Shooting Stars: A Teenage Vampire Love Story from a Boy’s Perspective – A Review

Shooting Stars: A Teenage Vampire Love Story from a Boy's PerspectiveShooting Stars: A Teenage Vampire Love Story from a Boy’s Perspective by Philip Carroll
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Philip Carroll Does it again. In Shooting Stars he takes a genre that I don’t normally like or even read, and made me really enjoy this story. And now on with the review.

Being a teenager is hard, really hard. Add to that, moving to a new school, and joining a sports team. Jocks and Cliques that you don’t have a chance of understanding unless you have lived in a place all your life. And don’t get me started on the girls. Chuck has all of these problems and more when he moves to his new school from Washington State. He discovers that not only does he have to deal with all the normal problems of moving to a new school but he has accidentally stepped into the middle of a battle ground on a higher plain.

When his new girl friend Kelsey, turns out to be more than he excepted he finds him self in the middle of a battle that nothing he has ever experienced can prepare him for. He will need everything he has and more if he hopes to get out of this one live.

Part of me wonders if I like this book so much because I was Chuck growing up. I moved to a new school in high school, joined the Cross Country team, did well, and met the girl of my dreams only to have her turn out to be so much more than I thought she was. My girl friend (and now wife) didn’t end up having magical powers or anything but still she was special. But I think that it is more that Chuck’s story is one that a lot of teen aged guys can relate to.

In Shooting Stars : A Teenage Vampire Love Story from a Boy’s Perspective Mr. Carroll gives us an engaging story. More than that, he gives us real characters who you can relate to. They have hopes and dreams, and he drags you down, some times kicking and screaming, into their lives. At one point I found myself yelling at the book, “Oh no Chuck that is such a bad idea!” I really cared about these people, and when the book ended I was really sad that I could not continue to be friends with them.

Mr Carroll does not glorify the demonic forces that are vampires but instead exposes their true ugly nature, and the forces required to do battle with them. This to me was a huge deal, and for a teen aged romance involving vampires it was a breath of fresh air.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have known Philip Carroll for some time, I follow him on social media and I consider him a friend. I was given a Beta copy of an early version of this book and an advanced readers copy (ARC) of the book and enjoyed both immensely. While I probably would not have picked up this book normally because as I said I don’t normally read this genre, Philip has opened my eyes. If you have any doubt, I am going to buy copies for each of my teen aged boys so that they can read it.

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Flypaper Boy: Coming of Age – A Review

Flypaper Boy: Coming of AgeFlypaper Boy: Coming of Age by Philip Carroll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Flypaper Boy thinks his super power is lame. I mean really, what can a superhero do when his super power is sticking to things until someone comes along with some nail polish remover to free him. That is until he is kidnapped by bad guys and is forced to become a super villain. What is a good guy to do, when he has to use his powers for the forces of evil?

Flypaper Boy: Coming of Age follows Jimmy Wheeler AKA Flypaper Boy on his first real adventure. This is a superhero book. I have said it before and I will say it again, I am really not that much of a super hero fan, but this book caught my attention and held it.

High school can be hard enough if you are different, harder still if you have to move to a new school. Through it all FlyPaper boy manages to keep his cool, remember his mission and stay true to his moral code.

Let’s be honest here, Jim Wheeler is a teenaged boy, and he is surrounded by teenaged girls. He is going to notice them. He is going have feelings for some of them. But all the while he manages keep a lid on his hormones and and stick to his moral code, not only for being a hero, but also for being a human. That is one of my favorite parts of the book. Multiple times he is presented with opportunities where he could have taken advantage of the situation, and yet he never does.

This book is not so much about being a super hero, probably why I liked it despite my normal aversion to comic book superheroes, and much more about being a kid in a tough situation, trying to find his way through who happens to have super powers.

Mr. Carroll did a wonderful job, grabbing my attention and keeping it. His characters have depth, they have flaws, and they have to live life the best way they know how. I really enjoyed this book, and I look forward to sharing it with my kids.

A Note for parents: If you are looking for a good book to start the school year with, this is a good one. It is certainly safe for middle grade readers though probably older ones will appreciate it more. If they are still in the eeew boys / girls are yucky stage they might want to wait another year or two. And the book is aimed more at boys than girls, though I think girls will like it too.

