Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Movie Review: Hunger Games: The Movie

In the last post, Christian fantasy author, Bryan Davis shared his review of the book The Hunger Games. In this post, he shares his thoughts on the movie.

First, the movie was considerably better than the book, because it eliminated some of the writing flaws. The first is obvious. A film naturally describes every scene. The book rarely described anything, making the reader blind to almost everything. The film explored the details with excellent visuals. 

 Second, the film viewer doesn’t have to endure the clunky first person present tense writing that’s in the book. 

 Third, some story flaws are mended. Katniss comes off as less selfish in the movie, thereby making her a more believable heroine. The silly kissing and romance are minimized. The back story is greatly enhanced by showing what’s going on behind the scenes during the games. The nudity is eliminated. 
The film tried, relatively unsuccessfully, to bring Gale back into the story, a component the author ignored, but I appreciated the attempt. He got lost in the story. 

 The acting was quite good overall. The actress for Katniss was exceptional. The actor for Peeta was very good, excellent at times. 

 Random thoughts: 

  •  The actress for Katniss was too old and too well fed. 
  •  The shaky camera was annoying, especially at the beginning. 
  •  The death scene with Rue was well done, nice emotional pull. 
  •  The dog creatures at the end were still a poorly conceived device, even though the film made a valiant attempt at foreshadowing them. 
  •  The change of rules and then back was still there, the single biggest flaw in the story. It would have been very difficult to eliminate it, but it was still frustrating. I wanted to know if Katniss would sacrifice to help Peeta even if she knew he might kill her or she might have to kill him. Katniss never faced the dilemmas that the premise set up. It’s like a promise that isn’t kept, which made for a unsatisfying experience. 
  •  The entire premise that the powers that be would destroy a rebellious district is unbelievable. They would be cutting off essential supplies. So the idea that the districts would acquiesce to sending their loved ones to die doesn’t work. Again, the film would have been hard pressed to change that. 
  •  I like the grittiness and realism at the beginning, the poor clothing, dirty conditions, and no makeup. 

Overall, I rate it 3.5 stars out of 5. If not for the last two flaws I mentioned, it could have been a 4.5-star movie, but these decisions were the author's fault, not the film maker's, so I gave it an overall positive score as a movie.

Do you agree or disagree with Bryan's review? Did you prefer the book or the movie? Why?

You can read more about Bryan Davis HERE

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Book Review: The Hunger Games

The following review of The Hunger Games was written by author Bryan Davis. After you read the interview, leave a comment in the comment section--do you agree with all, some or none of his review of the book? Why?

Bryan has written several best selling young adult fantasy books. You can read his interview HERE. This review is being used with his permission. He also has a review of the movie, which I will be posting soon. 

 The Hunger Games is a dystopian/science fiction novel targeted for young adult readers. Since the genre is the same as my daughter’s novel, and since it is so popular and highly acclaimed, I decided to read it while flying home from Singapore.

First, I will list some of the good qualities. The Hunger Games accomplished two important feats – it held my interest throughout and kept me thinking about the story and characters after I closed the book. This doesn’t often happen to me, so I consider this to be a strong quality. If a story can’t hold my interest, I simply don’t finish. I don’t have time to read a boring book.

The author developed the main character (Katniss) quite well. Her traits (with one exception) were clear and consistent. For the most part, she was likeable and easy to follow. I will get to the exception soon.

The level of action, for the most part, proceeded at a good pace with appropriate pauses for rest and reflection. The author used foreshadowing quite well, better than most.

Now I will list some negatives. The first I noticed was the use of present tense. I found it annoying and unnecessary. It constantly jerked me out of the story, and I never got used to it.

The author’s use of fragments in narrative was also annoying. I understand the need for fragments in dialog and interior monolog, but it is simply wrong in narrative. It is a gimmick that has become popular of late, and it doesn’t work. There were many times that a comma would have made a proper sentence, and the use of a period instead had no reasonable explanation. Every use jerked me out of the story, and such jarring is so easily avoidable.

For example (page 6 in my copy):

"In the autumn, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always in sight of the Meadow. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises."

The second two "sentences" are not sentences at all. If the author had put commas after "apples" and "Meadow" instead of periods, the entire section would have been grammatically correct. There is no reason to use periods except for employing a gimmick that doesn't work.

This example also points out how the use of present tense has problems. "In the autumn" indicates a time that differs from the present, but the section is still written in the present tense, which doesn't make sense at all.

