Category Archives: Books and movies

Movies we’ve seen, books we like.

Why I’ll take Wonder Woman over Sarah Connor any day

“She’s an objectified icon … to me, it’s a step backwards.”

[Cameron] believes one of his popular protagonists, Sarah Connor from the Terminator franchise, sets a better example for female leading characters in movies.

“Sarah Connor was not a beauty icon. She was strong, she was troubled, she was a terrible mother, and she earned the respect of the audience through pure grit,” he said. “And to me, [the benefit of characters like Sarah] is so obvious. I mean, half the audience is female!”

News.com.au James Cameron Slams Wonder Woman: “It’s a step backwards.”

Sorry, James Cameron, but you talk about objectified icons.

I am sure Sarah Connor is everything you say she was. Plus, I suspect, you’re talking about the second and subsequent Terminator movies, too, not the first.

I don’t know. I only ever watched the first movie. I couldn’t watch the rest.

It’s not because I didn’t like most of the movie. It was okay. And Arnie’s terminator is certainly iconic, and goes down in history as one of the great movie characters of all time.

But we spend the whole movie having the Terminator chase Sarah, only to find out that he’s after her because she’s somebody’s mother.

Sarah Connor is a victim.

Sure, she fights back. And I like it when a victim empowers her-or-himself to fight back against their oppressor. And I don’t mean to denigrate anyone who fights their way out of being victimised like that, for they are inspiring. Woman or man.

But if I want a hero—someone to hold up as an example, someone to emulate—I’ll take the woman who starts out with a conscience, and a determination to do right by the world. Someone who lives by that standard, and embodies it in everything they do and say.

Rather than someone who simply reacts to a situation they have been placed into.

So that I, and the Sarah Connor’s of this world, know we can live by those standards, too.

Wonder Woman is not about beauty. Hollywood objectifies everyone, male and female

Wonder Woman is encapsulated by the scene in No-Man’s land. Where a woman knows this is wrong, and says so, only to hear others say, “Sure, but we can’t do anything about it,” and she chooses to do something anyway.

Amazon’s weekly charts

Amazon has started bringing out weekly book charts.  The top 20 books sold, and the top 20 books read

They do fiction and non-fiction. You can find them at https://www.amazon.com/charts.

Looking at the fiction lists, there are few surprises in the Books Sold.  These are the books you see in the display area of any bookshop.  The bestsellers are the same online and off.  Included among these are the books that have television or movie adaptions coming out soon.  Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

There is one unexpected (to me) entrant.  Dr Suess’s, Oh, The Places You’ll Go comes in at number eight.

It’s when you get to the Books Read list that the results start to differ.  Putting aside the question of how Amazon knows what you’re reading—Big Brother is definitely watching us—the results are interesting.

Here’s the full May 14 list of the 20 most books read on Amazon.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  2. The Fix, by David Baldacci
  3. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  4. Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan
  5. Golden Prey, by John Sandford
  6. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling
  7. Into the Water, by Paula Hawkins
  8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling
  9. It, by Stephen King
  10. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
  11. 16th Seduction, by James Patterson & Maxine Paetro
  12. Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
  13. Beach Lawyer, by Avery Duff
  14. Dead Certain, by Adam Mitzner
  15. A Court of Wings and Ruin, by Sarah J. Maas
  16. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  17. A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles
  18. A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman
  19. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
  20. The Black Book, by James Patterson & David Ellis

Sure, the bestsellers are in there, but look how many Harry Potter books there are.  Five.

There also looks to be a slight lag on buying books and reading them. I’m sure if we had charts from the previous weeks we’d see authors like Sarah J. Maas on the Books Sold list.

Movie/television adaptions The Handmaid’s Tale and American Gods are joined by Stephen King’s It.  Again, because we don’t have the prior week charts we can’t tell if these are new readers reading books they have just bought, or if readers who already owned the book are rereading it. I suspect it’s the latter.

It’s Harry Potter that’s the interesting.  I know J. K. Rowling still sells a lot of books, but I think a lot of those reads are rereads. People who own the books already, have read them before, and are re-reading them.

It’s what we do, as readers, with a book we like.

