books, movies

Here’s My Two Cents

Beautiful Black Cat with Gold Eyes Portrait Journal: 150 Page ...

I have a million things I could say about the current (rightful) unrest happening in our country and being reflected around the world. But I really don’t think I’m the right person to be saying it, and others have said it all much better, and more appropriately. But this is what I can do, and will do — here are some under-recommended recommendations for reading, and viewing, to help inform, and inspire, not just now, but all the time.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. A good book for teens ...

With the Fire On High: 

Full disclosure — this wasn’t completely my cup of tea, purely because I am not the biggest reader of contemporary fiction. But this is a great story about the struggles of a teenage mother, and her desire to keep alive her dream of cooking professionally. With the Fire on High doesn’t shy away from addressing the stigma of trying to finish high school while raising a small child — and also provides hope for the future, even in this situation. This is absolutely an important novel, and I think it should be widely read.

Amazon.com: On The Come Up (9780062498564): Thomas, Angie: Books

On The Come Up:

Everybody’s still talking about Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, but her fantastic second release is sadly out of focus. For someone who really didn’t care for the writing of the former, I loved the style of the latter. The text and the message, the story and the real-life topic, are easily woven together here, and On The Come Up feels so natural and from the heart. If this isn’t already on your TBR, it needs to be.

Misty Copeland "Life In Motion - An Unlikely Ballerina ...

Life In Motion (An Unlikely Ballerina): 

Misty Copeland is one of the few people of color rocking the American ballet scene, and I want everyone who loves the fine arts to know who she is. Her autobiography delves into the details of her personal challenges, as a black woman in a traditionally white field, and shows how she made her mark there. In spite of her groundbreaking status, Misty’s voice is utterly unpretentious and heartfelt, regardless of the topic or discussion of the chapter. By the way, you don’t have to be an expert on ballet to enjoy her story.

Moana review: after 80 years of experiments, Disney has made the ...

Disney’s Moana:

Put aside the Hawaiian connection for a minute, and revel in this tale of a young woman of color going out, on her own, to save the world she knows, and discover what else might be out there. Moana is a beautiful twist on the coming-of-age narrative, and the primary focus is on not giving up, no matter the odds.

Raising Dion's flaws are what also makes it appealing - PRIMETIMER

Raising Dion (Netflix): 

I’ve been discreetly trying to find ways to encourage diversity in Muffin’s entertainment consumption, and this one he stumbled on before I did. Raising Dion is a wonderful depiction of a mother’s love; of explaining to children there is good and evil in the world, pain and joy, at a level they can understand and relate to. It’s also a show that subtly touches on the fact there simply aren’t many POC superheroes. For anyone with a Netflix account, do give this one a watch.

Top 10 Hair-Raising Reasons You Need a Black Cat - The Trupanion Blog

 

 

 

books, entertainment, movies, Science fiction

Virtual Unreality

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So, last night we watched Ready Player One. (I attempted to read the book as part of The Great American Read challenge at our local library, and did not get past page 100). While I’d like to think of myself as still “cool” (hopefully people still use that word to describe the state of being, otherwise my entire argument shall be moot), I found the idea of this story very, very difficult to get into.

It had nothing to do with the video gaming or virtual reality aspects, or the 1980s references. I’m a child of the 80s myself, I get most of those references. (See, I’m cool — I’m retro.) But what I struggled with was the very premise — apparently the world has finally gone to hell, the economy has tanked, the country is poverty-stricken…but everybody spends 90% of their time in an online VR world, that is supposedly offered free of charge to get started? To the general public, in a nation that now has no jobs, no GDP, evidently no trade or exports, and civilization nowhere other than…Columbus, Ohio?? Erm, o-kayyyy…

With the book, I had major issues with the narrator, too; I didn’t find him sympathetic or a kid that I could root for. I honestly found him stuck-up and arrogant, and a crude little knucklehead, and wanted him to fail. And the writing style got on my nerves; when a novel begins in a first person deep POV format, but within 10 pages strays to a journalistic-type article — including footnotes! — to explain all the background behind the VR game and why everybody wants a piece of it… Well, my eyes glazed over, and I began losing any hope of this book and I getting along.

However, that aside, I knew the rest of my household was excited about seeing the movie, and I was outvoted in that regard. Plus, last night, I was tired, and grumpy, and didn’t even feel like trying to read. I was in one of those funks, after having had a frustrating week. So, Ready Player One it was.

Now, my quibbles about the (extremely flawed and somewhat unrealistic) premise put on the back burner, the film is absolutely stunning to watch. Purely from a graphics perspective, it is eye candy art in its highest form. And I didn’t even know Simon Pegg was in it; I am utter trash for Pegg’s geek work, so once I discovered that, my mood immediately began to lift. And once you get past all the (unnecessary) info-dumping that’s in the novel, the storyline is decent.

