Thursday, October 29, 2015

Review: More Happy Than Not

More Happy Than Not More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So this guy Adam Silvera's an up-and-coming debut writer? If so, he's definitely one to watch out for.

Contemporary YA is usually natural anathema to geekboys like me, and like Aaron Soto. Of course, when it's a Darker and Edgier contemporary with a sci-fi twist, packed with glorious pop-culture references, that's the exception to the rule. That's this book.

But it's not all about the glorious pop-culture references, from X-Men to Harry Potter (sorry, Scorpius Hawthorne) to Spider-Man. That's mostly in the first half of the book, while the second half delves into Winger territory with its serious feels levels. Between the increasingly sad memories of Aaron's past, which also serve to clarify some seeming inconsistencies and missing details from the present (like, the first half makes it seem as if Aaron's an inexperienced dude seriously questioning his sexuality a la Grasshopper Jungle, but the second half reveals that it's not the case), another side to his dad's suicide that made it even harsher in hindsight (and made him far less sympathetic, I'm sorry to say) and his decision to go for a memory-erasing Leteo procedure, I found myself more unhappy than not. I mean, as much as Aaron's got so many traumatic memories to deal with, is turning to an experimental procedure with potential nasty side effects (oh God, the side effects) the right way to solve the problem? I mean, especially when they use the word "unwound" as part of the description of the procedure - have they not read Neal Shusterman? The point is, Aaron, like most geekboys, should have asked himself: What would Scorpius do? What would Spidey do?

Well, someone in the fictional multiverse has to take that risk. And Jesus H. Christ, the results are devastating. Thankfully, though, there's a spark of hope right at the very end. But until then, to go from the happy side of an Andrew Smith book to something almost straight out of the "Take Me To Church" video...

Yeah, some books just aren't all sunshine and rainbows. Five stars to this one for feels alone.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Review: The Detective

The Detective The Detective by Jonathan L. Howard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book in this series read like Doctor Parnassus in book form. This book, whose blurb compares it to Murder On The Orient Express for good reason, is instead what would happen if The Grand Budapest Hotel were a collaboration between Jim Butcher and Quentin Tarantino. Maybe with a bit of Spielberg thrown in - just look at the hilariously grossgusting Mirkarvian dinner served aboard the Princess Hortense, right down to that sickening "tschun," which is best described as "rancid goulash." "Put hairs on your chest, this will!"

Our favorite necromancer of some little infamy should solve murders more often, no?

Now to look for the third book - which I may also have to special-order like the first two, but as a new member of the Cabal Cabal, it's gonna be so worth it.

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Review: The Aeronaut's Windlass

The Aeronaut's Windlass The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How long has it been since Butcher first announced this book? Two years? Three? Well, his long-promised steampunk story is finally here, and I've finally gotten through the entire first book. It's a little more in the vein of Codex Alera than The Dresden Files, just with a different alternate-world fantasy setting. There's a little less magic and a little more science - other than, of course, the etherealists, the Spires, the talking cats, etc. etc. And it's long. Six hundred pages plus. I don't think Butcher's ever put out a brick this size before. But it's still got a lot of his signature elements - high action, ass-kickage all over the place, bizarro humor (my personal favorite part is the "No Unauthorized Entry" sign followed by "No, You Are NOT Authorized"), ladies to be feared, and the fact that it's just begging for a Rush soundtrack in the movie. In this case, maybe a little of their new-millennium material: selections from Vapor Trails (Remixed, of course), Snakes & Arrows, and let's not forget Clockwork Angels.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Review: Stand-Off

Stand-Off Stand-Off by Andrew Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A couple of years ago, Cory Doctorow put out the sequel to Little Brother and delivered a Lighter and Softer story that read a bit more like a string of loosely connected personal vignettes for the main character. Now, old Marbury Jack does something similar for the sequel to Winger.