On another point, the author was inexplicably inconsistent with speaker tag placements—sometimes near the beginning of a dialog segment, sometimes in the middle, sometimes at the end. It was especially distracting when she placed a speaker tag at the end of a several-sentence paragraph, and I found that the speaker wasn’t who I thought it was. When the speaker isn’t obvious, it is always better to put the tag as near to the beginning of the spoken portion as possible. The other option is to identify the speaker with an action beat at the beginning. If the speaker is obvious, there is no need for a tag at all.

The author did a poor job with scene-setting descriptions. I am a minimalist with descriptions in my own work, but I strive to provide enough to set the scene. Ms. Collins describes almost nothing. I could rarely see the places at all, and there were plenty of places to set the scenes unobtrusively. The arena was barely visible. What did the hovercraft look like? The training facility? I didn’t realize the size of the cornucopia until they climbed onto it at the end. Practically nothing was described sufficiently.

***Caution, spoilers ahead

The author did a poor job with world building. The motivations for the games themselves were lacking. Sure, I understood the punishment and warning angle, but she didn’t provide any counterbalance to explain if the citizens debated refusal to cooperate. If they did, what was their reason for not rebelling? Annihilation was threatened, but it was an empty threat. They leaders couldn’t afford to annihilate everyone. Some of these issues lacked sufficient exploration. Also, many of the technology aspects had little to no explanation. Where did the silver parachutes originate? How could they be delivered without notice? How could they fall so precisely, like in the crook of the tree where Katniss slept? How could there be cameras wherever they went, no matter where they went, all without notice? Explaining some of these issues is a huge part of world building. These were a big part of the story, so I got the impression that the author had no idea how to explain them, or just didn’t want to bother. Also, if the technology was that advanced, why did they need a train to get to the training facility? Much of this felt like the author was simply pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

The romantic angle seemed very contrived. Although Katniss was a well-developed character for the most part, when it came to her relationship with Peeta, she became a shallow drone. With most of the story, she was smart and strong, but she was clueless when it came to understanding what Peeta was doing. I suppose that every reader in the world knew what Peeta was doing, but Katniss was too stupid to figure it out, which created a situation that ruined suspension of disbelief. Katniss was too smart most of the time to be that stupid regarding Peeta. I get the impression that the author just tossed the romance into the mix in order to titillate readers, especially the ridiculous kissing parts, but it doesn’t work at all. In fact, this is the biggest flaw in the story and makes me unable to recommend it to anyone. The romance was completely unnecessary to the point of being silly.

Another story flaw is the author’s decision to create a midstream rules change that allows for two winners from the same district. This really took the edge off the intensity, and it was a big letdown. Would Katniss have helped Peeta so willingly and so painstakingly if she still thought he might kill her? That would have been a fantastic idea to explore, but the rules change removed that tension. The threatened suicide that comes later would have been more powerful without the change and then the change back. The leaders would have still wanted a victor, and if Katniss and Peeta had selflessly refused to kill one another, their final decision would have had much greater impact.

The story is lacking any deep thematic element. It explores brutality and despotic rule, and there is some examination of selfishness versus sacrifice, but the author doesn’t seem to have enough of a moral compass to allow for a look at real selflessness. If she had avoided the rule change, she would have had a prime opportunity. The most redeeming element was how Katniss treated Rue, both in life and in death. Their teamwork was fun to read. Still, since Rue died, we don’t get to see how Katniss would have decided to treat her if it came time to have to kill her. The avoidance of this issue with Rue and with Peeta really hurt the thematic depth.

***End of spoilers

I mentioned some strong positives at the beginning of this review, but they are not enough to outweigh the big negatives. If the author could have removed just a few of the negatives, I probably could have recommended this book. As it stands, I don’t want to read the sequel. I think I will find some of the same big flaws, and they would probably be too annoying or disappointing to get through.

This could have been a great book. Unfortunately, it is mediocre to poor. I give it 2.5 stars out of 5.

Bryan's website is HERE

Friday, January 22, 2016

My 2016 Reading List

One of my goals is to read young adult novels this year. I hardly read anything last year. My primary focus is to read what is on the best seller list. Since I am writing Christian fiction, I want to see what regular, ordinary teens are reading. So I used the list I posted HERE.

So far I've read:
All the Bright Places  review HERE
13 Reasons Why review  HERE
8 Notes to a Nobody --Christian fiction that I read in its entirety on my phone in line at Universal last weekend. Read an interview with the author HERE
Hunger Games- yes, I read it when it first came out, but I just reread it. Actually I listened to the whole thing on CD driving to Orlando and back. I prefer the movie to the book, and I'll talk about why in a future post.

