Monday, June 29, 2015

Movie Monday: Inside Out




Inside Out

Directed by: Pete Docter
Genre: Animated Comedy-Drama
Running time: 94 minutes
Released: 2015
Produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animated Studios

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a happy, hockey-loving 11-year-old Midwestern girl, but her world turns upside-down when she and her parents move to San Francisco. Riley's emotions -- led by Joy (Amy Poehler) -- try to guide her through this difficult, life-changing event. However, the stress of the move brings Sadness (Phyllis Smith) to the forefront. When Joy and Sadness are inadvertently swept into the far reaches of Riley's mind, the only emotions left in Headquarters are Anger, Fear and Disgust.


Review

Pixar’s latest film Inside Out puts an interesting twist on internal conflicts by depicting them through anthropomorphized emotions. Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear take the form of little colored people that influence human actions through a panel in our heads. Each emotion believes that it serves a pivotal role for Riley with Joy considering herself the most important. She behaves like the leader and attempts to control everything; in the process, she ends up alienating Sadness, whom she doesn’t consider necessary for Riley’s happiness.

The story of Inside Out is fairly straightforward. Riley, an 11-year old girl, seems to have the perfect life until her parents move to San Francisco, and the adjustment throws her emotions into a mess. Shortly after Sadness turns one of Riley’s happy memories into a sad one, Joy and Sadness get into a fight and wind up in the outer reaches of Riley’s mind by accident. Chaos ensues as only Disgust, Fear and Anger are left to hold down the fort until Joy and Sadness can make their way back.

Inside Out does a great job at appealing to a wide range of age groups. An ambitious film, Inside Out explores a more mature idea of existential crises while being an animated film targeted at entire families. For the children, there is childish humor and comical and exaggerated animations and personalities. For more mature viewers, there is intelligence and beauty in its exploration of Riley’s existential crisis as she begins to the Personality Islands within her mind.

Inside Out has some interesting and light-hearted moments. It physically portrays how the little people in our heads are affected by brain freeze and how they respond to annoying TV jingles getting permanently stuck in our heads. It also has some tear-jerking moments, including a scene where Riley’s imaginary friend realizes that Riley has completely forgotten about him.

At its core, Inside Out is a film about self-discovery. It speaks on how important each emotion is to our identity and how, while we sometimes want to shut out our negative emotions, they are just as important to our identity as our more positive emotions. I was pleasantly surprised with this film and would definitely recommend it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Interview: James Morris, Author of What Lies Within

I'm delighted to feature author James Morris here on the blog today to talk about his experiences as a writer and a little about his latest novel What Lies Within.




What Lies Within
James Morris

Genre: YA Thriller
Kindle: 226 Pages
Publication: Junes 2, 2015
by Kindle Press


"You’re going to die."

A single text message and Shelley Marano’s world is upended. A normal high school senior, Shelley discovers she is adopted. She goes on a journey to uncover her past, only to find she was part of a horrific experiment to test the theory of nature versus nurture. In a culture of violence committed by young people, she may be one of these killers. With the lives of her and her friends in the balance, one thing is certain: she will never be the same.


Author Interview

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.
I grew up outside of Chicago in a small farm town, and I always loved reading and movies. After college, I moved to Los Angeles and tried my hand in the entertainment industry, where I worked as a TV writer as well as on a few feature assignments. It’s not the easiest career, and sometimes not the most stable, but I enjoyed it. I’ve since segued into novels, and I love the idea of writing something that stands on its own (unlike teleplays, which need actors, crew, etc.)

How has writing for television influenced your writing style?
I definitely have pacing in mind when I write. TV episodes move quickly, lest someone get bored and change the channel. Every scene has to play a role in moving the story forward, and your project is only as good as the worst scene, so I try to find the areas that need a little more TLC. On the other hand, TV doesn’t always allow time to delve into scenes, to allow more breathing room, and that’s something I continue to work on in novels. I sometimes have to remind myself I don’t need to rush so much. Then again, at least with this project, it’s a thriller, so I wanted it to move fast.

