The Waiting Room: Book review


Who knew a media law professor could provide me with book recommendations? A few months ago, I mentioned how I was writing a novel to my media law professor. He referenced a past student of his, Alysha Kaye. She was in the process of marketing her debut novel The Waiting Room and it was a few months before publication.

I thought, “Okay, this woman went to Texas State University just like me, so I’m automatically even more interested in her book.”

Then I read the book blurb. Afterlife, reincarnation, waiting for someone after death? It sounded really freaking cool and something I haven’t seen done a lot.

The book starts off in an interesting way: the main character dies. The story explores themes of what happens after we die. Where do we go? Is there an afterlife. 30-year-old Jude dies and wakes up in a waiting room. It’s a place where people wait to be reincarnated into their new lives. They usually are not in the waiting room for any longer than an hour yet for some reason Jude has been in the waiting room for a lot longer than everyone else.

In the waiting room there is a large window people can look out of to see their loved ones who are still living. Jude uses the window to watch his wife Nina. He watches her through the window for decades (that’s some dedication!). He watches her as she copes with his loss and starts to move on with her life.

There are so many reasons why The Waiting Room is so freaking amazing. The concept of deceased people in a waiting room, waiting to be transferring into their new life is really interesting. The book explores a lot of time periods, places, and personalities so every chapter and anecdote always feels fresh and unique.

The author has mentioned how the book morphed out of a cheesy poem she wrote to her then boyfriend. When I was first going into reading this book, I kept thinking how exactly she would navigate Jude and Nina’s relationship. Safe to say, I was blown away at the way she explored the characters relationship while keeping the book interesting and without getting overtly sappy and cliche. Bonus points on that.

My only qualm with the writing was the supporting characters. Kaye did a good job of describing the people that worked in the waiting room but not about the many people that passed through the waiting room. Given how she wanted to show the many different lives people live, it would have been fun to hear more about some of the people in the waiting room. More than just the handful of sentences she used to talk about them.

Also, the author mentioned how some people thought The Waiting Room was the first in a planned book series. I can see how this would be thought. The writing yields themes that could be explored in further books, maybe with different characters, buts still tied in somehow. It reminds me of The Giver by Lois Lowry and how that book spawned three more books in a loose quartet.

The Waiting Room exceeded my expectations of the romance genre and self-publishing. It doesn’t succumb to typical cliches and stays fresh and unique in it’s themes and how it approaches things. Good Read 5/5

Connect with Alysha Kaye:

Website | Blog | Twitter | The Waiting Room on Amazon

Review: The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving


The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving

Life is something that can’t really be planned. Even when you have a plan, it ends up getting a few detours, roadblocks, and your plan may even drift away altogether. The only way to get past setbacks, disasters, and tragedies is to seek a new context, and focus on the now (and not the how or why).

Benjamin Benjamin (yep, he has two first names) is a 39-year-old guy who’s trying to figure out how to approach life in light of a terrible family tragedy. He’s separated from his wife and dodges all of her attempts to get him to sign the divorce papers. He hasn’t worked in months, getting by on a cashed out IRA and cash advances from an old Visa. Ben isn’t a deadbeat, he’s just a guy wondering what the next step is in his life after losing all that he had before.

He takes a 28-hour night course called “The Fundamentals of Caregiving” and gets a $9 dollar an hour job caring for a 19-year-old guy who is confined to a wheelchair due to duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The novel isn’t the typical tale of a saddened atmosphere surrounding a character with a fatal condition. The tone of the story follows a similar nature of John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars. Although even with the common characteristic of a character in fatal condition, The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving follows a different tone.

The characterization is very good. Ben Benjamin is a broken guy wondering out to get out of the hole he’s in. The author interweaves the present day story of Ben’s care giving with his past life as a stay-at-home dad. The reader is introduced to his wife and two kids and gets a glimpse at the cherished, loving life he had before the tragic accident. (Note: This isn’t a spoiler, there is much, much the novel dives into).

Trev, a young guy slowly withering away, yearns for normalcy. He dreams of the seemingly simple things he could do if he didn’t have his condition, things like peeing upright in the way most guys do. When he gets a notice about his estranged father living in Utah, Ben decides to pack up the van and take Trev on a road trip from Washington state all the way to Utah.

