Movie Review: Stillwater

Matt Damon delivers a stellar performance as oil-rig roughneck Bill Baker in this riveting drama loosely based on the infamous Amanda Knox case. To recap, an American student abroad in Italy was convicted for the murder of her roommate.

In Stillwater, the setting is Marseille, France, and the accused is college-aged Allison (Abigail Breslin), Bill’s daughter. Allison has already served five years of her nine-year prison sentence for her roommate’s murder but now has new evidence that could lead to the reopening of the case. According to Allison’s former professor, a young Arab man (Akim) has boasted about getting away with murder.

Convinced of his daughter’s innocence, Bill takes matters into his own hands after the defense lawyer dismisses the new evidence as hearsay. An uphill battle from the start, Bill faces language barriers, cultural differences, and the intricacies of the French legal system. Often frustrated but undeterred, Bill seeks out detectives, talks to witnesses and chases down suspects, all in the hope of finding the elusive Akim (Idir Azougli).

Thankfully, he is not alone during this quest.

Local theatre actor Virginie (Camille Cottin) and her adorable nine-year-old daughter Maya (Lilou Siauvaud) provide much-needed language assistance and emotional support to the God-fearing, gun-loving American who is clearly out of his comfort zone.

As the relationship deepens between Bill and Virginie, there are hints of a happily-for-now ending. Bill secures employment as a construction worker, spends quality time with Maya, and slowly reveals his vulnerabilies. Beneath the baseball cap, plaid shirts, and bushy goatee lies a tortured soul yearning for acceptance and redemption. Had the film focused on this dynamic or ended fifty minutes earlier, it could have been labeled a mid-life romantic drama.

Director Tom McCarthy had a different ending in mind.

The third act veers into dark, unexpected terrain. A chance encounter releases past demons, enabling Bill’s self-destructive streak to rear its ugly head. Poor decision-making and reckless actions follow, endangering the lives of Virginie and Maya. A startling revelation touches Bill at his very core, forcing him to re-examine what he holds most dear.

A must-see film that will linger in consciousness!

My 10 Most Embarrassing Moments, in No Particular Order

I’m happy to welcome back Wild Rose Press author Kimberly Baer. Today, Kimberly shares ten embarrassing moments and her new release, Snowdrop Dream, Cherry Thumbprint Screams.

I’ve lived long enough that I’ve had plenty of opportunities to embarrass myself. Here are ten such instances—though I can assure you, there are lots more where these came from. (Maybe if I get these off my chest, they’ll cease to turn my face red when I think back on them.)

1. All those times I responded to somebody who was waving at/smiling at/talking to me, only to realize they were actually waving at/smiling at/talking to somebody else.

2. During a beach trip with friends, I was frolicking in the ocean when a particularly forceful wave hit me. When I emerged, my friends started shrieking with laughter. That wave had undone my bikini top, and it was wrapped around my neck! Several nearby strangers got an unexpected show.

3. I used to work at an insurance claims office. Ken, one of our agents, would often speak in goofy voices when he called. One day I answered the phone, and a strange, slurred voice said, “Zis ze surance company?” Figuring Ken was up to his usual shenanigans, I said, “You are so weird!” There was a stunned silence, during which I realized the caller wasn’t Ken after all. It was a customer! I was so mortified, I put the guy on hold and made one of my coworkers take the call.

4. During a luncheon at my workplace, I was trying to cut my chicken breast with the flimsy plastic utensils we’d been given. The knife slipped and the chicken went flying—straight onto the plate of the lady sitting next to me. Silence prevailed for a long moment as everyone at our table stared at the errant chicken breast. Sheepishly, I stabbed it with my plastic fork and took it back, mumbling apologies.

5. When a friend and I were eighteen, we left our respective churches and started going to a new church together. Week after week, for unknown reasons, we would start giggling—silently, but with enough force to shake the whole pew—during the quietest part of the service. Despite the dirty looks we got, we just couldn’t stop.

6. When I was about fifteen, I thought the word vagina was pronounced “va-jeena.” (I mean, it has the name “Gina” in it, right?) I even got my friends saying it that way. I was pretty embarrassed when somebody finally set me straight.

7. I fell onstage while performing in a high school play. I was supposed to walk offstage, trailed by another character. But because of a mix-up, we weren’t standing in our assigned spots, and in an unprecedented ad lib, she grabbed me by the wrist and yanked me forward. My feet got tangled in my long gown, and down I went. Can you imagine being sixteen and taking a graceless tumble in front of an audience of hundreds? I would rather have fallen through the stage than on it.