This book actually isn't just Lighter and Softer than Winger, though. It's Lighter and Softer than any Andrew Smith book I've ever read, especially The Alex Crow or Grasshopper Jungle. Sure, there's the ever-present threat of NATE (the Next Accidental Terrible Experience) to think about, but hey, is that creepy-ass swamp monster any match for the Rainicorn-y powers of Princess Snugglewarm? I think not.

Another way it's Lighter and Softer - despite the fact that the boys of Pine Mountain all desperately need hugs...

...there's not so much that adds to the tragedy in their lives this time around. I kept having the uneasy feeling that we'd have a repeat of Joey's death, or maybe something worse. But no, no NATEs happen, thank God. Instead, we get a little more insight into the histories of characters both old and new. A special favorite of mine is, of course, the Abernathy, who's basically me as a twelve-year-old, but more excitable. (The Drinking Game for this book: take a shot every time Sam Abernathy "wriggles with excitement." I hope you didn't just do that, as it's deadly. XD) I admit, I hated Ryan Dean for a while for being such an asshole to the little guy - did he really do such a great job of forgetting that he, too, was once a twelve-year-old freshman? But eventually, he warmed up to him, in spite of himself, as expected. So much stuff happened in this book that I actually expected - most of which involved the boys' love lives and romantic feelings, including - yep, Joey's. So, not a lot of surprises, but they still kept the book interesting, along with so many other factors. Namely, Ryan Dean's soon-to-be-world-famous comics.

So, considering that this book doesn't end nearly so tragically as its predecessor, I would hope that Andrew Smith doesn't go ahead and write a third book for Ryan Dean, then end it in bloodshed all over again. Here's proof that he can, in fact, leave well enough alone for his characters. Can, and should. Not everything has to end in disaster. Not everything needs a NATE.

And in the meantime, I'll still be waiting for Smith's next creation. And changing my own Ryan character's name to Russell, so he and my own Annie character won't get confused with Ryan Dean and Annie from this book anymore. :)

View all my reviews

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Crimson Peak: The Writer's Horror Movie


"Ghosts are real...this much I know."

So far, most of the top contenders on my list of Best 2015 Movies (So Far) are action movies. Among them: Kingsman: The Secret Service.

"Manners. Maketh. Man."

And Chappie.

"Indestructible Gangsta Number One, Son!"

And Age of Ultron.


And Fury Road.


And Ant-Man.

Trippy, even by Marvel standards. :)

And, of course, The Scorch Trials, which is still my favorite movie of the year.

I'm still waiting on the electric tazer rifle. XD

But now I've got a new Number Two on my 2015 best-list. It's the movie I just watched today - a lovely Gothic horror show from Guillermo Del Toro called Crimson Peak.

(PLEASE NOTE: In order to properly discuss this movie, I will have to severely spoil it - and, like most genre movies, this one utterly depends on not being spoiled. So if you haven't seen the movie yet - in which case, what is wrong with you? Remedy that grievous error of judgment at once! - leave now and don't come back until you've seen the movie in full. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.)

Let's start with a word on our heroine, Edith Cushing. Played magnificently (of course) by Mia Wasikowska (I still love pronouncing that name in Polish. "Vah-shee-kov-ska."), Edith is, like myself and a fair few Pinecones, a writer. Not an aspiring writer, but a writer. Inspired by the death of her mother when she was a girl, she's written herself a ghost story and is struggling to publish it. Her being a woman is a primary roadbloack interfering with her goal - people look at her and mockingly compare her to Jane Austen, and she retorts by saying she'd rather be Mary Shelley, who died a widow and not a spinster.

