Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: The Last Mile

The Last Mile The Last Mile by David Baldacci
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Recently, my dad told me about a true-crime book by John Grisham he'd recently started reading, about a black man in Texas (I think) who'd been falsely accused of killing a white girl and found guilty. In between all his descriptions of the case and how the guy eventually got on track to getting justice, I kept interjecting increasingly salty, increasingly foul-mouthed comments to the effect of "because it's Texas, and there's a legacy of racism down there."

So when I told him what this book was about, he demanded that I get him into the Amos Decker series right away.

Like Sandford's Extreme Prey, this latest from Baldacci gets pretty topical as it explores the root of the problems currently facing America - bigotry from the sort of people who hide behind their Bibles and spew vile hatred in the name of Jesus, all to ensure that this country doesn't become the beacon of hope and bastion of tolerance it ought to be. Going into an all-important election, we can't afford to lose our way, lose all the progress we've made in the last fifty years, especially.

This country cannot become the sort of place where the events of this book can happen, and happen unpunished.

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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Review: The Outsiders

The Outsiders The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Yes, I'm feeling a little bit nervous
Yes, I'm feeling nervous and I cannot relax
How come they're out to get us?
How come they're out when they don't know the facts?"

-Coldplay, "Hurts Like Heaven"

Glory hallelujah. Why didn't I read this one sooner?

Like a lot of teenagers, I tended to hate the books I had to read in high school English classes. One of the ones I hated the most was Catcher in the Rye, because it was just so hard to see what made it so special. Holden was unlikable, his circumstances were laughable and a classic case of "first world problems" before such a thing even existed, and he felt like he was trying too hard to be edgy.

If I could switch that book for any other to have read in English class when I was sixteen, this is the one I would choose. Hell, maybe I'd put it into my eighth-grade English class, because my sister's in eighth grade and is reading it herself right now. That was the final reason why I finally picked this one up - that and my recent discovery of the fact that S.E. Hinton's one of the biggest-name Supernatural fans around, and that they've given her and her book plenty of shout-outs as a result.

If any book should be required reading for all high school students, it should be this one. Most teenagers can't relate to the entitled, whiny likes of Holden Caulfield (who I think would probably be a Soc if he weren't so antisocial), and probably laugh when they're not supposed to at the title characters of Romeo and Juliet. But I'm sure they can see a little more of themselves in at least one of this book's outsiders. Especially Ponyboy, but I'm probably just saying that because he's pretty much me in sixties Greaser form. He's a dreamer, a creator, and he's been told that he has too much imagination - as if that were even possible. And thanks to this book, my intention to end my own series the way I plan to do is now validated, as it would be another well-deserved Outsiders shoutout for the list, tucked in with all my numerous Supernatural shoutouts (it helps that a lot of people have picked up on my first book being subconsciously inspired by a Season 1 episode.)

I just hope Supernatural remains on the air when I'm published, because if I'm famous enough to get a set visit the way Hinton's done many times, that would totally make my life.

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Review: 15th Affair

15th Affair 15th Affair by James Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The murder that kick-starts this book is just the first taste of the real shock - which comes in the form of an incident eerily reminiscent of the infamous Asiana Air crash a few years back at SFO, but even worse. Patterson's plane crash is brought about by terrorists, and not only that, it impacts onto a high school campus - which happens to be the same one that my cousins have all attended in real life, where the youngest of them still goes to school.

When my dad heard about this particular plot twist, you should have seen the look on his face.

So, for that personal reason alone, this book is going to stick in my mind much more than any other Women's Murder Club book in years - perhaps since The 8th Confession. Other than that, there's also the whole storyline about Joe Molinari's mysterious involvement with the bad guys - is he deep undercover, or has he turned, or what? I've noticed a lot of readers complaining about this, but not me. Joe's story kept things really interesting.

Hey, that cliffhanger, though...low-key, but still cruel in its own way.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: The Blood Between Us

The Blood Between Us The Blood Between Us by Zac Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've never read a book by Uncle Zac that I didn't like, and The Blood Between Us is no exception. It's a dark and raw book, and very matter-of-fact and honest about what it is. In coffee terms, it's a cup of espresso - a tiny but potent shot or two right to the veins. It reminded me a lot of James Patterson's Confessions of a Murder Suspect, especially with the familial bad blood (insert the Bastille song here) and the mysteriously deceased scientist parents. However, this mystery wasn't quite the driving force that Patterson's was, for which I'm grateful because it allows for this short but sweet book to delve into some interesting character development. Two characters, however, stood out from all the rest.

Let's start with Adrien. He's my second-favorite of Uncle Zac's protagonists thus far - sorry, Adrien, but Vlad Tod will always hold a special place in my heart. (And speaking of Vlad, I'd like to think this book and CoVT take place in the same universe, if only because of the Psycho Slasher Chainsaw Guy From Hell movies these books have in common.) I see a lot of myself in Adrien, though - particularly his science-geek side (which, sadly, I've mostly abandoned since I left high school, the better to concentrate on my ongoing supernatural-writing efforts) and his lack of care for his appearance, as he prefers to dress casually and in unkempt threads. Hell, I'm sure I'll be taking another page out of his book and wearing my current pair of Chucks until they're really most sincerely dead. Why? Because we're cool like that, that's why.

And let's not forget Josh. I swear, in his first scene when he's introduced while working the school's radio station, he poses a serious threat to Peter Parker's status as my secret twin.

Seriously. I first did a double take because I've written my own MC's best friend establishing his personality by getting into a DJ booth to play music tailor-made to attract his own love interest. And when Josh name-drops Panic! At The Disco - the same band I wrote into my DJ-booth scene! - among so many other great bands, I finally realized why I've had so much trouble getting my book published.

