Friday, December 31, 2010

The Book of Tomorrow

Interesting to review a book that's about trying to change tomorrow as we approach the cusp of a new year. Just saying. I'm not about to go all Old-Year's-Good-Byes-and-New-Year's-Resolutions on you.

Cecelia Ahern's newest novel, The Book of Tomorrow, will appeal to her established audience, but unlike her other books, this one is targeted toward young adults. It has a magical quality to it, as other Cecelia Ahern books do. Sixteen-year-old Tamara discovers a book that writes itself, in her handwriting like a diary, telling her what will happen tomorrow. Each day when she opens the diary, tomorrow's entry is there for her to read...and try to change, or not. Add to this centerpiece a catatonic mother, a secret-keeping aunt and uncle, mysterious neighbors, a wise and loveable nun, a little teenage love, and a partially burned-down castle, and you have the makings of a sumptuous reading buffet for a cozy afternoon.

I have read two other books by Ahern, one of which I loved and one of which hit too close to home for me to wholeheartedly enjoy it, but which was nevertheless real and honest. This newest definitely matches her style and is a worthy addition to her collection. It's emotional, mysterious and, of course, set in beautiful Ireland. The only grievance I had with it, actually, was its targeted audience. I found the F-word pretty early on, though it was used less than a handful of times throughout. Also, Tamara talks about wanting to have sex for the first time with someone she would not be married to later. That kind of threw me off, and I imagined how a 16-year-old me would have been shocked by this content, which is, in comparison to many teenage novels nowadays, tame. But by the time I actually got to a sex scene, surprisingly, I was finding less and less wrong with this novel. Let me explain.

Tamara is the narrator of her story, and she makes no bones about the kind of girl she is...or was before her father killed himself and she and her mother lost their fortune. She was often careless or downright cruel in her treatment of people different from herself or even her family. Throughout the book she becomes less this way, and it's obvious that her new circumstances are affecting her, changing her for the better. So, her cursing and talking about sex at the beginning of the book makes more sense in this light. When she actually has sex, she's just found out something terrible and she runs away and does it as a form of escapism. There's no joy, no reward, no happily-ever-after romance. The author isn't condoning it. And it feels very real, a mistake that some people would actually make. I happen to know the author isn't that prudish because I've read her other books, but in this book, I was pleased with the statement she was making.

I told my husband I wouldn't let a teenage daughter of mine read this, but I've since thought about it more and changed my mind. It's a good book with depth and intrigue, better than some of the other young adult stuff I've read. If I did let my daughter read it, and I probably would, I would read it at the same time, or before, and be sure to discuss it with her after.

I must say, I particularly enjoyed Sister Ignatius, and I'm sure you will too. It was refreshing to have a godly figure also be the voice of reason without additionally being a killjoy in a secular book. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that Ahern is religious, though perhaps not Christian. A few might find her nun to be sacreligious, but I think she's perfect, a character to love and listen to when Tamara is making her mistakes.

I love to travel to Ireland with Cecelia Ahern, and I think this is a trip you'll enjoy too. Four stars for The Book of Tomorrow, available February 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


Dragon stories come and go in the trends. Firelight, Sophie Jordan's young adult novel, has a much different take on dragon lore than I've seen before. Though the story matches the current fascination with supernatural beings, Jordan spins it a new way, casting her female heroine (rather than the love interest) as the shape-shifting, half human Draki, descended from Dragons of long ago, and living in our modern world.

I loved the beginning of this book. I started reading, and I was pulled right into the story. I knew this was one that I was going to love and want on my shelf.

Jacinda is a Draki, part of a pride, the only fire-breather in generations. The pride leader wants her for his son, but Jacinda would like to be less conspicuous, less in the spotlight, able to live her own life how she wants. But when she takes a forbidden daytime flight, she becomes a danger to the pride, and they will go to drastic measures to ensure her cooperation. Jacinda's mother knows her daughter isn't safe in the cult-like pride, but Jacinda would rather be there than let her Draki die in the desert, and that's just what her mother intends. To complicate matters, Jacinda falls in love with a Draki hunter who causes her to begin to manifest her Draki in front of him; the problem is no human alive, especially the hunters, must know that Draki are also human.

Cool premise. Nice set-up. Cool cover (a red-headed heroine again, but I'm not complaining). The first third of the book is about perfect. fizzles to a stand-still.

The last half of the book is full of teenage rebellion and angst. It's like trudging through mud in a circle. If you've watched the TV show Smallville, you can compare it to Lana always telling Clark Kent she can't trust him. Yes, we know. You said that last episode, oh, and the episode before that, and, come to think of it, wasn't that the main dilemma last season? You get the idea. All you want is for the characters to move on. Jacinda can't trust the hunter. She needs him because he awakens her dying Draki. She kisses him. Oh, she'd better not do that ever again. She's done with him. Repeat. And repeat.

As if that weren't tiring enough, Jacinda never gains any ground with getting her mother and sister to understand her, and this annoyed me the most. In fact, by the end of the book, Jacinda is feeling like she's been selfish, and there's no emotional resolution for the reader who has been feeling Jacinda's pain and needing for her family to connect with her and support her. The family supposedly does what they do out of love, but it's difficult to buy.

Even the potential danger of the hunter's evil cousins is buried in all the teenage drama. It emerges for a brief, pitiful attempt at a climax, and then the book doesn't end! It leaves you hanging at a point that I thought would be a good place to begin the climax, and there is no emotional or even romantic resolution, let alone a conflict resolution. I guess that's being saved for the next book. Problem is, you need to end one book before you start another! Even the first book in a series should be a good stand-alone book. It should, at the very least, leave the reader feeling emotionally satisfied. But my reaction to the end of the book was literally, "Ugh."

The only pay-off the writer gave me was at the beginning of the book. When I started to read what the pride was like, I was thinking, wow, this is a lot like a cult. I hope the author realizes that. And though Jacinda didn't realize it, her mother did, and this is made abundantly clear. I liked that. But as I said, the first part of the book was wonderful. It felt like the author just filled the rest of the book with fluff to get something long enough to sell and to not use up all her series ideas in one book.

Though I was ultimately disappointed in the book, I can honestly give the beginning a good four stars for ingenuity and beauty. But maybe Jordan would have had a better book if she had just kept her plot with the pride and not tried to turn her story into a modern, everyday teenage drama. Needless to say now, I don't plan on keeping this book on my shelf, after all.

Monday, December 20, 2010


So, I finally bit the bullet and read an angel novel, attempting to see what the current supernatural teen obsession is about. And it's about what I expected, thus far. I probably didn't get the best example out there, but regardless, I have a problem with novels starring angels since I believe angels exist, though in a far different form than these books portray. Perhaps that's the problem: these teen novels are trying to make angels into these hot superpowers who can fall in love and make out; we know so little about the actual angels God created, but I know they aren't that, and I just don't want to go there. Nevertheless, I did read Harry Potter even though I believe witches are real, and I was able to see the value in that (though I don't ignore the dangers). So, I'll give angel romances the benefit of the doubt for now and stick to this novel's review for the remainder of the post.

