Thursday, March 31, 2016

Batman v Superman: Snyder's Super-Anti-Heroes

If there's one thing we know about Zack Snyder, it's that his movies are filled with top-notch CGI, tons of slow-mo, IMAX camera work, and are supremely dark, sometimes just for the sake of darkness.

Mr. Snyder's latest, Batman v Superman, is no exception. It appears, based on the largely negative response from the critics, that people in some circles are growing tired of his continued insistence on delving into the grimdark side of what comic book movies can be - and I don't quite blame them. I mean, just look at the other major DC adaptation series, the Arrowverse, which is (other than its parent series) beloved for being exactly the anti-Snyder - lighthearted, full of humor and action, and knowing exactly when to turn the emotional dial up to eleven.

“Ice Cream!!!”
πŸ˜‹πŸ¦⚡️πŸ¦πŸ˜‹
@melissabenoist @grantgust @supergirlofficial @cwtheflash 
#supergirl #theflash #melissabenoist #grantgustin #karazorel #barryallen #lordmesaart #mangastudioex5
And also, ice cream sweetness for Lord Mesa to put in his artwork.

So, going into this movie, I expected something a little more Nolan-esque, but with far more fantasy elements involved because, well, Superman. I've seen Man of Steel maybe one and a half times (I sort of remember giving up halfway through it the first time, because at the time, I really had no idea how Superman worked, but later I learned that Snyder took a much darker turn to deconstruct the mythos of this hero, allowing me to appreciate his movie better the second time around.) Thankfully, I didn't have to remember too much of that movie for this sequel, especially given that BvS begins with a different side of events during the Supes/Zod battle over Metropolis. First off, holy freaking crap, I forgot just how destructive that was...and second off, through Bruce Wayne's eyes, we get to see some human casualties, and Bruce actually does what he can to help people stuck in the ruins of his Metropolis office. (Wait, he has a Metropolis office? And wait again - Bruce is being a hero today instead of Batman? Well, desperate times and all that.) This scene helps establish that we're watching not so much Superman's movie as Batman's, so naturally, Snyder uses this as a chance to turn up the darkness.

And the hellfire. Please don't forget that.

Our two title characters' primary antagonist is Lex Luthor, here played by Jesse Eisenberg. Like many of the casting choices in this movie, Eisenberg was immediately criticized by fans, only to later turn out to be shockingly good. While still polarizing, Eisenberg's Lex Luthor still makes a profound impact, if only for his over-the-top (and, quite often, legitimately creepy) performance. His Lex Luthor doesn't borrow from that of Michael Rosenbaum on Smallville (the only other Lex Luthor I've yet seen - I've never really been in Superman fandom, so I've never seen any of the old movies, or even Superman Returns), but instead, Eisenberg combines elements of the Joker and Erich Blunt, the software engineer played by Tom Felton (yes, THAT Tom Felton!) on Murder in the First. You know, right away, that he's a seriously messed-up dude, because as much as he wants to come across as fun and friendly, he just plain overdoes it. I'm especially looking at the scene where he makes his demands regarding a big hunk of kryptonite recently found in the Indian Ocean, and feeds this government-bureaucrat type dude a piece of candy in the process. Also, there's the part where he invites Holly Hunter's character, Senator Finch (R-KY - I'm assuming she's Republican, anyway, but she seems far more well-adjusted and rational than most in that party these days) into his study, which looks like something straight out of Hannibal in its opulence and adornment with a freakishly Biblical painting of angels and demons. (Luthor turns the painting upside down, to make it appear that the demons come from the heavens.) All in all, he's basically a great big upstart, wanting so badly to make a name for himself but not entirely possessed of the charisma to back up his goals - and therein lies the source of his imminent psychosis.

Trick or treat! Gimme all the Jolly Ranchers!

Also on the side of good, though, is Wonder Woman. Eagerly awaited, and for good reason, she's presented here as a sort of DC analogue to Black Widow in that she starts out looking like a seemingly innocuous - if quite glamorous - side character, only for her secret past to be very slowly revealed. And then cometh the ass-kicking (complete with a rocking leitmotif that I need on my iPod!) as we learn just how much of an Action Girl this demigoddess truly is.

Bats: She with you?
Supes: I thought she was with you!

Not to mention, now that Wonder Woman's here, soon the rest of the Justice League will follow. And luckily, we get a bit of video footage of three of them in one scene in this movie. Jason Momoa's Aquaman is every bit as dangerous and awesome as he should be (no longer shall that character be such a joke in the fandom!) and while Cyborg's cameo footage focused more on Silas Stone, we at least still got to see the beginnings of Victor's partially-robotified self. Sadly, Ezra Miller failed to impress either me or my friend in his version of Barry Allen - particularly because we only got to see him in his civilian life, forced to use his powers to foil a convenience-store robbery while he's out buying milk. (Possible Amazing Spider-Man reference? Or am I just looking too hard?) In any case, my friend prefers the classic Flash, Jay Garrick, and really loves Teddy Sears' performance on the CW series. And as for me, well, there's really no beating Grant Gustin, because just like Andrew Garfield is Spider-Man for me, Gustin is The Flash, and I'm thinking I won't enjoy Miller's interpretation of the character nearly as much. Knowing that we're not getting either of the Arrowverse versions of the character in the DCEU is just plain sucky, especially compared to Marvel's live-action ABC and Netflix series, which are all explicitly part of the cinematic universe. And when you take into account that the Arrowverse also is explicitly a multiverse, and that Earth-2 Barry has Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Batman on speed dial, it sucks even more that they're keeping 'em separated.

Tell me about it, Ramon. :)

Overall, this is perhaps the most operatic superhero movie since maybe Snyder's earlier opus, Watchmen. It's tons darker than any of its Marvel competitors, and it's full of destruction and psychosis and emotional torture to its characters. It's also very long, so there are a few moments where the action devolves into something less exhilarating and more numbing and fatiguing (although usually, there's another big shocking set piece not long afterwards to make the viewer sit up and take notice - I won't spoil the biggest one, but let's just say if you scream out loud when it happens, I won't blame you.) So, unlike many Marvel movies, there's really not much room to feel any feels - although one major death at the end made me tear up just a bit, and I swear I heard at least one little kid ugly-crying a few rows ahead.

For all the negativity this movie's gotten, though, it's no slouch in the acting, writing, directing, music, or visual departments. So, while it's often quite flawed, and I can't say whether or not I'll ever see it again (except maybe with my dad if he's interested in checking out the DVD), I will hereby bestow upon Batman v Superman a grade of B, for "Batman." (No, seriously, he - and, by extension, Ben Affleck - was the real top hero of the movie, and don't let anyone forget it!)

Till next time, Pinecones...

#FeedTheRightWolf
Remember - Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Oh, and one more stray (and slightly spoiler-y) observation...

Goddammit, Jared Leto.

That part where we saw the vandalized remains of the Robin suit, foreshadowing the Joker's appearance in Suicide Squad this summer...that was the most painful part of the movie for me, because instead of seeing that, I could instead see what it must have looked like when Bruce grieved for his lost kid. What can I say? Writing no less than four past and/or present incarnations of Robin into my Spidey & Speedy fanfics has made me feel very protective of these guys, I guess.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Review: Their Fractured Light

Their Fractured Light Their Fractured Light by Amie Kaufman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The final novel in this trilogy brings everything full-circle with all the rifts and hyperspace and dreadful stuff that Monsieur LaRoux has been doing because he's a futuristic Corrupt Corporate Executive. And, helping conclude this adventure is another pair of young lovers - although this time they're less star-crossed and more ass-kicking, which I liked. (Not as much as Tarver and Lilac, but better than Flynn and Jubilee.) I also especially liked the frequent Alice in Wonderland references - and with Gideon being the "Knave of Hearts," was that meant to be a subtle nod to the Knalice ship from Once Upon a Time in Wonderland? As someone who still believes in Knalice myself (and was quite disappointed when the long-awaited appearance of the Knave on the parent series ended up not building on his story beyond Wonderland's one season, or even giving him any function other than occasional comic relief - I mean, bloody hell!), I'd sure like to think so.