My book and I just aren't worthy. *bows before Uncle Zac*

But outside the realm of cool characters and "I understood that reference" moments, there were more than a few moments that made me go roughly like this:

Namely, pretty much every word out of Grace's mouth. No wonder Adrien leaves her the first chance he gets. Then there's a certain kiss scene, one I kinda saw coming only because of the way early publicity for this book highlighted the "label" theme - and while we're at it, I have to say this book has perhaps the best depiction I've ever seen of an adolescent male figuring out his sexuality. It deals less with Adrien's confusion about himself (something I could have done with a little less of at Adrien's age), and more in his acceptance that he's not done determining his self-identity. And of course, there's the climax, perhaps the biggest shocker of a twist in Uncle Zac's history. No spoilers, of course, but let's just say it made me drop an F-bomb in full view of my open bedroom window. Hope nobody on the street heard that, not that it's likely with the construction next door, haha...

And here I thought Uncle Zac had a tough act to follow after The Cemetery Boys. Nope. The Blood Between Us has raised the bar so much higher.

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Review: Alight

Alight Alight by Scott Sigler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just like with the first book in this trilogy, my review for this one will be short, sweet, and spoiler-free. Let's just say that if you thought things couldn't get any less Aztec-like in their bloody, ancient-civilization-influenced sci-fi horror, you thought wrong. Life on this strange, desolate, faraway planet is far from a secure thing, especially with the threats constantly rising from within the jungle, within our heroes' camp, etc. etc.

Em Savage really has her work cut out for her. And with that cliffhanger ending, the third book is going to be absolutely epic. Count on it.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: Shadowplay

Shadowplay Shadowplay by Laura Lam
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For some reason, while my local library has a pretty extensive collection, they seem oddly lacking in books from smaller publishers and books from Bay Area writers - of which the second Micah Grey novel qualifies as both. Thankfully, Berkeley Public Library had a copy which I could special order.

Micah and Drystan spend this book in the company of magicians - similar ilk to Pantomime's circus performers, so it's not too different from the first book. However, Lam keeps things interesting with our performing heroes' ongoing "on the lam" (excuse my pun) storyline following the events of Pantomime. Flashbacks are less frequent, and instead we get a few more scenes where Drystan talks about his past. I especially liked the one where he talked about how much of a rebel he was in his younger days. As for Micah, he embraces his non-binary identity more strongly in this book, freely dressing in masculine or feminine clothes as needed. More than ever, I find myself wondering which pronouns I should use to refer to Micah - I'm still leaning more towards male ones, but that's more out of habit than anything else after having done so in my head all throughout the first book, while using female pronouns to refer to Gene before she ran away from home.

Another excellent part of this book is the romance between Micah and Drystan. I expected it to build up in this book, and happily, I found it to be a slow burn, consisting largely of scenes of the two of them cuddling at night and being awkward in the best of ways. (And sometimes, not the best of ways, but those not-best of ways are a bit spoilery.) At least once, Micah talks about craving human contact - making him once again so very much relatable to me, as I've been single all my life and am thus always starved for affection.

The strong and satisfying romance gives this book a far sweeter ending than its predecessor. No spoilers, of course. All I will say is that I'm glad I won't have to wait such a long time for Book 3, as I would have if I'd discovered these books sooner.

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Review: The Magician's Land

The Magician's Land The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The thing about this trilogy is that it starts out with a decidedly dim view of its many worlds, and gets even darker from there. Finally, in the end, there's a glimmer of hope, but that end comes after a long, difficult, and often repetitive read. Grossman's books may be inspired by modern fantasy, but he goes so hard for genre deconstruction that it becomes a grimdark, gritty slog - something that, I think, the Syfy series is doing a good job of correcting in its much more magical adaptation. That being said, though, the book does remain strangely compelling, and there's been considerable character development - particularly for Quentin, that oh-so-relatable disaffected, depressed, bookish, lonesome, awkward millennial in need of a purpose in life. (I swear to Ember and Umber I wasn't just describing myself, no sir!)

I hope that, in future seasons, Syfy continues to stick to that primary theme for the series - but that they otherwise feel free to diverge from the source material, because their more lighthearted, geek-humorous approach is such an improvement.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Review: Curtsies & Conspiracies

Curtsies & Conspiracies Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Okay, I guess this series just isn't for me after all. Interesting though it appears, for some reason it absolutely defies all attempts for me to really, truly enjoy it like I should. Maybe I'm just a little confused by the way Carriger just throws a bunch of fantasy and steampunk elements into a blender and hits "chop." It worked for Cassie Clare, but for this author, not so much, for some reason. I'm not getting the jokes, the action doesn't cut it for me, and the characters all blur together.

With apologies, I'm hereby done with the Finishing School series.

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Best And Worst Of The 2015-16 TV Season

This TV season may not be quite over yet (the party don't end till The Flash walks out, and even then there's still gonna be quite a few stragglers still keeping on going!) But now, in the wake of a truly epic season finale for one of my favorite shows, I think it's high time I put my thoughts out there on the shows I loved the most this season - and those that didn't impress me so much, for whatever reason.

So, let's get my Five Worst out of the way first.

5. Castle

Well, it pains me to start here, but I just have to get this out there...I love Castle. As a writer, I'm required by law to love it. But this season, they really just lost the plot with the annoying "Castle and Beckett separated for his own safety because LokSat" storyline, which dragged on and on and on and on...it alienated my dad as a viewer, and he quit the show about halfway through the season. I would have quit as well if Season 9 were to have been green-lit by ABC without Beckett - an unforgivable sin in the eyes of many, which, I think, is why it ultimately got canned.

