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Monthly Archives: December 2009

Movie Review – The Princess and the Frog

My daughter and I went to see The Princess and the Frog (IMDB page) yesterday. She loved it, but I came away slightly more critical.

The plot is fairly complicated for a Disney Princess movie. Face it, they tend to be straightforward. Anyway, Tiana is a black waitress in New Orleans who dreams of converting an old warehouse to the restaurant that her deceased father always dreamed of opening. She grew up alongside a white rich girl named Charlotte, whose father was always commissioning dresses from Tiana’s seamstress mother. Now that they are grown, Charlotte has marriage on her mind and since Prince Naveen has just arrived into town, she knows just who the lucky man should be.

Except Prince Naveen has a few character flaws, which allows him to fall into the clutches of the evil witch doctor Doctor Facilier. Who turns Naveen into a frog to get him out of the way while he uses Naveen’s blood to disguise the prince’s not-so-trusty sidekick as the prince.

In the meantime, Charlotte hires Tiana to make pastries for her masquerade, where Charlotte intends to ensnare the Prince. The amount Charlotte pays, combined with Tiana’s savings, is enough for Tiana to put a down payment on her dream warehouse. However . . . well, there’s too many to mention.

The prelude of The Princess and the Frog is touching, gentle, and visually stunning. The problem is, the rest of the movie doesn’t quite live up to its own opening scenes. It takes a long time before the movie reaches the point where the princess kisses the frog, and the action really doesn’t get going until that point. Unfortunately, once it does get to that point, it gets to be a bit much. There’s this long sequence where Tiana and Naveen are traveling through the swamp to get the help of Mama Odie, who practices her own magic. It was loud, frenetic, and that trumpet got to be downright annoying. My daughter and I were able to take a bathroom break without feeling like we missed anything. There’s a series of scenes where a group of hicks are after the frogs to have frog legs for dinner. Not only did it go on too long and was entirely too loud and annoying, but it was completely unnecessary to the plot. There were already birds trying to capture them, plus evil spirits sent by Doctor Facilier, so the hillbilly scene was just overdoing it.

I think all that time could have been better spent developing Prince Naveen’s character. He has a turnaround in his character, but does not ever really reach a low point that is usually necessary in order to make such a turnaround. In Beauty and the Beast, the Beast had a great low point, in which he was willing to let Belle go because he loved her. Naveen just (small spoiler!) decides he loves Tiana. And then he loses most of his selfishness.

I really wish they hadn’t made Mama Odie so ugly. I mean, yikes. What is with all the ugliness in animation? Old ladies can be attractive too, you know. I know she doesn’t look too ugly in this picture, but she was. On the other hand, some of the scenes in the swamp were as beautiful as the forest scenes in Sleeping Beauty.

Once they are out of the swamp, it’s a relief. The music calms down and the plot picks up. Facilier meets his end in Disney’s usual so-evil-he-does-himself-in way, Charlotte shows great kindness, and Naveen does the right thing. The ending is clever and touching.

I liked all the princess movies, and this one is no exception. However, I think Disney tried too hard to appeal to boys as well as girls. Here is how I’d rank all the movies:

  1. Beauty and the Beast
  2. Mulan
  3. Aladdin
  4. Pocahontas
  5. The Little Mermaid
  6. Cinderella
  7. The Princess and the Frog
  8. Sleeping Beauty
  9. Snow White

Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella all suffered from a lack of plot, which they filled in with cute animal scenes or cavorting fairies. The Princess and the Frog had rather too much plot. As you can see, I tend to like the more modern Princess movies the best, even ones like Pocahontas that didn’t earn great critical acclaim (although the kiss scene was slightly too wanton for a Princess movie).

I can safely recommend it as a worthy movie to add to your Disney collection. I liked it, and I’ll probably watch it again when it comes out on DVD, but I just didn’t love it.

Debut Showcase – Early December (and some November) Debuts

I’m officially back! I’ve had a nice break, which was much-needed because I spent a large part of it sick. But the antibiotics appear to be working and since I was up early today, I decided I’d finish up this debut round-up. I also have a bunch of reviews in the works — being sick makes me quite a prolific book-reader.

So here we go!

The Better Part of Darkness

by Kelly Gay
Amazon USAUKCanada
Pocket Books – 7.99

Divorced mother of one, Charlie Madigan, lives in a world where the beings of heaven and hell exist among us, and they aren’t the things of Sunday school lessons and Hallmark figurines. In the years since the Revelation, they’ve become our co-workers, neighbors, and fellow citizens.