8. Then there was the time I… Wait, no; that one is just too embarrassing to write about! Sorry!

9. As I was leaving a big-box store with two gallons of custom-mixed paint, one of the containers slipped out of my hand. When it hit the floor, the lid flew off, and a whole gallon of pink paint spilled across the floor, splattering the legs of nearby shoppers. If you were in the store that day and heard, “Cleanup at the main entrance!”—that was me.

10. At age fourteen, I had a major crush on seventeen-year-old Mike. One night my best friend and I went to his house and told his mom a crazy, made-up story: a strange man had tried to lure us into his car. She called Mike to come drive us home—which (bwa-ha-ha!) had been my plan all along. Years later, I ran into Mike, and we started dating. I confessed that I’d had a crush on him in high school and had made up the attempted-kidnapping story because I wanted to see him. Turned out he already knew and always had. I was mortified—not for my current self, who, after all, had gotten the guy of her dreams in the end, but for fourteen-year-old me, who, OMG, would have died, just died, if she’d known Mike knew she was into him. (Side note: The teenage crush depicted via flashbacks in Snowdrop Dreams, Cherry Thumbprint Screams is based heavily on my real-life crush on Mike. I’ve even included the fake kidnapping incident.)

Blurb

When Annie Barkley discovers a boy living in the attic of her cookie shop, she’s stunned—and oddly elated. She can almost believe the universe is giving her back the infant son she lost eleven years ago.

Annie senses that something bad happened to the boy, but he won’t talk. All she knows is that he’s terrified of being found. When her long-ago crush, police captain Sam Stern, stops by to inquire about a missing boy, Annie says she hasn’t seen him.

Big mistake. Because that lie might cost her more than a romance with Sam. It also leaves her vulnerable to a ruthless pursuer, one who’s determined to silence the boy for good.

Excerpt

The days passed in a blur of bliss and apprehension. Annie rushed home from work each day, half afraid the boy wouldn’t be there. But he always was. One afternoon he surprised her by making a lettuce and tomato salad to go with dinner. Another day he ran the vacuum. In the evenings the two of them watched sitcoms or played video games.

Before she knew it, a whole week had gone by. Then another. She still hadn’t contacted the authorities. She’d expected the boy to be talking by now, but he was clinging to silence, resolute as a monk.

Cookie Heaven was closed on Thanksgiving. Annie declined several dinner invitations, including Jessica’s. She made an elaborate turkey dinner, knowing there’d be far too many leftovers. In the end, there wasn’t as much as she’d expected, because Jonah ate like a pig.

She was cheered to see him eating so heartily. Relieved that he was starting to fill out. Proud that she was giving him the things he needed—nourishment, love, a warm bed in a safe, comfortable home.

At the same time, she was aware of all the things she wasn’t providing. Like education. Jonah should have been in school. He needed friends to hang out with. He should have been playing sports, getting exercise. He was living a stunted life—but there was no way around that right now.

She took the day after Thanksgiving off. After lunch, while the aging dishwasher rumbled and gushed and clattered, she and Jonah adjourned to the living room to play a video game. When Jonah made a mistake that cost him a life, he let out a wail of anguish.

“Ah,” said Annie. “So you do have vocal cords.”

Jonah shot her a look that said he got sarcasm and didn’t appreciate it.
A sound from outside startled them—the crunch of tires on gravel. “Who on Earth could that be?” said Annie.

Jonah’s game controller clattered to the coffee table. He slunk across the living room, as if sneaking up on somebody. As he approached the picture window, he halted. And then a rich, young voice rippled across the living room.

“It’s the police, Annie! The police are here. Help me, please!”

Outside, a car door slammed. Jonah whirled toward her, his face as stricken as it had been the night she’d caught him in the cookie shop. “Don’t tell them about me—please! Cause if you do, they’ll put me in jail!”

Pre-order here

Social media links

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon | Goodreads

Available for Pre-Order: 40 Life Changing Events

My essay, “Honoring My Inner Sloth,” appears in this anthology.

Blurb

In our constantly evolving world…

…where the unforeseen lies in wait.

Surprises abound.

In this latest anthology, 25 writers share events that have changed their lives. Some stories are tragic, others full of joy, but they all encapsulate the tenacity, resilience, and self-belief of the human spirit.

During these challenging times, with the world in turmoil, it is stimulating to learn from other people’s experiences.

What will you take away from these exceptional recollections that span the generations?

