Good Reads #11 – Carnival of Souls

Title: Carnival of Souls

Author: Melissa Marr

ISBN: 9780061659287

Like Illuminate before it, I picked this up because the cover looked kind of neat (if cheesy) and the plot sounded like campy fun. I did not like Illuminate, but would recommend that over this in a heartbeat.

Although this book does end up being fun towards the end, at the end of the day the book felt lazy. These “daimons” live in The City. There is supposed to be much commerce, but the only thing we ever learn about are “red mask” jobs (whoring) and “black mask” jobs (assassination). We never learn about anything else in the city that might fund those activities. There’s a caste system, and we have one character from the bottom (a “cur”) and one from the ruling elite. The women in the ruling elite can’t apparently do anything productive (not that we know that that is in this society), but are solely meant to breed. Anything else than that I can’t say because we never see the real day to day life of any of these characters. At all. She shows the absolute bare minimum to make the story move along, and that’s it.

I could forgive the lazy set up if the characters were developed..but they aren’t really either. Kaleb is, maybe. But the main protagonist in our world, Mallory, has apparently no likes or dislikes or hobbies. She’s apparently training to fight, but the first second she gets into a fight she’s mostly useless. Aya, a ruling caste demon doesn’t want to be a brood mare, but wants to rule. And that’s all we know. We see no friends, no real enemies other than those in the fight ring and no interaction with those of her own caste. Like I said. Lazy.

And finally, the insult to injury is that this book isn’t completed. It just ends, not unlike Death Hallows Part 1. There’s a revelation, a dramatic statement and fade to black. The book is already so short – like barely 300 pages – that it makes you want to look for the remainder of the story. It’s a blatant ploy to sell the sequel and I absolutely hate that.

So yeah. I didn’t care for this book and there’s so much better to read out there. I know she has fans, but I’m clearly not one of them.

Verdict: Don’t Bother.

Good Reads #10 – Rex Mundi Omnibus Vol. 2

Title: Rex Mundi Omnibus Volume 2

Writer – Arvid NelsonPrincipal Artist- Juan Ferreyra

ISBN: 978-1-61655-068-4

One of the nice things about comics collected in trade paperbacks is that generally speaking, comics tend to be fairly self-contained. You can usually pick up a volume and start enjoying it, especially with the aid of pages that bring you up to speed.

I say generally because Rex Mundi is not one of those titles. There is absolutely nothing here to bring a new reader up to speed and the narrative is closer to that of a prose book. These aren’t bad things, nor a knock against this collection, it’s just a warning. If the historical AU premise interests you, starting at the beginning is imperative. A very brief introduction to the series can be found in my Amazon review here

That out of the way, I will say this is definitely the weaker of the two halves. While the first 17 chapters  were more a game of intrigue and cat and mouse, the second half – 18 chapters with two interludes – is much more action oriented. While I was expecting that to happen eventually, the scale did tip too far in the direction of action. I also do have some issues with the direction of the plot:

France becomes the new Nazi Germany. No, really. The flag is clearly inspired/rip of that flag. There’s a scene where it looks like the Duke of Lorraine is going to pull a Hitler in the bunker (but doesn’t, it was so early in the book you know it wouldn’t happen) and hell, even Jews (and in this case, Muslims) are sent off to concentration camps. Which is both awful and only mentioned in like two asides where it’s more or less brushed off as unimportant. While I get the attitude (from the characters it is coming from) I still find this incredibly insulting. You don’t pull that crap if you aren’t going to do something meaningful with it. It honestly comes across as a shameless ploy to be dramatic, especially at the end when it’s like ha ha! You were beaten by a Jew!  Except here’s the thing: as a young child he converted to Catholicism and doesn’t even identify as Jewish. It isn’t a slam against him, but whatever poignancy of having a Jew defeat the Hitler-figure of your world is lost when he’s only Jewish in blood, but not spirit. It quite honestly was a huge turn off. It threw me out of the title.

