Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

HollowCityThis second installation in the world of peculiar children begins exactly where the first book left off (review here). Jacob and his horde of interesting friends are stuck in the middle of the open water with a very general plan and not a lot of hope.

After visiting multiple new loops and making some new friends, the group finds themselves in London, entrenched among peculiar folk and animals deciding whether or not the Ymbryne’s are worth the fight.

For me, this book started off a little slow. Not a whole lot happens in the first several chapters besides them simply wandering around and I think a lot of that narrative could have been cut without sacrificing anything for the actual story. That being said, I did love how much attention to detail and world building happened in this book. During the first novel I was stuck with many big idea questions about the social structure of this underground society and I think that this book gave me the information I needed. I was very satisfied with how this sequel pulled me in and really allowed this world to envelop me. We learn about how the committee of Ymbrynes operates politically, the function of a punishment loop, and most intriguingly what are peculiar animals.

Some people may think that the peculiar animals are pushing things a bit to far, but I loved them. I thought that the accompanying photos were excellently incorporated into the storyline and that these peculiar animals really make this world voluptuous.

Additionally, this society is darker and creepier than we were led to believe in the first book.

“Strange, I thought, how you can be living your dreams and your nightmares at the very same time.”

Continue reading

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School

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Well, this was a weird one.

See, for the first 1/3 of this novel, it’s fairly typical YA boarding school fare: a minor mystery, a small group of enterprising young girls determined to solve it, quirky teachers, some small magics. Nothing terribly bad, but nothing terribly exciting or groundbreaking either. In fact, by the end of Pt. 1 of the book, I was ready to write it off as a yawn.

Then Pt. 2 started and suddenly things got a lot more weird. The book’s synopsis gives you no hint of what you’re getting into – a creepy, ant-based cult that turns the schoolgirls into basically mindless zombies. Only the girls with powers (the “Unusuals” or, more derogatorily, “flukes”) can resist the call to become soldier ants, and after their quick relegation to the dregs of the school, they decide to fight back by figuring out what’s happening and putting a stop to it.

I’m not even going to pretend to understand what happened in the last 2/3s of the book. The Purple was never properly explained, nor was the “villain” Rayne or the goals of the Hooded Conspiracy. It left me with a lot of questions at the end: who are the Other Ones? What the hell is Rayne? Why was her mother OK with all this? What was their endgame, a destroyed Earth?

What I do know is that after being disappointed by the first 1/3 (extremely so, given that I love Kim Newman’sAnno Dracula series), I tore through the rest in my eagerness to find out what would happen next. The plot isn’t always very coherent in the later chapters, but it tears by at a frightening pace. It’s over before you know it.

Character wise, this book does quite well. The characters are almost exclusively female, but Newman writes female characters with great attention to detail. Perhaps the best part for me was that the story doesn’t get bogged down in the typical YA fantasy love triangle tripe. The dearth of male characters means we are free to focus just on the girls: on their hopes, dreams, flaws and quirks. Each one of the main characters is different, and our leading lady Amy is a treasure to follow as she grows into her “wings” and realizes her leadership potential. I was also fond of Light Fingers, particularly toward the end where she started to find unconventional uses for her super speed.

And of course, since this is Kim Newman, the book contains many different references to other works. I’m sure I didn’t catch them all, but I do enjoy that about Newman’s books.

All that being said, I’m still not quite sure how to feel about this book. Part of me really enjoyed it, part of me can’t get past the blah opening and part of me is just plain confused. If you’re looking for something a little off the wall, then I think I’d recommend this book to you.

Grade: 2.5/5 for the opening third, 3.5/5 for the rest

Memorable Quote:

“This was a triumph. Rayne was a heroine.
She was an Unusual.
But…Amy’s stomach ached acutely. She wanted to skip too, but the wanting – a wanting close to a needing! – was wrong. It wasn’t her inclination. It was instilled by an external force. She heard a call her instinct was to resist.
No, she would not join in. No.”

