Thursday, August 29, 2013

Author Riches, The Mortal Instruments Trilogy and the Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic

So apparently, as long as your book has enough titillating sex in it, it doesn't matter if the prose is well written, or the plot has a million holes in it, or even if it is just re-hashed Twilight fan fiction.  EL James is laughing all the way to the bank after earning millions for her bizarre Twilight fan fiction that involves a naive young woman and a horribly abusive man who shows her bondage and S&M games that a lot of women seemed to find exciting. Personally, I find that kind of thing creepy, not at all sexually exciting and I can't stand books that are poorly written fan fiction. But, like I said, EL James doesn't care, she's made a pile of money on her Fifty Shades books.
From Shelf Awareness:
"The $95 million E.L. James earned between June 2012 and June 2013 from
her Fifty Shades trilogy not only earned her top billing on Forbes's
World's Top-Earning Authors list, but has
also tied her for third place, with Simon Cowell and Howard Stern, on
the magazine's Highest Earning Celebrities list,
which was released this week. The list is topped by Madonna ($125
million) and Steven Spielberg ($100 million), with James Patterson in
sixth place at $91 million. For the record, everybody mentioned in this
note has either written books or had books written about them... or

The Mortal Instruments trilogy, by Cassandra Clare, contains City of Bones, City of Ashes and City of Glass. Like a lot of young adult fantasy/SF, the protagonists are misfit teenagers who either don't have parents or have just one, ineffective parent who just 'doesn't understand them' because they are so unusual, different, etc. In this case we have Clary, (short for Clarissa) who has great artistic abilities but is something of an outcast living with her mother Jocelyn and her best friend Simon in NYC. Her mother has had a "friend" throughout her childhood, a guy named Luke who has stood in for Clary's father, whom she was told died in the war.
Unfortunately, one day when Clary is at a bar (though she's only 16) with her friends, she happens to see some strange-looking teenagers kill something that looks like a creature from a fairy tale. She meets one of these teens, a handsome blond guy named Jace, and is instantly attracted to him and very curious about what she saw. Later, when she's home, she gets attacked by another creature and soon after she's rescued, she is told by Jace that she's a Shadowhunter, a race of beings who have angel blood and are able to see demons, vampires, werewolves and other 'downworlders' so that they can kill them and keep them from preying on "mundanes"/humans. Clary learns that her mother was a famous Shadowhunter who escaped from the alternate universe where the Shadowhunters live because her husband, Valentine, was a monster who had given her first child demon blood while still in utero, turning him into a crazed psychopath, and once Jocelyn became pregnant with Clary, she rennounced her Shadowhunter heritage and moved to the mundane world and had all of Clary's nascent powers suppressed by a warlock named Magnus Bane. Once Jocelyn figures out that Valentine isn't dead and is seeking her to gain her help in the war he wants to wage against Shadowhunters who are members of the "Clave", their organization and ruling body, she gives herself a potion that puts her into a coma from which she cannot wake, and leaves a message with a person she trusts to tell her daughter how to find the antidote to wake her.
Meanwhile, Clary's BFF Simon grows more jealous and frustrated as Clary seems to grow more attached and enamored of Jace every time she sees him, while Simon believes that he's been in love with Clary for a long time, and he doesn't want her to risk her life as a Shadowhunter or spend more time with Jace and his adopted siblings, the Lightwood clan, Isabelle, Alec and Max. the Lightwoods took Jace in when it was believed that his parents died during an "uprising" staged by Valentine and a Circle of Shadowhunters he'd gotten under his sway.
We soon discover, of course, that Valentine is actually Jace and Clary's father, and that throws a huge monkey wrench in their love for one another, though they can't seem to stop the feelings that they have, though they're taboo. Yet any reader who has even a passing familiarity with fantasy tropes will know that somehow, it is going to be discovered that one or the other of them is NOT really Valentine's progeny. That was one of my only problems with this trilogy; Clare telegraphed her punches. So much so, that I knew what was going to happen with Valentine, his war on the Clave and with Jocelyn, Luke and Simon, as well as the Lightwoods by the end of the first novel.  While I didn't know the exact particulars of Valentine's use of the Mortal Cup, the Sword and the Mirror, which he used to call an archangel, it was a pretty strong bet that no angel was going to kill all the Shadowhunters he'd created to keep downworlders in line, and once it was discovered that Clary's power was to create new runes that did amazing things, it was also inevitable that she and Jace would have an HEA, and that Sebastian was really the evil demon-spawn, not Jace. I was surprised that Simon became a vampire so quickly, and I was surprised that Valentine was able to capture, torture and use an angel for years in his dungeon without anyone being the wiser, especially the other angels. Still, I loved the idea of there being a downworlder "underworld" not visible to regular humans, and of there being Shadowhunters and a parallel world for them to live in that used magic instead of technology. Clary got a bit whiny and weak at times, but eventually she managed to prove herself and save the day. I would give this series a B+, and recommend it to teenagers and adults who loved Harry Potter or Twilight or anyone who liked the "Need" series by Carrie Jones, as I did.

