Egg Timer Reviews: 20 Stories! (Books, Movies, TV & Broadway Shows)

I was supposed to post an author interview yesterday, but I never received it. If I do, I’ll reschedule because I think her Q&A would be interesting and fun to read. In the meantime, however, I was in a bind bc I had nothing of my own ready to post. What to do?

Egg timer reviews.

What the heck are those? Well, it’s where I take a look at my bookshelf, Kindle, movie queue, etc. and see what I’ve watched and read lately (or eons ago) that I can talk about in three minutes or less. So these aren’t really reviews. They’re more like stream of consciousness goo. (I filled in some of the names via internet search later – my memory’s not that good. 😉 )

Are there spoilers? Is it still miserably cold outside!? Yes, there are some spoilers!

BOOKS

Stolen Songbird

Trolls! Trolls! TROLLS!! I always wanted to do a romance featuring a leprechaun but could never figure out how to make a leprechaun sexy. Well, Danielle Jensen found a way to make trolls sexy. When I read the back cover copy, I knew I had to read it just to see how she did it. The first part of the book is the best: the dynamic tension between Cecile and Tristan, the descriptions of Trollus and its inhabitants… good stuff. There was a bit too much coming and going in the end (it felt a little “fillerish” to me) and I worry that the trolls might really be “e—” (maybe not…? since that would take away from the Big Accomplishment here). But, if you love YA fantasy, pick this one up. You’ll love it. (Worth noting: Jensen started out with Strange Chemistry, Angry Robot’s now defunct YA imprint. I think Angry Robot picked this series up, but it’s still nice to support authors who end up in this situation).

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

I loved this character’s transformation. You all know I love big character growth arcs and Elisa has one! At the start of the book she is clueless, overweight, and timid. By the end of the novel, she has sought forbidden knowledge, grown physically stronger, and become much more confident and assertive. The only thing that gave me pause was the almost over emphasis on the character’s weight. I’m a big “love your own body” kind of person. And yet, I can also get behind a person’s wanting to change themselves. (My own work reflects my ideological tug of war between “learn to love yourself” versus “pursue your dream to change,” especially my first novel). The bigger question is always, why does a person want to change? Is it society telling them (perhaps subtly and evilly) that they should or is their desire to change truly coming from within? – But rest assured, genre fans, Girl of Fire and Thorns is mostly an adventure story with some magic and romance.

Throne of Glass

I think I read this in a day or two. (I’m a big DNF’er so that, in and of itself, is a rec to read). Hmm… what else can I say? Cool cover. She looks really bad ass. I think there’s a love triangle, but I don’t mind them. (Ahem 😀 ) Who would like this? Fans of YA female assassin characters and YA fantasy with equal emphasis on both romance and action. It’s been a long time since I read it, but this reminded me of Maria Snyder’s Poison Study.

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

It was the cover that drew me to this book. A historical romance heroine in pants! As with Jensen’s troll hero, I had to check it out. What was the story behind this heroine? I read quite a bit of historical romance. And many times the heroines run together. That doesn’t mean the books aren’t well written. They are. They’re doing exactly what they’ve promised their readers they will do: deliver a hot, sometimes witty, romance. So why egg time review this one? Well, the heroine backs up the cover and the title’s promise. There was a lot more going on with the plot than I expected. The heroine had not just one cover (aliases), but two. That’s three different personas for the author to keep track of. Sarah MacLean did a great job! (Worth noting: MacLean wrote Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. I haven’t read it, but may now. MacLean was on an RWA panel last summer and discussed how hard it was to come up with titles, especially when you lock yourself into a format. She was funny. (I buy some of the recorded sessions). I’m currently trying to title Noon Onyx B4. It’s tough. Blank Blank of Blank. Left Hand of Darkness? Oops. Taken. 😉 Little Shop of Horrors? Dagnabbit. Nabbed too. 😀 In any case, I thought the title to Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover was extra awesome bc it fits MacLean’s “Rules of Scoundrels” series title format, it references the heroine’s aliases, and it’s a nod to the book’s unusual genre cover.)

MOVIES

Belle

A period romance with a great hero and heroine, Belle is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, an illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy officer who was raised by her rich great-uncle. The film divides its time between the romance and the hero’s quest for social justice (he’s an aspiring lawyer attempting to change the law on slavery, albeit through a fairly narrow ruling). Gugu Mbatha-Raw was excellent.

Begin Again

I actually thought this would be awful. Like some sort of weird Juno [aging music aficionado has unrequited feelings for someone who’s totally inappropriate for him… am I remembering that movie right?] meets Love Actually [clichéd romance]. But it was better than that. My worst case scenario plot prediction did not come true. Instead this was a cool, little story about a down-on-his-luck music exec with zippo money who helps a talented, young up-and-comer. The story’s take on how imagination can be used to see a person’s potential and creatively solve funding problems was fun. I liked that the exec fixed his unhealthy family dynamics (he has a teenage daughter and estranged wife) instead of having a romance with his music mentee.

