Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Duff Movie, Photos of Great Bookstores, Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and Atlantia by Ally Condie

Though I find the mere concept of this movie degrading, sexist and size-ist, what I find most laughable about it is that Mae Whitman is a tiny, petite woman who always plays the part of a teenager or 20-something, though she's likely a lot older than she looks. She's also lovely, clear of skin and eye, with beautiful features, gorgeous hair and a perfectly trim figure without an ounce of fat on it. So for the movie industry to have her play the title role in a movie about the "Designated Ugly Fat Friend" (or DUFF) is ridiculous and just plain WRONG. The guy in the movie who is supposed to transform her into a glamorous woman makes the point that she only has friends because they want her as contrast so they will look better by comparison. Again, how shallow and horrible is that?! Ugh. This reminds me of this terrible movie with Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow called Shallow Hal, where Jack was hypnotized into believing Paltrow in a fat suit was actually thin and gorgeous, and the whole movie is full of fat jokes and prat falls where Paltrow breaks chairs and buys ugly underwear and is considered to be hilariously hideous while fooling in real life ugly and judgmental Jack Black into falling for her (because if he saw her as she is, of course he would never fall in love with a fat woman! Heresy to even think such a thing!) This just points up once again the hypocrisy in Hollywood where it's okay for a man to be fat and unkempt, as long as he's funny and clever, but women, with the exception of Ms McCarthy, are not allowed to be larger women and still be considered attractive or intelligent or worthwhile at all. So please, do NOT go see this terrible movie. Shame on Mae Whitman for starring in it.

A new teaser trailer
have been released from CBS Films' The Duff
based on the novel by Kody Keplinger. The movie, which stars Mae
Whitman, Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Bianca Santos and Skyler Samuels,
opens in February.

There are some wonderful photos in this collection, and they are well worth the time to peruse.
Seattle's Elliott Bay Books by Bryan David Griffith
Photographer Bryan David Griffith
"yearlong project covering more than 20 independent bookstores around
the country was photographed with a large-format film camera; he travels
to each location from his home in Arizona via a makeshift camper in
which he sleeps, loads film, and stores his equipment," Slate reported
in a piece headlined "Why Independent Bookstores Are More Than Just
Places to Buy Books

Griffith views bookstores "as a lot more than simply a place to buy
books--they're a meeting place away from the often segregated,
homogenous world of social media," Slate noted.

"You're going to encounter other people who work there or who will be
there by chance who might have different experiences than you do," he
said. "I think that's a healthy thing for our society to interact with
and make friends with people who have different ideas than what we do." 

Utopia, Iowa by Brian Yansky was sent to me by the author via a Shelf Awareness drawing, I believe (either that or from Goodreads randon drawing) and Yansky was kind enough to include a note explaining that he was raised in Iowa City, Iowa, and was glad that this uncorrected proof of his work was going to a fellow Iowan. Because the cover looks rather amateurish, I assume that the book itself is self-pubbed or POD via a  company called Candlewick Press. As my experience with self published books has been 90 percent bad, I started this book with a great deal of trepidation. 
I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how engaging the prose was and how deftly the characters became the engine of the clean and swiftly- flowing plot. There are very few typos, which is refreshing, and there are only a couple of redundancies that annoy, but other than that, the book itself is a delightful modern fairytale/legend/myth. Here's the blurb:
Jack Bell has an unusual gift—or curse, depending on your point of view. And he’s not the only one. In Utopia, Iowa, anything can happen.
For the most part, aspiring screenwriter Jack Bell is just your typical Midwestern kid. He’s got a crush on his hot best friend, Ash. He’s coping with a sudden frostiness between his once crazy-in-love parents. He’s debating where to go to college next year—or whether to go at all. But then there’s his gift (or curse): Jack can see dead people, just like the kid in The Sixth Sense. Lately, the ghosts are more distracting than usual, demanding that Jack get to the bottom of their mysterious deaths—all while avoiding the straitlaced Detective Bloodsmith, who doesn’t believe in gifts or curses and can’t help wondering why Jack keeps turning up at crime scenes. Is there a happily-ever-after in Jack’s future, or is that only the stuff of movies?
That first line, about "gift--or curse, depending on your point of view" is repeated over and over throughout the text, and after the first couple of times, it fails to be even amusing anymore, and just grates on the nerves. Fortunately, the rest of the book is so charming it is worth overlooking this, and any other small mistakes that appear in the manuscript.
Jack reminded me of my own teenage son, (though my son is younger and not as girl-obsessed, yet, thank heavens) and the way that he interacts with his deeply strange family and friends is warm and delightful. Having grown up in Iowa myself, and attending college in Dubuque, which is near the fictional town of Utopia in NE Iowa, I recognized the cast of characters that populate many small Iowa towns, and have for generations. I also recognized the frustration of the character of detective Bloodsmith, who was desperate to leave the strange people and weird happenings of Utopia for someplace saner and easier to navigate for us regular folks without gifts. His inevitable bittersweet return also resonated with me, as I know how he felt in coming back to his hometown and finding that, though it had changed, many of the essentially frustrating things about the town remained the same. Still, Jack manages, with the help of his family, to save his grandmother, and the day, from the wicked witch, while developing a relationship with his best friend Ashley that is not platonic. Throughout the book Yansky makes the impossible and magical seem plausible and commonplace, while still creating a thrilling atmosphere for the characters. I'd give the book a well-deserved B+, and recommend it to anyone who likes modern takes on fables and fairy tales.

