Love’s Shadow by Nichole Van

I discovered Nichole Van around two years ago when she self-published her debut book Intertwine (which is currently available for Kindle for only .99). I instantly fell in love and now eagerly await each new release.

The latest is the second book of four in her Brothers Maledetti series. This series follows triplet brothers named after famous Englishman of literature, who have supernatural capabilities. They descend from a long line of first born sons whose abilities have  turned out to be much more of a curse than a blessing.  Love’s Shadow tells the story of the middle brother, Branwell (can you guess whose namesake he is?)

Branwell has been in love with his brother’s ex-girlfriend from first sight years ago. Unbeknownst, to him she is also in love with him but due to their loyalty to the brother/ex-boyfriend neither one of them will act upon their feelings, leaving both of them believing their affection is unrequited. But when Lucy’s niece disappears on her watch and she comes under suspicion, Branwell steps in to help, hoping his and his brothers “gifts” will give them an advantage in finding the little girl.

I first met Branwell in Gladly Beyond which gave me a glimpse into the toll his special abilities take on even the minute details of his daily life. This is explained in greater detail in Love’s Shadow which led me to an understanding of the precautions he is forced to take. Lucy and Branwell’s romance is unique because of their great compassion and willingness to sacrifice their desires for the love of others. The Maledetti family is one that anyone would love to be a part of thanks to the special bond among the brothers and the rest of their family (mother, sister, grandmother) which is beautiful and sincere.

I hate to say Nichole Van improves with each book, because I love them all so much I cannot say which one is best. All her stories are light and frothy romances with great moments of humor woven in. Her heroes are swoony and her heroines, likeable and spunky. Because I am a fan of both historical and contemporary fiction I appreciate how she weaves them together in each of her stories in a believable way (well, if you can believe in time-travel and/or supernatural transference). Many books which contain the supernatural tend to feel somewhat heavy and dark, but this is what I would call supernatural-lite, as it simply adds a fantastical element without feeling threatening. I also appreciate that her stories are clean, with no objectionable material in them adhering to the values of an old-fashioned romance.

As usual, now that I have finished this story, I can’t wait for the next one.

Visit the author’s Pinterest page for visuals from the book.

Introducing Buster Keaton

Personal Bio: Born Joseph Frank Keaton in  1895 to a pair of vaudeville  actors who owned their own travelling show, he was supposedly given the nickname Buster, by his parents’ partner, Harry Houdini (yes, that Houdini), who after seeing him emerge unscathed after a tumble down some stairs proclaimed, “That was a real buster!” He had an unconventional childhood, incorporated early on as a child actor in his parent’s act and received no formal schooling, his only education that which his mother could give him on the road.

Young Buster with parents

After the Keaton’s show finally ended due to his father’s alcoholism, Buster spent a short stint serving in the army during WWI where he was stationed in France. Upon his return he traveled to New York where through a mutual acquaintance he met famous comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle who became a close friend and mentor in the film industry. Buster was a quick learner and soon was writing, directing, producing and starring in his own films, beginning with silent comedy shorts and eventually transitioning into feature films where he had great success.

During this time he married his first wife who was part of a well-known and well-respected acting family and had two sons with her. Eventually due to  career issues as well as personal issues, the marriage disintegrated and she took their home, the bulk of his wealth and his sons and refused to allow Buster any contact with his children. He quickly descended into full blown alcoholism and poverty and completely lost the professional respect and the career which he had painstakingly built.

With first wife and son

He spent several years in and out of hospitals and married again two more times, crediting his third and final wife with helping him get control of his alcoholism and  back on his feet. He went back to work in the film industry in uncredited roles as a gag writer and in small cameos and acting roles. He eventually regained the respect he was due in his profession, but never again reached the zenith of his earlier fame. He died of lung cancer in 1970.  

Film Bio: Thanks to his early years working in vaudeville theater, Buster Keaton had gained quite a bit of knowledge and experience which served him well when he moved into film. Being mentored by and working with Fatty Arbuckle only added to his experience and natural aptitude for comedy.

Arbuckle and Keaton

His films are noted for their sight gags and extremely physical comedy, both of which required careful precision and attention to detail. He was also famous for doing his own stunts which were often very dangerous. He was nicknamed The Great Stone Face, because regardless of what hilarious chaos and mayhem swirled around his film characters, he never cracked a smile.