Chef

The shame of this movie is that it’s rated R but the best part about it was the story of how the character reconnected with his son. Minus a few parts, I’d love to watch this with my kids. What’s it about? A chef (duh) who is fired from his job bc he wants to create exotic dishes versus tried-and-true. When he gets panned by a food critic for his boring menu, he lashes out at his boss and gets the pink slip. After some soul searching, he decides to take it on the road. He gets a food truck and goes cross country. With the help of his social media savvy son, he draws crowds wherever he goes. It ends well. For foodie movie fans, road trip movie fans, Jon Favreau fans, food truck fans, fans of movies where characters reinvent themselves, tell their boss to shove it, and/or tell a critic to shove it (and then make up w them later).

Annie

Saw this over the holidays with my daughters. They loved it. And I did too. It was cute. Quvenzhane Wallis was wonderful. I was less taken with Jamie Foxx. Cameron Diaz as a reimagined Ms. Hannigan was ok, as was Rose Byrne. Who should see this? Quvenzhane Wallis fans and anyone who liked any of the other eighteen million Annies.

Box Trolls

We actually bought this, which meant we were able to watch the extras. And they were pretty neat. There was a featurette on how the filmmakers created characters that live in boxes and the world they inhabit and some cast member interviews, but my favorite was the one where Dee Bradley Baker and Steve Blum talk about how they came up with the Box Troll language. Oh, and I loved Winnie and Eggs! 🙂

Magic in the Moonlight

My recollection is that this was not a huge success but I enjoyed it. I like Emma Stone and Colin Firth. I’m not familiar with Woody Allen’s work (although I liked Midnight in Paris). Magic in the Moonlight is for anyone who likes the idea of a stage magician and would-be clairvoyant falling in love against the backdrop of the 1920s French Riviera.

Maze Runner

I had heard so much about this, and it had been hyped so much, before I watched it, that I’m amazed I wasn’t disappointed. That said, it didn’t make me think very much (not like Into the Woods or Predestination did) and that’s the main reason why it’s getting an egg timer review. I thought it was good. Definitely worth two hours of your time. None of the actors really wowed me, but I’d happily watch them again. The sets were visually interesting but not stunning. In fairness, maybe part of my mehness is bc I didn’t read the book so watching this didn’t give me the pleasure of seeing a favorite novel successfully adapted.

Lucy

Finally!! I had been wanting to watch this since the summer when I’d mistakenly assumed it was based on Laurence Gonzales’ book. It isn’t, but (as I’d suspected; it’s not like the reference was subtle) it is based on Lucy, the Australopithecus, and a “what if” evolution scenario. Bottom line: Scarlett Johansson is a good action heroine. I’d watch her in a similar role again. As for Lucy? Read Gonzales’ book instead. I didn’t love everything about it, but it was better.

Showrunners (documentary)

Featuring J.J. Abrams, Steven DeKnight, Jane Espenson, Michelle King, Damon Lindelhof, Janet Tamaro, Joss Whedon, and a gazillion other people, this is a full length documentary on showrunners – the head writers/creators of a show. If you’ve ever wanted a peek inside a writer’s room, or if you’d enjoy hearing behind-the-scenes interviews of some of the most well-known and/or interesting TV show wranglers, this doc is for you.

World without End (miniseries)

I’ve read the book (and read and watched Pillars of the Earth) so when I saw this was available for streaming, I had to see it. I loved the books (although Pillars was my favorite; I liked Aliena and Jack better than Caris and Merthin). Even though I utterly despised her (I was supposed to), the best part of World was Cynthia Nixon’s Petranilla. Conniving, deceitful, murderous, immoral… she was just Jaw Droppingly Awful. Which made the scene where Caris forgives her sins just before her death that much more powerful. If you’ve read the book, like TV miniseries set in the Middle Ages, or just want to see Nixon’s range, rent it.

TV

Finding a TV show that I love enough to watch every single episode is extremely rare. Ones I’ve enjoyed start to finish in the past: Alias, Lost, and Battlestar Gallactica. Shows I’m currently addicted to: Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Mr. Selfridge’s, and Outlander. So I wanted to find a new addiction. Below, my candidates.

Reign

I streamed 10 episodes of this before I couldn’t do it anymore. At first, it was amazingly addictive. Definitely a guilty pleasure type of show. Beautiful kids playing monarchs-to-be with friends who have names like Kenna. (Is that historically accurate? Do I care? Does anyone who watches a show like Reign? No! 😀 ) BUT the problem was exactly that. History. I know where this story is going. There wasn’t enough tension in the story questions. Will Mary wed Francis? Will Mary become Queen of France? Will Mary live happily ever after? I know the answers to those questions already.