Charlie works for ITF (Integration Task Force). It’s her job to see that the continued integration of our new “friends” goes smoothly and everyone obeys the law, but when a new off-world drug is released in Underground Atlanta, her daughter is targeted, and her ex-husband makes a fateful bargain to win her back, there’s nothing in heaven or earth (or hell for that matter) that Charlie won’t do to set things right.

I reviewed The Better Part of Darkness before Thanksgiving and found it fast-paced and engrossing, with touching relationships and an intriguing mythology. The author is, of course, Kelly Gay, who has been a frequent guest on both of my blogs as my first-ever Upcoming Debut Author. Here are all her posts:

Newly Signed AuthorThe ContractRevisions and CopyeditsRelease Day Post

The Seven Rays
by Jessica Bendinger (Website IMDB Site)
Amazon USAUKCanada
Hardcover – $16.99
Genre: Paranormal Romance

You are more than you think you are.

THAT IS THE ANONYMOUS MESSAGE that Beth Michaels receives right before she starts seeing things. Not just a slept-through my-alarm-clock, late-for-homeroom, haven’t had-my-caffeine-fix kind of seeing things. It all starts with some dots, annoying pink dots that pop up on and over her mom and her best friend’s face. But then things get out of control and Beth is seeing people’s pasts, their fears, their secrets, their desires. The images are coming at Beth in hi-def streaming video and she can’t stop it. Everyone thinks she’s crazy and she’s pretty sure she agrees with them. But crazy doesn’t explain the gold envelopes that have started arriving, containing seeing keys and mysterious tarot cards. To Beth, it all seems too weird to be true. You are more than you think you are? But here’s the thing: What if she is?

I think this is my first screenplay writer, but I know I covered a producer once, way back when in the days of Fantasy Debut. It appears that the movie Bring It On was the author’s first major success.

Three Days to Dead

by Kelly Meding
Amazon USAUKCanada
Dell – Paperback – $7.99
Genre: Urban Fantasy

She’s young, deadly and hunted–with only three days to solve her own murder.

When Evangeline Stone wakes up naked and bruised on a cold slab at the morgue – in a stranger’s body, with no memory of who she is and how she got there – her troubles are only just beginning. Before that night, she and the other two members of her Triad were the city’s star bounty hunters — mercilessly cleansing the city of the murderous creatures living in the shadows, from vampires to shape-shifters to trolls. Then something terrible happened that not only cost all three of them their lives, but also convinced the city’s other Hunters that Evy was a traitor . . . and she can’t even remember what it was.

Now she’s a fugitive, piecing together her memory, trying to deal some serious justice – and discovering that she has only three days to solve her own murder before the reincarnation spell wears off. Because in three days, Evy will die again – but this time, there’s no second chance…

This is another week-of-Thanksgiving debut and the review copies were a hot commodity! We hope to be able to put up a review for you soon. It certainly begins with a bang.

(An aside – the Amazon links are a pain and in all the time I’ve run this blog, I’ve never earned enough in referrals to make a single withdrawal. My balance has been 2.10 since 2008. I must either be doing it wrong, or they make it incredibly difficult to actually earn any money.

So from now on, I’m just linking to the author site and I’ll leave it up to the author to actually sell their novels.

Sorry to sound so cranky. This should make things more fun.)

Mistress by Mistake

by Susan Gee Heino
Paperback – $7.99
Genre: Historical Romance
(via Edelweiss)

Lord Dashford has decided to ward off the marriage-minded by convincing the world he’s throwing away his fortune. No matter, since heiress Evaline Pinchley, dragged to the Dashford estate, has no inclination to marry him.

Unfortunately, she fails to recognize her host when he begins to seduce her. An empty bottle later, Evaline wakes to find herself in Dashford’s bed. Now rumors and passions are sure to run wild—unless Dashford and Evaline realize that what happened by moonlight was no mistake.

This is kind of a sketchy blurb. When I used to read romances in the 80s, I read a surprising number of them that involved the heroine not recognizing her seducer, or even her husband. It must be a popular and enduring theme.

Knight of Pleasure

by Margaret Mallory
Paperback – $6.99
Genre: Historical  Romance
(via Edelweiss)

Lady Isobel Hume is an expert swordswoman who knows how to choose her battles. When the king asks her to wed a French nobleman to form a political alliance, she agrees. But that’s before the devilishly charming Sir Stephen Carleton captures her heart-and tempts her to betray her betrothed, her king, and her country.