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But I had to keep forcing myself not to focus on the extremely unrealistic aspects of the setting and plot. The story is only set in 2045, which is not so far in the future that it could be entirely unrecognizable to us modern humans. The Oasis, the online server, was, according to this tale, developed and released around 2025. Less than 10 years from now, the chances of the next big tech thing coming out of anywhere other than Silicon Valley or Tokyo is downright laughable.

About 6 months ago, I watched a program on, I think it was the National Geographic channel, or one of their affiliates, about the present and future of Silicon Valley, and the CEOs for Microsoft, etc. that they interviewed announced, firmly and without doubt, that the days of nerds developing revolutionary hardware in their garages is gone. Nowadays, college students who want to become IT engineers are falling all over each other to get to New York and Los Angeles.

The novel was published in 2012, which was after Zuckerberg became one of the youngest billionaires ever by changing our world with Facebook. Microsoft and Sony and gaming companies in Japan are working really hard at making virtual reality as advanced as it was in Ready Player One. But it is expensive, and takes time, and hardworking and well-trained staff. While I’m not ruling out that someone could come up with a way to crack the barrier on their own (as happens in the story), it’s highly, highly unlikely. Also, the notion of it being a socially awkward middle-aged nerd (as the author’s tech genius is) really doesn’t seem plausible.

Since the new generation (teenagers now) have grown up with the internet and technology advancing at a consistent (almost frenetic, to some) pace, I just can’t see, in the year 2025, someone releasing a VR gaming server being utterly shocking and taking over society. The idea behind this modern fiction feels so…flimsy.

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And then there are…the 80s references. I can say with a fair amount of certainty: The 80s are not considered “cool” anymore. I truly cannot envision fashions, music, or movies from that decade coming back into style. The 80s are something that make our kids look at us in confusion or roll their eyes disdainfully. Nobody gets the significance of standing outside somebody’s house holding up a boombox these days; in fact, who even knows what a “boombox” was? And that behavior is no longer viewed as an out-of-the-box way to apologize to your girlfriend; now it’s referred to as stalking.

This is one of those stories where it pays to just sit back and go along with the ride, and not dig too deep under the surface.

But that gets me wrapped in a knot, too — who exactly was the intended audience? I can’t help but wonder if Ernst Cline (the author of the novel) was aiming for an atmosphere of nostalgia, rather than near-future realism. You can’t even classify this tale as dystopia, since we’re not given enough information on the surrounding world, the government, the problems existing outside of where the narrator is immediately located. It’s so concentrated on the Oasis/VR/tech giant conspiracy motif as to be myopic.

I wouldn’t call this great fiction that’s designed to really make you think.

But it made the list of the top 100 books recommended for everyone to read at least once in their lifetime. (According to who? We haven’t figured out yet just how PBS determined what made the list and what didn’t.)

Stuff like that irks me. Sorry, folks.

And then, for all my effort, Simon Pegg was only in 20 minutes’ worth of the film. Oh, well. His performance was sterling (as he so often is).

A big component of the story does revolve around the digital world versus the real world, and I did like that the point was made: The digital world does not necessarily win out, no matter how appealing or enticing it may be. Temporarily escaping all your real life problems online does not make those problems go away; they will still be there when you log off. And the people you meet online might be very nasty in real life. Or they could be awesome — but you might never know if you don’t occasionally shut down the server.

In this age of global connectivity with the press of a button, we need to reshape our views on what makes a friendship, a community, a hobby. The world that we knew even 20 years ago is pretty much consigned to the history books. Whether that’s good or bad in the long run, we have yet to see.

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But since so much of the internet and building connections across the planet could be used for good, let’s start thinking of it that way. Let’s stop being the naysayers of the future, grouching about the fact “things aren’t how they were,” and accept that life is how it is now.

Instead of ruminating over what we’ve “lost,” think about what we could gain — greater understanding of each other, more friends and colleagues and a bigger human family.

And work on maintaining the stuff we really shouldn’t lose — like respect, dignity, trust, decency, and common sense.

The biggest takeaway, I feel, of a film about virtual reality should not be that technology is the enemy. Rather, it’s how we choose to use that technology that could let us down, or build us up.

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movies, Science fiction

The Blade Runner Discussion

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Okay, first, I feel the need to apologize to those of you who aren’t sci-fi fans. This will be a sci-fi intense post. But this subject is something near and dear to my heart, and I do want to delve into it. And, after all, this is my blog, so suck it up  just bear with me for the moment.

On the whole, I’m not a massive sci-fi person. I enjoy Star Trek, but not much else when it comes to the genre-heavy stuff. But there are some stories, in any type of medium, that I feel just transcend the “confines” of their genre, and Blade Runner is one of these tales.

The original 1982 movie is based on a novella by acclaimed sci-fi author Phillip K. Dick, entitled “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” This is not a twisty-turny, high-action sort of plot like Star Wars. Rather, Blade Runner asks one of the most important questions posed by civilization: How do we know what makes us human?