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Finally saw Rogue One

Finally saw the Star Wars film, Rogue One.

I enjoyed it, thought it on a par with The Force Awakens.

I’m not sure why people say it’s outside the main Star Wars series. To me, this fits right between Episodes III and IV.  Episode 3.5.  (Or is that III.V?)

The ensemble cast of characters in Rogue One was excellent.  Every single one of them could have carried their own story.

In fact, two of my favourite characters will be included in a middle-grade novel (that’s right, middle-grade) called Guardians of the Whills.

If you haven’t seen the movie, these two are the best.

(Jyn also gets her own young-adult novel, too.)

The ending (which I’m not going to talk about, because, spoilers) was the hardest part of the movie to take. I understand it had to happen that way, because this was episode III.V and it had to work in with what happened in IV, but …

It’s one of the difficulties of writing an earlier episode in an already-existing movie series. Or in a book series.

You have to work with what’s already there. And what’s not.

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The Huntsman

Jessica Chastain as Sara, and Chris Hemsworth as Eric in The Hunstman: Winter's War
Jessica Chastain as Sara, and Chris Hemsworth as Eric in The Hunstman: Winter’s War

Yesterday we saw The Hunstman: Winter’s War.

The reviewer in our local newspaper gave it one and a half stars.

I think they were a little harsh.  I enjoyed the movie. I thought it was much better than the first one.  Sure, it probably won’t win any Oscars, and it would have benefited from a deeper story. But the characters were great.

Ravenna (Charlize Theron’s Snow White’s stepmother) was probably the weakest character (although very in character from the last movie).  Freya (Emily Blunt) was sympathetic, even if she did capture all the kids in the district and set them to fighting for her.  Chris Hemsworth (Eric) and Jessica Chastain (Sara) were great.

In this prequel to the original I really liked the way the backstory for the first movie (Snow White and the Huntsman) was fleshed out and made whole.  Great storyline, and totally believable. It all fitted together nicely.

Plus, it was nice to have a romance without all the usual angst. I mean, there was angst, but most of it was engineered by external parties, and there was a fair bit of trust in the relationship too.

And without giving too much away, there was also a measure of trust between many of the Huntsmen, who, let’s face it, had grown up together.

It was a nice little story.  Just what I was in the mood for.

Designing my bookstore

Now this is a bookstore. El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image by longhorndave, orignal posted at http://flickr.com/photos/99255685@N00/1245345652
Now this is a bookstore. El Ateneo, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Image by longhorndave, orignal posted at Flickr.

Some recent tweets pointed me to two two articles from last year about designing bookstores (What makes a good bookshop? and Let’s reinvent the bookshop). I like some of the ideas, but not all of them, so I thought I would design my own.

It would be full of books

It seems obvious to say that a bookshop should have books, but to me one of the gauges of how well a bookshop is doing is how much non-book stock they are trying to sell. Before it went broke, Borders, for example, had started to get a lot of non-book stock in.

A bookshop is still a bookshop. It should sell books.

Ability to sell eBooks

eBooks are offered almost exclusively online, but I would love to see a bookshop offer the same. Ideally in different formats. A tap and load card that you could pay for at the counter or through an app on your phone/tablet.

You should also be able to order online (hard copy or electronic) and have a book mailed to you or be able to collect it from the store.

Information kiosks

While we’re on electronics, information kiosks where you can scan a book’s barcode to find out more about it. What other books the author has, volume number if it’s part of a series, how long it would take to order if it’s not in stock, even links to feedback sites like Good Reads.

Plus, an app on the user’s phone/tablet where they can do the same, only if they do it on their own device you could add links to the store to order if required.

Room to move

Aisles wide enough for people to browse but others to pass. Reading spots where a browser can stand out of the way.

Knowledgeable staff

One of the best things about a good bookstore—about any store really—is staff who know their product.

They know their books, but they’re also familiar with the standard electronic devices and can load an eBook for a customer (assuming the customer has an account).

Café

A pleasant space serving tea, coffee, cold drinks and sandwiches and cakes. It doesn’t have to be grand, but it does have to be clean. Ideally it would have lots of seats for singles. A lot of people go into bookstores alone.