Caskett forever. Always.

4. Game of Silence

Basically, if you hire Niels Arden Oplev as your pilot director, I'm guaranteed to at least try your show out. I got into Mr. Robot this way, and same goes for the highly-underrated Under The Dome. A pity the same couldn't be said for Game of Silence. Even before NBC cancelled this one due to low ratings, I sensed that this show wasn't going anywhere fast, with its ridiculously twisted plot - and not in a good way. At least the pilot was effective and powerful stuff, and also the second episode...but frankly, I had the horrible feeling that the ongoing arc with the "family values" politician and his dirty secret past (of course, and he's probably Republican too, no?) wasn't going to resolve itself anytime soon.

The real draw for this show: Bass Monroe from Revolution.

3. American Horror Story: Hotel

I love FX's super-popular dark anthology, even if it's oftentimes ridiculous and overwrought and borrows too much inspiration from schlocky scare-fests of yesteryear. Sadly, AHS: Hotel was a massive come-down of a season, harking back to the ultra-dark days of Murder House. Granted, there's something to be said for this season's primary themes being addiction and excess, but that doesn't make it any less hard to watch. And at least there were some likable people in this ensemble, unlike Murder House. But like Murder House, Hotel was saddled with ridiculously wall-to-wall sex and violence, a fairly predictable main plot, and too many dead-end subplots to count. Here's hoping this "return to form" is only temporary.

"I want your ugly, I want your disease..."

2. Scream Queens

Ryan Murphy hasn't been having a good year in terms of quality, I don't think. His other big project had promise for taking more modern inspiration (90s slasher movies like, duh, Scream!) than the obscure, even pretentious, historical and/or Old Hollywood references that have become bread-and-butter for AHS. Unfortunately, when Murphy's trying to go for laughs, it doesn't work nearly as well as the often-unintentional ones of AHS. At least Scream Queens had some memorable deaths in its early episodes (Ariana Grande live-tweeting hers, Nick Jonas getting crucified to the sounds of "Sunglasses at Night" - and later turning up alive again!) And, of course, Jamie Lee Curtis reenacting the shower scene from Psycho. But overall, the show was bogged down by its relentlessly detestable cast of characters and overabundance of disgusting, trying-too-hard-for-funny moments (that one guy who had such a death fetish that he would go to the cemetery and jerk off? Well, apart from giving a whole new meaning to "grave rubbing..." I mean, come on!) I'm still surprised Fox gave Season 2 the green light, and like with True Detective, I'm not coming back.

And Emma Roberts will still always be best-known
for the infamous "Surprise, bitch!" line from Coven.

1. Quantico

My parents and I were really looking forward to this one going into the start of the fall season, especially after seeing a pretty nice featurette for it while waiting to start Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in the theater. As it turns out, though, ABC's timely, topical terrorism thriller started out with a strong, strong pilot, only to quickly dissolve into so much soap-opera drama (even pointing out its own soap-opera nature, so points for self-awareness) that it overshadowed the terrorist-plot elements completely. (It certainly didn't help that the story was told in a present-day timeline following the attack, as well as pervasive flashbacks, which were surprisingly hard to tell apart.) For me, red flags were also raised when I saw comparisons to Homeland and How To Get Away With Murder (both of which I can't stand), and when I learned that the show's creator was a former Gossip Girl writer (which explains the drama, at least.) My parents gave up after three episodes, and I gave up after seven, if only to see a little more of Rick Cosnett and remind myself of when he used to play Eddie Thawne. How people continued to eat this up enough for it to be renewed for Season 2 is a mystery to me.

As Cat Grant would say, "You look like the attractive, yet non-
threatening, racially diverse cast of a CW show."

And now for my Five Best!

5. Limitless

Oh, CBS. You have seriously, seriously dropped the ball by not renewing this show - and also, you may have possibly reignited the Tuesdays-at-10 curse that killed Threshold, Jericho (the second time), (almost) The Amazing Race, and, more recently, Person of Interest. At least it had the chance to run a full season, though. And it certainly did a great job of striking the balance between light and darkness. For instance, the pilot was pretty close in tone to the 2011 film to which the series is a sequel, but the second episode was far more lighthearted and funny and introduced the slick, cartoony sense of humor that really helped me appreciate the show much more. Being the product of a creative team that involved producers from Elementary, Sleepy Hollow, and The Amazing Spider-Man movies just made Limitless automatically awesome by association - and, apparently, too good for CBS despite being their second-highest-rated new drama. If CBS doesn't find this show a new home (preferably not on Netflix - not everyone has it, you know!), they'll really, truly have failed this fandom.

Part of its Elementary/Sleepy Hollow/TASM pedigree
also included a kick-ass theme tune. Just sayin'.

4. Supergirl

CBS proved themselves stupid this spring by not renewing their two highest-rated freshman dramas - although, unlike with Limitless, the decision to jettison Supergirl from the lineup makes a little more sense. Budget issues were the main culprit, but there was also the fact that Supergirl just plain didn't fit into the CBS lineup very well. The CW lineup, on the other hand, looks like it'll be a much, much better fit (and, happily, I'm already seeing the CW advertising the move!) I just really wish the CW had gotten the series from the get-go, although being on CBS instead for its first year helped make the Flash crossover a lot more special. (Also, I'm still happily shipping SuperFlash, or, as I like to call them, KareBear.) Still, changing networks shouldn't change Supergirl's core awesomeness, the fact that she's just a great big ball of amazing alien sunshine who, along with her friends and family (and fans!) carries a wide range of emotions.