— The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School, pg. 161

-Regina

Originally posted on Regina’s blog

The 100: “Thirteen”

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I’ll begin with a warning. Usually I try to keep my reviews mostly spoiler free, but there is a MAJOR spoiler in this one because I had things that needed saying.

 

I loved and hated this episode for so many reasons. The first forty minutes were great. We FINALLY get to learn more about Alie. We learn about her creator, who I fully support. We get to learn about the destruction of the Earth and the end of the thirteenth space station. Really this backstory is what I’ve been desperate for these past few episodes. I needed this information to feel plugged in and I’m so happy that this storyline is getting it’s deserved time. We even get to learn more about The Grounders in this wonderful flashback.

I personally found Alie’s creator to be inspirational and justified, although I have a feeling that will be an unpopular opinion. Some of this may be because I called a lot of this. I had a really good feeling about the cause of the end of the world, where AI number two would be AND the instigation of The Commander.

However, as amazing as this flashback was this episode was highly disappointing for me. (Here’s the spoiler by the way.) My favorite part about this show is how sexual-preference fluidity and homosexuality was present, and not a big deal. I loved the idea that a main character could be bisexual and it was no big deal for this society. Lexa and Clarke’s relationship has been a saving grace for this show. It was truly my favorite storyline. Their big dramatic kiss this season made me soooo happy.

And then they ruined it.

Have you ever heard of LDS? Lesbian Death Syndrome. or the Bury Your Gays problem? It comes down to this… I challenge you to think of a lesbian character in main stream TV/movies that doesn’t come to a dramatic end. I understand that in this case Lexa’s death served some kind of purpose, but there were other ways to share the real role of The Commander. In more specific versions, LDS is the scenario that the lesbian character dies dramatically, right after achieving their greatest happiness almost as if saying that gays can’t be happy. Lexa dies shortly after her and Clarke finally engage in sexy time.

I’m very disappointed in this show. We finally had a real lesbian couple that made me smile, and they squashed it. Apparently, this actually caused the show creators to lose significant twitter followers and they also took a major hit in viewership for the following episode so I know I’m not the only one upset by this.

You guys had a really great start to this one…and then brutally murdered it in an unnecessary and highly complicated fashion.

Procrastination and Giggles,
The Red Queen

P.S. For more information about LDS try this website which is not for children here.

The 100: “Bitter Harvest”

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I think everyone on this show has been on the top of my hate list at one point or another. Rather than getting all up in my angry place again I will try to actually write a review of this episode.

Wait, I just have to say one thing….PLEASE GIVE ME COMIC RELIEF. There is none and it is sooooo needed.

I’m thinking this drugs must be like machine nano particles or something. I am so happy that they exist because I’m getting that new side element I’ve been really wanting. This whole crazy AI woman is really intriguing. Alie is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters because this actress just does psychopathic computer program very well. As much as I dislike this drug concept, they did a good job targeting which characters would be the best to buy into this scenario. Who are the key players? Who are the easy targets? I want more backstory here. I want a flashback. I want information!

As a side note…everyone in this show has incredible posture…

Back to the point, really the important part of this episode is Clarke and Lexa’s captive. Finally, Clarke has to face what she is expecting Lexa and her people to do. Clarke herself has to decide…does blood require blood or can we create something better?  And it is fabulous. Really, I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again..Clarke and Lexa save this show. They keep saving it and saving it and saving it. Watching Clarke try to work through this difficult decision is powerful. And I think we can all agree that her decision at the end is why she isn’t on my giant pile of hate. She is one of the few intellectual people here.

When Lexa was first introduced I was not her biggest fan, but I’ve grown to respect her. She is in a very difficult position and yet she submits to growth. She commits her self to being a better person. That’s why Lexa and Clarke have such a great on-screen relationship. We get to watch them grow together, which is just wonderful.

One last minute thought, I was waiting for the downside of the devil pills and now we know! And, it makes this side story even better! Ugh..that’s all.

