Saturday, July 9, 2016

Miracles From Heaven

Review Miracles From Heaven

With the exception of To Save A Life my knowledge of recent Christian films could be called limited at best. I'll be honest, I just sort of gave up on the whole genre with it's cheesy lines and pat explanations. I want some depth to my movies or at the very least some laughs and escape.

When I heard the premise of Miracles from Heaven - a young family who's middle daughter Annabel is diagnosed with a rare and severe digestive disorder who is miraculously cured - I knew this could be the movie to change my track record . . . and I was right, from the get go Miracles from Heaven  had my attention and my heartstrings.

Now don't get me wrong, there were some dreadfully cheesy parts (I'm looking at you sermon illustrations during the first church scene) but even those seemed to fit and add to the pastor's character more than being a defaulting genre stereotype. I mean, I'll be the first to admit I've laughed over similarly cheesy illustrations myself  it seems to be a very popular style for some.
That said, I really found myself blown away by the quality of this movie.

The visual set ups were gorgeous and the lighting definitely added to the overall feel of the movie. 
I love it when the shots, lighting, and setting all help to enhance the characters (let's not get started on the soundtrack because there was some major fan girl squealing when I saw Mac Powell adding to the soundtrack and some flashbacks back to high school, I'm hoping the soundtrack has more than just the score).

The characters. 
How do I even begin to talk about them (without giving spoilers). I've always been drawn to stories based on real life, probably because the characters are naturally more complex. But Jennifer Gardner and Kylie Rogers playing Christy and Annabel Beam respectively made this movie! Their acting was superb and they had a very believable chemistry as a mother/daughter duo. I also enjoyed how honestly the ups and downs of Christy and Kevin's relationship were portrayed and the quiet strength Martin Henderson brought to the role.

The plot itself was beautifully constructed. I was very impressed by how comfortable the writers were including difficult questions and leaving those questions open ended. Discussions on suffering, unanswered prayers, and relationships were all weaved in a way that, while some may find a bit heavy handed, honestly felt like conversations I have seen and participated in right down to the simple but honest "I don't know" which is sometimes the only answer that can be given. 

Viewers are also given an honest, albeit quick (given the film's focus on Christy and Anna) at the struggles a family faces when a life threatening diagnosis enters the picture. From stress on the marriage, to extra hours and sacrifices financially, to missed opportunities for siblings this film tried to pain a broader picture of how the family responds as a whole to a crisis.
Not to mention this made for a great final montage during Christy's address to the church regarding miracles the quickly brought tears to my eyes.  Yet, writers also balanced this with the unexpected joys such as the unexpected friendship of Angela (played by Queen Latifah), the immeasurable joys of spending time together after being apart, and the strength of a 6 year old who offers to forego pizza to support her sister.

Miracles from Heaven is a heartwarming and authentic film that can easily be watched with almost the family. While younger children may not understand the severity of certain topics and may be frightened by Anna's fall down the tree, for other members of the family this is a solid movie everyone can watch and enjoy while opening up room for discussion surrounding serious issues of life and faith.

Highly recommend.

Movie has been provided courtesy of Sony Entertainment Canada and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, July 8, 2016

An Elegant Facade by Kristi Ann Hunter

An Elegant Fa├žade

Kristi Ann Hunter is a gem when it comes to Regency era novels. 

A few months ago I had the pleasure of reading her debut A Noble Masquerade  and I mentioned my desire to read her future works. I was so pleased to find that Hunter has lost none of her charm, humour, and storytelling abilities in her follow up effort.

For those familiar with A Noble Masquerade, An Elegant Facade has the unique position of beginning midway through its predecessor only, this time, the younger Georgina Hawthorne is the reader's gateway into London of the past.

This style was ingenious and I admire the mental power it must have taken Hunter to pull off the feat of writing this book. While the two overlap there is no laziness inherent in these pages as Hunter manages to deepen her story by providing new perspectives on memorable scenes from A Noble Masquerade. I've never read a series where this was pulled off so well. Characters who were so well drawn in Hunter's first offering find themselves taking on new dimensions and interest thanks to the parallel telling.

I also admire Hunter's ability to make a reader care. While some may remember my preference for the elder sister Miranda, Hunter manages to provide a heroine in Georgina who is complex, memorable, and utterly human. Her relationship with Mr. McCrae not only provided a central focus driving along the plot, but pages of humor, thought provoking conversation, and character growth. 