Along the way they pick up a handful of characters like a runaway teen (Dot), a bright-eyed cheerful pregnant woman appropriately named Peaches, and her husband, Elton, a guy looking to get rich quick with a seemingly smart business idea.

The novel, with it’s delightful character anecdotes and scenarios, forms part road trip novel, part buddy novel.  The characters are real, flawed people trying to find the next direction in their lives. Along the road, the stop for sight seeing and evaluate their next steps.

Trev isn’t cast with the stereotypical brave soul sufferer. He’s real, and the reader gets to experience his want and desires in life. He yearns to experience what “normal” people do. He’s blunt in the way he speaks. When he develops a crush on Dot and creates experiences while living life on the road, he gets a sense of normalcy that he’s never had before.

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is able being open to where life takes you, moving forward in life, finding your place, and forming connections with people that are experiencing the same difficult journey in trying to make sense of their situations.

In life there are a lot of things you can’t control. You won’t be able to control things like when setbacks happen, when things don’t go your way, when failure and mistakes set in and the circumstances your born into. The one thing you do have control in is how you respond to things in life and how you choose to move forward in life. The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving ends on this commandment.


Note: In case you haven’t heard, the novel is getting a film adaptation! Paul Rudd, Selena Gomez, and Craig Roberts have all signed on to appear. The movie is currently filming in Atlanta, Georgia right now and is expected to be released this fall. Make sure to read the book before the movie comes out!


Film Review: Short Term 12 (2013)

Short Term 12 is a film that could have easily been done in a cliche way. I’m sure everyone has seen their fair share of gritty but cheesy films that so helplessly aim to inspire and strike a cord in the viewer. Short Term 12, digging into the understated issues facing its characters, successfully hits all the themes and is able to inspire without being the least bit cliche.


The story starts out with a group of people who work at a group home for troubled teenagers. Grace (Brie Larson) is the young supervisor of the facility. Despite seeming like the calm and collected supervisor to the troubled bunch of kids, Grace deals with issues of her own. She has dark emotions, from previously living with her abusive father, that she doesn’t know how to deal with. She lives with her long-term boyfriend, Mason, who also works at the group home.

A host of things are introduced at the start of the film:

  • Marcus, a troubled and grudge ridden teen, is about to leave the shelter since he is turning 18
  • Grace, along with the other workers at the shelter, deal with Marcus’ anger towards going back to his abusive mom
  • A new girl comes to the shelter. She’s anti-social, hates everyone and doesn’t think anything can help
  • Dealing with Jayden, a troubled self-harming girl, Grace conjures up dark memories of her own childhood

When Jayden comes to the group home, she says she won’t stay long. She intends to move back with her abusive father in the near future. She doesn’t seem to like being in group homes or being labeled with the term “troubled/at-risk teen.”


Even Marcus doesn’t like being seem as “troubled.” When the new worker at the facility introduces himself, he ignorantly says about how much he wants to work with “underprivileged” teens. Marcus gets furious at the utterance of the word and starts cursing at Nate, the new worker.

This single scene provides the basis for this review: Short Term 12, showcasing the deep natures of its characters, provides an intimate look into the nature of a not very discussed environment. Sure, PBS specials, documentaries and so forth are made over foster kids, troubled teens, and the underpriviledged. Short Term 12 is different. It digs deep instead of scratching the surface. It really shows why these people are the way they are. Through their challenging upbringing tales, the film’s characters form a bond that not many would understand. They’re able to give each other a companionship and sense of belonging that an (expensive) therapist never could.

Director Destin Daniel Cretton made a film about a really crappy and screwed up environment without making the viewer feel crappy at the end. Brie Larson gives a knockout performance as Grace. Larson does so well in conveying emotions with just her facial expressions. She doesn’t have to give any hysterical cries or throw a fit, she shines with her performance in the way her face reacts in the scenes.



Movies for the Recent College Graduate

Do you ever just sit around on a certain day and think “Wow, the real world really sucks sometimes.” You followed all of the steps: went to college, got good grades, put up with less than ideal situations (crappy roomate, anyone?) and graduated college with your bachelor’s degree. It’s a time of celebration yet everyone (including your parents and the waiter that serves you food) is asking what you’re going to do now. A quick dialogue always runs through whenever a college graduation happens.