Blade Runner is set in a bleak, downtrodden L.A. of approximately 2019…which now does not seem so far away and futuristic. And, unfortunately, Mr. Dick seems to have been closer to the truth than we would’ve liked to believe we’d be in the 21st century when he first penned his tale of Replicants and the special forces police who hunt them. There is plenty of poverty, crime, environmental concerns, and inequality.

Normally, this is the type of film I wouldn’t give a second glance after about 10 minutes; but I am forever grateful that I was initially forced to watch it all the way through. The sad and dark atmosphere actually sets the scene for one of the most beautiful on-screen romances. The soundtrack is by turns melodic, intriguing, haunting, and when it has to be, just a tad sinister. The directing and acting are great, and the script gives you plenty to think about.

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The filmmaking technology in 1982 was of course not what it is today; but by the standards back then, Blade Runner really set the bar high. Its use of intricately detailed models, clever lighting, and doing more with less means that the effects are impressive for the time period, but don’t overwhelm the plot or characterizations.

Now, before I just run full-length into waxing poetic about my love for this movie, I’ll quickly get back to the subject at hand: What I adore most is the innocence and tenderness with which the topic of “how human can Replicants be?” is addressed. Replicants are BR‘s version of androids, and while it’s presented early on that they can be capable of extreme violence, it’s also shown that they can also be capable of compassion, empathy, remorse, and love. (As someone who’s known I was human my whole life, but was frequently accused of being either nearly inhuman or even extraterrestial, I completely felt the plight of the Replicants.)

Anyway, while the debate on what really makes us human, how do we know what does and doesn’t have a soul, and other existential questions abound in the film, we are also faced with the equally tough issue of: Because Replicants are androids, although they look and (mostly) act like us, they are still robots, and therefore certain laws must apply.

The 5 Laws of Robotics immediately come to my mind. One states that robots shouldn’t want to harm humans, because they don’t have the emotional capacity to truly understand how damaging that can be (to individuals, society, to the concept of humanity). Which is why Replicants who “go rogue” and have hurt or even killed humans must be “retired” (basically, executed). Another is that robots/androids are designed to help people achieve human-oriented/inspired goals, so the concept of even AI developing its own ulterior motives is just not kosher.

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So, when we get to the long-awaited sequel film, Blade Runner 2049 — which my family watched the other night — I am having a LOT of conflicted feelings.

#1: I LOVED the clear references to the original in terms of the premise, setting, music, and history. (I can’t stand it when a film in the same world as a predecesor takes all the rules from that story and throws them over a cliff and then stomps on the ashes.)

#2: While I didn’t personally care for some of the casting choices, I thought the acting was well done, and the directing.

#3: But it begins to fall apart for me about halfway through. The sequel is loooooong, and it feels unnecessarily so. I figure the last hour could’ve been greatly reduced.

#4: The villain gets about 10 minutes’ screen time, nowhere near enough to develop what his actual devious scheme is, why he cares, or why we the audience should care.

#5: The big plot reveal (man, will this one be hard to do without spoilers!) hinges on ignoring a previously impossible notion in hardcore sci-fi. It feels extremely un-canon, and therefore I have ISSUES. Not only does it go against part of the Laws of Robotics, it goes against science, which brought the Replicants into being, and it is science that cannot be ignored, without throwing into chaos the entire system of the universe, and…well… My poor Vulcan brain is tied in knots.

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One of my biggest sticking points with movies from the 80s and 90s was that sequels — and then series — became the norm, even when it wasn’t needed. Part of what has continued to draw me to Blade Runner over the years is the way its story seemed so wrapped up in its own neat little package. Yes, there was potential for a sequel, but it didn’t feel like the end of the world if one wasn’t created.

Now this has all changed. And while I don’t hold it against the people who made Blade Runner 2049, I am exercising my First Amendment right to feel rather meh about this state of affairs.

So, tell me — how many of you who are sci-fi fans have seen the original? And the sequel? What are your thoughts? (And if there happens to be a big spoiler in the comments, sorry, folks, I take no responsibility for that. You have been forewarned!)

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family, movies

Presenting What We See Versus What We Hope For: Historical Fiction

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This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. We live in an age where certain things — like racism, sexism, and discrimination — are considered wrong, but this wasn’t always the case in the world. While I am 110% for preserving authentic historical representation (even the stuff we don’t like is important not to cover up, folks), I also feel it’s important to portray a healthy viewpoint for the next generation — especially since we truly hope they’ll live understanding, tolerance and acceptance much more than previous eras of humans.

 

Last night, White Fang and I watched Leap!, which is supposed to be a cute kids’ movie about a pair of French orphans who run away to Paris in the late 19th century to follow their dreams of being a ballerina and an inventor. Now, the premise is fine. But the plot that unfolds is riddled with holes — more holes than 10 slices of Swiss cheese.