What inspired the writing of What Lies Within? Did you do any research for your novel?
My inspiration, really, has always been about identity, and who we say we are versus who we really are, or who we are versus who we really want to be. There’s great dramatic tension between those opposites! I did research genetics, even interviewing a doctor of genetics at UCLA, Dr. Wayne Grody, who was kind to offer his time. At the end of the day, though, it’s fiction, and I took liberty with the science.

Around what themes did you write What Lies Within?
Akin to the inspiration, it was about identity. I think it’s a potent theme for most adolescents (and even adults, really). I’m always curious: can we escape the forces that shape(d) us?

What do you want readers to take away from your novel?
First and foremost, just to have a good time. This is a ride of a novel, something you can read in big gulps, and enjoy. I’m not a fan of preaching or messaging; entertainment must come first. Afterwards, if it gets readers thinking, that’s great, too. But I want the reader to have fun.

If you could hang out with one of your characters for a day, who would it be and what would you do?
I think I’m most like Winston, so I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with myself all day! I actually think the villain would be interesting. You wonder how some people function throughout the day when they do such bad things.

Who were your favorite authors growing up and have any influenced your writing?
Ray Bradbury, for sure. He really was my first literary love. My other influence, and it’s a bit of a cheat, is Rod Serling. I am a “Twilight Zone” addict, and those stories still hold up! How crazy is that? They are written so well. I think I learned as much from “Twilight Zone” about dialogue, pacing, theme and structure than any other book or teacher. As far as influencing my own writing, it’s odd, because I would definitely love to write with some of the elements of say, John Greene, or Jess Walter (who wrote Beautiful Ruins), but you find you write like you write, for better or worse.

What are your thoughts about current YA trends in the book market? What would you like to see more of?
My only bummer is the labels publishing houses place on books in order to market them better. “Young adult” didn’t really exist when I read as a teen. Good stories were just good stories! I guess my second thing is publishing is probably much like Hollywood, in that, once a trend hits that’s successful, then it’s replicated. Publishing is a business like any other, geared toward profit, which I understand, but when a trend hits, then in the act of replicating the trend, other books don’t make it market because they don’t fit the theme of the moment, which is a loss for readers.

What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a (yes, I’ll say it after the previous question and labels) New Adult alternate history novel with a love story. No matter the project I’m working on, I always think the current one I’m working on is the best I’ve ever done, and I feel the same about this one. I’m excited about What Lies Within, but I’m really excited for the book coming soon!

About the Author

James Morris is a former television writer who has worked on include Smallville, The Dead Zone, and Are You Afraid of the Dark?. He now works in digital media with companies such as NBC.com with copywriting, blogging, and editing. His goal is to use his love of storytelling to help corporations tell their own stories while continuing to write his own. When he isn't writing, you can find him scoping out the latest sushi spot, watching 'House Hunters Renovation', or trying new recipes in the kitchen. He lives with his wife and dog in Los Angeles.

Connect with James Morris
Website | GoodreadsFacebook | Twitter

Monday, June 15, 2015

Movie Monday: Jurassic World




Jurassic World

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow
Genre: Science Fiction Adventure
Running time: 124 minutes
Released: 2015
Produced by Amblin Entertainment

Located off the coast of Costa Rica, the Jurassic World luxury resort provides a habitat for an array of genetically engineered dinosaurs, including the vicious and intelligent Indominus rex. When the massive creature escapes, it sets off a chain reaction that causes the other dinos to run amok. Now, it's up to a former military man and animal expert (Chris Pratt) to use his special skills to save two young brothers and the rest of the tourists from an all-out, prehistoric assault.


Review

The dinosaur amusement park that John Hammond dreamed of setting up has finally been created, and Jurassic World is a real spectacle. While the characters feel flat and the writing is nothing special, the film brings incredible scenery, great camerawork and visuals, and thrilling action. It does a great job of breathing life back into the Jurassic Park series.

The plot to Jurassic World is straightforward and predictable. People are growing tired of the regular dinosaurs, so Jurassic World has created a bigger and badder dinosaur through genetic mutations. Of course, everything goes wrong and the dinosaur gets loose. All hell breaks loose on the island with peoples’ lives hanging in the balance.

