Good Reads #25: Shadow and Bone

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It pays to wander the shelves sometimes. About two weeks ago or so I was out of books to read as I was waiting for The Painted Girls and The Watchers to come into the library for me. Feeling the itch to read I went to the library and wandered the YA shelves and came up with The Amaranth Enchantment and this book. I read the former first, because it was what I’d grabbed first. Then about two days later the other two books came in and this dropped to four on my list because I knew that I could at least renew the book if needed. While I don’t know if I can quite say that I saved the best for last (I do think the Watchers was a smidge better) without a doubt, it’s been a while since I enjoyed a YA novel as much as this one.

I’d classify the title as pre-epic fantasy in the sense that it just isn’t as complex (but to be fair, I don’t think you can actually have the two genres merge very well) but it’s got a lot of the same elements. We have a pseudo-Russian world where a group of mages called the Grisha are known as the “Masters of the Small Science.” All children are tested around the age of eight to see if they have any latent abilities and those that are are brought to the capitol to study the arts and eventually serve the empire. All of the Grisha ultimately report to The Darkling, a Grisha so powerful that he is in essence second in power to only the King.

Mal and his friend Alina are so tested and failing they are drafted into the First (non-magical) Army to serve. While out on duty it’s revealed that Alina does have an ability, one that catches the eye of the Darkling and seen as a way to fight off The Shadow Fold and the tale is basically her quest to learn how to use her power and navigate the politics of the Grisha and to a lesser extent, the Court.

Overall, the book is very strong and I devoured it in a single setting. Although the faux-Russianness can be a bit annoying (the regular mage types are called Corporalki, Etherealki, Materialki) for how fake it can come as, you can ignore it easily enough. Alina herself is a slightly bigger problem because the reason behind the block on her powers is kind of weak and rubs that feminist spot of mine, but she DOES overcome and once she does I enjoy the character that much more.

Whether you’re looking in the YA space or the adult space, good fantasy that doesn’t feel like Middle Earth or Middle Ages redeux is a difficult thing to pull off and I think that this manages to accomplish that. If you’re a fan of either genre, it’s definitely worth a look.

Siege and Storm, the second book in the series, is due out on June 4th. I’m definitely planning on picking it up and I hope you do the same for this one.

Verdict: Buy It

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Good Reads 24: The Painted Girls

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I try not to buy into hype, because hype can lead to disappointment. And disappointment leads to you wondering why the heck you’re wasting time reading this when you could be reading so many other things instead.

In case you couldn’t guess, I was disappointed by this book. I’d heard the hype and immediately added it to my To-Read list on Good Reads. I went to Amazon and added it to my cart (but never finished the transaction). I went to Barnes and Nobles one day to browse and almost picked it up intending to buy it. I skimmed the first few pages and set it back down and instead waited for it to come in at the library. It finally did and now? I’m glad I didn’t spend money on it.

This book is boring. It’s bland. It’s devoid of personality, both in place and in character. The snippets all tease of the Belle Époque setting, but these girls are just generically poor. If there was no mention of it, you’d never know. There is mention of an opera and a tavern and a brothel and not much else. You could have set this book in 18th century London or maybe even bump it up 50 years and set it in New York and it would have felt the same. And when you describe the prison as an existence that actually seems to be an improvement on the life they lead on the outside? Something just seems off.

The characters had no life to them either. There are four main girls in the family: Maman, who is basically a drunk and exists as a foreshadow as to what the two protagonists will likely become. There is Charlotte, the youngest daughter who only seems to exist because the author wants to suggest that girls of this social class could make a decent life for themselves (the character herself though is rarely heard from and when she is, it’s never substantial). Then we have the two protagonists. Two protagonists that I did not care about. Marie holds the more promise of the two, but her self-loathing colors her so that we the reader do not develop a reason to like her. Her sister, Antoinette, is not so self-loathing but it so in love with this boy for reasons that never make sense (neither is developed enough to explain her devotion) that you just want to smack her upside the head for some common sense.

All in all there was no one to root for, no reason to care. A plot existed, but was meager at best and it feels deliberate, that this was supposed to be a character driven piece. But what the author forgot is that the whole thing falls apart if you don’t have characters to care for.