Society: “Do what you want.”

Society: “No, not that.”

A bit unnerving. Fortunately, there are things like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Redbox that can help you dive into a life of sweet media consumption (and procrastination). A lot of movies have fluff and give a stereotypical or unrealistic nature to them. No fear though, there are films out there that provide a good laugh and are insightful too. Look to the list below to see a list of films with characters practicing questionable antics, themes of growing up and the ever concerning question of “What now?”

Young Adult

This film is a fun take on the typical coming-of-age genre. It’s written by Diablo Cody (screenwriter for Juno). The film revolves around Mavis (Charlize Theron) who is a bitter, divorced 37-year-old ghost writer for a series of young adult novels. She’s had success all these years: being the popular girl in high school, moving to a great big city, being a successful writer. Things come crashing down when her book series is about to be cancelled due to low sales. She has one book left to finish but can’t find any inspiration to do it.

Considering she was the popular girl in high school, you know how this story might go. She gets a picture sent to her of from her old high school boyfriend who is married and now has a baby. To her, it’s a sign that they were meant to be together. She’s a little on edge and has nothing to lose so she drives out to her home town to relive some tender memories.

Young Adult is suprising in that it’s not the typical soapy, cliche inspirational film (if you want that, go look up The Breakfast Club or She’s All That). It displays a woman who had early success and is now crumbling. She had a successful book series and living in a great city but it still wasn’t enough for her. Her small-town former friends seem a lot happier with their simple lives.

Case in point? Success can be defined in a number of ways. Moving to a big city (like New York City) isn’t always the best thing. People change and move apart. The glam life of others isn’t always the answer. Appreciate the ordinary and find inspiration in the little things. Mavis is a combination of the over the top person you hate along with the bitter person inside yourself. Entertaining film with some interesting takeaways.

Ira and Abby

ira Ira is procrastinator extraordinaire. He’s been working on his PhD in Psychology for forever. Wait? A PhD in Psychology? He can’t even figure is own life out. He types away on his computer with mindless details. With a bitter view of people and the world, he doesn’t have much hope in the societal norms of getting a well paying job and starting a family.

Abby is a free spirit who loves everyone. She’s the type of girl who reminds you of that person you meet at orientation or camp who is overly happy and takes a bunch of pictures. Anyways…

Ira joins a gym that Abby works at. They hit it off, go through the typical relationship woes and start to question the society norms when it comes to relationships and life in general.


The films above can provide some much needed cinematic take on the topic of the real world and transitioning into a new stage of life. If not, Office Space is always available to watch…

Jumble of Mumble

Drinking Buddies

Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

The film, made for less than $1 million, stars well-known actors Olivia Wilde (Tron Legacy), Jake Johnson (Fox’s New Girl), Anna Kendrick (Up In The Air, Pitch Perfect), and Ron Livingston (Office Space). The improvisation is the thing most interesting about this film. Director Joe Swanberg only gave the actors outlines with plot points and what had to happen for each scene. Being a romantic dramedy detailing the status and complications of a relationship, the dialogue comes through very real and touching. The movie is set in a brewery and follows Wilde and Johnson’s character interactions along with their respective partners. A-

Related: Before Sunrise/Sunset, Like Crazy (Although it’s slightly more “light” in mood than these)

Tiny Furniture

Image via Wikipedia
Image via Wikipedia

Aura (Lena Dunham) returns to her parent’s home in Tribeca with no job and a film studies college degree.  She is stuck in the weird stage (that many college grads face) where she is post-grad but not yet in the real world. The film, shot for just $65,000 is not for everyone. The pacing is slow and nothing seems to be going on at first. Dunham shows the numbness that many (nervous, desperate, helpless) recent graduates feel but she doesn’t seem to give much more. Aura never does more than just shuffle around hopelessly. It’s a phase that many recent college graduates have but not of an extendedly long period. B-

Related: Perks of Being A Wallflower, Giant Mechanical Man

“We’re Going to See This Through to the Bitter End”

The World’s End is the third installment in the Cornetto Trilogy by writing duo Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. Building upon the same formula of their previous successes (Shaun of the Dead & Hot Fuzz) The World’s End adequately delivers laughs and embraces Wright and Pegg’s writing talents.