Procrastination and Giggles,
The Red Queen

P.S. I think power just makes people insane. Now that Abby isn’t Chancellor I actually think she seems reasonable.

The 100: “Hakeldama”

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I hope Pike’s tenure as Chancellor is as short as a Kardashian wedding. It took two minutes of this episode and I am already angry. Personally, I think I would have joined #TeamGrounder a long time ago. The one thing this show is good at is giving you someone to hate. I hate them all. Raven is even now included on that list. She needs to get done with her pity party. I’d rather not have to start describing her as a glorified druggy.

Last episode I didn’t think I’d say this, but thank god Jaha is back. We really needed to mix this up, throw a good wrench into the mix. Speaking of which, why is Murphy the only sane one? Why? I knew that he would eventually find his perfect other scheming half, but to have him also make sensible decisions was a shocker.

After all this craziness, I don’t think I could manage a quarter of Clarke’s optimism. I want her to lay down a steaming pile of guilt trip on Bellamy so hard. He is such a freaking hypocrite and is on the top of 100 hate pile. I’d also like to see Lincoln to just go ham on some b*tches. # TheResistance

It’s decided. If they don’t resolve this Grounder vs Sky people crap this season, then I’m done watching.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got.

Procrastination and Giggles,
The Red Queen

P.S. I don’t think I ever even figured out what Hakeldama is.

The 100: “Watch the Thrones”

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First off, I have got to say I am digging Wanheda’s look, but I really don’t understand the choice to start this episode off like they did. Last we left them, I thought there was going to be a war and the Ice Queen was hiding in the bushes. All of a sudden, she’s in chains and we are experiencing a coo. Like what?!? I wanted a battle and some cool strategic throw-downs. People really need an a** kicking in this show and this was my opportunity to witness that and the powers that be stole that from me.Generally, the fight between Lexa and Roan is what I wanted more of this episode, bada** butt kicking.

Also, I think “Not Monty” has really lost it. And his angst is in fact the only angst that I understand in this entire show. So much angst. So much unjustified angst. It’s like watching American politics, lots of sh*t slinging and very little depth. “Anger is our policy.”

While watching I predicted that Pike was going to become the next Chancellor and everyone would be screwed. I think this whole “hating everyone else” thing is getting a little repetitive. I was hoping that Jaha’s storyline would bring an end to this back and forth. But, we continue to play violent politics. And, Jaha’s plotline stalls in the mud. I’m almost beginning to think that Jasper has the right idea. I’d drink to forget all this BS too. As a matter of fact, while watching this I needed to grab some wine.

The redeeming element of this show really is Lexa and Clarke’s relationship. Watching the emotional struggles between those two, the fight between loving their clans and loving each other, is tantalizing.

Back to my ranting, Pike being able to sway Bellamy makes absolutely no sense to me. I feel like the creators of this show have a clear vision of development for only a single character on this show, Clarke. Everyone else is either static or has the character development of a scud missile: wandering all over the place. Okay, I’ll concede, Jasper isn’t static either, but he’s not exactly an inspiring force.

In summary, this show needs less whining and more reality checks. I hope this whole Pike thing doesn’t last long.

Procrastination and Giggles,
The Red Queen

P.S. Bellamy needs to figure out what his priorities are…like really.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

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Seeing as the trailer for the movie just came out I felt I should read these books sooner rather than later. I hate seeing the movie before reading the book. But, I’ll get to my thoughts on the trailer later. For now let’s focus on the book.

Ransom Riggs writes as if her were a three-way love child of Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, and Stan Lee and his stories have a young-adult-appropriate American Horror Story feel to them. He began as a photographer, film maker, screen writer and became really interested in the stories behind old, found photographs. Apparently, since Riggs couldn’t know what really happened in the photos, he made up his own story instead.

The reason I put off reading these for so long is because I worried that including these photographs would be very gimmicky; however, I was wrong. These found photos provide all of the creepiness to this story and also give world-building context.

