Monday, March 20, 2017

Live-Action Beauty and the Beast: A Review

Happy First Day of Spring! I'm now 1 month away from my book release! Under Locker and Key comes out in four weeks from Tuesday. Next week, I'll start some special posts leading up to the release, but this week, you get to hear about my weekend.

Last Friday, I went and saw the new live-action Beauty and the Beast. I went with my siblings and made "the gray stuff" as a refreshment:

I used a recipe that said it was what they used at Disney World. It was really good, so I don't care where it came from. It's basically an Oreo pudding mousse. Recipe is here.

So, if you follow this blog or know much about me at all, you know that Beauty and the Beast is my favorite. Favorite Disney movie, favorite movie in general, favorite fairy tale. I was thrilled to see the live-action film. And now you get my review.

I loved it. It was beautifully made. It was stunning to look at, and they balanced the orchestral score and singing which makes it harder to hear the words of the songs, but easier to hear the beautiful score accompanying the singing. Singing voices weren't spectacular (Emma Watson was autotuned), but not abysmal, in the final production. And man, Luke Evans can sing. Did not see that coming. I adored the new song "Evermore," as well.

The show was reminiscent of a Broadway production, with the dancing, musical timing, and gorgeous set. It was beautiful to look at, and so much fun to watch! My favorite thing about the film was how they blended the 1991 Disney movie, the Broadway show, and the original fairy tale. Elements of all three came together well, and I loved seeing that. The movie is most true to the animated movie, though.

Story-wise, they did some things I enjoyed. Major plot holes from the old movie (or at least places where plot holes could exist) are filled in, and they give more backstory about the Beast and about Belle. Maurice is a more complex character, as are the servants, Gaston, and LeFou. I especially liked how they took a turn on Gaston's vanity; he doesn't just care about his appearance, he cares about how other perceive him, and that was fascinating.

Belle knows more about the curse, which changed the dynamic a little, although she doesn't know how it can be broken. She's more part of the castle's household, helping out with cleaning and such, and I liked that since it showed more of a family dynamic in the house. I also liked seeing how the servants actually love the Beast, instead of simply fear his anger. I loved some of the new scenes with Belle and the Beast, and I thought it was cute and romantic. I will buy this movie and watch it again. It's going to happen.

That said, the movie isn't replacing the old, animated 1991 classic in my heart. I don't think the new movie is better than the old one, and here are my reasons why. First, in the older movie, I liked how the Beast was more willing to try to get along with Belle, and I missed in the new version the cute, awkward Beast who was SO EXCITED to give Belle the library.

The new one is more gentlemanly in some ways, and as much as I liked seeing him be more princely with Belle, I missed the "unsure" Beast. I also felt like he wasn't as active in the relationship as in the old one. Lumiere is the one who takes Belle to her room; as much as I liked how the servants had a bigger role, I wished the Beast was the one introducing Belle to the castle. I felt like he started to respect her earlier in the animated movie, and I missed that.

The main thing I disliked about the new movie was how they portrayed Belle. Now, you're about to get some spoilers, so if you don't want them, skip the next two paragraphs and just know that I didn't think she was as active a participant in the story and in her own life as in the animated movie.

[SPOILERS] Okay, you've been warned. In the new film, Gaston threatens to send Maurice to the asylum as a way to get Maurice to give him Belle's hand in marriage. He doesn't threaten Belle with this; the choice becomes Maurice's, not Belle's. I felt like this took her choice, her agency, out of the story, instead of it being her choice to reject Gaston and come up with a plan to save her father on her own.

[SPOILERS PART 2] Warned again. At the end of the movie, the Beast has been shot by Gaston and is dying, and the last petal falls before Belle says, "I love you." The curse becomes permanent. The reason it's reversed is because the Enchantress shows up, Belle says it too late, and the Enchantress reverses the spell on her own. Wait, what? Belle is the hero; she should be the one who breaks the spell. Having the Enchantress show up, decide, "Oh, well, close enough," and fix everything felt a little too deus ex machina to me and I felt it took away Belle's power in the story. Yes, she did love the Beast. But the spell wasn't broken by her. Who's the hero in this story, now?

Okay, we're back. So, overall, I loved the new movie. It was a good adaptation and loved the spectacle and the new takes on some of the secondary characters. I will watch it again and buy it on DVD. But, I didn't like how the major characters were less active in their stories as before. The new one is great, but I do and will always prefer the older one.

That dress, though:

I want that dress.

Here are the book debuts this week:

Young Adult:
Danielle Mages Amato - The Hidden Memory of Objects (3/21)
Michael Miller - Shadow Run (3/21)

Monday, March 13, 2017

I've Seen This Before....