Image by Focus Features via imdb
Image by Focus Features via imdb

Instead of fighting zombies (Shaun of the Dead, 2004) or being a by-the-book cop (Hot Fuzz, 2007) Simon Pegg plays Gary King. Gary is a low life who peaked in high school who is hoping to re-ignite the good times he remembers having. At the start of the film, Gary tries to gather up his old high school buddies to revive an old tradition they did called “The Golden Mile.”

“The Golden Mile” involved going around and drinking a pint of beer at each of 12 pubs in the characters hometown of Newton Haven. Shortly after starting the quest, Gary gets into a fight with an odd acting teenager in a bar bathroom. Gary knocks the teen against the wall causing his head to fall off and exposing him as a robot.  The chaos starts to ensue shortly afterwards when Gary and his friends notice that the whole town of Newton Haven is infested with human-looking robots filled with blue ink.

Characterization is great in the film. Simon Pegg successfully play a drunk and druggie who is looking to have a good time with friends. Nick Frost (Pegg’s partner in crime in Shaun of the Dead) pulls off a solid performance as the reserved one of the group. Martin Freeman from the movie The Hobbit is also in the film.

The film project formed from an early screenplay that director/co-writer Edgar Wright wrote when he was 21. The original story involved a group of teenagers visiting several pubs. Wright reworked the script with Pegg to have a story that embodied the “bittersweet feeling of returning to your hometown and feeling like a stranger.”

Enjoyment will come from watching the film if the viewer liked the first two films in the Cornetto Trilogy. Crazy antics and surprisingly cool action scenes help keep the viewer watching. A sign of relieve can be given for the fact that the film does not employee the standard apocalypse movie format of people just running around and screaming.

Whether you have a love of sci-fi, action, or comedy, The World’s End employees all three while still giving new things to laugh at. The World’s End is a slapstick comedy that gives more to love from the creative minds of Pegg and Wright.

Snowpiercer: You need to see it

download Snowpiercer, the South Korean directed sci-fi thriller, was shot in 2012 and released to basically everywhere except the U.S. in 2013. The reason for the hold-up? Probably due to the conflicting perspectives on how the final version of the film would be. Harvey Weinstein, the film’s producer, didn’t seem to like the final cut by the film’s director Bong Joon-ho. Weinstein wanted major cuts to happen to the film and Bong Joon-ho refused. The outcome? The film was released on June 27, 2014…the same weekend opening as the latest big-budget franchise movie Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Snowpiercer, however, has become the underdog favorite movie for the summer. The reason? Despite a limited opening release of just eight theaters, the film went on to have a video on demand release two weeks after the theatrical one. Within a few days after releasing to VOD platforms, a swift internet chatter of admiration developed for the dystopian themed movie. It currently holds a 94% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

When the opening credits come up, it’s 2014. The earth has reached high temperatures due to global warming. A chemical by the name of CM7 is released into the atmosphere by several countries in an attempt to cool down the earth’s temperatures. Things don’t go as planned. The chemical released experiment causes a massive ice age that kills almost all life on earth. The only surviving people are ones aboard a train that circumnavigates the world.

Curtis (Chris Evans), lives at the tail-end of the train along with his fellow inhabitants Edgar, Gilliam and Tanya. The train is led by wealthy businessman Wilford (Ed Harris). Wilford has the train structured into a class system. The wealthy stay up at the front of the train, near the engine. Various aquariums, animal habitats and gardens are in the middle of the train. The poor live in the tail-end.

Curtis, fed up with the conditions the tail-end people endure, sets up a plan for a revolt. He draws experience from previous rebellions when planning. He carefully watches the pattern that the train doors open in every time the guards come to deliver food. Making note of timing, guard behavior and revolt’s of the past, he notices a key element the guards are missing. Once the notice of this missing element is picked up, the revolt is on.

Pep talked by his elderly mentor, Gilliam, Curtis leads the revolt. With a pack of people, he charges through the doors of each train car. Along the way, he enlists the help of former train security officer Namgoong Minsoo and his daughter, two people with the ability to open the train’s doors.

