FANX18 Report

The last few years I have been able to attend Salt Lake City Comicon and have had a blast. This year because of a moronic legal decision it is called FANX18 and like most years I also had a blast. Unfortunately this report is late because I also got a classic case of Comicon cold where I was sick for a week after but it was still a ton of fun.

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One thing I have learned from going to a number of these conventions is I like panels. I don’t like photo ops or getting autographs (they are so expensive, poorly organized and just overall unpleasant). I also don’t love being on the vendor floor. I venture out a few times during a con but the crowds and lines are overwhelming.

Nope I like going to panels! I like hearing what the actors or panelists have to say about the property or their career. Even if they are somebody I don’t know much about or don’t follow their work I think it is interesting to hear about their experience. I am sure that some of it is showmanship for a very zealous crowd but even that can be fun.

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With that in mind this year I went to 21 panels over 3 days and they were amazing! The particular standout was in Friday where I got a perfect seat in the Grand Ballroom and stayed there all day through 10 panels! The highlight was a Smallville panel with Tom Welling and Michael Rosenbaum who were hilarious. I want a Welling/Rosenbaum road trip comedy movie!

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It was also really neat on Thursday I got to hear from Paige O’hara and Robby Benson who of course voice Belle and the Beast in the animated Beauty and the Beast. I loved hearing about their story and experiences working on one of my favorite movies. It was cool because Paige said she had aged out of voicing Belle (which shocked me!) but she was brought back for Wreck-it Ralph 2. This made me more excited for the princess scene in Wreck-it Ralph 2 because it meant so much to her. Also it was kind of funny because you could tell they weren’t too high on the 2017 remake. LOL

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The other panels I attended were Luna Lovegood panel, Star Wars fan film, Jurassic Park 25th Anniversary panel. Superman 78 tribute, Lucy Lawless/Renee O’Connor, Evangeline Lily, Rainn Wilson, David Tennant, Jeff Goldblum, Manut Bennet (who I was unfamiliar with but was very sweet with a very compelling and sad story), Karl Urban, Gaten Matarazzo, Chuck Norris, Jennifer Morrison, Star Wars Rebels panel including James Arnold Taylor and Freddie Prinze Jr, Ian McDiarmid (yes the emperor and he was great!), Brandon Routh, Brent Spiner and the Twisted Toonz which are always a highlight of the con.

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I also got to meet up with my friend AJ which was a ton of fun. I didn’t do cosplay this year and I regret that a little bit but it was great to see all of the other cosplay participants. It’s amazing how creative and original people are with their costumes.

I know some people who did photo ops were very frustrated with FANX18, but I had a great time! It was informative, fascinating and just a ton of fun. I also won a free multipass to next years event so that’s just awesome!

Have any of you been to comicons? I know there is the big one in San Diego but it’s hard to imagine it is much better as far as guests than SLC and the lines are certainly more manageable. But let me know your experience at cons.

Take care and happy nerding out!

I did updates on my youtube channel after each day. Here is the recap of day 2:

Should I Change My Blog Name?

This year marked my 10 year anniversary with this blog Smilingldsgirl. If you are new to the blog you might not understand this name but it is Smiling and girl combined with an acronym LDS which stands for Latter-day Saints or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of which I am a member. This name came about when I set up an email after my mission- a happy and religious time of my life and I felt fortunate it was available.

Recently the prophet of our church Russel M Nelson put out a statement regarding the name of the church and abbreviations like LDS and the nickname Mormon. He said:

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name He has revealed for His Church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with His will. In recent weeks, various Church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so. Additional information about this important matter will be made available in the coming months”

It will be interesting to see how far they go with this new direction (and slightly ironic as it was released on http://www.mormonnewsroom.org). If they change the name of the choir that will be very shocking but other than that it isn’t entirely new. The church has been encouraging clergy and reporters to use the correct name for years. All the while using the shortened varieties in missionary efforts and more casual outreach. It now seems like there is going to be a push to be accurate in even those areas and it will be interesting to see how far they take it.

So some have asked me whether I am going to change the name of my blog/twitter handle? I’ve given the matter some thought and for the moment I am not going to. However, I am going to try to use Latter-day Saints or the full title The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in my prose and whenever I speak of the Church in videos. I feel this is living the spirit of the law rather than making my name an unwieldy length.

If the Church gets rid of similar handles like Mormon.org, Mormonnewsroom.org, the Mormon youtube channel, LDS Philanthropies ect and especially if they change the name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir than I may reassess this decision. But for now I feel this is the right decision for my blog.

Let me know what you think of this emphasis on the full name by the Church and what you would do if faced with a similar situation?

Thanks!

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Short Hair!

So folks if you have followed this blog you will know I have had long hair the entire time I’ve had this blog. In fact, I haven’t had short hair since I lived in California in 1998. How crazy is that?