Vikings

I watched 2 episodes before moving on, but may return. I like Lagertha. And kudos to the writer/director/showrunners/whoever for moving the story along at breakneck speed! I remember saying to my husband, “Wow! They’re already going to England.” I thought it would take Ragnar all season to gear up, find men, etc. And then – in that same episode – saying: “WOW! They’re going back home!” After they’d landed in England, I’d just assumed they’d spend all season there. And I liked that it’s based on real Norse mythological characters. But… it didn’t grab me as much as I’d hoped.

Arrow

I wanted to like it. The pilot opened well. It captured my attention… but couldn’t hold it. (My husband hated it, although we often differ on TV shows.) As with Vikings, I’m hard pressed to say exactly why. I might return to this. But would choose Vikings over Arrow.

House of Cards

Streamed 2 episodes so far and am very much looking forward to the next one. I had to talk my husband into this one (he watched Vikings and Arrow with me, not Reign; lol). He’s in DC a lot for work and I think he thought the show would be one big cerebral snooze fest. And the opening credits! Geesh, sorry, but horrible. They’d make anyone who works in DC feel like they’re commuting in instead of lounging on their couch getting ready to watch an entertaining show. (Although maybe that’s the feeling the credits hope to evoke…?) But the show itself – terrific! We’re hooked. Kevin Spacey! Robin Wright! My only worry is that the show may end up like The Newsroom, which I stopped watching midway through the first season.

SHOWS

Matilda at the Shubert

Saw this just this past weekend. Fantastic! If you are looking for an entertaining, funny, sometimes heartbreaking, but ultimately happy, family show – see Matilda. The whimsical, bright, colorful sets seemed custom-designed for book lovers. The letter tiles surrounding the proscenium and incorporated into the many sets were decidedly Scrabble-esque. Bookshelves, libraries, classrooms… not to mention swings, scooters, lasers, confetti, strobe lights, helium balloons, a story-in-story told partially through a vintage paper doll/shadow puppet-like presentation. But the best part (as it should be with live shows) was the singing and acting: Brooklyn Shuck as Matilda! So expressive, sweet, sympathetic, and adorable… So confident, bold, and fearless. Also loved Mrs. Wormwood and Rudolpho. And Christopher Sieber as Miss Trunchbull!! (10.0 for the vault number. 😀 )

The Illusionists at the Marquis

Saw this a few months ago. Seven magicians, each with completely different acts. There’s an escape artist, an archer, an inventor, a Vegas style comedian “trickster,” a truly phenomenal card manipulator, an Edward Scissorhands type “anti-conjuror,” and a dance performer “futurist.” It was fun trying to figure out the magicians’ tricks. (I’m no magician and lots of their acts stumped me). Watching audience members (who may have been pre-selected?) become part of the act was hilarious (glad it wasn’t me!). Who should see this? Anyone who likes top-notch stage magic and illusionists who can put on a diverse, spellbinding show.

So, please, go forth and purchase, rent, stream, read, or watch. Support creativity… and stories… and egg timer reviews!

What have you read or watched lately that’s worth mentioning? Come on, sharing only takes three minutes or less…

Advertisements

PREDESTINATION: Does happiness require a deep connection with another?

If I was a blogger with a good sense of timing I would have posted this on Valentine’s Day but instead of writing this post, I had lunch with a close friend and, later, played poker with my family. Romantic? Not really, but it was one of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve had in a while. The experience seemed to underscore the meaning of the movie I watched just a few days prior to the holiday – PREDESTINATION.

Predestination, Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, time travel, science fiction,  Spierig  brothers, Robert A. Heinlein, All You Zombies

As with Into the Woods, I knew I’d likely do a blog post about Predestination because I kept thinking about it long after I watched it. But Predestination is no fairy tale, not even a subversive one. Its themes are mature and provocative and written with an adult audience in mind. My post is tame but not spoiler free. If you haven’t read the source material or watched the movie, skip the orange section below.

I’ve mentioned before how plague movies never get old with me. But time travel movies… eh. I have to admit, when I first saw the description for Predestination my response was, “another time travel movie?!” But then my husband suggested we watch it AND pointed out its Rotten Tomatoes rating (81%) and I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.

Predestination is the story of a time traveling agent who is trying to stop a mass murderer – the “Fizzle Bomber.” It stars Ethan Hawke (who I loved in Gattaca but haven’t seen much of since; I haven’t seen the Before Midnight/Before Sunrise/Before Sunset movies… yeah, I know, I should see them too…) and Sarah Snook (who I’ve never seen before, but hope to see more of in the future).

The movie starts in medias res with a mysterious figure trying to stop a bomb. The bomb fizzles but the stunted explosion is still powerful enough to completely disfigure the person. They then travel back to the “future” (1992) where the story’s basic premise is established.

