Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Memories of Those We Lost 2013

With the passing of each year, we often look back at those whose deaths have greatly affected us. Some of these people are close to us as family and friends. Others we only feel close to because of the body of work they produced which influenced our lives. I honor here the passing of few people who were important to me or my family.

Paul Walker 
The death of actor Paul Walker was a shock to our family on many levels. My husband worked with Paul on two of his early films--Meet the Deedles and Joy Ride. Paul was raised a member of the LDS church, a faith our family holds dear. Although Paul was no longer an active member of the church, nowhere have we read or heard anything about him denouncing the faith. Instead, his charitable attitude and the way he treated others on film sets seem to prove that his adult life was still deeply rooted in the teachings of his youth. Because of this, two of my sons who want to become filmmakers felt a closeness to him though his work. It was always their intention to make a movie with Paul so they could discuss the gospel with him, as well as watch him work. One of the movies I most enjoyed this year was Fast & Furious 6. I'd never seen the other films in the series, but when I watched The Fast & the Furious for the first time, I was struck by how prophetic is was in the loss of this man, one we can still admire.  

Annette Funicello

It seems like Annette was always a part of my life. From those early days of watching her on The Mickey Mouse Club, through the teen beach movies, and on to her adult life as a designer for teddy bears on QVC, I've always been aware of what Annette was up to in her career. She was a woman to be admired. Her lifelong respect for Mr. Disney and the business gave us a role model to be emulated. My closest association with Annette came though Alan Osmond, who has been both my friend and employer for many years. When Alan got word that a national rag mag was going to break the story about his own battle with MS, he called fellow sufferer and Disney-friend, Annette Funicello, who advised him to break the story himself before the magazines could make up stories. She told him to take charge, which he did, just as Annette did with her own battles with the disease. What an example of courage! 

Jean Stapleton
How well I remember my mother singing along with actress Jean Stapleton as she screeched her way through the theme song to All in the Family. Lucky for me, my mother could actually sing, and if the truth be known, Jean Stapleton probably could as well. But the bad vocals added upon the outlandish character being portrayed by a comedic actress who probably could have given Lucille Ball a run for the money. Edith Bunker was the most likable character on the entire show, although I'm not sure she was supposed to be. "Archie! Archie!" could only be properly intoned by Edith in her nasally voice as she tried to explain life to her husband, Archie Bunker. Those were the days! How did I also forget that she was in another of my favorite movies of all time, You've Got Mail?

Richard Griffiths
Most people recognize him as Vernon Dursley, Harry Potter's most unaccommodating uncle, but a quick skim though his listings on IMBD prove we've probably all seen him elsewhere as well. Two films of note are Superman II with Christopher Reeve and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides with Johnny Depp. The comment most often heard another my students, and the members of my household, at his passing was, "It's a good thing all the Harry Potter movies have been made." No one could replace Uncle Vernon.

Of course, there are many other persons of note who passed away in 2013, but these are the ones I've chosen to write a little something more about. A search on in the internet will provides lists and film clips of hundreds more names of those who left us in 2013. Death is a part of life, but our memories can help sustain the talents these people shared with the world. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Best of 2013 - Books

Because I'm a former English teacher and currently a school librarian, the question I am most often asked is "What should I read?" I'm always ready with an answer, and I've had years of success at taking kids who entered my class as non-readers into the life of avid readers by the time they move to the next grade. This is not only my job; it's my PASSION.

One of the men I've admired most in life is Andrew Carnegie, not necessarily because of the business he built, but because he gave his money away to build libraries. And that is my personal theme:


And I have. I've donated books to so many classrooms in Nebo School District that I have trouble keeping count anymore. I've sent books to friends, relatives, shelters, and public libraries. I spent this last summer reading through my eternal stack of books-to-be-read stored in a spare bedroom. Once read, those books were packed up to send to my niece or friends for their children, or to donate to the school library where I work, using the books to enrich our collection, or to give as gifts to students and faculty who enter the weekly drawings.

I completed 114 books this year according to my records on GoodReads. I won't list them all here, but I will tell you about some of the best, and give you a list of the others that made my Top of the List.

