Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Seraphina Review

Summary: Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered-in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

My thoughts: I did not expect to finish this book with tears in my eyes. I’d expect that kind of reaction from a John Green novel or some other contemporary story, but not a book about dragons. Because as impressive as Hartman’s take on dragons are, it’s strange to find that my favorite parts weren’t the fantastical beings or the greatly imaginative world, but the emotional, intimate moments.

Seraphina is so delightfully layered and spellbinding without even trying and it’s because of the characters more than anything else. Do you want to know how you can have a story that includes basically any concept in the world? You get us to care about the characters. When you start with that kind of solid foundation, something to hold on to, readers will follow you anywhere. Even more so if you can make them relatable.

In so many ways, Seraphina is a product of two worlds. And yet she feels separated from both. She longs for things she thinks she can never have, and if that isn’t relatable I don’t know what is: The need to belong, to feel accepted and loved.

Not to mention that while she learns more about herself, the “peace” between humans and dragons threatens to come undone. But simply replace the words human and dragon with two new distinctive groups, be it by race, sex, or anything else, it’s easy to see how this equates to real life. We often separate ourselves in so many ways, producing the temptation to hate what is different, rather than to celebrate it and try to understand it.

So as Seraphina works to accept herself and to be open to the love she deserves, her two worlds must decide whether they can continue to coexist and learn to accept each other. The former issue is addressed throughout the story, in a coming-of-age way that made me more emotional than I thought I’d be. The latter issue is still being worked on, with enough deep-rooted problems to see why a second book would be helpful.

I look forward to continuing Seraphina’s journey. To see her sacrifice for what she believes in, to see her grow, knowing that she’s good enough, that she’s loved, and that she has a gift. One that might help bring real peace between her two worlds.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Blacklist Review: The Babysitter

General information: My current dream/goal is to be a screenwriter, but I’ve been pretty bad at following one of the cardinal rules of writing. If you want to be a better writer, read a lot. I’ve fallen off in that department, so this is a way to publicly announce and hopefully fix my problem. I’m going to read through the 2014 Blacklist screenplays (in no particular order) and review as many as I can here. Starting with--

Blacklist Review #1: The Babysitter
A lonely twelve year old boy in love with his babysitter discovers some hard truths about life, love, and murder.

To be honest, I’m not sure how The Babysitter ended up working as well as it did. But it was quick, simple, and a whole lot of fun, finding a way to be playful yet self-aware, regardless of the rules the writer decided not to follow.

The way screenplays are generally structured, something out of the ordinary has to happen around 15 pages in. But nothing like that happened until the end of the first act. And I didn’t mind it at all. Setting up Cole’s world and the dynamic between Cole and Bee carried me the entire first 30 pages. You got a feel for Cole’s unease with himself as well as Bee’s self-confidence and what that should mean for his growth during the following pages. It’s still a coming-of-age story despite the murder.

The first act was like the beginning of a roller-coaster. That slow crawl upwards that gets you going just off of the anticipation. And just like a theme park ride, once it takes off, there’s no going back. After page 30, the story is at full speed. And since it takes place in one night (I love those kinds of movies), it feels like one continuous, epic scene.

The writer does a great job of ignoring what a lot of my teachers have told me not to do. Giving background info in the action lines in a way I don’t mind. Skipping some of the structured steps found in most scripts, because he doesn't seem to need it. Plus his dialogue could have become annoying and too wink-at-the-camera snappy, but he makes it clever and laugh out loud funny. Not to mention all the small moments he sets up that seem to have no relation to the plot, but comes back around in the most satisfying of ways. He breaks some rules. But it works. Plus, if you can get me to care about the character and keep the movie interesting, you have a good chance of keeping me entertained.

I’m pretty impressed with my first script read of this series. Well done Brian.

Side note: normally, when the bad guys are up to something, I eventually want to know what it is. I still know next to nothing regarding why the bad guys DID what they DID, and yet, it doesn’t matter.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe Review

Summary: Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship- the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

My thoughts: There are stories so simple and to the point that it's startling. No dragons to slay. No princesses to rescue. Just your standard contemporary novel. Except that although it’s not a fantasy, maybe there is still something to defeat. And maybe there is still someone that needs to be rescued.

To say Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is about two best friends as they grow (sometimes apart, sometimes closer) into something more than boys, doesn't seem to do this story justice. This is about love and everything that that can mean. But that seems too vast of an explanation.

Like every single person in this book, love takes on a different form depending on who's expressing it. For every moment Dante wants to feel and acknowledge aloud, Aristotle wants to store away and ponder. To keep close and analyze. Ari's dad loves in silence. You can see the way Dante's mother feels just by a look. Ari's mother and Dante's dad through their words and in the way that they talk.

