June 2, 2017

Random Acts… Pick up a book this summer

Posted in Books, Diversity at 5:11 pm by dinaheng

Whether it’s mystery, fantasy, or romance you’re looking for this summer, all of that and more can be found in a good book. Here are a few that caught my eye for summertime reading…

There are few works of fiction that capture the feel of Asian Americans in our nation’s past in a way that makes you want to research and discover what actually happened beneath the surface of historical tomes.

But Beth Cato’s steampunk adventure “Breath of Earth” (Harper Voyager Books, 383 pgs.) gives an interesting glimpse of what life must have been like for the Chinese at the turn of the century, and for any group that has felt discrimination in any time period.

Cato’s story is set in an alternative 1906, where the United States and Japan have become allies with the shared goal of world domination, beginning with the destruction of China. In this fantasy, geomancers can control the energy of the earth to power airships; Reiki doctors can heal with magic, and women are ever subservient to men.

“Breath of Earth” book cover courtesy of Harper Voyager Books.

When a group of powerful geomancer wardens in San Francisco are assassinated, the only ones left to hold a catastrophic earthquake at bay are Ingrid Carmichael, a headstrong secretary whose power far surpasses those of the men she serves, and her mentor, who is gravely injured.

To clear herself of suspicion, and help her mentor, Ingrid seeks aid from Cy Jennings, a pacifist inventor; Fenris, Jennings’ enigmatic mechanic partner, and Lee, a Chinese friend who is much more than he seems. As the three unravel the mystery behind the assassinations, they discover that the greatest defense against fear is the strength of love and friendship.

When it comes to YA dystopian novels, I tend to pass on most, which offer cookie cutter plots. But Jessica Shirvington caught my eye with her two-part series “Disruption” and now. “Corruption” (HarperCollins, 435 pgs.)

“Corruption” book cover courtesy of HarperCollins.

“Corruption” concludes the story of Maggie Stevens’ hunt for her father and the fight to show the world the lies that M-Corp has woven for its own corporate gain. Now that Maggie has discovered the truth about her father, and has betrayed the love she found in Quentin Mercer, heir to M-Corp’s fortune, she must do whatever it takes to reveal the truth about the insidious company to the world.

With the help of Gus, the world’s best and most sarcastic hacker, Maggie and Quentin discover that nothing is what it seems in the life that both have taken for granted. With parallels to today’s reality — in which business leaders have as much sway over what happens in our democracy as politicians do – “Corruption” shows that greed is usually only stopped by those who have lost it all.

Yet in a world of broken promises, Shirvington’s tale shows that there’s still hope for the future, as long as we have someone worth fighting for in our lives.

“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” by Kelly Barnhill (Algonquin Young Readers, 386 pgs.) may have been written for those 10 years and older, but the captivating fantasy speaks to the child in all of us, sharing wisdom about life, death, and the stories that shape our everyday lives.

“The Girl Who Drank the Moon” book cover courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers.

The 2017 Newbery Medal winner is a novel about a certain way of life… Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to a witch to keep her from terrorizing their town. The truth of the matter, though, is that the witch rescues the abandoned babies and gives them to loving families elsewhere.

One year, though, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight, turning her into an extraordinary child filled with magic. When Luna turns 13, the magic locked within begins to emerge, as Xan’s magic begins to fade. When the real reason behind the baby offerings is revealed, the people of the Protectorate learn that evil has lurked in their midst all along, and that the only way to end fear is to stop feeding it.

When Luna finally discovers who her mother is, she helps to shatter the town’s misconceptions, and frees the woman who has grieved for her for years. Loving both her mother and Xan, whom she looks upon as her grandmother, Luna teaches all that “My love isn’t divided. It is multiplied.”

“Carmer and Grit” book cover courtesy of Algonquin Young Readers.

Technology and magic come together when a magician’s apprentice and a one-winged princess unite to battle mechanical creations that threaten the faerie kingdom in “Carmer and Grit – Book One: The Wingsnatchers” by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers, 360 pgs.).

Steampunk for young readers, this tale is the story of what happens when Felix Carmer III, an aspiring inventor and apprentice to Antoine the Amazifier, meets Grit, the stubborn faerie princess who’s unable to fly with one wing, but is determined to do whatever it takes to fight the mysterious menace that is quietly enslaving faeries.

