Joni Parker's Blog

June 14, 2021

Movie Review: In the Heights

A high-energy, high octane movie about living in Washington Heights in New York City. The neighborhood is mostly Hispanic with people from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, and Mexico. It is also friendly and like family. Usnavi runs the bodega for the Abuela (aunt) of the neighborhood and falls in love with Vanessa. But his memories of living in the Dominican Republic are drawing him home. Meanwhile, Nina returns home from Stanford. She was the smart one, the one who broke free from the neighborhood, but she dropped out of college. Not because of her grades, but because she didn’t have the neighborhood people around her. She felt lost and isolated.

Some parts of the movie were like watching a Bollywood movie with a street (and a pool) filled with dancers and great singing. I really liked it. I also liked the main character, Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos.

The movie was written and produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda and was on Broadway before “Hamilton” appeared. Jon Chu directed the show, and it was great. Even ending with applause from the audience, that doesn’t happen too often. The theater was quite full for a matinee show, and I hope more people take the time to see it. It’s great fun.
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Published on June 14, 2021 05:53 Tags: in-the-heights, jon-chu, lin-manuel-miranda

June 10, 2021

Book Review: The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

Published in 2012. Fantasy. Elisa assumes the throne of Joya D’Arena as Queen. At seventeen, she’s hardly prepared for the role, but she has no choice. Her husband, King Alejandro, is dead, and his son, Rosario, is only seven. As she navigates the treacherous politics of her land, she finds her life in danger. But beside her is Hector, the Commander of the Royal Guard. When she visits the tomb of her late husband, she travels alone, against her commander’s advice, and is nearly killed by a hidden assassin. Her wound shows that the assassin may have been after the Godstone, the remains in her navel.

There is little mention of Elisa’s weight problem so evident in the first book. She shed a lot of weight, but hasn’t overcome her insecurities. At least, she seems able to overlook them. She needs to be on a quick learning curve to be queen. She needs confidence ASAP.

This is the second book in the series, but it doesn’t say it is. The publishers must hide the fact that it’s part of a trilogy, so a reader won’t feel it’s necessary to read the first book first. It would be very helpful to do so. I did enjoy reading the second book, although not as much as the first. I’ve ordered the third one and should get that soon.
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Published on June 10, 2021 05:26 Tags: rae-carson, the-crown-of-embers

June 7, 2021

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Published in 2011. Fantasy. Elisa is the youngest daughter of the King of Orovalle and the bearer of the Godstone. This afternoon, she will be married to King Alejandro in exchange for her father’s military support against the Invernios. But she dreads the wedding, not only because she hasn’t even met her future husband, but also because she’s too fat for her dress. The wedding takes place anyway. When her veil is removed, she’s surprised to see her husband’s face. He’s tall and handsome. Also, a widower but with a child. Will he even like her?

After the wedding, he takes her to his castle in Brisadulce and introduces her as his special female friend. Then he leaves for a month-long trip. Elisa wonders what sort of a marriage she got into. Certainly, not one of her dreams. When Alejandro returns, he introduces her to his son, Rosario. Later, she’s drugged and kidnapped—not for ransom, but for her Godstone.

This book was recommended to me as one where the female protagonist is not perfect and she isn’t. I did enjoy seeing her develop as a person. An enforced march across the desert made her lose weight, but she gained confidence and rises to the occasion.

I enjoyed this story and will be reading the follow-on book, ‘The Crown of Embers.’
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Published on June 07, 2021 05:34 Tags: rae-carson, the-girl-of-fire-and-thorns

June 2, 2021

Book Review: The Night Fire by Michael Connelly

Published in 2019. Mystery. Harry Bosch receives a murder book from the wife of an old colleague who passed away. He takes to his friend, Renée Ballard, LAPD, and together, they try to figure out why his retired friend had the book and why he never did anything about it. But the case is thirty years old and no one on the active force will take an interest, except Ballard.