The filmmakers have the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty being built at the same time (hint: that didn’t happen), the main character wearing denim (again, would not have happened in mid-1880s France, especially for girls), all the dialogue being very modern, most of the soundtrack 2010+ pop hits, two 12-year-old orphans running around the city like they own it, and a girl with zero previous training becoming an expert ballet student in less than a month.

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Now, while I expect some suspension of disbelief to be necessary with animated movies aimed at 4th-graders, this is taking it too far. As a classically trained dancer myself, I know for a cold, hard (and often very painful and achy) fact that there is simply NO WAY ON EARTH a girl who didn’t even know the basic 5 positions would be starring in The Nutcracker about two weeks later.

Yes, there is a great message in “don’t give up on your dreams, work hard and keep trying.” BUT we have to present realistic goals and ambitions for our kids. If we’re going to encourage little girls (and little boys!) to enroll in ballet classes for the love of dancing, they also need to know that learning a skill — any skill — requires constant practice, self-discipline, and competition. Some of the other pupils in your dance class will always want to be better than you, not support your progress, not be a team player. You won’t get every role you audition for — you may never get to be Clara in The Nutcracker — and you need to be okay with that.

Back to my point about getting the historical details right: The filmmakers also didn’t know anything about The Nutcracker — its first performance was in 1892 (which definitely wouldn’t coincide with the building of the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty). Nor is it just a duet (there are whole big scenes with tons of dancers and vivid costumes and a sort of fairytale to it all), as the movie claimed.

And — this was quite disturbing to White Fang and me — there were a couple scenes where an 18-year-old boy was hitting on a 12-year-old girl. Now, while that’s (disgustingly) more historically correct, these days we would absolutely label that child abuse and make sure it was stopped. Can we — seriously, Hollywood — please NOT release a film that suggests that kind of behavior is totally acceptable?

AND a film that clearly shows it will take you approximately 4-6 years of lessons and busting your butt to be Clara in a professional company’s performance of The Nutcracker?

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My complaints on this issue are about far more than blurring the lines between what happened and what we wished had occurred in history. It’s about establishing what a healthy attitude is towards life now, based on where we’ve come from. The rather 1950s Disney version of “happily ever after” is not realistic, and should not be anticipated. We will have to struggle with disappointments, missed chances, mistakes, and other people not liking us (no matter how nice we are to them).

The only thing I liked about Leap! was the fact that the main character did not give up on her dream, despite her poverty, her lack of formal training, the disadvantages her culture threw in her way. Yet, the extremely impossible way in which she got there meant that impressionable young minds will still be swayed in the wrong direction.

I really, really want 21st century girls to understand that their ancestors had to fight for the laws that protect them from child marriage, not being able to choose their occupation, and just being treated as property by men. I really, really want them (and their male peers) to respect the advances we’ve made and not take them for granted. How do I convince my sons that sexual harassment is wrong if they see it in a movie released in 2017?

We currently have a very disjointed, unbalanced view of the past that we’re portraying to the children of today. Not all white people were evil racist bigots. Not all men were sexist pigs. Not all little girls who wanted to be ballerinas danced in Paris.

We need to find a better way to objectively state facts, accept that we can’t change them, and get over it, so that we can pour our present energies into changing perspectives and behavior that we publicly proclaim should not be a part of our lifetimes.

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Autism, movies

Movie Review: The Accountant

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So, about a week and a half ago, we watched The Accountant. 

It was my husband’s choice for viewing; I wasn’t that excited about it.

“Another movie with Ben Affleck killing people and blowing things up? Eh.”

Within 10 minutes, I’d drastically changed my mind.

Ben Affleck portrays a character with Asperger’s syndrome, who’s a successful accountant, and a trained assassin. Yes, you read that right.

I was utterly numb by the time the credits started. Affleck’s depiction was amazing. He constantly struggles with making eye contact with the other characters, shaking hands, understanding jokes or rhetorical comments. This is probably his only role where he doesn’t get the girl. The scene where he forced himself to deal with bright lights and intense noise through repeated exposure therapy actually made me look away and cover my ears.

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Now, I don’t have Asperger’s (White Fang and I are PDD — the differences are another post), but I’m pretty close in a lot of ways, so to say that I related and HAD ALL THE FEELS is, erm, well, worthy of being in all caps.

A while ago, I mentioned that I wondered, where were the superheroes that autistic kids could connect with? Meaning, is it possible to have superhero potential without possessing all the money, all the tech, all the bling, and refusing to wear those ridiculous spandex suits because of fabric sensitivity?

Well, I think The Accountant comes pretty damn close to being an autistic superhero.

His natural tendencies towards moving quietly and not engaging in small talk are seen as benefits (easy to sneak up on the bad guy, and not give him time to get away while making a snarky quip).

His creative problem solving skills and attention to detail and ability to self-discipline mean that he managed not to get caught by the FBI for a long time. His unusual mentality and sense of morality helped good people, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire of some truly nasty business.