As the two confront a mad scientist whose mechanical inventions are dependent on the magic generated by faeries, Carmer discovers a bravery inside he never knew he had, and Grit learns that shouldering the responsibilities of a princess is way more than pomp and circumstance.

For a summertime escape, check them out.

 

January 23, 2017

Random Acts… Everyone should attend Festival of Human Abilities

Posted in Art, Diversity, Entertainment, Health, Travel at 5:37 pm by dinaheng

Why does an aquarium have an annual festival featuring performances that showcase the creativity of people with disabilities?

“It’s all part of our outreach to many communities,” explains Peter Martineau, marketing events manager for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif. “Our mission is about taking care of the animals, the ocean and the ecosystem by getting people engaged to accomplish that mission.”Dinah Eng

So in addition to cultural festivals that celebrate people from diverse racial backgrounds, the Aquarium decided to create an event highlighting the talents of those with disabilities. The great thing about these events is that people from all walks of life attend and learn from each other.

This year, the Aquarium’s 14th Annual Festival of Human Abilities (Jan. 28-29) will feature hip hop wheelchair dancers (Auti Angel, The Rollettes, and Infinite Flow); a sign language choir; Kodi Lee, a singer who is blind and has autism; Dat Nguyen, a guitarist who is blind, and other inspiring performers.

Along with music and dance, the event will include art demonstrations, like the making of mouth-stick art by local artists with disabilities. Diveheart, an organization that takes people with disabilities scuba diving, will do a talk and take divers into an Aquarium exhibit.

Free creative workshop classes, lasting 30 to 45 minutes, will teach participants how to sing in sign language, create wheelchair art, paint a hat, or try hip hop wheelchair dancing. The Aquarium will also give audio tours for guests who are blind.

Auti Angel gives a wheelchair dancing performance at the 13th Annual Aquarium of the Pacific's Festival of Human Abilities. Photo courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Auti Angel gives a wheelchair dancing performance at the 13th Annual Aquarium of the Pacific’s Festival of Human Abilities. Photo courtesy of the Aquarium of the Pacific.

“We all have challenges in our lives, and whether you have a disability or not, you’ll find yourself inspired by these performances,” Martineau says. “We usually get about 7,000 attendees each day, and one of the most powerful things is the opportunity for people who don’t have disabilities to feel comfortable around those who do.

“The more you can talk to someone and hang out with them, the more you realize that that person’s a human being you can talk to. Everyone at the festival is getting the ocean conservation message, and it’s going to take a diverse world of people to make it happen.”

Admission to the festival costs $29.95 for adults (12 years and older), $26.95 for seniors (62 and older); $17.95 for children 3 to 11; and is free for children ages 3 and younger. Members of the Aquarium are admitted free of charge.

For more information, check out http://www.aquariumofpacific.org/events/info/festival_of_human_abilities/.

 

 

 

November 10, 2016

HE is now “The Queen of Blood”

Posted in Books, Diversity, Politics, Women at 6:27 pm by dinaheng

Everything has a spirit… from the land that is parched by drought to the sea that rises like a tsunami when angry. In human beings, the spirit that has driven Americans through this presidential election has been fear and loathing.

Now that Donald Trump has won the contest, the true test of leadership begins.Dinah Eng

I couldn’t help but think of our presidential candidates as I read Sarah Beth Durst’s insightful fantasy, “The Queen of Blood” (Harper Voyager, 350 pp). In Durst’s novel, the realm of Renthia is ruled by queens who must prove that they can control the spirits that inhabit the world around them.

While we live in a nation that has yet to elect a female president, all those who hold the office get there by convincing voters that they are the best candidate to control the forces that determine our economy, our nation’s defense, and our foreign policy. Of course, no one can control anything except the way we behave toward others.

The heroine in Book One of this saga is Daleina, a young woman whose village was destroyed by rampaging spirits when she was a child. Determined to prevent the carnage from happening to others, Daleina trains to become a potential heir to the throne of Aratay, learning to use magic to bend the spirits to her will.

The spirits in this world are easily understood. The spirits of the trees want to grow. The spirits of the air want to fly. Whatever the element, plant or animal, its wish is to fulfill its natural inclination and purpose. At the same time, the spirits want to kill human beings.

Courtesy of Harper Voyager.

Courtesy of Harper Voyager.