The magical elements – only hinted at in the first half – become overkill in the second half. It gets so bad that we need an interlude to explain the fact that this world actually has something like vampires in it. Okay. Why are they there? And why were they introduced if they only are mentioned once in a subsequent chapter? Again, it felt pointless. I’m also not terribly fond with what they did with the blue apples and this elixir that apparently works on everyone of Jewish ancestry? The blood of the Lorraine’s line? I’m not really sure, it’s kind of confusing and stupid regardless…

At the end of it, all of the elements that got me hooked in the first half just started to disappear in this one. it wasn’t awful by any means, it just didn’t go in the direction I wanted it to. Combine that with a shift in the art – not a bad shift, but not as nice as before. At the end of the day, had it not been a bound collection I’m not sure that I’d stuck it through to the end.

Verdict: Borrow It

Good Reads #9 – Seraphina

Title: Seraphina

Author: Rachel Hartman

ISBN: 978-0-375-86656-2

First up – some house keeping! After playing around with rating systems – Good Read’s 5 star system, and the A-B-C-D-F system I’ve been using, I’ve decided to settle on a much simpler three tier system: buy it, borrow it, don’t bother. I don’t like the star system on good reads because there are times I wish half-stars were available, but aren’t. I’m not a huge fan of the traditional American grading system because although I have more flexibility than the star system, I still feel constrained and that sometimes my review doesn’t seem to align with the grade I’ve given it. I think the new system better encapsulates the feel that I want to go for. Buy it means I enjoyed this book and (if I were so inclined) I’d want to read it again and is, in all accounts, a very good representation of the genre that it’s in. Borrow it means I think the book has merit and should be read, but didn’t set me aflame. Don’t bother is self-explanatory. I’ll probably be going back and updating my previous posts since (thankfully) I don’t have too many yet 🙂

Now that’s done, on to the review!

Back when I was in high school, young adult fiction wasn’t yet a thing. Young adult books were the odd books more geared towards say, the tweens who had outgrown the children’s section but not yet ready for full-on adult fiction. I was past the children’s books even in elementary school, so I turned a genre that was pretty friendly to teens: fantasy (and to a lesser extent) sci-fi. And I read the heck out of the genre. I read Robert Jordan (I was so hardcore I read the first several books out of order because I hadn’t realized the first book I read was really #3), I read Piers Anthony, Melanie Rawn, Mercedes Lackey to Robert Aspirin. I read from the more frivolous light-heated fare to the full on epic novels. I loved plots that weaved magic and politics and intrigue.

And eventually, I burned out.

I got tired of the tropes. I got tired of the female protagonist who needed to save her homeland (I may be a feminist, but I love me a good male protagonist) and get the guy. I got tired of what could be overly complex and overwrought plots. So in recent years I really haven’t ventured into the fantasy section. But this book caught my eye and brought me back and I hoped that it would be the book that would bring me back to reading fantasy.

Alas. No such luck.

The elements are all here: there’s some interesting world building, good characters and a nice little intriguing plot. However, there is one giant thing that holds me back from loving this novel: the character hates herself. As in, she calls herself a monster (to another person no less!). She has a “garden” in her mind of what she calls grotesques. She later finds out that these people are just like her – half breeds – and continues to call them grotesques. While it does fit the world that was built – between the prejudice we see in the common people and nobility alike,  to the way that her own father never quite accepts her (we often hear him say “I didn’t know [she was a dragon]”), to the way that her dragon family is pretty much disgraced because of her existence. And all that being said I can’t get behind someone who despises herself for what she is and even goes so far as to self-harm towards the end of the book.

The jacket states that the character goes on a “journey of self-acceptance,” and at the end she does have a line to the effect of “we were all monsters and bastards, and we were all beautiful.” but for me it rang hallow. Not only was this literally one of the last lines of the book (there are all of two paragraphs after it) but I feel like she could only accept herself because she was accepted – she had a sponsor in the Princess-soon-to-be-Queen and she had a rare talent for music that could bring tears to her eyes. Were she a commoner, were she to lack these special assistance, I don’t see her getting to this same spot. I just don’t.

While I commend the author for not going the easier “I am who I am and fuck anyone who tries to put me down” route, but the way she went about it wound up being more of a turn-off than anything.

There is some good stuff here, and I do think the book is worth reading, but I can’t buy into all the hype that it has received. Maybe this won’t be issue for you, I know I’m in the minority on this, but it is what it is.

Verdict: Borrow It

Comic Round Up

Look at me! Reading the same day that I picked them up! Go me 🙂 Short and sweet comments this time.

