“Divergent” – The Villain Named Jeanine

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Janine.  Jeanine.  Gianine.  Janeen.  A less common name, a variant of “John” that means something between “God is Gracious” and “Beloved of God.”  As a Janeen, what I remember most is seeing my name misspelled on tags or attendance sheets.

Now, it appears ‘Janine’ is a cold, intellectually cruel would-be tyrant.  Namely, Jeanine Matthews, the lead villain in the Divergent movie.

In a world divided by factions based on virtues, Tris learns she’s Divergent and won’t fit in. When she discovers a plot to destroy Divergents, Tris and the mysterious Four must find out what makes Divergents dangerous before it’s too late (IMDB).

There are plenty of places online to find book vs. movie comparisons.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel by doing another play by play.

Final Verdict: the movie was good, with definite scenes of violence and intensity and some decently thought-provoking moments.  However, the book is much, much better.  If you like the movie, read the book.  If you’re not sure about the book, read my review of the book.  And then read the book, and after that, Insurgent and Allegiant.

 

(Beware: Spoilers Ahead)

 

With that out of the way, I’m going to focus back on the villain of the week: Jeanine Matthews.

Jeanine Matthews is the head of the Erudite faction, which is focused on the pursuit of knowledge and truth.  They are the teachers, scientists, and inventors in society.  Their color is blue, their accessory is eyeglasses, and they believe that knowledge trumps everything else.  Jeanine goes a bit farther with this philosophy, spear-heading a movement that seeks to take over the city, out of a deep suspicion of the Abnegation faction’s supposed selflessness.  According to her, humanity has a naturally skewed nature, and the idea that Abnegation is truly acting out of altruistic motives to govern society is both illogical and impossible.

In the book, Jeanine is kept mostly to the background.  However, to increase dramatic narrative, the movie gives her a more prominent role as an antagonist.  This allows her to voice a philosophy that has fascinating hints of truth in it:

“It’s human nature to keep secrets, lie, steal…”

This echoes the Biblical truth reflected in the following verses:

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—”(Romans 5:12)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” -(Romans 3:23)

However, Jeanine Matthews chooses science over faith to deal with this situation of original sin.  Humanity is fundamentally flawed, but the answer more structure, more research, more serums, and more intellectual control of the population.  Of course, as the smartest person alive, it is up to her to implement all these important changes in order to preserve the race.  If that happens to put her in a position of ultimate power and authority, then so be it.

Misguided?  Twisted?  Maybe a lot, but it makes for a villain whose cunning offers formidable resistance for heroine Tris Prior.

Fun side note: when he was reading the book, my husband actually deliberately misread the name as “Jeannie” because he didn’t want to associate me with that kind of evil.  That is love.

What did you think of the movie?  What about Jeanine?  Do you see any comparisons between her and other ‘mad scientist’ villains?

 

Maleficent and Female Villains

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Princess Aurora: Don’t be afraid
Maleficent: I am not afraid
Princess Aurora: Then come out.
Maleficent: Then you’ll be afraid.

-Maleficent trailer

Maleficent.  The big baddie of Sleeping Beauty who’s all style and no substance.  Even in the story of Sleeping Beauty, she is introduced as a bad fairy whose main peeve is not being invited to a christening.  In fact, in the Perrault version, she is allowed in.  She’s just not given a goody bag:

At the banquet back at the palace, the fairies seat themselves with a golden casket containing golden jeweled utensils laid before them. However, a fairy who was overlooked, having been within a certain tower for many years and thought to be either dead or enchanted, enters and is offered a seating, but not a golden casket since only seven were made. The fairies then offer their gifts of beauty, wit, grace, dance, song and music. The bad fairy, angry at being overlooked, places the princess under an enchantment as her gift: the princess will prick her hand on a spindle and die.

The moral of the story seems to be that hostesses should always have at least one extra casket of treats on hand just in case that undesirable guest decides to inconveniently come back from the dead and show up at the party.

As my urban fantasy series is roughly based on Sleeping Beauty, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to figure out a compelling reason for why this one character would get so annoyed by such a trivial snub. While evil fairies in literature have a long history of doing horrible things as retribution for perceived slights, it doesn’t make for a deep or interesting motivation.