Picture time!
Picture time!

The society on wheels is thrilling with its different compartments. Curtis and his team fight off a group of creepy masked soldiers, marvel at an aquarium compartment and take in the staggering differences between the tail-end and higher up sections. Tilda Swinton gives a refreshing comic performance as Mason, the high level citizen who leads tail-end rebels through the train’s sections.

Snowpiercer isn’t something that can be pigeon-holed like most dystopian action films. The dialogue is filled with mindful anecdotes. CGI only supplements the real gritty action taking place. The ending twists into something the viewer wouldn’t normally expect. Lessons taken from the ending of the dsytopian film could include:

  • Upsetting reality even if revolts are successful
  • Complex nature of how to run a society where everyone is in need
  • Reflection of how exactly leadership should be handled
Forget CGI and robots, this is real action!
Forget CGI and robots, this is real action!

Best way to enjoy this film? Watch it twice.While it is refreshing to watch on the first take,  it’s one of those movies where the little details start to become clearer on second viewing. A must see for anyone tired of mindless big-budget franchises and endless sequels. A+

Indiewire did a great article detailing the theater vs. VOD numbers for anyone looking for an informative read on the marketing side of this film.



Film Review: Begin Again

Music and the recording process is a mind-enhancing experience that doesn’t always have to be backed by a major record label to find an audience.


Begin Again starts off with two people trying to find their footing after experiencing each of their own life wrecking circumstances. Greta (Keira Knightley) is a quiet, reserved songwriter who forms a musical collaboration with her boyfriend, Dave. She helps him in writing songs as he signs to a record label and rises to stardom. After botching a once harmonious song of Greta’s, Dave ditches her to go onto the musical big leagues. Gretta, having moved to New York City from England, feels lost and not sure what to do.

On the night before her plane ride back to England, her friend (played by a very funny James Corden) encourages her to step up to the mic to perform a song. Her performance attracts the attention of Dan, a disgraced music executive(Mark Ruffalo).

Dan sees the potential in her and later encourages her to record an album in hopes of getting a record deal at the record label he used to own.

“I’m not some Judy Garland who stepped off a plane for stardom”

The quote above is a line that Greta says to Dan when he initially tries to sign her. This movie isn’t some cliche story about a woman chasing her dreams of a record deal. From the encounter, Dan and Greta go on to form a musical bond, igniting the idea of recording an album to the sound of New York City.

Disclaimer: This film may encourage you to buy a headphone splitter

Greta has been dumped by the passion project of songwriting she did for her boyfriend’s album. Dan is a recovering alcoholic that has been recently fired from the music label he helped found. Despite the bad circumstances, the film maintains a spirited nature of the creative journey to recording an album. Dan and Greta travel around New York City, taking in the scenery of Times Square and city rooftops to record the album.

The film is appropriately titled Begin Again due to the flashbacks at the start of the film. At the beginning of the film, flashback sequences are show of Greta and Dan separately, showing how they ended up down on their luck and meeting at the cafe. The original title for when the film was screened at last year’s Toronto Film Festival, was Can a Song Save Your Life?

After watching the film, I don’t really know how to exactly answer this question. The answer could be a resounding ‘yes’, but not with 100% certainty. The songs featured in the film weren’t very memorable after viewing. After leaving the theater, your mind probably won’t be pounding with musical tunes on repeat. It’s okay, though.

Begin Again is refreshing for many reasons:

  • Seeing Keira Knightly in a non-period piece
  • Adam Levine in his feature film acting debut…and he’s pretty good.
  • A big fancy record deal isn’t always to best solution
  • A musical community can be built with a dedicated vision and a few good musicians
  • After watching the film, you’ll probably want to visit New York City…and grab some coffee

beginagain3The list can go on but all in all, Begin Again is one of those films you watch to embrace a feel-good nature. Mark Ruffalo makes for a great drunken, scruffy music exec. James Corden brings laughs and a somewhat scene-stealing nature in his performance as Greta’s best friend and musical supporter. A nifty singing voicemail scene and New York City scenery make this film a worthwhile watch. Something different than its big budget, summer counterparts. B+

Film Review: Happy Christmas (2014)

Do you ever watch one of those movies that deals with a person that’s down on their luck and makes bad life decisions? Happy Christmas is one of those.