This fascinating compilation will encourage you to pause and reflect, with tales that offer much needed motivation and inspiration.

Get it now.

Excerpt (Honoring My Inner Sloth)

For too many years, I subscribed to the busy bee myth: Complete all given tasks and start on tomorrow’s To-Do List. That was my modus operandi for the first fifty years of my life. Or, more precisely, the first forty-nine years, seven months, and seven days.

All that changed with a diagnosis that came out of nowhere: Inflammatory Breast Cancer, Stage IIIB. To be truthful, my body had tried to communicate with me many years before the diagnosis. Persistent colds and bouts of bronchitis. Slow-healing bruises. Bone-crushing fatigue. Determined to soldier on without taking advantage of sick days or lazy weekends, I chose to ignore those whispers. But I knew all about them from the Oprah shows.

To this day, I get goosebumps when I recall those words of wisdom from television’s favorite teacher: “If you don’t pay attention to the whispers, it gets louder and louder. It’s like getting thumped inside the head like my grandmother used to do…You don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that; the whole brick wall falls down.”

While I was in the thick of it with family and workplace stress, I didn’t realize—or chose not to realize—that those whispers were about to break a sound barrier.

Buy Links (ebook and paperback)

Amazon (CA) | Amazon (UK) | Amazon (US) | Amazon (AU)

Release Date: Sunday, December 12, 2021

Blurb Blitz: Promising Love

I’m happy to welcome author Sarah Ohlin. Today, Sara shares her new release, Promising Love.

Blurb

When a glamorous spa owner seduces the grumpy neighborhood bartender, passion smolders…

Ruby Naylor, confident, successful proprietor of Spa La La, has been crushing on Lachlan MacGregory for ages and finally throws herself at the grumpy bartender as he’s helping her tipsy butt home to her apartment above his pub.

Ruby is the only woman Lachlan has ever loved—from afar. When she makes a pass, he finally admits he’s wanted her for a long time. He leaves her that night with three promises—a kiss, a special connection between them and an epic tomorrow.

Unfortunately, when tomorrow arrives and Lachlan is smacked with the knowledge that she’s already in a relationship with two men, he feels he has nothing to offer her.

His day gets worse when his addict father is on his doorstep again, demanding money. The thought that he could end up sick and miserable like his father eats at Lachlan, making him focus on what has never let him down, his successful pub in the burgeoning Corvallis neighborhood.

Learning that Ruby is not taken, Lachlan finally goes all out to win her back. With his heartfelt apology, it’s easy for Ruby to forgive him—she believes in joy, in romance, in happy ever after. What she never expected was how vulnerable Lachlan could make her feel.

Can their love withstand life-shattering events to lead them into a beautiful future?

Excerpt

“Beautiful, I want that.” His voice was rough with need and it gave her a shiver to know she did that to him. “But not on Detective Naylor’s couch.”

Stunned for only a second at the last words she expected to come out of his mouth, Ruby burst out laughing. She couldn’t help it. Lachlan rocked them together.

“Love that sound.”

“Oh my goodness, are we sixteen just waiting to get caught?”

“You think this is funny?”

“Uhm, hilarious. I’ve been waiting a lifetime for you to kiss me and do all the other amazing things. And we’re adults, but we’re getting blocked by my dad who isn’t even here.” The laughter poured out of her. Her energy needed an outlet and apparently it wasn’t going to happen how she imagined it right this minute.

“A lifetime, huh?” Lachlan’s deep, soft voice was a stroke against her skin.

“Yeah,” she whispered.

“I’ve been waiting too.” He brushed his fingers through her hair, following their path with his eyes. Pensive eyes. Tired eyes. Ruby noticed the little details. “I can keep waiting.”

“Me too,” she said, resigned but still in a happy place, lost in him.

“Waiting sucks,” he said. And his pout was so darn cute.

“Yeah.” Ruby chuckled again. “But this sure is nice.”

“Mmm. Maybe you could do that thing to my head again with your hands. Felt damn good.”

Her smile was automatic. It felt amazing taking care of this man. Ruby ran her hands through his hair and kneaded his scalp with her fingers, stroking once in a while with her nails. Soothing, deepening, then soothing again. It was only a few minutes before his breathing changed and his weight settled. Her hottie was asleep. Oh, you precious man.

“Best kiss ever,” she whispered as he slept beside her.

Buy Links

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Totally Bound | Kobo | GooglePlay

Author Bio and Links

Puget Sound based writer, Sara Ohlin is a mom, wannabe photographer, obsessive reader, ridiculous foodie, and the author of the contemporary romance novels, Handling the Rancher, Salvaging Love, Seducing the Dragonfly, Igniting Love, Flirting with Forever and Promising Love.