He lives very frugally himself, and donates huge sums of money to autism research.

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Without giving too much away (because I want you all to go and rent this movie NOW), there’s a minor character, a doctor who treats “neurodivergent” children with a completely open mind. This guy is my new favorite person for advocacy. Yes, he’s a fictional construct, but, damn it, we need people like him to spring into being and change the real world.

This doctor believes that autism isn’t “less,” isn’t “bad” or “wrong.” He believes autism is simply a different way of living, one that the rest of humanity hasn’t figured out how to translate.

(Get out the tissues for the autistic moth.)

Towards the end of the film, he tells a couple struggling to accept their son’s diagnosis, “Maybe he doesn’t understand yet how to tell us everything he’s capable of. Or, maybe we haven’t learned how to listen.”

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(Pardon me a moment.)

Okay, conclusions.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Ben Affleck, but he has my everlasting respect for his execution of this role. Portrayals like this give me hope that not just the tolerance, but that the acceptance, we so desperately need, will one day be within our grasp.

I don’t just recommend this movie — seriously, watch it tonight. (Note: It is rated R, so not a family thing.) There are many concepts addressed here that everyone needs to be aware of.

So that one day there might be autistic superheroes.

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children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, movies

Moana: A Review and Some Thoughts

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So, although we’re a little late to the party, we watched Disney’s Moana last night, and it did not disappoint.

In recent years, I have shied away from Disney films, mostly because I don’t like watching yet another sub-par movie produced by a studio whose best decades appear to be behind it. It makes me sad; especially as someone who (like most of my generation) grew up on the Disney classics (not just the European fairytale adaptations, but also such brilliant pieces as Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, and Lady and the Tramp). After the extreme letdowns of Frozen, Zootopia, and Inside Out, I was ready to run the opposite direction from Disney/Pixar, and make my family exclusive Dreamworks viewers.

When we saw the trailers for Moana, and White Fang said, “Let’s give it a try,” I silently groaned.

Note to the preview people: Please stop making *such* cheesy trailers that do not do the actual movie justice.

I cried at least 4 times before the end of this film. Moana is amazing. Not only is the animation the complete, utter zenith of current technology and talent, the intense inner beauty of the story that permeates every single scene should move even the more jaded adult viewer. There are so many glorious individual moments, in character interaction, developing backstory, foreshadowing, and personal growth.

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And can we just talk about our heroine for a minute here. The title character and protagonist is DA BOMB. Daughter of the village chief, Moana isn’t just beautiful and smart, she is a beautiful soul, and she is intuitively smart — she doesn’t simply retain knowledge and put it into practice well, she figures things out with her heart. The true absolute gorgeousness of this young woman as who she is makes me cheer and hold out hope for the future of humanity.

Moana is not a damsel in distress. Nor is she a clever girl who still ends up getting rescued by the guy. Unlike any Disney movie I’ve ever seen before, Moana becomes the embodiment of the power to change her circumstances and lead her people. (I feel my chest swelling with feminine pride even as I write this sentence.)

The female icons in this story are incredible. Moana’s grandmother; her mother (who shows unwavering faith in her daughter); even the island goddess; they’re all excellent examples of what and who little girls can grow up to be, whether they choose a traditional or pioneering path.

Let’s focus on the story itself for a bit. The messages of never giving up, of redemption and forgiveness, are powerful. The inner strength Moana must summon to continue her quest is awesome. The inclusion of Polynesian legend and culture feels authentic and interesting. This is not another “politically correct” grab at the diversity platform — this is simply a tale of a Hawaiian tribe and part of their history.

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And the PIG. After the unbelievable cuteness of this fictional pig, I may be giving up pork products forever. 

The music wasn’t just fun — it was relevant to its part in the story, it was well-produced, it was moving. (That’s another refreshing departure from my more recent experience of Disney.) And of course the animation of the ocean, the stars, the mountains was all breathtaking.

I have never been to Hawaii; I have often considered going (particularly after Lilo and Stitch — just without the aliens). But now I really want to go, and I think I’d be seeing this island paradise with new eyes — not merely the eyes of a European descendant who spends a lot of time in a rather cold climate; but as a tourist who can appreciate the rich and layered beauty of the landscapes, the culture, and the lifestyle. (That’s the real win for increasing tolerance, by the way.)

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So, if you’ve already seen Moana, good for you. If you haven’t — rent it from Netflix (as we did), request it from your library, grab it from Redbox. Skip the popcorn this time; acquire some coconuts and bananas and mangoes. Gather the kids and grandkids round, and let this tale encourage them to go after their visions of the future.

Just one last note in my gushing about this film — can I have the pig?

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movies, reading

Discussion: The Book vs. The Movie

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This is an ongoing thing among book lovers — Which is better to do, read the book before viewing the movie? What if the movie of your favorite book is a disaster? Is it ever acceptable to just watch the film and never read the original book at all?

