Sunday, February 26, 2012

My Review of Tomorrow, When The War Begins, by John Marsden

Tomorrow, When the War Began (Tomorrow, #1)Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(Actual rating, 4.5 stars)

When Ellie and her friends go camping, they have no idea they're leaving their old lives behind forever. Despite a less-than-tragic food shortage and a secret crush or two, everything goes as planned. But a week later, they return home to find their houses empty and their pets starving. Something has gone wrong--horribly wrong. Before long, they realize the country has been invaded, and the entire town has been captured--including their families and all their friends. Ellie and the other survivors face an impossible decision: They can flee for the mountains or surrender. Or they can fight.

On Friday afternoon, I read an article on about a movie which was "Australia's answer to the Hunger Games." That sure as hell piqued my interest.

Even though the article wasn't terribly complementary, I was intrigued by the synopsis, and, since it was based on a book series, potentially opening up new reading territory for me...yeah.

So, I watched the movie (which, for interested parties, is only available on VOD at this point)with my husband. And we were both. Blown. Away.

(I should also mention that I'm highly suspicious of Australian film; the few Australian movies I've seen all seem to have been based on the bad acid trip someone experienced after reading about a significant event in Australian history.)

I immediately downloaded the book afterward and, well--let's just say that this was one movie adaptation which lost nothing in translation.

What I Liked: This book has earned a lot of well-deserved comparisons to The Hunger Games--but, if anything, it's grittier and more realistic. The whole book is like a Hunger Games situation which could actually happen. And that's what makes it so scary.

It was slow at times, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing--it contributed to the real-life feel of the book. The world, even a post-invasion world, isn't all explosions and gunfights. A lot of the time, it's sitting somewhere trying to catch your breath and process it all. And the pacing sort of added to the tension--when things were quiet, you, along with the characters, were waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Characters in novels are always talking about how much they're changed by events, or, rather, the author's always trying to point out to you how much they've been changed. No big red blinking arrows necessary here. The change is as apparent in Ellie's voice as it is in the choices they make.

What I Didn't: Though, as far as I can see books #2 and #4 are available on Kindle, book #3 isn't. And it's out of print, so it's semi-impossible to get ahold of without plunking down brand-new-Stephen-King-hardcover kind of money. However, I liked the first book enough that I'm actually bidding on a set of the next two on eBay, since that's the only place I can find them at a reasonable price.

The other thing--and this is why I'm recommending you read the book first--is that, in my opinion, the movie was actually a little better than the book. That meant that, at a few points, I had moments of mild disappointment when things weren't as spectacularly dramatic as they were in the movie. But I got over those moments pretty quickly.

Overall: A satisfying dose of literary methadone for those suffering from Hunger Games/Divergent-type withdrawal.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

My Review of Born Wicked, by Jessica Spotswood

Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles, #1)Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Blessed with a gift..."cursed" with a secret."
Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they're witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship - or an early grave.
Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother's diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family's destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.
If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren't safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood - not even from each other.

What I Liked: Born Wicked has an incredible atmospheric presence that sucks you right in and holds you under its spell. Some of the other reviewers complain that it's a little slow in the beginning, and it's true, but it was almost like being in a beautiful museum--there might not be much going on to start off, but the architecture is so striking you barely notice the time pass.

Going back to the slow start--YA as a genre has trained us to have a short attention span, always beginning by dropping us in the middle of a war or a plague, but Spotswood is just taking her time to set up the layers which will really, REALLY matter later on. Trust me, it's worth taking your time to read.

On the subject of those layers, the conflict is deliciously multi-faceted. Cate isn't just stuck between a rock and a hard place--she's stuck between a rock, a hard place, the frying pan, the fire...she can make no choice without tremendous sacrifice. I didn't even realize how completely involved I was until she finally did make her choice, and I jumped up out of my chair and walked away, clutching my head.

What I Didn't: The Sisterhood could have used a little fleshing out. I understood the obvious influence and power of the Brotherhood, but I could have used a few more examples of the malevolency of the Sisterhood, so their threats didn't fall so flat in my mind.

Overall: A solid, beautiful book. I'll be continuing with this series for sure.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

My Review of AMC's The Walking Dead, Season I

When TWD first started, I was so ready to hop on that train. I had the premiere date stored in my phone’s calendar for months. I checked my DVR about sixteen times to make sure the recording would go off without a hitch (I wasn’t home at the time of the premiere). I was ready. Ready for zombies.

The following Saturday, I sat down in front of the TV with some Cheez-its, pressed Play…and was so disappointed I promptly deleted the series recording from my DVR.