William Shakespeare's Star Wars
For thirty-five years I taught Romeo & Juliet, a play I fell in love with when I was in 9th grade and the Franco Zefferelli version starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey first hit the theater screen. Perhaps because Shakespeare is my cousin--thirty-four generations removed--I have deep respect for his work as an author. Add that to my love of Star Wars, and this book had the potential to either be a complete flop, or one of the best books ever written in my opinion. I LOVED IT! The author totally understood the rhythms and nuance of Shakespeare's work, while using A New Hope as his basis for the plot of this re-envisioned work. I've recommended this to many students who have also loved it.

The Fifth Assassin
Anyone who knows me well knows I am a political junkie who loves to read about conspiracy theories, and has an affinity toward learning about Abraham Lincoln. (Since I wrote a book about Lincoln and Joseph Smith three years ago that will be published in 2014, I've read a lot about the assassination of the former president.) Meltzer has developed the ultimate conspiracy theory in this fast-paced novel. What if John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and others were not lone wolves? What if all of the presidential assassinations were somehow linked? Ignore the critics, who are likely upset because President George W. Bush gave Meltzer access to inside information from the archives. As thrillers go, this one grabbed my attention fast and didn't let go until the very end. Something too many books have failed to do lately.

Clockwork Angel 
Another book which grabbed me a the beginning and didn't let go, I loved the steampunk feel of this series enough to carry me through both this novel and the sequel, Clockwork Prince, with the intention to finish the series next summer. Sometimes a little racy, making the books definitely YA or above, the trip into the dark streets and mysterious happenings of 1878 London held my attention to the point I forgot it was another vampire novel. I didn't care. Whoever decided to start with the more modern Mortal Instruments series made a huge mistake as far as movies go. This prequel Infernal Devices series is awesome, somewhat like the Robert Downey, Jr. version of Sherlock Holmes for paranormal fans. 

The Obituary Writer
I don't read much women's fiction, but this novel had the added elements of two significant historical events--the Great San Francisco Earthquake for 1906, and John F. Kennedy's inauguration--as well as the unusual writing career for one of the main characters to draw me in. I'd never thought before about the skills one must have to be an obituary writer, at least the kind of obituaries they used to publish in the newspaper. The crafting of this novel is beautiful, and although I had begun to sort out the mystery long before the moment the truth was revealed, I was still completely satisfied. I was so intrigued by Hood's storytelling that I also read The Knitting Circle and loved it just as much. She is an author I'll add to my list of those to watch for new releases. 

Longing for Home
Back in the day when the members of my critique group were all just getting started we had the luxury of reading entire novels before they were sent off to our publishers. No longer so. Deadlines and hectic publishing schedules mean we are only getting to read opening chapters and a few random chapters and have some plot discussions along the way before the completed manuscript is sent off, never to be seen by us again until the author brings us the published book. Such was the case with Longing for Home. I knew Katie and the struggles she had faced. I knew the two men she would be forced to choose between. What I didn't know was that each friendship would blossom into a relationship that would make the final decisions Katie had to make so evenly matched that I didn't want to insist that she decide. Can we have them both? No, of course that wouldn't be fair to anyone, but making the choice is a torturous thing! Now, when is the sequel coming out? 

Like with my Best Movies list yesterday, there is no way I can do write-ups for all of the other books that have made my list, but I will give you titles and authors. I'll even place them into target audiences to help you know a little more about them than just the titles will say. One of my goals is to do some reviews again throughout the coming year, but those are always going to be books of my choice here on the main blog. Occasionally I'm asked to review a book, but those will be on another linked blog, based on target audience. See the top of LuAnn's Library for those links. 

Middle Grade
13th Reality: The Void of Mist and Thunder -- James Dashner
Case File 13: Zombie Kid -- J. Scott Savage
Case File 13: Making the Team -- J. Scott Savage
Wonder -- RJ Palacio
Cragbridge Hall: The Inventor's Secret -- Chad Morris
Wednesdays in the Tower -- Jessica Day George
Vampire Plagues: Paris -- Sebastian Rook
Far World: Air Keep -- J. Scott Savage
The Runaway King - Jennifer Nielsen
Slob -- Ellen Potter
Michael Vey: Battle of the Ampere -- Richard Paul Evans

Young Adult
Going Dark novella -- Robison Wells
Blackout -- Robison Wells
The Eye of Minds -- James Dashner
Adult Novels
Band of Sisters: Coming Home -- Annette Lyon
Heart of the Ocean -- Heather Moore
Finding Sheba -- Heather Moore
Deadly Undertakings -- Gregg Luke
Agenda 21 -- Glenn Beck
The Aliso Creek novella series -- H. B. Moore
Edenbrooke -- Julianne Donaldson
Blackmoore -- Julianne Donaldson
Becoming a Lady novella -- Marie Higgins
Non-Fiction / Education
Book Love -- Penny Kittle

Hope you find something new here to enjoy in 2014! 


Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best of 2013 - Movies

Thus approaches the end of another year, and like many bloggers, it's time for me to post my annual Best of Lists. One caveat, none of us have seen every movie that was released the previous year, nor do we like the same things, so these lists are often useless when it comes to making comparisons to the lists our readers would make. That's okay. It's still fun to see what our friends enjoyed. My list has no particular order, but it is filled with 20 movies I enjoyed.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Rare is the moment when I've enjoyed a movie more than the book it is based on, but that's exactly what happened with this episode of The Hunger Games. (This was NOT the case with the first movie and the original book, where I felt too many details about the way their world worked were omitted from the movie for the audience to understand the significance of so many details.) The tension that was built through this movie was compelling, the way details were changed made scenes more dramatic, and I cared more about the characters than I did in the book where they seemed a little flat. Perhaps that was because I read the book after seeing the movie this time. In any case, I enjoyed the film more, especially liking the way the wedding dress reveal was changed and the scenes in response to Gale's beating. Well worth seeing, but not as a stand-alone, and if you don't like to wait for what happens next, you might want to wait until closer to the release of Mockingjay.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Since I'm talking about movies I liked better than the book, I'd better jump in here with The Hobbit. I've read the book twice. I hated it both times. I fell asleep watching An Unexpected Journey. I was reluctant to see this episode in the theater. My husband tricked me, making sure we arrived too late to get tickets to see Saving Mr. Banks, which is still on my must see list. But, I was pleasantly surprised. For the first time I was able to tell the characters apart--the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a nightmare for me to watch for this very reason--and I was able to follow the story without feeling like I'd already seen this battle before--another problem with LOTR. I know purists aren't sure about this film because Jackson took the liberty of adding to the original plot, but since these new scenes and characters helped someone like me finally figure out important elements of the LOTR, perhaps he wasn't so off-base in doing so. This is another film that if you want to know what happens next, wait until the end of the year to watch it, right before the final episode is released.

The Lone Ranger
If you're one of those people who listens to the national media when it comes to movie reviews, then you probably think this movie was a real clunker. Not so! Disney marketing was the problem. Like they did with John Carter, the marketing department had another epic fail, trying to sell the movie to the wrong audience in the wrong way, thereby cutting off their own noses to spite their face when it comes to sales. I grew up watching The Lone Ranger as a child. Every Saturday morning my brother and I watched the show, which we recognized as somewhat campy even then. Sure Hammer's Ranger comes off a little more like Dudley Doo-Right, but that's okay. We loved that show too. This movie was hysterical! The subtlety Depp brings to the character of Tonto kept me in stitches. From the moment the William Tell Overture begins I was totally into the chase scene--both times I saw it in the theater. I bought only six movies this year for Christmas, and The Lone Ranger was one of them. Give it a chance, and be prepared to laugh!

Despicable Me 2 
 Speaking of laughs, this second installment about Gru, the girls, and those crazy minions will also have you laughing like crazy. The first time I saw it was in a theater packed with a hundred kids younger than eight-years-old and I felt like a fool whenever I laughed at the humor that was obviously aimed toward adults. The kids didn't get it. But then, I'm sure i didn't laugh as hard as they did and the physical comedy based on bringing pain to the characters. That's okay. It's all part of understanding the ladder of comedy. Those kids will grow into it. In the meantime, I loved the film enough that this was another movie I bought for Christmas. We watched it this week and I found even more to laugh about because I could actually hear the dialogue over the constant chatter of little people in the movie house. The producers left the series open if they decide to do another episode, but this one also has the perfect ending. 

The Saratov Approach
Perhaps its because I currently have two sons serving LDS missions; maybe it's because one of those sons started telling me I had to see this movie long before I'd even heard of it; maybe it's because I like to revisit events in history, even if they were unfamiliar to me before seeing the film. Whatever the reason, I was touched by this movie and I've been recommending it to people everywhere. The core of the story is one every missionary mom prays she will never experience--a phone call from the Church office letting you know something is wrong. Your missionary has been hurt and you're half a world away with nothing you can do to set things right. As an audience, we go in knowing that everything works out alright--the two elders are still alive and doing press junkets, but that doesn't stop your heart from beating a little faster, your palms getting a little sweaty, and the tears from pouring out of your eyes uncontrollably. One of the best LDS movies I've ever seen, yet any audience will understand. 