Batman 17 – Guh. So early in this issue my heart was in my throat and I thought the ending appropriate too. The title of the arc may not have been literal, but I think enough emotional damage was done that things will never be same for the Bat Family.

Batgirl 17 – A definite improvement over Batgirl 16. I like how she’s trying to move along, how she’s dealing with her brother. I’m not sure if I’m into the villain, but we’ll see how that plays out.

True Blood 9 – A bit of an iffy issue, it was mostly action. The art was a bit better and there was some decent art too. I’m ready for the new arc.

Fairy Question: Outlaws 1 (of 2) – An interesting twist on fairy tales, with Grimm the head of a thought police. I’ll definitely pick up the other half when it comes out!

Beautiful Creatures (Movie)

Film adaptations of books are a difficult thing to pull off. For example, look at the Harry Potter films: by Prisoner of Azkaban if you hadn’t read the books you were likely getting very lost. The focus of Half Blood Prince was shifted away to be lighter than it was and some of the most meaningful subplots of the series were axed from the films entirely. It’s a lot of flaws and that series had the advantage of having budget and screen times that most book adaptations can only dream of.

I bring this all up because simply put: they mangle this book. Usually with these kind of films they fall into two camps: either read the book first or see the film first. WIth Harry Potter you’re better off reading the books first because you can otherwise get lost. On the other hand, you were better off watching the film first because you could get hooked on the story and not know what you were missing. Here…I don’t even know what the better option is.

On the one hand, if you’ve never read the books you can still more or less get whats going on, but you’re missing a ton of context: in one scene the main characters are drinking orange soda. It seems odd to make it so obvious what they’re drinking unless you’ve read the book in which case you’d know that orange soda holds a special significance for Lena. It’s a nice touch, but it just seems odd. There’s a scene later on where you see basically a witch hunt against Lena that kind of sort of makes sense, but in the book that scene only comes after additional incidents at a party that is never shown that were caused by Ridley, not by her. The scene still kind of works, but also leaves you kind of confused. Also a lot of the important Caster mythology is either not explained or changed for the sake of expedience.

On the other hand, reading the books before hand also leaves you at a great disadvantage. A big reveal at the end of the book regarding Link’s mother is given away like 1/3 of the way into the film in a scene invented for the film. This reveal actually winds up taking tension away from a key scene later on in the book instead of amping it up like they were trying to. They’ve also changed like the key element of the last 1/3 of the novel. Let’s just say the books were narrated by Ethan. The narration is quickly dropped in the film and even if you wanted him to narrate by the end he couldn’t because of the change in the plot. It just doesn’t work once you’ve read the book.

Admittedly, there was a ton of ground to cover so it makes sense that it was going to get chopped up – 550 pages is a lot for a short 90 minute runtime – but I just can’t get behind the changes that were made. A couple of characters were combined and others mentioned once and never seen again. It was a hatchet job. I can’t even fully compliment the way they reduced time spent at school. While it did go on too long in the book, they cut it back so dramatically in the film that you barely even have enough time there to give Lena a chance to get as mad as she did. The impact his friendship with Lena has on his life is only inferred and his friend is almost non-existent and only saved for plot purposes (which, by the by was another change not for the better). See why you might be better off going in blind?

Other aspects of the film were mixed. The kids who played the leads were okay. Ethan’s southern accent was atrocious, but kind of disappears by the end of the film so you don’t mind so much. Jeremy Irons and Emme Rossum were fun to watch. Emma Watson was ridiculously over the top, almost to the point of distraction. Editing of the film felt choppy, Scenes ended and the story shifted with no transitions so it felt jarring and like what are we doing here. Music was mostly forgettable. There were some good set pieces, but they were offset by some bad CGI. Some of the cinematography felt like it was dangerously close to shaky cam which I hate.

All in all, I don’t think I can really recommend this film even as a minor fan of the book. Teens might enjoy it (one declared it “amazing”) but everyone else should pass.

Grade: C-

Trailers: The Host, World War Z, Oblivion, 1D3D, Jack the Giant Slayer, The Heat and The Great Gatsby.