So it is that Trump has used great showmanship to persuade a society that worships celebrities and tawdry gossip to choose him for our leader.

America has voted for change, and we must be grateful that change is always possible in a democracy. Let us hope that Trump ends up doing more to bring us together than his campaign rhetoric did.

For too long, partisanship has divided us. It took a shocking election wake up call for those long in power to hear the deep-seated anger of those who feel powerless and in pain.

What people in pain don’t always realize, though, is that change for change’s sake is never enough. When Trump supporters see that he will not fulfill the campaign promises that were only designed to win protest votes, will they grow even angrier? Will those who voted against him stretch the partisan divide even more?

Or will we all come to understand that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s message that we are stronger together really is the only way to make America great again?

In “The Queen of Blood,” Daleina is not the smartest or strongest potential heir, but she is a young woman who, above all else, wants to do the right thing. It is only after many spirits and humans are slaughtered that she rises to take the throne.

None of us really know what is in Donald Trump’s heart. We can only hope that the Office of the President of the United States challenges him to be better than anyone imagines.

In Renthia, each queen is chosen by the spirits when the previous queen dies, and must keep the world thriving with natural forces while taking care of the needs of the people.

Clinton’s concession speech showed the kind of leader she is, gracious and inspiring, even in defeat.

Trump must now show what kind of spirit truly lies within him.

 

June 27, 2016

Random Acts… Brexit and the “Free State of Jones”

Posted in Business, Diversity, Employment, Entertainment, Movies, Politics at 8:06 pm by dinaheng

Life can sometimes seem like a never-ending cycle of unresolved conflicts.

Great Britain surprised the world last week by voting to leave the European Union. The campaigns of the presumptive GOP and Democratic nominees in the U.S. Presidential election mirror the conflicting sides of the Brexit debate. A new movie about the Civil War – STX Entertainment’s “Free State of Jones” — reflects the intractable partisan politics of today’s Democrats and Republicans.

It all comes back to the power of fear versus the power of love.Dinah Eng

Fear of losing cheap labor (in the form of slaves) tore this country apart in the early 1860s. Fear of losing jobs to immigrants is a cornerstone of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and Brexit’s “leave” campaign today.

What we need is more Newton Knights in the world. Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey) in “Free State of Jones,” was a little-known figure in Civil War history whose contribution to this country proves that every action we take ripples through time.

Knight, a Mississippi farmer, led an unlikely band of poor white farmers and runaway slaves in breaking away from the Confederacy to form the region’s first mixed-race community. Refusing to fight a “rich man’s war,” Knight became a Confederate deserter, hiding in the swamps of rural Mississippi and inspiring a ragtag army to fight injustice and prejudice.

After the Civil War ended, Knight advocated for the right of freed slaves to vote in Jones County, Miss. and fought the Klu Klux Klan. He fathered five children in a common-law marriage to Rachel, a former slave, and while they could not legally marry, he deeded his 160-acre farm to her, making her one of the few African-American women to own land in the South.

Knight also fathered children by his first wife, Serena, who left him during the Civil War. After the war, Serena returned to the Knight farm, where both wives and their families lived.

Eighty five years later, Knight’s great-grandson Davis Knight, who looks Caucasian, was indicted for violating Mississippi law by marrying Junie Lee Spradley, a white woman. While Davis Knight was convicted of miscegenation in 1948, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the verdict.

Prejudice and economic inequality seem to go hand in hand in humanity’s history. No one knows what will happen when Britain formally leaves the EU. Since last week’s referendum, Scotland is considering the possibility of leaving Great Britain to stay in the EU.

Republicans who can’t stand Trump’s rhetoric will no doubt look for ways to oust him at the GOP convention, or break away to form a new party of their own.

Politically, we can always move from one party to another, or leave a block of countries to stand independently. What people seem to forget is that no matter where we go, if fear is the driving force, we will just end up under another label, afraid of something else.

Brexit’s “leave” faction won the referendum because the positive reasons for remaining in the EU got lost amid the shouts of fear against other cultures, a view held mostly by an older generation that feels left out and left behind in a global society. The same dynamic has driven Trump’s rise in the United States.

Today’s Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to defeat the prejudice that divides us. We must realize, though, that the only way to end any partisan divide is to face our fears, build bridges, and let the power of love heal our wounds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 24, 2016

Random Acts… Bridging cultures in ‘A Hologram for the King’

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies at 4:35 pm by dinaheng

When you’re divorced, depressed and about to be downsized, what do you do?

