Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day!

Just pausing to wish all you Americans a wonderful, happy, and safe Memorial Day.  I hope you're planning an awesome day with good food and great company.  I know I am!

Be safe out there as you celebrate.  Cheers!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Movie Review: Pan's Labyrinth


**Plot spoiler warning**

I gave this one a day to sink in.  My husband loves movies directed by Guillermo del Toro, especially the Hellboy films, so he was curious about this one. I recalled liking both Hellboy films, and after watching the trailer (which, itself, looked pretty interesting and had some reviews by credible movie reviewers), we decided to rent it.

Pan's Labyrinth is in Spanish, with English subtitles, but don't let that put you off.  Del Toro, as usual, has created a visually striking, otherworldly, and vaguely haunting piece, and the subtitles don't detract from it.  The soundtrack is pretty terrific, too, by the way.  I enjoyed the representation of Pan - a bit creepier than the usual conception of him, but certainly fitting for the tone and style of the film.  I would call it a "dark fairytale."

My major knock against this film has to be in its lack of cohesion.  I get the sense that all the "connecting" themes were left on the cutting room floor, perhaps due to a time or budget constraint.  (Insert reiterated plot spoiler warning.)  One half of the film deals with Spain, circa 1944, and the relationships between the main character, a girl named Ofelia, her pregnant mother, and the mother's new husband, a powerful but increasingly brutal military leader.  The other half of the film deals with a completely disconnected fairytale-slash-legend that would have it that Ofelia is a princess from another realm, reborn into a human body, and that she must return to her rightful home.

These two disparate storylines never actually connected for me in any meaningful way.  I had been expecting the typical hero's journey, whereby the girl would extract some wisdom from this other realm, and bring it back to her life in Spain in some way, or perhaps vice versa.  At least, I thought somehow the storylines would converge ... but they never did, and the ending therefore left me a bit dissatisfied.  I felt as though del Toro was telling two wholly separate stories, with plenty of their own conflicts and characters to drive them, but that both had been mashed together in the same film.  I was sorry to see it had ended up that way, because if that cohesion had been present, it would have enriched both storylines and earned a much higher rating from me.

SCORE: Three of five stars

Monday, May 13, 2013

The "12 Days of Shetland" Event Begins Soon!


Join My "12 Days of Shetland" Event!

I am hosting a "12 Days of Shetland" event to celebrate the official release of THE SERPENT IN THE STONE on June 28th, and you're invited! You can win a FREE eBook of my hot new paranormal romance, THE SERPENT IN THE STONE!

HOW TO ENTER:

Simply "Like" me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/Nicki.Greenwood.Author) or follow me on Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/nickigreenwood) to be entered for your chance to win! On June 28th, I will draw at random one lucky reader from the pool of names, and he or she will receive a free eBook of THE SERPENT IN THE STONE. Follow me on both Facebook and Twitter, and that gives you TWO chances to win! I will announce the winner on June 29th on my website, as well as my Facebook and Twitter accounts. That's it! Winning should always be this easy.

ABOUT THE BOOK:


BLURB, EXCERPT (PG, Paranormal) - THE SERPENT IN THE STONE by Nicki Greenwood

Blurb and Excerpt from THE SERPENT IN THE STONE (The Gifted Series: Book One) by Nicki Greenwood
A Paranormal Romance from The Wild Rose Press
Copyright 2013 by Nicki Greenwood

Buy it June 28th at http://www.thewildrosepress.com
Learn more at http://www.nickigreenwood.com

BLURB:

Sara Markham is used to secrets. She has two of her own: her paranormal powers, and her father's unsolved murder twenty years ago. The first is a secret she can't divulge, and the other she yearns to unravel.

When her archaeology firm is tapped to excavate a ruin in Shetland, Sara accepts eagerly, hoping it will help solve the mystery of her father's death. But she doesn't anticipate Ian Waverly, a wildlife biologist whose questions worry her even as his rugged magnetism fascinates her. Ian's more connected to her gifts than she knows, and far more than he wants to admit.

Enemies on sight, Ian and Sara struggle to fight the attraction that blazes between them. But when they are confronted with a decades-old web of lies and corruption, they discover the truth: only together can they heal the heartaches brought by the very darkest of secrets.