The injured mystery man is a Temporal Agent who works for the Temporal Bureau, a government agency that sends people back in time to prevent crimes before they happen. That part felt very “PreCrime”/Minority Report-ish to me, which, combined with the fact that time travel was discovered in 1981 [would we have traded MTV or the IBM PC for time travel?] gave the story a slightly dated feel, but it wasn’t until later in the movie, when Space Corps (and its ridiculous “female companions for male astronauts” search) appeared in the plot that the story’s 1959 origins became fully apparent.

(I found out later that the movie is based on Robert A. Heinlein’s “ ‘—All You Zombies—’ ”. And my gripes about Space Corps’ dubious side mission are relatively minor. All I’m sayin’ is that it felt laughable to me that a contemporary non-dystopian sf story would feature a would-be respectable space program that disallowed female astronauts while searching for women streetspacewalkers. And yet… I came to see that searching for companionship, as well as what happens when you find it and lose it, was one of the themes of the story.)

So back in futuristic 1992 the injured agent tells us part of his story as his face is reconstructed. When he’s finally healed enough for his bandages to be removed, he looks in the mirror and declares, “I’ve changed so much, I doubt my own mother would recognize me.”

He’s then sent on another mission – NYC in 1975 – to stop the Fizzle Bomber from killing 11,000 people. He goes undercover as a barkeep and one of his customers insists he tell him a joke. After first refusing, the barkeep opens the next part of the story with, “A man walks into a bar…”

Maybe it’s that I love tricky, trippy plots. Maybe it’s that I know storytellers love to leave clues for people who are paying attention. Maybe it’s because I’d made a late afternoon Starbucks run that day so I was working with more late night caffeine than I’m used to. All I know is that about halfway into it, my husband and I both shared our theories about what was really going on. Both theories were interesting and backed up by story clues but I thought, “it would be impossible for us both to be right.” And that’s when I knew… We were both right. And that’s when the story got really interesting. And heartbreaking.

But this is not a heartbreaking post, I promise. In fact, now would be a good time for those of you who don’t like spoilers, or dark tales about transformative journeys, to jump ahead to my warm and fuzzy closing.

~

If you’re sticking around to read this part of the post it means you’ve read the story or watched the movie…

And so you know that the story revolves around the identities of the barkeep/agent, his customer, the customer’s past/future lover, and the Fizzle Bomber.

Due to the aforementioned mid-afternoon mocha and my husband’s alternative theory of Who Was Really Who, we got it all sorted out pretty early on. But that doesn’t mean the movie was predictable. Seeing a snake eat its own tail isn’t going to be boring even if you know it’s going to happen. I thought the movie’s use of the ouroboros symbol was well done. The movie’s not just about identity, it’s also about reinvention and transformation. Yet that transformation isn’t always welcome or good. Unlike the symbol of the mighty phoenix, which rises triumphantly out of the ashes to begin its life anew, the ouroboros consumes itself. It isn’t kind to itself. It is its own worst enemy.

I condemned and hated the final iteration of the main character. Who wouldn’t? But, oh, how I sympathized with the young, uncannibalized version.

But cannibalized by what is the question. What ultimately destroyed Jane and created the Fizzle Bomber?

Too many time jumps? Maybe. There were all sorts of references to the fact that too many jumps could wreak havoc on one’s mind.

But I think it was loneliness (exacerbated by the character’s repeatedly betraying him/herself) that ultimately destroyed Jane. In the end, the Fizzle Bomber says something like “by killing me, you become me.” So sad. Honestly, I, like everyone else, was blown away by Sarah Snook. Her portrayal made me want to give Jane a huge hug and kick the crap out of everyone who was giving her so much grief. But then I also kind of knew Jane wouldn’t thank me for it. Because this was the same character who willingly admitted (if only to herself) that she was better than everyone else.

Ah, Jane. How could I fix your story? How could I give you an HEA? Leaving aside the perilousness of attempting to tinker with Heinlein, it’s still interesting to contemplate. Reunite her with her parents? Nope. Let her grow old with her one true love? Nope. All the horrible things that happened to her storywise had to happen in order for her to be born, have the childhood she had, live the life she had, etc., etc. because taking away any one of those things would jeopardize her very existence.

~

So, yep, Predestination is a very good time travel movie. Definitely better than a Plain Jane plague movie.

My final thoughts? One day a year isn’t enough. And it doesn’t always have to be about hearts, chocolate, and roses. It can be about tapas or sushi, poker or pedicures, a walk in the woods, a trip to your local animal shelter, complimenting a stranger, or simply smiling at them. You can and should deepen your connections to other living things every day throughout the year and you should be kind to yourself. That doesn’t mean be egotistical or narcissistic. It just means, don’t be your own worst enemy.

Want to read more about Predestination?