Angelfire, the first in a trilogy and Courtney Allison Moulton's debut novel, is about a 17 year old girl whose powers to defeat demonic monsters are just awakening...or, more accurately, reawakening, because she's just discovered that she's the Preliator, a mysterious being who has reincarnated over thousands of years to try to make a difference in the ultimate battle between Good and Evil. But she's also just a 17 year old girl, trying not to fail in school, wanting to hang out with her friends. As her Guardian, a mysterious being 500 years old, who looks like he's 20 and hot, teaches her to access her power and remember who she is, she begins to see visions of her past lives. What she sees terrifies her and causes her to fear whom she really might be.

I don't know if any of this sounds familiar to you, but I felt like I was reading someone's fantasy of how they thought Buffy the Vampire Slayer should have gone. Teen girl reincarnates, kicks butt, kills monsters, has a nickname whose reputation precedes her, even has a mysterious being watching out for her. I wanted Moulton to change things up, do something Buffy wouldn't have done. I was disappointed.

I expected Ellie, the Preliator, to at least have some good fight scenes, but mostly, she just kept getting the tar kicked out of her by the same bad guys. I believe Moulton thought her fights were actually going much faster than they came out on paper. Once, toward the end of the book, I got an inkling of this when she wrote that it happened almost faster than Ellie could see. This was too little insight too late. I kept seeing opportunities for Ellie to chop off a monster's head, and she just wouldn't do it. She'd stab him in the chest, and he'd heal. Or her Guardian would be fighting, and I'd be wondering why Ellie didn't help. It was like only one person could fight the monster at a time. It was frustrating. I know why Moulton did it. She wanted to portray a character who was relearning skills but also just 17. The problem is, I didn't buy it. The chasm between the two sides of Ellie's character was too great. I didn't get a sense that Ellie ever felt like she was that thousands-of-years-old character, but she was no fragile 17 year old girl. I wanted to see more of both.

The ending was also disappointing. The book kept hinting at who Ellie really was, building it up almost further than it could deliver. I was just disappointed and skeptical when the truth was revealed. It didn't work for me. I found it kind of silly, actually.

But I expect Angelfire will get a lot of reads. It has an awesome cover (the heroine has red hair, which many do nowadays and I particularly like since I'm a redhead myself). It has a different sort of plot (if you've never seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which most teenage girls have not). It has romance and teenage angst. If it's not popular, it'll be because the market's already inundated with books of its type.

There's nothing horribly inappropriate in this first novel of the trilogy, but that's not because of the author's moral compass. I wouldn't be surprised to find it in the sequels. There is a lot of lying, and a hot guy always comes in Ellie's window (Edward the Vampire did that too), which is never a good idea in real life.

The only cool thing about this book, for me, besides the pretty cover, is that my copy is signed to me by the author. My sister-in-laws brought it for me from a Book Expo. It's always cool to collect author signatures, even if you don't think their work was the best. Still, she's published, and I'm just writing a blog about her. Easier to be a critic than to create, so kudos to her.

Three out of five stars for potential popularity and entertainment value. Two stars for it's-been-done-before. Angelfire comes out in March 2011.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I read this book quickly. It's certainly intriguing, full of danger for its main character right from the start. Wither, by Lauren DeStefano, is supposedly for young adults, but the only criteria met for that genre is a main character who's 16. Nothing else aside from, perhaps, sensationalism (which is very prevalent in young adult fiction) gives cause for this book to be young adult, and in fact, the book is somewhat disturbing, containing a rather adult premise.

Rhine lives in a dystopian world where disease has been eradicated and the first generation to receive this benefit is still alive and well, though growing old. But the world is not a happy place. The chemicals that brought about such a miracle in the world cursed the land, and North America is the only continent still intact (convenient for us!). Even the oceans are polluted. But the worst aftereffect is manifested in the children and grandchildren of that first generation. No male can survive past 25, and no female past 20. Rhine has four years to live.

There are those from the first generation (including Rhine's parents, killed in an accident) who are working to try to reverse their mistakes, and then there are those who are working to find a cure, no matter what the cost, marrying multiple wives and breeding children to use as test subjects, desperately trying to find a way for the human race to hang on.

Rhine is kidnapped and sold with two other teenagers to be wives for a wealthy, but evil, lab scientist's son. With only four years to live, she could try to enjoy them in relative safety and comfort, sampling the world through holograms and never having to leave her home. She could even be the First Wife, with special privileges, but ultimately, she would be a prisoner. Or...she can bide her time and make her escape to freedom. Either way, it will cost her, physically and relationally, as she comes to know her "sister wives" and the man they all share as husband.

Now, does that sound like a young adult novel? It sounds to me more like the disturbing but oh-so-real memoirs of middle eastern women that I sometimes read. Although, amazingly, Rhine never has to sleep with her husband (since one of the wives becomes pregnant and the other satisfies his sexual needs), I found the material to be a little dark and mature for teens. Rhine never felt like a 16-year-old to me. She felt like a girl who had to grow up fast, becoming a woman overnight, and I don't think there's anything in common between her and modern American teenage girls.

Wither is the first in the Chemical Garden Trilogy, and it's available in March 2011. I am interested in knowing what happens to Rhine and if a cure if discovered before she turns 20. But I can't recommend this book to teenage girls.

Four stars for a disturbing, sensational, intriguing read. Two stars for inappropriate audience targeting.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


This book surprised me. As I stepped into its pages, I felt like I was stepping into an old fairytale. I searched the book's extra content to see if it was, perhaps, based on a fairytale, as many of the books I like are these days, but I didn't see any references to outside stories. So, to my knowledge, Entwined is a new fairytale for young adults, one with all the weight and substance of the beloved classic tales.

Azalea is the oldest of 12 sisters. They live in a castle that was once enchanted but which now has only vestiges of magic left over from the days of an evil king. Their favorite pastime is dancing, and Azalea is the best dancer of all. She is also the Princess Royale and must marry whomever parliament and her father choose. But when the princesses' mother dies, their household is thrust into a year of mourning, and the girls will do anything to be able to dance again, even if it means keeping a dangerous secret from their father and escaping through a magic passageway to an enchanted silver forest where the mysterious Keeper lets them dance the nights away.

This book is simply beautiful and much more than the typical princess romance. In fact, the story is about 12 princesses who learn what it means to be a family and how to care for each other in their misery. Interestingly, the royal family is poor. Though they are royalty, they have less to eat than the marriage-seekers who visit Azalea during their year of mourning. They even have to mend their own dancing slippers, which they wear out every night (though this is mostly because they are dancing in secret).

Twelve sisters seem like a lot of characters to keep track of, but Heather Dixon does a fine job of giving them each their own quirks, and by the end, readers will be familiar with them all. The king is another interesting character. Readers will not know what to make of him at the beginning, and they will find that the princesses do not know their father very well. At the risk of spoiling a plot line here for some, I will say that the king begins the story as the antagonist, but surprises wait along the way. This story is as much about the girls' relationship with their father as it is about their sisterly affection or about the romances of the older sisters. Every character is vivid and entertaining, and as the danger increases, the characters become more and more intriguing.

This is also a book of morality and chivalry, celebrating an older time when even a girl's ankles could make a man blush and when overstepping boundaries with a woman deserved a punch to the face, if not a duel.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Entwined, but you will have to wait until its publication in April 2011.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader (in theaters now)

Another great Narnia movie has finally arrived, but I do have some disclaimers. If you aren't familiar with the Narnia books, there will be some SPOILERS in this blog post.

I very much liked Voyage of the Dawn Treader. As a movie, it was fabulous - full of adventure, beautiful settings, fun characters (especially Eustace!).