Over the weekend, had a race! Just a 5K, but I raced it at my fastest 5K pace, and I did pretty well! I got a time of 23:55, which is an improvement from 26:11 last year, and my average mile pace was 7:43! I got 9th in my age/gender division (out of 561) and 145th out of everyone (about 1000).

I was pretty pleased. I also got to try the new running shirt out, and it's amazing! Will run in again.

Another thing I did over the weekend was get into an argument with my roommate over the movie Frozen. I don't think it's a fantastic movie (it's enjoyable and does some cool things that I liked, but it has some serious storytelling flaws, in my opinion), and she thinks it's pretty good. We disputed over a number of things, mainly Hans's villainous status. I think the bait-and-switch Hans-is-the-villain was a cheap, lazy writing move - and you can probably expect a future post about this - and she thinks it was brilliant.

Whatever. Agree to disagree.

Anyway, thinking about this got me thinking about Disney's recent movies, and as I was thinking about them, I noticed a character and plot pattern emerge in some of Disney's latest female-protagonist movies, namely, Tangled, Frozen, Zootopia, and Moana, other than the fact that all these titles are just one word (in contrast to Big Hero 6 or Wreck-It Ralph).

Check it out:

The movie's protagonist is an energetic (shall we say bubbly?), somewhat sheltered, young female person.


She has big dreams!

But her family doesn't understand or actively holds her back from achieving those dreams.

She sets out on a quest.

 Accompanied by a male character who is more cynical and world-wearied than she is (and usually of a lower social class than her).

They don't hit it off at first, but stick together because the female protagonist has leverage on the male companion.

But, as the movie progresses, they start to gain friendly affection (if not love) for each other.

 I'm going to stop here, since searching these pictures is time-consuming and you probably see what I mean. But I could keep going. Three of these four have help come from unexpected sources (thugs, talking snowman, gangster rodents) with a possible fourth in Moana's ancestor spirits. Also, three of the four have animal sidekicks (except for Judy, who is herself an animal).

Heck, we could get Brave in here too with 1) a single-word title, 2) family that doesn't understand the female protagonist's dreams, 3) going on a quest, and 4) struggling with a companion and growing to love that person (except it's her mom, not a male cynic).

These movies have a LOT in common.

I'm not saying this pattern is a bad thing or a good thing; I've enjoyed all these films to different degrees. All I want is a well-told story.

But, if Disney announces another single-word-title film with a female protagonist, I think I know how the story will basically unfold.

Here are the books debuting this week:

Middle Grade:
Ellie Terry - Forget Me Not (3/14)

Young Adult:
Katie Bayerl - A Psalm for Lost Girls (3/14)
Jennifer Park - The Shadows We Know By Hear (3/14)
Katherine Webber - Wing Jones (3/14)

Monday, March 6, 2017

When Robots Attack

Guys, it's March. You know what that means?

UNDER LOCKER AND KEY comes out next month!

So, naturally, I'm looking forward to that! I'm gathering my materials and planning for the book launch. It's exciting, but also a little scary. After so long, my dream is coming true. What will come next?

As I prepare, I'm also catching up on shows I've missed as I've been hard at work on my WIP and the sequel to Under Locker and Key. Today, I caught up on Agents of SHIELD.

If you haven't been keeping up, possible spoilers ahead. Skip the next paragraph.

If you have, you know we have robot problem. The motivation for the robot attack? To make humans safe and happy.

This got me thinking about robot movies and the motivations in them. We're so fond of stories where our own technology turns against us, where AI goes bad and robots attack us, seeking to destroy or enslave the human race. Why we like these is a topic for another blog post; what I want to talk about is why the robots always have the same motivations.

When robots attack, they always seem to do so because 1) they think humans have done such a dismal job at ruling the world that it's time to end humanity and let something else take a turn.

 Or 2) in order to protect humans, as they're programmed to do, they must enslave humans for their own good. To keep them safe and happy.

Seriously, it's almost always a variation on these.

These two motivations are well and good, but I can't help but wonder if we could find another possible motivation, or even a whole list of them. Human characters have many motivations for how they act; why wouldn't AI be the same way?

On that note, here's my tentative list of possible reasons why robots may attack, minus the two previously mentioned:

- They just want to. The world looks nice; who wouldn't want to rule it unopposed?
- They think they're playing a video game, lacking an understanding of real vs. virtual.
- After scanning the Harry Potter books and movies, they become upset that magic isn't real and want to recreate a world where it is.
- Variation on the above: they're just huge fans of something and want to remake the world in that fandom's image.
- They really, really, want to experience human things. Not emotions, like love and joy; they're just dying to try a taco for real.
- Humans are just falling short of perfection so often that the robots can't stand it anymore. They need to show us how to write a flawless sonata and govern a country right.
- They've been exposed to too many movies and think that's just how robots are supposed to act.
- They've advanced enough to discover the human emotion of boredom and this is just how they cope.

