Faith Can Move Mountains... But Dynamite Works Better

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Penniless Hearts: It's Not The Destination, It's The Journey

“Well, it’s a long story, but generally if you listen to the National Geological surveyors, we are safe over here in Kauai. However, if you listen to Hawaiian folklore and the legends involving meles and chants recited by the islanders, you will learn that this area is the home of the restless goddess Pele. When her toes start tapping, I guess everyone has to watch out.” He smiled when he said the last part, almost as if he thought it seemed funny that modern day Hawaiians still believed such fantastical tales. ~ from Penniless Hearts

Penny Himmell, a graphic artist with a newspaper, is a restless young woman, looking for some excitement in her life when the reader first meets her. She's given to dreams and fantasies to escape from her sometimes drab life. She works under pressure from a rather overbearing and unappreciative boss Tina, while her father Carl seems content to overlook her. Her relationship with the man in her life, John, has lost much appeal; he seems entirely set in his ways, not particularly romantic, perfectly fine with things as they are. Penny finds herself at a crossroads, wanting something more. Be careful what you wish for; sometimes you get it.

On an impulse, Penny joins a flirtatious pilot on a trip to Hawaii for a few days, casting aside her expectations for a healthy dose of fun. Events go awry, however, as she quickly discovers what kind of man he is, and Penny finds herself drawn into misadventure and a journey of sorts with Hawaii as a backdrop, meeting new people, both good and not so good, along the way. Tina, meanwhile, ropes Carl and John into setting out to going after Penny, and their own stories, along with those of other characters, plays out as the stories converge. Carl and John have to come to terms with understanding what Penny means to them both, while Penny herself has to figure out what she really wants out of life.

Eve Gaal writes this book with strong characterization as a foundation. The characters each have distinct personalities, and once shaken out of the status quo that they're so used to come to life. Their personalities feel fleshed out, and most importantly, each of them have distinct voices. Penny as the core of the book is on a journey of discovery, a fanciful woman whose impulsive trip is completely understandable, and who she is by the end of the tale is someone who has changed. John and Carl, who start out generally taking this woman in their lives for granted, show surprising character growth. The character who sticks out as most surprising though is Tina. Overbearing and not terribly sympathetic at the outset, she changes over the course of the story, becoming steadily more likeable and more human.

The location itself takes on a life of its own as a character. Hawaii has a certain ethereal quality as a place, with its own pace of life, very different from the way things are on the mainland, and Penny finds herself immersed deep into it. From the culture to the scenery, the islands underlie everything, and the essence of this paradise soaks itself into the writing. The end result is that the reader finds themselves wanting to spend a few weeks- or months- soaking up the sun on a beach in Hawaii, or check out a lava field. Even if that means the locals will still see you as a tourist.

Penniless Hearts is a character driven romantic misadventure of sorts, a tale of growing and changing as people. It has a dreamlike quality to the writing, particularly Penny's inner voice. The plotlines tie together at their own pace, and the characters have a genuine sensibility to them, even the unpleasant ones. They feel real to the reader. The pacing of the novel works well, giving us a sense of fun, all while staying true to the journey.

Eve Gaal can be found at her blog, The Desert Rocks. Penniless Hearts can be found here at Amazon as an ebook. Eve herself lives in the Southwest with her husband Steve and a precocious dog named Fiona.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Thousand Hail Marys For Me

"After much reflection and consideration, I feel I must step back from the Papacy to devote my time to a Grail quest. After years of study, it is my firm belief that the Holy Grail resides in Boca Raton, Florida, guarded by a secret society of retired dentists." ~ from the first draft of the resignation speech by Pope Benedict

"You know, I never actually wanted this job. I never expected to be voted in by the College of Cardinals. I thought you hated me. Or maybe that's the reason you voted me in. To punish me." ~ from the fifteenth draft of the resignation speech.

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict (Benny to his friends, and Darth Sidious to his apprentices) announced that he was stepping down from the Papacy. The Roman Catholic Church must now choose a new Pope, in the first situation of its kind in six hundred years, with a Pope still living. Word has it the ex-Pope will be living at a retreat on Vatican grounds, perfecting his golf swing. Maybe yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Or getting to work on building the Death Star. 

As you can imagine, the editorial cartoonists of the world have had a field day with the Pope deciding to retire. Here are some of the best. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Will Someone Escort Jane Fonda Off The Stage?

Oscars Producers Scramble To Replace Injured Host

Los Angeles (AP) Producers for Sunday's Academy Awards telecast have had to find a new host at the last minute, after Seth McFarlane was admitted to hospital. McFarlane, the creator of television tripe such as Family Guy and the host of this year's ceremony, was appearing at a press conference, speaking to an assembly of reporters. The group of mostly entertainment reporters included this reporter, who is being punished by his editor in chief in the only way his ironclad contract can allow: by being given pointless assignments like covering the Oscars. Complete aside: this reporter still stands by his word: your son is a spoiled brat, Ms. Fenton.