EXCERPT:

"What - exactly - are you?" Ian demanded.

Alarm bells clanged at the hostility in his voice. Sara had to force her voice past them. "You've seen me shapeshift. I can read minds sometimes."

"I've got time for the long version." He put the necklace back into his pocket. The shuttered look on his face raised panicky flutters in her belly.

She drew a long breath. "Telekinesis. I caught you with telekinesis."

"How did you get telekinesis?"

"It's not like they hand it out in stores! It just happened one day. I didn't know what it was, and I was too scared to tell my parents. I was afraid of it for a long time."

"When did your father die? How did he die?"

Her thoughts flew to the amulet in Ian's pocket. "What has any of this got to do with my father?"

"Maybe nothing. Could be more. This stuff might be genetic."

Icy dread crawled across her skin. "I'm done talking to you."

Quick as lightning, he reached forward and snatched the boat keys from the ignition. "This necklace has to be important if you're willing to risk being shot to fix it, Sara. That's not even going there about you risking me being shot at. You're not getting it back until you talk."

She felt naked. Worse than she had at the inlet. Then, she'd seen desire in his eyes.

Now, she saw only hatred. "This isn't about me," she said, startled. "It's about you."

"Never mind me," he snapped.

"What is it?" she asked. "What happened to you?"

"How did your father die?"

Pain and betrayal surged anew through every cell in her body, and that little girl from twenty years ago gave a silent wail of outrage. "He. Was. Murdered."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Movie Review: Life of Pi


** Spoiler Alert: This review contains specific references to the material in the film.  If you do not want the plot spoiled, don't read on! **

I was prepared to dislike this film as heartily as I disliked the book, and as I imagine every experienced writer might dislike it for the same reasons.  (I will explain.)  It's part of the reason I hadn't rented it or seen it in theaters.  Last night, I decided to give it a chance.  I still dislike the same elements of the film that I disliked in the book, which must be some sort of compliment to how faithfully they followed the story.

The book is wonderful, and lyrical, and vivid, up to a point.  I can buy nearly everything that happens, because it's presented realistically.  Some of the best stories are made up of ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and Pi is certainly that.  First, it is a story of soul searching, with Pi seeking answers to his life in three different religious faiths.  The story even opens with a claim that it can make you believe in God.  All right, then, I thought, it's going to be a story of finding one's faith.

Then we have the shipwreck that strands Pi in a lifeboat with a variety of zoo animals, and it's a case of "Who's going to eat whom first?"  He learns how to coexist with the tiger while stranded in this lifeboat, even when it's a tenuous sort of coexistence.  There's the danger of the hungry tiger, seas teeming with sharks, and storms that threaten to capsize the craft.  All the while, they worry about starvation and dehydration.  All right, I thought, it's going to be a story of survival that tests one's faith.

At some point during the months of aimless drifting, Pi imagines luminescent sea creatures (i.e. a neon whale that breaches the ocean surface beside the boat and nearly overturns it).  I can even put this down to seasick hallucination, and I'm able to pass that off.  BUT ...

Here is where the writer lost me.  Near the end of their strength, Pi and Richard Parker (the tiger) reach a floating, carnivorous island that is somehow safe during daytime, and whose water turns acid at night, devouring anything not up in the trees.  The island is also covered with (wait for it) hordes of meerkats.  At this point, the story whirls off into unbelievability, and it loses all the magic that it had built up.

All right, I thought, this is just too much.

This is where the author, Yann Martel, made his fatal mistake.  You can ask a reader or viewer to believe in a fantasy world, or you can ask them to believe in your reality.  Really, you can ask them to believe anything, but you need to establish the rules.  At the beginning.  He does not do this.  The story opens as a realistic retelling by an ostensibly now well-adjusted man of his experiences on this lifeboat.  There is no precedent set for the possibility that all might not be as it seems with this man.  The viewer is led through an extraordinary adventure of survival, and all the way through it, before finding that this wonderful story we have shared is all just a metaphor for the trauma that really occurred while Pi was stranded in this lifeboat.  It didn't happen.  I felt cheated.  Betrayed as a viewer.  All of it was just a lie, and there was no indication that it might be a lie before Martel sprang the ugly truth on us.  Pi even asks the man interviewing him which of the stories he prefers.  The interviewer responds that he prefers the story of the tiger.  Pi knows he has just led this man through a fabrication, so he's at least aware that the ugly truth is in there somewhere ... yet he's still willing to lead someone along with the fabricated tale.  He has learned nothing.  He has found no God.  He is still willing to lie.