If you’re business executive Alan Clay (played by Tom Hanks), you go to Saudi Arabia to sell a deal to save your career. That is, if you can find a way to bridge the cultural divide.

Hanks’ portrayal of Clay’s journey in search of personal and professional salvation is what saves “A Hologram for the King,” in theaters this week, from being a disjointed mess. The Lionsgate film, based on the novel by Dave Eggers, makes an earnest attempt at showing the many differences that puzzle Americans about Saudi culture, but gives few explanations about the traditions that created those differences.Dinah Eng

Clay, alone in an unfamiliar land, befriends Yousef (Alexander Block), a Saudi taxi driver who takes him through the desert to “the King’s Metropolis of Economy and Trade,” a virtual ghost town of half-built buildings, where Clay hopes to sell a state-of-the-art teleconferencing system to the Saudi government.

Trying to set up a meeting with the King of Saudi Arabia, Clay must navigate the bureaucratic obstacles of a receptionist who gives no answers, a Saudi manager who leaves him mid-meeting, and his own stressed-induced panic attacks.

When a boil on his back sends him to the hospital, he is treated by the empathetic Dr. Zahra Hakem (Sarita Shoudhury), a Muslim physician who must navigate the complexities of a woman’s role in Saudi society while asserting her authority in a male-dominated profession.

As Clay builds a friendship with Yousef, and explores romance with Zahra, the businessman who came to Saudi a lost soul begins to find new meaning in life.

The movie, shot in Morocco, has sweeping desert scenery and offers a credible substitute for Saudi Arabia, which denied permission for filmmakers to film there. Writer-director Tom Tykwer, who visited Saudi Arabia’s ghost town “King Abdullah’s Economic City,” shot photos that served as inspiration for the movie’s ghost town.

For those who may never have the chance to visit the Middle East, the film shows realistic cultural challenges that Westerners face. Clay’s encounters with different people along the way, however, are often shown without explanation, leaving the viewer confused about what just happened.

How he finally gets to make his sales pitch, and what happens to his deal of a lifetime, is told with irony and humor.

What makes the film worth seeing is the message that regardless of where we come from, cultural differences can be overcome, for friendship and love truly know no boundaries.

 

 

 

February 4, 2016

Random Acts… Sweetest words need to be spoken

Posted in Books, Diversity, Relationships at 5:29 pm by dinaheng

I was in line at the post office behind a woman holding her 20-month-old daughter. The little girl smiled shyly at me, then hid her face in her mom’s jacket.

I smiled back, and hid my face in my hands. A fast game of peek-a-boo ensued, creating lots of giggles until we parted at the counter, going to separate clerks to mail our letters.

We are surrounded by words of fear, indifference, prejudice… words that make the world narrow and small. But those words can be vanquished by a smile, a laugh, a game of peek-a-boo.Dinah Eng

Some of the sweetest words are uttered by children, who haven’t learned the words that reflect darkness and negativity. So it’s no surprise that words of love are the essence of the stories we love to read to them.

Three endearing children’s picture books are out for Valentine’s Day, but even if you don’t have a little one to read them to, read them for yourself, or someone you love.

“I Love You Already” written by Jory John and illustrated by Benji Davies ($17.99, Harper) is the comic tale of what happens when Bear wants to spend a pleasant day alone, but Duck wants to hang out… with his buddy Bear.

"I Love You Already" by Jory John and Benji Davies." Book cover courtesy of HARPER.

“I Love You Already” by Jory John and Benji Davies.” Book cover courtesy of HARPER.

The lesson, of course, is that no matter how much someone irritates you, all will be well if the Bear in you admits how much you love the Duck in the other.

Continuing on the animal theme — since adults seem to understand truths better when the characters are not people – “Worm Loves Worm” written by J.J. Austrian and illustrated by Mike Curato ($17.99, Balzer + Bray) is a charming story about what happens when a worm meets a special worm, and the two decide to get married.

Their friends want to know all the typical details… Who’s going to wear the dress? Who’s going to wear the tux? How will you wear the rings if you don’t have fingers? What are we going to do if things have always been done a certain way?

As one wise Worm answers, “…we’ll just change how it’s done.”