  This is a great a humanities grad, I totally agree!

"Even if we read books and talk about them for four years, and then do
something else more obviously remunerative, it won't be time wasted. We
need the humanities not because they will produce shrewder entrepreneurs
or kinder CEOs but because, as that first professor said, they help us
enjoy life more and endure it better. The reason we need the humanities
is because we're human. That's enough."

--Adam Gopnik in his New Yorker essay, "Why Teach English?

Emily Croy Barker's "The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic" is a hefty tome containing the story of Nora, a grad student who gets swept away to a world where fairies are nasty creatures who use and abuse humans, and where an old magician named Aruendiel rescues Nora from their clutches and tries to teach her magic, or at least enough magic to survive before she finds a way home.
Nora does a lot of cooking, cleaning and seriously hard labor as a matter of course in the magical world, and while I understand that she feels she should earn her keep, I don't understand why gender roles are so set in stone in the magic world, especially once she starts training in magic and learns the language the people of that world speak. Nora literally becomes the scullery maid all the while having to spend her off hours, what few there are, reading spell books and trying to learn the language and increase her magical abilities. Little wonder that when she does get back home she is bone-thin, dirty and unhealthy. She's treated reprehensibly by nearly everyone she meets, and yet we are to believe that she falls in love with Aruendiel and wishes to return to this harsh and unforgiving world and abandon her family in the real world and her studies, just because she experiences a kind of boredom or ennui.  The ending didn't make a lot of sense to me, because I couldn't really understand her reasons for wanting to return to the magic world, though I could understand her love of Aruendiel as being one that was fostered by his rescuing her from the Faitoren, or fairies, who had impregnated her and then left her to die when her baby, which was half-monster-fairy spontaneously aborted and nearly killed her.  Aruendiel was the lesser of evils, and he was noble when he wasn't being an arrogant, rude jerk to her. Still, any woman with half a brain would want to bring the guy to her world where there is indoor plumbing, plentiful food and women aren't enslaved as cooks, maids and apprentices. I found the prose to be serviceable, if bogged down in parts by descriptions that lasted too long and kept the plot from moving forward. I'd give this book a C+, and recommend that the author get a good editor to carve out some of the fleshier bits of her stories in the future.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fictional Libraries and Amazon's Bubbles, plus Someday, Someday Maybe becomes a TV show

 I have always wanted to visit the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Carlos Ruiz Zafon's "The Shadow of the Wind" because it sounds like my kind of library...endless shelves of books.
Still, there are other fictional libraries that would also be great places to sit down and read, and Paste features some of them in the following list, from Shelf Awarness:

Calling the library a "perfect reading spot," Paste featured its choices
for the "12 best fictional libraries
noting that while there are "certainly some impressive real-life
libraries, few match the ambiance of these incredible and iconic
fictional ones."
 They forgot the library in the movie "Funny Face" with Audrey Hepburn that I fancied because it had a spiral staircase, but still, it's a pretty interesting list.
Robert Gray's essay on shopkeeping and bookselling as noble professions is, as usual for him, profound and fascinating:
I've spent much of my life as a shopkeeper, and I always bristled at the
idea that the term was a pejorative. This may come from watching too
many westerns, where shopkeepers are traditionally portrayed as either
obsequious, sleeve garter-wearing cowards or the widows of obsequious,
sleeve garter-wearing cowards. The HBO series Deadwood struck a less
insulting shopkeeper chord with Timothy Olyphant's fierce portrayal of
Seth Bullock, a man who wants to trade his gunslinging past for a new
life as a hardware store shopkeeper, though choosing a lawless South
Dakota settlement for his venture complicates things a bit. Imagine an