She works the late show and loves it because no one bothers her. She’s still recovering from her demotion from Robbery-Homicide where she’d filed a sexual harassment claim against her boss. She wasn’t fired, but shifted to the late show, where the upper echelons tried to hide her. She takes a call from the homeless camp nearby when a fire destroys a tent with a homeless man sleeping inside. At first, everyone thinks it was an accident, but Ballard uncovers evidence contradicting that theory. The case becomes more complicated as it relates to another murder.

I really enjoy reading about these two. They make a really good team and solve what others can’t, not because they aren’t good detectives but because they are crunched for time. They don’t have the time to examine the evidence and think about it. Harry Bosch is retired from the LAPD and Ballard’s shift on the late show is often uneventful, giving them plenty of time to work on these cases. More stories, please.
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Published on June 02, 2021 05:20 Tags: harry-bosch, michael-connelly, renee-ballard, the-night-fire

May 31, 2021

Movie Review: Cruella

This is the first movie I've been to since March 2020. It was really nice to sit in a theater once again, and be entertained. I had no issues with the Covid-19 practices in the theater, and since I'm fully vaccinated, I felt free to take my mask off.

The movie: Stella must suppress her Cruella persona if she is to survive in grade school. Unfortunately, she can’t and gets into so much trouble she’s kicked out just as her mother withdraws her. To begin anew, Stella’s mom wants to take her to London, but has to make a quick stop at Hellman’s Hall to see someone. Although Stella is supposed to stay in the car, she doesn’t and witnesses her mother’s death by another woman, whom she doesn’t know. As Stella runs away, she ends up on a trash truck that takes her to London where she must learn to fend for herself. But she always keeps her goal in mind. She wants to be a fashion designer like the Baronness.

This movie isn't at all what I thought it would be about. Although it is the same Cruella from the “101 Dalmatians,” this explains how Cruella came to be. This isn’t a cutesy family show, and I probably would hesitate to take small children.

The acting was superb with Emma Stone and Emma Thompson, filling in the lead roles, but the two men supporting Cruella, reminded me more of the two buffoons in "Home Alone." In the end, the dogs steal the show, especially the chihuahua.
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Published on May 31, 2021 07:31 Tags: cruella, emma-stone, emma-thompson

May 26, 2021

Book Review: Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang

Published in 2020. Fantasy—middle grade novel. Thom, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, has just moved across the country from California to Georgia and hates her new school. What she would love most is to go back to West City, but her mother has just started a new job. Thom has another problem that she tries to keep hidden. She’s extraordinarily strong. So strong that when she kicked a soccer ball at the goalie, she sent her to the hospital for weeks. Everyone thought it was just a freak accident, but Thom knew better. Her mother tries to help her by taking her to the local temple, where Thom finds a golden needle. She takes it home, only to find out she’s released the Monkey King, a demon god of Vietnamese myths.

The author was a presenter at the recent Tucson Festival of Books. She used her Vietnamese heritage to provide a charming novel showing the clash that often results when east meets west. I am of Asian descent as she is and understand her difficulty of fitting in. It happened to me as well. But unlike Thom, I found a way around it. I accepted gestures of friendship when offered.

Middle grade readers could get a lot out of this book. It will introduce them to a culture they won’t be familiar with, and maybe give them some insight on how they are treating others. The end of the book left plenty of room for a sequel, sometime in the future.
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Published on May 26, 2021 05:43 Tags: girl-giant-and-the-monkey-king, van-hoang

May 24, 2021

Book Review: The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djeli Clark

Published in 2019. Fantasy. Agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities in Cairo, Egypt are sent to investigate the sighting of something on Tram Car 015. The two agents interview the Tram line supervisor first and then, inspect the tram car alone. Sure enough, they spot the thing. It’s gray without shape and seems to be hiding among the gears. Once it spots them, it takes shape and chases them out. The agents don’t know what it is or how to get rid of it. When they eat lunch, their waitress suggests they try a Zar ritual to get rid of the spirit. With nothing else to go on, they decide to give it a go.

This novella is quite charming in its own way. And gives fantasy an Arabic theme. It also takes place in the early 1900’s and also involves the suffragette movement in Egypt. I enjoyed reading it.