In this story, 16 year-old Jacob has a fairly average life. The only interesting element is his grandfather Abe’s stories, which are accompanied by some spooky photos. Abe dies suddenly and tragically causing Jacob to go through an emotional breakdown. Jacob’s overly pushy psychiatrist end up supporting him when he wants to investigate Abe’s childhood.

Jacob and his father travel to an isolated island where Jacob discovers that all of grandpa’s stories were true. And there begins a tale of people who are out of place and out of time. Continue reading

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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I guess I’m getting into a bad habit of thinking books are standalones when they aren’t.

That was the case for City of Stairs (now with sequel City of Blades) and it’s also the case for V.E. Schwab’s earlier novel A Darker Shade of Magic. A Darker Shade ranked very highly on my list of top books read year, so when I finally discovered (in January) that a sequel was coming out (in February), I marked my calendar to purchase it.

A Gathering of Shadows picks up some time after the first novel. Kell and Rhy are struggling to deal with their new lives (or rather, life singular). Rhy feels guilty, while Kell feels trapped, and they’ve found new ways to goad each other. Meanwhile, Lila Bard has joined the crew of privateer Alucard Emery and is sailing the seas of Red London’s world. They’re all brought together during theEssen Tasch, the Element Games – a fantasy version of the Olympics where magicians compete for crown and country. And a world away, an old face is plotting…

I’m going to come right out and say it – this book definitely has some major middle book syndrome. It doesn’t really have a plot of its own to speak of. Even the Element Games only take up about half the novel, and they don’t provide plot so much as a stage to explore the characters. So really, this book comprises primarily two things:

  1. Character exploration
  2. Setup for book three

And boy, does it ever deliver on both those fronts.

The majority of this book is spent exploring the characters, with a particular focus on Kell, Rhy and Lila. (You might call Alucard Emery the fourth, but we don’t get inside his head quite so much). And there’s oodles to explore.

Kell’s life is now bound to Rhy, and while he knew intellectually what that meant when he did it, he’s now reaping the consequences. The king and queen are loathe to let him go anywhere or do anything for fear of endangering their heir. Most of the kingdom blames Kell for the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, and though he hated being adored and worshipped, he loathes the fear he faces now even more. And there are hints of something darker that has taken root in Kell, something that makes him restless and gives him nightmares where he truly is terrifyingly powerful.

It was also nice to get to learn more about Rhy. In my opinion, Rhy got glossed over as a princely pretty boy in the first book, but this book gives him more dimension. We learn how much he truly does love and care for Kell. We learn how guilty he feels about the pain and feelings of entrapment his existence now causes for Kell, and we get a better understanding of his desire for strength and the pressures he faces from his father. He is a much more complex character than the first book gave him credit for, and he’s fun to read.

And then there’s Lila. I loved her parts of the book, because I see a lot of myself in her – tomboyish, wanting to do everything the men can do and not apologizing for it. Lila begins to discover her magic, and the book flirts with the is-she-or-isn’t-she-Antari question for its duration, culminating in a cliffhanger moment that will answer it one way or the other…in the next book. (I’ve suspected her of being Antari since book one, so I wouldn’t be surprised). We also explore her urge to run away from things that are familiar and why she seeks out danger (in short, because it makes her feel alive).

V.E. Schwab handles all of this characterization deftly, using the events of the Essen Tasch to tease out these threads and interactions between the characters. If the first book featured a masterfully handled plot, this one show her equal mastery of character.

Then there’s the setup for book three. We get the return of a sinister character from A Darker Shade, with a twist, and the character periodically gets a chapter that illustrates what’s going on and gives hints as to his plans. Ultimately, there’s nothing that’s going to surprise you, but the book executes it well and ends on a major major cliffhanger.

All that being said, I loved this book as much as I lovedA Darker Shade, but for very different reasons. And that cliffhanger…how long until the next one?