Today I’ll be presenting a variety of thoughts on these very subjects. So, get out the popcorn and soda (or whatever you snack on while at the cinema).

I love to read. But I also love movies. When films are made of books I enjoyed, I get excited. Some book dragons get skeptical, or even worried. Not me — I just go ahead and watch with an open mind. And if I happen not to like the film version, so be it. For me, it doesn’t ruin the book.

Sometimes, I even prefer the movie over the book. I know that sounds like sacrilege to the ears of some; but, think about it, haven’t we all read something and thought, “This could just…have been…better“? For me, How To Train Your Dragon is a perfect example. After White Fang got hooked on the movie, we started investigating the books, and, well, we weren’t impressed. (Sorry, Cressida Cowell.) But we really appreciate the spark of imagination that the original series put in the minds of the filmmakers.

So, is it truly entertainment heresy if you see the film before reading the book? I say no.

There are instances when going to the cinema prior to the bookstore is actually helpful. After all, what if you weren’t even aware that the movie you just watched was based on a novel/biography/real event? If you liked the film, you’ll get interested in a book that you didn’t even know existed until you saw its title in the credits. (This is an especially clever way to encourage kids to read more.)

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Also, there are times when attempting to read (particularly non-fiction) and glean all the information just doesn’t fit into your life. Recently, I watched Hidden Figures on DVD, because trying to read such a text right now (due to children) is a real challenge. But I could manage to set aside 2-3 hours (thank you, Lord, for gifting someone the ability to invent the pause button) to finish the DVD.

And sometimes you like a story, but an author’s writing style really doesn’t do it for you. The Book Thief immediately springs to mind — I couldn’t make it through more than 75 pages of the text, but wanted to know what would happen to Liesel and her foster family. Since the movie isn’t presented like the book, it was a win-win. The story is precious and important, and on screen I didn’t miss it because I couldn’t understand the long metaphorical ramblings of Death as the narrator (when I thought the story was about a little girl in Nazi Germany). (I have many, many issues with this book. Sorry, fans.)

And, in truth, I never could’ve managed to read Lord of the Rings without seeing the films first, and getting all the background on the different places, events, and how in blazes to pronounce everybody’s names. (I’ve actually given up reading high fantasy, because trying to relate to characters whose names I can’t even fathom how to say out loud really dampens the experience.)

And let’s not forget the topic no book lover actually wants to admit to — “What if I just won’t like that story, and don’t want to waste money on a printing I’ll never touch again?” A couple years ago, when “everybody” was reading The Help, and I had serious misgivings about it, I rented the DVD from the library (for free), and quickly (within an hour) discovered that if I tried to read the novel, it’d get thrown at the wall. Mission accomplished.

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On the other side of the coin, if you just can’t stand the screen adaptation of your favorite book, you never have to watch it again. (This definitely holds true for me with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.)

And there are times when I’ll simply like the movie better. I’m not big on reading drama, or thrillers, but I can rent the film from the library or Netflix, and get the jist of the hyped novels of (insert year here), that I know I’ll never read.

Another plus for me is that often I just can’t picture in my mind’s eye what the author’s describing (especially if it’s a place/event/style of decor I have no frame of reference for). But on screen, I don’t have to know the terminology or the geography; I’ll still be able to understand the setting or the point of that scene.

Are there some books that I just don’t think would adapt well to film? Sure. Just like literature is an art, good filmmaking is an art, and some things don’t necessarily translate from one medium to the other. Example — I think attempting to make a movie of The Scorpio Races would be an epic fail. And there are some authors (like Erin Hunter) who don’t want movies made of their work, and I can appreciate this viewpoint, too.

However, if a film company or student approached me about creating their take on my series, what would I say? Hmmm… The jury’s still out on that one.

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family, movies

My New Favorite Movies

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We watch a lot of movies in my house. Cable television isn’t a complete waste of money these days, but getting close, so we’re soon going to be cutting back on certain services, and we’re sick and tired of all the repeats and/or stuff we don’t watch anyway, er, anyway. Even the kids are getting bored of the “seen it…seen it…seen it” bit. So, we’ve been making the most of our Netflix account and the local library to watch things we haven’t seen a hundred times before. Therefore, I have developed some new favorites, and I am going to share them with you today, because my brain can apparently think of nothing else to post about  I am a generous soul who wants to broaden your horizons.

Doctor Strange

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For those of you who have already seen this masterpiece of fun and excitement and tributes to the art of M.C. Escher, this will come as no surprise. Over Christmas vacation, we were in the mall, and of course this title was everywhere, having recently been released on disc, and I was drooling rather badly. My husband actually said, “What’s that about, again?”, but I let it slide, because he tends to do that. Rather than letting the moment escape, I grabbed a copy off the rack and said, “We are getting this one.” It worked; we purchased it, and viewed it a few days later.