Enter Sir Thomas Sharpe, an English baronet who spends his time Hiddleston-ing with his world-famous cheekbones, smooth and cultured voice and accent, and oddly irresistible charm. Irresistible to everyone but Edith's father, that is. He wisely mistrusts Sharpe from the start because he himself is a hard-working, salt-of-the-earth type, a self-made American industrialist, as opposed to a soft-handed aristocrat. So, when Sharpe comes along hoping to secure capital for his steampunk clay harvester, Daddy Cushing turns him down, citing the fact that his previous attempts to get funding (in several European cities) have all failed. It may have something to do with the fact that this movie is, temporally, technically post-steampunk, being set in the early 1900s when diesel and internal-combustion engines (observe the Model T prominently featured in one early scene) were becoming the next big thing. may have something to do with the sinister undercurrents flowing from Sharpe and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain, whom you'll never see the same way again after this movie.) Mr. Cushing learns from a P.I. that there's something unsavory in the pasts of the Sharpes, and not long afterwards, he's violently bludgeoned to death in his own bathroom. Now completely orphaned, Edith marries Sharpe (who has spent his time in Buffalo, NY wooing her instead of the other rich girl he intended to attract) and comes with him as they return to Allerdale Hall, his ancestral home in northern England.

At Allerdale is where the movie, already one of the reddest ever made (hence why this post is written mostly in that color), morphs into the horror show we've all come for. This moldering old pile is a ghastly, Gothic mansion with decay detectable in every frame. Nothing about this place is up to code. There are holes in the ceiling, through which snow and assorted debris keep on falling. The ground is made with red clay that oozes through the rotted wood and wall tiles all over the house. Oh, and there are ghosts that keep popping up every so often.

This is when Agent Booth goes all, "Whoa, Bones!"

Edith actually saw the ghost of her mother not long after her death, and she warned her right then and there, "Beware of Crimson Peak!" Turns out, she was right - Crimson Peak, the not-so-secret nickname for Allerdale Hall (three guesses why) is haunted by the spirits of those who've died within its walls. Why have they died? Because of the Sharpes. In the end, Edith learns (from the ghosts, some wax cylinders, letters to Thomas Sharpe's previous, deceased wife, and from the horse's mouth - that is, that of Lucille) the secrets of this family. The siblings' parents were abusive (physically for the father, emotionally for the mother), and they themselves have been in an incestuous relationship. So, with little to no money of their own (their dear old dad having squandered the family fortune), Thomas has repeatedly married women from all over, and Lucille has killed them (and taken cuttings of their hair as creepy-ass trophies) as soon as they've signed over their estates to their new husband. Think Dragon Tattoo meets Game of Thrones. There's a reason why the first thing I said coming out of the theater is this: "In the real world, when you Jamie your Cersei, you turn into bloody serial killers!"

Now both stars of Mama have been doing the do
with their siblings in other roles. How about that?

Of course, this is when things get complicated. You see, there's still another man back home who loves Edith, and he races out to England to rescue her after learning how fracked-up the Sharpes are. (And that's before he learns they've been secretly poisoning her with deadly tea the whole time, making her look like she's got some kind of Victorian romance-novel Incurable Cough of Death.) And as for Sir Sharpe, well, he's kinda fallen in love with Edith too, and he won't let his wackadoodle sister have her way with her. Even at the cost of his cheekbones. (No, seriously, that's how he dies - a blade goes in right under his eye - and boy howdy, that one scene shocked the theater more than any other.)

That, my dear children, is how Guillermo Del Toro expertly blends Gothic horror with modern horror. The setting's right for the former, and it's updated enough to hold its own with the best of the latter. It's equal parts suspenseful storytelling (the true hallmark of Gothic terror - not horror, but terror; my Gothic Lit professor insists on having us all know the difference) and grisly grotesquerie.

One last reason why this is an A movie for me - special mention goes to the scene where, on orders from Mr. Cushing, Sharpe is deliberately doing his damnedest to break Edith's heart. How does he do that? By telling her she doesn't have one, or at least not a well-developed one because of her lack of real-life romantic experience, so what the hell business does she have incorporating a love story into her ghost story? Sure, she only did so because of pressure from Executive Meddling, but still. That part actually rang true with me more than any other aspect of Edith's writing career, for one simple reason. As a guy who's twenty-two years single, I have no romantic experience on which to draw while writing relationships for my characters. Somehow, though, I'm able to rise above that and deliver to my readers' satisfaction anyway, if the positive response (and occasional shipping wars) among the Pinecones is anything to go by. Or, as my friend suggested when I brought this up to her after the movie, maybe it's just something so universal, everyone has an instinct for it, and is capable of writing romance properly no matter what. Especially if, like Edith, our main romantic reference pool consists of other works of fiction.