If you've seen the movies but have not read the books, this is essentially the plot: King Caspian is at sea, looking for seven lords, loyal to his father, who disappeared when the kingdom went to Caspian's evil uncle. Lucy and Edmond return to Narnia, accidentally dragging along their very logic-minded and, therefore, completely disbelieving cousin Eustace into the world of talking animals and deep magic. The results are entertaining, to say the least.

As with all movie adaptations from books, there are differences. Here's what I think worked and what didn't. I am also comparing the new movie to the old BBC adaptation, which was much closer to the books. Though out-dated, especially special effect-wise, the BBC did an excellent job, and it's hard to erase their Narnia movies' former glory from my mind.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader is less than two hours long. While I applaud the movie-makers' attempt to go against the current trend of longer and longer movie adaptations (in order to get as much of the book in as possible), this was a strange book to do this with. However, they condensed it well. I missed some of the parts they left out, particularly parts that had been in the BBC productions, but the new movie stands pretty well without them. I thought combining the isles of the gold water and dragons was genius. Both have to do with wealth and the temptation of it, so it was a good match.

What I didn't think worked so well was the adaptation of Coriakin's dufflepud isle. I liked the setting. I didn't like Coriakin or how his role, especially with Lucy, was changed. The isle has a lot to do with vanity in the book, but in the movie, Coriakin becomes a sort of guide to defeating evil, an evil which appears as a mist throughout the movie and which is an expansion of just one of the islands in the book. I didn't completely dislike the way the movie was tied together by the evil from Dark Island. I liked the idea. After all, the book is very much about temptations for all its characters. I just prefer the subtle way the book approaches the subject, and I thought the green mist throughout the movie, symbolic of Dark Island's expansive reach, was a little over-the-top. It actually made me cringe a little. For the movie as a stand-alone, perhaps it was fine. It just didn't mesh well with my idea of the book.

Another change from the book is that instead of just searching for seven lords, Caspian's crew is looking for their seven swords, which can be used to defeat the evil of Dark Island. Completely added. Not in the book at all. And I didn't mind it too much. But the reason it is there and the reason for all the changes in the movie is so that there can be a big battle scene at the end, something there is not in the book. The book is full of episodic adventures, the underlying themes being the glue that holds it together. I do understand why the producers wanted a big climax at the end, and I'm not completely against it. I'm simply processing what I've seen and missing certain elements from the BBC version, and in the end, I will go buy this movie when it's out on DVD because I love the characters.

Eustace is awesome, and that was important because he is the hero of the next book, and the Pevensie children aren't in the next one at all. If they are going to do another movie, they needed this Eustace, and their choice was brilliant.

I was happy to see that the producers did not erase all vestiges of Christianity from the movie. That would have very much been out of line with C. S. Lewis's vision. In fact, there are some rather overt references to religion (not necessarily Christianity, but certainly in line with it). At the end, as in the book, Aslan tells Lucy and Edmond that they must learn to know him by another name in their world. This is as close to saying "Aslan is Jesus!" that Lewis gets. It could be interpreted as any other religion, perhaps, but combined with the sacrifice of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the references to religion most closely match Christianity. And when Eustace cannot take off his (SPOILER ALERT!) dragon skin, and Aslan must do it for him, the idea closely matches the Christian view that we cannot earn our salvation or help ourselves. We need a savior.

Overall, I am pleased with the movie, and I highly recommend it, if you'll be going to the theater this Christmas season. Only three stars (still, not bad) for plot changes, but five stars for brilliant acting, beautiful setting, and thematic integrity.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The concept of Delirium, a young adult novel by Lauren Oliver, intrigued me. Love is a disease, literally. It's called amor deliria nervosa, and there's a cure. The catch: you can't get cured until your 18th birthday. So, Lena is waiting anxiously, expectantly for the day when she can put her family's tainted past behind her and be normal like everyone else over 18.

Lena has 95 days to go on runs with her beautiful friend Hana, to prepare for and pass her evaluations so that she can be matched to a husband, and to ignore that her favorite color is gray when the safe answer is blue. She has 95 days not to fall in love and not to see the truth behind a society of glazed eyes and mindless obedience.

Sounds like a cool premise, right? I hoped.

The problem is that this concept has been done before, and actually, it's been done well. Too well. For anyone who's read Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, Delirium feels like a cheap remake. It's too bad because the idea and the characters are interesting on their own. But as I read Delirium, I felt like I was reading an outline of Uglies. All the elements were there: girl wants to reach birthday to have life-altering surgery, girl has friend who's more daring and pushes her to rethink her views, girl meets guy, girl becomes braver than friend, girl tries to buck the system. The plot of Delirium closely matches that of Uglies, except that I found Uglies to be more believable and entertaining with higher stakes and more danger.

In Uglies, people are made beautiful when they turn 16, but the surgery they undergo also makes them blindly obedient and naive. In Delirium, the issue is not beauty but love. I find it much more likely that a society would idolize beauty rather than demonize love, especially looking at our society and the direction it's been going in the last half century. Societies are like pendulums, though, and I could be convinced of a futuristic society like that in Delirium. But I identified with Uglies more, and I think most teens would as well. The funny thing is, Uglies is more fantastical with more technological advances and science fiction than Delirium. But I still found the concept of Uglies to be more believable, and perhaps the extra flares of Uglies are what sets it apart from Delirium.

There is some language in the book but nothing else inappropriate. I was not at all happy to see the F-word, but it occurred on only one page and wasn't used lightheartedly. Still, this is young adult literature, and it didn't need to be there.

Three and a half stars for concept and plot. Two stars for it's-been-done...and-better.

This book will be released soon in February of 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Spy Glass

First of all, the Glass series is not young adult fiction, like I'd originally thought. It doesn't even claim to be, but Maria V. Snyder's Study series is. As this takes place in the same world, I assumed it would be young adult too. But the main character is a little older than Yelena from the Study series was, and the content is a little older as well.

The rest of this review contains SPOILERS.

Spy Glass is the third in the Glass trilogy. I've reviewed Storm Glass and Sea Glass. This third book is, perhaps, the most adult of all of them. Though in Snyder's world, consummation of a relationship outside of marriage is no biggy, she is not graphic, which I appreciate. Yet, in this book, Opal Cowan is torn between two men (one different from the two men she liked in the first book) and sleeping with both. Way to confuse the issue! And one of them happens to be someone who tortured her in the past. Though I buy the relationship, and not just as typical Stockholm Syndrome, I know many readers will not like that. I understand why the author did it, to an extent, and it even works for me, but if this were real life, I would be totally against it. But it's fantasy, and while it remains firmly in the world of fantasy, I can enjoy it. Still, this was probably not the wisest end to a trilogy, and I know some readers will be upset.

Maria V. Snyder's world of magic is sensational. Her characters are always getting into deep trouble, and it's just fun to read because something new is always around the corner. With this book, you'll definitely enjoy the ride, even if the book itself leaves you dissatisfied. Readers are forewarned.

Another element that may be disturbing to readers involves a cult. Opal is forced to do things, including removing clothing (happens a couple times outside of the cult, as well, come to think of it), but the author rescues her character before the worst can happen.

My last beef with the novel involves the title and the back cover copy of my advanced reader edition. Since the finalized novel may have a better back cover copy, I won't complain too much. But if it implies Opal spies through glass with magic, that's completely untrue. Most of the spying on others' lives is figurative in the book. Opal does learn how to be a spy, but it does not involve magic or glass.