All of the prominent characters in the film were extremely stereotypical and flat. First, there are the classic brothers who don’t seem to get along too well but bond with each other while facing life-threatening situations. Their aunt is your typical career-focused adult that pushes the responsibility of her nephews onto her assistant, who is the stereotypical irresponsible babysitter that quickly loses track of the brothers while chatting on the phone. Plus, there is the greedy businessman who wants to exploit the dinosaurs. While some of the characters were likable, particularly the dino trainer played by Chris Pratt and the manager played by Bryce Dallas Howard, they were all very one-dimensional. There was little to no character development. I didn’t particularly feel invested in any of the characters.

While the characters don’t bring too much to the film, this is Jurassic World. We all watch it for the dinosaurs. The director did a great job with the action sequences, and the constant action keeps you busy enough to overlook the faults in the plot and characters. Jurassic World brings everything you’d expect from it. It’s bigger than its predecessors and provides plenty more dinosaurs, making for a great summer spectacle. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a fun and thrilling film.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen



Persuasion
Jane Austen

Genre: HistoricalNovel of Manners
Paperback: 334 Pages
Publication: March 29, 2012 (originally December 1817)
by W. W. Norton & Company



Eight years before the story proper begins, Anne Elliot is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne's family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?


Review

During my junior year of college, I signed up for a British Lit class where we read nothing but Jane Austen. Since the assignment of this book came so dangerously close to the end of the semester, I didn't have the chance to finish the novel, and we never really got the chance to discuss it as I would've liked in class. This ended up being the first time I read the book from beginning to end, and my feelings about the book overall were mixed.

The biggest issue I had with this book was noted from the very beginning. This novel picks up with a really, really, really slow start. We open with a debriefing on the genealogy of the family of Sir Walter Elliot, a baronet who is very, very proud of his status as such. We're introduced to his three daughters: the eldest Elizabeth, the novel's protagonist Anne, and the youngest and already married Mary. Because Sir Walter has no living sons (the only son he and Lady Elliot had was stillborn), his heir is a distant cousin of his daughters' named Mr. Elliot, with whom the family has been estranged from at the time. From the opening chapters, we clearly see the distinct personalities of the family members. Sir Walter and Elizabeth are vain and superficial, more interested in money, extravagance, and rank than anything else, Mary constantly seeks attention, and poor Anne, who is probably the only really sane person of the bunch, is stuck with a group of people who don't really appreciate her as they ought to.

The plot feels like it really starts to roll when several of the characters decide to pay a visit to Lyme, among them Anne and Captain Wentworth. There is a moment when Anne's intelligence and calmness comes into play, and it's there that I really started to wonder just how she felt about Captain Wentworth after having broken off their engagement and maintaining feelings for him after such a long time. Perhaps because it's because of the introduction of some friction, but the chapters at Lyme were what really got me hooked and made me genuinely curious about what would happen between Anne and Captain Wentworth, especially because it's around this part of the book where the Elliots are reintroduced, if briefly, to Mr. Elliot, who also brings some conflict with him.

This book is notable for being one of Austen's novels that was published posthumously. She passed away in July of 1817, and the book was published in December of that year (though it's usually dated 1818). It was published together with Northanger Abbey (the other posthumous Austen work released), as both stories take place for the most part in Bath, a city Austen spent some unhappy years in. This dislike of Bath apparently really hit Austen, as this novel makes it clear that the social environment of the city is based more on superficiality and frivolousness than anything else. Though Austen is famous for the social commentary in her writing, the commentary in this book is sharper than that featured in previous novels, and it appears to be at its sharpest in the chapters at Bath.

When it comes to the title of the book, it turned out not to be her choice, but that of her brother, Henry. There is no official word on what Austen herself was going to title the book, though she referred to it in her notes as The Elliots, which may have been what she was going for in the end. Persuasion is definitely the strongest theme in the book, what with all the moments in which characters attempt to or successfully persuade one another (or even themselves in some instances). The persuasion that probably affected me the most while reading was the one that occurred before the current events of the novel, when Lady Russell persuaded Anne to break off her engagement to Captain Wentworth. The fact that Anne did so but maintained her feelings for him could be seen as a hint of how much she stands out from the people around her.