Kubo and the Two Strings

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White Fang and I watched this a couple weeks ago, and we were both moved by how complex and astounding the plot is. Just by watching a preview, you could tell the art was going to be the most MARVELOUS thing since never before; but having interesting characters and a lot of twists and heart really help make this film a true stand-out. If you haven’t seen it yet, do it, do it, do it!

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

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White Fang has decided he wants to become Newt and take care of all the beasts in the suitcase. I can’t say I blame him. Constructed against the backdrop of 1920s New York City, we get to see a glimpse into the workings of the American wizarding world, and Newt is the most precious Aspie wizard ever (come on, I know I’m not the only one who saw that).

Finding Dory

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This is my opinion of Finding Nemo — “blehhhh.” This is my feels on Finding Dory — “Oh my gosh, that’s so sweet, that’s so funny, oh my gosh, I am loving this!!!” Of course the animation — just being released on Blu-Ray this year — is top-notch and absolutely gorgeous. But again, if the plot and characters don’t contribute, the whole thing can fall flat. I love the premise of this film. The whole idea of using these fun marine animals to address various challenges is awesomely executed. The filmmakers explored things like injuries and impairments (memory loss, agoraphobia, and more) in a very realistic, sensitive, and overall beautiful way.

Happy viewing!

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Autism, cats, children's fiction, Fantasy fiction, movies, reading, Science fiction, writing, Young Adult fiction

My Writing Influences

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Good morning, everyone! Per the poll on my Twitter account, oh, only about a hundred months ago (no, really, about a week, I think), I will be selecting the next few blogging topics based on the feedback from those of you who actually read these posts!

The top choice was *my writing influences*. So, I present you with the answer to said subject. (Disclaimer: I did warn you ahead of time that you asked for this…)

Cats. And other animals, but a lot of cats. The tricky thing about trying to write about animals is that, as humans, we can only get inside their heads so much. Or, so I believed.

For a long time, I’d wanted to include talking animals in my writing, and my attempts fell flat. Then I started reading Warriors by Erin Hunter. I’ve waxed poetic plenty about that series in other posts, so I won’t go full throttle here, but suffice it (for the sake of this topic) to say that it completely changed my mind on what was possible.

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Mythological creatures and tales. Since I was old enough to read on my own, I was hunting down stories of the ancient Greek legends, Grimm’s fairytales, and pretty much anything involving unicorns, dragons, and mermaids. I gobbled up almost everything I could find centering on all the species of faeries and animals that don’t exist. I’ve adapted what parts of the legends work best for my story when it comes to The Order of the Twelve Tribes.

Music. I do have a writing playlist (which changes to fit with my current WIP). As those of you who have read Masters and Beginners will know, I’ve placed song lyrics at the start of each chapter throughout the novel. These are homages to my playlist while I was writing/editing Volume 1. So, that will be different in each installment. But it gives you a pretty good idea of what I’ve been listening to.

My previous life in England, and all the English authors I’ve read since forever. Charles Dickens, Peter S. Beagle, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, JK Rowling — it’s a kind of a small miracle there are any American authors on my shelves. (And, yes, there are a few.) But these Brits developed my craft, the type of pacing I follow, the use of (hopefully) clever humor, and reinforced my passion not just to tell a story but to tell it well.  

And since I spent 4 years in Great Britain, I’m just used to thinking in both American and the Queen’s English at the same time, and so many of my characters started morphing into people who originally came from London/Cornwall/Oxfordshire/Edinburgh, and I didn’t fight it.

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Doctor Who. I would flat out be lying if I claimed my writing hadn’t been influenced by Doctor Who. (I have at least three TARDIS references in Volume 1 alone, for the love of Gallifrey.) And while it may seem a bit too ambitious, I truly hope that some day, in some way, I can create something on a parallel with the beauty of some of the early episodes of the show’s reboot.

Warehouse 13. If any of you have seen that TV show, you’ll probably recognize bits of the Warehouse in the Annex, and the sort of structure of the Regents in the idea of the Council and the Order’s hierarchy. (And this is as close to spoilers as I get, I swear.) I’ve had a few really favorite programs, but few have truly stayed in my heart as much as DW and WH 13. 

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Theories on lost knowledge or cultures. Again, for those of you now familiar with the plot of Masters and Beginners, you’ll know that I’m fascinated not only with the mythology and legends of different civilizations, but you may have noticed that I’ve dug pretty deep to find some unique twists for my story. My ideas about the origin of faeries and the Nephilim are actually not completely my own; they’re developed from some very old (think the Middle Ages) and rather obscure Celtic and Hebrew lore. But I took the jist of a lot of research and bent it and molded it until it was shaped like The Order’s world.