Grade: 4.5/5

Memorable Quote:

“There was no point in blocking, so she threw out her hands, heat scorching the air as she drew the last of her fire into a shield.
Protect me, she thought, abandoning poetry and spell in favor of supplication.
She didn’t expect it to work.
But it did.
A wave of energy swept down her arms, meeting the meager flame, and an instant later, the fire exploded in front of her. A wall of flame erupted, dividing the arena and rendering Sar a shadow on the opposite side, her earthen attack burning to ash.”

— A Gathering of Shadows, pg. 380

-Regina

Originally posted on Regina’s blog.

Once Upon a Time’s “Souls of the Departed” Lives Up to Hype

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I’m often very bad about watching my TV shows within a reasonable amount of time. So despite the long mid-season break, I didn’t watch “Souls of the Departed” until four days after it had aired. I’d already heard from several people that the episode was amazing, so the hype was building. Would the episode be able to live up to the rave reviews?

The answer, obviously, is yes.

There were several truly beautiful moments in this episode, but I’m going to start with the one that made me cry – Regina’s reunion with her father, his immediate forgiveness of her, his joy at seeing her happy, his sacrifice yet again and his happy ending.

Even though I called it from the moment Cora brought up her evil plan (which was a bit bizarre – never got a good explanation for why Cora “had” to do that if Regina stayed, other than Cora being ordered to), it didn’t make the moment any less impactful. This is a character who put up with the Evil Queen’s moods and stuck by her even though it broke his heart and ultimately lost him his life. He finally got the chance to see her as she always should have been, and Regina got the chance to know, for sure, that her father loves her still and is in a better place. Her father even got to meet his grandson! We’ve had some great moments on Once, but this one would definitely rank in my top five and perhaps even take first place.

Another beautiful moment was Regina’s refusal to leave the Underworld, even when Emma insisted that she do so to stay safe. She has grown so much as a character, particularly over the last two seasons, and I think we can safely say now that she has left her evil past behind (though the Evil Queen flashbacks are still as enjoyable as ever).

The plot was fairly straightforward – initial exploration of the Underworld-Storybrooke, discovery of Cora and then the drama surrounding her attempt to force Regina back to the real world. But it was solid and gave the episode the foundation it needed to introduce the new setting and ratchet up the emotional drama level.

Hats off to the writers as well for using this episode to bring back several deceased characters. Prince James was a nice twist, but the real deal was Cora and Peter Pan returning to the show. Cora always throws up red flags, and this episode was no exception. She is one of the most truly villainous, unredeemable characters on the show, which is often refreshing.

But Robbie Kay was the bigger treat for me. His Pan has permanently ruined the character for me (I mean that in the best possible way). His peace overtures to his son open up a very interesting avenue for the show to explore in the rest of this season. Is he sincere? Or is he just being as manipulative as Cora? And if Rumple believes him, who will he “sacrifice” to leave behind in the Underworld?

This episode did raise a very big question: are they going to focus solely on the Underworld story, or will we see Storybrooke and the characters who stayed behind? While I greatly enjoyed the Neverland arc, I did miss the occasional appearances by secondary characters (particularly Belle, who always seems to get left behind).

Finally, I’d like to end this review on the single most exciting piece of the episode for me: that last scene. HADES IS HERE. As someone who LOVED the Hercules movie growing up, that last scene made me positively gleeful. I cannot WAIT to see how he hampers the main characters. This is the most excited I’ve been about a villain on the show since Pan. Now if only they would introduce Pain and Panic…

Basically – two thumbs way way up for this episode!

giphy

-Regina

OUAT image courtesy of Screencapped.net. Originally appeared on Regina’s blog.

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

the-dark-forest.jpgYou can’t hear me, but if you could, you’d hear me sigh. I have conflicting feelings on this book.

Let’s start with the positive, shall we?

There’s a truly excellent plot. I loved the concept of the first book in the series, The Three Body Problem, and nothing’s changed. An alien civilization is coming to Earth to take our planet, driven by their inability to remain on their own. They send quantum-entangled machines to our world in advance to metaphorically curbstomp our physics research, and then they begin the 400 year journey. Given that 400 year timeframe and constant, unceasing surveillance, what can humanity possibly do to save itself?