Finally, don’t expect to get any interesting insights on Degas or his art, or the life of the ballet girls at the Opera. For all that Marie is there, you see so little interaction between her and the others that you get no sense of life there and the commentary about the ballet (at one point Marie talks about needing to have Sylphan grace while having cracking knees and bleeding toes) is so basic that I’m not even sure that the author even did any research.

I just don’t get the hype on this one. I really, really don’t. I honestly don’t have anything positive to say. I can’t even say that this book was compulsively readable like Illuminate was, or that it was so bad it was almost good. It was just boring and a chore and made me skim through it. I will never truly regret reading a book, but I would lie if I said I wasn’t happy to be moving on.

Verdict: Don’t Bother

Good Reads 23: The Watchers

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Sigh. WordPress ate my post 😦

It was fairly long too and I’m starting to come down with something so I’ll just say it: if you’re looking for a fun read, read this. The author manages to take tropes for characters and a fairly cliched plot and flesh everything out into a story that comes together very well and makes you care about everyone you meet. It manages a pretty big twist 2/3 of the way through, but doesn’t feel shoe-horned in. Heck, he even manages to drop in French and it doesn’t feel random or pretentious. All in all, there are a lot of moving parts and this could have gone quite wrong, but it didn’t. And for that, I tip my hat off to him and strongly recommend that everyone…

Verdict: Buy It

[For some additional detail on the character types, you can read my goodreads review here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/563667480%5D

Good Reads #22: The Amaranth Enchantment

Title: The Amaranth Enchantment

Author: Julie Berry

Genre: Young Adult. Fantasy/Fairy tale

Amusing story: someone found my review of Illuminate on Good Reads. She disagreed with my assessment and apparently felt justified in telling me I was wrong because “I’m never happy anyway.” Someone should have told me that Good Reads was a blanket praise only site :p

Anyway. Clearly I digress. And I digressed for the simple purple that I just don’t have much to say about this book. It’s just unremarkable. A bland over with some questionable photoshopping on it; characters that don’t have much in the way of depth (kind of expected with the fairy-tale like feeling of the book) and the plot is just kind of there. It’s not an awful book, it’s just not a remarkable book. I picked it up while waiting for my other books to come in, and that’s about all it was good for.

Verdict: Don’t bother.

Comic Catch Up

Best of the Week:

Sex #2 – This is definitely an adult series and many will probably be turned off by the sex in the background, but for all that it’s called Sex, and for all the naked women (who actually have body hair, shock of shock) and all the depictions of sexual acts (the artist seems fond of cunnilingus) the story is still really about one guy’s journey of trying to reclaim his life after he stops being a hero and the obstacles in his way. If you can handle the adult content, I really do recommend finding a way to get your hands on this.

The Rest:

Batgirl #19 – A very close runner up for best of the week for me. Gail Simone does a fantastic job with James Jr. making him as scary a villain as any of the best of the Rogue’s Gallery without making him anything other than an unhinged human. It’s heartbreaking seeing what happens here with her family in general.

The only thing I was not sold on was the announcement by her roommate that she’s transgender. Although it was nicely low key, at the same point in time the way it was handled almost makes it feel like it was put in there to be there and won’t ever be brought up again. It’s the kind of announcement that even if you are supportive it does take time to internalize and that process isn’t always neat. I do hope that I’m wrong and that we’ll see that this wasn’t some kind of gimimck. Time will tell.

Batman #19 – Scott Snyder is a great writer, but even he can write issues are just kind of meh. With Year Zero starting in issue 21, this and the next issue are filler. And as a result, this kind of feels like filler. It’s not bad by any means (and it’s nice to see Clayface again) it’s just not particularly memorable either.

True Blood #11 –

  1. I love Michael McMillian for little touches like having Sarah Newlin writing a trashy romance novel about “Jackson Stackhold” doing it in a church with a heroine.
  2. Sam is creepy for not getting rid of Daphne’s skirt (he gives it to the new employee to wear).
  3. I hope we get to find out what Eric is up to in Tokyo.
  4. Still no signs of Bill.

The latter does make me question when in the timeline this is all occurring. I still suspect that we don’t see Bill because he’s not allowed to reveal what happened to him. That being said, it does make me question when in the time this is all occurring because clearly things had to have calmed down for Eric to go to Japan. It’s a minor point though.