Autism. It’s impossible for me not to see life through the lens of autism. And since I’ve read about 62% of the YA/fantasy novels ever printed, I can tell you with some authority that there really aren’t that many healthy, realistic depictions of autism out there. So I decided to write my own. In Volume 1, I’ve introduced not one but two characters on the spectrum (one it’s stated early on, the other will probably be a surprise to most of you). In Volume 2 and beyond, there will be a much greater focus on them.

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My furry angel. You’ve all seen this picture by now, as Toby is my muse for the artwork on the series. (Feel free to ooh and aaw over his cuteness.) Having a real life model for cat behavior was very helpful for putting together the characters of Jules and Sammy.

Pretty pictures. It sounds almost trite, but if you think about it, it’s really important to surround yourself with beauty when you’re hoping to be creative — especially when you’re writing about really serious things like discrimination and losing loved ones and staring down your own imminent demise. (And here you thought I was just writing about fun and glittery faeries and talking cats!) It helps to remind you that — as Samwise Gamgee would say — there is good in the world, and it is worth fighting for.

So, there we are! I hope this appeals to your sensibilities of what you wanted to know about what influences my fictional work! Don’t forget to put a specific question for me in the comments for next week’s post, Author Q & A!

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books, British pop culture, Fantasy fiction, movies, reading, Science fiction

Ways In Which I Am Not A Traditional Geek

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Most of the “the world” would consider me a geek. I am rarely seen without a book in my hand; I won’t be watching the latest chick flick, but a new sci-fi movie I’m game for; I have (shamelessly) cried like a baby during Doctor Who season finales.

But, there are several views I hold that would be shot down by the same “geek” community many would subscribe me to. So, I guess it’s confession time.

I don’t play video games. That’s right. The only reason I know so much about them is White Fang’s dad was a game designer. I have failed horribly at first person shooters such as Halo; been the master of mashing buttons in Dead or Alive (4, I think); and the last Final Fantasy I played was, I believe, 10. All of these experiments weren’t my idea (though I will admit to enjoying DoA and FF). The screenshot above (from Minecraft) is courtesy of White Fang, who is basically a programmer in training, and the resident Minecraft fiend in my midst. When I see ads for new games in a series I’m familiar with, or game-inspired movies, I’m a little bit in the know, but very little, and that’s not likely to change.

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I love ballet. A lot of “geeks” are into Broadway and the ballroom/jazzy/hip-hop style of dance that’s predominantly featured in those shows. But that’s just not for me. (Further confession — I don’t even like musicals. Sorry, folks.) Classical is the style I love the best, that my body appreciates and emulates the most, and that I am likely to drop everything for. (No offense, anyone, but) I won’t race to the TV for a clip of Hamilton; but a new version of Swan Lake — and children need to learn to watch themselves.

I don’t like Star Wars. This one may get me in some hot water. But it’s just a fact. And I’ll hasten to add, it’s just my opinion. If you’re a massive Star Wars fan, good for you. (I’m not one of those jerks.) But I’ll just have to politely excuse myself from the in-depth discussions about Jedi vs. Sith and the complexities of The Clone Wars.

I gave up on Doctor Who halfway through Matt Smith. Like many fans who had mixed feelings about the story arcs after Amy and Rory were close to leaving/had officially left, my drive to keep caught up on new episodes really faded out. And I just did not care for Clara or her storylines. So, since I don’t have to plant myself in front of the TV for this show, I’m not. I still fondly re-watch the Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant eras, and am content to stay there.

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I never read comic books, have barely touched manga, and avoid graphic novels. Again, this is purely personal taste. The main reason I don’t do this format is simply because I find it confusing. Following the text in the bubbles and the action in the pictures with no over-reaching narrative to explain what’s really going is super tough for me. I truly appreciate the work these artists put in to their genre, though; so, for their sake, I’m really glad I’m in the minority of non-fandom.

The only Star Trek series for me is the original. (Leonard Nimoy was one of my childhood heroes, and I want a Tribble; I’m aware of the risks.) Am loving the new movies that go back to this show’s roots.

I’ve only read through The Lord of the Rings books once. No, this does not make me a traitor, I swear. And I saw the movies before I started reading the trilogy. Still not a traitor, really.

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Along those same lines, I generally don’t read high fantasy. Not knowing how to pronounce anyone’s name, or where they’re going, is a real turn-off for me as a reader. I’d much rather (gasp!) wait for the movie to come out.

I don’t even belong to any fandoms. Stop shouting at your screens, I swear I am a true geek. When I was 7, I wanted to marry The Goblin King, and be Almathea (The Last Unicorn). Rose Tyler is the best Companion ever; it’s officially carved in a block of ice on the planet Woman Wept. For my birthday I got an Evenstar. I proudly carry a TARDIS tote bag. Minecraft has llamas now. See? For me, it’s more about time than anything else. I have a slightly obsessive trait buried down deep (because I’ve repressed it to survive), and if I let myself get started on the forums and the accounts and the threads, I would never eat or sleep or take care of my kids. And those things are kind of important, too.

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