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Novacom – Adventures In Odyssey – A Review

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If you know me at all, you know that I really like audio fiction. As much as I enjoy curling up with a good book, I really enjoy being able to hear a good story. This is especially true when I am in the car. I used to spend about four hours a day in the car, and that was wasted time until I discovered podcasts and other forms of audio fiction.

That being said, there is good audio fiction, mediocre and even bad audio fiction. Normally Adventures In Odyssey falls into the mediocre category. This is not because of the quality of the audio, or the actors, the music or even the sound effects, those are all usually top notch. Normally the Adventures In Odyssey stories are not all that well written and / or they tend to be very preachy. I can deal with one or the other, but both is a little over the top. Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Adventures In Odyssey. They certainly are kid safe, the stories keep the kids attention, and in my opinion, that is so much better than having the kids glued to a dvd. I appreciate their ministry, but the stories are normally on the preachy side.

Ok now that I have said all of that, let me start my review of The NovaCom Saga. This is a ten disk set, full cast audio drama, and honestly I was amazed. The story was well thought out, well paced and pretty darn intriguing. All of the characters, save one, were very three dimensional.

Summary: (Without spoilers)
When a new broadcasting company, NovaCom, moves to Odyssey, it brings with it old friends and new, but more than that, it brings trouble with a capital T. Mr. Wittaker and the gang from Whit’s End have to do spiritual and earthly battle the more than they ever expected, and the new company launches a plan that expands way beyond Odyssey. The story is over ten hours long, so it takes what seem to be many little side stories, that all tie together at the end.

This is Adventures in Odyssey’s first foray into really long form fiction, and I have to say that they really seem to have stepped up to the plate and delivered with this. As normal the voices, the music, and the sound effects were top notch, but beyond that the story telling was right up there with it. The story was interesting enough that it kept my attention, with enough there to also keep the attention of the kids. This story delved deep into the dangers of blindly following technology, and the companies that sell it. It is science fiction, but you can easily see some pretty good analogues to today’s world.

With all of this glowing praise you would think this was a perfect production. It wasn’t. As I said before, all but one of the characters were very well rounded. Unfortunately the one character who was pretty two dimensional was the main antagonist. Every time he got “screen time” I found myself, but why is he doing all of this? All of the other antagonists had a story, a reason for being there, but the main antagonist only seemed to be there just to be the bad guy.

The other problem I had with the story was the almost magic, I am a Christian, now problem solving. This is probably one of my biggest issues with Adventures In Odyssey in general. Every good repeating character becomes a Christian and their life seems to be just about perfect after that. While I agree that a belief in God and letting Him lead your life will fix a great many things, it is not a magic fix, much like anything else it takes work. There was less of that in this story. People who were Christians still had to suffer and even in a couple of occasions they died.

This story did cover some heavy and deep topics, in the episodes that dealt with the darkest and scariest topics, there was an age warning at the beginning of these episodes. While I don’t think any of it was not really age appropriate, it would be a good idea to listen to this with your kids.

In the end I give this 4 out of 5 stars. I great story to listen with the whole family on a long car trip.

The Sinner’s Guide To Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher – A Review

The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family PlanningThe Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning by Simcha Fisher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Sinners Guide to Natural Family Planning By Simcha Fisher.

This book came highly recommended, so when one more person recommended it to me, I decided that it was time to get a copy. Well actually two copies, since the deal right now is if you buy the hard copy you get the kindle version for free. That worked out really well since my wife prefers hard copy and I prefer e-copy.

I should start this review by saying my wife and I have been practicing NFP for more than 14 years, and we have been teaching it for just over 13 years. So while I was excited about reading this book, we have some experience in helping people who have questions about the why’s and the where’s and the hows of NFP. We have heard many of the complaints, promises and hype about it. We have lived a lot of the pains and joys of it as well. And in the last few years we have gotten rather tired and probably jaded by all of the sunshine and unicorns side that you see most of the time.