I am currently working on:
The Fault in Our Stars--Jasmine and I watched the movie and are reading the book now (actually listening to it read on CD)
Looking for Alaska  

Still on my list to choose from (a mix of new and old): I am not familiar with many of these books, so I may find that I do not like them, in which case I won't finish them.
Running Lean Christian fiction
10 Steps to Boyfriend Status Christian fiction
The Giver/Gathering Blue/The Messenger/The Son
Perks of Being a Wall Flower
Abundance of Katherines
Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
13 Little Blue Envelopes
If I Stay
Wednesday Wars
Chocolate War
Someone Dies and Someone Lives
Before I Fall
10 Things to Do Before I Die
A Wrinkle in Time
A Separate Peace
Just Listen
The Truth About Forever
Along for the Ride
City of Ember
The Beginning of Everything
The Future of Us
Harry Potter (maybe books 1-4)

I've noticed that a lot of books are either about death, dying or trying to survive.

Now that you've seen my list:
Which of these books have you read and what did you think of them?
What books have you read that you'd recommend to me?
What Christian books are best seller list worthy?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Naming the New Dog

We have several pets at our house. All of them have come from shelters. I wasn't really looking for a new one when we volunteered at the shelter this morning. But one was looking for us.

We currently have some pretty cool dogs--and a cat that tolerates us.

Sasha, almost 2 and Travis, almost 3



Caspian and Sasha sharing a taco!

We recently lost a cat we'd had for 16 years.

Today we went to walk dogs and play with cats at the shelter.

This one is the one we are adopting

Tyler is a cat magnet! 

The black and white dog I was walking was a real sweetie. She's between 4&8 years old and ended up at a rescue place in 2014. She was transferred to this shelter a month or so ago. It's time for her to have a home. I had decided if we were to ever add another dog to the family, he/she would have to be at least a year old. That way we'd know how big the dog would really be and know the personality plus he/she would be house trained and ready to play. It would also have to be a dog that had waited but not been chosen. 
 She is sweet, playful, house trained and walks well on a leash.
Right now her name is Baby. We want to give her a "people" name like our other pets have.

I have a long list-- some are my choices, some were suggested on facebook (I said it had to end with a long e sound like Baby)--Maddie, Bailey, Sadie, Zoey, Kloe, Daisy, Molly, Kasey, Callie, Josi, Brady, Brandy, Maggie, Sophie, Gracie, Brandy.

I've narrowed it down to:

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review: 13 Reasons Why

My goal is to read 10 YA books this year. I have found it easier to listen to them on CD while I do busy work. This is my second book, and like the first, it deals with suicide.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

No one knew why Hannah Baker killed herself. But before she died, Hannah recorded a set of cassette tapes, one side for each of the reasons she killed herself, some of the incidents being minor and some more serious. Each of those reasons has to do with a person, and those thirteen people must listen to the tapes and pass them on.

When high school student Clay Jensen receives the tapes, he has no idea how much they will change his life. He plays the first tape and is surprised to hear the voice of classmate Hannah Baker, who recently committed suicide. Aside from making out with her at a party, he didn’t really know her well—even though they worked at the movie theater together for a time and attended the same school.

 He spends a long night listening to the tapes and visiting the places the tapes led him to. The book alternates between Hannah’s story on the tape and Clay’s thoughts and memories. As the story progresses, Clay wonders if things would have been different if he’d only had the courage to speak to her.

After he listens to the tapes, the world looks different to Clay. When he returns to school, he notices Skye, another student who seems to be heading down the same road as Hannah and reaches out to her.

My Thoughts

In some ways this was a compelling read, but in others it lacked authenticity.

The way the story is woven together from two point of view characters, one who is telling her story by tape and the other through his thoughts and memories, is engaging. I listened to the book on CD, so I heard the story in two different voices. Reading it might not be so compelling.

The idea of a person’s actions affecting another person is important, however I don’t think Hannah should have blamed thirteen people for her choice to commit suicide. Some of the people were merely unkind, while others were cruel. The title “The Thirteen Reasons” points a finger at others and could be taken as vindictive. “You made me suffer, so I committed suicide, and it’s your fault.”

 That being said, I think it’s good if the book makes people look for those around them who are hurting, reach out to others and consider their words and actions. What to some people might have just been annoying, was traumatic to Hannah. Just one more thing piled on top of the others.

Hannah never really stood up for herself in the book, and more than once she put herself in a situation that led to her problems. For instance, at one point she was in a place that was a teen hang out. She was cornered in a booth and was being groped. She hoped some one would notice and help her, but she did not yell for help, which would have quickly ended the problem. Another time Hannah went into a hot tub with a boy knowing his intentions, and she had sex with him knowing it would make her darkness worse.

