Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cover reveal for NEVER NEVER!

I am so excited to participate in the cover reveal for Brianna Shrum's book NEVER NEVER! I came across Brianna when I was researching Pitch Wars this summer and I can't wait to read this book in September. (I believe I've mentioned my Peter Pan obsession before, yes? Yes.)

So, without further ado, the cover!

Isn't that fantastic? Here's the summary:

James Hook is a child who only wants to grow up.

When he meets Peter Pan, a boy who loves to pretend and is intent on never becoming a man, James decides he could try being a child—at least briefly. James joins Peter Pan on a holiday to Neverland, a place of adventure created by children’s dreams, but Neverland is not for the faint of heart. Soon James finds himself longing for home, determined that he is destined to be a man. But Peter refuses to take him back, leaving James trapped in a world just beyond the one he loves. A world where children are to never grow up.

But grow up he does.       
And thus begins the epic adventure of a Lost Boy and a Pirate.

This story isn’t about Peter Pan; it’s about the boy whose life he stole. It’s about a man in a world that hates men. It’s about the feared Captain James Hook and his passionate quest to kill the Pan, an impossible feat in a magical land where everyone loves Peter Pan.

Except one.

Add it on Goodreads or follow Brianna on Twitter here

Thursday, January 15, 2015

diversity and the Academy Awards

So the nominees for the Academy Awards were announced today, and unsurprisingly, a lot of people are upset by the overwhelmingly white and male makeup of the contenders for the film industry's greatest honors.

Confession: I haven't seen most of these movies. It's been a busy time.

Double confession: I am not what you would call a sophisticated film watcher. I love the greats along with the Grease 2s, if you know what I am saying.

Triple confession: Nothing icks me out more than white people who want back-pats for bemoaning the lack of diversity in pop culture, which is why I generally try to avoid these sort of conversations.

That being said, I figured I'd offer up my opinions (it is the Internet, after all.)

Some background facts:
  • Of the 8 films currently nominated for Best Pictures, 7 feature male leading characters.
  • Of the 8 films currently nominated, 7 are about white men.
  • To date, only four women have ever even been nominated for Best Director. More women have been launched into space than have been nominated for Best Director. The one movie nominated for Best Picture (Selma) that was directed by a woman did not get a Best Director nomination.
  • There are no non-white people nominated for any acting awards this year. 
So what does this all mean?

Well, first of all, it doesn't mean that the nominated films, directors, actors, and actresses don't deserve their nominations. They very much do, and on top of that, there are a lot of folks who were snubbed when those nominations were announced, and some of them were also white men. (Sorry Christopher Nolan. It will happen for you someday.)

It also doesn't mean that the Academy Awards are per se racist. Cheryl Boone, the female, African-American president of the Academy, apparently doesn't think the Academy has a diversity problem. And for the purposes of this blog post, I am going to go with her on that.

So the Academy doesn't have a diversity problem, but the Academy's nominees are unarguably not at all diverse. What are we to make of these two contradictory statements?

Let me suggest what I think the real problem is:

The issue isn't that David Oyelowo (star of Selma) and Ava DuVernay (director of Selma) deserved to be nominated and were not. The issue is that 2014 featured a METRIC CRAPTON of movies about white dudes, and the one movie that did not (Selma) was nearly shut-out despite overwhelmingly good reviews.

In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter that two talented people did not get recognized for their talent like we think they should. It does matter that they are part of a greater trend.

What good movies came out this year? Turning to my beloved Rotten Tomatoes, we see that the following well-reviewed movies hit the silver screen in 2014:

The Imitation Game
Big Hero 6
The Theory of Everything
Top Five
Gone Girl
Mr. Turner
The Book of Life
A Most Violent Year
St. Vincent
Guardians of the Galaxy
Force Majeure
The Babadook
Two Days, One Night
The Homesman
John Wick
Beyond the Lights
Dear White People
The Tale of Princess Kaguya
Under the Sea
Born To Be Wild

"Best of" lists that I found after an extensive (read: not terribly extensive) Google search include additional films like Interstellar, Snowpiercer, Grand Budapest Hotel, Under the Skin, The Lego Movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Unbroken.

Based solely on my memory of various posters and trailers I saw over the last year, of the 35 movies listed above ... four feature black people in leading roles? Eight have a female main character? Three feature significant roles for Asian actors -- and I had to count two animated features for that?

I mean, I'm pretty sure two of those aforementioned movies are actually documentaries about animals, folks.

These are not good numbers. And when I say that, I am not saying American Sniper is a bad movie (I'm sure it's great!) or that Reese Witherspoon is a bad actress (I love her!) I'm saying ... these are not good numbers.

Movies, taken as a whole, should not be mostly about men and mostly about white men at that. The people who buy movie tickets are not mostly white men. And white men can be expected to understand and enjoy stories about people who are not exactly like them. I mean, the most loveable characters of 2014 were a foul-mouthed racoon and a giant tree with a limited vocabulary, so I think we are all pretty capable of being lost in a great story regardless, okay?