Considered one of his greatest masterpieces, his silent film The General filmed in 1926 inadvertently led to the beginning of the end of his most productive and succesful period of work. The expense and mixed reviews of the film led to the loss of his productive control and eventually led him to sign with MGM. The studio forced him to give up his independence in the film making process which ultimately proved to be disastrous for him. It was during this time that he began drinking and his first marriage fell apart and he eventually lost everything.

After his third marriage and recovery from alcoholism, Keaton began working in the film industry again and regained respect for his talents, working with comedians such as Red Skelton and Lucille Ball.

He is credited as an actor in 148 films, a writer in 41 of those films, a director of 39 and producer of 15. Although the majority of those credits are for sound films, it is his silent comedy shorts and feature films for which he still remains the most famous and appreciated. Near the end of his life, Keaton was finally awarded an honorary Oscar which he so richly deserved and thanks to a resurgence in classic and silent films in recent decades his name and talent are becoming as well known as another famous contemporary of his, Charlie Chaplin.

Buster Keaton was my first introduction to silent film. Despite my longtime love and fascination with movies, I had no interest in silent film. Thank goodness, that I decided to give it a chance and that the film I chose was Keaton’s, because there really is no one else quite like him. His talent was immense and yet appeared effortless, and the impact he had on films and future comedians is impossible to measure.

Famous Films:

      • One Week (1920) – a short film which runs 19 minutes, it depicts the struggle of newlyweds, who receive a build-it-yourself house as a wedding present, to assemble their new home. Thanks to the vindictive actions of the wife’s former suitor the boxes of building materials are numbered incorrectly which leads to a very strange looking home.
    • Seven Chances (1925) -Keaton stars as a man who learns he must marry by the end of the day in order to inherit a fortune left to him by his grandfather.  This hour long film has him chased through town by a mob of wannabe brides as well as trying to outrun a rock slide. This is listed among the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die (along with several other Keaton films).
    • The General (1926) arguably Keaton’s most acclaimed film, it spelled the end of his artistic freedom. Due to the great cost involved in producing this, Keaton was forced to sign with MGM. It features on of his great loves trains, with The General being the name of the beloved locomotive belonging to Keaton’s Confederate engineer. It is stolen by Union spies and Keaton must cross enemy lines in pursuit of it’s recovery.
    • The Cameraman (1928) – Keaton’s first film with MGM still shows Keaton in top form and in control, although for the last time. He falls in love with a secretary who works for MGM and trades in his portrait camera for an old film camera in order to win her attention and her heart. The only problem is his camera is out of date and he lacks the experience for the job.


Tragedy is a close-up; comedy, a long shot.

A comedian does funny things. A good comedian does things funny.

I have simply been brought up by being knocked down.

Hacksaw Ridge -2016

Welcome back to director Mel Gibson. It has been ten years since he last directed a film and boy did he pick a great story for his return.

Hacksaw Ridge tells the true story of Desmond Doss, a medic who served in WWII but who refused to carry a weapon.

Desmond Doss grows up in a home with an alcoholic father whose experiences in WWI haunt both him and his household. Thanks to his religious beliefs and a few personal experiences including a confrontation with his own father, Desmond is adamantly opposed to violence.These views are severely challenged when he joins the army as a “conscientious co-operator”. He feels compelled to be a part of the war, but refuses to carry a weapon. As a medic he wants to help save lives, but the Army does not know what to do with a soldier who won’t even touch a gun. Desmond faces mockery and extreme peer pressure from the men in his company and his commanders for his convictions, but he refuses to compromise.

Eventually, he is shipped with the rest of his company to Okinawa to participate in a bloody, difficult battle against the Japanese which has already claimed mass casualties. Doss’ convictions and true strength are tested during this battle and his actions will show his men what he is made of.

This is just the kind of story I love, one which portrays the heroism and courage of an ordinary man against all odds. Mel Gibson has never shied away from graphic violence and he certainly doesn’t sanitize the cruelty of war. For this reason, this film was hard for me to watch, because the reality of war and its’ brutality is on full display. Yet, it is in the worst of circumstances that true heroes manifest themselves. Desmond Doss’ courage and commitment to his beliefs has stuck with me in the days since I watched this film. Despite all the challenges and difficulties presented not only by war, but by his fellow soldiers he never compromises and keeps his promise to save lives including those of his enemies. His grit, determination and honor are inspiring and a true testimony to how one person can make an enormous difference.