Well one thing I have always wanted to do is donate hair to a worthy organization for those in need but I have never had the guts. I have also had a hard time finding a stylist that I trusted and cared for here in Draper, so I put off cutting my hair. In fact, I hadn’t had a trim of any kind in at least 2 years. Well, we decided to do a photo shoot for Hallmarkies podcast with my friend Kristi Linton and so I felt it was time to get my hair cut.

I went to the Rooted Aveda salon in Draper and had a stylist named Britney. She said it was her first day at the salon but luckily she had been doing hair for over 15 years. This place is expensive but especially for such an epic cut it is well worth it.

After much hemming and hawing I finally mustered up the courage to cut my hair and donate it! I actually have to send it in so I am looking into what organization is the best, so if you have any insight I would love to hear it. But look at all that hair!

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I had Britney curl my hair because that is my favorite styling and what I wanted for the photo shoot and it is going to take some getting used to but I think it looks cute!

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It feels like there is something missing when I move my head but it is kind of liberating to try a new style after all these years of doing long curly hair. Everyone has been so nice with their praise and kind words about the new style. Thanks!

So there you go. I am now Ms Short Hair (but I can still put it in a ponytail which was a requirement).  I’m excited for this new change!

Recent Romcoms Worth Checking Out

Tonight I went and saw the new romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians and it is delightful. I read the book of the same name prior to seeing the film and they change a bit but it is a pretty dead-on adaptation. I will post my full review on either my youtube channel or my other movie blog but I thought it would be fun to share something here first. With the success of Crazy Rich Asians you will definitely hear about the ‘return of the romcom’ and while I agree with that there have been some fun films that went under the radar that I think are worth checking out. Some aired on Hallmark Channel (check out my Hallmarkies podcast if you haven’t already) and some were feature films.

So here is my list of recent romcoms you should check out! (in no particular order)

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Everybody Loves Somebody

I feel like this film should have been a bigger hit than it is. You have Karla Souza playing a doctor who has put romance on hold after a disappointment with a love played by Jose Maria Yazpik. She convinces her coworker played by Ben O’Toole to accompany her to a family wedding and when her ex shows up things get complicated. One of the coolest things about this movie is it is effortlessly bilingual. Clara speaks in Spanish with her family and then English with Asher and others at work. This is very unique and made the movie feel special. Clara can be a bit unlikable but she eventually won me over. It’s really sweet and fun.

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All for Love

All for Love comes from Hallmark and it is one of the best from last year. It stars Sara Rue as a romance novelist named Jo who has lost her mojo. Her last book didn’t go over well and she is facing a deadline that her manager needs to do well. Since the book is about a navy seal Jo’s manager gets her brother (Steve Bacic) to put Jo through boot camp. They spar at first of course but they have a sweet chemistry and there are really cute scenes like when Colin teaches Jo how to swim and when he writes her a letter because he is too scared to tell her how he feels. It’s really sweet and the supporting cast is very charming.

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The Rewrite

Despite getting decent reviews, The Rewrite flew under people’s radar. Hugh Grant teams together with Marc Lawrence again (2 Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics) and make a really good romantic comedy. Hugh Grant plays a screenwriter who won an Oscar early in his career and has struggled to duplicate that success. Desperate he takes a job as a screenwriting professor at a small college in New England hoping something else will come along soon and get him out of there. A big key in enjoying this movie is if you can put up with his terrible behavior at the beginning of the film and if you feel like his change is sincere. I did. I love him and Marisa Tomei who plays one of his students. I love Allison Janney who is his Jane Austen loving supervisor. I love J.K. Simmons as a fellow professor who loves his family so much he cries whenever he talks about them. It’s a movie that has something to say about writing, reading, movies and work which I appreciate. It’s a good one!

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Off the Menu

Off the Menu actually came out in 2018 and I think I’m the only one championing it. I thought it was so sweet and winning. It stars Santino Fontana as Joel a trust fund kid who works for his family Mexican fast food chain and is sent to the Southwest to find some new flavors. There he meets the fiery chef Javiera (Dania Ramirez) who is protective of her recipes but has instant chemistry with Joel. The food porn is great. The romance is sweet and funny. I just really enjoyed it.

cafe societyCafé Society

Woody Allen can definitely be hit and miss but I enjoyed his 2016 offering Café Society. This film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a young man named Bobby who goes out to Hollywood in the 1930s to make it big. Along the way he meets Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is dating a married man and the stunning Veronica (Blake Lively who is the classic shiksa goddess in this). It’s light and breezy and has great performances. Corey Stoll steals every scene he is in as Bobby’s mobster brother.