Rock on, Angel From Krypton. <3

3. Colony

I just know Proxy Snyder would not appreciate it if his show weren't included in this list (and if you're not following him on Twitter, you should - @ProxySnyder is wickedly droll, take it from me!) Humor aside, though, this latest excellent USA series takes the ubiquitous dystopian thriller and presents it with a few surprising twists - chief among them, the fact that, even though we're pretty much conditioned to always root for the Resistance, here they're not really the good guys, just like the Transitional Authority isn't all bad (and some on both sides are worse than others, but let's not go there - spoilers, y'know.) Despite being set in the sunny LA Bloc, Colony is, morally, gray as a cloudy day - and that's just part of the excitement, because it makes for a highly unpredictable, ever-twisty plot.

And yes, it's got Lost in its DNA. That alone makes it one of the best.

2. The 100

Hoo boy...how this show went from internet darling to internet pariah so quickly, and all because of a couple of fan-favorite deaths. I can just imagine George R.R. Martin hearing of this from deep within his writing cave, laughing to himself, and adding another layer of violence to his own next fan-favorite death. Those of us who weren't daunted by the violence, however, were whipped into a different kind of fan frenzy this season - because as dark and bloody and heartbreaking and one-step-forward-three-goddamn-steps-back-for-our-poor-heroes as it got, we were so bound and determined that there would be some light at the end of the tunnel. And I don't mean the City of Light, people. I mean real light. Hope. Life. Survival. Endurance. That's the message of The 100 - because as much as Clarke might insist that "maybe there aren't any good guys," that's not true. As long as there's someone to root for...and this show boasts those in spades. It's just a shame that we won't be getting Season 4 in the fall...but we will be getting a Season 4, in spite of the anti-fan campaigns against the show. Ge smak daun, gyon op nodotaim. We, the fans, will be chomping at the bit for the return - and, in the meantime, hoping that Adina Porter can get us access to Indra's Grounder Strip Mall.

May we meet again.

Although I'll say this much - Wanheda Clarke's red hair?
I'm kinda glad she went back to blonde. It suits her better.

1. The Flash

My favorite show on TV right now, for so many reasons. All the Arrowverse shows are cool, but none as much as this, the second one to make its grand debut on the CW (hard to believe it was only two years ago, almost!) Thrills aplenty, tons of feels (I still tear up from so much as thinking of "The Runaway Dinosaur"), all the laughs (most of which are Cisco's fault), A-grade acting (we need to start a "For Your Consideration" campaign for Grant Gustin to get Best Actor for - what else? - "The Runaway Dinosaur!"), the general awesomeness of Barry's powers (if only I had them, because then I could have a stronger sense of freedom in my life) and did I mention the thrills? I'll never forget the episode that made this show my favorite, last season's "Out of Time." I mention it all the time (pun not intended), but seriously...not having read the comics beforehand really got me even more shocked at the ending of that one (and my DC-disdaining dad looked at me with a "What's wrong with you?" face when I was screaming what basically amounted to "OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT DID HE JUST RUN BACK IN TIME? FUCK YEAH!!!!") While this season's had its stumbles (a tendency to trip over itself on the time-travel plot threads, and also a few pretty clearly recycled elements from Season 1), they've more than made up for it with well-polished diamonds like the two-part Earth-2 episode, and of course "The Runaway Dinosaur" - and, this week, "Invincible," which again had a screamer of an ending. But not a happy scream, more of a devastated scream mimicking Barry's. Next week's finale...it's going to destroy me, I know it.

It's go time. Run, Barry. Run!

And thus endeth my Best and Worst lists...what do you guys think?

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Review: Bitterblue

Bitterblue Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was a bit reluctant to read this book given that I wasn't quite so impressed with Fire, so I ended up taking a very long time before I got around to it. Sadly, it was not worth the wait for me, because Bitterblue proved to be overlong and meandering and dull for most of its length. The central mystery takes far too long to come forth, and while there's a bit of good intrigue (especially with the cryptography element, which was unexpected and, as far as I've noticed, unique for this genre), the book kept making me lose interest.

Frankly, I think Cashore shouldn't have written each book with a different protagonist. Graceling was the only one in this series I really enjoyed, and after that the series just went downhill, pretty much.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: The Talismans of Shannara

The Talismans of Shannara The Talismans of Shannara by Terry Brooks
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At this point, I think I might be done with the Shannara books. Not the MTV series, not by a long shot - and certainly not after that cliffhanger! But as for the books, I think I either need to give up now or just take a long break, because they're burning me out at this point. I feel like they're just too more-of-the-same, and they're really not bringing anything new to the table, not like the ways the show gets a little more inventive and incorporates the post-apocalyptic setting much more strongly.

Like I said, though, maybe I'll come back to this someday.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Review: A Dream of Ice

A Dream of Ice A Dream of Ice by Gillian Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can see where this book gets its frequent Preston and Child comparisons, being a nice little fun-sized piece of epic sci-fi. Still, I can't quite shake the feeling that this book's a little been-there-done-that-got-the-T-shirt-and-kooky-hat (to quote a reader's comment on one of my fanfics), like one of P&C's lesser (and less Pendergast-y) efforts. Still, though, for its faults, this second Earthend book knows how to deliver the high action as only Scully herself, Gillian Anderson, could experience it. (I know this book isn't actually The X-Files, but can you blame me for picturing the main character looking exactly like Scully? Or Bedelia Du Maurier?)

And with that cliffhanger straight out of Fringe...well, I can't stop the series now, can I?