Andrew Garfield does an amazing job as Desmond Doss. He doesn’t just play Doss, but becomes him. He is a man of faith and gentleness, yet stubborn strength and rebellion against the status quo. The other actors are also very well cast and I particularly enjoyed Vince Vaughn as Doss’ direct superior Sgt. Howell who manages to provide this serious film with its’ few moments of levity. In fact, my favorite scene of the whole film has both Garfield and Vaughn in what I call the magic carpet ride. It’s pretty awesome.

If you aren’t disturbed by graphic war violence I would encourage you to watch this film. I am betting that the story of Desmond Doss will inspire you like it has me.

Review -The Tox Files

If you have never read any of author Ronie Kendig’s books, then you are in for a real treat. She has coined the phrase Rapid-Fire Fiction and it sure is. Kendig writes military action and international intrigue stories and if you pick up one of her titles, then you better plan to clear your schedule because you won’t be able to stop until you reach the end.

The Tox Files is the newest series from this talented author and I believe it is her best yet! So far, the prequel novella The Warrior’s Seal (which is available for free on Kindle) and the first full length novel of this series Conspiracy of Silence have been released with the second title A Crown of Souls set for an October 2017 release.

Although you needn’t read the prequel in order to understand the plot of Conspiracy of Silence, I would recommend that you do so, because it introduces you to the main players and gives some background details which will only enhance your understanding throughout the series.

In both books, Cole “Tox” Russell and his team of black ops commandos are charged with highly sensitive missions to not only protect high level government officials, but they also find themselves tracking  down information and hidden secrets behind Middle Eastern and biblical relics which  are tied to plagues and directly impact their mission.

The Warrior’s Seal introduces us to Tox, so nicknamed because he is toxic to anyone who dares to get close to him, and his team; Cell the tech guru, Maangi the medic, Chiiji, Tox’s Nigerian conscience and Ram his second in command. While on the hunt for the Mace of Subjugation and also for those who kidnapped the American president and First Lady their mission crosses with that of Ram’s sister Tzivia and Dr. Cathey, archaeologists whose knowledge of the stolen artifact is crucial. They eventually find themselves in Syria trying to rescue the president and stop an ancient, deadly plague from being released on the world.

I’m pretty picky when it comes to novellas as I don’t usually feel the shorter length allows much in the way of character or plot development.  However, this book is an exception to that rule using the entire 130 pages very effectively. Despite its’ brevity I really felt like I had read a full length novel not only because of the plot and characters development but also due to the high paced intensity in which it is told.

Conspiracy of Silence continues the story of Tox and his team. Due to the fallout from their past mission we find them living separate lives believing their leader dead and Tox wrestling with his perceived failures and the compromises he has made to protect the people he loves.

However, when a new threat emerges and the President’s Chief of Staff forces his hand, Tox must reach out to his old teammates to help him find and eliminate a deadly assassin who is part of a larger global conspiracy.

Despite the distrust and doubt that the team members still harbor towards their former Sergeant they agree to help. Once again, Tzivia and Dr. Cathey play important roles in the new mission. Tzivia’s archaeological dig in Saudi Arabia uncovers proof of a biblical Jewish encampment and also several censers mentioned in the Bible, directly referenced in Numbers 16. Hidden along with these is a leaf of the Aleppo Codex, the oldest “complete” Hebrew Bible in existence. When her site is invaded and the censers stolen, again a worldwide plague threatens to erupt. Adding to the mystery and the conspiracy of silence by Jewish leaders sworn to protect the remaining leafs of the Codex is whether markings of the text by a Templar Knight renders the whole book void.

Also, adding to the complexity of Tox’s mission are old family ties. His brother Galen just happens to be the current President and their relationship has been stormy ever since Galen stole his brother’s girlfriend and made her his wife. His brother’s sister-in-law was a young girl when her sister Brooke dated Tox, but after witnessing Brooke’s treatment of him, Haven swore to herself that she would love Cole Russell forever. When he appears back on the scene after being presumed dead and she finally gets the opportunity to clear Tox’s name, she uses it as leverage to be included on the mission as a deception expert. Although Cole agrees to this, he is unaware of her identity because he hasn’t seen Haven since she was a child and she now goes by another name.

While the plots are highly intense, quick paced and complex it is also the intricate web of relationships between the various characters in this series which keep the reader intrigued and on the edge of their seat. The high volume of players named throughout both stories sometimes make it hard to follow with who is who. Beyond that, the characters are written as fully human so although the reader is aware of who the heroes are, they are not typical, being fully flawed. Additionally some of the characters are morally ambiguous so it is not easy to tell who is friend and who is foe.