People need to be honest with others about their feelings. Clay assumed he had no chance with Hannah, when Hannah was actually hoping that he’d show interest in her. But since she appeared to want him to leave her alone, he did.

“Thirteen Reasons Why” ended with Clay feeling hopeful as he reached out to another student because of listening to the tapes and realizing his mistake with Hannah. But that is the only hope it gave.

My Recommendation:
It’s a good read, but it somewhat trivialized suicide. The book lacks any spiritual content. It is set in a public school and some of the language used and incidents reported do not support the values of a Christian teen. Yet it is enlightening. If you choose to read it, use discretion.

I found the book “All the Bright Places” to be much more authentic. So if you are going to read only one book about suicide, read “All the Bright Places.”

Hannah had 13 reasons why she committed suicide, here are my
Thirteen Reasons Why You Should Choose Life: I only have five so help me out and write your suggestions in the comments section.
  1. God created you in his own image with a unique personality and talents. (Genesis 1:27, Psalm 139:14)
  2. God has work especially for you to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
  3. You have something to contribute to society that only you can contribute.
  4. There is someone else hurting, and you are the perfect one to reach out to him or her.
  5. Only by living will you find out all that you are capable of.

Other things to read:

Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Review: All the Bright Places

This is my review, my own thoughts. You don't have to agree with me or my opinions. You can even disagree with me in the comments section. Just be polite or the comment will be deleted.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

The characters rise off the page and demand to be heard and understood-Me :)

An unusual but effective setting, the book begins on the ledge of the bell tower at school where both Theodore Finch and Violet Markey are at. Six stories above the school, Violet is frozen by fear, and “Finch the freak” talks her down. Because Violets’ reputation as a popular cheerleader, Finch goes along with the students’ false belief that Violet talked him out of jumping, and she becomes a hero.

This incident in the tower begins a friendship between two unforgettable characters, one plagued by darkness and mental health issues and the other distraught over the death of her sister in a car accident on their way home from a party a year before.

Finch the idea of a school project of wandering around Indiana and becoming familiar with different tourist attractions to a teacher and then quickly claims Violet as his partner. As they visit different tourist spots, Violet begins to see Indiana through Finch’s eyes. Everything becomes exciting and new. As the project continues, Violet slowly overcomes her fears and rides in a car for the first time since the accident that claims her sister life. She later drives.

While Violet slowly heals from her grief, Theodore wrestles with deep and dark thoughts. When he disappears, Violet finds herself following clues both to where he is and what is going on with him. Although the ending is not happy, it is realistic and satisfying.

The author draws from her own life experiences of having lost people to suicide to write this book, and this gives the story authenticity. She has insight into how teens think and how mental health issues effect a teen. The characters rise off the page and demand to be heard and understood.

This book made me:
  • Miss Indiana where I lived for 26 years.
  • Wonder if the places mentioned in the book were real.
  • Wish that we knew more about mental health issues and how to help the people plagued by them.
  • Think of someone I knew who committed suicide last year.
  • Want to explore more places in our state (Florida), which has been something we always try to do. When we travel, we make it as much about the journey as the destination. 

The downside:
The values held by the main characters are those held by many teens in the public school. Theodore uses a lot of cuss words including the “F-word,” and he is known for having had sex with many girls in the past. During the book Violet loses her virginity to him.

At one point the school counselor mentioned the possibility of bipolar disorder, but it doesn’t seem that anyone made an attempt to figure out if this is what Theodore suffered from or get him on medication.

Although I believe in God and his power to heal, give hope and help, I think that medical intervention is also needed with mental health issues.

I will be talking about suicide in a future blog post.

It is definitely a book worth reading, but you will encounter values contrary to evangelical values. If you are easily offended or prefer to avoid that, don’t read the book. 

The book does however offer a realistic look at the lives of teens dealing with tough things. The sad thing is that Theodore and Violet do not seem to hold any true belief in God that offers them comfort or hope, although they do visit churches.

I listened to this book on CD while doing some projects, so it is possible that I missed some things.

The book has won the following awards:
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2015
A Miami Herald Best Books for Children 2015
GoodReads Choice Awards 2015 Young Adult Fiction Category Winner
A TIME Top Young Adult Book of 2015
A NPR 2015 Guide to Great Reads Book

Here are a couple of comments the author herself wrote on her web page (click the link to read the whole thing:

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death. Every day he thinks of ways he might die, but every day he also searches for—and manages to find—something to keep him here, and alive, and awake.