Customers do not witness the complexity of a shopkeeper's day. Many
bookstore patrons, for example, see only an ideal job that involves
bookish conversations in a soothing environment, and good booksellers
sustain the myth by remaining calm and cordial, even as their work
day--an endless cycle of shelving, ordering, straightening, cash
register duty and other responsibilities--devolves into an
angst-inducing blur. Bookstore patrons don't need to know about any of
this, of course.

Shopkeepers play an essential role in fostering our sense of community.
As Noonan observed, in addition to "providing a retail service, these
shopkeepers make up your village." She also cited author David Malouf's
recent observation that "at the heart of a village is often a good

"Bookshops are havens. I reckon you are never too scruffy, hungover, or
bruised and bewildered to slouch into a bookshop," Noonan concluded.
"Books are the friends you don't have to dress up for. They are the
lovers that require no stroking of ego or anything else. They are the
teachers that set no exams. Bookshops aren't just bookshops. They are
ideas shops."

And shopkeepers? Let's just say that in these perilous bookselling
times, shopkeeping and community building are not for faint-hearted,
sleeve garter-wearing cowards. Maybe it was always so. A 1922 New York
Times article, headlined "Shopkeeper of Shakespeare and Company
described legendary Parisian bookseller Sylvia Beach as "efficient and
determined, but with her efficiency and determination there was
understanding besides." To me, these sound like the core elements of a
bookseller... and a shopkeeper... and a village. --Robert Gray

 I was utterly dejected when I read this the day after it happened! I could have gotten some free ARC copies of books! ARG! If only I had known that Shelf Awareness was staging a book fest in Fremont, the Center of the Universe!
On Friday, Shelf Awareness took over the iconic Waiting for the
Interurban statue in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. Residents,
commuters and visitors were welcome to take some of the hundreds of new
fiction and nonfiction titles we placed at the location.

"We wanted to do something fun that promotes reading. One of our major
focuses is helping people discover books," said Jenn Risko, publisher of
Shelf Awareness. The books were ARCs, selected by Shelf Awareness's book
review editor, Marilyn Dahl. "We hope by offering a wide variety of free
books, anyone can find something they'll enjoy. For us, that's the
beauty of reading--discovering a new book or a new author," Dahl said.

This is a hilarious video, though I imagine it is less so for booksellers who have to have all that stuff near the register:
Bookstore Video of the Day: 'Less Stuff, More Books'
frontline bookseller who has worked a sidelines-laden checkout station
will appreciate "Less Stuff, More Books
the latest video from Common Good Books

Amazon is building a huge complex downtown in Seattle at South Lake Union, near the water, and they are hoping to build these weird transparent bubbles and a bike track all the way around the area. Bizarre:
An updated design proposal has been submitted by's architect
with a "different look for the bubble-like office building
that would be the visual focus of its three-block Denny Triangle
development," the Seattle Times reported. The revised plan "gives the
three intersecting spheres a more organic, cellular look instead of the
angular panels of the original proposal."

Amazon will also build a two-block cycle track
around its office towers on Seventh Avenue and "provide stalls for about
400 bikes in each of its towers," the Seattle Times wrote, noting that
the cycle track project emerged last year from discussions between the
city and Amazon, which "sought to acquire public alleys running through
each of its three blocks. In exchange for those, Amazon agreed to pay
for the Seventh Avenue cycle track on its blocks and to install bike
crossings across Westlake, among other things."

"Cyclists are part of the fabric of Seattle, and so we're thrilled to be
creating a new cycle track that will make the ride to and from downtown
safer and easier for all cyclists in the community," said John
Schoettler, Amazon director of global real estate and facilities.