Disney’s upcoming movie Maleficent seeks to change all that.  Like Snow White and the Huntsman, it gives the evil villain more of a back story and a reason for why she’s so darn bad–and in this case, even allows her to take center stage.

The untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the 1959 classic “Sleeping Beauty.” A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman with stunning black wings, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army of humans threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the king of the humans and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and to Maleficent’s true happiness as well (Bing.com search).

I’m really excited about this take on Maleficent, and on giving her a good reason for being evil.  In a recent post, author Erin Latimer praised another recent movie for featuring a strong female lead villain (On Female Villains….) as a step towards featuring strong female characters in general.

In my personal niche of retelling fairy tales, I find I’m often having to get creative bringing depth to stock female characters.  Why does Cinderella put up with her evil stepmother and stepsisters?  Just because she’s an archetype of the virtuous maiden?  Sweet, but hard to relate to.  Why does The Little Mermaid decide to go on land?  Just to chase a prince and for sheer curiosity, because she’s a Youngest Sister (like in Beauty and the Beast and yes, Cinderella)?

Fairy tale villains are often even harder to bring to life–and in general, making villains just plain evil is the easy (and boring) way out.  I’m glad that movies like Maleficent are hoping to tell the other side of the story, not to hold up these dark figures as role models, but to explain some of the reasons behind their darkness.  In this way, I think they improve upon the original idea of a morality tale, because they showcase the true sin nature of man, and show that, but for the grace of God, anyone could head down that path ( “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,Romans 3:23).

Over the next few months, I’m going to be doing a series on villains from speculative fiction, in terms of pop culture, costumes, motivations, and Scripture.

For now, enjoy this juicy info on Maleficent from Once Upon a Blog, and the following trailers:

Pi Day! It Just Keeps Going and Going and Going…

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That’s right!  It’s geek exploration time, and what better and geekier than one of the ultimate math holidays: Pi day!

What is Pi Day?

Pi Day is an annual American celebration commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14 (or 3/14 in the U.S. month/day date format), since 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form. In 2009, the United States House of Representatives supported the designation of Pi Day (Wikipedia).

The Fun Definition:

  • March 14 is Pi Day, a sacred celebration in which radius and circumference lovers rejoice over circular snacks and decimal-reciting contests.

Pi, otherwise known as 3.14 in brief, is the number used to calculate the circumference and area of a circular, as well as other wonderful things.  The earliest known official or large-scale celebration of Pi Day was organized by Larry Shaw in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium, where Shaw worked as a physicist, with staff and public marching around one of its circular spaces, then consuming fruit pies. The Exploratorium continues to hold Pi Day celebrations. (Wikipedia)

Fast Facts About Pi (most from here)

1. Some also celebrate July 22 as Pi Day, because 22/7 is a common approximation to pi.

2. Pi is an irrational number: its decimal value goes on forever (and ever and ever and ever and…) never stopping or repeatingIt can’t be written as a ratio or simple fraction; while 22/7 is close, it is not exact.

3. The value of pi has now been calculated to more than two trillion decimal places.

4. The world record for memorizing the value of pi was set by Chao Lu of China in 2005. He correctly recited from memory its first 67,890 digits.

5. It took him 24 hours and four seconds at a rate of 47 digits a minute without food or toilet breaks.

6. He had planned to recite 93,000 digits but made a mistake at the 67,891st.

7. A bill before the State Legislature of Indiana in 1897 tried to set the value of pi at 3.2. It was narrowly defeated

8. If you write “3.14” on a piece of paper and hold it up to a mirror, it looks like the word “PIE.” (TRUE!  Try it!)

9. Albert Einstein was born on Pi Day: March 14, 1879.

10. The Greek letter pi was introduced for the ratio of a circle’s perimeter to its diameter by the Welsh mathematician William Jones in 1706.

11. Some people protest the coolness of Pi Day, insisting that Tau is a better choice for mathematicians.

I had a great day with my class, teaching them more about pi and coloring the symbol pi and then measuring pies and then eating the pies (of course the latter was the best part for them!)   Even though I’m more of a language/grammar geek myself, it was really fun challenging my brain and joining the math geeks for a bit.  God really does awesome stuff in mathematics!