 So, there are detailed reasons why I enjoyed five of the movies on my list. I could write about the other fifteen, but that would take me all day and I don't have all day. You don't have all day to read them either, so here are the remaining films that made it onto to my favorite list for 2013. 

Man of Steel
Fast & Furious 6
Star Trek Into Darkness
Iron Man 3
Oz the Great and Terrible
World War Z
White House Down
The Croods
G.I. Joe Retaliation
Jack the Giant Slayer
Monsters University

Hope you had a great time in 2013 At the Movies! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Explorers: Tides Acrss the Sea -- Kindle Countdown Christmas Sale

“Beautiful coming of age and young love story. TIDES ACROSS THE SEA sends readers deep into history and gives them a story they will find difficult to put down!”--InD’TALE MAGAZINE, Stephenia McGee

“TIDES ACROSS THE SEA is an intriguing adventure, rooted in a fascinating historical era of the famous New World explorers as they infiltrate the Aztec culture. I loved learning more about the time period and Staheli's excellent story-telling had me immersed in the first chapter.” Heather B. Moore, Best of State & Whitney Award-winning author

“History buffs will love reading about the adventures and tragedies of the Cortés expedition and the Aztec people.” –WHY NOT? BECAUSE I SAID SO, Sheila Staley

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli is a three-time Utah Best of State Medal recipient for Literary Arts and Education, winner of Utah’s Original Writing Competition and the League of Utah Writer’s Diamond Quill for Juvenile Fiction. “My fascination with Cortés and the Aztec people began years ago as my husband shared legends about Montezuma’s gold,” Staheli says.

Set against the background of the exploration of the Aztec civilization, TIDES ACROSS THE SEA, opens in the year 1519, where the passion for adventure and the lust for gold reign in the hearts of both young and old. Fifteen-year-old Felipe is no exception, though his yearning for adventure is tempered by his love for the beautiful Manuela. She wants to marry Felipe, but she must first rid herself of the betrothal bands her papa has accepted on her behalf to the local bully, who threatens the life of the one she loves. When Felipe ends up on Cortés’ ship bound for the New World, the young couple is pulled apart.

Felipe and Manuela each must find a way to overcome the odds stacked against them if they want to someday reunite. But the New World is filled with danger, and Felipe may not escape the human sacrifices being made to the Great White God, unless the young slave girl, Tia, who also yearns for home, can help him escape and return to Manuela.

EXCERPT: Manuela Perez couldn’t stop the perspiration pouring across her brow. The azure sky was crisp and clear above the piazza where the sun radiated from the cobblestones, making the day seem hotter. But it was more than the heat making her feel drained. The words coming from the mouth of the boy she hoped to one day marry brought her great worry.

“A New World. Just saying the words brings a fire to my belly,” Felipe Marco said, reading from one of the many notices posted in the village. Felipe’s fists rested on his hips and he pulled his shoulders back, his lean torso enhanced by the muscles bulging from the sleeve above his almond-colored arms. “To travel to a new continent across the Caribbean. This—this would prove to your father that I am a man. Old enough to own a bull and a piece of land, old enough to travel beyond the southern shores of Santiago de Cuba, and to marry his daughter.”

“Oh, Felipe,” Manuela said, sighing. Her tiny frame was almost hidden beneath the orange, yellow, and green ruffles that decorated her skirt and blouse. “What if you never return from this voyage with Cortés? Who would I marry?” She placed her head against the woven fabric of his tunic and touched her creamy palm against his dark curls. The noise of the market swirled around them, but she paid no attention.

A smile played at Felipe’s lips as he embraced her. “A child as lovely as you need not worry about marriage.”

TIDES ACROSS THE SEA, a young adult novel from The Explorers series, is historical fiction with a touch of romance in the style of Carolyn Meyer (Loving Will Shakespeare) and Ann Rinaldi (The Coffin Quilt)., which takes readers on a journey to the New World with Cortés and into the palace of Moctezuma, satisfying their own lust for adventure.