I love how the author weaves in pieces of history by including references to the Knights Templar, one in particular whose mission seems to mirror that of Cole Russell’s. Tying in biblical history and The Aleppo Codex also adds to the historical depth of the missions for the team. The author even shares references in her notes at the end of Conspiracy of Silence which encourage and allow the reader to do their own research on this historically important artifact.

Kendig’s apparent knowledge of the Middle East and the ins and outs of our government and military are impressive and certainly make her stories come alive. The way this knowledge is woven into the book is so thorough yet subtle and really places the reader on the missions along with the characters.

Although I don’t read many books in this particular genre I would still say that Kendig, as an author, is in a class by herself.

Introducing…Myrna Loy

Since most of my friends and family are not classic film fans, I thought I would start a new series in which I introduce actors and actresses from this era, in the hope that it will familiarize you with famous names and perhaps whet your appetite for their films.

Personal Bio:Myrna Williams was born in Helena, Montana in 1905. Her father was a successful businessman and state congressman. After his death in 1918 her mother permanently moved the family to southern California where Myrna attended high school in Venice. She was the model for a sculpture which was displayed outside of the high school for many decades. Her portrait caught the eye of famous silent film star Rudolph Valentino which eventually led to her gaining work in silent films, changing her last name to Loy.

Myrna was not only an actress but was a lifelong Democrat who was actively involved in political issues through out her life. She put her career on hold in WWII to work with the Red Cross and was so vehemently outspoken against Hitler that she was placed on his blacklist. She was an early supporter of civil rights not only fighting for their rights to be depicted with dignity on film but also serving as a co-chairman on a committee which fought against housing discrimination. She was one of the first celebrities to work with the U.N.

Contrary to her film image as the perfect wife, Myrna was married and divorced four times and joked about how her screen image was very different than her personal life. Due to an abortion early in her life she was never able to have children of her own. Loy identified as a Methodist throughout her life.

Film Bio: Myrna Loy appeared in over 130 films in various genres over the course of six decades. She began in silent films and is one of a few actresses who successfully transitioned into talking pictures. At the beginning of her career she was typecast as an exotic femme fatale, usually playing women of Asian or Eurasian descent as well as questionable morals. In the mid 1930’s, she transitioned into more respectable roles as the “perfect” wife, society woman or glamorous career gal. At one point in the thirties she was voted along with Clark Gable as the king and queen of Hollywood. She was one of the most popular and well-liked actresses prior to WWII.

After the war, Myrna returned to films while also continuing with her political work. Although she was a prolific and well-respected actress, sadly she was never nominated for an Academy Award.  This egregious oversight was corrected in 1991 when she was awarded an honorary Oscar for “career achievement.”

Famous Co-stars

  • William Powell -Without question Powell is Loy’s most well-known co-star. They appeared in fourteen films together and their pairing in the The Thin Man series catapulted both their names and careers into Hollywood history.


  • Clark Gable – Another actor with numerous co-star credits. They appeared in seven films together, some good, some not so good. Initially, they did not get on well together, but eventually became good friends. Despite the quality of some of their films, they have wonderful chemistry.
  • Cary Grant -Loy appeared in three films with Grant. Although Cary Grant is my favorite actor and I am also a fan of Loy, I feel that they were ultimately better matched with other co-stars. Still, you can’t take your eyes off either one of them.


Famous Films:

  • The Thin Man (1934) – Arguably, this is the film that made Myrna Loy. It was her second pairing with William Powell and not only was the first of six Thin Man films, but also helped launch many similarly styled mystery films.


  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) -One of the best post-war dramas made about the impact of the war on returning service men and their families. This stars Loy as the wife of one of those men and many believe she should have been nominated for her role in this film.


My Favorite Films:

  • Penthouse (1933) -I love this film which allows Loy to play somewhere in between a femme fatale and the upstanding lady she would play later in her career. She is a classy call-girl who helps an attorney bring down a gangster.





  • Test Pilot (1938) -My favorite of her pairings with Clark Gable (and Spencer Tracy). She is the devoted wife to Gable’s fearless aviation test pilot.



  • The Rains Came (1939) -A bit of an unusual role for Loy, she plays a married English aristocrat in love with a forbidden Indian doctor (played by the gorgeous, yet very Caucasian Tyrone Power).
  • So Goes My Love (1946) -A rarely seen semi-biographical film about American inventor Hiram Maxim. Loy again plays the wife to Don Ameche‘s Maxim. They are so charming together I can overlook the film’s few flaws.