You could take it even further and get a liquor license, which could also be useful for the book launches/book talks.

Maybe even a writer’s space, where writers can bring their laptops and work.

A dedicated area for book talks

Ideally it would have tiered seating (maybe bleacher style), and a little stage area at the bottom. It should definitely have good acoustics.

Lots of book talks to go with the area. Maybe even book launches as well.

A combined cafe/booktalk area might work, provided it is set up properly. I find, however, that in many bookstores with cafes where I go to hear authors, the noise of the refrigerators tends to drown out the author.

Resident authors

I’d like to see a space for resident authors. An author promoting a new release could sit in the store mornings for a week, say, and write. Obviously, their writing would be interrupted, but it would be good PR.

The store could also hire out the café to writing groups when the bookstore was closed. The authors would pay for this (in advance, because you’d have to cover costs), but the store would provide tea and coffee and biscuits.

POD

A print-on-demand (POD) facility, where the customer can get books printed. Again, this should be integrated into the store’s online store as well, so the user can submit their own work in to be printed and then come in to collect it.

Obvioiusly, there would be restrictions. The store wouldn’t print eBooks, for example.Plus, I’m okay with POD books being more expensive that other books in the store to prevent anyone thinking it smart to print their own copy.


There’s lots more, of course. But that’s a start.


p.s. The bookstore in the image is El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a bookstore in Buenos Aires. The building was originally a theatre. It looks amazing.

The photographer is Dave (longhorndave–sorry, Dave, I don’t know any more details) and permission for use is given under a creative commons license. The original image is from Flickr.

There’s also another article in the Guardian showing photographs of bookshops of the world.

This weekend it’s movies and books

The edits for Alliance are away. This weekend it’s all about movies and books (and house cleaning) before we restart properly on book three.

I’ve just finished Charlaine Harris’s Day Shift, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sherylyn’s reading Cress, by Marissa Meyer, and enjoying that. Robin Hobb’s new book, Fool’s Quest, is out. That’s on the list to read soon, and somewhere in here I hope to read John Scalzi’s Lock In and Vernor Vinge’s Children of the Sky.

Not only that, Anne Leckie has started posting excerpts of Ancillary Mercy on her blog site. One sentence a day.

We’ve a few movies to catch up on too.

Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly was rather good too.
Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly was rather good too.

Earlier today we saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. It was a fun movie, very much in the style of the original television series and movies.

I think both Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer did excellent jobs. In fact, I liked Cavill better than Robert Vaughan in the role of Napoleon Solo.

But … growing up, David McCallum’s Illya Kuryakin was one of my favourite characters. I found it hard to reconcile Hammer’s version of Kuryakin with my version.

It’s a lot like how, for some people—me included—there is only one Mr Darcy and one Lizzie Bennet, and that’s Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle from the 1995 BBC TV series. Firth and Ehle made those parts their own.

Darcy and Lizzie.
The incomparable Mr Darcy and Lizzie Bennet

For me, McCallum made Kuryakin’s part his own.

Thus throughout the movie there was this strange feeling of, ‘that’s not Illya’, he wouldn’t behave like that. Yet the silly thing is, I could see that Hammer did as good a job as Cavill did, and I liked his character better. (Then, I always did like Kuryakin better.)

I’d like to see Guy Ritchie make a second Man From U.N.C.L.E. By that time I should have reconciled myself to Hammer in the role. It would be interesting to see how much that changes my perception.

Can’t wait for Dragon Blade

Come on Australia. When do we see Dragon Blade?

 

Kingsman

This week I’ll give you a break from talking about series to talk about the movie we saw last weekend.

Kingsman.

A clever, coming-of-age story about a boy who becomes a spy (or the equivalent of). With nods to all those old sixties, seventies and eighties spy movies and television series like James Bond, The Man From Uncle, the Avengers, and no doubt a dozen more. And, of course, to the graphic novel from which it was spawned.

It was very violent. Exploding heads, people getting stabbed and otherwise finished off in various terrible ways. Almost slapstick humour. Definitely not a movie for the squeamish. It was so violent that I could turn off on the violence itself, but I couldn’t always turn off on the audience laughing at that violence.