 I read this book by Lauren Graham, of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame, and I found it frothy and fun, though it read more like a play or a screenplay than a book, so I was not surprised to read the following: 

The CW network has put in development Someday, Someday, Maybe
based on Lauren Graham's debut novel, reported. Graham will
write the script for the project and is executive producing with Very
Good Production's Ellen DeGeneres and Jeff Kleeman.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey, Born of Illusion by Teri Brown and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Gloria Steinem to Receive Medal of Freedom

I started reading Gloria Steinem's books and essays in the 1970s, when I was a teenager, and I found her works inspirational and, not to be too punny, glorious. She put a face on feminism for me, as I am sure she did for many women, and she wrote in a practical, intelligent fashion that made equality seem so sensible, so right and true, that I found myself wanting to challenge all the myths that I'd been raised with in Iowa society, not really in my home (my mother was an ardent believer in equality, and always told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, and that I never need marry or produce grandchildren for her sake.) Now Steinem is being lauded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is long overdue, and I couldn't be more pleased. Thank you, Gloria Steinem, for making feminism less remote and scary and more real to this Iowan.

Activist and writer Gloria Steinem was one of 16 people named by
President Barack Obama to receive the nation's highest civilian honor,
the Presidential Medal of Freedom,
which is presented to "individuals who have made especially meritorious
contributions to the security or national interests of the United
States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or
private endeavors." This year's recipients will be honored at the White
House later this year.

Steinem was praised as "a renowned writer and activist for women's
equality. She was a leader in the women's liberation movement,
co-founded Ms. magazine and helped launch a wide variety of groups and
publications dedicated to advancing civil rights. Ms. Steinem has
received dozens of awards over the course of her career, and remains an
active voice for women's rights."

President Obama observed that the medal "goes to men and women who have
dedicated their own lives to enriching ours. This year's honorees have
been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is
their gift for sharing that talent with the world. It will be my honor
to present them with a token of our nation's gratitude."

I adore Dame Judi Dench, and I eagerly await the opening of this movie, which looks fascinating.

A trailer has been released for Philomena,
based on Martin Sixsmith's book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee: A
Mother, Her Son and a Fifty-Year Search. Indiewire noted that the movie,
directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, is
"designed as a hopefully awards-grabbing vehicle for an older British
actress" and the trailer suggests "she might well be in with a shout
when Oscar season nears." Philomena will be unveiled at the Venice Film
Festival August 31, with a U.K. release November 1 and "a U.S. bow
that's yet to be announced, but should come before the end of 2013."

Three books I've recently read: Ashes on the Waves by Mary Lindsey,  Born of Illusion by Teri Brown and The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