Why does every black person in the movies have to play a servant? How about a black person walking up the steps of a courthouse carrying a briefcase?

Some perfect wife I am. I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg.

Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and a becoming.


Review -Ocean’s 11 (1960)

I recently watched Ocean’s 11 for the first time. No, not the version of recent years with Brad Pitt and George Clooney, but the original starring Frank Sinatra and members of The Rat Pack.
For those unfamiliar with Hollywood history, The Rat Pack was the name coined for a group of celebrity friends whose original members included Humphrey Bogart and wife Lauren Bacall, Judy Garland, David Niven, Spencer Tracy and long time love Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, director George Cukor and others.
By the 1960’s the group membership had evolved to include Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. This evolution of The Rat Pack called themselves The Summit or The Clan and it is this group of celebrity friends who starred in the original version of Ocean’s 11.
Lawford, Martin, Davis Jr. and Sinatra
Although the premise of the original is the same, a group of friends plan a heist in Las Vegas, many other details of the story modern audiences are familiar with are different. The only character with the same name as the later film is Danny Ocean, the ringleader played by Frank Sinatra. His group of men are not professional thieves but veterans of WWII from the 82nd Paratrooper unit. Although, they are not professionals, the possess some questionable skills and morals and plan the theft of five casinos with military precision.
One of the most glaring differences between the two films is the development in technology and in the growth of Las Vegas. Because the original version does not have the advanced technology that the later film did, the heist is much simpler to plan and execute despite the fact that it still requires extreme precision.
The 82nd Paratroopers plan their heist.
Las Vegas is almost a character in itself and looks very different from the Las Vegas of today. This was at the beginning of Vegas as a gambling and entertainment hotspot, when casino hotels such as the Sands and the Flamingo were the place to be. At this time Vegas was still very much a small town and this is very evident in the film. The casino hotels are much smaller in every respect, wearing their 60’s design of wood paneled walls, citrus and gold colored accents like a proud fashionista. The casino floor is much smaller, even the entertainment was on a smaller scale with one of the hotels featuring the stage floor directly behind the bar. I must say that this portrayal of Vegas is probably my favorite part of the film. It allows the viewer to travel back in time to really experience not only Vegas, but the 60’s for themselves.
Dean Martin performing at the casino.
Even good ole Frankie sports the citrus trend.
Another glaring difference is the addition of Duke Santos as an antagonist/protagonist. As played by black and white film star Cesar Romero, Duke is the gangster engaged to Jimmy Foster’s (Peter Lawford) wealthy mother. He is not necessarily a bad guy although he unintentionally antagonizes Jimmy simply by his existence in Jimmy’s mother’s life. He is easy going, not easily offended and yet does not hesitate to use his knowledge to make a grab for a share of the gang’s booty. His involvement throws a wrench in the plans the gang has to transport the money out of Vegas and ultimately leads to a very different ending than the one modern audiences know.
As a general rule, I usually prefer an original film to it’s remake (with Sabrina and You’ve Got Mail being exceptions). However, I have to admit that this is another which will fall into the exception category. Maybe because I saw the later release of Ocean’s Eleven first, but I definitely like it better. I think part of that is because in any film where the actors are friends, have established rapport and are able to ad-lib the dialogue, the viewer must have some familiarity with the actors’ friendships and other films in order to catch some of the inside jokes and quips which enhance the film’s story.
In addition, this movie seemed to move at a slower pace and just didn’t entertain me as well as the remake. The three main characters of both films constantly rib each other, but in the later Ocean’s Eleven the humor is also extended to all the supporting characters which makes for a much funnier film. I did enjoy the addition of Angie Dickinson and Shirley MacLaine, honorary female Rat Pack members, in brief appearances. MacLaine’s drunken tourist is spot on and made me giggle. I also liked that the film highlighted the singing skills of Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. They both have at least one full length solo. Despite the fact that Sinatra is also famous as a singer, this film chose not to feature that particular talent. Although it is his voice you hear as the ending credits roll.
Despite the fact that I prefer the remake, I’m still glad I watched the original. It’s interesting to see how a familiar story can evolve and still retain it’s heart. If you want to step back in time to 1960’s Vegas, than Ocean’s 11 is a good time machine in which to do so.