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Review: Half Lost

Half Lost Half Lost by Sally Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Damn. I mean...bloodydamn.

Going into this, I was kind of wondering, why exactly are we supposed to hate Annelise again? I never had a problem with her, really, aside from her being quite underdeveloped as a character. But for what personality she had, I didn't think she was anywhere near the Hate Sink that the fandom (and, as of this book, Nathan) makes her out to be. So I found a copy of Half Wild and looked at the ending again to refresh my memory. Oh yeah...but was that really such a bad thing, what she did? Part of the appeal of this series is that the majority of characters are morally grey, and that Black and White Witches are often quite equally ruthless. So, yes, she made a huge mistake, but given the circumstances, I'm much more forgiving of her.

As for Nathan and Gabriel, I had some reservations about them being a couple in the first two books, because for a while I didn't think they would have compatible sexual orientations. But Green did a great job of having Nathan come to accept his bisexuality slowly and learn that he returned Gabriel's feelings, so by the time this book starts, Nabriel's all but canon.

This book finally brings the White/Black Witch wars to an end, with more globetrotting and deadly magic than ever. Throughout the early chapters, Nathan's plagued with visions of himself being shot, which you might think is meant to foreshadow the book's climax. Not even close - the climax is far more intense and violent than any damage a measly magic bullet can commit. One magic bullet, that is.

Ultimately, the trilogy ends on a bittersweet note - one that I'm sure the majority of the fans (who've probably read this book before I finally got around to it) are seriously pissed off about, for a number of death-related reasons. But it's not all death in the distant finale (the last 25 pages or so take place over a period of approximately five years, I think.) There's life and love to spare as well. It's a delicate balance, and Green took a huge risk that could have alienated the fanbase, but for me, it was the one time reading this series that actually made me tear up. And I had to read that one last chapter several times to determine whose POV it was written in, as well as to make sense of the very last death.

Once again...bloodydamn.

And on a final note - thank God this book finally does away with the second-person POV interludes that periodically cropped up in its two predecessors. That's just such a huge pet peeve of mine, and it helps the trilogy end that much better for me knowing that the annoying format is no longer there.

Ave atque vale, Half Bad Trilogy.

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Review: Extreme Prey

Extreme Prey Extreme Prey by John Sandford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2016 election season has been absolutely dreadful, and all we need to make it worse would be a team of radicals attempting to assassinate one of the candidates. That, I think, was the primary (no pun intended) inspiration for Sandford's latest Lucas Davenport thriller - in which right-wing racist radicals (exactly the sort who would vote for Der Fuehrer Drumpf) conspire to assassinate a fictional Democratic candidate loosely based (to my mind, at least) on Hillary Clinton.

If this were to happen for real, it would be this country's worst nightmare - well, other than the worst nightmare outlined by Steve Berry this year in The 14th Colony.

It's a sign that as much as we don't want to admit it, this country is dangerously poised to plunge into Hell. We need more people like Lucas Davenport who can, and will, take a stand for justice.

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Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review: The 14th Colony

The 14th Colony The 14th Colony by Steve Berry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of Berry's most thrilling books in years, this one encompasses American history from very close to its beginning (the War of 1812) to very close to the modern day (the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union), and manages to link them together in entirely unexpected ways. It's another one of those great stories that reveals a surprising and horribly plausible flaw in US politics - one even worse than the ones that have allowed this year's joke of an election season to happen the way they have. Our Constitution provides for so many contingencies, but the one presented in this novel, here portrayed as a mad Russian's revenge, is one so unusual, and yet so potentially catastrophic, that it's a wonder it's never been taken into account before.

With luck, The 14th Colony will prove influential enough to shape future government policy and ensure that the villainous plot in this novel can not only never come to pass, but never achieve its ultimate goal of plunging the country into Soviet-fall-style chaos.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Flash: Dude Tears And Speed Force Feels


The Flash is my favorite show on TV because it knows how to balance all the best parts of all the best fiction - thrills, laughs, and feels. This week's powerful episode, "The Runaway Dinosaur," was no exception - because it provided us with proof positive, once again, that when Grant Gustin cries, angels' wings shrivel all across the universe.

Also, his tears are highly contagious.
The CDC's got a warning out.

Before last night, my favorite Flash episode was 1x15, "Out of Time," because of its intense final five minutes - which proved to be an absolute game-changer. (It helped that, at the time, I'd not read any of the comics, and was thus genuinely surprised when Barry suddenly gained the ability to travel through time through the use of his speed.)

Who else remembers screaming their heads off when this one ended?

My new favorite, however, is last night's episode - 2x21, "The Runaway Dinosaur." Whereas "Out of Time" benefited from a strong surge of action, this episode benefited instead from a surfeit of emotion, best summed up by this here "Out of Time" meme:

At least this time, Harry was only indirectly responsible for said feels.

Kevin Smith directed this episode with so many metric tons of awesome, it wasn't even funny. Oh wait, it's Kevin Smith, so of course it often was. And those funny scenes were typically paired with those of the highest action - like, when Cisco discovered that the latest particle accelerator explosion, in addition to sweeping Barry into the Speed Force and knocking Wally and Jesse out cold, managed to revive the long-dead Girder as well. Cisco's reaction just said it all: "A zombie? For real?!"

But the real magnificence of this episode lies in the scenes where Barry deals with being stuck in the Speed Force. This all-powerful, all-mysterious entity takes on multiple human avatars throughout the show, each one representing a member of Barry's family. The first two are his West family - Joe and Iris, each being, respectively, the Speed Force's trippy wise man side and the frustrating, clue-dropping side. Then we get his Allen family - his father coming across as hurtful and judgmental and just being the anti-Henry, trying to make Barry really feel his pain by showing him his mother's grave.