All of this leads up to the last hundred pages or so, when all six heroes of this trilogy are involved in some serious action. It's quite the climax to this trilogy, I think.

Hopefully, Kaufman and Spooner's next collaboration comes soon...but I'm still dying for Gemina more. :)

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Review: Orphan X

Orphan X Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

After two attempts to get into this book - which looks so promising based on the sheer number of pop-cultural badasses name-checked in the dedication - I think I have to conclude Orphan X just isn't meant for me. Once again, DNF. For now.

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Monday, March 28, 2016

SupergirlXTheFlash: More Crossovers, Pretty Please?

***SPOILER ALERT***

Even before Supergirl started airing, I wanted to see it as an official part of the Arrowverse. Now, that day has come, after many months of waiting, with the long-time-coming crossover with The Flash.

SHIP!

I'm happy to report that this episode delivered in every possible way - and that, even more cool, it echoed my own Spidey & Speedy fanfic trilogy in a lot of ways. Namely, the presence of multiple villains for multiple heroes - in this case, one of SG's most dangerous foes to date, along with a new threat who's come into her own as a deadly superpowered individual. Livewire, the Supergirl equivalent of Electro, proves even more hard to beat as she manages to turn Barry's Speed Force against him. As for Siobhan, now the Silver Banshee...she's got a really nasty scream, but did she really need that horrifying facepaint? (I swear to God, the sight of that made me do a double take or ten.)

Also paralleling my fanfics - the way Barry very quickly unmasks himself and tells Kara his real name. I've often wondered why few of my readers complain about my interpretations of the Arrowverse superheroes (plus Spider-Man and the Bat Family and Aquaman) revealing their secret identities almost right away - especially given Peter's one of the few Marvel heroes who still feels the need to keep said secret. But in my head, I've always chalked it up to the superheroes instinctively trusting their fellows with these secrets, and that's how I interpret the similar writing moves taken in this episode.

And speaking of Ol' Webhead, I think Barry really channeled his inner Spidey during the climactic fight scene against Livewire and Silver Banshee. Namely, the part where he tries his hand at nicknaming: "Hey, Sparky, Shrieky! Hi!" Still not as good as "Hey Barbeque, hit me with your best shot!" or Spidey's "Yo Sparkles! Hey, how ya doin'?" But this still had me ROFLing for a moment. Then there was the way in which Livewire was taken down - while Barry wasn't so involved there, I totally saw how they homaged The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with the firefighters basically shooting Livewire down with their hose. It's just the latest example of that most underrated classic's secret influence (which also dates back to the hidden subway-car computer lab in the fourth season of Person of Interest), and to me is just a sign that sooner or later that all-time favorite movie of mine will be Vindicated By History like it deserves.

Because BB-8 said so, too, that's why.

And as for the crossover itself...well, Barry's never failed to have near-instantaneous chemistry with the good guys of other shows, and tonight was no exception. But the chemistry he had with Kara, as expected, was what I would like to sorta-redundantly call "spot on point." Every time they shared screen space and traded quips and talked shop with each other, my poor little fanboy heart swelled with joy. Earlier today, I finished Cassie Clare's Lady Midnight and was devastated by its ending, but now I've ended this day feeling tons better because of the way Kara and Barry just clicked so well.

And I still am, for always and eternity.

Never mind the fact that, being from two different Earths, they can't be together, not forever, and certainly not long enough to fall in love. (And of course the fact that another one of Barry's functions in this episode is to - unintentionally, of course, because as the inconveniently sharp Cat says, "He's so unfailingly polite, he's either a superhero or a Mormon" - provoke jealousy in the character my friend and cover designer, Sam Ayers, likes to call "Jimmy James.") But we can dream of our KareBear, Karry, Zor-Allen, whatever you wanna call their ship (though I'm partial to KareBear myself), can't we? I mean, try saying no to this. Go on. I dare you.

Once again...
SHIP!
So, by the end of the show, Kara finally helps Barry get home to his world, where he'll be on another adventure with his Central City peeps tomorrow night on the CW. And he'll likely continue to wrestle with the horrifying reveal (to him and his friends, at least - we the viewers had to suffer with that knowledge for a month beforehand!) that his Earth-2 Flash counterpart is secretly Zoom...or is he? As for Kara...hopefully, she'll be back soon (not next week, sadly), because this episode ends with one of Supergirl's most shocking cliffhangers of all, setting up what promises to be an intense Episode 19. (Wasn't 19 the magic number for game-changing episodes on each of the first four seasons of Fringe?)

That cliffhanger, I will not spoil. Absolutely not. It has to be seen to be believed.

For this, what I hope is just the first of many SupergirlXTheFlash specials (if this doesn't become an annual tradition, I'll eat my hat - and I would LOVE to see Supergirl meet Team Flash in Central City, Earth-1, this time next year!), I award a perfect ten for being the most awesome, the most epic, the most made-of-pure-win hour of escapist pleasure in the short history of this Supergirl TV series. The Flash still beats it out with the likes of "Out of Time," "Fast Enough," and this year's two-part Earth-2 episode, but hey, this episode still gave me Flash-level screams at the screen with one scene, and one scene alone. I'm talking, of course, about Barry's entrance into National City. All I can say is this: Perfect. Freaking. Timing.

If CBS doesn't renew Supergirl after tonight, then God, you got some 'splainin' to do.

Till next time, Pinecones...

#FeedTheRightWolf
Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Review: Lady Midnight

Lady Midnight Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars



It's finally here.

OFFICIAL LADY MIDNIGHT PLAYLIST:

"You're the only friend I need
Sharing beds like little kids
Laughing till our ribs get tough
But that will never be enough..."
-Lorde

"When I counted up my demons
Saw there was one for every day
With the good ones on my shoulders
I drove the other ones away..."
-Coldplay, "Everything's Not Lost"

"These words are knives and often leave scars."
-Panic! At The Disco, "This Is Gospel"

"It's the lightning, not the thunder
You never know where it's gonna strike
Our love's in jeopardy, baby..."
-Greg Kihn Band

"I'm on a ride and I wanna get off
But they won't slow down the roundabout..."
-Duran Duran, "The Reflex"

"And it felt so right
Just like the hush of midnight
And then you said
With me it's touch and go..."
-The Cars

"She said she's no good with words, but I'm worse."
-Fall Out Boy, "Dance, Dance"

"But what can move so strong?
Is it just simply to belong?
Or do we love to be blind?"
-Kongos, "The Way"

"How come people suffer how come people part?
How come people struggle, how come people break your heart?
Break your heart
Yes, I want to grow, yes, I want to feel
Yes, I want to know, show me how to heal it up
Heal it up..."
-Coldplay, "Up&Up"

"Uh-oh, it's magic when I'm with you..."
-The Cars

"Oh Heartbeat City, here we come..."
-The Cars

"Together we'll break these chains of love!"
-Erasure

REVIEW:

Recently, my Wattpad friend @SkiesAfterRain and I have been sharing between ourselves a hashtag in support of the ever-popular Malec ship: #UnlockTheLove. After reading Lady Midnight, which is now my favorite Cassie Clare book to date, I've gotta say, that hashtag perfectly sums up the point of this new Dark Artifices trilogy.