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Bridget Jones’s Baby

While not as strong as the original Bridget Jones movie this 3rd installment is a significant improvement over the terrible 2nd film. Renee Zellweger is back as Bridget and this time she has gotten herself pregnant and she isn’t sure is it Mark Darcy (Colin Firth) or the super sweet Jack (Patrick Dempsey). To be honest, the shenanigans involving the father and being pregnant didn’t do much for me but what I loved was every scene with her at her work for a television news station. Sarah Solemani as an anchor was hilarious and a scene where she mistakes a limo driver for the North Korean ambassador made me laugh. It’s not the greatest movie but I enjoyed it!

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The Birthday Wish

One of the best films to come out of Hallmark in recent years is The Birthday Wish. In a very clever screenplay by Julie Sherman Wolfe, the delightful Jessy Schram plays Gwen a woman who takes her career seriously as a commercial director and has been in a relationship with someone she seemingly has lots in common with (the always great wrong guy Marcus Rosner). Meanwhile her assistant director Dave played by Luke MacFarlane is just a friend she hasn’t paid much attention to. Well one day she makes a wish on her birthday and gets a glimpse of her life in 10 years and to her shock Dave is there! I like that it doesn’t go all Family Man on her and that her career and dreams are always respected by the screenplay. Luke MacFarlane and Jessy Schram have great chemistry and it’s really sweet and pleasant. I love it!

love and friendshipLove and Friendship

Honestly it feels a little unfair to have Love and Friendship in the same conversation as these other films as it is so far superior but oh well! Kate Beckinsale is so great as Lady Susan Vernon a woman who delights in manipulating and getting the best out of her friends and relatives. This might make her unlikable but as her relatives are stupid it is just hilarious. I love Whit Stillman’s adaptation. Someone like Lady Susan isn’t supposed to win in Jane Austen and yet I found myself rooting for her especially in her scenes with Chloe Sevigny’s character (so funny). It looks gorgeous and the entire cast does a great job. The fact that it got snubbed at the Oscars is ridiculous.

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Dash of Love

One of my biggest take-aways from covering Hallmark last year was how great director Christie Will Wolf is and how much I love Jen Lilley. I wasn’t crazy about their recent collaboration Yes I Do but Dash of Love and Eat Play Love from last year were delights. In Dash of Love Jen Lilley plays Nikki an aspiring self-taught chef who dreams of working in a fancy kitchen. Through various contrivances she ends up getting a job at her culinary idol’s (Peri Gilpin from Frasier) restaurant. There she meets chef Paul (Brendan Penny) and they start a really sweet engaging romance. Some of the conflict involving Paul’s family is a little much for me but this is classic romcom executed very well. The leads have chemistry and all the food porn is great. It’s very romantic and enjoyable.

So there you go! That is my recommendation for recent romantic comedies. Are there any I missed? Let me know in the comments section and if you’ve seen any of these I’d love to hear your thoughts.

My Top 11 Favorite Modern Novels

In my last post I shared with you 11 of my favorite classic novels. This was a list made up of novels published 1960 and before and was in honor of the Great American Read program I saw on PBS. It seemed only natural to then give you my favorite modern novels and then non-fiction, memoirs etc. On one hand this list was much easier to put together and another it was harder. I don’t read a lot of modern novels and I find even fewer that I love so it was easy to narrow it down but even coming up with 11 was difficult! But these are 11 pretty good books that I really enjoyed and I hope you will enjoy them as well.

I am going to give an honorable mention to A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman which I loved!

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11. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)-

I first read the Kite Runner when the Iraq War was in full swing and 9/11 was still fresh and it had a tremendous impact on me. I was completely absorbed in the story of 2 Afghani boys, one Pahstun and one Hazara, and how an act of violence draws them apart. It was devastating and yet powerful at the same time. I wept throughout but thought it was a very rewarding experience. The only reason I have it so low is because I haven’t reread it in a long time and rewatching the movie last year it wasn’t as good as I remembered it so maybe the book might not hold up? Have any of you reread it and what was your experience? Either way it wasn’t just dark and depressing at the time but an empowering character journey.

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10. The Martian by Andy Weir (2012)-

My review of the movie is here

Enjoying The Martian will depend a lot on if you find Mark Watney charming, and I did. He was smart, scrappy and very funny. Plus, his actions felt authentic to what a person with his skillset would do stranded on mars. It was so entertaining to see him come up with one solution after another and have good times and bad times. When he is finally rescued I wanted to cheer out loud. It was very rewarding. The movie is really good too but the book is the best.

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9. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (2011)-

My comparison between the book and movie is here

I know the internet has decreed this to be the worst book to ever exist but this is my list and I loved this book. I LOVED following Wade as he put the pieces together to solve Halliday’s puzzles. The steps are way harder than in the movie and the pop culture references aren’t just there for fun but part of the mystery that Wade puts together. Wade is a very positive character and see’s the good in those around him and I appreciate that. The Oasis is a brilliant creation and more of a cautionary tale from Halliday himself than in the movie. For Wade it was never about the Oasis but about changing his life when he won the big prize. Everything else was just part of the puzzle.