 I know of three people who would love Ashes on the Waves, which was a combination of Poes Annabel Lee and Meyer's Twilight, though thankfully it is much better written than the latter. It also contains elements of Shakespeare's The Tempest, which I found deliciously fun to spot, because it seemed clear to me that Liam was Caliban and Anna was Miranda, both on a remote Island and doomed by the machinations of others. Still, it was a glorious fish out of water romance, with lots of Celtic supernatural ocean myths thrown in, and a housekeeper fit for Du Maurier's Rebecca.
The story begins with a beautiful young Scotch/Irish lad named Liam who has one paralyzed arm and is considered a 'demon' in human form by his fellow villagers because of a tale told by Brigid Ronan, the mysterious housekeeper at the local mansion on the hill. Ronan told everyone that Liam clawed his way out of his mother at birth and killed her, and that he was found in a pool of blood near his mother, father unknown. (Turns out it was the lord of the manor who impregnated her).  So Liam is hated and shunned by the townsfolk, including his foster father, a drunken fisherman who beats him, and his only friend, now that he's grown, is Francine, who owns the local Mercantile store where Liam works and owns a small shack where his mother lived with him until he was born, and where Liam now resides, isolated and pining for the only friend he ever had as a child, a little girl who lived in the mansion named Anna.
Anna, whose family is wealthy, is exiled to the Island in disgrace for stripping nude at parties and behaving so outrageously it keeps her in the tabloids. Unfortunately, her sibling is getting married to a political figure and they don't want any adverse publicity before or during the wedding, so they send teenage Anna off to the Island of Dochas.
Liam meets up with her again when he sees that she has been "called" by the Mermaids/Mermen during a storm and is about to throw herself off a cliff into the sea. He rescues her, only to be kicked in the groin and accused of being a pervert.
However, as soon as Anna comes to her senses, she meets Liam in the store, and the two begin a romantic relationship not long after. Though dogged by Ban Shes and selkies and all manner of supernatural skulduggery, Liam and Anna manage to solve the mystery of Liam's birth and the soulmates pledge themselves to one another forever. There's not really an HEA ending, but it's still satisfying to those who believe that love goes on after death. I'd give this fantasy novel an A, with the caveat that it is a bit overwrought in spots, yet the Celtic creatures and the charming prose save the story from drowning in sentimentality.
Born of Illusion was a surprise to me, because I'd assumed it was going to be a kind of Steampunk YA version of Christopher Priest's "The Prestige."  I'm glad I was wrong. Born of Illusion was a marvelously atmospheric novel about a young psychic magician, Anna, who assists her mother Marguerite Van Housen in grifting the public with fake seances while also performing in legitimate magic stage shows. Anna's mother seems to be a nasty, egotistical woman who wants to control her daughter and insists the spotlight be on her all the time. She doesn't know that her daughter has real visions and psychic powers, and Anna works hard to keep it that way, lest her mother mistreat or abandon her. Anna's mother also sends out rumors to all and sundry that her daughter is the illegitimate child of Harry Houdini, whom she met when both lived in the "Old Country" (one assumes they mean Bulgaria or Hungary or Romania).
Anna doesn't know if the story is true, or just another way for her mother to garner publicity for their shows and seances, which Anna hates. Still, Anna is an expert lock picker and can get herself out of all kinds of hand cuffs, straightjackets and can do a variety of card tricks when she's not overwhelmed by her visions.  Once Anna meets Cole, a young male "sensitive" she learns of several groups who are vying for control of any and all psychics, to use for their own nefarious purposes.  Though she's kidnapped twice, Anna manages to come out of the situation on top, with the help of Cole, and in the end, she gets a surprising offer from Harry Houdini himself.
Thoroughly researched and very well written, I'd give this book an A and recommend it to those who love Steampunk, magic and the legend of Harry Houdini.
The Secret Keeper was also a surprising novel, because it starts out being a standard kind of modern day alternating with WW2 chapters book, not unlike The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Letters From Skye, without the epistolary structure. Yet the farther into the story the reader goes, the more convoluted the plot becomes, until 2/3 of the way through, the reader thinks the story will end one way, and soon discovers, in a shocking twist, that it ends in a completely different way, because one of the main characters isn't who she said she was. Perhaps I am just naive, but I was flabbergasted by the ending, yet I felt that I should have seen it coming. Still, the prose, while  workmanlike, gets a bit pudgy at times, and I felt that the plot flagged in a couple of spots. I think there are about 30 pages that could have been trimmed from this novel without it losing anything at all, especially up front, when there's way too much time spent on describing the landscape of Australia.  The story itself is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of young people in England during WW2. Laurel Nicolson witnesses her mother killing a man during her childhood, and though her mother is never charged with murder (it was called self defense since the man reached for Laurel's baby brother), now that Laurel's mother Dorothy is dying, and all her children are coming home to the family farm to be with her, Laurel wants to figure out what really happened on that day long ago when her mother stabbed a man for no apparent reason. What Laurel and her brother find, now that they are middle aged adults, is a twisted tale of love and blackmail and revenge that culminates in an ending that I've said I didn't see coming, but was pleased with nontheless. I'd give this book a B+ and recommend it to anyone who is fascinated by WW2 stories based in England, and wartime romances.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Movies Based on Books and Tidbits for August

 The quote below sums up, in a nice way, why we need to keep community bookstores viable:

Bookstores 'Will Continue to Be Rediscovered & Reincarnated'

"Just like that old classic with a newly designed cover that might

attract you for some unexplained reason, the bookstore is a place where

not only the old and new converge, but connect.... I see these

conversations and interactions happening daily, and each time it does, I

am reminded not only of the importance of bookstores, but also the

importance of vibrant downtown districts.

"The fact is this: We only survive because downtown Ann Arbor survives.