So out of all the secrets in the universe that need discovering, like what Ari's dreams mean, or why his parents won't talk about his older brother, the biggest secret of them all seems to be about self-discovery. Who am I? And what does that mean?

It's weird growing up and learning who you are. Whether you're becoming more of yourself or less. I'm not a teenager anymore, but I can remember how fragile you can feel when everything about you seems unclear, especially your feelings and who you feel them for. But when you see these characters grow and change and learn to accept, it's a reminder. Some secrets are meant to be shared. Some discoveries are meant to change you. And when they do, those who love you will still be there.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want to Re-read

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi: It's everything I could ask for in a dystopian. And unlike other first novels in a series, a lot happens. It can get annoying when the first book in a series merely feels like a set-up for the real story in book two. Thankfully, Under the Never Sky was nothing like that.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone: This was both strange and beautiful. The kind of weird fantasy I enjoy with exquisite writing and a fresh plot.

The Ghosts of Ashbury High by Jaclyn Moriarty: I don't know what it is about Australian authors, but they continue to impress me. And this book remains to be one of the most intriguing, strange, entrancing stories I've ever read.

The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson: This book felt so pure and honest to me. It makes me remember moments in my life at that age. It's authentically beautiful. It's authentically heartbreaking. And it's a great lesson in moving on and growing up.

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King: I don't know how King does it. But she takes these contemporary stories and adds a fantastical flare the make her novels "inhalable."
(Inhalable books - A book that is practically inhaled based on how fast it was read.)

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin: It's like the author created this just for me. I love anything with mythological gods/creatures. And this one manages to pull off an epic fantasy with politics, a murder mystery, and a deep family drama (to say the least).

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: This surpassed all expectations and gave my everything and I could have ever wanted from Ms. Stiefvater. I could write essays about how much I adore this book.

Allison Hewitt is Trapped by Madeleine Roux: This book never got as big as I'd hoped, but it really is one of my favorite zombie books of all time.

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr: Imagine my surprise when the fourth book in my favorite series, Wicked Lovely became my favorite one in the entire series. I've never read a series where the first book wasn't ultimately the best of the set.

The Sons of Achilles by Madeline Miller: Every few months I think about this book. It's one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Earth Girl Review

Summary: A sensational YA science fiction debut from an exciting new British author. Jarra is stuck on Earth while the rest of humanity portals around the universe. But can she prove to the norms that she’s more than just an Earth Girl?

2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s an ‘ape’, a ‘throwback’, but this is one ape girl who won’t give in.

Jarra invents a fake background for herself – as a normal child of Military parents – and joins a class of norms that is on Earth to excavate the ruins of the old cities. When an ancient skyscraper collapses, burying another research team, Jarra’s role in their rescue puts her in the spotlight. No hiding at back of class now. To make life more complicated, she finds herself falling in love with one of her classmates – a norm from another planet. Somehow, she has to keep the deception going.

A freak solar storm strikes the atmosphere, and the class is ordered to portal off-world for safety – no problem for a real child of military parents, but fatal for Jarra. The storm is so bad that the crews of the orbiting solar arrays have to escape to planet below: the first landing from space in 600 years. And one is on collision course with their shelter.

My Thoughts: With YA, I’ve read a lot of books where the main female character is supposed to be special, but doesn’t know why. And that, by itself, is OK. I think a lot of people in real life don’t understand why they’re special, but it doesn’t mean it’s not true. Unfortunately, in these kinds of books, the character reminds you repeatedly how unsure of themselves they are at each turn.  It happens to mirror some real life problems women deal with, but that’s a longer story. What was refreshing about Jarra is that I didn’t have to be concerned with that. She was exceptional, and she didn’t go off questioning it or apologizing for it.

Another standout aspect was the worldbuilding. This society that’s been built around portals, with their social caste and past that mirrors the 21st century, was so imaginative. By the beginning chapters, I was almost salivating with the thought of how cinematic this was. And that whatever problems Jarra faced to get what she wanted would be awesome to watch unravel. But here’s where things get a bit murky. Jarra’s main problems came from herself, which isn’t abnormal in a man vs. self-type conflict. But there were other problems that seemed to suggest man vs. nature, except there was no deeper connection between the inner and outer conflict.  The “rescue missions” (I won’t say more than that) didn’t tie in well enough to the internal problem.

Or maybe my issue was that Edwards set up a world where something bigger could have happened. Like, don’t give me a Star Trek world and have the whole story take place on earth. That’s what it felt like. Jarra’s personal problems could have been in the midst of a bigger/deeper “world” problem, but it wasn’t. With that said, I’m aware that this is the first of a series. And because I loved Jarra and the world, and could still see where a second book could redeem the story, I won’t give up on this series. It has too much potential!