Did you do anything fun for Valentine’s Day? Are you doing anything fun for President’s Day today? We’re headed to see Jupiter Ascending later. Tomorrow? Gah!! Looks like it might be another snow day…!? At least my commute is short. Lol. Stay safe and warm, people. Here’s wishing you more than romance – I wish each of you HAPPINESS. 🙂

INTO THE WOODS: My Thoughts

Last night I took a group of kids ranging in age from 10-13 to see Into the Woods. My thoughts on the movie are below, roughly divided into two sections: thoughts during and immediately following watching and later after I read a few other reviews and looked up info about its source material. Caution: spoilers!

Initial thoughts: The songs were fantastic!

The kids I took were confused by the part in the story when Prince Charming and the Baker’s Wife kiss.

Well, who wouldn’t be?

There was a bit of foreshadowing for this (e.g. “A Very Nice Prince” performed by Cinderella and the Baker’s Wife) but not much. I kept thinking that if the storytellers were going to go down that road then I needed to see how horrible the relationship between the Baker and his wife was — bc it wasn’t! The only reason I went along with this plot point was bc of the Baker’s Wife’s line: “This is ridiculous. What am I doing here? I’m in the wrong story” which alerted me to the fact that the story was about to go off the rails.

At the time, I thought that making the Baker’s Wife “sin” was a story choice made to make her less sympathetic, which then made her necessary death less sad.

(Despite the Baker’s Wife’s faults, I thought she was a sympathetic character. I thought her death was necessary bc it had to happen in order for her husband to have that moment when he decided to be a better father than his father had been when he had abandoned him.

I also wondered if the storytellers thought the Baker’s Wife had it coming to her even BEFORE she kissed Prince Charming. After all, she was the one who lied to Jack about getting Milky White back, cut and stole Rapunzel’s hair, and attacked Cinderella. Not that I think death should be the consequence of those things, but it was a fairy tale after all. And fairy tales ALWAYS have extreme consequences for poor decisions. Isn’t *that* their true purpose? 😉 )

But I came to think that what that scene was REALLY about was “be careful what you wish for.” (Duh).

Later thoughts: The movie’s screenplay was written by James Lapine based on the Tony-award winning musical by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, a version of which is still playing off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theater. My understanding (based on what I read, partial list of links below) is that the playwrights took a bunch of fairy tales, mashed them up in a great big ball (Act I) and then exploded them (Act II) in order to explore various themes: wish fulfillment, growing up/path to maturity, parents and children, blame, responsibility, and HEA versus reality.

See:

STAGE VIEW: Sondheim’s Winding Paths

INTO THE WOODS: Into the Words

Disney Is Officially Destroying Into the Woods

Did Disney Take All the Bite out of Into the Woods?

How Disney Wrecked Into the Woods

How Hollywood drains the subversion out of Into the Woods

[Geesh, enough already with the downer headlines… it’s worth seeing, people!]

The Wolf: he felt creepy to me and not in the way I like (it wasn’t a fun creepy; it was an icky creepy). After reading up on the source material, and discovering that the Wolf and Prince Charming are often played by the same actor (bc both characters are unscrupulous and predatory), I got why the Wolf and his scene with Little Red Riding Hood made me feel uncomfortable. I’ve liked Johnny Depp in the past but can’t say I was in favor of the choice to use him for the part of the Wolf. It would take more time and hubris than I have to say how I might have fixed the problem of adapting this part of the story.

Bottom line: I LOVED the songs. And there were some lines that were so comical and self-aware they made me laugh out loud. I liked the movie and want to see it again, especially now that I know more about it. Younger kids may be confused by some parts. (Heck, I was confused by some parts). This was a story made to be told in one medium (Broadway play) that lost something when it was translated into another (Disney movie). But as Sondheim himself put it: “censorship is part of our puritanical ethics.” If you want to “sell your painting or perform your musical [, y]ou have to deal with reality.”

Hmm… maybe Sondheim’s shrug over the changes to his story was because one of the play’s main themes was reality versus fairy tale…?

In any case, seeing the film and reading about its adaptation is a must for anyone who is into that kind of thing (which I hope includes a lot of you!)

I’m sure my analysis is lacking. I could spend a week or more looking into this and thinking about it. But I had less than a day. How about you? Have you seen it? What do you think?

p.s. where was Prince Charming’s just reward? Was Cinderella leaving him enough? The Baker’s Wife died. Did he get his comeuppance in the play? (I don’t think so…. But then again I don’t think the play’s point was that life is fair.)

The Best Offer, Mr. Selfridge, and a Peek at My TBR Pile #movies #books

The Best Offer, movie

The Best Offer

I recently rented The Best Offer and, despite its lackluster reviews (52% on Rotten Tomatoes), I liked it and think it’s well worth watching and discussing. First off, who doesn’t love Geoffrey Rush? Anyone who can play Barbossa, the Marquis de Sade, and the man who had the gall to give a king elocution lessons will always be a favorite of mine. For anyone unfamiliar with the movie, it’s about an art auctioneer who is both obsessed and terrified by female beauty. Needless to say, he’s a bit of a loner and eccentric. (Let’s face it, he has mild OCD, although he is a master at his craft, allowing him to live a life full of luxury, opulence, and two-dimensional relationships).