One thing that never changes is what happens when you “Plant a Kiss,” as the sweet story written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds ($7.99, Harper Festival) reminds us.

In this tale, Little Miss plants a kiss in the ground and watches it grow and grow. For no matter how small the gift, each genuine kiss is destined to result in endless bliss.

So smile. Giggle. Say the sweetest words you can imagine.

Love is sure to find you.

 

January 1, 2016

Random Acts… Newest “Star Wars” awakens nothing

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies, Spirituality at 3:48 am by dinaheng

I am a mild “Star Wars” fanatic.

I’ve seen the original three episodes more than a dozen times. (Sorry, George, but the prequels just don’t compare to your first three.) I’ve read “Star Wars” novels galore, and looked forward to seeing the newest film, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Sadly, director J.J. Abrams’ effort was more a snoozer than a film that awakens the Force.

Dinah EngIn “Star Wars: A New Hope,” I’ll never forget Obi-Wan Kenobi, explaining what The Force was to young Luke Skywalker, sharing a vision of spirituality that touched a generation. That mythology inspired devoted fans to become Jedi knights, and even if you dressed up as Darth Vader for Halloween, you knew the difference between the Light and the Dark side of things.

This new narrative never explains what The Force is to viewers who have not seen previous “Star Wars” films. There are no climactic moments that give you the chills because the narrative is devoid of a storyline that is greater than a popcorn action flick.

And that is a shame, because we need reminders that the future is not doomed to become the dystopian society of young adult novels, which form the basis of most movies today.

The best thing about this newest film is the casting. By giving starring roles to a black man (John Boyega as Finn), a woman (Daisy Ridley as Rey) and a Latino (Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron) – all of whom are delightful to watch — diversity is now more than a passing nod in the “Star Wars” universe.

Obviously, Abrams wanted to pay homage to the original tale, but “The Force Awakens” is so derivative of the 1977 film that it does nothing to move the story forward.

“The Force Awakens” is the first feature produced by the Walt Disney Co., which purchased Lucasfilm in 2012. Its formulaic premise is clearly designed to drum up attendance at “Star Wars” theme park rides, sell merchandise, and increase commercial licensing opportunities.

The torch has been passed to a new generation of “Star Wars” characters, and Disney is sure to make big bucks off the franchise.

We can only hope that The Force inspires future filmmakers to do a better job of carrying on the true legacy of “Star Wars.”

 

 

 

April 16, 2015

Random Acts… ‘Empire of Night’ features intrigue and spirits with a cultural twist

Posted in Books, Diversity, Spirituality at 1:29 am by dinaheng

When it comes to exploring the spirit world with characters that have substance and a cultural twist, there’s no turning away.

Fantasy author Kelley Armstrong has written a compelling middle novel in her Age of Legends trilogy that fans of Young Adult fiction will love. “Empire of Night” ($17.99, HARPER) follows the journey of twin sisters Moria and Ashyn, the Keeper and Seeker of Edgewood, as they strive to rescue children held captive by Alvar Kitsune, a warlord who aims to take the emperor’s throne in a game of political subterfuge and lies.Dinah Eng

Aiding the sisters are Prince Tyrus, the emperor’s bastard son and Ronan, a principled thief. We also meet Diago and Tova, the girls’ guardian beasts who take the forms of a huge wildcat and hound; Guin, a resurrected spirit in a teenage girl’s body, and Gavril, the son of Alvar Kitsune, who may or may not be an ally.

The novel has an Asian feel, but unlike books that are steeped in cultural references and stilted dialogue, “Empire of the Night” has seamlessly woven universal personalities into a fantasy world that is both familiar and foreign.

By giving the characters more Western-sounding first names and using English terminology, Armstrong makes it less obvious that the world of this trilogy is based on another culture.

“The impetus for the story is Japan’s Sea of Trees, which naturally made me consider Japan for the world basis,” says Armstrong, who lives in rural Ontario. “I’ve always loved the samurai period, particularly at the end of the classical period, where the emperor is at his peak power, but the shoguns are beginning to rise up.

“That’s the era loosely reflected here. However, because it’s high fantasy, it wouldn’t make sense to use Japanese terminology for anything except the clan names, and that allowed me to show how universal the characters could be.”

"Empire of Night" by Kelley Armstrong.  Photo courtesy of HARPER.

“Empire of Night” by Kelley Armstrong. Photo courtesy of HARPER.