The story involves Jenny (Anna Kendrick), a no so responsible 27-year-old who has recently broken up with her boyfriend. With many options and lacking direction, she arrives in Chicago to live with her older brother Jeff (Joe Swanberg, who also wrote and directed the film).

Life Choices: Passing out on a stranger's floor
Life Choices: Passing out on a stranger’s floor

Jeff makes and produces films for a living. He lives a relatively happy with his novelist wife, Kelly, and their two-year-old son. Once Jenny arrives, things start to get a bit hectic. Her first night of living at the house, Jenny goes to a party to meet up with her friend Carson (Lena Dunham). Getting a little to festive, she gets smokes pot, drinks and ends up passing out in a bedroom, requiring Jeff to come pick her up.

After the passing out incident, jenny starts to form a bond with Kelly at the house. She notices that Kelly feels overwhelmed and wants time to write her novel. Trying to get her creative juices up and flowing, Jenny suggests an idea for a book that Kelly can write. Throughout the days, free-spirited Jenny and Carson get Kelly to open up, prompting a evolution of relaxation in Kelly.

At a quick glance, many will wonder why the heck a “christmas” movie is being released in June/July. Despite its title, Happy Christmas features very little of actual Christmas. The Christmas theme is meant as an accessible way to bring family together and show their interactions. A quick Christmas day scene is all that is featured in the 78 minute movie.

Director-writer Joe Swanberg is known for having his films center on the ordinary, daily interactions of a group of people. Happy Christmas features fully improvised dialogue. No set script was used for the film. The actors received outlines for each scene.

Life Choices 2: Smoking pot
Life Choices 2: Spending hours mindlessly surfing the internet

Happy Christmas is a “slice-of-life” type film. The film appeals to the viewer that likes movies heavy with improvisation, realism, and the scenes with the interactions of everyday life. Despite its slow pacing and lack of clear resolution, Happy Christmas goes above with witty dialogue, quotable lines and examining the nature of family dynamics. Happy Christmas might even give new meaning to the term “Christmas in July.” A

Happy Christmas is currently on video on demand platforms (Amazon, iTunes and others) and is scheduled for a limited theatrical release on July 25, 2014.

Review: Carpe Diem & Dead Poet’s Society

By the end of Dead Poet’s Society (1989), you won’t be able to get the motto “Carpe Diem” out of your head. Dead Poet’s Society is a drama film set in 1959 at a conservative school called Welton Academy. It tells the story of new teacher John Keating (Robin Williams) and his unconventional teaching methods. Keating inspires his class of students through teaching poetry.

Image by Touchstone Pictures via
Image by Touchstone Pictures via

The only storyline that is given depth is with the character of Neil (Robert Sean Leonard), who has ambitions to become an actor. His strict  father forbids him from doing so. He wants Neil to go to military school, then enroll at Harvard University for a career as a doctor. The pressure from his father and teachers at school drives Neil over the edge.

Robin Williams gives a fine performance as the boys over-the-top zany teacher. Williams brings a witty yet intelligent characterization to teacher. He articulates his words nicely and makes every word he’s saying meaningful. Williams was honored for his performance with an Academy Award-Best Actor nomination.

Being in a privileged, conservative and strict all boys school, the boys are sheltered from the many things of life. William’s character does unconventional methods of teaching in order to get the boys to start thinking for themselves and questioning the things in life.

Many people might be slightly disappointed by the film. The script does not fully develop any of the characters (including teacher John Keating). Scenes in the in the movie do not seem to fully fit together with each other. Many people might think the film does not explain the characters actions on their pursuit of “Carpe Diem” enough.

Despite any short comings one may experience, the film is sure to give one a new motto to keep in mind: Carpe Diem. Suck the marrow out of life and make your life extraordinary.

Although the ending to life has already been written, one can still compose the story.

Note: Apple recently made a commercial with the voice over of Robin Williams doing the “What will your verse be?” scene in Dead Poet’s Society.  The commercial is promotion for Apple’s iPad Air. Watch below.