This book, is not one of those sunshine and rainbows, puppies and kittens. Well maybe it is because, as anyone who has ever had a puppy or a kitten will tell you, that while they are super cute and there are some great benefits to having one, they can also be a pain. Ruined floors and furniture, torn up shoes, walks in the middle of the night that and unexpected puddle that gets your socks wet right after you turn the lights off.

So on with the review. This books starts with a disclaimer. This book will not teach you NFP. It will not tell you about all the different methods, it will not even tout one version of NFP over all the others. It won’t tell you about the dangers of using artificial birth control. So if that is what you are looking for, this is not the book for you.

After the disclaimer, the first few chapters are about the realities of living with NFP. Why you might choose it, and some of the common arguments. And I enjoyed reading about them. Even though I knew it was the case already it was good to hear that other people struggle with using NFP as well. The chapters on why, biologically speaking, the struggle can be so darn hard was especially nice to see.

For a long time my wife and I called ourselves the NFP dropouts. After reading this book, the title no longer seems all that appropriate. While my wife says she already kind of knew this, believe it or not, outside of class, guys really don’t talk about these things. So it was nice to see that there are other couples out there that are just as much “dropouts” as we are.

I have only given this book three stars. And all three stars are for the first half to two thirds of this book. the last third of the book deals with, well, it deals with sex. Ok NFP is about sex. Not entirely, a good portion of what NFP is about is learning to listen to and interpret your wife’s body, in order to help prevent or to achieve a pregnancy. But that is just a start. NFP is about respect and love and intimacy that extends way beyond the bedroom.

While I suppose it was good information to get out there, and as one of the reviewers pointed out, that normally you would only find this kind of information in a very intimate conversation with a close friend, some times it would be good to keep more of that information to those close intimate conversations.

I am a prude. I will admit it. But, I am a prude who is willing to talk about just about anything in a one on one conversation. We have had couples ask us some of the questions that were handled in the last third of this book. So it is not that the subjects are “off limits” or something. The problem I had with this section of the book, was that it was no longer a close personal intimate conversation. If I had not been laying on the bed right next to my wife, I would have been really uncomfortable reading this. After all, if I were talking about this kind of stuff, I would have her there with me, so if I were reading it I would need to be sitting right next to her, even with that, I was glad she finished the book before me so that she knew what it was that I was reading. To say it made me uncomfortable would be an understatement. While I know there are those that would disagree with me, I feel that some conversations are best left to intimate situations when both the husband and wife are involved. So while I appreciate the effort Mrs. Fisher made in getting this information out, I kind of wish she hadn’t. As it stands by the time I was finished with this section of the book, I was soured on the whole thing, and really had to try hard to put my feelings aside to write anything positive about the book at all.

My last comment on this book is this. Who am I to say one person’s writing style is better or worse than another. So I want to make it clear that, that is not what I am saying. I know that Simcha has a very personal and rather informal style of writing. I do like her style for most of the things that she writes, but some things require a more formal style. I think if some of the subjects that I found uncomfortable were written with a less irreverent and a more formal style they would have been easier to deal with.

If you are struggling with NFP and feel like you are all alone out there, and if all you are hearing from the people around you is the puppies and rainbows side of it, this is likely a great book for you. If you have been using NFP for long enough that you know that it is a struggle and that there are other people out there like you, this book might be just more of what you already know. At best it will be an affirmation, at worse it will make you uncomfortable if your not reading it with your spouse.

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Since you know what I think about it, and you know my wife read it as well, here is her review.

Paladins of Shannara: The Weapons Master’s Choice – A Review

Paladins of Shannara: The Weapons Master's Choice (Short Story)Paladins of Shannara: The Weapons Master’s Choice by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this short look into the background of a character that I thought was long gone. While the story does not tie directly into the rest of the Shannara line, it does help you to understand who the Weapon’s Master really is, and why he is willing to do some of the things that he does. Not all of them mind you, but some of them.

Great job Mr. Brooks. I would love to see more stories like this one on some of the other characters.

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Monsters University – A Review

5 out of 5 Stars

Editors note. I saw this movie at the drive in with my kids as part of a double feature. That means that by the time this movie started It was after 10:45 and it didn’t get over until almost 1 AM. All of the kids stayed up until the end even the 6 year old. That alone means this was a good movie.