In which case, I'll assume that there's hope yet for the future of my heart and soul. :)

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Cold Fire: Rachel And Alex's First Date


In another burst of creativity, I've finally thought of the best possible first date for Rachel and Alex, which is now an extension of Red Rain's new Chapter 24, "Beautiful Child," which I posted earlier this month. The chief inspiration, believe it or not, comes not from Teen Wolf, despite this new scene featuring yet another well-placed reference to that show. Instead, it comes from this funny Twitter feed, aptly called Brooding YA Hero. More specifically, it comes from this here tweet of his:

Aww, poor guy. Well, Alex is gonna have the chance to do what you can't, and he'll be able to speak from experience when he tells you exactly what you're missing. But first, a little mood music - in this case, an underrated gem from the year of my birth: Rush, "Cold Fire."

One last thing: Alex is aware that Rachel has a motorcycle by the time this scene takes place, so that's why, when she breaks out the helmets, it's no surprise to him. In a scene that, were I to re-enact it for reals, my parents would have a heart attack. :)

The first day back at Balthazar in January, when I see Rachel in a denim jacket I’ve never seen before (it might be a Christmas gift), I kiss her on the cheek, and she jumps into my arms to hug me back. She even leaves a yellow Post-It inside my hood, with her email and number written on it. “Should’ve given that to you before break,” she says.

“Love you too,” I say, holding her hand as we sit in the lounge’s biggest armchair.

But she’s not in a mood to sit. Almost immediately, she stands up again and opens the bigger of her two wheeled suitcases, extracting her two motorcycle helmets. “Wanna take Jace for a ride?” she asks, tossing one helmet into my lap.

“You named your bike after Jace Wayland?”

“Yep. You wanna come with or not? I haven’t gone out with him since before break - I have to leave him in a shed up here, ‘cause the movers don’t like to come up here in the winter.”

I look at my reflection in the helmet’s tinted Plexiglas visor. “You’re driving, right?”

“Mm-hmm.” Rachel takes my hand and lifts me out of the seat - holy shit, she’s strong. Either that, or I’m just in no mood to resist her. And her charms. “But hey, think of this as a learning opportunity for when you have your own motorbike too.”

I grin at her and tuck the helmet under my arm. “Scott McCall’s an amazing role model. Lead the way, Rach.”

“Yay!” Rachel chirps, tugging on my arm as she leads me downstairs and out of the building to a storage shed on the edge of the grounds. There are no less than five motorbikes inside, but there’s no mistaking Jace - he’s the leanest and meanest of the bunch. Low-slung. And when Rachel turns his engine on, the roar gives me chills.

“Helmet on and hold on,” Rachel says, wheeling him out onto the gravel path leading towards the service road.

I follow her orders to the letter, my arms wrapped tightly around her waist as she steers Jace around hairpin turns going up the mountain. A few times, I actually cry out in fear as she comes dangerously close to sending us careening over the edge of a cliff, but Rachel’s too good with her bike for that. By the time we come to a stop at the top of a hill overlooking the town below, I’m buzzing with adrenaline and grinning maniacally, and I can’t let go of her even though we’re safely stopped.

Hell, I don’t want to let go of her. I totally see the appeal of these babies now - handle them right, and you can have an experience a hundred times more exhilarating than any flight.

We take off our helmets, and I kiss her again, adding to the electric-charge feeling coursing through me. “Best. First. Date. Ever,” I whisper, our foreheads and noses touching.

“I try,” Rachel says, sounding so modest. So like she’s not in the driver’s seat, even though she is. In every which way but loose.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Review: Zeroes

Zeroes Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Westerfeld's back, baby - and this time, he's got a new team of co-writers to assist him on a strange little YA superhero story. It's not much of an adventure - in fact, it's a little more like Heroes, with our main characters hiding in the shadows (mostly) and trying not to show off their powers to the public. It's a little like Gone, too, with its Central California coastal setting (and when I looked up the town of Cambria, I was surprised to learn that it was the filming location of Arachnophobia, and not the good-sized university town the book makes it out to be.)