Not only does this book boast my newest and most favorite Shadowhunters OTP - Emma and Julian (Jemma, I call them now), but they also offer up a fresh and very enticing twist on Clare's usual theme of forbidden love. In this case, it's because they're parabatai...but you already knew that, 'cause that plot point's been known for at least a couple of years now.

This love story, however, is just one of several in this book that the Clave would never allow to continue if they knew just how strong the feelings between the two young lovers were. Without going into spoilers, I'm going to say that throughout this book, the Clave, especially with their whole sed Lex, dura Lex thing and the diabolical addition of the Cold Peace that basically ostracizes all Faeries even though you really shouldn't blame an entire race for the mistakes of the few, is basically a stand-in for the GOP or any other conservative political entity whose goal is to quash any attempt at living a lifestyle they disagree with...and with the increased prevalence of such "alternative" (for lack of a better term) lifestyles in today's society, they're really ramping up their efforts to drag civilization back to the Dark Ages.

I've written before on my belief in freedom of love, and with the revelations in this book, I now officially hate the backward-looking Clave more than ever.

It's not all bad in this book, though. Emma and Julian are, as I said, my new OTP. And I really love the supporting characters in the LA Institute too, especially Cristina, and especially-especially Julian's siblings. (I don't wanna pick faves, but because of the way he, like me, has a tendency to avoid eye contact at all costs, Ty's the one I relate to the most.)

But dear sweet Lord, that ending. That was some Amazing Spider-Man-ending level heartbreak. (The first one, that is, but I wouldn't put it past this author to emulate the second as well.)





Cassie Clare, I really, really hope you have a great plan in mind for stitching your fandom's poor broken hearts back together again with the remaining two Dark Artifices books. Until then...ave atque vale, happiness.

Ooh, I need a hug...



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Friday, March 25, 2016

Review: The Passenger

The Passenger The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I only wanted to read this one because Lisa Lutz's name was attached to it, and I've spent the last couple of years or so in serious Spellman withdrawal. (The new Rae Spellman spinoff cannot come soon enough!) So I tried to push past the dust jacket's built-in Gone Girl comparison - normally an automatic deal-breaker for me, 'cause I hated that book so much. Thankfully, The Passenger proves to have very little in common with Gillian Flynn's onerously overrated opus. Unfortunately, this also ends up being one of the few books where a fast pace is not to its benefit, as it makes it only too easy to turn the pages and miss plot twists - or even details about the motivations behind this strange lady protagonist of many names.

I guess Lutz needs to either work harder at doing a good Darker and Edgier mystery, or else just stick to the Spellman-esque dark comedy.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Review: Riders

Riders Riders by Veronica Rossi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I remember being so disappointed with Rossi's previous work, the Under the Never Sky trilogy, because it felt like there just wasn't enough in that series (particularly its sequels, although I remember I liked the first book) to set it apart from the dystopian pack. So when I first heard of this book, I was scared to even attempt to read it...but hey, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? I hadn't seen a decent YA take on this particular mythology before, and it looked different enough from Never Sky, so I figured, why not give this a try?

Being Something Completely Different for Rossi helps this book so very much. Also helping - the story taking cues from Percy Jackson and Sigma Force with its international mythological adventure (including, yes, a trip to the Vatican to please any and all James Rollins fans.) It's not the most unique take on the Four Horsemen I've seen (not when Supernatural presented them with their horses modernized as classic cars, including, naturally, at least one Mustang, and when Sleepy Hollow updated the Headless Horseman as Death as only a cuckoo-bananas history-bending horror-thriller can), but when Rossi's Horsemen are the sort of guys I'd totally want to hang out and fight Kindred with (or just hang out, if I can cross the bay to Half Moon Bay often enough), that more than makes up for it. There's always a case to be made for YA books with excellently written male protagonists, deftly balancing the action, humor, romance, and fantasy elements.

I'm happy to report that after not at all wanting to read another Veronica Rossi book after Into The Still Blue, Riders has duly impressed me, and I absolutely want more.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We The People Will Save This Country

Oh my God, why is my country actually trying to drop-kick itself into the deepest pits of Hell?

Today started out as a good day, as days tend to do, normally. But then this evening, across the country from me...this happened. The governor of North Carolina went and signed a law that prevents transgender people from using public single-sex bathrooms. In the words of one of my favorite authors:


I honestly can't believe anyone in power could be so horrible as to allow this to happen. Maybe I've just not been as politically active and aware as perhaps I should be, but this was a total unpleasant surprise to me. And it's just another unfortunate addition to the unfortunate downward spiral the US has been in since the current presidential campaign began, and maybe even before that.

For a while, I've been contemplating writing a blog post about what would happen in the Red Rain books if, God forbid, the GOP won the election. The obvious answer, to me, is that Der FΓΌhrer Drumpf would wreck the story completely because, under his fascist rule, the Bridges between Heaven and Hell (including the one in the town of Coldfire Creek, which Alex and Gabe and Fionna and everyone else in my book cross freely and on a regular basis) would no longer be open. Even worse, Heaven and Hell would go to war because of all the inflammatory rhetoric and posturing and pissing-contesting being thrown around - all far more polite terms for what is truly known as the vile shit that spews from Drumpf's mouth every day.

And then there's the additional, worse effects of a Drumpf presidency on the Red Rain world. I'm talking about the ones that would also apply to a Ted Cruz presidency, to some extent (and I wouldn't at all be surprised if his long-term plans include dictatorship as well.) I'm talking about religious persecution, and here I interpret that phrase in two different ways. On the one hand, the government would use people's religion (most likely Islam, but who's to say a potential future dictatorship, potentially run by so-called "Christians," wouldn't go after other faiths too?) against them as an excuse to subject them to Patriot Act-level surveillance. On the other hand, the government would use their own religion to justify laws like the one North Carolina passed today - laws that seek to reverse course on LGBTQ rights. And from there, who knows what the domino effect might be? That's a fear I've incorporated heavily into my Dark Ice Chronicles series of late, where the fight for warlocks' rights is in danger of being lost as all the bigots in this country come out of the woodwork. In this series, and in Red Rain, I have several LGBTQ characters whose lives could be made a living hell if their civil rights and protections are stripped away at the state and/or federal level. These characters don't deserve to live in such a society, and neither do real-world members of their community.

I've spoken before on writing LGBTQ characters as an expression of my belief in the universal right to live and love openly, for all people. We all deserve that. And if certain people in the government want to take that away because they can't get their heads out of their asses and realize that it's the 21st century, then we need to make our voices heard. We need to vote, most importantly - and I especially urge my fellow young people to vote, and vote Democrat, to return to a forward trajectory towards acceptance of all races, creeds, gender identities, and sexual orientations. We need to spread the word on social media - and, happily, I see many in my Twitter feed sharing important political news and offering support to one of this year's two Democratic candidates. #ImWithHer myself, but if she does not earn the nomination, #FeelTheBern. Anything to keep the GOP out of the White House, and prevent America's decay, we need to make it happen.

I'm not normally this political, but Americans, the country needs our help. Drumpf claims we can "Make America Great Again?" First off, it was already great to begin with. And second, if that's what he really wants, we can start by rejecting him and the mountain of rot his campaign is based on.