We are simply the latest torch-bearer of an old idea--one that was

carried by Borders, one that was carried by Shaman Drum, one that has

certainly struggled over the past few years, but will never go away.

"Like all old classics, bookstores may get new names, new addresses, or

new owners, but so long as people still enjoy discovering new surprises,

they will continue to be rediscovered and reincarnated, over and over

and over."

--Mike and Hilary Gustafson, who
opened Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, Mich., this spring, in a guest post at Concentrate

This week Jeff Bezos, CEO of the giant company (based in Seattle), bought the venerable Washington Post newspaper for a mere 250 million dollars, which is like pocket change to a guy worth billions. Still, it has caused quite a ripple in the bookselling and in the journalism communities, and there has been a lot of speculation about whether or not Bezos will put the newspaper online and shutter the actual newspaper, firing all but a few employees. So far, that hasn't been the case, but there is still a great deal of unease about Bezos becoming a media baron.
In an opinion piece in the
Washington Post, author and bookseller Ann Patchett offered a somewhat
friendly if wary welcome to new Post owner Jeff Bezos.

Writing wistfully about change and hoping that Bezos can help the Post
thrive, she said, "I realize that I'm extending optimism and goodwill
without knowing Bezos's vision for the paper. I also realize that
optimism and goodwill toward Bezos may seem a little strange coming from
me, a spokesperson for independent bookstores and someone who is forever
climbing up on a chair to rail against Amazon.... Bezos has been a
forceful visionary, an industry leader and often a steamroller. While I
disagree fiercely with many of Amazon's business practices, I regard
Bezos as a man who makes things work."

She ended with a bit of bookseller-to-bookseller advice: "Since it's
safe to assume that Bezos is reading the Post thoroughly these days, let
me offer a piece of advice that will benefit us both: Expand the book
review offerings. Nothing beats newspaper reviews for selling books. And
bookselling, after all, is one of the businesses we're both in."

I have been attempting to watch "Orange is the New Black" which is a series on NetFlix starring the marvelous Kate Mulgrew. It has been causing quite a stir, both in popular culture and in critical circles, because the show is so diverse and well done. Since then, several other series on premium channels have come up, including "The White Queen" which is on Showtime, and now this series on Masters and Johnson and their scientific research on human sexuality. I intend to try and find both of these series on NetFlix, and if I have to wait for them to reach DVDs, I will.
Showtime released a three-minute trailer for Masters of Sex
based on Thomas Maier's book The Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of
William Masters and Virginia Johnson the Couple Who Taught America How
to Love. Indiewire noted that the trailer "for the upcoming show
actually positions itself as a pretty intriguing looking drama about the
intersection of love, sex and science." The project, which stars Michael
Sheen and Lizzy Caplan, debuts September 29. Johnson died on July 24.