Sir Stephen Carleton enjoys his many female admirers-until he dedicates himself to winning the lovely Isobel. So when a threat against the king leads Isobel into mortal danger, Stephen has a chance to prove that he is more than a knight of pleasure…and that love can conquer all.

Ok, any novel with an expert swordswoman is going to tempt me, no matter what the genre. If only I weren’t already beginning to drown in books! This is a strong maybe, even though I really hate the cover.

Ark of Fire

by C.M. Palov
Paperback – $7.99
Genre: Thriller
(via Edelweiss)

If the Ark of the Covenant really exists, it would be the most important discovery in the history of mankind… And for whoever possesses it, the most dangerous.

Photographer Edie Miller witnesses a murder and the theft of an ancient Hebrew relic. Fearing authorities are complicit, she turns to a historian for help. Neither realizes the breadth of the crime, its ties to a government conspiracy, or its connection to the most valuable relic in history—until they are both marked for execution.

A religious thriller. I haven’t read any of these, including Dan Brown’s. I love the cover. It, of course, reminds me of the arc from Raiders of the Lost Arc, but the Bible is quite explicit in its description of how the arc should look. The poles, the winged angels covering the arc — everything.

(Wow – linking to author sites only is so easy I that decided to add covers again. But ONLY if the author makes it easy on me. If there is no cover here, blame the author, not the blogger. Ok, so blame the blogger too, because I didn’t feel like hunting them down.)

Spinning Tropics
by Aska Mochizuki
Trade paperback – $15.00
Genre: Literary

Meet Hiro. She’s tall, lanky and awkward—a twenty-something Japanese woman who has decamped to Vietnam from Tokyo to work as a language teacher.

Meet Dung. She’s shy, beautiful, and tough—a young Vietnamese woman studying Japanese, determined to create a better life for herself and her family.

When Dung becomes one of Hiro’s students, they are instantly drawn to each other. For both of them, it is their first time in love with another woman. But when Konno, an older Japanese businessman, befriends Hiro, Dung begins to grow unbearably jealous. What unfolds is a love triangle with very complicated, ultimately devastating, results. Set against the backdrop of a Vietnam on the economic rise, debut novelist Aska Mochizuki vividly brings to life the buzz of motorcycles and the tastes of Vietnamese coffee and spicy papaya salads; the confines of the Vietnamese family; the lingering effects of long wars; the rich who ride the economic wave and the poor who are left behind. Spinning Tropics is a lush and evocative story of an intoxicating love affair.

I included the publisher’s link because I was unable to find an author website. And I’m afraid the cover art was buried in widgets.

The Faces of Gone

by Brad Parks
Hardcover – $25.99 (discounts at Amazon)
Genre – Mystery
Hat Tip: Criminal Minds

Four bodies, each with a single bullet wound in the back of the head, stacked like cordwood in a weed-choked vacant lot: That’s the front-page news facing Carter Ross, investigative reporter with the Newark Eagle-Examiner.  Immediately dispatched to the scene, Carter learns that the four victims—an exotic dancer, a drug dealer, a hustler, and a mama’s boy—came from different parts of the city and didn’t seem to know one another.

The police, eager to calm jittery residents, leak a theory that the murders are revenge for a bar stickup, and Carter’s paper, hungry for a scoop, hastily prints it. Carter doesn’t come from the streets, but he understands a thing or two about Newark’s neighborhoods. And he knows there are no quick answers when dealing with a crime like this.

Determined to uncover the true story, he enlists the aide of Tina Thompson, the paper’s smoking-hot city editor, to run interference at the office; Tommy Hernandez, the paper’s gay Cuban intern, to help him with legwork on the streets; and Tynesha Dales, a local stripper, to take him to Newark’s underside. It turns out that the four victims have one connection after all, and this knowledge will put Carter on the path of one very ambitious killer.

From the blurb, it’s not obvious that this novel is the type that might earn this bit of praise: “The most hilariously funny and deadly serious mystery debut since Janet Evanovich”. But I don’t suppose Library Journal would have said such a thing (or given it a starred review) if it weren’t true. Evanovich fans (myself included) take note!


Whew! I’ll know better than to let the debuts pile up like this again! The next round-up will be for debuts after December 15th.

The comments are now threaded, so you can reply to a particular comment and it will appear with that comment. I’m hoping it will make the discussions here more fun.

So what did you think? Did any of these debuts light your fire?