In any case, he gets involved with a hermit heiress and begins the process of inventorying and valuing all of the art and furniture in her family’s crumbling, rambling villa. Soon, other story elements come into play: rusty gears and broken pieces from an antique automaton, a portrait of a ballerina, a young Romeo who also happens to be a machinist, a brilliant female mathematician, and a middling painter cum art thief accomplice – all set against the backdrop of the old villa, which give parts of the movie a gothic tone.

But the real reason I liked this movie was simply for the storytelling. Yes, there were scenes that strained credulity. And there were scenes that were simply unpleasant. But they were few. I loved watching how all of the elements coalesced around the movie’s themes of love, trust, deceit, art, and beauty. More of my thoughts on the ending are below… but be warned, they spoil the whole movie. So if you want to watch without knowing anything about the ending, don’t read the last part of this post…

Mr. Selfridge

The other thing I’ve been watching recently is Mr. Selfridge. (Have I mentioned how much I love PBS Masterpiece?) Set in 1909 London, the show is about the titular character, an American huckster who is on a mission to “teach Londoners how to shop.” To me, the show is P.T. Barnum meets Macy’s. Episodes revolve around the lives of Harry Gordon Selfridge, played by Jeremy Piven of Entourage fame, Harry’s wife, a French window designer, and a shop girl with an alcoholic father and a weak, naïve, but good-hearted brother. I just finished episode 4 and am looking forward to the rest!

fantasy, fiction, folk tale, young adult, Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed, Fade to Black, Francis Knight, The Spirit Keeper, The Crane Wife, Hollow City, Ransom Riggs

My February TBR Pile

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about books in this post so here’s a peek at my latest, ambitious TBR pile:

1. Hollow City by Ransom Riggs: I adore stories that are told in unique ways, especially ones that use more than one type of medium to do it. So, from the beginning, I was enchanted with Riggs’ books which combine bizarre vintage photographs with creative storytelling. Click here to read my review of his first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (which, interestingly, was my first post!).

2. Surfmen by C.T. Marshall: This book gives us a peek inside the early days of the United States Lifesaving Service, which became the U.S. Coast Guard. There is a seven page afterward “The Facts Behind the Fiction” that gives readers more information on the chronology, characters, conflicts, Carolina coast, wrecks, racism, and Croatan Indians found in the story. Chip, the author, is a friend of mine, and, after my recent trip to Key West’s Shipwreck Museum and doing a bit of pirate research for a short story I completed recently, I’m in the mood for some nautical fiction!

3. The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness: There were two reasons I picked up this book – The Indie Next List said it was based on a Japanese folk tale and the book jacket description was compelling. (A print shop owner removes an arrow from a bird’s wing, saving its life. The next morning a beautiful, mysterious woman enters his shop. Thus begins a story of passion, sacrifice, dream, and myth… “A novel that celebrates the creative imagination and the disruptive power of love.”)

4. The Spirit Keeper by K.B. Laugheed: Set in 1747, the premise (a miserable, neglected Irish girl is abducted by American Indians who believe she is the subject of their holy man’s visions) intrigued me. I loved the Author’s Note too, which warns readers up front that the book contains variations in spelling, grammar, and syntax and, “Therefore, if you have any hope of understanding this story as the author wrote it, read quickly—before it all changes.”

5. Fade to Black by Francis Knight: The cover! I thought it looked pretty cool. And, of course, I love the idea of a story set in a city built upward, not across, and I want to see how Knight built this world. I’m curious about the MC too, the pain-mage Rojan Dizon who “prefers the shadows”.

6. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed: Proving that great quotes from trusted sources can still capture a reader’s attention, io9’s endorsement, “The best swashbuckler of the year… If you love smart escapism, don’t miss out on this book” had me immediately interested. The blurb wasn’t too shabby either and I’m eager to see how the power struggle between the Khalif and the Falcon Prince plays out in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms, “home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics.”

The Best Offer – The Ending

If you’re reading this, you’ve decided you don’t care if I spoil the movie for you in favor of discussing it. Great. Here are my final thoughts:

I love how the heist was its own work of art and I thought that was set up well. The off-balance relationship between Oldman (the auctioneer) and Billy (his accomplice in deceit) was established early on. Billy makes a casual remark about how disappointed he is that Oldman never saw any promise in his paintings. Donald Sutherland plays this scene just right, masking the character’s bitterness. Oldman tells Billy that “you need an inner mystery” in order for something to be a masterpiece.

But the thing I loved most about The Best Offer was its sense of cosmic justice. Over the course of the movie, the viewer starts to sympathize with Oldman. Although he is rude, cold, and obsessive, there were times when I found myself wishing he could be happy. But it was always marred by a sense that he didn’t deserve it. Because he was a dishonest, deceitful person. His collection of antique beauties were all acquired by trickery, if not outright thievery. (Oldman would intentionally devalue paintings he coveted and then have Billy bid on them). Worse, when he finally meets a living, breathing human being whom he may have a chance at happiness with, he continues his deceits and lies.