But I watched as the buzz grew on Twitter and Facebook. My husband told me his friends at work couldn’t stop talking about it. My cousin expressed sheer horror that I’d thought TWD was boring.

I decided to see if I’d been wrong about the show. A few weekends ago, my husband and I watched all six episodes of Season I on Netflix. And I found out…that I wasn’t entirely wrong. Granted, the show did get better. But the issues which originally made me turn it off never completely went away.

First: It’s boring. Which you would think is difficult to achieve, what with all the zombies, and the screaming. The problem I found is that this isn’t just a zombie apocalypse—it’s the same damn one I’ve been watching in movies and reading about for years, only on television. In places, they don’t even pretend like they’re not completely ripping off other film and written works. The stalwart man of authority, on a quest to reunite with his son, the father unable to find the heart to kill his zombified wife, the violent, bigoted redneck with a lust for power, the last scientist who has given up all hope and tries to take the hope of others…not only have I seen all these storylines before, but in terms of the apocalypse, zombie or otherwise, they have been beaten to death. Unfortunately, though, they clearly weren’t shot in the head. And yes, I know…supposedly, there are no new stories. The fix for that, though, is to tell the old stories in new ways. And there’s very little new in the plotlines of TWD.

Also contributing to the boring is the pacing. My husband says they’re taking the time to set up, since they have more time as a TV show as opposed to film, but I say that time can be better used. Anyone who’s a writer or even an avid reader knows that you have to hook ‘em early. Hook ‘em, give them the Cliff’s Notes, and then sprinkle explanation evenly throughout.

Second: The people, they are stupid. And if I want to watch stupid people for an hour, I can go outside and sit on my front steps. They make ridiculous choices I doubt even my dumb-ass neighbors would make. One of the biggest problems I have with that show is the so-called gun shortage.

Oookay. Number one: you live in Georgia. Not Rhode Island. This is a state where most pickups come standard with a gun rack. Number two: you have passed enough dead soldiers to outfit yourself and your stupid friends sixteen times over. Number three: Where do guns come from? From the gun store! Get a brick, break into one, fill your purses, pockets and backpacks. If I, as a female living in Pennsylvania, know the whereabouts of four gun stores within a thirty mile radius of my house, well, guess what? I bet you have a few, too. Check the yellow pages. Number four: If, for some inexplicable reason, you are unable to find a gun store…or a Walmart…break into a house with a pickup truck in the driveway and take their likely vast collection of firearms. You live in Georgia, remember? Leave a note, if it makes you feel better. 

Also, random pet peeve…they call them Walkers, and Geeks. People, you are clearly dealing with zombies. Call a spade an effing spade, will you?

So, yeah, TWD got better, but not enough to make me say, “Wow…this is a good show.” It has potential, though, and for that reason I’m going to keep an eye on it and catch up on Season II this Sunday. “Potential” in this context, though, simply means there are a lot of things that could and should be happening which aren’t. I expect them to start.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Review of Dead To You, by Lisa McMann

Dead to YouDead to You by Lisa McMann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ethan was abducted from his front yard when he was just seven years old. Now, at sixteen, he has returned to his family. It's a miracle... at first. Then the tensions start to build. His reintroduction to his old life isn't going smoothly, and his family is tearing apart all over again. If only Ethan could remember something, anything, about his life before, he'd be able to put the pieces back together. But there's something that's keeping his memory blocked. Something unspeakable...

What I Liked: From page one, I was engrossed. Any time I had to step away from the book—to drive, to shower, etc—I was thinking about it. The story was electrified with suppressed chaos. And I had no idea where it was going. Well, no, that’s a lie. But I ignored the arrows, because the author wouldn’t do that, would she? No way.

What I Didn’t: Except she did. She totally went there. Which, by itself, isn’t a bad thing. There are few things I love more than staring open-mouthed at a book, gasping and clutching my chest in complete shock. It’s pretty hard to surprise me. But you can’t drop a bombshell like that and then just walk away. Which is exactly what McMann did. The bomb hasn’t even finished exploding, and the book ends. And I’m sorry, but if I’ve walked along with you all this way in the story, you can’t end the book in the middle of the climax and leave me to wonder about what happens to the people you’ve made me care about.

Overall: The book was great. Except for the last five pages, or, rather, the fact that the last five pages were the last five pages. I originally had this book as a four-star, but lowered it to a three after a night of thinking about how the abrupt ending spoiled the entire book. Which is sad, because the first 19/20ths of it was stellar. I wouldn’t recommend that people not read Dead To You…I’m just saying Buyer Beware.

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