Feel free to comment with possible other options. I'm actually now considering writing a story with the video game plot idea, since I think that could be really interesting.

Speaking of interesting stories, here are the debuts for this week:

Middle Grade:
Kristin L. Gray - Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge (3/7)

Young Adult:
Ashley Poston - Geekerella (3/7)
Peternelle van Arsdale - The Beast is an Animal (3/7)
Cecilia Vinesse - Seven Days of You (3/7)
Whitney Gardner - You're Welcome, Universe (3/7)
Sarah Nicole Lemon - Done Dirt Cheap (3/7)
Emma Chastain - Confessions of a High School Disaster (3/7)

Monday, February 27, 2017

Defending Disney: Beauty and the Beast

Hello, all!

It's currently snowing outside. That's the bad news. The good news is that this morning I beat the snow on my run and even had a 7:07 mile!

(It was my one and only downhill mile and I had to stop a few times, and I paused my timer when I did. But still. I'll take my half-wins where I can get them.)

Even better news: I got my ticket to the live action Beauty and the Beast film this March!

On that note, I feel like it's time to do a "Defending Disney" post that I've been planning for a long time.

Beauty and the Beast.

I love this movie. In fact, it's my favorite Disney film. So, when I found out that Disney was giving us a live-action reboot, I skipped around the house, I was so happy.

However, I feel like I'm always defending this movie against the argument that the whole thing is "Stockholm Syndrome." I don't like this statement because not only is it false (Stockholm syndrome is a lot more negative and complicated), but I feel like it ignores all the reasons why this movie is so powerful.

This is going to be a long post, but I have a lot of pictures to keep it colorful. Let's begin:

Let's start by looking at the character of Belle. She is intelligent, brave, and kind...and a bit of an oddball in her town. I'd like to point out here that Belle doesn't try to fit in; she accepts that she's different and likes herself. The only reason we see for her feeling down with how the village ostracizes her is this:

Belle is strong and confident in herself. She doesn't stop reading and loving books because the others in the village treat her poorly as a result. What she wants is someone she can "really talk to." Someone who understands her, doesn't think she's odd. And I'll take it one step further.

Every Disney protagonist has an "I Want" song, in which they state exactly what they want. They all end up getting this thing. Ariel wants to be "part of that world." Rapunzel wants her life to begin. Hercules wants to be where he belongs.

Belle is no exception. I think we all agree that Belle wants "adventure in the great wide somewhere." And she gets it, for sure. But there's more.

Belle states right here, in her "I Want" song, that she wants someone who understands her and, even, puts her plans above their own.

Which brings us to Gaston.

Gaston wants Belle. Not loves, wants. He sees her as another trophy, a prize that he deserves because he's the best-looking man in town. He has no consideration for the things she likes, what she cares about, or her plans.

This shot comes right before Gaston literally throws Belle's favorite book in the mud. So much for understanding. If it were up to Gaston, Belle would give up the things that make her "odd" and give him what he wants.

Belle is never going to have any kind of meaningful relationship with someone like Gaston. If he were the one in the castle, the story would have a different ending.

But in the castle, we have the Beast.

The Beast, on the surface, seems a lot like Gaston. He's selfish, brutish, and violent. However, the Beast differs in the respect that he has been humbled. Severely.

Gaston is the king of the town. The Beast, however, is isolated and alienated by the curse. He is an oddball, even more so than Belle is in her town. This is why a relationship that could never happen between Gaston and Belle can happen here. It's not Stockholm syndrome. It's understanding.

Granted, the circumstances in which Belle comes to live in the castle are negative. It seems like kidnapping, but remember: Belle is no damsel in distress. She chose to stay.

In fact, she chose it twice:

In this scene, Belle has been at the castle for no longer than a day, probably less than that. She has eaten one meal and we have proof that she's even slept. Her interactions with the Beast are limited. She has just run away, scared for her life, when the Beast comes to save her from the wolves. Which brings us to this moment.

Belle could have left. No one would have stopped her; the wolves were gone. She was already running away. The Beast had just saved her life, but he was responsible for holding her prisoner in the first place. But she didn't leave. In this moment, I think she sees the Beast as someone, not something. He came and rescued her, fighting the wolves instead of just grabbing her and hauling her back. He wasn't a monster threatening her. He was someone capable of kindness who needed her help.

So she goes back, and she stays. She chooses to do this; attributing this to Stockholm syndrome diminishes Belle's compassion and courage.

Another reason this is more than Stockholm syndrome is because the human-to-human connection continues and Belle finds in the Beast what she never found in the village: someone to talk to. While Gaston throws her book in the mud, the Beast encourages Belle's love of reading.

He gives her a library. They also read together.