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8. Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella (2015)-

As someone who has a podcast on Hallmark it is probably no surprise that I love a good romantic novel, and one of the best ‘chick lit’ writers is Sophie Kinsella. She does such a good job combining important topics of the day with witty dialogue and likable romantic heroines we can all relate with. Finding Audrey was her first teen oriented book and I LOVED it. It was so funny and yet truthful at the same time. Audrey’s struggles with severe social anxiety felt true to me and the family dynamic was easy to relate to and hilarious. It’s perhaps too flight and fluffy to get higher on my list but it was such a hoot to read.

7. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004)-

Typically when I hear a book has won the Pulitzer Prize it is a sign I will hate it. I just don’t tend to like the winners and find them cynical and a real chore to get through. However, Gilead is an exception. It’s a beautiful book about a priest who is writing to his 4 year old son about his life and giving him some advice to live by. It in many ways reminds me of Willa Cather’s writing in its humanism and heart. All of the plot happens within the mind of our writer and it explores a man of God and his ability to love, forgive and grow old with grace. He has regrets and his dying wish is that his son will remember him fondly. Beautiful.

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6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1963)-

My review of the recent movie adaptation is here.

What’s interesting about this book is I didn’t really enjoy it as a child but then we read it for book club about 5 years ago and I fell in love with it. Some people probably love all the world building of Camazotz and the other planets but I love Meg’s internal journey. This is what the movie got so wrong. Meg doesn’t need anyone to tell her how to be a good person. She learns for herself the value of the human soul and she decides to save Charles Wallace because she loves him that much. She loves her Dad that much and it is this love that is the true message of the book. Love allows Meg to be brave against It but it allows her to do the even harder task of forgiving her Dad.

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5. Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972)-

To listen to my podcast on Watership Down movie click here

I read this novel first in high school and couldn’t get into it much but as an adult I like it very much. It’s not just about bunnies people! It’s about interesting characters that are trying to find a home and where they belong. I love Fiver. He’s such a sincere character and you feel for the group with all their personalities. I love Hazel, Bigwig, Bluebell, and Holly. They are all great and I love the societies they meet along the way of their journey. The mythology and lore of the rabbits all works and is easy to relate with even if it is rabbits- maybe because it is rabbits LOL

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4. Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson (2012)-

This is such a dishy novel. It’s honestly one of the best romances I’ve ever read with Marianne and Phillip’s relationship growing in a natural and believable way. The chemistry is palpable and it draws the reader in. I think men and women will like this book because it has some scenes of kidnapping and revenge mixed in with all the romance. It also has some fantastic kissing scenes and the romantic tension is so well done. So fun!

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3. The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)-

To read my review of The Giver movie click here.

I am not normally a fan of dystopian literature. Most of it is so cynical and depressing for me and I find the arcs of the protagonists to be very predictable and dull. The Giver is an exception. I love reading about Jonas and his progression into realizing what a full life looks like. As The Giver gives him memories his mind is opened to both pain and pleasure and it is both devastating and hope-filled. I love how with each revelation he sees the world in a new way until he can’t take the faceless obedience any more and revolts. The ending is ambiguously perfect. It might sound strange but I find The Giver very inspirational reading.

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2. The Chosen by Chaim Potok (1967)-

What’s special about The Chosen is I have read it in each era of my life and it is always meant something different to me each time. In my teens it was about teenage rebellion against traditional parenting. In my 20s it was about how warped and twisted parents could be towards their kids. In my 30s it was about how devastating it is when family members leave their faith. I went from despising characters to empathizing with them and I think that’s how you can tell it is a truly great novel. You don’t have to be Jewish to relate to Danny and Rueben’s struggles. You just have to be human who has a family and traditions that they believe in. It’s so moving and beautifully written.

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1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (2006)-

This is not a surprise to any of my regular readers as I have raved about this book for years. I love everything about this book. I love all the characters. I love how rich and deep it is with small characters getting a whole story that I care about. I love its themes of family, politics, propaganda, literature and the power of words. There are so many scenes that are inspiring and devastating sometimes at the same time. I love Liesel, Max, Rudy and Hans so much. Rosa and Elsa should be one note characters but they are full of texture and layers. Death as the narrator is completely brilliant as it keeps things personal yet with a certain level of detachment. It is also completely refreshing to have it set in Germany and from a German perspective. I love that there are books within the book and sections I am still pondering after reading it 7 times. Like what is he trying to say with the Word Shaker? I have some ideas but every time I read it I get a little closer to figuring it out. I just think it is completely brilliant.

So there you have it. My top 11 modern novels. What do you think? Let me know what your favorites are. Next up I will do non-fiction and memoirs so get ready!