Six different Zeroes (as they call themselves) narrate the story in alternate third-person POV chapters - think Heroes of Olympus or A Song Of Ice And Fire. They're good characters, but some are much better than others. My favorites were Crash (because of how unusual her power is - not just wiping out technology, but also being one with it like Gary on Alphas), Flicker (because of the sweet sibling bond she's got), and Anonymous, whose utter forgettability, I found oddly relatable.

The other Zeroes didn't do as much to make me like them, though. I'm still not quite sure what Nate's power is or how it works - and since it seems to work by affecting the emotional energy of a group (or so I've been led to believe), doesn't that make Mob redundant? And as for Scam, his power is inconsistently written. If the voice is designed to tell people what they want to hear, why does it instead develop a mind of its own and just show off what Scam's not supposed to know half the time? And the other half, it insults everyone because it's what Scam wants, and Scam's frustrated, and...and you know what? They don't explain enough about what happened last summer anyway. There's a lot of stuff that goes unexplained, like, most importantly, why the Zeroes have their powers. I mean, Heroes never explained it either (it was basically, "solar eclipse, funny helix, boom, save the cheerleader"), but with the obvious strands of Gone in the book's DNA, I'm really hoping they eventually come up with an explanation in the sequels to this book. Maybe it'll be something a little less outlandish than the gaiaphage, though.

Still, though, the book, while quite faulty at times (particularly in its long, drawn-out first third, which focuses way too much on Scam and Mob at the expense of the other Zeroes), does pick up eventually. Especially when the action really kicks in - Crash killing the police station, anyone? And there are a few little Westerfeld-y touches I really liked - for instance, that Delta-Bravo "the Craig" talking about the stupid EDM club tunes as "doof-doof" music.

Yeah, I'll be waiting for the second book, no problem.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review: Final Stand

Final Stand Final Stand by J L Pawley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In which the Generation Icarus adventures finally conclude...or do they?

There's a reason why the term "Post-Dramatic Jess Disorder" was coined for this book. Of all the Icarus stories (including the Origins novellas), this one has the highest levels of action and feels by far. Especially when Kess and Con are in scene. Especially-especially when the dreadful Reverend enacts his most secret, most devastating plan yet (after which, truly, nothing will ever be the same again for our favorite team.) And then there's the involvement of the Flock, a team of European Icari with an unfortunate connection to those damned Evos (and, thankfully, an in-name-only connection to Max Ride and her Flock, who would no doubt join the Flight to kick these guys' asses, provided Hawk, Kess, and Lory left them any spare ass to kick). When their secret member is unveiled, that's probably the part that made me lose it more than any other single moment in this series.

*sigh* The main series may be over, but at least I can still eagerly await one more Origins novella for Condor. There's someone I need to remember as he was before this book, that's for damn sure. In the meantime, ave atque vale, Generation Icarus! And maybe someday I'll honor you guys with a much-needed addition to the ever-growing ranks of Icarus fanfic... :D

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Review: After the Red Rain

After the Red Rain After the Red Rain by Barry Lyga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Not unlike Chris Weitz's Young World books, I've seen a metric ton of bad buzz and/or mediocre reviews for this new entry in the crowded dystopian genre, largely because it is, in fact, a new entry in the crowded dystopian genre. It's also a very different book than what I've come to expect from Barry Lyga - a different kind of dark, with a lot less bleak hopelessness. And more sci-fi elements in the forefront. Especially when the narrative finally reveals the true nature of Rose's powers - which I won't spoil here, but let's just say that it's unique enough that it single-handedly saves the book. And that Ksenia Anske may be gnashing her teeth, wishing she could have come up with it herself.