We have the power.

Feed the right wolf.

Review: A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In the last year or so, this series has become the most-hyped Schwab creation by far, according to the internet. While the Archived series remains my favorite, this series is becoming my second-favorite for its unending inventiveness. After all, it's not every day you read a book where people from four alternative Londons mix together with sometimes less-than-pretty results.

Kell, Rhy, and Lila are still as cool to have around as ever, especially the first of these, who's my favorite character by far. Also making his presence known throughout this book is the dashing, Captain Jack-esque (and note that I'm not specifying which Captain Jack here - Sparrow or Harkness?) Alucard Emery. Admittedly, though, I mistrusted Alucard right away just for his Sdrawkcab Name, as well as the fact that he happens to share a surname with a bad guy in my own books (although that one's more of a personal reason for me.) But he's got the right amount of complication (including romantic history with another main character) to remain interesting while sharing story space with our other three heroes.

It's a long book, but stick with it and you'll be well-rewarded. That is, if you take this book's devious cliffhanger as a reward. Let's just say it involves a villain who's been poking his head into the story time and again throughout the whole book, just biding his time until he can strike again.

So there'll definitely be a third book...and I can't wait to read it next year! (Or whenever it comes along...)

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Review: The Druid of Shannara

The Druid of Shannara The Druid of Shannara by Terry Brooks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Maybe I'm just getting a little burnt-out on the Shannara books, 'cause I've been reading so many of them now that the show's come out (and I'm still praying that MTV renews it for a second season, 'cause it's a hell of about time they have something worth watching other than Teen Wolf.) But I feel like every Shannara book I read now ends up being a bit more of the same. Case in point with this book, which repeats a storytelling tactic that showed up in one of the earlier Shannara books - not exactly in the same way, but the circumstances were pretty similar. Not to mention similarly tragic. It didn't have quite the same impact on me as did the previous major tragedy, though, for some reason. I can't quite put my finger on it...

But what I can put my finger on is the fact that, let's face it, this book just got ridiculous with the names for some of its characters. Pe Ell, for instance, is bad enough (it sounds like "Peele" in my head, so why not just call him that? After all, unlike most Tolkien-esque high fantasies, this series at least sticks to names that are A) pronounced pretty much the way they look, and B) look normal enough that they could possibly pass muster in the real world in some cases). But then you get a character who shares her name with the subtitle of one of the Highlander movies, unless I miss my guess (I think it was the one that made the fans cry, "There should've been only one!"), and every time Quickening's name is invoked, it's just instant Narm for me.

For all its flaws, though, Druids still serves up enough of the classic Shannara elements (Creeper horror, strange magic, and Elfstones, Elfstones, Elfstones) to keep me interested even through the less magical parts of the book.

Let's face it, I'm not much of a high fantasy reader. I barely managed to get through LOTR the first time around (it took me a second read to appreciate it more.) I'll keep reading these books, but I'm not sure how much longer I can last with these. At least I've now officially stuck to it longer than I did with the Emberverse, so that's saying something...

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Review: Once Upon a Time: Red's Untold Tale

Once Upon a Time: Red's Untold Tale Once Upon a Time: Red's Untold Tale by Wendy Toliver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I thought, given that this was based on one of the best shows on TV right now, that this would be a good piece of supplementary material. Not really. It could've functioned as an okay story on its own, but its connection to Once Upon A Time raised my expectations too much for a book that proved quite mediocre, actually. It just felt a little too been-there-done-that at points, and the writing itself was quite distracting. For one thing, a surprising number of modern, real-world expressions found their way into the dialogue (you wouldn't expect the same book to feature "what in the land?" and "Peeping Tom," would you?) Then there was the absurdly high concentration of "Said Bookisms" ("he answered," "she greeted," etc.) That last one is a particular pet peeve of mine ever since I was shown a similar error in a Dan Brown dialogue tag (the use of "reminded" without a direct object), and now I keep wanting to see all dialogue tags have intransitive and transitive verbs used correctly.

Maybe next time, I'll think twice before picking up an OUAT spinoff book.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane: No Spoilers

One of my most recent reads was the wild and crazy dystopian thriller Alive, which came with a special request from author Scott Sigler:

NO SPOILERS.

Because of certain similarities between Alive and my most recent movie-theater visit, 10 Cloverfield Lane, I'm going into this review with a similar policy:

NO SPOILERS.

When the original Cloverfield came out in 2008, I somehow managed to not see it for three years or so afterwards, and also somehow managed to not get spoiled for that movie in that time. Like its predecessor, 10 Cloverfield Lane requires an absolute lack of spoilers for any and all viewers going into it, and especially because unlike the Godzilla-esque monster movie that was the original, this movie (which, just FYI, is NOT a sequel, or even a prequel, but more of what producer JJ Abrams calls a "blood relative" - in other words, a spiritual successor, a separate entry in a Lovecraftian anthology) is a psychological thriller instead. It just poses an apocalyptic scenario to add to its confined-in-an-underground-bunker setting. It's still a monster movie in its own right, though, because while the movie focuses almost entirely on this underground bunker where the only inhabitants are plain old humans...well, I'll let this quote from another psychologically-driven work which happens to have a composer in common with this movie say it:

Have fun trying to interpret this statement without seeing the movie first.

In other words, we're the monsters. Or, more accurately, certain members of our species are the monsters. It's easy to figure out which is which while watching the movie, but even as you do so, the lengths to which said monsters go surprise and mind-boggle and horrify at every turn.

And, like most horror-type movies, there's something to be said for a potential Biblical interpretation of it all too. Think of the movie's three cast members (there's only one other human who physicall appears in person for a moment, another in a photo, and Bradley Cooper in a voice cameo) as follows: Adam and Eve, possibly the only fertile man and woman in this strange new world, and the sort of powerful but vengeful (and quite prone to rage) Old Testament God I think my mother likes to worship.

I know, right? I thought God was all about forgiveness and mercy-
Oh, you had to bring him up now? We were having a moment!

And along the way, we get treated to tons of thrills and chills and, of course, old-timey-flavored jukebox music, without which it just wouldn't be a Bad Robot production.

All it needed to complete the ensemble was a Slusho.

All of the above combine to make an A movie, one very definitely worth seeing in theaters.

And as I bow out to the ominous piano, drum, and sleigh bells jingle of the Fringe theme (the best of any JJ Abrams production ever IMHO)...

#FeedTheRightWolf
Remember: Denis Leary is always watching. Always.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Review: Remnants of the Damned

Remnants of the Damned Remnants of the Damned by Gavin Hetherington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of Wattpad's best undiscovered gems, this one, like Malus Domestica, owes a huge debt to the old master of horror himself, Stephen King - as well as to Twin Peaks and its many other spiritual successors about small towns with dark, dark secrets. Here we follow five young people, all with a shocking connection to some past horror in this dreadfully disturbing town, and now their past is really coming back to haunt them as more and more deaths happen all around.

Be warned - this book demands your attention and makes you want to finish yesterday. And it's gory, goopy, visceral, and loaded with varying amounts of just about every bodily fluid you can think of, and even some you didn't even know were invented yet.

Hard to believe Gavin Hetherington's another young millennial writer - he feels tons more seasoned than some of the rest of us. And as a fan of Brett Michael Orr's and Taran Matharu's books, that's saying something.

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Review: Alive

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

NO SPOILERS.