Personally, I thought the most notable aspect of this novel was its heroine. At twenty-seven years old, Anne stands out as the oldest of Austen's heroines, who are usually in their late teens or very early twenties. Much like Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice and Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, Anne is the only truly level-headed person in a family of, for lack of better words, a bunch of nonsensical ninnies. The fact that she was essentially duped into breaking off her engagement to the man she loved was sad for me as a reader, but seeing her reconnect and ultimately reconcile with him was what really saved this book from being a disappointment. I read somewhere that the novel ends up being a Cinderella story for Anne: she marries for love and not money, ends up in better standing financially, socially, and emotionally, and ultimately finds herself surrounded by people who can really appreciate her. Not to mention the fact that the more antagonistic characters get the endings they deserve, and the few people who remain part of Anne's close circle of friends get rewards.

I can't quite put my finger on it, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as I've enjoyed other Austen works. It isn't terrible, but it just doesn't quite have the charm of Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. It could be the fact that Austen was ill while working on this book, or the fact that it was basically reconstructed using the drafts and notes she left behind after passing away that makes it feel a bit rough around the edges when compared to other Austen novels. However, this book does have its merits, in particular the character of Anne. If you decide to check it out, I would recommend doing so mainly for her.


Rating: 3 stars


Series

N/A

Similar Books
  • Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Villette by Charlotte Bronte
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Content
  • N/A

Friday, June 12, 2015

Review: The Jesus Cow by Michael Perry



The Jesus Cow
Michael Perry

Genre: Humor
Hardback: 304 Pages
Publication: May 19, 2015
by Harper



Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor’s heart, a Hummer-driving predatory developer is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm, and inside his barn is a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ. His best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to avoid the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called “a scene.”

Then the secret gets out—right through the barn door, and Harley’s “miracle” goes viral. Within hours pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a percentage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want—and raise enough money to keep his land—and, just possibly, win the woman and her big red pickup truck?

Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park—think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and t-shirts. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.


Review

The Jesus Cow is a novel that I have been waiting for. I enjoy reading novels that use absurd elements to explore humanity. (For example, the bug / vermin in The Metamorphosis. Or, in the case of The Jesus Cow, the calf bearing the image of the Son of God.) I do want to say upfront that you cannot take the religious component seriously while reading this novel. I know that some people may not be comfortable with the religious content or how it is handled. I totally understand. For me, I read this novel with the understanding that it is not about religion. Rather, "religion" is used to explore humanity and show the absurd direction that it can take. (Cue: spiritual theme park and Harley making money off his "holy" calf.)

From the moment that I read the title of this book, I knew that there would be humor in it. And there is plenty of humor to go around in The Jesus Cow! Better yet, it comes packaged in a very well-written novel. (Know that I, the English major, rarely say this.) There are many, many lines that I reread and underlined or put in brackets because I love the way Perry worded them. For example, Perry describes one of Harley's past relationships in one sentence: "Harley himself had once named a Holstein heifer calf after a high school girlfriend; sadly the relationship ended before the calf was weaned" (P. 15 of the ARC). I love this sentence because it says so much about Harley's relationship in a unique way that fits into the context. Perry doesn't say something generic that could speak to any protagonist; instead, he describes Harley's relationship in a way that draws from pieces of Harley's life. In a way that I can imagine Harley himself thinking about his past relationship.

I also like how different characters in the town take turns narrating their story. As I mentioned in my review of Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (read my review here), such sketches give us insight into characters coming from different backgrounds and allow us to build a deeper understanding of the culture of a place and how it influences the people that live there. In The Jesus Cow, we see how small town life has contributed to the development of each character, how each character reacts to their environment, and how each character, in turn, influences the lives of other characters. For example, if I had only learned about Klute from Harley's perspective, I might have dismissed Klute as a greedy developer out to get Harley. By reading about Klute's story from Klute's own perspective, I could sympathize more with his situation. These are but two of the many characters in the small town of Swivel.