Oldman believed the automaton (made up of the rusty gears and broken pieces he kept finding in the villa), once completed, would be the most valuable piece of art he’d ever found. Yet he repeatedly (even during a scene when Claire is worried about money and her future) failed to tell Claire about it. It’s clear that he intended to steal it from her. Worse still, in a creepy, voyeuristic scene, Oldman spies on Claire – this poor, borderline mentally ill woman whom he has begged to “trust him.”

So their relationship was doomed from the start because both Oldman and Claire were hiding things from one another. The big reveal was that Claire wasn’t hiding herself, she was hiding the heist – Billy’s masterpiece. There’s a wonderful scene where Oldman and Billy discuss the nature of art and whether human emotions are like art, which leads Oldman to muse about whether emotions can be faked… or forged. Billy’s reply: “Everything can be faked, Virgil… even love.”

For those of you that saw the movie:

* Do you think Billy proved he was the ultimate artist or the ultimate forger? What was Billy’s best work of art? The heist? Claire’s “love” for Virgil? Or the ballerina portrait (his final thumb in Virgil’s eye)?

* Toward the end of the movie, Oldman tells Robert (the young Romeo machinist) that “there’s something authentic in every forgery.” Do you think Claire really loved Virgil? I don’t, but she does make that interesting statement when Virgil finally shows her his room full of ill-gotten beauties that, no matter what happens, she wants him to know that she loves him. Hmm…

* Where was Oldman at the end of the movie? In a convalescent home or at the café? My interpretation was that the end scenes were filmed out-of-order and he spent his remaining days having Lambert bring him his mail. But, I suppose, the more romantic interpretation is that Virgil’s still waiting for Claire at Night and Day.

So how about you? Have you seen The Best Offer or Mr. Selfridge? Have you read Throne of the Crescent Moon, Fade to Black, The Spirit Keeper, The Crane Wife, Surfmen, or Hollow City? If not, have I convinced you to put them in your TBR pile or Netflix queue? Best wishes for a wonderful weekend!

Supernatural Smackdown, Tour Winners, and Cloud Atlas

Noon Onyx is Competing in Dark Faerie Tales Supernatural Smackdown!

This weekend, Noon is competing in Dark Faerie Tales Supernatural Smackdown. What’s a Supernatural Smackdown, you ask? It’s a really fun online cage match among a bunch of tough-as-nails paranormal characters. It was fun for me as a writer because this is the first post I’ve written from Noon’s perspective. And it’s tons of fun for readers because all of the posts have been great. If you are looking for a quick entertainment fix, stop by! There are prizes (I’m giving away a signed copy of Dark Light of Day and Fiery Edge of Steel) and other participating authors are offering terrific prizes as well.

While you’re there, you can VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER. Being a pacifist at heart, Noon’s a little disadvantaged in this competition (she could use some online love to survive!). But, honestly, just check it out and vote for whoever — because all of the posts have been witty and well worth reading.

ARC and eGC Winners!

Thank you very much to everyone who participated in the exclusive excerpt tour for Fiery Edge of Steel. I really appreciated all of the comments, tweets, status updates, etc. It helps a lot to have readers spreading the word about new releases online. Bewitching Book Tours sent me the list of winners and prizes have either already been delivered or are on their way. Here are the winners:

eGift Certificate: Roger S.

ARCs: Ashley S., Carol A., Shannon R., Jennifer S., Sherry F., Megan M.

Cloud Atlas

I watched Cloud Atlas last night. Has anyone else seen it? What did you think of it? For the most part, I liked it. I’m usually able to follow complicated plots, but I have to admit that I was baffled and confused at times by the myriad story lines (the movie follows six separate stories set in 1849 South Pacific, 1936 England/Scotland, 1973 San Francisco, 2012 United Kingdom, 2144 Neo Seoul, and 2321 “The Big Island”). Since I’d be hard pressed (in the time I have to write this post) to come up with a decent description for this movie, I’m going to just quote IMDb, which says that Cloud Atlas is “an exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.”

I definitely have to see this movie again. I’m sure I missed a lot in the first viewing because this film is so sprawling (not necessarily a bad thing). It’s feels all over the place in the beginning — and it is — in time, space, and plot. But one of the things that was interesting (although more confusing, because I was so distracted by the actors’ many different visual transformations) is that the same actors play different characters in each story line. Since this movie was based on a book (Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell) I found myself wondering why the filmmakers chose to make the film version of the story that way. I can’t imagine the choice was made for budgetary reasons. But I’m not sure I understand the creative choice. Were the filmmakers trying to underscore the book’s interconnectivity theme? I think there is some controversy surrounding the film and this choice, but I’ll have to wait until I have more time to look into it. Maybe some of you movie buffs can fill me in. The film reminded me of The Fountain and Tree of Life (although I admit, I was so tired during Tree of Life that I don’t even remember half of it). And there’s also a little bit of a Matrix vibe to the Neo Seoul 2144 storyline, which makes sense because the Wachowskis directed both.