That's the rule for this book, so decreed by Scott Sigler himself. (And after the recent rash of Wattpad readers getting spoiled while reading Red Rain, I might have to put a similar request onto my own books...but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.)

So far, of all the books I've read this year, this one is one of the best, third (so far) only to Morning Star (and take the recommendation for Alive from Pierce Brown seriously - he knows his stuff!) and Glass Sword. And as for 2015 Undiscovered Gems (those books from last year I somehow managed not to read until the year was over, only Illuminae beats this high-intensity dystopian thriller.

As for what makes this book so good, though...again, no spoilers. No kidding.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: Truthwitch

Truthwitch Truthwitch by Susan Dennard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After being attracted to this one largely from the Twitter hype - everyone at the YA writers' cool kids' table loved this book to death, it seemed like - I am happy to report that while it doesn't quite live up to that hype for me, Truthwitch is still quite enjoyable for a number of reasons. Chief among them - the breakneck pace throughout. Although this book ended up taking me three days to read, that was only because I had very little time to do so - and in that time, I was able to chew through as many as 100 pages in less than thirty-minute bursts. In addition, the book benefited from its cool alternate-Europe setting - in which, between the high fantasy and the medieval politics, it felt like the logical missing link between Avatar: The Last Airbender and Game of Thrones, with a dash of A Darker Shade of Magic thrown in with the many made-up languages of this world. (Also, the time period this is supposed to represent was very hard for me to determine - but I think I've narrowed it down to the 18th century or so. And another stray observation - this alternate Europe seems to have no analogue to the British Isles. I'm a little concerned about that, but it could simply be that we've not seen the whole map yet.)

And also...Safi. She's just so cool, and a great subversion of TVTropes' popular page, "What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart Anyway?"

I hear there are to be four books in this series. I eagerly await the remaining three.

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Child Of Chaos: A Poem Inspired By Blue Moon

So, tonight, I've been fueled by java chip ice cream to catch up on the as-yet incomplete sixth and final installment of the Marvel fanfic series Blue Moon by Wattpad's very own @yourmybeautifulsoul, aka Sierra Daniels. As usual, I've wound up leaving off on a very shattering part of the story, which is par for the course for Sierra's writing. Not for nothing is she often compared to Joss Whedon himself, Pinecones.

During my binge-read, I found a section in the book where Sierra asked her fans to creatively express their appreciation for her books. It seems the due date for this assignment is March 15th, which happens to be tomorrow. Ooh, scary...but hey, I'm up this late, and still unable to sleep, and I know I'm gonna blow my first final tomorrow, so why not? I'm gonna write a poem, free verse, about my connection to Blue Moon and the characters within. And because I unexpectedly had time to do so, I've also gone and filmed myself reading this same poem, the video of which I'll be posting above the text of the poem itself. Take a look at whichever versions you wish (there are certain subtle differences between the two.)

Sierra Daniels, here's to you. :)



"Child Of Chaos"

They say I'm Spider-Man in my first life. I'm not gonna try and prove them wrong.
Neither should the creator of Loki's daughter,
Thea Fossil.
A girl even more Awesome than her McCoolname.
In her first life,
Her creator with the mountainous name
Is the true Child of Chaos.

How do I know?
Because of the way her writing plays havoc with all the rules
And turns my feels on their heads.
Never would've thought I'd feel bad for Loki.
I used to have such a hard time empathizing with the villain.

Under the creative guidance of the Child of Chaos,
Loki's depth continuously surprises.
As does that of Videl, the logical Second Coming of Jace Wayland.

And just as I can say My Angels Are Different,
So can Sierra.
I mean...you think you know how cool and geekboyish an angel can be
Based on Alex Snow's example?
You don't know Jack.
Pun intended.

We write our fanfictions for different reasons.
She expands the magnificent Marvel 'verse
With more supernaturally alien worlds than you can shake a Scepter at.
And me? I'm just a guy with a screwball sense of humor
Who channels Deadpool a little too well
Who manages to attract Spideypool fans to his writing by mistake
Who still writes as if 2014 never ended
And Garfield wouldn't, shouldn't, couldn't be replaced.
How can I hope to compare?

(Please don't answer that.)

Today, I finally caught up on this series.
My heart broke again, and it's a wonder there are any pieces left to break.

I have no idea how I can make it through to the end of Revenge.

The laughs will come again, though. I know they will.
And so will the action. That's a given.
And, of course, the sweet, sweet romance.

Not since The Amazing Spider-Man movies has a fictional work
Struck such a perfect balance of all of the above.

Thea. Jack. Loki. Videl. Peter. The Calens. Angelique. Marjoy. And all the Avengers.
Can you say, "Squad Goals?"

One day, Sierra's agent hunt will finally land her books
In the hands of the one
Who'll ensure they reach store shelves where they belong.
And I can proudly sit in the book aisle at Target, reading this book,
Holding my head high and say,
"I was there when this was still being crafted on the internet for the first time."

Plagued as I often am with feelings of worthlessness
And fears that I'll never amount to anything
I need to feel like I can make a difference.
That's why I'm up past one in the morning writing this.

And to end this, I'll borrow from the closing lyric to Coldplay's latest album.

"d o n ' t   e v e r   g i v e   u p"

<3

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Review: Fury

Fury Fury by Steven James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my favorite TV shows ever is the gone-too-soon TNT series Perception. Although that show is, on the surface, an ordinary consultant-in-law-enforcement crime procedural with the twist that the consultant is schizophrenic, it didn't take me long to reinterpret the show as a secret example of magical realism. I honestly thought that Dr. Daniel Pierce was psychic (still do, in fact), and that the writers chose to paint him as schizophrenic but leave the paranormal undercurrents for the viewers to pick up on.

So, when this book starts to indicate Daniel Byers is schizophrenic, Perception was the very first thing I thought of - which helps make this book one of the best YA examples of the Neurodiversity Is Supernatural device since Miss Peregrine. (Being a huge Ransom Riggs fan helped me guess the twist ending to this book.)

For putting together a story that gets a little more personal for Daniel than in the first book, and for giving him some horrifying hallucinations that made me almost lose my breakfast, I award this book another five stars.

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Review: Kinslayer

Kinslayer Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is somewhat longer and more sprawling than its predecessor, which isn't really a good thing. Sure, there are a few really wild and crazy action sequences, and Yukiko and Buruu really make a great team - especially when Buruu starts making philosophical questions about why human mating is so messy and involves so much tongue. (I wouldn't know.) Unfortunately, these moments of fun and high intensity are saddled with slow spots throughout, not unlike an Alex Bracken book. So while I'm still looking forward to Book 3, I'm not sure I'll enjoy ending this trilogy as much as I did starting it. (But to be fair, compared to Illuminae, everything else from Kaufman and/or Kristoff is going to pale.)

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Review: Unmade

Unmade Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know why it took me so long to finish this trilogy, but now that I'm done with it, I have to say, I wish it wasn't done yet. Especially for the supporting characters, who really help make this series for me. I especially like the way Kami's brothers interact with everyone else, the adorable little guys. (What can I say? I'm a sucker for annoying younger siblings sometimes. Little ankle-biters.) And, in other news, my ship manages to successfully set sail in the end - a rarity because I almost always ship wrong (Everlark being another exception.)

Read my mind.

So, while I eagerly await the next book from Sarah Rees Brennan, I bid ave atque vale to another series of hers.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Review: The Isle

The Isle The Isle by Jordana Frankel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first book in this series came out...three years ago, I think? And for a long time, Goodreads had an entry up for this sequel, but it remained mostly empty because The Isle was just such a long time coming.