Valek, the magic-immune assassin from the Study series, comes back to play a major part in this novel, which was fun. The change in Opal from the first book is also fun, though at times, the change is not always for the better. I enjoyed Opal's training and independence in this book, and I wouldn't throw it completely out for its flaws. Another big change in this book from the two previous is that Opal is without her magic and immune to magic, just like Valek. It doesn't hinder the enjoyment of Opal's character at all. Rather, it enhances it. Valek and Opal's interesting working relationship (completely platonic, since Valek is the lover of Yelena from the Study series), is one big positive for this book.

Five stars for captivating sensationalism. Three stars for plot. Two stars for morality.

Tangled, in Movie Theaters

The family went to see Tangled on Thanksgiving. Let me just say...Best. Princess. Movie. I've seen in a long time. I liked it way better than The Princess and the Frog. This is one I want to own.

Tangled is a Disney animation, created under the same genius who does Pixar films. No surprise, then, that it was wonderful. The princess is Rapunzel, kidnapped as a baby because of her magical hair and living in a tower with her supposed mother. She wants to explore parts of the world, especially the lights that appear in the sky on her birthday, but it's too dangerous and "Momma knows best," according to a very catchy song worthy of old Disney films. Into this scenario come a swaggering thief, a horse bent on justice, two thugs looking for revenge, and a chameleon conscience, not to mention a lot of hair.

The hair is almost a character of its own, a big part of Rapunzel but not who she is. Near-human animals are very Disney-like, but this movie does well to keep them from talking. They do everything but talk. It works, and it's hilarious.

The songs (though there aren't as many as in classic Disney animation), the slapstick comedy, the dialog, the emotion, and of course the romance make this a fairytale worth watching over and over again. I hope Rapunzel gets inducted into the Disney Princess Hall of Fame. She deserves it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pandora's Box

I tried something new. Not young adult, memoir, or contemporary adult. How about military science fiction, for a change? Yep, I was totally out of my league...well, not totally. Though never having been through any military training, I'm not completely ignorant about it, and I've read some science fiction, though I prefer fantasy. But what kept me reading Pandora's Box, by Nathan Marchand, was his characters.

Pandora's Box stars a woman without a name, at least not one she can remember, as the sole guardian of a military base containing all the world's weapons of mass destruction in the 22nd century. She can't remember how she got there. All she knows is her job and how important it is. But a little red journal contains the key to unlocking her past with its failures and sorrows. She's a battle-hardened soldier, but does she have the courage to face what she has done and look the truth in the eyes?

Her handwritten history begins with her dad, an elite member of the American Vanguard. All she desires is to be like him, though his breed seems hardly necessary in a world of peace. So, as soon as she is able, she joins the army, a little woman in a sea of raw manpower, but she's tougher than she looks. It will take every ounce of strength and then some to prove herself, both to the Vanguard and to the world. When hell breaks loose and war and disease ravage the land, she'll be clinging to the very shreds of her sanity.

And when the journal ends and some very important surprises are revealed, one woman will have a critical choice to make.

Pandora's Box was an interesting read for me. There's just enough suspense to pull the reader through the story. Though parts of it, mainly military-related, were very technical, it was accessible to me because of its heroine. That's not to say the book is written to a female audience. It's fairly well-rounded with plenty of battle action and just enough emotional gravity to make its heroine believable and pull in the female readers.

In the spirit of realism, there is some swearing, but it's tempered from what it could be and nothing to make you cringe. There are some horrifying war elements, but nothing overly graphic. In short, it's a very tastefully-written war story. There's also a spiritual element that's not overbearing but comes into play most toward the end of the story.

In a story that could have been over the edge morally, the morality pleased me, but I would have expected nothing less, knowing the author of this book. Yes, I've reviewed another book from my circle of acquaintances, and unlike my last reviewed manuscript, this one is now published and available for purchase! So, if you need a good Christmas gift for a hard-to-buy-for man in your family, check out Pandora's Box, and support my friend Nathan Marchand.

And lest you think I was coerced into writing a good review for a friend, let me just add that when I was reading the end of this book, and my husband tried to talk to me, I shushed him and sent him away. Fortunately, he's understanding about my book-reading habits and knows that it's nothing personal, just how I react at the end of a good read.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sea Glass

This is the sequel to Storm Glass, which I reviewed a couple blog posts ago. I will try to be semi-vague about the plot so that I don't spoil too much for those who, like me, want to read a story from beginning to end and can't stand to even look at the cover of the next book or open to the last page. (I know some of you do that, however. To each his own, I guess!)

This book was, in some ways, far more intriguing than Storm Glass. Perhaps it was because there is a lot of set-up in the first book, and the second just jumps into things. In Sea Glass, the danger was upped, the magic was cooler, the heroine, Opal, was bolder and more fascinating. I do have to say that the amount of times she almost dies or gets captured and tortured begins to approach the ridiculous. But it also makes the book fun and exciting, and I'm not complaining.

Sea Glass is definitely more sensationalized than the first book. There's more girl-power and more sex. I like Maria V. Snyder, and her sex scenes aren't graphic and are mostly implied, but I do have a problem with her targeting young adults with her books and then being so nonchalant about intimacy between two romantically involved characters. She did the same in the Poison Study series. In her world (and, unfortunately, she's probably just imitating our world), lovers are practically expected to sleep together. Marriage isn't even talked about. Like I said, it isn't graphic, but it's what it says to young adults and the example it sets that I don't appreciate.

I can give this book five stars for entertainment value and four for plot (it was way interesting but just not entirely believable, even for a fantasy world), but I give it only two stars for morality.

Readers of the Poison Study series should enjoy this addition to the Glass series just as much. I'll be reading the next installment, Spy Glass, soon.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Book trends and why I read what I do

My husband sometimes gets annoyed by books or, more particularly, book trends. He and I are supposedly writers by profession (with completely different jobs from our college degrees), and we learned all about writing for the market. Publishers look for what's hot, but you have to be careful because if you write about what's hot now, by the time you get that baby to an editor, the heat wave could be over. You have to catch the wave at the beginning, or by the time you try to publish vampires, angels have hit the market. (What IS the big deal with angels anyway? I don't get it. But more on that later.)

So, why does my husband hate book trends? As a writer, it's terribly inconvenient to write for a market saturated with one tedious thing when you have a brand new story to tell. The problem is, once Stephanie Meyer is top of the trends list, every female between 12 and 60, is devouring only vampire novels, and publishers are bound by the trends more than writers. What sells is what makes money. Obviously. I can't fault the publishers as much as the readers although as a writer, sometimes you just wish the editors would take that chance of a lifetime on you. It's just hard to get a reader to switch tracks and read about bumbling, extremely introverted squires when she's craving fallen angels. (Still shaking my head over that one.)

Now, switching gears from writer to reader, let me go into the current young adult book trends. I'm very familiar with them. Young adult is my genre of choice, and I'll explain why in a moment. Supernatural young adult is highly popular right now. It started with Stephanie Meyer's vampires, took a short detour into werewolves, and is now obsessing over fallen angels. In the past few boxes of advanced reader's copies Summer and I have drooled over at her bookstore, I was surprised by how many of them dealt with young fallen angels falling (all over again) in love. Summer has read one or two of those, but I haven't wanted to touch them yet. Perhaps I'd be pleasantly surprised, but I haven't been willing to make the jump from the completely fictional vampire, or even werewolf, to a being who, while fictionalized and completely made-over, actually exists in my theological worldview.