Speed Force, why do you make us feel these things?

But while this phony Henry's encounters with Barry are devastating, they're nothing on when the Speed Force takes on the appearance of Nora Allen. A huge part of why we the fans are so attached to Barry is because he spent much of Season 1 trying to avenge his mother's death - and, once he discovered time travel, considering the possibility that he could save her life. The universe seems pretty bound and determined to prevent that from ever happening, however, but we can always hope and pray. And, in the meantime, every single time Barry meets his mom again, Grant Gustin and Michelle Harrison slay with their performances. But never more than last night. Who knows how much of those heart-melting words of encouragement were the Speed Force and how much were Nora Allen's immortal soul? I'd like to believe that the Speed Force started out talking to him, but then when they read the old "Runaway Dinosaur" picture book together (and Barry recited huge chunks of it from memory!), that was when Nora herself took over.

And this was when my heart fractured beyond repair.

When they first announced Kevin Smith was directing a Flash episode a few months back, it didn't take long for my favorite fanart master, Lord Mesa, to sketch a drawing of Barry and Cisco reacting to Smith crying. At first, it seemed like just another reference to Smith's legendary visit to the Star Wars set. But after seeing this episode, I'm forced to conclude that Lord Mesa is the most remarkably prescient fan around, because there is absolutely no way Smith could direct this episode without breaking down. 

I'd like to imagine Barry was by my side during my viewing,
holding out a box of tissues for me too.

Unless you're not attached to these characters, or you're a big old creepy-ass psychopath like Zoom, you will not make it through this episode without crying your eyes out, and that is a promise. These are the most Amazing Spider-Man, most Big Hero 6-level weapons-grade feels in Flash history. The joke among the fandom right now must be, "No, you're the one crying!" But me, I won't even attempt to deny it - I got a terrible, ugly case of broken dude tears. I'm still choking up as I type this, reliving the episode with every image search I make for "The Runaway Dinosaur." After three episodes of painfully powerless Barry, seeing him wreck his heart to get his speed back was the therapy we all needed. As someone who feels a distinct lack of freedom in his life, speed is one of the powers that most appeals to me (that and flight, the predominant superhero ability in my writing.) And, just as it hurts me deeply when I see flight-enabled people de-powered (just look at the scene where Angelina Jolie's Maleficent wakes up wingless), normalized Barry was an agonizing fallen angel to watch.

Two more episodes remain this season, and I really can't wait to see how they finally bring this Zoom storyline to a much-needed close. This season has already reached its emotional peak, I'm sure. Action peak, maybe not so much. But there will never be feels like this again - at least, until next year and some other major tragedy befalls our favorite speedster.

Sorry, Quicksilver. You didn't see that coming? XD

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Novel Newcomers Interview

As part of a series of "Novel Newcomers" interviews for book bloggers who began in 2015, I've been selected for the latest pair of interviews. Naturally, I managed to slip in a couple of Red Rain references, as well as some of my usual Andrew Garfield jokes. And I may have said a little too much compared to my fellow interviewee on this one...but that's okay.

Come check it out here at ReadWriteLove28! :D

Review: The Raven King

The Raven King The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


The thing about this series is that each book has started off beautifully, lost a lot of steam in the end, and then ramped things up again going into the final 50-100 pages or so. The Raven King is no exception. I was afraid that the series would end quite underwhelmingly for a while, and then, boom, demonic possession and ley line magic all over again!

The writing's as beautiful as ever, and the magic's definitely there. But this book isn't really perfect, because it interferes with the characters we know and love so much by adding Henry Cheng, who's got little to do with the story - and, from what I've seen of other reviews, he's not terribly beloved by the fans either. There's also the much-telegraphed death at the end, which didn't do much for me in the feels department because I don't care for that particular character nearly as much as the rest of the book's heroes. And as for shipping, while I'm not terribly invested in it for this series, I'm still a bit disappointed that mine was grounded in favor of a more beloved couple. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for the legions of Pynch fans. Frankly, though, I thought there wasn't enough build-up for Ronan and Adam to believably pair up. I thought Adam had much better chemistry with Blue, and his encounters with Ronan feel more like him experimenting with his sexuality than pursuing a meaningful romantic and/or sexual relationship. Oh well. I'm sure Stiefvater had it planned long in advance, even before the fandom embraced it so strongly. Shippers gonna ship, and they may feel free to do so.

So...overall, not the best series ever, but the whole thing certainly merited a rediscovery on my part. I think I'll do the same rediscovery thing with Daughter of Smoke and Bone next, since I abandoned that book after only a few pages the way I did my first time reading The Raven Boys. And as for my ongoing efforts to land an agent for Red Rain, there's enough similarities in tone between my book and Stiefvater's (particularly in the small-town boarding-school setting, Mundane Fantastic style, and boyishly funny dialogue) that I'll now use it as a comp title when querying.

And thus, to The Raven Cycle, I say ave atque vale.

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

Review: The Mountain

The Mountain The Mountain by David Lynn Golemon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish my library would get back to ordering the Event Group series, because of how perfectly awesome and perfectly ready for quarter-billion-dollar-budgeted movie adaptations they are. This prequel adventure, the origin story of the Event Group itself, is no exception. Set in the 1860s, an American crew (in the height of the Civil War, no less) travels to the Ottoman Empire to investigate the supposed landing site of Noah's Ark, Mount Ararat. Such an important Biblical artifact would be (not to mix my metaphors) the Holy Grail of what has since become the Event Group. And, of course, it's surrounded by all sorts of diabolical Indiana Jones booby traps, except Spielberg never got nearly so bloody as Golemon does in this book. Gorydamn Golemon.