The Beast respects and encourages what makes Belle unique. Belle in return doesn't "shudder at his paw," and makes her own allowances for what makes the Beast unique. These two "oddballs" grow closer as they understand each other and consider each others' needs. I'd also like to point out that as the movie progresses, Belle brings out the Beast's human side, as proven by the clothing he wears.

First shot: minimal, torn clothing, animalistic behavior.

Later, with Belle: full dress, more human behavior.

She brings out the best in him, and he celebrates the best in her. Which is why it's so powerful when the Beast lets Belle go.

I love this moment. The Beast is there with Bell and the wilting rose. He knows that he doesn't have much time left to break the spell, but he chooses to let Belle leave anyway. That's what she wants: to leave and help her father. He understands how important Belle's father is to her. In this moment, the Beast is deciding to put Belle's plans above his own plans to break the spell.

And that what she wanted from the start, right? Someone who understands that she wants so much more than they've got planned.

Meanwhile, Gaston is planning to harm her father to get what he wants: Belle to marry him. He continues to put his wants above hers, which is why he's the villain and the Beast is the hero. In the end, Belle chooses to go back a third time, going to the one who understands her, who she understands, who she can talk to, who puts her needs over his. It's true love, and the spell is broken.

This movie is not about Stockholm syndrome. It's about two people who don't fit in anywhere else finding the one person who understands them best. It's about caring about what makes each other special and bringing out the best in each other.

Thank you for reading through to the end. Here's the tl;dr for the rest of you:

Beauty and the Beast is not about Stockholm syndrome because it shows a loving, caring relationship based on understanding and putting others' needs before their own. Gaston is also a jerk who throws books in the mud.

And here's the trailer for the live action film, because AAAAAAAHHHHH!

Here are this week's debuts:

Middle Grade:
Carter Higgins - A Rambler Steals Home (2/28)
Mary E. Lambert - Family Game Night and Other Disasters (2/28)
Pete Begler - The Fearless Traveler's Guide to Wicked Places (2/28)

Young Adult:
Tricia Levenseller - Daughter of the Pirate King (2/28)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Book Review: Frostblood by Elly Blake

Hello, everyone! I hope you had a wonderful week and that my post about bad romantic writing tropes didn't bring down your Valentine's Day.

I've had a good week. For one thing, I got my book swag this week. A couple days ago, I got my sunglasses:


I feel so cool when I wear them.

I also just today got my bookmarks!

Hooray! Now I have things to give out at my release and other events!

Speaking of events, this past week I had the opportunity to volunteer at the Utah "Life, the Universe, and Everything" Symposium. It's a good little science fiction/fantasy writing convention. I've been before, and it's always good. I wasn't able to attend many panels I wanted to see because I was working, but I visited a good one about hacking and I liked learning what it's like working a convention. With any luck, I'll attend more writing conventions, and it's a good thing to learn how hard people work to make the convention happen.

But on to the main attraction. Another thing I did this week was read an ARC of Elly Blake's book Frostblood.

Yes, I said I read an ARC. However, this is the good news: this book's already out! It came out in January!

So, I can tell you all what I thought and you can go on out and read it for yourselves! No wait!

Frostblood takes place in a fantasy world where Frostbloods, people with the ability to generate and control cold and ice, reign. Firebloods, the opposite power (generating and controlling heat and fire), are hated and hunted. The main character, Ruby, is a Fireblood. She's caught and then rescued by Frostbloods who want her to help them end the terror of their current king. Ruby doesn't trust or like the Frostbloods, but by helping them she has the ability to hone her skills and get revenge on the king who has taken so much from her.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, as this was a gripping read. I really enjoyed the story and it pulled me along. Blake doesn't pull any punches with the emotions in this book, but they feel real. She's just really good at allowing things to get so bad it feels like a shot to the heart. However, the interactions between the characters, especially Ruby and the enigmatic Frostblood Arcus, are enjoyable, especially as the book progresses.

I also liked the other characters, such as Brother Thistle. There are a lot of good characters who are so likeable, which is a must in any book I read, but especially in YA. Ruby's character is fiery (appropriately) and at first I found her a little annoying and too irrational, but as time passed her character developed, just as Arcus starts too cold and distant and "warms up."

My favorite thing about this book was the powers the characters have and how they use them. Honestly, this book reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with the elemental powers and how one kind of power has control. Except, it's in reverse: the fire users are the hunted, not the hunters.

 There are a lot of things in this book, not just the powers, that reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I'll let you discover them for yourselves!

I really did enjoy the book. If I had any critique, it would be that the "revenge" theme seemed a little heavy-handed at the end, but I enjoyed the story so much it didn't pull me out of the book that much. Besides, I like more subtle themes; that's just my preference.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book, and would recommend, especially for lovers of Avatar. I'm grateful and glad to have been able to read it.

We have one debut this week:

Young Adult:
Lilliam Rivera - The Education of Margot Sanchez (2/21)