This is a heart-wrenching, unflinching story of love shared, life lived, and two teens who find one another while standing on the edge.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. If you have suggestions of similar books or books that teens would enjoy reading, please list them below too.
Other things to read:

 Jennifer Niven's Ten Ways to Beat the January Blues
Teen Depression
Getting Through Holiday Blues
Red, Green and Blue
Other Novels to Read

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"I Like Big Bibles" Parody (I Like Big Butts)

I am fortune to get to hang around some awesome teens. My almost 15-year-old daughter and a neighbor were sitting in our house on New Year's Day evening making up parodies to different popular songs and Joy let me record her Big Bible parody on my phone. (It came from I Like Big Butts which in NOT a very appropriate song)

If it doesn't show up embedded, try this LINK

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Interview with Monica Mynk

Today we are "talking" with Monica Mynk, author of the Young Adult dystopian novel Cavernous

Monica is a high school science teacher and soccer mom as well as being an author. She considers herself a 100% total nerd.
Her early years were spent reading books with her mother, acting out plays with her brother and sister, climbing in corncribs, and helping her dad on the farm.

 About Cavernous:
How did you choose the title?
It came about from the idea of being "filled" with Scripture, and that one who is devoid of scripture is completely empty. I also wanted to show a girl broken down to the deepest part of her soul, and have her undergo a metamorphosis to become a true soldier for Christ. The second book is Cocooned, where she learns how to take that stand, and the third is Conceded, which is where she fully submits herself to God's will.

How would you describe the book to someone in a text message? 
In a divided America, an extremist leader rewrites the Bible to suit his whim. He has one weakness--his daughter, who's written the word of God on her heart.

Who is your main character and what problem does he/she face? 
Callie Noland. Her mom goes missing, and she's abducted by a man claiming to be her father. He forces her to attend a military school in the newly-formed Alliance of American States. While there, she learns he's been elected to lead the new country, and she must stand by his side as First Daughter, which means she must publicly participate in blasphemous ceremonies or face imminent death. She knows the Bible, though, and feels compelled to stand up for the truth. Can she overcome her fear of death to make that stand?

What might draw someone to your character? 
She's tenacious, determined, and steadfast. 

What prompted you to write this book?
 I worry that too many people get their Biblical knowledge from memes and social media today. If an extremist leader rewrote the Bible and presented it as truth, how many of us would know the difference?

What did you bring to the book from your own life? 
I teach teenagers, so Callie is a blend of some of the better qualities of my favorite students. I wanted a strong, realistic character, and I hope she comes across that way.

What makes your book stand out from other books like it? 
It was written to incite readers to dive into Scripture. My hope is that it will inspire young people and adults alike to read and memorize verses the way Callie did in the book. I tried hard to not make this preachy, but rather show it as a necessity to preserve what God’s given us.

What is one thing you learned from writing this book? 
I needed to study editing techniques, ha ha. It was the first novel I wrote after actually learning the craft of writing, so I had to go back and rewrite a good part of it because of sagging middle, etc. 

About You:
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
I wanted to be on Sesame Street

Do you still want to be that? 
J Not so much. But I'd like to visit the set sometime.

When did you know you wanted to be an author?
I always liked writing, but started pursuing it in earnest when my best friend died of cancer a few years ago. I desperately needed a hobby and something to fill the time we'd spent texting back and forth and such. I never dreamed of pursuing it as a career until critique partners encouraged me to start submitting to contests and I placed in a few. I've been blessed with incredible encouragement.

What books have influenced you most? 
Pretty much all of the Francine Rivers books, the Chronicles of Narnia, David Baldacci's Wish You Well, Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, and so many others. 

What’s the most times you’ve read a book and why? Title?
 I've read all the Harry Potter books several times. Not so much because I liked the all the stories, but because I wanted to learn to write like J.K Rowling. Usually I don't reread books, because I always have five or six on my "to-read" list. 

What are three unusual things about you your readers might not know?
 I have a nuclear degree and I teach high school science. So I'm a 100% total nerd. 

What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done? 
Have children? LOL Seriously, when I was about 21, I drove to Chicago by myself and stayed the weekend. Hit every museum on Lakeshore Drive. It was amazing! 

Do you have life philosophy?
My life philosophy changes with circumstance, but overall centers on having a positive contribution to the world. Right now, it's about becoming less in as many ways as I can. Like the song, less of self and more of Him.

What advice would you give a teen who wants to be a writer? 
Write a little every day, and at some point when you can afford it, hire a real editor to look over a chapter or two. A poorly written story can be molded into beauty with enough revision. A story never written has no chance.

Monica making cookies with her daughter.

You can find out more about Monica and her books HERE
Please leave her a comment below.