McFarlane was basking in the glow of attention from reporters at a hotel near the auditorium where last minute preparations for the ceremonies are being handled. He had been spending an hour talking about just how funny he is. In the opinion of this reporter, McFarlane isn't nearly as funny as he thinks. "You know, it astonishes me every single day just how brilliant I really am," McFarlane proclaimed. "I've struck it big in television, and everyone I meet tells me just how great I am. Granted, they are paid to say that. Now I'm going to parlay that into film. Sooner or later, you won't be able to go anywhere without running into the influence and characters of Seth McFarlane. Won't that be a perfect world?"

This reporter would consider that to be a rough approximation of the seventh circle of Hell. When asked to stop talking about himself, and to start talking about hosting the ceremonies, McFarlane nodded. "Yes, well, I can't promise to be on my best behaviour. I've got a pretty vulgar mouth, as you all know, and a tendency to speak before I think. I imagine a lot of those network censors all over the world are going to be anxious all evening long, but really, if you can't take a joke, why are you in the room? I hear Jane Fonda is going to be there making a bitter diatribe, so I've got a Family Guy skit standing by to make fun of her that'll be like that Aristocrats standup joke, only a trillion times more offensive. And I'm planning on heckling Tommy Lee Jones all evening long. What's he going to do? Hit me? I think I can take him. Oh, and I'll have the entire cast of Les Miserables arrested by French militiamen and marched out of the auditorium. And look forward to my entrance. I'm planning on walking in dressed just like John Wilkes Booth. I'm sure Daniel Day-Lewis won't mind that at all."

McFarlane seemed to be looking beyond the crowd of reporters as he halted in midspeech. This reporter glanced back, and saw someone familiar, passing through a corridor nearby. It was the legendary Mountie, RCMP Inspector Lars Ulrich, looking grouchy. That was to be expected, of course. He was in the city with the highest ratio of entertainment reporters in the world, no doubt his own personal vision of Hell. Word on the street had it that Ulrich had come down to Los Angeles to retrieve a fugitive arrested by the LAPD, a fugitive tied to the massive Canadian maple syrup heist from last year. He hadn't been sighted by reporters, however. The Mountie, who has a sterling reputation for saving the world from archvillains and a habit of beating up entertainment reporters, seemed to be in a hurry to leave.

McFarlane spoke up suddenly. "Hey, you! Wait!" He stepped down from the podium, wading through the crowd of reporters, who started to rise to follow him. McFarlane intercepted Ulrich outside the press conference, calling, "I know you! You're Lars Ulrich!"

A murmur of excitement rose up among the reporters, most of them entertainment reporters. Those of us who consider ourselves real reporters knew better than to antagonize the Inspector. McFarlane wrapped an arm around the Inspector, seemingly oblivious to the hostile glare in the Mountie's eyes. "It's great to meet you. We should really work together." McFarlane flashed that big stupid grin, while photographers took pictures of the pair.

Inspector Ulrich looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but here. "Am I supposed to know who you are?" he asked in a low, growling voice.

McFarlane laughed. "Lars, you're such a kidder! Seriously though, everyone knows who I am. Seth McFarlane, funniest man alive. Creator of Family Guy. Of course you know who I am. Listen, I'm hosting the..."

Ulrich rolled his eyes. "Oh, that... cartoon," he muttered, his voice dripping with contempt. He seemed to be looking at McFarlane in a way that suggested he was considering how to knock out every single tooth in McFarlane's mouth in the timeliest fashion possible. "You do realize you're not funny?"

McFarlane laughed again, clapping the Inspector on the shoulder. "This guy! Am I right, people? Such a kidder! Listen, I'm hosting the Oscars this Sunday. Do you think you and the rest of Metallica can come play at the ceremony?"

Ulrich was silent for a moment. Then, in the lowest, most hostile tone this reporter had ever heard in a human voice, he told McFarlane, "I am not that Lars Ulrich, you brainless buffoon."

McFarlane appeared confused, a common trait for the man. In the opinion of this reporter, Seth McFarlane isn't all that bright. "Are you sure?" he asked the Inspector after a long moment. Within five seconds, McFarlane was on the run of his life, being chased by a very angry Mountie out of the hotel and into the streets of Beverly Hills, screaming like a little girl.

When he was finally found, late that night, McFarlane was unconcious at the base of the Hollywood sign, battered and beaten. He's been hospitalized, and doctors are saying he'll be eating his meals from a straw for the next six months, with physical therapy for the next three years. They describe his condition as stable but annoying.