The Jesus Cow is a highly entertaining and well written novel that explores themes about humanity.

Content (contains potential spoilers)
  • Don't read this unless you're prepared for religion not to be taken seriously. You can't when the Son of God is stenciled on the calf's side.
  • Some language.
  • A lot of absurdity in the process of exploring humanity.
  • *** Note: I started my Teach For America summer institute before I was able to finish reading this novel, so I ended up skimming / flipping through a good chunk of the book. At this time, the content does not reflect the whole of the novel. I did very much enjoy what I have read of the novel and do plan on returning to it to savor it at a slower pace. I will update my content list then! ***


A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review

Series
  • N/A

Similar Books
Content
  • Religious irreverence
  • Some language



About the Author

Michael Perry is a humorist, radio host, songwriter, and the New York Times bestselling author of several nonfiction books, including Visiting Tom and Population: 485. Perry’s essays and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications including The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, Backpacker, Outside, Runner’s World, Salon.com, and Men’s Health magazine. He lives with his wife and two daughters in rural Wisconsin, where he serves on the local volunteer fire and rescue service and is an intermittent pig farmer.

Connect with Michael
Website | GoodreadsFacebook | Twitter Instagram



This post was made as part of the TLC Book Tour for The Jesus Cow
Click here to see the full tour schedule


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Review: Remember Me by Romily Bernard



Remember Me
Romily Bernard

Series: Find Me #2
Genre: YA Mystery Crime
Hardback: 368 Pages
Publication: September 23, 2014
by Harper Teen



Wick had thought her troubles were over.

But she should’ve known better.

Not only is she embroiled in a new murder case, which starts with a body with “Remember Me” carved into it and doesn’t stop there, but she also discovers new evidence surrounding her mother’s suicide…which leads her right back to her imprisoned deadbeat dad. And she has to deal with her flirty new hacker friend, Milo, sniffing around—which her boyfriend, Griff, isn’t too happy about.

The pressure might be too much as secrets—including Wick’s own—climb to the surface.

Remember Me is an edge-of-your-seat thrilling read that’ll have readers turning the pages at lightning speed! The paperback of Find Me is on sale simultaneously, and a digital original novella from Romily, featuring Griff, is on sale just a few weeks before!


Review

Upon the discovery of a body with the words “Remember Me” carved on it, Wick becomes embroiled in another case. On top of that, Wick mysteriously receives DVD tapes about her mother, she makes a hacker friend in Milo, and Griff begins to pull away from her. Needless to say, Wick has a lot going on.

I love how Wick's internal struggles are deeper explored in this sequel to Find Me. Wick realizes that she can't live a normal teenage life. Like any other teenager, she struggles with who she wants to be, but her situation is complicated by the situations she deals with. The past always finds a way to catch up to her. Willing to sacrifice her own freedom to protect the ones she loves, Wick keeps pushing away everyone she cares about. It is sad to see Griff's lack of understanding about Wick's situation. He doesn’t seem to see eye to eye about how Wick is being forced to work for Carson. Admittedly, Wick hides many secrets from him. I think that she should be more open with Griff, so he can better understand her.

Despite his flaws, Griff is very protective and supportive of Wick even when he disagrees with her actions. Nevertheless, Wick wonders if Griff loves her for who she is or what he believes she ought to be. Milo is the opposite of Griff. Whereas Griff will go to authorities with problems, Milo will seek revenge. Milo and Wick are both hackers, so they have a lot in common, and they get along perfectly well. I love how he involves himself into Wick's life, and being helpful to her.

Remember Me is full of twists and turns. Not only does Wick work for Carson, she discovers new information about her mother’s death. The novel explores Wick’s trust issues, relationship with her adoptive mother, Bren, Griff, Milo, and her past. By adding all these subplots, the story keeps the pace moving quickly through the book. I definitely recommend Remember Me to readers who enjoy young adult suspense and thrillers. I am looking forward to reading the next novel in the series.

An ARC was provided by Harper Collins for review

Rating: 4 stars

Series
  1. Find Me
  2. Remember Me
  3. Trust Me

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Content