It’s such a fascinating question because we don’t normally have that kind of huge timeframe in alien invasion films/books – nor do we normally think on such a long scale ever, basically. And it allows for far more elegant solutions than some first contact films/books (looking at you, Independence Day).

It also allows Liu to explore the darker side of humanity and all the things that can possibly go wrong when the stakes are so high and four people are given the power and resources to effect massive change, no questions asked. In the book, the re-named and re-purposed UN gives four people the title of Wallfacer and a single goal – to generate a plan for the defense of humanity and to keep it secret from everyone, right up until the aliens’ defeat. The Wallfacer Project is a wonderful plot device because it keeps the characters and the reader confused and guessing. It also moves the story along as first one Wallfacer, then another, then another fall prey to their Wallbreakers (humans who welcome the alien invasion and help the aliens, who don’t really understand the concept of deception, to work out the Wallfacer plans).

I also love that the salvation of humanity comes from a deep understanding of sociology on cosmic level (the eponymous “dark forest”). I studied sociology in college, so to see my field become important to the plot of a sci-fi novel was extremely gratifying. The resolution of this novel was exceedingly satisfying – so satisfying, in fact, that the series really could have ended here.

Unlike many other readers, I had no problem with the pacing of the book. I didn’t find it to be particularly slow in the beginning, nor was it as physics-heavy as the first book was. The plot device of hibernation gave the book a fun way to jump decades without too much trouble and some of the scenes were really exciting and just plain fascinating to read – namely, the space assassination and the space massacres (can’t call them battles, really).

But now we have to talk about something that I didn’t like: the characters. Liu really seems to struggle with characters, because The Three Body Problem was equally as bad on this front. I could talk about the plot of Three Body all day, but ask me to name one of the characters and I’ll give you a blank stare. I have a feeling I’ll feel the same way about this book in a few months.

His characters are just…dull. They don’t really have distinguishing characteristics, they aren’t likeable and they just aren’t exciting. They exist solely so that the plot can move; I get the impression that if you could write a novel without characters, Liu would. They also don’t really grow or change in any way. The main character, Luo Ji, does ever so slightly, but it’s really minute. Probably the best, most interesting character is Zhang Beihai, but I was SO disappointed with how his arc ended.

As a sidebar to this, holy misogyny, Batman! There are NO female main characters. Not one. Forget the Bechdel test, let’s get even ONE main female lead. The closest we get is the female starship captain (or maybe the wife of one of the Wallfacers), but she doesn’t appear until two-thirds of the way through the book. Meanwhile, in its opening pages, a girl who has been sleeping with the main character gets killed. He can’t even remember her name initially, and even after he does remember (after she gets hit by a car), the author doesn’t bother to tell us. And are you seriously telling me that when you have to pick four people to save humanity, you wouldn’t pick EVEN ONE woman? Just to get a different perspective? Maybe I’m spoiled after my last two reads, but damn. Between the boring male characters and the lack of female ones, I really struggled with parts of this novel.

Despite that, the plot is enough to keep me onboard to read Death’s End, the third book in the series which arrives in English later this year. But I really hope that this one doesn’t win the Hugo like Three Body did – it has too many problems to take that kind of award.

Grade: 3.5/5

Memorable Quote:

““The real universe is just that black.” Luo Ji waved a hand, feeling the darkness as if stroking velvet. “The universe is a dark forest. Every civilization is an armed hunter stalking through the trees like a ghost, gently pushing aside branches that block the path and trying to tread without sound. Even breathing is done with care. The hunter has to be careful, because everywhere in the forest are stealthy hunters like him. If he finds other life – another hunter, an angel or a demon, a delicate infant or a tottering old man, a fairy or a demigod – there’s only one thing he can do: open fire and eliminate them. In this forest, hell is other people.””

— The Dark Forest, pg. 484

-Regina

Originally posted on Regina’s blog