If there had been 20 great movies that came out this year with leading roles for women and minorities and directed by women and minorities, it would be annoying but not that annoying that David Oyelowo and Ava DuVernay were snubbed in the Oscar race. Hey, they'd be in the same boat with Jennifer Aniston and Clint Eastwood right now! (And I bet that's a SUPER fancy boat.)

But there were not 20 great movies that came out this year with leading roles for women and minorities. There were a mere handful. And somehow, I don't think it's because women and minorities just aren't writing scripts, pitching projects, attending auditions, looking for investors.

When there is one movie (Selma) featuring award-worthy acting from a black actor, and that lone black actor has to compete against ...

Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”
Bradley Cooper, “American Sniper”
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything”
Jake Gyllenhall, "Nightcrawler"
Brad Pitt, "Fury"
Jack O'Connell, "Unbroken"
Ben Affleck, "Gone Girl"
Ralph Fiennes, "Grand Budapest Hotel
Bill Murray, "St. Vincent"
Christoph Waltz, "Big Eyes"
Joaquin Phoenix, "Inherent Vice"
and whoever else I am missing ...

... simple statistics tell us that chances aren't good.

But why was there only one black actor in the mix in the first place?

American cinema doesn't have a diversity problem. It has an inability to imagine a world that reflects reality problem.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

reading lately: ALIAS HOOK

From the description:
"Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It's my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy."

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.

My thoughts:

I love almost all things Peter Pan (surprisingly, not the Disney movie) so I was stoked about this adult retelling from Captain Hook's perspective. The story is alternately told in "present day Neverland" and Hook's past, explaining how the Captain arrived in Neverland and why he's stuck there. The little twists to the familiar story are just about perfect. I loved Jensen's explanation about why the Native Americans live in Neverland (they made a deal with Pan so they could maintain their culture and escape white settlers in North America). Hook's crew constantly replenishes itself as Lost Boys grow up, with only Hook being forced to come back to life again and again so he can keep doing battle with Pan.

That being said, the beginning was a little slow, but if you can get through that, the ending is more than worth it. Definitely recommended, with one caveat -- there are references to adult fairy tale characters doing the grownup. So, you know, don't be too shocked.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

reading lately: THE BISHOP'S WIFE by Mette Ivie Harrison

About the book:
Linda Wallheim is a devout Mormon, the mother of five boys and the wife of a bishop. But Linda is increasingly troubled by her church’s structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in her ward. One cold winter night, a young wife and mother named Carrie Helm disappears, leaving behind everything she owns. Carrie’s husband, Jared, claims his wife has always been unstable and that she has abandoned the family, but Linda doesn’t trust him. As Linda snoops in the Helm family’s circumstances, she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as a wronged husband.

Linda’s husband asks her not to get involved in the unfolding family saga. But Linda has become obsessed with Carrie’s fate, and with the well-being of her vulnerable young daughter. She cannot let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. Is she wrong to go against her husband, the bishop, when her inner convictions are so strong?

First, I had read and heard a lot about this book before I bought it, and the reviews are decidedly mixed. Several LDS readers have expressed the opinion that Harrison had an "agenda" with the book, and I definitely wanted to see for myself if that was true. Having finished the book, I really don't see it. An LDS reader would have to be hyper-sensitive to any perceived criticism to find an agenda in the book. Yes, Mormon characters behave badly, and yes, Mormon characters express unhappiness with church policies and culture. But that's just life, and I think Harrison did a good job of writing a cast of characters for whom their Mormon-ness is an all-encompassing characteristic. There are so many little Mormon details scattered throughout the book--mostly good and a few bad--because the main character is constantly thinking about her religion. To me, that just makes sense. I don't self-censor my inner thoughts, so why should I expect a fictional character to?

Additionally, I definitely disagree with critiques suggesting the book is "anti-man." I think it's very clear that the anti-male sentiments occasionally expressed by the main character's inner-thoughts are a reflection not on how she actually feels. She never treats the men in her life badly and she clearly loves her husband and sons. Most importantly, even when she becomes suspicious of various male neighbors, she can't help but also notice their good behavior and begin doubting her own negative opinions. My reading is that the anti-male comments tare Linda's irrational response to the fear and stress she feels when her neighbor disappears and her guilt over not noticing anything amiss in the Helm family before the disappearance. To me, it read more as a unique character study of a woman under psychological stress than anything misandrist. 

With all that out of the way, here's my review.

I read the book in one sitting. Despite the summary, the book actually involves two different mysteries--one involving the disappearance of young mother Carrie Helm, the other involving the long-dead wife of Tobias Torstensen, a man currently suffering from end-stage heart failure. One hand hand, I liked the idea of a current mystery and one rooted in the past. However, I don't think the dual mysteries worked as well as I would have hoped. Without spoiling anything, I found one mystery far more compelling than the other, and the conclusion to one far more satisfying. If the book had focused on one or the other, I think it would have been a stronger read. 

I liked the reading and I found the characters to be interesting and compelling. The book seems to be the first in a planned series, and I am particularly interested in finding out more about Linda's personal history (little details were hinted at, but not explored) and her sons (placing bets that one of the five sons is gay, but not the one that Linda suspects). Overall, I would recommend it to mystery lovers.