Aside from that, I’m not sure how I’m feeling about the arc that’s being set up. There are a lot of fantastic elements in the series, but I don’t think they need to be in EVERY issue and it’s starting to feel like that’s where he’s leaning. Again, it’s probably due to being off season and them not wanting to spoil things. I do wish we could be following Eric instead because let’s be real: the show is popular for its vampires and aside from the initial arc they’ve been incredibly absent.

I trust Michael though and we’ll see where it goes.

The weak link:

Star Trek: Countdown to Darkness #4 – Yeah. Given my feelings on the rest of the mini-series I don’t think this is much of a surprise. Maybe there’s just something about Star Trek that doesn’t translate well to comics, but this just didn’t do it for me.

I take that back, because I’ve figured out why: the entire existence of this series was filler. Since they wouldn’t want to alienate the 97% of the fan base that will never read this series, they couldn’t really write anything meaningful or of lasting impact. As a result there is no character development to speak of. Given that the best part of Star Trek are its characters, this is a very real problem indeed. This just ultimately kind of took up space. I’m happy to have supported the creators (you know their hands were tied with what they could do) and maybe now they can go and work on something bigger and better than this.

Good Reads #21: The Stockholm Octavo

Title: Stockholm Octavo

Author: Karen Engelmann

Genre: Contemporary Literature

This book was yet another slow starter. The main character, Emil Larsson is a Customs Sekretaire who needs to wed to please his superior. The first section of the book, and by far the weakest, deals with his desire to try and get himself engaged to a lady named Carlotta. It is through these efforts that he agrees to have an Octavo (a fortune telling spread) read and that he, and we the audience, get our first glimpse of The Uzanne and that is when things finally start getting interesting.

I would say that this is one of those books where the plot is almost secondary to the characters that populate it. With the exception of our protagonist (and I believe that may even be deliberate because he is meant to influence affairs not truly participate in them) the cast is very colorful and interesting to follow.

The Uzanne is a Baroness who desires to overthrow King Gustaf who has weakened the noble’s power. She believes in the power of the folding fan and throughout the book you see her teaching to her students. There is a young commoner named Joanna Grey (nee Bloom) an <i>apotherecaire</i> whose compounds figure heavily into the plot. There is also a fan maker and his wife, a boat captain, a dandy and many others. All of these characters are wonderfully fleshed out and keep you engaged.

The plot – really the tale of Larsson trying to find a way to keep The Uzanne from accomplishing her deeds is decent enough, but can get a bit silly with its insistence on just how important fans really are. I was able to get beyond, but some many not.

This is one of those books where you mileage may vary. I’d say it’d be worth it at paperback price, or grab it from the library. It’s fun enough, but not worth a full priced purchase

Verdict: Borrow it.

Saynora, Cult

I came out of Comic Con psyched for Cult. After a marathon viewing of 5 pilot episodes (666 Park Avenue, Arrow, Revolution, The Following and Cult) in a row, Cult was the show I was the most excited for. I actually saw the pilot twice that weekend – once on Preview Night and a second time during the panel for the show. I even went out of my way to get a wrist band for the autograph signing. I was excited for the show. I knew it would have some trouble finding an audience, but I really was looking forward to it and was hoping that it would succeed.

Fast forward nine months. Today Cult was cancelled. Upon hearing the news my first reaction was that I was surprised it took that long. The second was basically meh. A part of me does hope that CW will release the remaining episodes online, but if I don’t get that closure I don’t know that I’ll be upset.

So what went so wrong?

@TheCancelBear on Twitter was noticing a lot of #fanexcusebingo going on today, so before I get into the meat of it I’ll run through some of the excuses:

The network didn’t like the show. I never got this excuse. Shows are not green lit if the studios don’t like them because they are in a business of making money and only want to put out shows they believe will be able to accomplish this goal. There is a difference between a network not liking the show and the network losing faith in the show. Those are two totally different things. I do think the later is true, but that’s because at the end of the day the CW is a business and it has to make money. They had enough faith in the show to try moving it to Friday instead of killing it outright at first, but when that failed to help any they really had no choice. Also remember that CW is the smallest of the big 5 by far and they don’t have the same wiggle room to keep struggling shows that other networks might. The fact that the show didn’t get critical praise (a reason a show might be kept around even if ratings are otherwise iffy) didn’t help either.