The Sea of Trees is, in actuality, Japan’s Aokigahara forest. The dense wood, in the shadow of Mount Fuji, is thought by Japanese spiritualists to be permeated by the spirits of those who have committed suicide there. The forest is known as being the world’s second most popular place to commit suicide (the first being the Golden Gate Bridge), and about 70 corpses a year are found there annually.

Paranormal activity has been reported in the area, and while suicide is not a topic explored in “Empire of the Night,” there are plenty of references to spirits and ghosts.

Armstrong says anything about the afterlife fascinates, and terrifies, us because it’s the next big step.

“Ghosts are one possibility for that ‘what if’ we don’t move on, but remain in this world, yet are not truly part of this world,” she notes. “Most cultures have some variation on the concept of those who stay behind. As for me, I’ve never had any kind of encounter, despite purposely visiting places that are, supposedly, very haunted!”

I’ve never seen any apparitions, either, but have felt their presence at funerals and in other places. I believe that life is ever-present and ever evolving, and that the energy of our spirits never ceases to exist. What probably scares most of us more than the hereafter, though, is creating the lives we want in the here and now.

Like all of us, Armstrong’s heroines — Moria and Ashyn – must come to terms with the roles they were born into, while figuring out how to create the lives they wish to lead.

The identical twins, the author says, “represent two of the most common ‘types’ we see in fantasy-fiction — the butt-kicking girl and the quiet, intellectual one; the warrior and the princess.”

While each are strong young women, it will no doubt take both to save the children of Edgewood, and the empire they live in. “Empire of Night” is a novel that could stand alone in this trilogy, but like all good stories, it will leave you wanting more.

October 5, 2014

Random Acts… Some things we can be proud of

Posted in Diversity, Entertainment, Movies at 4:05 pm by dinaheng

One of the biggest movie hits this year is Marvel Studio’s “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a sci-fi fantasy that transforms characters who seem to care about nothing but themselves into a group of friends who grow to care about each other, and in the process, end up saving the day.Dinah Eng

The characters include Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a cocky space adventurer; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) a green-skinned female assassin; Drax (Dave Bautista) a big red guy with lots of rage; Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a gun-toting raccoon genius, and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), a walking overgrown tree root of loyalty and light.

In this universe, nobody cares what you look like because everyone looks different. What matters is how you treat those around you. It’s a message that sci-fi, as a genre, conveys to the audience in the guise of characters who usually look far from human.

"Guardians of the Galaxy." Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios.

“Guardians of the Galaxy.” Photo courtesy of Disney/Marvel Studios.

The film’s humor, special effects, poignant moments, and rollicking tale have kept “Guardians of the Galaxy” in theaters since August 1, generating box office receipts that no doubt have sent Disney and Marvel executives over the moon.

Another feature, CBS Films’ “PRIDE,” also tells a tale of disparate characters who come together and end up supporting each other in a land and time not that far away. The film is based on the true story of a group of gays and lesbians who decided to support the United Kingdom’s striking coal miners in 1984, creating a comedy/drama of how two different communities overcome their fears and grow to see each other as family.

The characters include Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), a gay activist; Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine), a union rep; Joe (George MacKay), a closeted young man; Hefina (Imelda Staunton), an outspoken townswoman; Cliff (Bill Nighy), the secretary of the local union chapter, and Jonathan (Dominic West), an effervescent gay man.

In the South Wales and London of 1984, people’s differences kept them apart, and everybody cared what side you were on. When Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government decided to close 75 pits, British coal miners staged the largest industrial walk-out of modern times, refusing to work for nearly a year as their families faced cold winters without heat and the constant threat of hunger.

"PRIDE."  Photo courtesy of CBS Films.

“PRIDE.” Photo courtesy of CBS Films.

In “PRIDE,” a group of gay and lesbian activists see that the miners are the target of repression by the Thatcher government, the police and the tabloids – just like they are – and decide to raise funds for the miners and their families. When the mining community spurns their contributions, the LGSM (Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners) decides to concentrate their efforts on a local chapter in South Wales, where homophobia is clearly the norm.

How both sides come to see and value each other is an inspiring, entertaining, and uplifting story. Just as the union leadership challenges its members to overcome their homophobia, the leader of the LGSM challenges gays and lesbians to care as much about the pain of others as their own pain.