Another top young adult trend is the post-apocalyptic/end-of-the-world plot. Off the top of the my head, I can think of at least four of those that I've read recently. They all have to do with kids and teenagers fending for themselves in a world without adults (adults have gone crazy or died from a disease that affects people over a certain age, or kids are living on a spaceship in search of a new world because Earth and the adult population were destroyed). Seriously, sometimes I wonder if there's a memo list you can subscribe to: "What's hot in young adult fiction today: children killing other children. Ready, set, write! First ten manuscripts get published!" It's uncanny how quickly similar novels come out. Either there are some fast writers out there with easy access to editors, or writers just think alike.

Not too far behind these trends comes teenage gladiators. I saw a spurt of those books, but it seems to be dying out, aside from the Hunger Games trilogy, which I love.

So, what books are on my to-read-soon shelf now? At least two werewolf novels and an angel one to try (have to try at least one, don't I?). One virtual reality. At least six about teenagers with powers or special magic abilities (these are pretty much part of the supernatural trend, though they come under different guises). A few miscellaneous nonfiction titles. One or two about boarding school, another trend that is lower on the list but constantly resurfacing. Oh, and I might even have some adult titles!

If it hasn't become obvious by now from the books I've reviewed and the ones I talk about here, I read mostly young adult. If you love plain old good stories, that's the way I suggest you go. Young adult isn't concerned with what sounds good, literature, and all that...trying to be the next classic. Young adult is to be enjoyed at the moment. I love stories, and that's why I read young adult, trends and all. Call it a guilty pleasure, or call it relaxation. I'm not trying to escape the world (I like my life very much), but I do visit other worlds...and that's nice.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Unremarkable Squire

Great book! Unfortunately, it's not published yet. The Unremarkable Squire is my husband's piece of work. Although it's not his first book, he began writing it in college for a senior project, put it aside in favor of another novel for his senior project, and finally found the time to finish it this year.

I'm reviewing it now since I just read the complete manuscript for the first time, but you all will have to wait a year or three until the book gets through the submission and publication process. I'm confident it will although it's a book probably unlike anything you've ever read.

We've all read or watched or heard the stories of knights and princesses, fantasy tales with strong heros and beautiful heroines. The Unremarkable Squire is like the behind-the-scenes version, casting all the extras and misfits as its main characters. The squire himself is Obed Kainos, a boy approaching manhood, who lives a simple life and keeps to himself and is thrust into service quite accidentally.

What follows is high adventure, taken on by the lowest and humblest (or not) cast of characters, comprised of servants, thieves, bumbling guards, and monsters. Though much like a spoof with the driest of humor liberally flavoring it, the plot is also serious, kept so by the deeply introverted Obed, who swears a squire's oath and means to follow it to the letter, no matter what. He fights mages and thieves, even death, as he learns what it means to be a squire and what it means to be human.

Obed is unique because, unlike other heros whose motivations for acting the way they do are obvious, Obed isn't really motivated in the normal way. He is a boy who does what he must because he said he would. An apparently boring character becomes a fascinating hero as nothing deters him from his mission.

Nick Hayden can't write a normal story, and that's why you should read him. You will find yourself intrigued by the simplest of people and laughing until the very last line.

ADDENDUM (June 19, 2012): I have changed this post to reflect the new title of what was before simply The Squire because this book is soon to be published under that new title. Barking Rain Press accepted Nick's manuscript and will be releasing it near the end of this year.

ADDENDUM (August 7, 2015): The Unremarkable Squire is published and can be purchased from Barking Rain Press or Amazon.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Avatar: The Last Airbender (all 3 TV seasons)

Just finished the last episode of the last season of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Wow. Incredible. Sometimes you just have to love animation for its shear ability to do what no other visual medium can do. And when you have wonderful characters and an epic plot on top of a stunning visual feast, nothing compares.

That's why the real-life movie disappointed Avatar fans (and let's just be clear: this series has nothing to do with huge blue alien men). There is too much life in the series to crop it down and fit it into a little box of a movie. You just can't capture all the emotion, the humor, the beauty, the epic grandeur combined with moments of raw heartache or fun impishness in a two-hour film. Sure, you can duplicate special effects and find look-alike actors who can lay down some wicked martial arts moves, but the TV show is about so much more. I can't completely disrespect what Hollywood tried to do with its movie adaptation: The Last Airbender. As a stand-alone movie for the uninformed, non-Avatar-watcher, it was stunning in its own way.

But let me put it this way. I just sat through two hours of the animated finale, as long as a full-length feature film, and enjoyed it more than I could enjoy any movie out there. That's because there's so much depth and history to the characters, and a movie just can't set that up and get it right. Also, wow, the music of the ending was just perfect.

So, I haven't given any actual details about the show because I wouldn't want to spoil a minute for anyone. You can stream the show on Netflix, but if you want it for your own collection, it would be money well spent.

Five stars for absolutely everything.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Storm Glass

Storm Glass and the Glass series follow Maria V. Snyder's Poison Study trilogy in the same fantasy world and setting, taking place about four years later. It's not strictly necessary to read the Study series first unless you are like me and can't stand to have the ending spoiled. Then you should start with Poison Study and work your way through to this book because certain major outcomes from the Study series are revealed in Storm Glass, and characters reappear or are alluded to. Otherwise, if you do read Storm Glass first and enjoy it, you must read Poison Study. You'll love it, spoilers or no.

I read Storm Glass and am already in possession of its own sequels, Sea Glass and Spy Glass, because I loved the Study series. In Storm Glass, Opal Cowan, a minor character with an important role in the Study series, is a glass magician. But she thinks of herself as a One-Trick-Wonder. She hasn't been able to access an ounce of magic outside of the magical life she breathes into the glass animals she makes. When she is selected to accompany a Master Magician on a mission to investigate the deaths of Stormdancer magicians from shattering orbs of glass, she doesn't feel worthy. But her involvement puts her life in danger when the Stormdancers reveal their secret glass ingredients. Opal has experienced kidnapping and torture before, and the fear of it happening all over again is crippling. In Storm Glass, Opal deals with feelings of inadequacy, fear of the past, and romantic inclinations toward two very different men, one a moody Stormdancer and one a rejected glass maker, like herself.

Although the character of Opal didn't capture me quite like Yelena in Poison Study, she grew more interesting to me, partly as her powers and the dangers surrounding her increased. I love a good danger and romance-packed adventure! I love the world Snyder creates. It's very magical and full of variety. The glass making is intriguing, and Snyder's knowledge on the subject is obvious without being boring. And if the beginning of the book didn't hook me, the end made up for it. I couldn't go to bed until I'd finished reading. If you like magical fantasy and powerful female leads, you will like what Maria V. Snyder has to offer.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Star Crossed

I love it when I find a new book (particularly advance reader's copies) from an author I've read and enjoyed. That's what happened when I found Elizabeth C. Bunces's new young adult novel Star Crossed. I'd read A Curse Dark as Gold, an adaptation of the fairytale Rumplestiltskin, which was rich in its re-imagination and full of fascinating characters and vivid description.