There probably won't be a sequel to this one, but if there is, I'd pick it up for sure.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review: The New Order

The New Order The New Order by Chris Weitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second Young World book continues its predecessor's surprisingly addictive streak with a few welcome new storytelling elements in play. Chief among them - the trope known as Sequel Goes Foreign. While Jeff (and a number of other new POV characters who each get a couple of chapters in the spotlight - I especially liked how Brainbox's POV was nothing but unbroken, punctuation-free single paragraphs per chapter, because it fit him very well, stylistically) stay in New York, Donna goes to England, which, surprisingly, isn't nearly as run-down and apocalyptic as the US. In fact, it seems that college life at Oxbridge hasn't been derailed much - other than the fact that the place is not-so-secretly now a sort of prison.

Next up - wait impatiently for Book 3. And also look up Chris Weitz's literary agent, 'cause I get the feeling this person might be interested in Red Rain just for a few stylistic similarities between my book and this series.

View all my reviews

Monday, October 5, 2015

Review: Library of Souls

Library of Souls Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my reaction when I found out this was the final novel of the Miss Peregrine series.

This was my reaction when I opened the book and found it intensely action-packed with all of zero breathing room:

And this was my reaction when I got to the end:

Along the way, Ransom Riggs more than outdid himself. He's taken Jacob, Emma, Addison, and us readers further back in time than we've seen before - to the slums of Victorian London. He's introduced the other brother of Miss Peregrine's - Mr. Bentham, whose motives and actions are mysterious and questionable at all times. We finally learn some truths about why Caul and Bentham betrayed the peculiars - and these truths are downright complicated, to say the least. And we're introduced to an unusual little creation called the Panloopticon - which is oddly similar to the Terminal in my own Red Rain series, but I think Riggs has done a much better job of fleshing out his multiverse than I.

Even when the adventure comes to an end, there's still about fifty pages to go - and most of those fifty pages are absolute hell for all involved. The full ramifications of Jacob's trip into peculiardom come to light, with nasty real-world results. No wonder Riggs declared Kami Garcia's gut-wrenching Unmarked a better book than the original - he himself was dabbling in giving his next book Seriously Increased Feels Syndrome just in the extended epilogue alone.

But it doesn't stay downbeat forever - the last ten pages or so are a massive explosion of hope, largely thanks to the Panloopticon, among other things. The future of peculiardom is so bright, we gotta wear shades. B) Seriously, we could have more peculiar adventures in this 'verse - a companion series would be just what the doctor ordered. Or, even better, something for which Riggs could collaborate with Tahereh Mafi (we've all been waiting for that to happen, we fans, have we not?) The awesomeness levels of such a project would be incredible.

I can't see any other book coming out this year to top this one - it's my favorite book of 2015, undeniably. I hate to see the adventures end, but end they must. With that, ave atque vale, Miss Peregrine and all her peculiars! Next year, our heroes on the big screen - I seriously can't wait! Come Christmas 2016, we'll all #StayPeculiar.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Review: Stone Rider

Stone Rider Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

High promise helps propel this seriously action-packed dystopian story - high promise, and high action, and high intensity. The author-acknowledged shades of Mad Max and old westerns help - and, thankfully, this story also doesn't overdo it on the bizarre prose that ruined Blood Red Road (the closest match to this book I can think off the top of my head) for me. My favorite part by far was the revelation of Kane's true identity - which seems implausible at first, but it's carefully explained why it's actually just the opposite. Kane in general was fun to read about, especially because of the fact that he's basically a hybrid of Oliver Queen (the mystery-shrouded antihero who's not afraid to show his battle scars) and Number Nine (with just the right levels of lunacy - and now it's especially extra-funny because so many Lorien Legacies fans, myself included, fan-cast Robbie Amell as Nine - so, basically, Kane is the apocalyptic version of an Amell cousin.)

So, Mr. Hofmeyr's planning a second book? Hope Blood Rider hits the shelves in 2016 as scheduled. In the meantime, I've added his literary agent to the ever-growing list of query recipients for Red Rain...

View all my reviews