And because I love plugging music, here is a fun video where a talented musician wrote a song based on the first thirty or so digits of pi.  It’s pretty sweet!

CSFF Blog Tour: Dialog, Dragons, and Final Verdict

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(((In conjunction with the CSFF blog tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher)).

My apologies for abandoning the CSFF Blog Tour a few weeks ago.  I was swamped with teacher duties and events.

I also have to confess another reason: I still have not managed to properly finish the book and I’m not sure if I will.

Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms.

But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone.

With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies (from Amazon.com).

Author Donita K. Paul did do an excellent job with her world-building.  Every piece of the different realms was carefully thought out, her descriptions of places are thorough, and she clearly ‘sees’ each part of these fantasy worlds in her head.  I particularly enjoyed her description of Bixby’s clothing, which was so precise I felt as if I could almost feel the cloth between my fingers.  I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Bixby had her own Pinterest board.

Despite this, the story did not grab me.  I’m often distracted by a million things I have to do during a day, so I prefer novels that begin in the middle of action.  This one slowly slipped into Cantor D’Ahma’s world, and the pace just didn’t suit me.  Moreover, while I appreciate the effort Donita K. Paul put into using an older style of writing, it sometimes felt a little artificial to the characters: how they said something distracted me from what was being said. Overall, I had a difficult time getting into the characters’ heads and feeling for them, and so when I put the book down, I didn’t feel any urge to pick it up again.  So I haven’t, except in the past day to at least skim through the rest of the plot.

That being said, I did enjoy the sections on dragons.  The concept of shape-shifting dragons as “constants” (re: familiars or bonded, intelligent animal friends) was really unique, and I really enjoyed Bridger’s introduction as an inanimate object.  I won’t spoil it for you, but sufficed to say, it’s not the wisest shape for a fire-breathing creature to embody!

Final Verdict: It’s up to you, discerning reader.  The things that turned me off might be the very things that capture your imagination.  Moreover, the book has very little in the way of ‘questionable content’ and I would say is quite safe to hand off to a Middle Grade or Young Adult Reader.  Donita K. Paul is a many times published author, and she clearly knows her craft, so if you’re intrigued, give it a shot.   And the cover is very pretty.

Better late than never!  If you’re still curious, here are links to the other members of the blog tour:

Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Jill Williamson
Deborah Wilson

CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1: “One Realm Beyond” by Donita K. Paul

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(In conjunction with the CSFF blog tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher).

I’m pleased to again be an active reviewer on the Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour.  The February book, One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul, is one that I opted for purely based on the pretty cover:

Cantor D’Ahma waited his whole life for this day. Born with a gift to jump between worlds, the young realm walker is finally ready to leave his elderly mentor and accept his role as protector and defender of the realms.

But mere hours after he steps through his first portal, Cantor discovers that his job will be more dangerous and difficult than he ever imagined. The realms are plagued with crime and cruelty, and even members of the once-noble Realm Walkers Guild can no longer be trusted. To make matters worse, his first assignment—finding a dragon to assist him on his quest—has led him to Bridger, who is clearly inept and won’t leave him alone.

With the help of his new friends Bixby and Dukmee, Cantor must uncover the secrets of the corrupt guild before they become too powerful to be stopped. But his skills aren’t progressing as fast as he would like, and as he finds himself deeper and deeper in the guild’s layers of deceit, Cantor struggles to determine where his true allegiance lies (from Amazon.com).

I’ve been burned by judging a book by it’s shiny cover.

In this case, I did find that One Realm Beyond started out at a slow pace, at least for my tastes.  When it comes to YA adventure books, I prefer to be dropped in the middle of action, even if it’s just with an argument, rather than quietly opening up into the story at a relatively commonplace point.  That being said, once the pace did pick up and Cantor D’Ahma started walking between realms, the story piqued my interest.  I am a huge fan of world-building and books that involve different cultures (comes from my anthropology background), and I was fascinated by the level of detail and care Donita K. Paul put into the novel.  She’s clearly spent a lot of time and effort into developing this universe and I’m eager to explore it, even if the characters didn’t always grab my attention.