By the end of the film, you see that changing a mind occurs only after opening the heart, and that as painful as it is to confront fear, there is nothing more glorious than the love that awaits us on the other side.

Sadly, this film is unlikely to gross the box office that “Guardians of the Galaxy” has, which is a shame because the underlying message is the same.

Life is about discovering who we are, accepting who we are, and accepting others for who they are. It doesn’t matter if we have green skin or tree bark on the outside. It doesn’t matter who we love, but that we love. For Love is what will save us all.

 

 

March 17, 2014

Random Acts… Classic tales retold with futuristic twist

Posted in Books, Diversity, Women at 7:45 pm by dinaheng

Young Adult (YA) author Diana Peterfreund was in Hollywood recently to attend the premiere of the movie “Veronica Mars,” based on a beloved television show about a teenager who works as a private investigator under her dad’s tutelage.

“I’m a Kickstarter supporter for the film, so I got invited to the premiere and the cast party afterward,” she says. “It’s a project near and dear to the YA community’s heart because Rob Thomas used to be a YA author.”Dinah Eng

Thomas, creator of the TV show, originally wrote “Veronica Mars” as a YA novel that featured a male protagonist, then changed the gender to female for television.

Capturing the attention and imagination of readers can happen in numerous ways. For Peterfreund, finding the seeds of a story set in another time and place is a talent that turned into two YA novels that linked characters in two compelling tales — “For Darkness Shows the Stars” (Balzer + Bray, $17.99) and “across a star-swept sea” (Balzer + Bray, $17.99).

“For Darkness Shows the Stars,” inspired by Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” and “across a star-swept sea,” inspired by Baroness Emma Orczy’s “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” are set in a post-apocalyptic world where genetic experiments have gone awry, causing a Reduction of capabilities in much of mankind.

The heroines of both novels find themselves battling conventional thinking that has separated humanity into classes of nobility or servitude.

“I’m a huge fan of retellings,” says Diana Peterfreund, who started writing as a freelance journalist before turning to fiction. “There are always going to be some fans who say I’ve ruined (Orczy’s story), but the best thing is so many people say they went and sought out ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ because they loved my book, and wanted to read the original.”

Peterfreund says she’s thrilled at playing a part in getting teenagers to appreciate classic works of literature.Across A Star-swept Sea HC c

In “For Darkness Shows the Stars,” the Luddite nobility that rises in the wake of a dark new age shuns technology, and heroine Elliot North finds herself questioning the wisdom of the Luddite ban when her estate is on the edge of foundering.

When her childhood sweetheart Kai returns, transformed from a servant into a dashing explorer who is now part of a mysterious group of shipbuilders, she must decide whether to go with him in search of a better future.

Elliott and Kai reappear in “across a star-swept sea,” which is set in a different land, but the same time period as “For Darkness Shows the Stars.”

“When I decided to do more in that world, none of the other Jane Austen novels called to me,” Peterfreund explains. “Elliott’s very down-to-earth, doesn’t get dressed up, and I love fashion. I wanted to write a book with fashion in it, and thought of ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel,’ which is filled with fashion.

“The guillotine in it is metaphorical with the reduction pill (in Peterfreund’s story) that’s given to the upper class to make them mentally challenged. I decided to make (the heroine) Persis a woman because women are so often judged by their looks.”

In “across a star-swept sea,” Persis is a socialite in public, and a daring spy in secret, working to rescue people being tortured and persecuted in a neighboring land. When Justen, a scientist for the enemy, comes into her life, her heart is conflicted when the two pretend to be in love, while trying to discover each other’s true intentions.

Peterfreund says there’s something in the zeitgeist today about the issue of class, and questions about different cultures and values are everywhere. For teenagers, who are discovering differences in class, cultural differences in fashion, the gender divide and more, her novels are particularly relevant, for the books are about young people questioning what they’re taught, while trying to become better people.

Next up for the author is an adventure series called “Omega City,” about contemporary kids who find an abandoned Cold War bunker city in Maryland. The three-book series, slated for release by HarperCollins beginning in 2015, is aimed at a younger market of 10 to 12-year-olds.

“If there’s a contagious disease of wanting to write a book, authors have it,” Peterfreund says. “I wrote four manuscripts before the fifth one (“Secret Society Girl”) sold. There’s no security in this career, but for me, it’s just been a dream come true.”

 

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