I just watched several movies, Mirror Mask, Admission and Cloud Atlas, all interesting movies based on books. I must admit that I have a copy of both Admission and Cloud Atlas that I haven't read all the way through yet, because after starting both, I was either interrupted with another pressing book that needed to be read, or I found the initial 15-20 pages too dull or impenitrible and decided to move on to less frustrating fiction. Yet I felt guilty when I started watching these movies, as if I were cheating on the books. 
Fortunately, I found they were good, but not great movies, and they certainly didn't spur me to want to try to read the books again. 
Admission is the story of a Princeton admissions officer, a nice young gal played by the incomparable Tina Fey, who finds herself fighting for a young man with a less than sterling academic record to get into Princeton because she believes he's the son that she gave up for adoption 18 years earlier (which was, to my horror, in the mid 1990s!). She is persuaded to help him by the principal and teacher of a strange, offbeat high school called "Quest" that is basically for misfits and hippie children (or grandchildren, as the case may be). Though I LOVE, love, love Tiny Fey, whose Sarah Palin impression is now an SNL classic, the guy who plays the Quest school principal is just awful, weak and grungy and PC as all get out, even unto the adoption of an orphan boy from Ghana (and unsurprisingly, said orphan boy wants nothing to do with going back to third world countries, learning to speak Spanish and creating clean well water for villages. He wants to stay in America and have fun playing video games and doing all the things other American kids do.) The guy, whom I'll call failed protagonist, or FP, is really a manipulative jerk, telling Tina Fey that she has to see how great this kid would be at Princeton, though he's ADD, weird and not at all talented. He loves to read, though, and he loves chattering on endlessly about philosophy, so that somehow makes him a perfect candidate to FP, who then tells Tina that she's this boy's mom. That turns out to be a lie, one in a series that he tells her, including that the boy won a state championship in ventriloquism when he only got an honorable mention (and he shows his embarrassing lack of talent at a birthday party that she is conned into attending). Meanwhile, Fey's live-in boyfriend of 16 years leaves her in the middle of a party for an idiotic British woman who is a Virginia Woolf scholar and is pregnant with his twins, though he's made it clear to Fey that he never wanted children.  So Fey proceeds to fall for the manipulative FP, and she sleeps with him at least twice in the film, for reasons that seem unclear. I just don't see what she saw in the guy, especially when it comes to light that she is not wonderboy's mother, and that FP has been lying to her all along. I would have smacked the hell out of him and never seen him again. She goes back to him even after a car accident and losing her job at Princeton in order to get wonderboy in. Then she gets a letter from the adoption agency telling her that he real son doesn't want to meet her. And somehow we are supposed to believe after FP says that he's sorry for being a selfish dickhead that she just skips merrily off into the sunset with him? With no job and still living with her totally INSANE mother (played brilliantly by Lily Tomlin)? Really? I just didn't buy it, and I think it made Fey's character seem weak and stupid.The best scene in the whole movie is when Tina Fey is defending higher education to a room full of snotty kids who say things like "Why would we want to go to an institution that continues traditions of racism and sexism and kowtows to Corporate America?" and "Why would we need to go to college just to make money instead of making the planet a better place?" She responds with, "Hey, if you want to change the world as a doctor, you know what? You're going to need a medical degree, and you have to get that from college! And if you want to change the justice system and make the world a fairer place, you will have to get a law degree, and that's also something you have to get from college." She goes on to point out that changing the world can only happen with a good education, and it was a really inspiring speech. Then FP comes by and says "Sorry, but we encourage that kind of spirited debate with the kids." HA. That was not a spirited debate, it was rude and ridiculous teenagers ambushing an admissions officer who came to their school to help them, only to be treated like crap by everyone she encounters. This film should be ashamed for promoting ignorance and rude behavior.

Cloud Atlas was a science fiction/fantasy movie based on a book that was supposed to be revelatory, but one that I found pretty dull. The movie is rather hard to follow, as it skips from the past to the 70s to the future and the far future with abandon, and the director seems to assume that the viewer has read the book and can keep up without any cues from him. 
The film seems to be trying to make several points at once. One is that "we are all connected" which they point out and hammer the viewer over the head with several times. The other is that slavery, which comes in many forms throughout history, is wrong, evil and only leads to pain and death and "Soylent Green is PEOPLE!" or, in this case, "Soap is crushed up clones! They're feeding us to ourselves!" Ewwww. They also seem to make the point that people will do anything for money and love. While all those are valid points, and we see that Tom Hanks and Hallie Berry are both excellent actors, I still didn't see why this movie was necessary. Yes, there has been slavery throughout history, and yes, it is awful. Yes, humanity is capable of so much more as individuals and as a species. Yes, there has been war and revolution by the poor and disenfranchised against the wealthy and entitled. Why beat us over the head with it, as an audience? What does this film prove, if not that humanity is both good and bad, both savage and sublime. The futuristic story was just as depressing as the story set in the past with the slave trade. So this film didn't really do it for me, either. 
Mirror Mask is an older film, and it has such stunning visual effects that it doesn't seem too dated at all, in fact, it seems Steampunk-ish and hip, really. It's a coming of age story for a girl who works in the circus with her parents, until her mother gets sick, and has to have an operation. She works through her feelings about her mother in the film, and her feelings about puberty and sexuality as well. By the end we know that she's okay with her parents and her place in the world, and they are okay with her and her newfound confidence as a young and attractive woman. The "Close to You" segment of the film is especially enchanting and fascinating, and I would love to see a sequel down the line somewhere.