works like The Man Who Loved Clowns and A Share of Freedom.

3. I'll have to check some of those out. What is your most favorite line you've ever written (I know I know, they're all gold), and in which story does it appear?
Wow, now that’s a tough question for me. I’d have to go back and read my stuff to find one I really like... Right off the top of my head, I’d have to say one of the opening lines of Pieces, where Maryanne is trying to decipher why one of her guy friends hasn’t told her about his new girlfriend: “Does he think that I’ll go psycho and kill her or something?” And with some more thought, I have to mention the opening line from my one of my newest short stories, The Rise: “In the beginning, they had no voice.”

4. Ooh, I like that! What genre(s) do you write in? Which one have you not tried yet? Why haven't you?
I always have a problem pinpointing what genre I am. I’d like to think I’m creating my own kind of genre, which is a blend of psychological thriller, mystery, romance, religious-themed supernatural, young adult but older than teen fiction, tragedy, science fiction, and possibly others. I do write poetry, nonfiction and fiction prose, and short stories. I know I haven’t tried comedy yet. Comedy is hard for me, because I never know if what I think is funny is actually funny to anybody else – sometimes I laugh at things that I later find I shouldn’t have laughed at even in the least. I guess I have a twisted sense of humor.

5. That could make for some funny scenarios, a la John Irving. Does anything scare you about writing, or the writing process, or the publishing industry?
I’m not afraid to write anything. And I’m not afraid to try new kinds of forms or structures, or new ways of improving my writing processes. The publishing industry though, is intimidating. I self-publish because I know everyone gets rejected at least by a few publishers before signing with a big one, and I’m afraid I’ll get discouraged from writing when I get my first rejection letter from a publisher. So I skipped the rejections and self-publish, hoping I can get myself and my work out there and in front of readers.

6. I wouldn't worry about rejection. The first hundred or so are tough, but after that it gets easier. Now tell us: Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Pantser? What does that mean? I plot so far into the story, usually about half-way, and then the characters tell me what happens from there.

7. So, not a pantser, then. FYI, a pantser flies by the seat of his, or her, pants. No plotting beforehand. Would you say you write primarily character- or plot-driven fiction?
I’d have to say character-driven, though I do use plot to get the characters to react and drive the story. My writing is a little more complicated than just one or the other, I think.

8. Having read most of your fiction, I'd have to agree. Speaking of which, when is your next release coming out? What's the title?
My next novel release is coming out this year. It’s the second work in the Merely Mortal Series, though a reader doesn’t have to read Pieces to understand what’s happening at all. It’s called The Dead Girl, and is Miranda’s story – a small piece of it can be found in the second half of Pieces. It’s vampire-themed. The big thing about it is a biologically sound vampire. I go as far as microbiology to explain how vampirism, at least in a sense, is possible.

9. Sounds intriguing. I'm looking forward to reading it. So, who is your favorite fictional character? What story is he/she in? And why are they your favorite?
Lyra from Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I decided this quite a while ago and can’t remember exactly why. I’ll have to reread the books again to remember why she’s my favorite. Maybe because she’s such an easy liar...

10. Lol. Okay, I have been waiting a long time to ask you this question: what's the deal with Susie Chapman? By that I mean: where did you come up with the idea of writing a story with multiple narrators? What do you hope readers will get from this unusual literary technique? And do you plan to release the whole story one chapter at a time?
The funny thing about Susie Chapman is I saw on Facebook not too long ago that my step-grandmother has a friend named Susie Chapman. I was like, Oh my, so close, you know, only two degrees of separation. Haha. Anyway, the story began with a dream. I wrote down Jesse Adams’ story, the first one in the series, one day from my notes about the dream, having a specific narrator in mind. Then I got to thinking later, what really happened to Susie, where’d she go? I found myself interested enough to ask around, and there seem to be plenty of different stories about her. I personally don’t know what happened to Susie though I have my own suspicions and beliefs, and I enjoy writing the installments as much as I hope at least some of my readers enjoy them. I came to the multiple-narrators idea pretty naturally. Jesse Adams told his story, and he has no more to say about it than he does in his installment. He doesn’t know anything about where Susie went. Other people at her high school seem to think they do. As I sift through what the other kids at Green Bottom High say about Susie, I hope to reveal some clues that point to what really happened to her. Yes, it’s fiction, but it’s kind of fun to try and figure out which narrators are reliable and which are not. Sometimes it’s easier to believe the best storyteller than the most reliable narrator, and this is a major theme I’m trying to get across, I think, with the Susie series. As to the last part of the question: I think of the character who I want to interview next, and I have to let them think about how they’re going to tell their story before I can write it down for them. I give them a week or two to get their story straight, and then I sit down and channel their voice for the recording of their side of the story. This process is a little tedious, but it’s turning out to be quite efficient. I know there will be 18 installments, since Susie’s little sister has already told me what she thinks happened to her, and once I get that far, I will combine them into a short novella to sell for 99 cents. For now though, I am releasing them one installment at a time, generally one every two weeks.