Love My iPod Touch

I can now write posts from my recliner! This little iPod Touch is so danged handy! I have been having a blast with it. I have even requested my first digital ARC. It is the only thing I wanted for Christmas and I love it. I’ll have to do a full review when I’ve played with it some more.

Review: Year of the Horse by Justin Allen

Year of the Horse

Amazon USAUKCanada
by Justin Allen
Overlook Press
Hardcover – 18.95 (12.82 at Amazon)

First, a disclaimer. The author, Justin Allen, got in touch with me during the summer, and we have been in contact off-and-on ever since. He recently participated in an exceptionally lively Writer Wednesday. After I read and reviewed Slaves of the Shinar, his publisher sent me his second novel, Year of the Horse. Therefore, I have had more contact than usual with this author, and I can’t claim a completely impartial review. However, I can claim that I will be honest.

The Year of the Horse begins as Tzu-lu is procrastinating over a homework assignment. Right away, you know this is something different, eh? How many epic fantasies have you read where the character has homework? A visitor arrives at his parent’s shop, providing even more incentive for goofing off — especially when Tzu-lu realizes that the visitor is the famed gunfighter Jack Straw, who has come to visit Tzu-lu’s grandfather.

Naturally, Tzu-Lu must spy. A convenient keyhole makes this possible. There, he discovers that Jack has quite a history with both Tzu-lu’s grandfather and his dead father, plus he has some abilities that can only be described as magical.

The next day, Tzu-lu’s grandfather sends him off with Jack and a gang of men to help John MacLemore recover his stolen gold. With them are Henry, a black marksman, Chino, a Californio refugee, and Sadie, John’s teenage daughter.

In many ways, The Year of the Horse follows the same formula as The Hobbit. Like Bilbo, Tzu-Lu goes off on an adventure as an “expert” in something with which he only has limited experience. A Gandalf-like character goes with them. Their mission is to recover stolen gold. Tzu-lu becomes separated from his companions. The Gandalf-like character leaves them on their own after a time, and so on.

However, the story takes its own distinct direction while all of this is played out against an Old West backdrop. Vast tracts of unexplored territory. Indians. Mormons. Prejudice against everyone who doesn’t look or believe as you do.

And best of all, magic bullets!

All of the named places are fictional, but roughly coincide with an actual place. St. Francis is probably a fictional St. Louis. Hell Mouth might be the Grand Canyon, except it runs north and south. There’s something like the salt flats of New Mexico between Hell Mouth and the Mormon lands beyond — or it could be Death Valley. I looked up one county name and discovered that it was a fictional county invented by Faulkner.

Also, there’s an Easter Egg from Slaves of the Shinar that made me smile.

There is good and evil evenly distributed among all the groups that the gang encounters — kind of like in real life. The central characters all get along very well — almost too well. There is no troublemaker among the group to stir things up, unless it’s Sadie. The lack of conflict among the characters might have bogged down the plot if they all weren’t in conflict with the land itself. Unexpected things happen at every turn, such as a bolt of lightning sending their entire baggage train plunging over a cliff, separating Tzu-lu from the rest of his group. And who would ever have expected a pool of acid?

It’s hard to think of an “if you enjoyed” comparison, except if I were to compare it to Mark Twain. Tzu-lu is more like Huck than Tom, minus the abusive dad. Like Huck, he’s almost passive, and is seen as harmless to his enemies — an assumption they later regret.

You can probably tell that I really enjoyed Year of the Horse. I’d recommend it for any age, although very young children might find the typeface a bit small, and it’s not really packaged for Middle Grade readers, which the age of the protagonist would normally be perfect for. Oh, and since there is no legal drinking and smoking age when this takes place, the underage characters do both. However, I certainly don’t think they glorify such activities.

Year of the House is a delightfully different novel, as familiar as an epic fantasy, but with a distinctly American twist. I hope Mr. Allen finds a way to return us to these characters one day. I recommend it highly.

Threaded Conversation Activated, Plus Stuff

Activating threaded conversations in the comments turned out to be as easy as flipping a switch. At this point, it will thread up to 5 levels deep. I’ll leave it there for now and see if switching it becomes necessary.

The winter cold might be a sinus infection after all. And it’s seriously impeding my Christmas Spirit, not to mention my shopping. I just sent out Christmas cards today. The ones going to family in England and Wales will never get there in time, but they will get there eventually.

But the cold (or whatever the heck it is) has been good for reading! I have five book reviews to write! Well, one’s already written and I’ll post it on Sunday. My Neo makes it easy to write a review while tucked into my Lazy Boy recliner. However, actually posting them is something of a hassle, because then I have to, you know, actually get up.