Disney / Pixar does it again. Even when it is a sequel or in this case kind of a prequel, Pixar manages to produce a story that is entertaining, age appropriate, and stunningly beautiful.
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Spoilers beyond this point

You knew that Mike and Sully could not have started out together. They are too much of an “Odd Couple” to have just become friends. Sure sometimes work makes teams out of people, but very rarely does it make good friends. There had to be something that brought them together. This movie tells us that story.

As you would expect, being as different as they are they were not the best of friends to begin with, and it is not until the closing minutes of the movie that that they really become friends. Even at the climax of the movie when they have to work together get out of trouble they are not friends just two people Monsters working together to get out of a really tough spot.

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The movie follows MIKE WAZOWSKI from the moment he realizes that he wants to be a “Scarer.” From that moment on he spends his life trying to get into Monsters University. But when he gets to college everything is not what he expected. Within the first semester he is kicked out of the Scare Program, and is forced to make a deal with the dean of the school and team up with the most unlikely of monsters to get himself back in to the program.

JAMES P. SULLIVAN has never had to work to be scary. He comes from a long line of famous scarers. All he wants is to get through his classes have a little fun and get on with his life. James is completely the opposite of Mike who has to work for every scare.

Even when they are forced onto the same team of “looser” monsters in an attempt to get back into the scare program, by competing in the College Scare Games, they can’t find a way to work together. While Mike controls every move of the other monsters trying to get them to act more scary, James realizes that this technique, while it might teach them a few things won’t turn naturally non-scary monsters into the scare machines they will need to win the contest. And the two of them but heads.

Slowly they gain a level of respect for each other, out of understanding but they still don’t like each other. When James helps Mike complete the final challenge of the College Scare Games by cheating the trust and respect that was just starting to grow is broken.

Monsters University focuses most on Mike, and for most of the movie James is the force that Mike is trying to get over. I don’t want to say that James is ever really the bad guy, but if you had to put it in as simple of terms as that, he is. James is the cool guy, the guy who never has to work, even a little bit of a bully that the nerd, Mike, has to overcome and eventually work with to get back into the scare program. Both characters realize through the story that if they are going to make it through this, they are going to have to drop some of their expectations and learn to look at things differently.

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Monsters University gives Pixar a chance to do what it does best, and that is tell a great story. In a summer when origin stories and reboots this story stands out. Not because it is not an “odd couple” origin story that we have come to know and love, but because it does it so well. Mike and James are just about as different as can be while working toward the same goal. They are forced together and eventually learn to understand each other and in the end become friends.

The Movie keeps the look and feel of the first one with some nice additions to keep it fresh. You will recognize a lot of the side characters from the first movie and some of the more prominent ones as well while learning a little more about how they got to be who they are.

One of the most incredible parts about either of the “Monsters” movies is that this is a story at its core about scaring little kids. Yet, even the youngest of my kids with me (6) was not scared of the movie. Mike and James does some things that really could be scary to kids, but Pixar takes those moments and kind of pokes fun at them, giving you something to laugh at instead of being scared of.

MONSTERS UNIVERSITYIn closing, I will comment again on Pixar’s ability to tell a good story. They have always been able to do so. Their approach in making the characters, really almost all the characters, have depth and feeling is great. They do a great job with keeping the theme of, just because life is not going the way you expected does not mean that it is not going to work out. You can have a movie that is stunningly beautiful and still falls flat. You can have a movie that tells a good story with good characters that is uninteresting. You can have a kids movie that is utterly boring to parents, or that tells inappropriate jokes in an attempt to keep parents entertained while watching the movie with their kids. This movie does none these. One think I think that they have learned is that if you tell a good story with enough depth and emotion to it, it will work for a wide audience.

If you are looking for one movie to take your kids to this summer. This really is it.

All pictures in this review are from the Disney Pixar Monsters University Official website

CycleProGo – An App Review

CycleProGo

3.5 of 5 Stars

CycleProGo is the new online and app based charting program from Couple to Couple League International (CCLI.) This is an updated version of the charting software called CyclePro, and it offers some new features and of course the ability to use it online and via a mobile device. This application is based on the Sympto-thermal rules developed and taught by the Couple to Couple League.