Another wonderful outcome of Hunter's storytelling abilities is her ability to naturally weave scriptural content, growth, and honest wrestling into her characters paths. Georgina's own wrestling due to her perceived uselessness was painfully real in it's portrayal and I appreciate the way her characters never feel tacked on in this wrestling. 

Overall, if you're the sort of reader who loves or is getting into historical fiction Kristi Ann Hunter is definitely an author to keep your eyes on.

5 out of 5 stars. 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Beloved Mess by Kimm Crandall

Beloved Mess

Life is messy. Yet the pressure to appear to others as though you’ve got it all together is a powerful force. We strive to act morally, look good, and set a positive example. After all, as others may tell us, we’re the only Jesus some people see–so we better make him look good. That’s a heavy burden.

But the Christian life is not about being less of a mess. It’s about admitting that we need to be saved from trying to clean ourselves up. In Beloved Mess, Kimm Crandall frees you to live with the assurance that God loves you right here, right now. He’s not waiting for you to clean up your act before you’re worthy to come to him. In fact, he wants you to stop trying to fix the mess and allow him to wash it away.
(excerpt from back of book)

Have you ever read "one of those books". 
The type of book that pops up in your head repeatedly even though you finished it ages ago. 
The type of book that you're out with a friend and can't resist sliding it into the conversation. 
The type of book you put on your "must read" shelf.

For my summer, that book was Beloved Mess by Kimm Crandall.

In my opinion, Kimm's book  revolves around the premise that we've shifted the law and made it gospel thereby squeezing grace and Christ out of their rightful place. Over the course of the book readers are invited to explore the far reaching ramifications of that shift in both personal and communal faith.

Kimm's book really resonated with a lot of issues I've been struggling with. I loved her chapter on doubt and the honesty which resonated out of each page. The use of scripture was well placed throughout the book and Kimm's own commentary really helped bring passages to light in a new way, especially regarding the concept of the "light burden" which so often comes across as an exhausting effort these days. I loved that her book helped find peace between law and grace once their proper order was re-established and that each page held the law in its place while pointing firmly back to Christ.

I also appreciated the format Kimm chose to present her book. It's one of those easy to read, harder to apply books that is written in accessible language without sacrificing the heart of the message. I love when I find a book that I'd feel comfortable suggesting to an audience with a wide variety of backgrounds and Beloved Mess  is one of those books that has the added benefit of being extremely re-readable.

5 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, July 1, 2016

From this Moment by Elizabeth Camden

From This Moment

Stella West’s artistic talent made her the toast of London, but when her beloved sister dies under mysterious circumstances she abandons everything and heads for Boston. With single-minded determination she fights to pierce the ring of secrecy surrounding her sister’s death. Upon meeting Romulus White, a publisher with connections into every important power circle in the city, she quickly realizes he could be a valuable ally in navigating Boston society.
(excerpt from back of book)

I really enjoyed my first journey into Camden's work with Until the Dawn. The characters were wonderfully written, the twists surprised me, and I loved her inclusion of historical details. So, when I saw Camden had released her newest novel From this Moment I was curious to see if this novel could maintain that level of quality.

Personally, From this Moment offered a mixed bag. I really appreciate and enjoy Camden ability to weave out her plot and keep readers guessing. The story of Gwendolyn's death and it's cast of characters and motivations provided a fascinated plot to keep readers moving along and introducing a wide variety of characters. While I almost always find myself drawn to character over the setting, in From this Moment I found myself more interested in guessing the who's and why's rather than focusing on Stella and Romulus' interactions. 

Romulus in his own stead was interesting to read as the author was able to capture his passion and thought process with unique life. Although I'm not terribly familiar with attention disorders his characterization did evoke memories of my limited experiences. 

I also enjoyed the historical elements surrounding the construction of the Boston subway. Although I'm unfamiliar with the actual construction, the elements Camden included were interesting, realistic, and helped push the story along in an unforced manner. 

On a lesser scale I found the story of Evelyn and Clyde slowly worked itself into my heart without me realizing it. Their story of love, loss, and reconciliation was so slow and paced so well (an issue I had with Camden's last novel I read) I couldn't help but be drawn into their story as the characters themselves let each other back in.

My only drawback with the story was the main characters relationship. I saw Stella's connections with her family and her friendship with Evelyn. I also saw Romulus' friendship with Evelyn and Clyde but their own relationship, a central focus in the book, just never found that satisfying rhythm for me. They still seemed far more comfortable with their barbs and banter than their vulnerability and connection in the end. I can't quite put my finger on it but I did feel somewhat disappointed in this resolution in the end. 

3 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."