Review -A School for Unusual Girls

A School for Unusual Girls is the first in Kathleen Baldwin’s new YA series called Stranje House.
This story is set in 1814, while Napoleon is exiled to the island of Elba. Georgiana Fitzwilliam is the youngest child and only daughter in her family. After one of her scientific experiments goes awry and burns down her father’s stables, her exasperated parents enroll her at Stranje House and wipe their hands of her care. Despite the tense relationships Georgie has with her parents she would rather return home or run away than to stay at this mysterious school for girls. The dark rumors which swirl around the school and the scenes she witnesses upon her introduction to the staff and students convince her that Stranje house is a dangerous place to remain.
However, appearances can be deceiving. Georgie is shortly introduced to the other four female students, Tess, Sera, Maya and Lady Jane all of whom have unusual talents and gifts. Georgie also makes the acquaintance of Lord Sebastian Wyatt after unintentionally spying on him and overhearing a discussion about the Order of the Iron Crown.
Despite her distrust of Miss Stranje, owner and headmistress, she is thrilled with Miss Stranje’s generosity in granting Georgie a lab of her own with all of the equipment and ingredients necessary for her to continue developing her “recipes”. You see, Georgie is a scientific genius and is working on a recipe for invisible ink for encoded messages. She is commanded to partner with Sebastian in accomplishing this task.  But just like her experiments, it is a highly charged relationship with the potential to be explosive.
In the meantime, Georgie continues to uncover the mysteries behind Stranje House and its’ occupants only to discover that it is a very secretively special school. Eventually Georgie, Sebastian and the occupants of Stranje House find themselves caught up in an international intrigue and a race to stop the Order of the Iron Crown from returning Napoleon to power.
I have read Baldwin’s adult novels and found them charming. Her venture into Young Adult fiction is no less so. They read almost like a screwball comedy film. The heroines are always independent, peppy and don’t conform to the norms of their society. They are also tender hearted and good natured, yet they constantly find themselves in embarrassing predicaments while also butting heads with their heroes.
The heroes generally admire the heroines but in secret, preferring to show their interest like young school boys who tease and harass their object of affection. But they are always available to encourage and rescue their heroines when they need it. This same modus operandi is carried out in Georgie and Sebastian’s relationship. They begin as bickering opponents, but as they work together they gradually develop respect and admiration for each other while still maintaining their verbal battles.
I really enjoyed Georgie’s slowly developing relationships with Miss Stranje and the girls. Each of the girls has experienced rejection and trauma related to their loved ones. When added to the fact that they have unusual talents and the secrets they must keep, they are understandably wary and cautious of the newest addition to their group. The development of their individual friendships with Georgie coincide with the revelation of the secrets and mysteries behind Stranje House. I always appreciate when an author highlights strong female friendships. I’m not opposed to a good bromance either.
This is a very fun read if slightly less than historically accurate. I am eagerly anticipating the continuation of the mystery introduced in this book and the focus on Tess’s story in the next title, Exile for Dreamers.

Foreign Film Friday -The African Doctor (2016)

A French film originally titled Bienvenue a Marly-Gomont, The African Doctor tells the true story of Seyolo Zantoko, a Congolese native and his struggles to serve as a doctor in a small French village in order to obtain French nationality and to expose his family to wider world.

The tale begins as Seyolo graduates from a French medical school. He is offered a prestigious job in his homeland of Zaire/Congo working for a corrupt government official. Despite the money and the perks attached to this position, he has heard instead of a small French village which has been seeking a doctor for its citizens for many years with no success. He decides to take this job in the hopes that it will allow him to become a French citizen. When phoning home with the good news to his wife and children, the family is thrilled due to the mistaken impression that his job is in Paris. Needless to say, they are all in for a shock when they arrive in France and find themselves feeling like fish out of water, in a very rural community which is not happy that their new doctor and his family are black foreigners.

Despite the close-minded beliefs and behavior of the town, Seyolo begins to reach out to the local community in the hopes that once they know him they will no longer fear him and allow him to treat those in need. The family meets many road blocks in their efforts to integrate themselves into the village. Not only are they combatting prejudice, but their own culture shock and adaptability to an entirely new way of life.

This film which is set in the 1970’s deals with serious issues, but could be labeled as a comedy. I believe that in displaying with humor the challenges this family faces it is able to make several good points without being offensive. Not only that, but it allows the audience to sympathize and relate in a way that feels personal. Seyolo is the lynchpin of this story and his hopeful fortitude  and persistence in confronting the exclusiveness of the people is inspiring. He maintains a positive outlook and attitude and encourages his struggling wife and children without displaying his own inner turmoil when things appear hopeless. The affection and conflict between Seyolo and his wife Anne as they adjust to the consequences of his decision for their family provide a realistic view of the challenges many couples face, yet they are able to work through them together and Anne is a great support despite the fact that she does not approve of their move.