I will say right up front that I do work for (Volunteer) CCLI as part of a teaching couple, so as a teaching couple the app costs me nothing other than my time as a volunteer teacher. However, I do hope to offer an honest and fair review of this application.

Warning!

I can’t say this strongly enough. I don’t care what method you use, or what application you like, If you are going to use NFP in any form be that a app like this one, or just basic Charting, please, please, please take a course or at least get the books from a course.

If Money is the problem (because some of the courses are expensive) there are free courses out there, and they are pretty darn good.

Reach out to a teaching couple or provider in your area they might be able to help you find resources that will help you.

It is worth your time to take a course. If you don’t NFP probably won’t work for you as well as you had hoped.

As I noted the app costs me nothing. And you can download it from the Itunes store, or Amazon for your Android Device for free. While It is free to download and get a look at, you can’t actually do anything without paying for it. The price is pretty high at $5 a month or $12 a year. I will refer you to their site as to what you can do with the paid verses the free version I think the app would be much more accessible if the price were not to steep.

One of the best things about this app is the ability to share with other devices. My wife uses a kindle, I have an iPod touch, and we both are in front of a computer quite a bit. For me having the most accurate and up to date information is the key to his application working at all. And I really like being able to check or enter the temperature or whatever else from where ever I am at the moment.

Once inside the app it does offer you a lot of very nice features. If you are a CCLI member or have ever taken one of these courses much of the charts that you are used to seeing will be presented right up front for you. Entering your data is very easy and straight forward.

I have an ipod touch Gen 3 and I do seem to sit at this opening screen for a long time. I Don’t know if it is trying to sync or just that my device is a little old and slow.
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I do like that the first screen after the loading screen gives you a daily tip, shows off new features and just give yous general information about the application. Most of of this information is available in the help screen, but who ever reads those right? It also gives you a place to give feed back about the application.
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Once in the app itself, you are presented with the current month, that gives you a quick view of where you are in the cycle with color coding at the bottom to tell you what phase you are in. Click on or touching any of the days including the current one will allow you to enter or update your information for that day.
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Choosing the Charts button at the bottom of the screen brings up a menu that allows you choose your current chart to add information to, choose another chart to review, change your phase date based on the rules you want to follow, or look at a general overview of your cycle history.

I have to say that the ability to change your phase based on other rules is probably one of the best features of this app over other ones that I have used, especially since CCLI does teach multiple rules that you can use based on your needs.
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The charts screen presents you with what you are probably used to if you have every used the sympto-thermal method. (I have cleared all the data out of this chart since the only way to get a screen shot was to show you our chart, and yeah not so much.)

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Clicking on the connect option at the bottom of the screen probably one of the biggest disappointments with CycleProGo in general. First in the mobile app, the connect button brings you to the screen below, which is not all that helpful.

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Updated As is the nature of software, there has been an update and they have made a change to one of the biggest problems I had with this app. As noted in the comments, there is now an option to share your charts with anyone via a URL that you can send to people. This is a huge improvement as far as I am concerned.

    Attach Chart

  • choose the chart you want
  • scroll until you can see the bottom of the chart
  • click on “Attach Chart to Public Message Board Post”
  • In the middle of the next screen there is a button that says “Create a Public URL.”

This will generate a url you can send our chart to someone.

If you use the web based version if does allow you to set and use some sharing options. Here is were this falls down. It does not allow you to share with any one outside of CCLI members or teachers. You might be asking yourself why you would want to share this with anyone else. (I am sure there is a joke in there somewhere about sharing too much with a bunch of teaching couples, but we will leave that your imagination)

However, let’s say you wanted to share your chart with your doctor, and they were not ccli members? There is a lot of information on this chart that a doctor can use to help you diagnose problems or even just help you determine a due date. In its current form there is no way to share that information with any one outside of CCLI beyond getting screen shots and e-mailing them. Just an example of this, our primary care physician is a Creighton method trained physician, she was interested in looking at my wife’s charts, and we were unable to send our charts to her, or allow her access to our charts so she could monitor the information through out the month without her becoming a member.