Atlantia by Ally Condie is yet another YA dystopia novel, but this time the setting is underwater. Rather more Divergent (with a bit of Frozen mixed in) than Hunger Games, the book tells the story of a young woman who was born a "siren" but has had to hide her gift of vocal persuasion because her mother knew she would be removed from their household and raised to be a political weapon by the Atlantia Council. So Rio, the protagonist, and her sister Bey are close at the start of the novel, and brought even closer by the death of their mother, Oceana, who was the Prime Minister of Atlantia, and so beloved she achieved near-sainthood status upon her death, which, it turns out, was planned by the Council. Here's the blurb:
Can you hear Atlantia breathing?
For as long as she can remember, Rio has dreamed of the sand and sky Above—of life beyond her underwater city of Atlantia. But in a single moment, all Rio’s hopes for the future are shattered when her twin sister, Bay, makes an unexpected choice, stranding Rio Below. Alone, ripped away from the last person who knew Rio’s true self—and the powerful siren voice she has long silenced—she has nothing left to lose.
Guided by a dangerous and unlikely mentor, Rio formulates a plan that leads to increasingly treacherous questions about her mother’s death, her own destiny, and the corrupted system constructed to govern the Divide between land and sea. Her life and her city depend on Rio to listen to the voices of the past and to speak long-hidden truths.
So unsurprisingly, Rio has to battle the new, evil Prime Minister and work with her hated aunt, who is also a siren, to try to escape to the world Above and find her sister Bey. Meanwhile, Rio falls in love with a mechanical genius named True, and uncovers many secrets and the real history of Above and Below relations, both before and after the divide, and she also manages to find herself and her voice in the process. The prose of this novel is clean and clear, and the plot swims along gracefully at a nice pace. though its a bit simplistic in parts, and readers will doubtless figure things out long before Rio does, the book is still worth a read for its wonderful depiction of the underwater world of Atlantia. I'd give this book a B, and recommend it to those who love dystopian YA literature, which has now become it's own genre.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is the December book for my Tuesday night book group at the Maple Valley Library. I chose it mainly for the fact that there was "Snow" in the title and because it had gotten several rave reviews, but I was still unsure what to expect of a book that was a take on a classic Norwegian fairy tale. Here's the blurb:
Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. Childless, they are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone—but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.
This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them.
Finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
Though it's a book with a huge streak of melancholy running through it, I found the prose to be starlight-bright and the plot, though somewhat twisty, to be sure-footed. Mabel is an especially heart-rending character, from a "civilized" family "back East" who decided to move out to the frozen wasteland of Alaska to farm with her husband Jack after they lose a child (as so many couples did in those days), she's struggling to keep herself from falling into despair as she moves toward middle age. Jack, meanwhile, is struggling physically at age 50, to try and keep up with all the backbreaking labor of hardscrabble farming. 
Into this somber yet beautiful wilderness landscape comes Faina, who will only stay with Mabel and Jack in the winter for short periods of time, and then she runs back out to live off the land. Though she wears the clothes and coat that Mabel sews for her, she seems to be able to survive in sub zero temps without shoes or parka, and she seems to be able to trap, kill and preserve her own food. Mabel and Jack have wonderful neighbors in Esther and her husband and sons, and they loan the couple their son Gareth, who is a trapper and a loner, and who inevitably falls in love with Faina. While I recognize that readers are supposed to empathize with Mabel, I found that I fell in love with the character of Esther, who was a true pioneer and medicine woman, and who helped Mabel and Jack in every way possible to survive their crisis and problems on the homestead. Though Mabel gets a bit snobbish about Esther not wearing dresses or being that great of a housekeeper, Esther is the only reason she and Jack were able to keep their farm and homestead going, along with Faina's help in getting game and Gareths in helping them sew and harvest crops. I was surprised at the ending, and though I won't spoil it, I do understand why the author ended the book that way, because it was more romantic somehow. I'd give this valentine to the wilderness an A, and recommend it to fans of Ivan Doig and Wallace Stegner.

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