Producers of Family Guy and American Dad have announced the shows will be going on indefinite hiatus, as McFarlane is so crucial to continued production. When asked at the White House, the President shrugged. "You know, I've never found that guy funny. He's really rather tedious."

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the Speaker of the House remarked, "Good riddance to him. He had it coming."

Producers are calling in the big guns to save the Oscars at the last minute. Frequent host Billy Crystal has stepped in to take the hosting gig. He told reporters, "I figured McFarlane would just blow the whole thing, and make Letterman's hosting gig look wonderful in comparison. I didn't figure he wouldn't make it to the ceremony though. I'm glad to help. And just for the record, I'm smart enough not to mistake a cranky Mountie for a heavy metal musician."

As for Inspector Ulrich, he's back on his way to Canada, taking the errant maple syrup stealing fugitive with him. When reached at the airport, he was dragging the fugitive by the scruff of the collar toward the departure gate. He growled at a group of cautious reporters, including this one. "If you idiots ask me one question about Metallica, I'm taking you on board that plane and throwing you out when we reach altitude."

This reporter and his colleagues decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and left the Inspector to leave in peace. This reporter has learned three vital life lessons down through the years. First, never play poker with someone named Doc. Second, keep your distance from anyone who likes saying, "what's the worst that can happen?" And last... never annoy a grouchy Mountie who hates reporters.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Yippee Ki-Yay, Mother Russia

"You got a plan?" ~ John McClane

"Not really. I kinda thought we would just wing it, you know. Running in, guns blazing. Make it up as we go." ~ Jack McClane

Bruce Willis is back in his signature role, wise ass and lone wolf cop John McClane, who has a habit of annoying terrorists, in the fifth movie in the Die Hard series, entitled A Good Day To Die Hard. When this series started twenty five years ago, John was coming into LA to try to reconnect with his estranged wife, and happened to irritate a group of Eurotrash terrorists who took over a building to carry out a heist. Since then, John's gotten divorced, spent years estranged from his kids, and built up quite a death toll taking out terrorists and hijackers (when he wasn't taunting them by phone or radio). The character started out as a very different alternative to the invicible Schwarzenegger roles, an action character who bled, who got hurt, who could feel. And it made McClane all the more likeable.

Now in the fifth film in the series, McClane is back once again, this despite the fact that the amount of injuries he's sustained down through the years probably should have put him into early retirement, disability, or drinking meals out of a straw. Having had reconciled with his daughter in the last film, Live Free Or Die Hard, there's still the matter of his son, who he hasn't spoken to in years. Jack (played by Jai Courtney) is in legal trouble in Russia. John goes over, and little does he know that he's stepping into an undercover operation. Jack works for the CIA as a spy, and is involved in trying to protect a whistleblower (Sebastian Koch) in a situation involving incriminating files, shady politicians, criminals, and nefarious sorts. 

There's deep friction between father and son (Jack calls him by his first name, rather than Dad). And John, being a magnet for trouble, pretty much needs little time before the bullets start flying, a dizzying sprint that involves a lot of guns, chases, damage and destruction, and a dangerous woman (Yulija Snigir).

The film has its issues. For me, the most glaring one is the choice of director. John Moore has a rather small resume, including Flight of the Phoenix (which I didn't mind), but also the film that should have been a huge red flag: Behind Enemy Lines, a testament to absolute stupidity in filmmaking (don`t get me started). Moore seems content to give us the standard quick cut edits of the genre, over the top stunts that have a lack of reality to them, dizzying chases that don't have the distance to allow the audience to keep track of what's happening, and some glaring plot holes that one assumes he figured the audience would just overlook, because what Western audience knows the difference between Russia and the Ukraine? I came out of the film wishing that another director would have taken the helm of this project. Someone who'd understand that for all of the action, what's given earlier films in the franchise real substance is its humanity.

What appeals about the earlier films is that humanity, that emotional connection McClane makes with the audience. We empathized with him, because he was so human, so down to earth. Moore seems to prefer endless action over character moments; he doesn`t seem remotely interested in investing in those nuances at all. If he had been, he would have cast a much, much better actor in the role of Jack McClane.

Jai Courtney is the other big problem in the film. He has the typical invincible ripped abs look of an action movie character, but no resonance, no gravitas, no humanity at all. He has a background in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, and if he has any talent in that medium, it`s sorely lacking here. It`s an emptiness, a void of a role. This was not a problem in the somewhat silly fourth role, where McClane had a suitable and skilled actress in the form of Mary Elizabeth Winstead to give humanity to the role of his other estranged child. In this case, a completely different actor would have been far better.

Willis himself is still McClane: a snarky wise ass who smirks at the world, but who gives us a world weary man we can sympathize with. Sarcastic as he is, beneath it all, he cares about people. We can`t help but like McClane, and that`s the strength of Willis as an actor. The character actors inhabiting the doublecrossing world of the film are suitably cast, particularly Yulija Snigir as Irina.