Update: I just read the premise of the second book, and it sounds like what I wanted to happen during the first book!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The 5th Wave review

Summary: The Passage meets Ender’s Game in an epic new series from award-winning author Rick Yancey.

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Thoughts: I read a blog post a couple of weeks back about insight into what people working at book publishing companies look for in a manuscript. To sum it up, there was nothing special this particular person was looking for. No wizards over dragons, or road trips instead of dying patients. But something that was interesting is that this person always looked forward to the novel about a subject that they weren’t really into. Basically, if you wrote about something she didn’t really like and made her like it, then the book was really good. The 5th Wave is my supreme example of that.

To my knowledge, I’ve never read a book about, pertaining to, or including aliens. I avoid it. I try my hardest, and sometimes fail to stop myself from rolling my eyes whenever my dad tells me he saw another show proving aliens exist. And I put books like this, at the bottom of the tbr list, because even though I’ll give it a try (because I’ve heard great things)… it’s still about aliens.

Here’s the thing. Books are repetitive. Stories are repetitive. There’s something a character wants, and the whole story is about either striving to get it, and getting it, or striving to get it, but not getting it (in that case they might get what they need rather than what they want.) This is pretty simple. And when life as you know it ends, it’s hard to talk about anything but grief. Well, Cassie could go on talking about grief and despair (and other things) for a full series and I’d still eat it up. She thinks brutally and honestly to the point that I’d start to get a feeling in my gut that maybe I shouldn’t roll my eyes too hard when dad starts talking about area 51. It felt that real.

As for the story, the way it was split up between the main characters seemed questionable at first, but it was all brought together perfectly by the end. I knew they would connect somehow, but I initially wondered how story A would line up with story B. And it didn’t happen the way I wanted it to. It actually turned out better than I could have imagined.

And the action! Even though we’re in characters heads a lot, there is so much action. I read the first chapter and immediately thought that this story was film-worthy. No wonder there was a deal for a movie before The 5th Wave was even released. There’s irony, which makes the best kind of stories (especially movies). There’s people you’re rooting for and people you’re suspicious about that seem to trade places out of nowhere. There’s heartbreak, and not kiddie heartbreak. I mean people suffering in terrible ways. And yet, there’s hope.  Hope that you’re a mayfly and not a cockroach (it’ll make sense if you read it), or a human and not a shark. And even though life is fleeting, that you’ll learn to use what little time you have left, alien invasion or not, to do something that matters.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Will it or Won't it: The Fault in Our Stars

I’m not sure if it’s my love for books and movies or my years at film school (or both), but when I hear certain book adapted movies are coming out, I’m either immediately thrilled about it or dreading it. This often has nothing to do with whether or not I liked the book, and more to do with whether it makes a successful film. For instance, when I heard about the Beautiful Creatures movie, it was a no for me. When I saw the trailer it was an even bigger no. When I heard about the Hunger Games movie, I was ecstatic because it felt like a successful movie series.  One that was an in between was Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I thought it could be successful, and I still stand by that. It could have. But for whatever reason, it got turned into something less incredible.

Will it or Won’t it will be about YA (mostly) book-adapted movies that I think will or won’t be successful. Which is relative. One of these movies could still do well, but not well enough that I think it should have been made. Also, there are tons of excellent films that not many people go to see. I’d still deem that kind of film successful if it had all the right elements. And I will always support YA, which is why I still saw Beautiful Creatures. And why I’ll probably still see any other Percy Jackson movie (please let them continue to improve). Up first: The Fault in Our Stars.

I was so excited when I saw that the script had made it on Hollywood’s Blacklist in 2012. This is a film that I wanted to get made before I even finished the book. I read it when it first came out, so details are a bit muddled. I do remember that it’s the perfect mix of sad and happy. You want a movie that makes you laugh and cry. It’s also “movie funny,” as in, the things I read are things I want to actually see happen. It’s romantic in a way that makes me wish I had a relationship like that (sort of). And the whole book isn’t in the main character’s head. That’s what I think makes it really difficult to turn a book into a movie. When all the important parts are in someone’s head and you can’t see it through dialogue and action. How do you know what you need to know without the screenwriter and producers changing aspects about the story (which I hate and often doesn’t work)? The Fault in Our Stars isn’t a three book series that will turn into four movies. It's not the next Harry Potter or Twilight. It’s tragic. It’s about normal lives. And I don’t know how well it’ll do money-wise. But in my own version of success: It Will.

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