She has over sixteen years of creative non-fiction and memoir writing experience, and you can find her essays at Anderbo.com, Feminine Collective, Mothers Always Write, Her View from Home, Under the Gum Tree, and in anthologies such as Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak about Healthcare in America, Take Care: Tales, Tips, & Love from Women Caregivers, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Although she’s the author of many essays about life, grief, motherhood and the connections we make through delicious food and shared meals, Sara loves creating imaginary worlds with tight-knit communities in her romance novels. She credits her mother, Mary, Nora Roberts and Rosamunde Pilcher for her love of romance.

If she’s not reading or writing, you will most likely find her in the kitchen creating scrumptious meals with her two kids and amazing husband, or perhaps cooking up her next love story. She once met a person who both “didn’t read books” and wasn’t “that into food” and it nearly broke her heart.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest | BookBub | Goodreads

Giveaway

Sara Ohlin will be awarding a $30 Amazon/Barnes & Noble gift card to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Sara on the rest of her Goddess Fish tour here.

Burn On, Not Out

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

Here’s one of my Go-To excerpts from today’s devotional in Trusting God Day by Day (Joyce Meyer):

Are you saying “yes” with your mouth while your heart is screaming “no”? If so, you will eventually be stressed-out, burned-out, and possibly sick. We just cannot go on like that forever without ultimately breaking down under the strain.

No matter how many people you please, there will always be someone who will not be pleased. Learn that you can enjoy your life even if everyone does not think you are wonderful. Don’t be addicted to approval from people; if God approves, that is all that really matters.

Being committed is very good, but being overcommitted is very dangerous. Know your limits and don’t hesitate to say “no” if you know that you need to. God has assigned a life span to each of us, and although we don’t know exactly how long we have on earth, we should certainly desire to live out the fullness of our years. We want to burn on, not burn out. We should live with passion and zeal, not with exhaustion; we should be good examples to others.

Source: Trusting God Day By Day, pp. 392-393

Movie Review: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Jessica Chastain inhabits the character of Tammy Faye Bakker, providing us with an intimate look at the extraordinary rise, fall, and redemption of the televangelist.

The first act follows Tammy’s childhood fascination with religion to her courtship with Bible College student Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield) to their meteoric rise in the PTL (Praise the Lord) network.

Naïve and impressionable, Tammy is dazzled by Jim’s outspoken and progressive views about Christianity. During a student preacher seminar, he proclaims: “God does not want us to be poor; he will gift the faithful with eternal wealth.”

After a quick marriage, they drop out of Bible College and become roving evangelists. A twist of fate brings them into contact with the Christian Broadcasting Network in Virginia. Established televangelist Pat Robertson (Gabriel Olds) hires them to host a children’s show with bible stories and puppets.

Charismatic and entertaining, Jim and Tammy pioneer the feel-good variety shows that hypnotize (and often guilt) fans into pledging their hard-earned money. As their fame and wealth increase, the couple experiences turbulence in their relationship.

Beneath the pleasant demeanor of Jim Bakker lurks a voracious greed. He prefaces those desires with “God told me he wants…” Jim also wants to act on his passions, which include his attraction to men.

When Jim talks about his “God-connection,” Tammy retorts, “Well, He told me I have to speak up.”

Tammy undergoes a transformation from a baby-voiced puppeteer to a bored housewife to a Christian feminist who demands a seat at the table. My favorite scene…At a party, Tammy (holding her infant daughter) sits at a table populated by several Christian superstars, among them Jerry Falwell (well played by Vincent D’Onofrio). Ignoring the blatant disapproval of the older men, Tammy shares her beliefs about acceptance and homosexuality. Later in her career, she invites an AIDS patient to share his story on the air.

When Jim falls from grace in 1989, Tammy is shocked by the allegations of fraud and the subsequent conviction. A bit of a stretch to believe she was still that naïve.

While she was inherently good and had the best of intentions, Tammy Faye Bakker craved the spotlight and enjoyed all the trappings of wealth. Throughout the film, her mother (Cherry Jones) asks pointed questions that are dismissed or ignored. I believe that Tammy may have suspected fraudulent and inappropriate behavior, but she chose not to delve too deeply into those turbulent waters.

A thought-provoking film that provides new insights into a decades-old scandal.

Book Blast: Spell Sweeper

I’m happy to welcome author Lee Edward Födi. Today, Lee shares his latest release, Spell Sweeper.