Comic Round Up

I debated calling this another catch up post, but really I only have 4 issues right now as my pick list is on the slim side at this time. Currently my pick list is:

– Batgirl
– Batman
– Nightwing
– Talon
– True Blood

– Star Trek Countdown to Darkness

Indies that are techincally ongoing but MIA
– Brililant
– Cold War

Yeah, it’s rather heavy on the Bat-titles right now, but suppose it can’t be helped. The end of 2012 saw several series that I enjoyed wrap up their run and I just haven’t found replacements yet. But I remain diligent in my search 🙂 Anyway, because my list is small and I’m reading a lot of books lately, I’ve been more binging on comics than reading them weekly. I did decide to catch up now because tomorrow I’m getting my hands on Batman #17, the end of Death of the Family and not have to go through the backlog then!

Batgirl 16 – one of the overriding themes of Batman as a whole is what separates Batman from the villains that he pursues, that thin line between hero and vigilante. Of course, the line is something that a lot of hero comics have to grapple with, but since the villains of the Bat-verse are all, at their core, human (like Batman) it’s a much more delicate line to walk than say, the X-Men battling Magneto.  And generally the answer is that he doesn’t kill, not even people like the Joker, whom the world would probably consider it a favor if Batman finally offed him once and for all. And while I think it is a good theme, here in Batgirl 16 it just feels…old. This issue felt like filler, getting us to where we needed to go for Snyder’s wrap-up in Batman 17 but otherwise offering little else. Like in issue 15, Barbara is grappling with her desire to kill the Joker and how it’s increasingly difficult to resist the temptation. And that’s about it.  While it’s a very valid struggle to have given her past with the Joker, it isn’t offering us anything that we didn’t see the issue before. I’m glad that the Death of the Family storyarc is being wrapped up, because issues like this point to the fact that it possibly went on an issue too long.

Nightwing 16 – it’s funny, Batgirl 16 and Nightwing 16 really did the same thing – wrap up the arc to get to the reveal in Batman 17, and yet it feels so much more substantial here. I give credit for that to the writer and how Joker was used in this issue. He felt much more the player of mind games that gives him the edge that we know. Simone tried to go there and didn’t quite succeed. Once again, kudos to HIggins. Outside of Snyder, this remains the best Joker out there.

Batman 16 – Thought I had read this already, but guess not! Guh. This is why I love Scott Snyder. Even when I’ve approached Joker fatigue he can remind me why I love the character so much. The use of the Asylum and the use of the Rogue’s Gallery is just perfect. And in a lot of ways, the point that Joker makes about the Bat family is incredibly true (even as he misses what Batman gains by having them around). Although I am ready for it to end and even though I do think I enjoyed The Court of Owls a bit more, I can’t say that I’m disappointed and I’m still so eager to see what comes next and that is the highest compliment I can give to any writer, prose, comic or otherwise.

Talon #4 – Okay. So not -everything- Scott Snyder does is pure gold. I was a bit underwhelmed by this. So the Court has unleashed a 150-year old Talon from hibernation and is set against our hero. He goes by the name of “The Gotham Butcher” but honestly just reminds me more of a souped-up Bane. So yeah, that was kind of a disappointment. On the other hand, it does feel like the introductory arc of sorts has now drawn to an end. We know the players as individuals, we know the game, and now they players will come together to fight the good fight. I’m not sure that this series is as strong as say, American Vampire, but it’s still enjoyable in its own right and I’ll keep reading it, at least for a few more issues.

Phew! Made it 😀

Good Reads #8 – The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief

Author: Markus Zusak

ISBN: 978-0-375-83100-3

This is probably the first literary young adult novel that I’ve ever read. I’ll admit – literary fiction (young adult or otherwise) isn’t really my thing. It’s not that I don’t see and appreciate the value of it, it just usually isn’t what I’m jonsing for. Reading for me is escapist and I do tend to prefer things that are a bit lighter. That said, the book won some awards and was getting rave reviews over on Good Reads so I thought I’d check it out. And, I have to say that it was worth it. Is it a book that I’m going to say everyone must drop everything else to read and/or read next? No. But I will say that it’s worth reading.

The plot is simple enough: Leisel is (at the start of the story at least) a 10 year old girl living in Nazi Germany. The book is really just a simple tale of a person trying to survive in a cruel world. And that’s it. There really isn’t that much to the plot itself, the main hook of the book is that the narrator is Death.

That Death.