Readers do not like being cheated.  Viewers do not like being cheated.  If you are going to surprise them with an alternative ending, you must establish precedent in the form of clues or rules in the beginning that will make that alternative ending make sense.  (Perfect example: The Sixth Sense, with Bruce Willis.  All of the clues to the surprise were there, sprinkled through the film.  The rules were established, and there, even if you didn't recognize them for what they were.  That movie made me scream, "WOW!" and watch it all over again as soon as it ended.)

In the end, I don't feel Pi learned anything valuable, and therefore, I as a viewer didn't take home anything valuable.  The film is beautiful, but for those jarring notes, and I will probably never watch it again for those reasons.  Points galore to Ang Lee for the gorgeous scenery, and the score is fabulous ... but the story is, forgive me for the hackneyed phrase, an epic fail.

SCORE: Three of five stars

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Built to Last

I've learned a lesson over the years: if you want it to last, you gotta buy the good stuff.  It isn't just brand or expense snobbery.  When I found myself buying a new couch yearly to keep up with my tough-on-stuff family, I took a harder look at how I was making my purchases.  That discount couch was cheap up front, but what was I really getting for my money, when I had to replace it after such a short time?

The cheap stuff isn't always the best stuff, if it doesn't hold up to your use.  And if you have to keep buying replacements, what are you really doing for the environment, when the old, worn-out things get kicked to the curb and landfill?

So, to Stickley we went, once I'd had enough and wised up.  Our new couch was expensive, no doubt ... but it has put up with a lot, and while we might need to reupholster it, it still handles our rowdiness with good grace, years into its use.  And it's nice to know I'm not filling up our landfill with another busted couch!

I found a solution for the outdoors, too.  You'll have to excuse me while I geek out for a bit.  This is Polywood furniture, made with heavy-duty recycled plastic lumber made from stuff like milk cartons.  It has a grain like wood, and unless you're touching it or sitting on it, it really is hard to tell the difference.
We bought this bench a couple of years ago, and it sits in front of our house to welcome people who might want to sit (or me, when I need to set groceries down).  I have laid on it to read a book while my son plays in the yard, and I've been known to catnap on it, too.  It stays out over the winter, and a little soap and water is all it ever needs to clean it up.  I liked it so much, I bought a set of Adirondack chairs and a "coffee table" for our back deck the following year.  They stay out, too, and hold up to winter winds without budging.  This year, I got some side tables to go with that bench, just in time for summer cookouts.  I may never have to buy outdoor furniture again, and that's a nice thought.

Consider what kind of money you're spending to re-buy resources you use all the time.  If you keep buying new to replace the old, maybe there's a longer-lasting solution.  A little extra money up front might insure that your grandkids' grandkids will use what you're buying today.  After all, laying out that money each time a poorly-made item fails might cost you more in the long run, in addition to costing the planet resources and disposal space.  Buy what's built to last.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

May Events and Appearances with Nicki Greenwood

Wow, May already?  Where does the time go?  There's a lot going on in my neck of the woods this month, and it promises to be a busy and exciting one.  Check out all the great stuff on tap:

  • May 11, 2013 - 10:30 AM - 4:30 PM EST
    Attending CNYRW workshop featuring bestselling author Patricia Kay, speaking on Scene and Sequel and Emotion at Liverpool Public Library
    [Get Directions] [Contact Event Registrar]
  • May 18, 2013 - 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM EST
    WORKSHOP: "The Standout Scribbler: Catching an Editor's Eye" at Phillips Free Library
    [Get Directions] [Contact Phillips Free Library]
  • May 25, 2013 - 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM EST
    Chatting at the LR Cafe Loop. Come and visit!

  • It's gonna be a whirlwind month, but a great one.  I hope to see you at my workshop, "The Standout Scribbler," if you're near Homer, NY on the 18th, or online at the LR Cafe Loop chat on the 25th.  Come visit me, and let's talk writing and romance!