And by now, there's already another adventure coming soon - again, curse my library for falling behind on this series and forcing me to slot this into my growing special-order queue instead.

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Friday, May 6, 2016

Civil War: High Action, High Emotion, High Thrills


Nobody likes it when the parents fight. And when the family in question is the Avengers family? That's an extra-heavy dose of "from bad to worse."

Going into this movie, I expected nothing more or less than what my best friend called an "emotional horror show." Adding to that, I figured that, like the best movies out there, this one would go for a full-spectrum emotional experience. Many movies of the MCU have approached this full spectrum, but not quite reached it - perhaps The Avengers has come closest, followed extremely closely by Guardians of the Galaxy. Typically, non-MCU Marvel movies have done better in this regard for me, particularly Big Hero 6 (although that one's tangentially Marvel at best, I still count it because of its origins in an obscure comic line, Disney pedigree, and Stan Lee cameo) and The Amazing Spider-Man (both 1 and 2, but especially 2.)

Now, however, I've got a new favorite MCU film, one that goes for the broadest range of feels yet.

Captain America: Civil War, as promised, is a massive game-changer. Phase One of the MCU set things up for the ultimate team-up in The Avengers, while Phase Two expanded the universe still further and built up the ultimate threat in Thanos. Phase Three, if Civil War is any indication, is the point where Marvel's cast of glorious characters hits rock bottom in such a way that only the forthcoming Infinity War duology can bring them back together again.

In this movie, we get a sharp, strong sense of that rift in the division of the Avengers et al. between two rival camps, each of which has been relentlessly emojied and hashtagged all over the internet over the last few months (including by me.) Team Cap and Team Iron Man are at odds because of the Sokovia Accords, which seek to "regulate" the Avengers under government control - never a good sign, amirite or amirite? But unlike the highly political comic line from which this movie takes its name, the registration and other aspects of the Accords aren't the only source of the Avengers' conflict. Naturally, this is quite an improvement, because let's face it, given the state of politics today (especially in the US, where the election is just the biggest, longest bad joke in history at this point), the Avengers have better things to do than get involved. There are real dangers out there that they need to face.

And this movie begs the question - how does superhero regulation figure into the equation?

Cap's argument is best summed up by his line: "The safest hands are still our own." Stark, on the other hand, believes that unrestricted activity on the Avengers' part can only lead to disaster (that's part of how Ultron happened, after all.) They draw the proverbial line in the sand here, and no less than ten other heroes take sides.

Half the new Avengers from the end of Age of Ultron rally around Cap as their leader (Falcon and Scarlet Witch), while the other half rally around Iron Man (Black Widow and Vision). The latter of each of these sets of two being on opposite sides is further complicated by the budding relationship between the two of them (just look at the part where the surprisingly adorkable "Vizh" tries to cook a Sokovian dish for Wanda, only for her to tell him, "That is not paprika.") Each team also has itself a weapons specialist (Hawkeye on Team Cap, War Machine on Team Iron Man), a mysterious and shadowy wild card (Bucky Barnes and Black Panther), and because Marvel movies aren't normally as serious as their DC counterparts, comic relief (Spider-Man and Ant-Man).

&ldquo;Bug Bros.&rdquo;
@tomholland2013 @captainamericacivilwar #captainamericacivilwar #spiderman #antman #tomholland #paulrudd #lordmesaart #mangastudioex5 #teamironman #teamcaptainamerica
Lord Mesa's got it right.
These two would hit it off so well.

Everyone has their own unique motivations for the side they choose. I also noticed a pretty serious difference between the two teams - Team Cap members tend to have people they really fight for, deep personal connections either within or without their group (Cap's two besties, Falcon and Bucky; Hawkeye's family, Ant-Man's daughter), while members of Team Iron Man run more on all-consuming guilt and don't have as many personal connections and, therefore, less responsibilities (Black Widow especially comes to mind.) A notable exception, however, is Black Panther, whose motivation is revenge for an attack that takes the life of someone very close to him. Revenge in general proves to be a common running theme throughout this movie, motivating not only Black Panther, but also Stark towards the end as he discovers his parents' killer, and also the movie's main villain, who has helped manipulate world events for the express purpose of tearing the Avengers apart.

Sometimes, though, I still feel as if it's just conflict for the sake of conflict. Sure, my first creative-writing professor loved talking about "what's the conflict?" and always used Stephenie Meyer as her go-to example for how not to write because, in her opinion, Meyer had a complete inability to write conflict properly. So, because this movie delivers an excellent, high-stakes conflict that will take more than just two and a half hours of screentime a year to solve, Civil War excels on a writing level. However, my optimistic side still wishes that they could have all just gotten behind Cap and turned against the Accords. I once proposed a theory in my fanfics (Spider Soulmates, if I remember correctly) that the Accords were secretly proposed by HYDRA in order to bog down the Avengers in government bureaucracy. I really, really wished this one could have been canon, although by now HYDRA's largely relegated to Agents of SHIELD anyway.

And they're responsible, indirectly, for the defilement of
my fave AoS character after the Son of Coul. *weeps for Daisy*

And, in addition, I felt that some of the characters were only on certain sides (mostly Team Iron Man) because the filmmakers needed to even out the teams' numbers. I'm especially looking at Black Widow (although, as with the Wanda/Vision example above, Nat's previously-established chemistry with no less than two men of Team Cap helps add another layer of tension there), and also Spider-Man.