The time period and setting of this film particularly intrigued me. Most people are familiar with America’s struggles with racism and the cultural differences among the races during the seventies. But, I am not as familiar with how other countries viewed these same issues during this time period. From my understanding, England in particular did not seem to exhibit as much hatred or fear attached to race as did Americans. I’m not sure if this film accurately displays the French attitude towards race as it is set in a quiet rural village which had not been exposed much to outsiders. France may have been more egalitarian in the bigger cities where many different cultures lived together.  In fact, Seyolo’s wife’s family shows up a couple of times in the film, driving in from their home in Brussels. So, it is clear that their family is an international, adventurous one with exposure to cultures other than their own. In fact, it is the appearance of his in-laws which provide some of the funniest moments of the film while also challenging Seyolo not to lose his cultural identity while trying to integrate.

There is a sub-plot between the village mayor and his challenger which directly impacts the Zantoko family. It is a harsh reminder of how personal political ambition can negatively affect innocent bystanders.

Since this is a French film, I am not at all familiar with any of the actors, but I felt that they were all believable in portraying the journey, not just for the Zantoko family, but also that of the townspeople who must face their own flaws. In fact, Seyolo’s character acts as mirror to each individual he encounters, reflecting back what is in their hearts. The actress who plays Anne Zantoko does so with a perfect blend of spunk, long-suffering and personality which makes me wish she could be my best friend. The child actors also do a great job portraying the difficulties of fitting in at a school where they are mocked, while also struggling to adapt to their father’s expectations at home.

Again, despite the serious subject matter, this film was enjoyable and moving. The final scene reminded me a bit of the one in the movie The Holiday where Arthur, the elderly screen writer attends an evening in his honor and is surprised to find a room full of people who remember and were impacted by him. The African Doctor has just such a memorial and is a great reminder of the impact that one person can have when they live a life of kindness and humility. The fact that this is based on a true story makes that impact even more powerful. It is currently available for viewing with English subtitles on Netflix.

For more information about the true story, I have attached this article.

Review -Counted With the Stars

When privileged Egyptian Kiya is sold into slavery by her own father, it is to save the rest of her family including her crippled brother. She finds herself in the household of a family friend, but the shame of serving in a home she once frequented as a guest and the vengeful behavior of her master’s wife leaves her feeling humiliated and hopeless. During her time of service she meets fellow slave Shira, a Hebrew, who makes a great sacrifice on Kiya’s behalf winning her loyalty and friendship. Through Shira, she also meets Eben, Shira’s brother who seems to despise her, but she also begins to learn of the rumors of a Deliverer spreading through the Hebrew households. Things go from bad to worse for Kiya, as her former fiance deserts her and all of the Egyptians are terrorized by strange plagues. Kiya wrestles with her lack of faith in her own gods and her terror of the Hebrew God, while also being strangely drawn to both the enslaved people and the one they call Yahweh. Eventually, in order to save her mother and brother, she casts her lot in with this strange people and flees Egypt.

I’m particular about biblical fiction. I love it if it is well done and gives me a new perspective on familiar stories without straying too far from biblical accounts. So, I really enjoyed this story of what is known by most as the Exodus story. I appreciate seeing the account of the plagues of Egypt, the exodus of the Hebrew slaves and their journey into the desert from the perspective of an Egyptian outsider. It brought a new depth to a familiar story which caused me to consider things I never had in reading the biblical version. It is obvious the author also did quite a bit of historical research as she really makes this ancient time come alive. The details of a woman’s toilette, the food that was consumed, the articles of clothing they wore, the industry and economy of the time and even the daily tasks and habits were woven into the story in an interesting way while also teaching me about an ancient culture.

It’s also fascinating to read about how the plagues affected not just a nation, but individuals. It makes the story so much more personal and real. In this account, the plagues take place over the course of months and you can see the slow stages of their effects until it reaches catastrophic limits of devastation for the entire nation. If you have read the biblical account it may have come across as simply a set of facts which sound terrible, but give you no real concept of their brutal impact. But to have them applied to individual characters makes the terror of it come alive. You can really wrap your mind around how not just the economic and military power of Egypt, which was the strongest in the world at that time, but also the very heart of the people would have been decimated to the point of no recovery. According to historical accounts, Egypt never did recover to its highest level of former glory after these events. Can you imagine the mightiest nation in the world today brought to such lows that it would never recover without a single battle waged? It is sobering.