Have you seen Cloud Atlas? What are your thoughts? Hope everyone’s having a great weekend!

4 Movies You Should Rent or Stream and My Favorite Summer Movie

Former Movie Theaters
This is why I buy lots of movie concession stand food and patronize local theaters. This “Surf Mall” in Ocean City, NJ was once a movie theater. (Okay, I really love Sour Patch Kids too… and Twizzlers… and popcorn… so it’s not exactly a hardship).

While I was in the midst of edits for Dark Light of Day and finishing up the second Noon Onyx book, I was in a massive dry spell of movie viewing. So the minute I handed in that second book I went on a movie watching binge. I rented them at home and tried to see as many as I could in the theater this summer. (I have a feeling another dry spell is approaching! ;-))

So the “reviews” that follow are really just my thoughts on a bunch of movies that I had fun watching. If any of you saw them too and want to discuss, please tell me your thoughts in the comments. If you saw other ones that are worth seeing, let me know! If you disagree with my thoughts, let me know! Half the fun of watching movies is comparing notes after. So here they are in no particular order:

Secret World of Arrietty

Watched this with my kids. Simply adored it. When I was a kid, I loved reading The Littles. This movie reminded me a bit of those stories, but possibly even better. Why? Well, for one, I am a huge Hayao Miyazaki fan. He did the screenplay. (He was also the director for these fantastic movies:  Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away, and Ponyo, as well as many others). I also loved the relationship between the two main characters, which was sweet and touching. And I loved how some of the scenes in the movie celebrated nature.

Are you a Hayao Miyazaki fan? If so, what’s your favorite movie of his?

First Position

This is a terrific documentary that focuses on the lives of six ballet dancers ranging in age from nine to nineteen as they prepare to compete in one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world. It is an inside look at the life of those who dedicate themselves to this discipline, showing both the good and bad. Usually I watch documentaries in pieces as I do stuff around my house, but the whole family watched this one start to finish one Friday night. It was compelling and gave us something meaty to discuss. My oldest was fascinated by the dancers’ talent and dedication, but I’m honestly not sure I could put my kid through that kind of rigorous life. There’s a fine line between pushing and supporting.

If you or your child had that kind of talent, how would you handle it?

Giant Mechanical Man

I would put this movie squarely in the “quirky romance” category, which I love. The characters were fantastic, especially the title character Tim, who performs as a giant mechanical man because he feels like “modern life can be alienating. It can be like you’re mindlessly walking through it, like a robot.” And he wanted people to know that they aren’t crazy. That they’re not alone. So he created an alter ego, this silver-painted, stilts-wearing street performer. Jenna Fischer (of The Office fame) plays the other main character, Janice, who’s down on her luck and living with her sister. Topher Grace’s portrayal of a massively self-centered, egotistical author was funny too.

Do you like quirky romances? What are some of your favorites?

John Carter

I have to admit, the poor reviews had me staying away at first. But then Katy Hulme, the Storytelling Nomad, said how much she liked it, so I figured I should at least give it a try. While John Carter may not be my favorite movie of the year, I enjoyed it and was glad I watched it. For anyone who likes science fiction or fantasy, you should give it a go. Watch with an open mind. I would *love* to hear other people’s thoughts on this, but my take on why it didn’t do better is (1) it was set on Mars. The story seems a little too fantastical for Mars these days (A Princess of Mars, the story upon which the movie was based, was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the early twentieth century); and (2) its title was confusing. Unlike Spiderman or Tarzan, the name “John Carter” isn’t immediately recognizable outside of the SF/F fan community.

Did you see John Carter? What did you think? Why do you think the movie wasn’t more successful?

Summer Blockbusters

At the beginning of the summer season, I predicted the movie I would love the most was Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. Self-prognosticating usually doesn’t go as well for me, but I’m happy to report that, after seeing all of the “big ones,” Prometheus was indeed my favorite. Why? Hmm… I guess because, one, I loved Noomi Rapace’s character (man, was she fierce or what?! And yet vulnerable too. My favorite type of heroine.) Two, I LOVE movies that combine big special effects and awesome SF/F settings with a little mind-bending “what if?” I like movies that entertain, but also allow you to think. Prometheus was also a fantastic action movie, with a little mysticism thrown in for good measure. How could it not be my favorite movie of the summer?

Which SF/F films have made you think and, if so, what about?

Forget about The Endless Summer. Don’t we all just want endless popcorn… and endless movies? Thankfully, Oscar season is just around the corner! 😀