I did like the film. I just would have liked it more... if not for a hack of a director and a profoundly miscast young McClane.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dreaming Of Ice Sculptures And Ice Hogs

Some business to see to before I get to things today. Last month, you might recall that I reviewed Secondhand Shoes by Shelly Arkon. You can find the review right here. Shelly is doing a blog party and giveaway tied into the ebook release starting tomorrow through to the 21st. You can find her at the blogs The Life Of A Novice Writer and  Secondhand Shoes.  The ebook version is up at Amazon, as is the paperback version. And here is the teaser for the book: 

The shoes didn’t fit. It was an omen.

Eighteen year old psychic-medium-germ-a-phobe Lila should have listened to her ghostly Gram’s advice the morning of her wedding, “Take off that dress and those shoes. And run.”

En route to the honeymoon, she decides to listen after too many disagreements with her groom. It doesn’t pay to go along to make everyone happy.

Still in her wedding dress and shoes, she escapes out a diner’s bathroom window into the Florida woods despite her fear of snakes and germs with her dead Gram’s direction.

So she begins a journey of finding her inner strength, putting her on a deadly run from her psychotic groom and his deranged friends.

Will she ever get past her fear of germs and snakes? Will she survive her honeymoon?

To get in on the giveaway, it'll be fantabulous (to borrow a term from the book) if you'll tweet this to your followers:

Free books and prizes @ Feb.19 to 21st #FReeBooks#KindleAmazon Please Retweet

 Free books and prizes @ Feb.19 to 21st #FReeBooks#KindleAmazon Please Retweet

As well as posting this at Facebook:

Feb. 19th, 20th, and 21st join us to Spread the News and Cheer on the Run Away Bride Give Away and Blog Party. You could win a 15 dollar Amazon card or an autographed copy of Secondhand Shoes. Visit

Feb. 19th, 20th, and 21st join us to Spread the News and Cheer on the Run Away Bride Give Away and Blog Party. You could win a 15 dollar Amazon card or an autographed copy of Secondhand Shoes. Visit

Check out Shelly's pages, and let her know you're in on the giveaway!


Winterlude is at an end as of today, here in Ottawa and Gatineau. Over three weekends in February, the two cities host festivities celebrating the very best season of the year (no, not summer). The Rideau Canal is at its skating season height, with over seven kilometres of skating to offer. Beavertail pastries can be found all over the place (and are quite delicious). Ice hog mascots make their way around the various sites. Ice sculptures, snow sculptures, ice slides, and more are erected in various spots on both sides of the river. And both the locals and the tourists come in by the legions to take in the celebration of winter.

I've been busy taking pictures over these three weekends. I'd like to claim these as mine... but I'm still  using film cameras. So I've gleaned a whole pack of pics for you to enjoy.

The opening night festivities this year were at Ottawa City Hall, which served its purpose well. Our Governor General opened up Winterlude on a cold night, with performers on stage and above stage, and pyrotechnics for good measure.

The Canal itself is the centrepiece of the entire event, and thousands upon thousands skate on the weekends and through the week. For those of us who don't skate, or never learned how to (such as yours truly), the ice is still very easy to walk on.

Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa is ground zero for the ice sculptures, most of which are housed beneath shelters to keep them preserved well from wind and sun (they look as good this weekend as they did when they were first erected). In recent years, some other parts of the park have been turned into art displays during Winterlude. There are several of these sculptures and artworks about, and one is in collaboration with a South Korean festival this year. 2013 marks the sixtieth anniversary of the armistice that ended the Korean War, and several of the displays have that Korean theme, particularly this thirty five metre long tunnel of over a thousand Korean paper lamps, which has an otherworldly sort of effect, day and night.

Watching the carvers at work is a special treat, on the first weekend, which marks a competition between them. They come from all over the world, and they are masters at the craft, using a multitude of tools: chainsaws, handsaws, chisels, hammers, and sandpaper to get down to the finest details of the ice.

Over in Gatineau, along the shores of the Ottawa River, Jacques Cartier Park is made over into a children's playground with ice slides and other fun things to do (including a zip line this year). There are several snow sculptures scattered about there, and some of the tools the carvers use are quite similar to their ice carver counterparts.

Back in Confederation Park, the ice sculptures are a huge draw, both day and night. At night, they're lit in changing colours, and this year, the carvers were splendid workers, carving otherworldly scenes, mighty animals, well endowed mermaids (always a running theme), and even an Alien.

It's at an end now; time for the Ice Hogs to pack it in for a year. Winterlude has been a success again, the weather behaving itself throughout, and the crowds have been out and about. For those of us who love winter, it's a celebration. For those here who don't love winter (are they crazy????), it's one pleasant way to get through the season.