11. I find them fun to read. They're like tuning in to a soap opera. I'm always curious to see who will have what to say about Susie. Where can people find you online?
I’m at a lot of places online. I have a Facebook page (, a Twitter (, a Google+ , a Myspace, a Wix website (found at - where you can find the links to where I can be found online that I don’t provide here), and a few blogs. I’m also on Amazon, Goodreads, Smashwords, Lulu, Black Caviar, Wapi Aponi, and Sporcle. I now also edit an online newspaper called The Interesting Weekly at

Wow. You're everywhere!
Well, Faye, thank you for being my guest. I had fun getting to know you a bit better outside of Twitter. I truly wish you great reviews and many sales with all of your future releases.
Thank you, JT! I enjoyed being here. ☺ Sorry if I went to town on a few of these questions – I’m quite a talker once you get me started.

No problem, Faye. I hope you'll come back when you have a new release blog tour.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Review: Heaven Sent

Heaven Sent
Heaven Sent by David N. Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed reading Heaven Sent. Had the title not been taken, Mr. walker could have called it Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. This book is a collection of uplifting, heart warming, and tear-inducing anecdotes, stories, and reflections that the author has taken the time to comment upon.

The stories are all short, wonderful, and well-worth taking the time to read and reflect on. I highly recommend Heaven Sent to anyone who wants to see the wonders of everyday people acting upon their faith, acting selflessly to help their fellow brothers or sisters in need.

I also think Mr. Walker does a disservice to his book by claiming (several times) that the collection is intended primarily for "Born Again" Christians. I believe that the messages of piety, love, humility, chastity, kindness, selflessness, patience, endurance, and patriotism apply to anyone and everyone who reads the stories with an open heart. Personally, I would not hesitate to recommend Heaven Sent to my Catholic friends and family members.

Even though we don't all have the same religious and political views, we all share a God-given life and humanity; and ultimately, that is what is being revealed in Heaven Sent. The most consistent message I got was: God works (miracles) through individuals.

I found myself tearing up more often than I care to admit, and I bet that many readers will, too. I can't say this about many books that I've read, but I am better for having read Heaven Sent.

If you want to find out what is right with the world, why the Bible and God are important and should matter to all of us in this modern, secularized world, you will find this collection Heaven Sent.

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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Review: The Fifth Mountain

The Fifth Mountain
The Fifth Mountain by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my second reading of The Fifth Mountain, a rarity in and of itself. I barely have time to read a book once, I don't usually get around to re-reading it. But it had been years since I had read Coelho's book, and so much has changed in my life since then that I wanted to see how/if the story still spoke to me.

The last time I picked up The Fifth Mountain, I was practicing yoga, and although I never embraced Coelho's whole New Age, Warrior of Light idea, I thought it interesting. But now that I've returned to my Catholic faith, I was curious to see how Coelho dealt with a major biblical figure, Elija.

As a writing project, I think Coelho did an amazing job. He filled in the blanks and re-told (re-imagined) a powerful story of faith. Sort of.

To the best of my knowledge, Elija did not write Warrior of Light, yet that is what Elija tells his young charge at the end of The Fifth Mountain. As an author, I can let that go. You can't fault an author for writing a tie-in to another one of his books. Just ask Stephen King.

The other idea that Coelho mentions is more complex and, to me, more troubling. As Elija imparts his wisdom to the widow's young son, whom he has promised to take care of, he re-tells the story of Jacob wrestling with a stranger (who turns out to be God). At daybreak, the stranger cannot beat Jacob in the contest, and wants to take his leave. Jacob, having recognized that he was wrestling with God, refuses to let him go, and then demands a blessing. God blesses him, and changes Jacob's name to Israel.

The lesson Elija imparts from this is: sometimes you gotta take the bull (or God) by the horns and wrestle from Him your destiny. If we add to this concept the New Age (read The Secret) ideas that the universe is there to do your bidding, peppered throughout The Fifth Mountain, it led to a disappointing and troubling read. Yes, the Jacob story is in the Bible (Genesis). So it must have an edifying purpose. But is the message to be gleaned a New Age message, where God is just one more celestial being in and among the universe who can/should be bullied into giving us what we want simply by whining about it long and loud enough? I don't think so.

So, to recap, The Fifth Mountain is a great story, obviously well-written, a fine piece of historical/Biblical fiction, but ultimately it fails in that, I suspect, many readers will come away thinking erroneously that the Bible is yet another New Age text, or worse, that the Bible supports New Age ideology.

~ JT ~

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