Come it did, though. And while it's been long enough that I've managed to forget huge chunks of The Ward, I also managed to remember a lot of stuff all over again while reading this book. I like how this one largely does away with the racing angle from The Ward - not that that was a bad thing, but it's definitely good that The Isle didn't just repeat that same running bit over again. Instead, there's more of a treasure-hunt kind of vibe going on, and definitely some heavy supernatural elements towards the end that I wouldn't have expected at the outset.

If there's a third book planned for this series, I hope it doesn't take another three years to get published.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

I'm An Overjoyed Flash Fan Today!

You would NOT believe how much I fanboyed when my friend @SpeedyElite gave me this today.

I've never been to a con, never met any celebrities in person. Speedy has, because she's cool like that. And this weekend, when she met The Flash's very own Jay Garrick, Teddy Sears himself, she got autographed pictures of Earth-2's favorite speedster.

Including one made out to me.

Yeah. I totally flailed and cried and screamed at this. No shame. No bloody shame.

Had I thought to wear my Flash shirt to go with it... :D

My dear Speedy, I can never repay you for this. You realize that, right? Well, other than the already-promised dedication of Red Rain when I publish it. But that's a long time coming, don't you know? :D

The Analog Kid: Alex and Fionna Meet For The First Time

Recently, my school held a flash fiction contest, with the winning entries being guaranteed certain cash prizes and publication in the school's literary journal. Naturally, I submitted an entry - a short story created from the Red Rain 'verse, never before seen. Naturally, I didn't win any of the top prizes or honorable mentions. (My friend and I agreed that it was because I did my own style and didn't go for the sort of stereotypical MFA-type crap people usually associate with literary journals.)


Now, however, you may read and enjoy this little short story, "The Analog Kid," for yourselves, and discover the new first meeting between Alex Cassar (renamed from Alex Snow - this is what he's named in the final, publication-ready version too!) and Fionna. No longer are they strangers until they meet at the pool - instead, they've known each other since freshman year, allowing them to go into their date in Chapter 3 with built-in attraction and tension already.

Enjoy, my friends!


My brother and I have been pretty lucky in our freshman year. He and I are no longer going to school in our old hometown, where our mixed blood made us perpetual outcasts. Now, Gabe’s enrolled at Castledown Academy in Hell, and he’s finally gotten the chance to mix, mingle, and befriend other demons like himself. As for me, I’m going to a new school as well - Balthazar Academy in Heaven. And I’ve been afforded the chance to make new friends among my fellow angels. So far, I’ve got one. But he’s a damn good one, probably the first other angel to really understand me the same way Gabe does.

Not everything can be sunshine and roses, though.

Like today. It’s our birthday weekend (although the actual day is next Tuesday), and so Gabe suggested I come across town and meet him at his school. Six months have passed since we started school, and I still haven’t seen Castledown yet, so I thought, why not?

Of course, I didn’t anticipate waking up this morning feeling feverish and flu-like.

But I don’t have the flu. What I have is much less serious, but just as annoying and uncomfortable and unavoidable. I’m molting. I keep telling myself it’s just another hurdle in angelic puberty, and I’m not the only one going through this - most other guys in my class are molting too. Sure, I’ll lose all my feathers, and my wings will be as bald and bat-like as Gabe’s, but by June I’ll grow in bigger ones as my wings finally reach full size.

Still...I’d rather just get it over with, honestly. It’s got me not only feverish, but also jumpy, for some reason. Riding the cable car up to Castledown actually gave me something most angels don’t experience - a bout of acrophobia.

But when I get off the cable car and Gabe’s waiting for me, I feel better. Mostly because he greets me with his usual bear hug and says, “Happy early birthday, you cheeky bastard.”

“Back at you, dude.”

He leads me into the building. I’m a bit surprised, but not that much, to see that the layout of Castledown is very, very similar to that of Balthazar. Makes sense - everything in this town is a mirror image of its counterpart in either Heaven or Hell. The only real difference is the colors - whereas Balthazar’s main color is green, Castledown’s is bright blue. “Not very Hellish, is it?” I laugh, pointing at the flags lining the corridor. “It looks like the Earthen sky.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Hi, Gabe!” We both turn to see a girl, about the same height as both of us, waving jauntily. “Oh, who’s this? Is this that angel twin of yours I’ve heard so much about?”

I eyeball Gabe warily. “What have you told her?”

“Only the worst horror stories about you,” Gabe snickers. “Fionna Lee, Alex Cassar.”

“Nice to meet you, Fionna,” I say, holding out my hand to shake.

She looks from me to Gabe, her brown eyes glittering, and bursts out laughing. “You’re such an angel,” she says. “Didn’t he tell you we hug around here?”

I glare at Gabe and aim a fake punch at his shoulder. “Guess not. And he calls me the cheeky bastard.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Fionna laughs. “And hey, he wasn’t kidding. You two really look different. I mean, he’s white and you’re brown...or do you prefer ‘olive?’”

I brush the longest parts of my hair - brown, not blond like Gabe’s - behind my ear. “He told you that too? Did he also say how I like it when girls know nothing about me?”

“Why, ‘cause you’re so mysterious?”

I shrug. “Maybe.”

“Well, O Mysterious One, why don’t you give me a hug like a civilized guy, huh?”

I grin at her and oblige her request. I’m so horrible with talking to girls back in Heaven, but Fionna, maybe because she’s a demon, is a lot easier to talk to. Even if she’s strikingly pretty.

Nothing can go wrong...except for her hug making me lose about half a dozen feathers out the back of my shirt. When she sees this, she lets go of me and really falls over laughing.

“Oh God, I’m sorry!” I blush bright red and bend down to gather up the dark brown primaries scattered around my sneakers.

“Don’t be,” she says when she’s recovered enough breath to talk. “Not the first time a boy’s lost his nerve around me.” She backs away, waving goodbye to me and Gabe. “Happy fifteenth...Feathers!” she laughs before turning on her heel and leaving.

Only when she’s out of sight does Gabe give up restraining his own laughter. I, however, bury my head in my hands and whisper, “Dude...kill me now.”

“No way,” Gabe says. “You haven’t seen my room yet! Come on!” He lays one arm over my shoulders and steers me away. I’m afraid if I look back, I’ll see more of my feathers forming a trail behind us with every step.

The 100: An Open Letter To Jason Rothenberg

***WARNING TO ANYONE ELSE WHO MAY READ THIS: MAJOR SPOILER ALERT***

Dear Mr. Rothenberg,

Recently, I put out my list of the top 5 of everything of 2015, and The 100 (which holds the additional distinction of being the first and only CW show my dad will watch with me, which speaks volumes about its widespread crossover appeal) had no problem making the list. Unfortunately, I've fallen behind by two episodes, but because of the recent internet explosion revolving around last week's episode, I've been completely, utterly unable to avoid the spoilers, so I'm now painfully aware that a favorite character of mine is now dead.

Now, because The 100 has such a dedicated fan base, this isn't my first time getting key plot developments spoiled for me. As such, I'm not as mad about it as I perhaps ought to be. All the madness I've seen appears to be concentrated in other fans and their considerable outrage over Lexa's death.

The purpose of this letter is not to join their ranks and criticize this particular storytelling decision, however. Instead, I'd like to empathize with you and all your writers. I know you probably don't need anyone to come to your defense, but I'd just like to offer my thoughts all the same.