I also enjoyed Kiya’s emotional and spiritual journey. She started out as a proud yet protective young woman with the prejudices of her privilege and race to a woman who is able to humble herself enough to become part of a culture and to accept a God she had initially despised. Kiya’s friendship with Shira really is the catalyst for her transformation and it is a beautiful account of the impact a true friend can have in your life. This relationship also sustained her in the challenges of leaving her home and learning a completely new way of life.

My only complaint is that I felt that the relationship between Kiya and Eben was not developed enough for its’ eventual conclusion.

This is the author’s debut and the first in a series and it is impressive. I am definitely looking forward to reading Shira’s story next.

If you are similar to me and like visuals for the stories you read, check out the author’s Pinterest page for this book.

Classic Film Recommendations for March

Since the majority of my readers may not be overly familiar with classic films, I would like to recommend some of my favorites along with a few of the more famous titles playing on TCM this month, in the hopes that you will find one that interests you. So get ready to set your DVR’s friends, you won’t want to miss these. (All film times listed are Central Standard Time).

  • Waterloo Bridge (1940) -A beautiful romantic drama about a ballerina who falls in love with a soldier during WWI. The ending is unexpected and will haunt you. Showing March 2 at 12:15 PM
  • The Thin Man (1934) -This famous classic comedy about a detective, his wealthy wife and their dog Asta who must solve a crime is delightful. The chemistry and repartee between theWilliam Powell and Myrna Loy shot both of them into stardom another twelve films together. Showing March 10 at 10:30 AM
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) – One of my favorite musicals tells the tale of a group of redneck brothers who kidnap women to be their brides. So cheesy and yet so much fun to watch! Showing March 12 at 3:00 PM
  • The Gold Rush (1925) -If you have never seen a silent film you can’t go wrong with Charlie Chaplin. He’s the master of melancholy humor and his character, the Little Tramp is iconic. Showing March 14 at 6:45 AM
  • The Maltese Falcon (1941) -Well-known crime drama starring Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade who becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a statue of a Maltese Falcon. One of Bogart’s best films. Showing March 15 at 10:00 AM
  • The Quiet Man (1952) Filmed in color and in Ireland, it’s worth seeing just for the scenery, but also for the popular pairing of John Wayne and co-star Maureen O’Hara. Wayne’s American boxer must adjust to a new wife and culture. Showing March 17 at 8:30 PM
  • Gaslight (1944) -I can’t say I loved this drama about a man who intentionally tries to drive his wife insane, but it is a film that stuck with me. This film coined the phrase “gaslighting“, and is psychologically disturbing. Ingrid Bergman stars. Showing March 22 at 10:30 AM
  • The Birds (1963) – Since i just did a review of this Hitchcock film, I thought you might like the opportunity to see if for yourself. Showing March 22 at 4:45 PM
  • Casablanca (1942) -Arguably the most famous classic film of all time, it is a must see, which I discovered after years of avoiding it for some stupid reason. Starring Bogart and Bergman the story and characters are all perfect. If you only watch one of my recommendations, then make it this one. Showing March 23 at 5:00 PM
  • How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) -A romantic comedy about three working models who decide to pool their money to rent an expensive apartment in the hopes that they will meet some wealthy men they can marry. This is filmed in color and stars Bogart’s wife Lauren Bacall as well as Marilyn Monroe. Showing March 26 at 5:00 PM
  • National Velvet (1944) – Filmed in color, a beautiful film starring a young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, about a young girl who pursues her dream to race her horse in England’s Grand National. This is a great movie for the whole family. Showing March 27 at 4:45 PM
  • Roman Holiday (1953) -Audrey Hepburn’s first American film for which she won an Oscar, about a sheltered princess who escapes her royal duties for a day exploring Rome incognito with an American journalist. Showing March 28 at 1:45 PM
  • Ever in My Heart (1933) -This is an obscure drama which shows the difficulties faced by a German man married to an American woman during WWI. It explores the impact of prejudice and stars one of my favorite actresses Barbara Stanwyck. Showing March 30 at 10:30 AM
  • The Women (1939) -If you watched the remake of this film in 2008, do not judge the original by it. This is a bitingly witty film about the friendships between women and starred some well-known names of the time. It stars an all-female cast, meaning not a single man appears. Showing March 31 at 10:30 AM