The author was a recent guest at the Tucson Book Festival, so I decided to find something of his to read. It was a nice change.
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Published on May 24, 2021 05:39 Tags: p-djeli-clark, the-haunting-of-tram-car-015

May 19, 2021

Book Review: Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Published in 2021. Cozy mystery. Hannah’s sister, Andrea, meets with the local mayor to discuss her husband’s arrest of his nephew. She never would have gotten involved had the mayor not threatened to fire her husband. The discussion turned heated and she was so angry she slapped him as hard as she could and left. Hannah heard most of the argument and waited for her, hoping to calm her down on the way home. They had dinner together and Andrea went home, but thought about the argument. She went back to the mayor’s office with a piece of the Triple Chocolate Cheesecake Hannah had made for dessert, but found the mayor dead. Andrea called Hannah for help because she was now suspect number one.

I found this story to be poorly written and not put together very well, unlike other mysteries by this same author. The recipes seemed out of order to the story. If the characters discussed say, the Triple Chocolate Cheesecake, the recipe normally followed. However, the first recipe was for a Cheese ball which wasn’t even mentioned in the story. With a little extra effort these problems could have been resolved. I also found it odd that Hannah’s thoughts were written in third person, rather than first person. They were her thoughts, after all. The plot spent more time on eating, so a recipe could be presented, than the mystery itself.

I’ve got to admit these recipes sounded really good, but I’m on a forever diet and can’t eat all these carb-loaded foods. I’m surprised none of the characters have a weight problem.
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Published on May 19, 2021 05:49 Tags: hannah-swenson, joanne-fluke

May 17, 2021

Book Review: The Darkest Evening by Ann Cleeves

Published in 2020. Mystery. Detective Inspector Vera Stanhope stumbles onto a crime scene in the middle of a blizzard. She finds a car stalled in the snow with the front driver’s door open. In the back seat is a child, a toddler, fastened into a child’s seat. Vera takes the child and trudges to the closest house, a residence she’s familiar with. As a child, she’d been here with her father, who was the youngest brother in the family. But her father wasn’t welcome here and she hadn’t returned in years. Still, she needed help, if not for her, than for the baby. Not long after that, the body of the child’s mother is found in the snow. Vera begins an investigation.

Vera and her team find few leads at first but dig up a few. They follow them all, and it leads them nowhere. But they don’t give up. This becomes personal for all of them. Even Vera.

I enjoyed this mystery. I didn’t have a clue who did it until the killer showed his cards. I wouldn’t make a good detective. This is the first book in the Vera Stanhope series that I’ve read although the author has written eight others. She’s quite a character.
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Published on May 17, 2021 05:48 Tags: ann-cleeves, the-darkest-evening, vera-stanhope

May 12, 2021

Book Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Published in 2014. Literary. At 16, Lydia Lee is found dead in a lake near her home in Middletown, Ohio. The cause of death is drowning, but the family doesn’t understand why Lydia would go in the water when she didn’t know how to swim. After her death, the family grieves and is pulled apart. Her father, James, finds comfort in the arms of another woman, while Marilyn, the mother, spends hours in Lydia’s room, hoping to find a reason for Lydia’s death, but all the diaries she bought for her over the years are blank. She wants nothing more than to find the killer, but the police have no leads. The eldest son, Nath, believes a neighbor’s son did it since he’d been seen with her recently. The youngest daughter, Hannah, doesn’t have a clue. The police’s conclusion of suicide, only drives the family farther apart.

What a sad story. Not only was there the death of Lydia, but the family faced racial bias at the same time. James Lee, the father, was born in the U.S. to Chinese immigrant parents, and Marilyn was white, no ethnicity required. No one in the family had friends. Marilyn lost any contact with her mother because of her marriage. Lydia faked having friends and her brother, Nath, had interests elsewhere. The family was a virtual island within a white community.

Unfortunately, I can relate. My grandparents came from Japan. My family moved to Arizona when I was thirteen, and we were subject to a similar situation. I did make friends, but had no Asian friends. And there were a few bullies, but I just considered them pathetic. I grew up just fine.
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Published on May 12, 2021 06:02 Tags: celeste-ng, everything-i-never-told-you