More thoughts on disc-shaped dimensions, deep point of view, and dragons in haystacks coming soon.  For now, feel free to check out the following reviewers also touring this book:

Julie Bihn
Keanan Brand
Beckie Burnham
Mike Coville
Pauline Creeden
Vicky DealSharingAunt
Carol Gehringer
Rebekah Gyger
Janeen Ippolito
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Emileigh Latham
Jennette Mbewe
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Nissa
Donita K. Paul
Audrey Sauble
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Jojo Sutis
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Jill Williamson
Deborah Wilson

My Little Brony

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What is a Brony?

Bro (Male Human) + SuperFan of My Little Pony = Brony.

What’s My Little Pony?

According to Wikipedia: an entertainment franchise developed by Hasbro which is marketed primarily to girls. It started as a line of plastic pony toys…which have been produced since 1983. The ponies feature colorful bodies, manes and a unique symbol on one or both sides of their flanks. These are referred to in the two most recent generations as “cutie marks.” My Little Pony was revamped at least four times with new and more modern looks to appeal to a new market.

Wait, so a Brony is a guy who’s a fan of little girls toys and a little animated television show?  Maybe just a little weird, you think?

Weird or no, Bronies exist and have steadily made themselves more public over the last few years.  It all started with the dawn of the newest version of the show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  The show was created to have strong characters, cultural references, and cross-generational appeal, providing a painless and amusing experience for the parents who would watch it alongside their young daughters.  However, apparently creator Lauren Faust did such a good job that the show attracted a whole new demographic: adult males starting at about age thirteen and going up.

These bronies are part of a New Sincerity backlash against the oh-so-popular jaded irony often found online, and “have created numerous works in writing, music, art, and video based on the show, have established websites and fan conventions for the show, and have participated in charitable events around the show and those that create it” (Wikipedia article).

There was even a documentary created for the phenomenon:

This is how it came to my attention, via my wonderfully curious geek husband.  While he doesn’t feel the need to suddenly jump on the brony bandwagon, we both recognize that it really isn’t that different from any other geek fandom. It just involves males and multicolored ponies.

Go here for more info on Bronies.

What do you think?  Any Bronies out there?

Book Review: “Prophet” by R.J. Lawson

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My mother has a phrase: “If it’s free, it’s for me!”  While I try to have some discernment in books I read, especially given the very tempting ‘free book’ piles sometimes found at libraries, the following book was a freebie that I downloaded to my phone just in time for Christmas break.



Ela Roeh of Parne doesn’t understand why her beloved Creator, the Infinite, wants her to become His prophet. She’s undignified and bad-tempered, and at age seventeen she’s much too young. In addition, no prophet of Parne has ever been a girl. Worst of all, as Parne’s elders often warn, if she agrees to become the Infinite’s prophet, Ela knows she will die young.

Yet she can’t imagine living without Him. Determined to hear the Infinite’s voice, Ela accepts the sacred vinewood branch and is sent to bring the Infinite’s word to a nation torn apart by war. There she meets a young ambassador determined to bring his own justice for his oppressed people. As they form an unlikely partnership, Ela battles how to balance the leading of her heart with the leading of the Infinite (from Amazon.c0m).

This book was an unexpected pleasure. Lawson essentially makes the story an alternate universe Old Testament in feel and function, with Parne serving as a sort of Israel, and then throws in an interesting twist: a young, female prophet who is destined to die young.  The characterization of Ela Roeh makes or breaks the story, and she really shines as a broken person called by the Infinite to do his will and stumbling and suffering along the way.

I felt the ‘young ambassador’ Kien was mostly on par with her in terms of characterization, and offered some welcome humor to her morbid pondering.  Plus, his inclusion helped the plot.   Ela mostly pronounces judgement, whereas he is involved in political machinations and warfare, which adds much-needed movement to the story.

There were a few things that interrupted my enjoyment.  Sometimes Ela’s insecurities as a prophet became annoying, especially towards the end of the book.  Also, I did find the dialog a little clunky.  It’s tricky to find natural-sounding dialog in historical pieces, so I have respect for Lawson’s effort in this area; however, sometimes it didn’t work for me.

Final Verdict: If the concept and storyline appeals to you, but you’re a little uncertain about the idea of a female prophet, then go for it.  The execution is good and the characters are compelling.  Plus, right now it’s a free download from Amazon.com!