Star Crossed is not a fairytale but a new fantasy world of the author's own, and I was slightly disappointed at first because Bunce had done so well reinventing a fairytale the first time and I was looking forward to more of the same. They are definitely not the same, but that's not to say her newest novel is an unworthy addition to her name.

I admit, I had a hard time getting sucked into the story. It unfolded a world of religion versus magic, of seven moons and the seven gods and goddesses built upon them. The author had to introduce me to her main character, a thief for hire named Digger (but she's a girl), as well as create a sense of the world she lived in, and I was getting bogged down in history and weird fantasy names. I've found that most young adult fantasy isn't hardcore fantasy with all the detailed world-building, and even this story probably wouldn't be classified as hardcore fantasy, but it was somewhere in between and almost losing first. But the characters were enjoyable, and once Digger changed her role and name and became a lady in waiting named Celyn, uncovering forbidden magical mysteries for a blackmailing aristocrat, then I was hooked.

Surprisingly, this is not a romance. The romantic interest supposedly dies at the beginning of the story. I kept expecting something else to develop (actually, I'm a sucker for that stuff, and I was hoping), but nothing did and, honestly, it didn't matter. Now, if the author ends her series without even one hint of romance, I might be kind of sad. Yes, it's a series. Star Crossed is the first book, newly released, so fans will have to wait awhile to read Liar's Moon.

Three and a half stars out of five for a story of adventure and intrigue that ended up being interesting after all. I, for one, am looking forward to the sequel.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Red in theaters now

I managed to see a new movie for once! I was splurging for my birthday.

Red is hilarious. Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Richard Dreyfuss, and Mary-Louise Parker star in this action comedy based on a DC comics graphic novel about four Retired and Extremely Dangerous (RED) CIA agents who must pull out their old skills to avoid assassination and find out who's on their tails after all these years. Bruce Willis is Frank, a retired operative who's in love with a woman he's only ever talked to on the phone (Mary-Louise Parker), when he fakes losing his retirement checks in the mail. After an assassination attempt on Frank, they are both in danger and head out across the country to gather the old team and make one last stand together.

It sounds funny, and it is. But it's not PG13 for nothing. Violence (but not gore), killing, and a few instances of foul language come in the package. It's a movie that's so far over the top of reality that you laugh at the violence when if it were at all plausible, you would not. Truthfully, I almost felt bed laughing at moments, and you'll want to be cautious when taking younger kids to see this glorification of murder and mayhem. But mature audiences will appreciate the physical and verbal comedy and enjoy watching a stately, queen-roleplaying actress like Helen Mirren get down and dirty with a big gun.

The guys all love this one!

Three stars for a great, laugh-out-loud popcorn movie.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Three Quarters Dead

This is a ghost story, plain and simple. I've never read Richard Peck, so I can't compare this to his other numerous books. His style in Three Quarters Dead is kind of stark and bare-bones. The plot is fairly straight-forward and narrowly focused, though you don't completely understand what's going on until the very end. Kerry, a sophomore in high school, is his main character, and he gets in her head. It's a short book. I read a little one evening and finished it quickly the next morning. The book definitely pulls you in and holds you there. But I can't say I loved it.

Kerry is a sophomore, new to high school, no friends. At lunch, she sits alone at the end of a table, near, but not with, three beautiful, magnetic upperclassmen girls. Then one day they invite her into their group. She wants to be a part of them so badly that she'll do anything. She lives for lunch, where time seems to stretch as she listens to the girls plot and gossip, especially Tanya, who rules the roost. For Halloween, she helps the girls make a statement to the rest of the high school about who's in and who's not. And then Kerry's friends die, and that's where the ghost story begins.

This was a unique story, but it's still following the current trend, obsession really, of supernatural teen lit. It's interesting that a book can hold you so well but that at the end you can look back and say the book was basically about nothing. There is a moral to the story: do you just follow the crowd or live your own life? And if you want to read 190 pages about being popular, taking revenge, and prepping for prom, you'll really like this book. Such a vapid plot has never been so interesting, honestly. But having read it, do I feel like my time was well-spent? I was entertained, but was I emotionally satisfied? Not particularly. At least it was short, huh?

Three stars for entertainment value. Two stars for being worth the read.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Karate Kid (2010)

Perfect! Just like the old movie...and completely different. Loved it! Jaden Smith is a miniature Will Smith. He reminds me so much of his dad, and he has the talent to back it up! Way cooler martial arts than the first movie, too. If you haven't seen it yet (yes, I know I'm probably the last one), rent it now. You'll probably like it enough to buy it for your collection.


Interesting title, huh? I doubt I would have ever looked at this book except for the fact that it was recommended by Ted Dekker, who is coauthoring with Tosca Lee a book series to be released next year.

Demon is a Christian novel, the fictional memoir of a demon named Lucian, who tells his story to editor and divorcee Clay. Clay's name is symbolic, as we discover when Lucian retells the familiar story of the Fall of angels and humanity and the Redemption of the "clay people." But don't dismiss the story for its supposed familiarity because Tosca Lee writes from the viewpoint of a demon, reshaping and transforming all you ever thought you knew about God's incredible love for humankind. Yes, despite the words being from a demon, this is ultimately a love story, a retelling of the greatest love story of all time, a true love story. I'm a Christian, and I make no apologies. Although Demon is fictional, I believe in the story Lucian tells.

Essentially, it's this. Angels lived in perfect harmony with God, their creator. Then some rebelled, led by Lucifer. Lucian was one of those who followed Lucifer. One mistake, one sideways glance, so to speak, and they were doomed to the ticking of time, to an eventual end in Hell. Then God created creatures of clay, mud. He breathed his very own life into them, and he called them his children. From a demon's viewpoint, this was amazing and so, so unfair. They'd never been or pretended to be anything close to God's children. And then the clay people turned against God...again and again and again through the ages. Mistake after mistake, not once but innumerable times. And God forgave them, ultimately becoming a perfect sacrifice so that they would be forgiven for eternity. Where do the demons come in? They were jealous. For one mistake, they were doomed. And they were flabbergasted at how humanity took their forgiveness for granted, even within the church. It made them angry, and so all they could do was try to doom as many humans with them as possible.

I, at least, had never considered why demons are the way they are. They rebelled. End of story. But it's not, really. As Lucian points out, their story is really our story. They hate us because of our privileged position, and we take it all for granted too much of the time. This story will make you think, and for that, it's worth the read.

But if you are looking for a novel, this isn't really it. C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters. Fictional, but not a novel. Demon is slightly more novel-like in that it also tells the story of Clay, who's writing down the demon's memoir, but mostly, you'll feel like you're reading an expanded account, the dark side's account, if you will, of Biblical history. Great for provoking thought, but misleading if you think you're getting a spellbinding, entertaining story. Although it was interesting enough, it didn't hold me like a novel usually does. I don't like to know the ending of books, and I kind of knew where this one was going.

I had one argument with the author's portrayal of demons. Lucian seemed to be able to read Clay's mind, and I'm not sure I believe demons can do that. God can, of course. He's omniscient (all-knowing). It sometimes seemed that Lucian was too, but that was explained by the fact that the demons know each other's minds and Lucian wouldn't have had to be at Clay's side all his life to know the most intimate details as relayed to him by the Legion. Also, his ability to predict occurrences in Clay's life is explained by the fact that Lucian has observed the entirety of humanity's existence, leaving him with a pretty good hold on predicting what a human will do next. I buy that. Perhaps Lucian only appeared to be reading Clay's mind, by the same trick, but the author isn't clear on that point.