The main objection to Lexa's death, as far as I can see, is that it constitutes an example of not only the infamous "stuffed in the fridge" trope, but also "Bury Your Gays." Yes, those are some pretty unfortunate implications. But as a fan who's really come to appreciate The 100 for its remarkable progressivism, I believe that being a member of a minority shouldn't guarantee a character's survival just because certain people would see it as sexist, homophobic, racist, etc. All over the internet, I've seen people place the message "Gender Doesn't Matter" on their profiles. If that's the case, then it also shouldn't matter whether a dead character is straight, gay, bi, or anywhere in between. If a character's death has a profound impact on not only the fans, but also on that character's loved ones in-universe, then it was written in the best possible way - never mind that there really shouldn't be a "best" way to write a death.

In my own writing, I've killed off several characters myself. Some of these have been women, and some have been LGBT. And yet, so far, I've received little to no backlash about it. It could be that I'm just not high-profile enough for such backlash, or it could be that my works tend to treat death as an extension of life, in much the same way as the TV series Dead Like Me deals with the Mundane Fantastic adventures of its undead reapers, so "dead" characters continue to interact with the living and be vital to the plot.

In any case, the reaction from my readers on my books, Red Rain, Blue Monday, and White Shadows, has been not outrage over "targeting" minorities, but rather grief over the deaths of favorite characters, with their gender, race, and sexual orientation hardly figuring in at all. They understand that it's far less about sinking into any kind of cheap, unjust trope than it is about the fact that these deaths hurt my hero the most, and take him to dark places from which he must fight to return.

One day, I'll publish Red Rain and its sequels, and based on the example I've seen from The 100 (as well as, for instance, the death of Sara Lance on Arrow), I accept that the deaths in this series, once they reach a wider audience, will meet with disgust and disdain from certain pockets of the internet. But I cannot, and will not, change the story just to stave off this kind of negative reaction. I'd like to think my story has teeth, and I will not remove them - because part of creating great works involves sharing our emotions with our readers, viewers, etc. That, of course, includes the grief we experience when popular characters (and products of our fruitful imaginations) die.

Looking forward to catching up on The 100,

Ricky Pine

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review: Raging Sea

Raging Sea Raging Sea by Michael Buckley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I compared the first book to The Vicious Deep, but this one takes a far more apocalyptic turn more reminiscent of Falling Skies. The East Coast is gone (and, in at least one case straight out of the first Independence Day, a city gets nuked - "may our children forgive us"), and now, Lyric and her friends are traveling west, into more desert-y parts of the country - exactly what you would NOT expect for a story about war between humans and merpeople.

On the one hand, the story's pretty strong awareness of its tendency to fall victim to YA romantic tropes (to the point where there's a line from Lyric saying how she's "living the worst YA book ever" or something similar) is something that, by rights, shouldn't work. After all, awareness of its soap-opera nature was actually a major factor in why I stopped watching Quantico after seven episodes (that and the fact that, really, soaps and terrorism? There's a reason why I didn't even finish the first season of Homeland either.) And yet, because of Buckley's gift for high action and horrifying creature violence (the Falling Skies connection comes in because of an Alpha type that bears a suspicious resemblance to the Harnesses in its primary method of attack), it just feels like it comes with the territory.

Strangely, this book actually dials down the sociopolitical commentary of its predecessor - especially given how the current political climate is such a farce that some in my Twitter feed are breaking a cardinal rule of the internet and engaging the trolls. However, the suspense continues to build up over the course of this middle book, and it all leads up to a terrifying cliffhanger.

So, definitely give this a read, especially if you enjoyed Undertow or The Vicious Deep. However, I'll still never forgive Buckley for killing off Shadow.

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Saturday, March 5, 2016

Review: The Eternal World: A Novel

The Eternal World: A Novel The Eternal World: A Novel by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been waiting for a long time for another Christopher Farnsworth book - and while this isn't the Nathaniel Cade continuation I've been really dying to read, this standalone thriller, based on the same Fountain of Youth legend that inspired the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie, is a nice little piece of wild and crazy action to tide us Cade fans over. It makes all the sense in the world that the Spanish explorers who discovered the Fountain of Youth have made themselves a neat little immortal business empire over time, an empire now in jeopardy because their precious Water is now in limited supply. Nice little metaphor for the world's considerable dependence on oil and pharmaceuticals, isn't it? Best of all, the book's a slow burn, in that you know what the premise is based on the dust jacket, but the plot takes its sweet time to set the backstory up, in small doses every so often.

Overall, it's a good book. But I still really hope we get the fourth Cade book soon, because that one's gonna knock my socks off, of that I'm certain.

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Friday, March 4, 2016

My Life In Poetry

While looking through my Google Docs for old essays I wouldn't need anymore, so I could use those files to put together the beginnings of my vomitous critical theory essay (which I need to start today, blecccch), I found this gem from two years ago - the final essay I wrote for a poetry class. That class, I took in spring 2014, a time of massive reinvention in my life. I'd just changed majors from computer science to English, I'd finally made my first real friend in God knows how long, I'd started writing Red Rain, and just a couple of weeks before this essay was written, I saw what's still my favorite movie ever - The Amazing Spider-Man 2.


#NoShame

The reinvention's not done yet, and so I'd like to share this old essay with you, my loyal Pinecones, before I totally forget all about it. You can see in the following words just how much I haven't changed in two years, and how mentally-still-age-seventeen I was back then.



One poem that very greatly captures a series of feelings I’ve felt throughout my life is Joyce Sutphen’s “Living In The Body.” Sutphen starts by declaring that “no matter which [body] you get, it will not / be satisfactory. It will not be beautiful / enough, it will not be fast enough…” Although society commonly associates body-image issues with girls more often than boys, I am living proof that young males can suffer this particular problem as well. While I have never developed any full-blown problems in this regard (such as eating disorders), I have still spent years wishing I were more attractive. Otherwise, I would have to rely entirely on my charm and personality to attract a mate, and I am equally deficient here - or, at least, so I perceive myself. I definitely have problems with self-control as well, as Sutphen outlines at the end of the first stanza, when she describes how the unsatisfactory body will “pull [one] down into a sleepy swamp and / demand apples and coffee and chocolate cake.” I have often found myself eating these exact things even when I do not even need to do so, just because I want something delicious to fill my stomach with. Amusingly, when I look in the mirror each day, I already get “the same creaky knee when [I] get up from the floor” - although I have to wonder how much of that is just poor self-perception and how much might actually be premature aging of my joints. While Sutphen does suggest that it is not worth it to try and change one’s body - “The changes you can make are small and / costly - better to leave it as it is” - I have to disagree. I feel that perhaps small changes do not have to be quite so costly - they can include such things as better dieting, exercise, and getting out more in general. Having spent most of my life shying away from these things, I feel that I am long overdue for such improvements to my life.