As a mechanic I think it has its pluses and its minuses. On the plus side it allows the narrator to impart information on us that the main character would have no way of knowing in a way that didn’t feel too intrusive but really helped to flesh out the world. On the minus side, in some ways Death felt almost like a scientist, observing the heroine like she was a project of sorts. Because there was no emotional connection there it actually hindered me from making an emotional connection to this girl that we were supposed to be pulling for. In fact, it took well past half the book for me to realize that I was involved with the character and really did want to see her story through. And ultimately, that’s why, although I do think it’s worth a read, it didn’t make an impact on me the way that say, Mr. Penumbra’s 24 hour book store did.

Bottom line: this book is a slow burn and a slow read.  There’s nothing truly innovative about the story, but it is handled well and strikes a good emotional balance considering the subject matter. Check it out, but know that it may take you a while to get through it.

Verdict: Borrow it

Good Reads #7- Beautiful Creatures

Title: Beautiful Creatures

Author: Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

ISBN: 978-0-316-23165-7

Before I get into the review proper, this book is a perfect example of a blurb gone bad. The back of the paperback recommends this book to fans of Twilight or of True Blood. Yeah. I’m pretty sure what they actually meant was Vampires Diaries – a show that is at least similar in demographic. This book has zero in common with the Southern Vampire Mysteries and even less than True Blood which is truly an adult-focused show. A Trubie who wasn’t into Vampire Dairies probably wouldn’t get into this.

That aside.

I picked up this book after seeing the trailer for the movie. To be honest, I thought the trailer looked…well. Cheesy. Casting Jeremy Irons as Macon Ravenwood honestly doesn’t help because I mean. He’s Jeremy Irons. For all that he is a good actor, he has way too many movies go into “so bad its good.” Dungeons & Dragons anyone? So when I picked up this book, I went into it with modest expectations at best. And based on that, I can honestly say that I got about what I expected, maybe a touch more.

The plot itself is fairly straightforward. Lena Duchannes is a 15 year Caster rapidly approaching her 16th birthday when she will either become Light or Dark. There’s a bunch of stuff about how becoming Dark will change you, but you don’t ever really hear about any consequences of choosing the Light. Presumably nothing will happen because the morality in the story is pretty black or white.

Meanwhile, Ethan Wate is a 15 year old average kid who dreams of getting the heck out of Dodge the second he’s old enough to do so. He’s cared for by “Amma,” a Seer since his Dad has pretty much mentally checked out since the death of his mother. He first spots Lena in his dreams before she steps foot in school. After some initial awkwardness they become besties, then full on boyfriend/girlfriend. He’s a Mortal with some kind of power, but said power is probably revealed in one of the three sequels.

So anyway, she arrives in his small town of Gaitlin, Georgia and is immediately an outsider because she is Goth-ish and lives with crazy old Macon Ravenwood so you get to deal with a lot of Mean Girl tropes and tropes of witches that don’t have control over their powers because they’re teenagers and have emotions. There’s even a Carrie-light scene in here at the dance, though admittedly the bad shit that happens isn’t techincally by her hand.

When you get away form the high school stuff, the story is pretty interesting. Much of the Caster material is interesting and you do meet a few good characters.

If anything, the biggest failing of the book is the use of tropes. Ethan’s friend Link is the non-stoned stoner friend who is always into band and gets seduced by Lena’s older Dark sister (and it’s obviously that she’s not with him because she likes him, though Link doesn’t see that). There are the Mean Girl Cheerleaders who dictate social order in school and are pretty much unredeemable people. Lena, as I mentioned before is a pseudo-goth who writes poetry. I do wish they hadn’t gone there, if only because none of the rest of the family falls into stereotypes and the authors could have made her an outcast regardless. Ethan gets slightly more development as a jock with a brain and fully devoted to Lena. He’s likable enough lead.

This is one of those books that if you go into with modest expectations and just looking for a light read you’ll probably enjoy it. Just don’t expect the wheel to be reinvented and you’ll be fine.

In the end, I still plan on seeing the movie and I will get around to Beautiful Darkness. As a testament to how it is just kind of there though, I don’t feel the urge to run out and pick up the sequels. There are still plenty of questions to be answered, but honestly I’d live if I never got them.

Verdict: Borrow it