They didn’t advertise it enough. Did it get the worlds biggest marketing blitz? No. That said, the CW did put on a big show at #SDCC, they did give it some billboard space in LA, they aired ads for it between and during their other shows. It may have not been the best blitz, but they didn’t completely ignore the blitz either. They had a high concept show that they probably felt would have at least a somewhat limited audience and spent accordingly. It may have not the best, but it probably wasn’t the reason for the shows problems either.

Nielsen ratings are outdated – There’s obviously been a lot of discussion about this and there is some truth to this. CW does monitor DVR plays and the like but facts are facts – watching when it’s on are still the most important numbers to be had.

It had a bad time slot. – This probably the only one with even shaky feet beneath it. CW made it clear that they were taking cues from American Horror Story and wanted to run it straight through. To that end, they decided to make it a midseason show since they don’t have any other short-season shows to pair it with. Maybe you might have had a few extra eyes check it out if debuted in the fall, but not sure. Beyond that there’s the issue of showing it on Tuesdays at 9. Personally, I do think TVD or Supernatural might have made a better lead in than Hart of Dixie, but the network was basically filling a slot, which is what can happen with midseason shows. That said..where else were they going to put it? Because CW only has 10 hours of programming a week that doesn’t give them a lot of places to put things. The pairings of Arrow/Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries/Beauty and the Beast made sense. Friday at 9 clearly didn’t work out for it either. CW wasn’t going to bump Hart of Dixie, it’s most solid performer for a new show and Monday’s might have been even stiffer. So yeah. Not a lot of options and non better for the show. This was a show that was always going to need the audience to find it and I don’t think there would have really been a better spot for it.

Now that’s out of the way, here are my thoughts on why the show went awry:

The Vampire Diaries fans didn’t come out to support it– there were epic levels of bitching that Alaric had been killed off especially to go onto this show. That would make one think you might have TVD fans checking it out to see what he was on now. That clearly didn’t happen, and if anything, the bitching only got louder when Cult debuted. This whole affair actually highlighted that the actor himself is divisive. His character may have been liked, but he himself is divisive. Given how high-concept it was, the show needed (and CW probably counted on) people checking out the show because he was on it and that didn’t happen. This show was pretty high concept period, especially for this channel. It needed to pick up viewers that otherwise wouldn’t watch this genre and their best bet for that would have been TVD fans checking it out to support Matt.

The show was high-concept, but they couldn’t execute it. Sad to say it, but it’s the truth. Although I personally had no issues with it, a lot of people found it confusing and didn’t try to stick it out. Here where I think it went wrong:

1. It could be difficult to tell when we were in the show or the show within a show. It was a deliberate move by the writing staff but I think the confusion it created was greater than the payoff of immersion that they were trying to go for.

2. The meta didn’t make sense. The over-analysis did. The LARPing…not so much. Those who have been deeper into a fandom have seen fandom at its best and at its worst, but this isn’t a fandom that feels familiar. They wanted to make commentary about fandom, but you can’t do that when what you present isn’t representational and I thought there would be more out there that was social-media oriented and that just wasn’t there. This was supposed to be the big hook of the show and it didn’t work.

3. Ultimately, the two parallel shows meant that neither could be fully developed, and therefore harmed both. I think the show either needed to be the story of a guy whose brother disappeared into this cult or it needed to be the story of the detective who used to be in the cult, got out but was slowly being dragged back into that world. Both of these takes would be interesting, and both of them would still have been different enough from the Following to justify their existence.Instead, aside from Billy, the show of Cult was the weakest part of Cult, with the weakest dialogue and acting. Not only was it weak, but it ultimately didn’t add much to the show as a whole. Ultimately I think you could have done the concept without having the inside show actually airing like mentioning that he was a happy guy who loved a show and started hanging out with other fans and started meeting these friends in real life. And it was after that point he started acting odd and then disappeared.  You get the same effect – his involvement with the show ultimately lead to his disappearance – but not quite as heavy handed and more believable because it wasn’t because of some secret messages that could only be heard by playing it backwards and slowing it way way way way down.

At the end of the day the writers bit off more than they could chew and it just couldn’t support their concept. Personally speaking, I always felt this was going to be a longshot to make it to a second season and apparently I guessed right. I do hope that CW continues to experiment with content and not give up on high-concept all together, but this just wasn’t the show it needed to be in order to survive.