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The settings screens and the sync screen don’t have a lot to offer beyond what a standard app would have. The Settings screen allows you to do things like change your password change from Fahrenheit to Celsius and how often to polls data from other sources.

The settings screen also allows to add “events” to the list of things that you can note quickly on your charts. These are broken down into categories that include emotional, Physical, Medical, Pregnancy and custom. If you have ever tried to type a note about anything with a mobile device you know that having drop down lists of things that you use frequently is a good thing. Also being able to control the things on that list is good thing so that you are not scrolling forever.

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The Sync button does just that, it forces a sync with all other devices that you might be using.

As I said at the beginning I give this App a 3.5 out of 5. I think that it has come a long way since the old cyclepro version, and it does have some pretty nice features. But I think there are some definite drawbacks, like not being able to share with people outside of CCLI. There are also seem to be some issues with the web based version and changing the rules you want to use. You are able to select some of the rules sets in the mobile version that although they are options in the web version they are not select-able.

Red Tails – A Movie Review

MV5BNDQ5MTg2NzI4OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM2NzQzNg@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_[1]Last night was date night for my wife and I, and we watched Red Tails. We have had this movie sitting on our counter for a while now, so we decided that is was about time. To be honest with you I didn’t know if I was going to like to the movie. I have come to realize that movies and especially movie trailers are not marketed toward me any more. Not that I am sure that they ever were. I guess that makes me old and crabby or something. In the end it does make me rather hesitant to watch new movies, and really hesitant to pay to go see a movie.

As I was saying, I was not sure I was going to like the Movie. I like history, and I like Air Force / Army Air Corp history quiet a bit. I know the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, and I certainly find it interesting. So what was I afraid of? Well a few of things. First, that this would be a super politically correct movie. Second, that the sex and violence would be over done. Third, that it would be all about the flying and not about the other battles that these brave men fought.

The good news? For the most part I was pleasantly surprised by this movie.

synopsis from IMDB

A crew of African American pilots in the Tuskegee training program, having faced segregation while kept mostly on the ground during World War II, are called into duty under the guidance of Col. A.J. Bullard.

If you know nothing about the Tuskegee Airmen you can watch this movie and enjoy it. It does a good job of showing you a slice of life of what happened during the
last years of World War II within one unit of Tuskegee Airmen “Red Tails.” If you are watching the movie for the history, I would suggest that you need to use the movie (as with most movies) as part of a much larger study block. While the movie is mostly historically actuate it does little to tell the story behind the Tuskegee Airmen and what they endured to get to this point. Instead Red Tails focuses mostly on the flying battles they fought once they were finally given the chance.

Red Tails, Thankfully was not a super politically correct movie. The Pilots and Airmen of the Unit were not shown as shinning beacons of virtue hidden under a basket, instead the movie did a pretty good job of showing them as flawed individuals doing the best with what they were given.

I was also pleasantly surprised that the sex and violence was kept to a minimum. There is one scene were sex is hinted at, but never shown and everyone is pretty fully dressed. And while this is a movie about war, and there is blood and there are explosions and bullets, these scenes were not over done and not the focus of the movie.

In this third category, I would say, was probably my biggest disappointment of the movie. They flying scenes are spectacular. If you know anything about planes and how they fly and what it takes to keep them in the air, you will know they did a pretty good job with all of these things. I was impressed that they actually showed aircraft maintenance as more than a bullish roughneck with hands bigger than his brain, (see Pearl Harbor.) So in those two things I was pretty happy. I do understand that this is a movie and a fictional retelling of events so it pays to have as many exciting scenes as possible, and really the fights in the pentagon, while probably actuate, are not as exciting as planes tearing across the sky blowing stuff up. But I wish they had focused more on what happened outside of the cockpit, and gave a little more for the history. Although, the fact that the pilots are African American is talked about the struggles they fought just to get into the air in the first place was pretty well down played. Having said that, I would still give the movie a thumbs up.

This would be appropriated for upper middle school or high school kids to watch as it is not overly bloody or violent and not very racy at all. It could also a decent addition to a curriculum about the time period, as it appears to be mostly historically accurate.