So why don’t you leave me some cheer-up comments and test out my nested comment feature at the same time? Maybe we can figure out together whether or not I need more than five nesting levels or not.

Ye Old Winter Cold . . .

. . . I gotz one. I’m going to start posting again this week, just as soon as I’m able to stay up to my usual bedtime. I have a stack of books that I need to write reviews for, including a mystery and one of my Reading & Tweeting books, and one I’ve been meaning to write for FanLit (sorry Kat!). There’s nothing like reading to wile away the hours while sick!

My project — ok, so it was a novel revision — is going well, but it won’t be done this week so I figured I may as well start blogging again.

I got onto Google Wave, but have not spent a lot of time on it so far. It has potential. I’m thinking a Google Wave Chat might be fun. Anyone else on Google Wave?

How Acting Makes Better Writers

Posted by Superwench83

With so many writers here at Debuts and Reviews, and with the popularity which Writer Wednesday enjoys, I thought writing would be a good topic for my first non-review post. I can’t promise I’ll be as wonderful a guest as Justin Allen and the other authors who’ve joined the writing discussions in the past, but I’ll give it my best. And I hope that even if I’m not the world’s most fascinating guest, I’ll at least be mildly entertaining.

As many of you know, I am a writer. But you probably didn’t know that I’m an actress as well. I’m a serious hobbyist, you might say; I don’t usually get paid for my acting, but I do a lot of it. And one of the best things about acting is that it constantly teaches me how to be a better writer. Acting and fiction writing have so much in common. They’re both about character. Yes, there are other things involved, but when you strip them both to their essence, you’re left with character.

The first writing book I ever had summed up the similarites well. It said that when you’re acting, you have to get in your character’s head, while with writing, you have to be in every characters’ head. “So you’re head-hopping all the time.” It follows that one can help you with the other.

Being a serious actor, like being a serious writer, requires you to look deeply into your character and discover what makes him tick, what makes him unique, and what makes him a character to remember. But acting requires you to look at your character in a different way than many writers do. With acting, all your character’s emotions and thoughts must be demonstrated visually and audibly. There is no narrator filling in the gaps. You must walk, talk, think, move, breathe like you are the character because you have no other way to communicate that character to the audience. Have you ever done that with your written characters? Sure, we think about the way they move and talk. We get into their heads. But we generally don’t get into their bodies. We don’t physically become that character, don’t practice walking and moving the way they do. In fact, it sounds kind of strange to do that.

Yet you would be amazed at how much deeper your connection to a character is when you evaluate her with an actor’s eyes. You’ll learn things about your character which you never knew. The act of moving like your character will bring on a slew of new ways to describe the way she moves. It will open up doors that take you to the very essence of your character.

It’s the old principle of “Write what you know.” I know some writers consider these dirty words, btu they hold some truth. You can’t make a character convincing unless you know him. And thinking about your character with an actor’s perspective lets you know him on two levels instead of one. I know not everyone is going to go out and role-play as their characters, but the simple act of being more aware of your characters’ bodies and pretending that you’re in their skin brings out so many facets of character which might not come to you otherwise. Acting has always given me a fresh perspective on the writing process, and I’ve no doubt it will continue to do so. With each show I’m in, I get new inspiration.

It’s always good to look for outside inspiration for your writng craft. I love hearing what writers do aside from write–their jobs and hobbies–and see if I find a reflection of it in their work. I’m sure there are tons of ways for writers to find writing wisdom in the non-writing world. So what about you? How have your jobs or hobbies made you better writers?

The Conversation Reborn

The Writer Wednesday conversation from last week has revived! Come help me make it the first post  to reach 100 comments! We are now discussing the difficulties of writing fight scenes when there are more than two characters involved. Jump to it here.

And wow – thanks to you new subscribers. Why is it that when I go on a blog hiatus, more subscribers always show up?

Also, I’ll be Reading and Tweeting on Justin Allen’s Year of the Horse as well. It turned out to be too hard to put down. Look for hashtag #YearOfTheHorse. (Yes, I do like to keep it obvious.)

I hope to resume regular blogging early next week, maybe even Sunday.


Still much too busy to post. I’m not quite halfway through my little project and I’ve been working on it every spare moment. To get a hint about what I’ve been up to, check my Twitter feed, which is below in the inner sidebar, just below the little tweety bird. If you want to contact me, email is always good.

Hope to be back soon!