Blurb

There’s nothing magical about wizard school
. . . at least, not for Cara Moone.

Most wizard kids spend their days practicing spells and wielding wands, but Cara? She’s on the fast track to becoming a MOP (a.k.a. Magical Occurrence Purger). You see, when a real wizard casts a spell, it leaves behind a residue called spell dust—which, if not disposed of properly, can cause absolute chaos in the nonmagical world. It’s a MOP’s job to clean up the mess.

And no one makes more of a mess than Harlee Wu. Believed to be the Chosen One, destined to save the magical world, Harlee makes magic look easy. Which makes her Cara’s sworn nemesis. Or she would be, if she even knew Cara existed.

Then one of Harlee’s spells leaves something downright dangerous behind it: a rift in the fabric of magic itself. And when more rifts start to appear around the school, all in places Harlee has recently used magic, Cara is pretty sure the so-called “Chosen One” isn’t going to save the world. She’s going to destroy it.

It will take more than magic to clean up a mess this big. Fortunately, messes are kind of Cara’s thing.

Excerpt

* * *
There’s nothing magical about a broom
* * *

It’s one of my earliest memories, vivid as a full moon. I’m only four or five, and Su is walking me to school like any good big sister. We stop at the crosswalk and I see an old woman sweeping the pavement, just a few feet away. She wears a frayed sweater, grimy jeans, and maybe a secondhand pair of sneakers. Her broom is wisps of straw, the handle fashioned from a twisted stick of wood. Everything about her is ordinary. Mundane. But as I watch her, the morning sun catches her just right, and for an instant she ignites with a golden luster, frozen in a perfect moment of magic—a fairy sweeping away the shadows of the night.

Then she vanishes. Maybe it’s a trick of the light, maybe my childish frame of mind, but I’m convinced she’s a witch, that she has leapt upon her broomstick and taken to the clouds. When I tell Su this, she doesn’t laugh or chide me for having an overactive imagination. Instead, her eyes dance with wonder.

“Well, there is magic in the world, Cara. That’s what Dad always says. Right?”

I nod dramatically in agreement.

Of course, that was a long time ago. A lot of things have changed since then—with me, with my sister, with everything.

I know now that you can’t fly away on a broomstick. It’s not that I grew up and stopped believing in magic—actually, I believe in it more, which is what happens when you’re chosen to attend one of the most prestigious wizard schools in the world. But here’s the thing: when I was given my own broom, it wasn’t so that I could soar across the skies, read prophecies in the stars, or fight dragons in wand-to-fang combat.

It was because I’m a failure.

Trust me. It doesn’t matter if you’re some old lady on a street corner or a kid with a whisper of magic in her blood—a broom is for one thing and one thing only: sweeping.

Yay, me. I’m going to wizard school.

And it’s terrible.

Author Bio and Links

Lee Edward Födi is an author, illustrator, and specialized arts educator—or, as he likes to think of himself, a daydreaming expert. He is the author of several books for children, including The Secret of Zoone and the Kendra Kandlestar series. He is a co-founder of the Creative Writing for Children Society (CWC), a not-for-profit program that helps kids write their own books. He has the joy of leading workshops for kids in Canada, the US, Korea, China, Thailand, and other places here and there. Lee lives in Vancouver, where he shares a creative life with his wife Marcie and son Hiro.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Purchase Links

Giveaway

Lee Edward Födi will be awarding a Spell Sweeper prize pack: Hand-made miniature broom, hand-made magical creature egg, spell bottle, and bookmarks to a randomly drawn winner via Rafflecopter during the tour. Find out more here.

Follow Lee on the rest of his Goddess Fish tour here.

Edit with Murder on Your Mind

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

I highly recommend reading The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. In this insightful guidebook, Marion urges us to write with intent. Here’s her take on editing:

The goal of a good edit is for the piece to read like a sleigh ride: smooth and fast. It can, if not a word is extra, not a phrase is flabby. Here’s the razor-sharp rule: If you find yourself skimming a sentence or paragraph, thinking the reader will enjoy herself later, forget it. That’s not how readers work, and never how editors read. They don’t say, “I bet this will get good soon, so I’ll keep plowing.” If editors and readers have one thing in common, it’s that they bail out at the first sign of trouble, when the writing appears to be out of control.

And who can blame them? There is always something else to read.

The most basic rule of editing is that if you can’t bear to read it, no one else can either. So, when you find yourself skimming, commit murder.

Source: The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith, p. 109