Going back to my point about Team Iron Man having a diminished sense of responsibility (especially if they allow the government to regulate them), this seems to run totally counter to everything we know about Spider-Man. I've also come to the conclusion that this may have been another factor in Spidey's recasting, because this new incarnation, as played by Tom Holland, is very young and eager and comes across as a bit foolhardy, even as he kicks major ass with the rest of the cast. He certainly doesn't have the sense of responsibility of previous Spideys (but, again, he's the youngest one to date.) Responsibility was a hugely important part of Andrew Garfield's Spidey, so I'd like to think he would be on Team Cap. Although guilt plays a huge role in his character development too, so perhaps he'd also have made a good Team Iron Man candidate too...but I still would like to think he'd be on Team Cap just because I see so much of myself in him.

That's also the only reservation I had about Holland's Spidey - the fact that, as spot-on and spirited as his performance is (and uniquely, his version is immediately shown living in a cheap apartment with Aunt May, scrounging and repairing old tech for money - gotta love that vintage Mac he keeps on his desk!), Garfield would inevitably remain my favorite because I relate to him so well. I see the three Spideys in my mind in very different ways. Tobey Maguire's Spidey (whom I never really connected to because his movies came along when I was very young) is the guy my parents wanted me to grow up to be - mild-mannered, soft-spoken, and friendly, but perpetually lousy with the ladies. Garfield's Spidey (whom I first saw when I was a year out of high school) is the guy I want to grow up to be - a charming loner with a secret past just waiting to be discovered, a thirst to prove himself creatively, and a strong sensitive streak - and who's not so lousy with the ladies, despite his tendency to trip over his own tongue when he talks to Gwen Stacy.

And who can blame him? She's his perfect other half! #StillShipEm

As for Holland's Spidey, he's the boy I wish I could have been as a teenager, rather than trying so aggressively to be like Maguire to please my parents - the right balance of brains and brawn (not that either of his predecessors, particularly Garfield, failed there), a cocky attitude, and more than a trace of wide-eyed fanboy wonder. 

"Hey everyone."

I can still be like Garfield (especially given my tendency to occasionally be mistaken for him, which is neither here nor there), but I think I might have missed the boat on being like Holland, so his Spidey is second to Garfield in my eyes as a result. But all respect to Holland, though. All of it, honestly. I had zero hope that anyone could come close to matching Garfield as Spidey after Marvel announced his recasting a year ago, and I'm happy to say my hope has been restored - especially with Holland's solo Spider-Man debut, Homecoming, only a year or so away.

Also helping in the comedy department for this movie is Ant-Man, though that's to be expected after his solo movie debut last year. He can't help but keep the entire theater in stitches with just about every word out of his mouth. None of the rest of the characters are half-bad at the humor either, especially not Stark. That's part of why this movie is so much more beloved than Batman v Superman - it's not all doom and gloom, not in the slightest. Even Howard Stark says it - "sarcasm is a great metric for potential." Thank God for Ant-Man, yeah?

"Did he just say 'Hi, I'm Scott?'"
"Scott, abort mission! Abort!"

And completing the trifecta for this movie - we've got the brain, we've got the heart, and we've most certainly got the muscle. The Russo brothers are going to do great things with Infinity War, just based on this movie alone - it's not all action all the time, but when the action scenes happen, they move at a breakneck speed unrivaled by any other MCU film to date. Especially the ones that involve automotive stunts like the one in the Berlin tunnel (or was it Bucharest? But I know the filming location was Berlin; the same tunnel having appeared in Mockingjay Part 2) - I mean, WHOAHOLYSHIT!

So, going forward, the MCU is gonna be flooded with awesomeness. The Inception-esque Doctor Strange, Black Panther and Homecoming for this movie's newcomers, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Infinity War...the next three years will really be something after this A+ action-thriller.

And now, I'm gonna contemplate how to alter my fanfic according to the fact that most of my plot predictions did not come true - and thank God for that, because some of them would have just been too devastating, even after that one scene with Stark watching his parents die 25 years after the fact. (Worry not, Marvel's Folly readers - my in-universe self is hopelessly tangled in his own brain, but the real me has a contingency plan.)

Till next time, Pinecones...

Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Review: Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold!

Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold! Magic Kingdom for Sale—Sold! by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Here's a little something different from the horror-heavy action-adventure of Shannara - a much more lighthearted fantasy adventure from Mr. Brooks. It's certainly got a highly original idea going for it - can you imagine finding an entire magic kingdom for sale in a department store catalog? And then you'll find out that maybe it was for sale for a reason - it needed tons of outside help to bring itself back up to some level of magic-kingdom gold standard.

The book itself is a bit hit-or-miss, but when you've got a talking dog and a plain old human who needs some purpose in life but then magically finds it, well, you can't really go wrong there.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Every Heart a Doorway

Every Heart a Doorway Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

By sheer coincidence, this is the second book I've read in a row that A) was written by an author native to the Bay Area, and B) includes a number of LGBT+ characters. Just as Pantomime was among the first books I read with an intersex protagonist, this was one of the first I read with an ace protagonist, as well as a trans male lead.

As for the story, it's a short but very sweet - and oh so very dark - exploration of a place not unlike Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children, just darker and more psychological. The monsters are more in the kids' heads than actual monsters, but there's no doubt that every time one of them winds up in a whole other world, they're irretrievably changed, and often not for the better. McGuire's novella is a strange hybrid of not only Miss Peregrine, but also The Magicians.

The only reason I bring this down to four stars is because I often had trouble making sense of the whole "High Logic, High Nonsense" system going on. Props to McGuire, however, for writing such a complex story in such a short space - not even 200 pages!

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