There were some beautiful pieces in it.

The church scene is … awful, but superb is the only way I can describe it.

The recurring theme of ‘manners maketh a man’ was fun too.

It was a well-plotted movie. Talk about guns on the mantelpiece. There were plenty, and they used them all. If I wanted to teach someone storytelling I’d point to this movie as one to dissect to see how they did it. The writers used classic storybook techniques and they told a fun story with it.

I do have to mention the actors. They were great, and I’ll never think of Colin Firth now without remembering that church scene.

All up, a fun movie if you can get past the violence.

Next week, back to talking about writing series novels.

Things I wish I’d written in 2014

My annual shameless plug of other authors’ work, and why. These are things I read in 2014. Note that the books weren’t necessarily published this year, I just read them for the first time in 2014.

There are minor spoilers below.

AncillaryJustice
Best cover

Ancillary Justice, Anne Leckie

I loved the cover. Interestingly, it’s not Sherylyn’s favourite, and while we were looking at covers in bookstores around the time our own was being designed, most of the booksellers here in Australia said it didn’t attract attention at all.

MistbornBest creature

I wanted to choose ancillaries, from Anne Leckie’s Imperial Radch series. They’re dead(ish) humans, thawed out and controlled by an AI.

But no-one could call Breq anything but human.

My second-favourite creatures were the mistwraiths in Mistborn. And the ‘grown-up’ mistwraiths, the kandra.

 

The story that makes you think long after you’ve finished the book

No surprises here. This book made a lot of people think.

Ancillary Justice, Anne Leckie.

I know a lot of the talk around this book was how Leckie dealt with gender, which was refreshing and well done, but I got used to that very early. For me, the thing I loved about the book was how she took a truly repulsive regime and turned it into something sympathetic. I mean, the Radch destroyed whole races, they took people and effectively killed them, storing their bodies in deep freeze, then thawing them out and plugging them into a computer brain as required.

FuzzyNation
Biggest surprise book (most unexpected)

Fuzzy Nation, John Scalzi

I like John Scalzi’s books. They’re clever, they’re fun, they’re easy reads. But for some reason, Fuzzy Nation particularly resonated. It’s good, old-fashioned science fiction with a modern twist.

And I still can’t work out if Jack Holloway was just a bad guy who did good deeds, or a good guy I didn’t really like much. Either way, it was excellent characterisation.

Books re-read

There are some books you love so much that you pick them up again and re-read them. Often more than once. Often, not long after you’re read them the first time.

JinxsMagic

Sage Blackwood’s Jinx’s Magic

I love the repartee between Simon and Jinx in the Jinx books, and the way you know, without being told, that Simon cares for Jinx. Any author who wants to study up on ‘show, don’t tell’ should check out how Blackwood does it.

AncillarySword

Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Sword.

We both re-read Ancillary Sword. Not Ancillary Justice, which was surprising.

Looking forward to next year

Based on the above, I think you can tell that the two books I’m looking forward to most next year are

Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy

JinxsFire
and

Sage Blackwood’s Jinx’s Fire.

Honorable mention

Last year, the book I was looking forward to most was

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor

It lived up to expectations.

Expendables 3

I’m a sucker for the Expendables movies, even though I’m sure half the references go over my head. There’s something about Barney Ross and his pals that hits a chord.

Maybe it’s the way the characters laugh at themselves, at the way they laugh (in a good way) about the characters that made them famous. Maybe it’s the banter between them. The set-piece fights are glorious—hopelessly impossible in real life of course, but lots of fun anyway.

And, of course, the names. If ever you want to name-drop, get yourself into an Expendables movie. You’ll be working with some of the best-known action movie stars.

I also love the way they deal with aging. They don’t pretend they’re not getting old, but they kick butt anyway.

If they were books you would reread them over and over and get more out of each reread. You’d have favourite quotes.

“Get out of the seat … Christmas is coming.”

“But it’s only June.”

Yes, we went and saw Expendables 3 yesterday. Enjoyed it too. Even the final fight worked for me. (Not like last time.)

It was good fun.