Another thing my husband pointed out is that the angels weren't tempted to rebel, while humans were. That, at least, is one distinction that Lucian didn't acknowledge as he complained about God's injustice in forgiving the humans again and again. However, the author notes her research at the end of her book, and it is undeniably a well-thought-out piece of fiction.

Two stars for story. Four stars for provoking thought.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hachi: A Dog's Tale on DVD

I watched the most depressing movie today. It made me cry, and normally I like to cry at movies. But this cry wasn't cathartic. It was more despairing. And it wasn't just a few tears rolling down the cheeks. It was sob-out-loud sad. Why, oh, why would you make a movie like that?

Now, Hachi: A Dog's Tale really is an amazing story, don't get me wrong. This dog falls so in love with his owner that when the owner dies, the dog sits and waits for the five o'clock train every day for the next ten years. Talk about loyalty. But that's the kind of story I'd much rather hear about or maybe even read about than watch in detail. I don't really want to see a dog grow old, wasting its life, never loving another owner, just waiting for ten long years. Sadly, this story is based on a true story that happened in Japan, and there's even a stone dog memorial to mark the spot where the poor dog waited. Amazing story, yes. Amazing movie? No.

You know what you're getting into when you start this movie, so there're really no spoilers to be had. So, let me tell you exactly why I can't recommend this movie. When the dog's owner dies, the wife moves out of her home, and the dog goes to live with the daughter and her family. But as soon as the dog can, it escapes and follows the railroad all the way back to its previous home and then on to the train station. Although the daughter finds the dog, she realizes Hachi isn't happy with his new family and releases him to be on his own. Hold it right there! Really? I suppose this dog was as close to human as an animal gets, but no one would "release" a beloved pet to the elements without shelter or care to supposedly fulfill the animal's desires. You don't reason with pets just like you don't reason with two-year-olds. The adult knows better. The human knows better.

So, the dog goes to live under a train car, through snow and rain, for the rest of his life. And does anyone notice? Of course they do! People feed the dog and talk to it. The daughter even mails money to the train station worker to care for the dog. How thoughtful of her. But no one seems to be thinking, "Hey, this dog probably needs a new home, maybe closer to his beloved train station, but still." I get that the dog might not have accepted anyone else's home, like he didn't accept the daughter's. But realistically, the humane shelter would be all over that.

So, it happened in Japan, and it's a true story. Cool. (By the way, the movie is all American.) But I didn't need to see it. I thought there might be redeeming value when I chose to watch it. And, yeah, the story is cushioned in a little boy's school presentation about his hero, his grandfather's dog Hachi.

But all I could think was poor, poor dog, waiting for ten years, living under a train car. Clearly, the dog was miserable, and awful as it sounds, it might have been more merciful to put him out of his misery. Sorry, PETA.

Other than that, the acting is great. The dog is beautiful. The movie has potential, but the truth of the matter is, it's just too sad.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Nancy Werlin's novel, Impossible, was so beautiful that when I had the opportunity to get an advance reader's copy of Extraordinary, I was thrilled. Perhaps what enthralls me most about her young adult novels is that they don't follow the pattern of other books of that type. One book had faeries, and one had an evil elf, so they were similar to each other as far as both being about magic in a modern, everyday world. Lots of books nowadays are about fantastical creatures: fairies, elves, vampires, werewolves, fallen angels. But Werlin's take on the trend feels unique. Her plots are about a young woman who is in some way cursed by the fantastical creatures and must find the inner strength to be herself and not let a curse determine her fate.

In Extraordinary, Phoebe is one of the wealthy Jewish Rothschilds, descended from many extraordinary ancestors. But Phoebe is also just another teenage girl, trying to make the right friends, wanting to be loved for herself and not for her family name. When Mallory comes along, Phoebe believes she's found the perfect friend, but Mallory's keeping a deadly secret. Phoebe is completely unaware of the faerie world her ancestor Mayer Rothschild stumbled upon and the dangerous deal he bargained. Now the faeries are running out of time, and they will do anything to shape Phoebe into the ordinary girl they need.

I appreciate the refreshing realism of Werlin's stories, despite, or maybe because of, the fantastical elements in them. In her worlds, the fantastical is just out of place as it would be in ours. The characters don't even believe it when they are faced with it. The author also really delves into what it means to grow up and change. Her characters start as girls and become women. It's not a cheap transition either. Sometimes they've almost sold their souls before the transformation. Phoebe gives up nearly everything, sacrificing innocence, for the love of a man. I appreciate that the author doesn't go all the way and have Phoebe lose her virginity, although the result is almost the same in this case. In Impossible, the heroine's loss of virginity is a crucial part of the plot. But the author isn't graphic, and the scenes are relevant to the story in ways other teenage novels do not usually depict.

I don't need a book to always have a moral, and I'd rather a book didn't if it's going to try to hammer me over the head with it. But Extraordinary weaves depth into the plot so effortlessly and meaningfully that it's both an uplifting and an intriguing, entertaining read.

Although I've talked about both Impossible and Extraordinary as almost one book here, I don't mean to say that if you've read one, you don't need to bother with the other; I'm saying only that if you like one, you will most likely enjoy the other. Both stories are unique and stand well apart from one another, and I recommend both.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Letters to Juliet on DVD

I want to love Letters to Juliet, and I did enjoy it. It's imperfectly done, but with likeable characters full of heart and soul. Perhaps the plot is unbelievable and too good to be true. I don't know if there really is a wall where people write letters to Juliet asking for advice. The movie, at least, makes it seem possible, and for that reason among others, the story works, contrived as the romances of it may be.

Sophie is played by the lovely, doe-eyed Amanda Seyfried of Mama Mia. She finds and responds to a 50-year-old letter from Claire, beautifully and heartfully played by Vanessa Redgrave. Claire's grandson, Charlie (Christopher Egan; you might know him as the brother of Eragon), doesn't like Sophie leading his grandmother on a possible wild goose chase, and so the sparks begin to fly. My favorite parts are the scenes of antagonistic banter between Sophie and Charlie, and Claire pulled my heartstrings; I couldn't help but love her.

Despite the sometimes awkwardness of the plot, I could have loved the movie more fully had not it been yet another tale of a woman switching guys. At least it made sense for her to leave the one, although she should have done it far sooner. What didn't make any sense remotely was why she was with him to begin with. He wasn't necessarily a jerk...well, he was more wrapped up in food and starting a restaurant than he was in anything that interested his girlfriend at all, but she wasn't all that interested in his restaurant, so that goes both ways. This movie is clean, but I hate the implication that always comes with these types of plots nowadays that the heroine is living and sleeping with the one guy she's going to dump in the end. (In this case, she's on a pre-wedding "honeymoon"!) I mean, I'd really prefer she didn't sleep with anyone until she was married, but that she does with the "wrong" guy, even if only implied, just adds insult to injury. It makes me value the main characters less.

But Character is ultimately what carries this movie, and a beautiful setting in Italy doesn't hurt. This is, in the end, a cute story with a semi-cheesy but utterly happy ending which makes the watching worthwhile.


