Sally Reviews The Princess Academy; Everybody is Guest-Post Writing

I learned about Shannon Hale from Stephenie Meyer‘s Breaking Dawn acknowledgments page: Thanks to my peer support, Shannon Hale, for understanding everything.

Oh! How joining that group would be sweeter than all the Be Fri – St Ends necklaces in the world.

The next best thing was a trip to the library, where I got Austenland, Shannon Hale’s first grown-up book, and Sally got The Princess Academy, her Newberry Honor book.

At first Princess Academy wasn’t princessy enough for Sally, who’s seen Barbie as the Island Princess one too many times. A few weeks later, after a detour through the old Nancy Drew books, Sally picked up Princess Academy again, and this time she was hooked. I sat down with her last night to see if it’s something I’d like to read:

On a scale of 1 to Harry Potter, how was it? I liked it as much.

What was your favorite part? When the bandits came.

Was it set in the real world? No, it was set in somebody else’s world, but that world seemed real.

Would you like to live in that world? No, it’s all cold on Mount Eskel.

Would you recommend it to your friends? Yes. What about the boys? I think boys would like it — there are princes and stuff in it.

There you have it: Two Thumbs Up for The Princess Academy. Sally is seven, but I think it would appeal to tweens, teens, and even grown-ups who remember reading Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books and Ursula K. LeGuin.

As for Austenland, I couldn’t help comparing it to the Twilight series, even though they are incredibly different. The authors share many characteristics — they’re both female, Mormon, mothers of small children, and both write YA books. They also both write romance-y books for a PG audience.

The first half of Austenland was delightful. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I read Melinda’s copy of the Complete Jane Austen when I was thirteen, and that I watch both the Jennifer Ehle/Colin Firth and Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen Pride and Prejudices regularly. Hale’s writing is fantastic. One of her images still thrills me: she compares an middle-aged woman suddenly outshone by a younger flirty woman to a wilted carrot in the back of the refrigerator. I’ve had enough sad carrots in my crisper to love this image!

But the romance/plot is ultimately unsatisfying. I want to be convinced that my hero and heroine belong together. That they deserve each other, fit together, that their relationship will last. And she couldn’t convince me of that. Contrast that to Stephenie Meyer, who is not the world’s greatest writer. And who could use an editor like that carrot could use a shot of adrenaline.

But Stephenie Meyer is an incredible storyteller. Her plots are satisfying and convincing and I feel like I will die if her characters don’t end up together.

Is it too much to ask for great storytelling and fantastic writing all in the same book? Maybe they could collaborate? I mean, when they’re not busy understanding each other?

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If you’ve ever wondered how to (or if you should) express your religious beliefs in your online writing, check out my guest post at Segullah today: Have you born your testimony on YouTube yet?

And for a great example of the power of blogging for good, check out Blog Community Supports Injured Couple. Tara at The Well-Rounded Woman talks about how bloggers have raised money and pulled together for Stephanie and Christian Nielson.

Aack. I just realized I’m a week behind on the theme. Sorry! Next month I’ll have a children’s book. Promise.

Passage to Zarahemla — Would’ve Been Better If We Could Have Seen Zarahemla

(This is a guest post by Dick, who also blogs under the name Tom Johnson. I was hesitant to review this movie, but Dick was eager to see it, so he agreed to write it in exchange for a free copy. Let me just add that Passage to Zarahemla was much better than the last Summer Naomi movie I (partly) saw, but not as good as The Best Two Years, which is a movie I would recommend to non-LDS people). My cousin Heather also reviewed Passage to Zarahemla (with a comment by the director; aren’t we connected?).)

Passage to Zarahemla, a new movie in the Mormon genre directed by Chris Heimerdinger, author of Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, has a plot with an intriguing idea. Placing a modern person back in Nephite (50 BC) times reminds me of movies like Back to the Future and other time-travel epics.

But unfortunately the movie falls short of ever delivering on this intrigue because we never see Zarahemla at all. All you see is literally the “passage to” Zaramhemla. The passage is a spot in the woods in Leeds, Utah, where a lone Nephite guards a path he thinks Lamanites will use to invade Zarahemla.

Much of the anticipation of the protagonist stumbling into an ancient city, into Nephite homes and other Zarahemla environs, is never realized.

That said, the movie has its moments. We see the slow conversion of the main protagonist from a situation of unbelief to someone whose heart is softened. We see a Nephite literally speaking from the dust. The sci-fi portal, where characters pass from one world to another, always gets my attention.

But overall, it’s definitely a B movie produced with a low budget. The Nephite and Lamanite costumes look like they’re borrowed from a Manti pageant (as one character in the movie even suggests). The female protagonist wears frumpy Eighties clothing that are anything but California cool. I can live with these shortcomings, but the caricatures of the Nephites and Lamanites are tiring.

(I think Dick is not the authority on female fashion that he would like to think he is. Probably her clothing is the latest thing, only, we are not up on that).

Is it possible for a Mormon movie to portray a Nephite with real depth of character? The Lamanites are just one notch above barbaric cannibals. Each party is fixed in a single, predictable mindset.

Overall, despite so-so dialogue and feeling cheated of a glimpse of the filmmakers’ vision of Zarahemla, the movie kept my attention on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

(I would also point out that the gleeful use of violence while shrinking from even the mildest of epithets made the characterization highly problematic. As if it’s fine that gang members like to shoot people but would never befoul their mouths with a profanity. Not that I want to hear swearing, mind you, necessarily, just that such an imposed cinematic value system is odd and contrived.)

(I know, sorry, this was Dick’s review. But I had thoughts. And then I had to share them.)

Possibly the best kid book, ever

large famil five minutes peace

Wibbily wobbily, wibbily wobbily’ went the baby. Like Mrs. Large, I’ve got wobbily bits, though not enough squishing out of my tankini (extra long torso) to try a fish and grated carrots diet. No, somehow we are going to lose weight on the homemade oreos and bruschetta pizza diet. I have faith.

Mrs. Large is a model mother. In A Piece of Cake, she doesn’t beat her kids for talking about her wobbily bits, and when Laura suggests that maybe elephants are supposed to be large, she listens. And when the kids and Mr. Large sneak downstairs in dead of night to eat the cake that’s come in the mail and been hidden in the cupboard, “in case company comes,” she calmly snatches the last piece instead of raising holy heck.

But the sublime humanity of Jill Murphy’s Large family really shines in Five Minutes’ Peace, with a Mrs. Large desperate for a measly five minutes’ alone time. Obviously I relate. Mrs. Large finds the kids wrecking the kitchen, so she makes herself a tray and heads for the bath. The kids invade, as kids will do, and Mrs. Large allows their intrusion as long as sanity allows (this is about 20 minutes in my world; not sure the exact limit in hers). Then she heads back to the kitchen.

The best part is that she is desperate for alone time, and it is not even 10 o’clock IN THE MORNING.

Here is a book I would be happy to read, to my kids or in my alone time — over and over and over again.