In Gerald Locklin’s “The Iceberg Theory,” iceberg lettuce is defended despite being considered a less-than-pleasing option by many. Locklin insists that food critics will make up all sorts of grandiose reasons to bolster other, more different, varieties of lettuce, and yet “at any rate, [he] really [enjoys] a salad / with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce, / the more the merrier…” I have to agree with Locklin - I’ve always preferred a salad with plain iceberg lettuce, or even romaine, which is equally plain and simple. I also have to agree with Locklin’s idea of taste: “the darker, leafier varieties / are often bitter, gritty, and flat.” Like most people, I spent my childhood not wanting to eat my green vegetables precisely for this reason - even today I find most of them to be foul-tasting and barely edible. At the same time, I also believe that Locklin hits the nail on the head when he outlines a rather strong criticism of iceberg lettuce: “it just isn’t different enough, and / it’s too goddamn american.” It is true that most American things (not just food, but also books and movies and music, in my experience) seem bland and uninspired, although that might just be the perspective of an actual American who is tired of the things he or she grew up with. In the end, though, the critics are simply forming their opinions to which they are entitled: “a critic has to criticize: / a critic has to have something to say.” I find myself often delivering harsh and/or unwanted opinions on a variety of subjects - food, music, movies, etc. Because my own life experience with all of these has been fairly limited, usually sticking to what I find simple and comforting, I guess it only fits that I critique things constantly - in keeping with the old maxim that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach - or, in my case, spout off strong opinions that people do not want to hear, but are the truth in my eyes no matter what others may say.

Another poem for me to relate to easily is “The British Museum Reading Room” by Louis MacNeice. Here he describes the way that “the stooping haunted readers / Go up and down the alleys, tap the cells of knowledge…” I have spent most of my life going into libraries similar places - certainly none as majestic as the poem’s titular location, but all still equally suited for the advancement of knowledge because that is the purpose for which they were built. MacNeice says that those who come to libraries like this are a motley bunch: “Some on commission, some for the love of learning, / Some because they have nothing better to do / Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden / The drumming of the demon in their ears.” I have to admit that these (except for the first) are all primary reasons why I go for reading a book instead of proper human contact, given the choice - which is also why, throughout my life, I have had very few people I can call a friend.

In Robert Hass’ “Our Lady of the Snows,” the speaker describes how, as a child, he would be “standing at [his] older brother’s closet / studying the shirts, / convinced that I could be absolutely transformed / by something I could borrow.” While I do not have any brothers, I can still relate to this feeling just based on the contents of my own closet - which is full of shirts that I normally do not wear because they do not reflect the sort of person I am, including some I received as Christmas gifts during my teens but have never worn because I considered them embarrassing and nerdy (this despite the fact that I was enrolled in many honors and AP classes in high school, and my classmates would often wear similar clothes.) Looking back, I think that if I were to bring my younger self to the present day so he could see the contents of my closet, he would see an older version of himself, with few people to really look up to in life, insisting on doing things his own (usually easy in the moment) way, regardless of the consequences. Perhaps this experience could convince my teenage self to concentrate his efforts more on the life he wants to lead, a life I sometimes feel I may have missed the boat on because of my consistent inability to make friends or connections with others around me.

In my studies, I continuously find myself bored trying to divine any kind of meaning from the things I study. It would be much easier (and, again, only easy within the moment) if all people would follow the advice of David Budbill’s “The Three Goals:” “The first goal is to see the thing itself / in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly / for what it is. / No symbolism, please.” Unfortunately, most people would disagree with this, because it is only too easy to read into things and search for hidden meanings, which the author may not even have put in to begin with. It would certainly be helpful if the author simply stated what the hidden meanings were, in an interview or the afterword to his or her work. However, as an aspiring writer myself, I understand the urge to try and get the reader to figure the hidden meanings out on their own. Whether they do figure it out, though, is a mystery - and in fact, if the novel on which I am currently working is published, I highly doubt the reader will be able to figure out the obscure references on his or her own. That would be where the internet, or third-party reading guides, would come in - as it has often done for me during my life.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Review: Glass Sword

Glass Sword Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rise, red as the dawn.

A fair few of my friends, who have better connections than I do, were lucky enough to acquire this long-awaited Red Queen sequel in advance, but many of them confessed themselves quite disappointed. Based on this less-than-stellar reception, I was scared that I wouldn't enjoy the book either.

Well, I guess I didn't read the same book my friends did, because Glass Sword, for me, skips the Catching Fire prelude to the big war and goes right for the throat, starting the Mockingjay phase of the dystopian fantasy a little early to great effect. Aveyard's storytelling thus continues to validate my ongoing status as a passenger on this here hype train.

Sure, a lot of the complaints I saw about this book turned out to hold some water - for instance, insufficient world-building for the genre (it would really help if the official Norta map were published in every copy of every Aveyard book at this point. Like so:)



And also the considerable artistic license with the physics - I know at least one other reviewer questioned why Mare's lightning ability somehow includes disrupting electrical currents when that's not static electricity. As someone who got a D in Electricity and Magnetism - twice - I feel that it's a good complaint, but for the sake of the story, you just gotta go with it. Heck, I remember in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Electro's powers became hella godlike hella fast, with little regard for actual physics because holy crap the eye-popping visuals!



On the subject of TASM 2, I'd like to compare that movie to this book because they're both second installments to which I, along with many others, looked forward to with the greatest interest. Many others, after seeing the final product for both, didn't like it, and thought themselves hoodwinked by hype. I, however, enjoyed both TASM 2 and Glass Sword immensely, flaws and all, for two major reasons. One, while both are relatively long and, at times, a bit bloated with too many characters, both have a real knack for knowing when to jack up the maximum thrills and drop into my lap with a ball-busting KABOOM. And two, just as the action is injected into the right places like so much nitrous oxide, so too are the emotions. Especially near the end, when, just like in TASM 2, a major supporting character, to whom our protagonist is close, dies. (Incidentally, this particular character shares the same connection to Aveyard's protagonist that the character who suffers a major death at the end of my second book does to my protagonist - so if you've read Blue Monday but not this book, or vice versa, I may have just spoiled you. Sorry about that.)

More than just the emotions and action, however, are the book's villains, who really make Glass Sword the powerhouse it is. Especially, of course, Maven. I haven't seen Jessica Jones yet (no Netflix for me, sadly), but I'm led to believe that Kilgrave's got a sort of twisted love for Jessica that motivates him. To me, Maven (who I really want to stab through the chest, illegal and immoral though it may be) comes across the same way in the way he treats Mare. I can't imagine Jessica Jones had much influence on the writing of this book - I'm sure Aveyard was done long before November 2015 - but I get the feeling if she's seen it (and she probably has, because she's cooler than I am), it'll really help shape the way she sketches Maven and Mare for Book 3. The same, I think, goes for the absolutely amazing new USA series Colony, in which the guy we're conditioned to despise, Proxy Snyder, is the devil we know versus the even worse Bigger Bad higher-ups (like Maven, I think), and the people we're conditioned to root for, the Resistance, are pretty damn ruthless in the pursuit of freedom (like the Scarlet Guard.)

Yeah, you can totally tell Victoria Aveyard's a millennial writer. Our generation's best and brightest (Marie Lu, Veronica Roth, Brett Michael Orr, Taran Matharu, Adam Silvera, Sabaa Tahir, Sierra Daniels, etc.) have a way of crafting stories that borrow so liberally from so many other things, and yet still feel fresh and original in their own way.

So, Victoria Aveyard, thanks so much for putting together 400-plus pages with which I was able to waste an hour or two I could otherwise have spent trying to write important critical-theory essay. (Didn't Veronica Roth used to write Divergent when she was supposed to be doing schoolwork instead? I always use that as my go-to excuse for procrastination.) Seriously, this book just begged to be speed-read, from its ominous opening to its truly diabolical epilogue, to which I can only say this:



Some of my friends might be quite cautious about stepping back into Norta and further this time next year. But me? I'll be chomping at the bit to be first in line at the library just like I was for Glass Sword. We're halfway through this series now - and I don't count on leaving this fandom anytime soon.

Rise, red as the dawn.

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