What NOT EVER to Watch

Just so you all know, I won't always be reviewing books or movies I thoroughly enjoy. Sometimes they will be mediocre, and sometimes they will be terrible, movies more often than books because bad books take more effort to get through, and I usually won't review a book I don't finish. Movies are short enough that I try to give them the benefit of the doubt, sometimes to my great loss. I almost didn't want to include this review for shame, but I watched part of a movie so bad I feel compelled to warn you about it. And since it's also a book, I will recommend you avoid that too.

I decided to see what all the hype of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was about. But I didn't want to devote a lot of time to it since I have a stack of books I'm eager to read, so I went for the R-rated movie. Bad, bad decision, but to be fair to myself, I had no idea what I was getting into. (I don't mind R ratings for violence or even language.) I should have stopped at the first perverted scene. My mistake was to keep watching. I REALLY should have stopped at the second one. I guess it's a little like a train wreck; you can't look away. Only...comparing it to a train wreck is a little like comparing finding an old leftover meal in the back of your fridge to eating it.

I was eating that gaseous, smelly, blue and white fuzz-encrusted What-Was-That? from the deep, murky recesses of the fridge when I watched the third scene. Seriously, what was I thinking after two of them? Sometimes movies will have that One Scene and then have redeeming value. No matter whatever supposed redeeming value this movie might have, it is not worth that. I cannot even take credit for turning it off alone. Lucky for me, my baby started crying in the other room, and I finally shut it down less than halfway through...for good. Let me tell you, I felt like I shouldn't even be holding my son after I should shower.

See, half of the movie revolves around this girl who's in over her head and is stupid, besides. She walks herself into these bad situations with her sicko probation officer. The other half of the movie is about this journalist who's investigating a 40-year-old murder case. That part intrigued me and may be the reason this series of books is so popular now. I hope it's the reason because any other doesn't say much for the standards of American readers. But I'm not judging the book. I haven't read it, and for all I know, this Swedish film deviated from the book in ways an American film might not have. (Oh, yeah, I was watching with subtitles. How extra sad is that?) Regardless, I'm recommending you stay far away from the trend and hype on this one, movie or book. But if you're too curious for your own good, go with the book. Reading it won't sear the images to the back of your eyelids like watching, and you'll be grateful for that, trust me.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dust City

How to explain Dust City? Think of the children's books and movies you read and watched as a child, where the animals wore clothes and walked on two legs and were human in every way but looks. Now take those images and put them into, say, Gotham City, and that's the setting for Dust City. It takes some getting used to. Robert Paul Weston has written a dark fairytale for young adults, one in which the magic has been tainted and familiar characters from our Disney-fied Grimm's Tales walk the streets as hardened businessmen, cops, and criminals.

Henry Whelp is the son of the notorious wolf who killed Little Red Riding Hood. His dad's in jail, and he's in juvie for minor crimes of his own. Henry likes to stay out of the way of the other wolves, ravens, foxes, and hominids (yeah, it took me awhile to figure that one out too; think humans, elves, goblins, anything that's not an animal) who inhabit St. Remus Home for Wayward Youth. But a mysterious death and a packet of letters from his father convince Henry to escape from the Home and set out to discover the truth about his father's claims and the city's addiction to leftover fairydust. The fairies might still be alive, and Henry's dad might not be a cold killer. The only way for Henry to find out is to go underground in the steps of his dad and hope he doesn't end up going too far.

The premise of this story intrigued me, but the beginning didn't grip me. The author throws you right into his world, and it takes awhile to find your bearings and get up to speed. At first, I just couldn't reconcile images of wolves on two legs with the style of story I was reading. It seemed too jarring of a juxtaposition. I've read other books that take fairytales and completely turn them around and upside down. Gail Carson Levine does this well in Ella Enchanted (book, not movie), for instance. Also, the animated spoof of Little Red Riding Hood, Hoodwinked, comes to mind. Dust City is a completely different kind of story, still based on fairytales but oh, so unique. Once the mysteries and dangers began to accumulate and I figured out what a hominid was, I finally was able to appreciate the story for what it was, and then I was hooked.

If you give Dust City a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised by its creativity and depth. It's more than a gritty mixed up fairytale mystery. It's a story about a world where animals live like humans but a wolf is still considered a wolf, and the divisions between species and race are as confusing as they sometimes are in the real world today.

Four stars for creative plot and intriguing storytelling. ✭✭✭✭✩

Friday, September 24, 2010


Michael Grant's Hunger is the second book in the Gone series for young adults. I loved the first novel about a group of kids trapped in a 20-mile-long bubble along the coast of adults, weird mutations, talking coyotes, anarchy, and a mysterious monster. Hunger begins a few months after Gone ends. Food is running out. An uneasy peace has existed between the two factions of kids, one of which was defeated in the big Thanksgiving battle and is biding its time, waiting for a better opportunity to seize control. Sam is the unwilling leader of the majority of the kids, and he tries the best he can. But a 15-year-old can't be a father to 300 hungry children. As more kids begin to develop special powers, fighting breaks out between the "normals" and the "mutants." And as the kids get hungrier, so does the mysterious monster living beneath their feet.

This is a great series. This is the second book, but there's one more after it, so far. The creativity, numerous and varied characters, unique setting, and real danger make this an exciting read. Despite gore and violence, it's age appropriate in all other ways but not dumbed down for its audience. Adults will be intrigued too.

Michael Grant goes all out in creating a realistic (as far as mutants and monsters can be realistic) world where it's kids against kids and nature. People get hurt and die although Grant pulls some punches when it comes to major characters (Those baddies just won't give up!). But good characters is what makes these books so gripping, and old and new bad guys keep the stakes high.

Hunger is sort of William Golding meets Frank Peretti, a little bit Lord of the Flies set in a world of evil incarnate. You have an island-like setting with two groups fighting each other and a bigger evil...hmm, you could almost call it TV's Lost for kids. One thing's for sure, Michael Grant tells a good story all his own. The next book in the series is called Lies and was out in May of this year.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Immanuel's Veins

Ted Dekker's latest creation, Immanuel's Veins, is like no other vampiric tale you will ever read. It's not even really about vampires, at least not as we know them and certainly not as Stephanie Meyer has revamped them, pardon the pun. It's more a tale of true love.

Dekker always writes a story to make us think. That he plays with the current trend of stories about vampires and fallen angels (Yes, those are in the book too!) shouldn't be held against him. He does his story his way, no apologies.

In Immanuel's Veins, told mostly through the eyes of its main hero, Toma, Toma is a guard sent to protect the lives of the Cantemirs, a woman and her two twin daughters. His orders: don't fall in love with the twin Lucine because she is being saved for another. But almost as soon as Toma arrives, so do some very strange and beautiful men and women, neighbors and royalty from the Castle Castile. They seem to bewitch the Cantemirs, blood begins to flow, and Toma struggles between duty and love, not recognizing the mounting danger until it is too late.

This is a story about the power of blood, and it will have you rethinking all you know about those who drink it. It's a raw tale of the purest good against the blackest evil, and in this one, Dekker has surely written from the heart.

Immanuel's Veins is full of mystery, suspense, danger, seduction, lust, and power...and love, most of all, love. If you enjoy thrilling romantic sagas, beautiful women and strong men, epic fights, and even wooden stakes through the heart, this one was written for you.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Will have book and movie reviews soon

If you happened upon this blog, I am in the process of getting started. I will be reviewing new (and some old) releases of books and movies. Stop by again!