The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever (Book Review)

zombie movie.jpegThe Greatest Zombie Movie Ever by Jeff Strand is another one that I picked up with absolutely zero prior knowledge. I just thought it looked funny; the cover is clearly very specific to the novel (which is a big selling point for me), and the warning at the beginning is silly enough to be enticing.

What’s it about?

Three high school boys—Justin, Gabe, and Bobby—decide to make the greatest zombie movie ever. They only have a month to do it, a minuscule budget, and a history of failure, but they’re dedicated to the plan… dedicated to the point risking grades, money, familial goodwill, romantic prospects, and more all in the name of art.

What did I expect?

For some reason, I expected this to be a very meta, fourth-wall-breaking novel about the genesis of ideas and the creative process. In retrospect, I’m a little confused about why I thought this. Feel free to judge.

What should I have expected?

I probably should have expected a silly, lowbrow comedy about boyish hijinks.

What is it actually?

i got nothing
The boys writing their script

What I actually got was a silly story about boyish hijinks that was surprisingly… well, not nuanced, but certainly enjoyable. I read How it Ends hoping to find a story about a strong platonic friendship and I was disappointed, but I found that story in The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever in Justin and Gabe (less so Bobby, though he was also a friend). Strand also avoided annoying tropes like the outwardly amazing but internally rotten romantic rival and the standard wish-fulfillment romance story, which I really liked.

The book is actually pretty funny. In my personal opinion some of the gags went on for too long, but I often have a shorter attention span for certain types of humor, so that’s probably just me.

What’s the verdict?

If you’re looking for amazing character development or deep literary themes, this is not the book for you. However, if you want a light read that keeps you amused and actually has a few heartwarming friendship moments between jokes about incompetence and bravado, you might enjoy The Greatest Zombie Movie Ever. It’s not Great Literature, but it never pretends to be or attempts to be, and succeeds in what it attempts.

report cardReport card.

Writing: B

Characters: B

Plot: B-

Themes: C

Fun: A

Final: B


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How it Ends (Book Review)

how it endsI had never heard of How it Ends or its author, Catherine Lo, before picking it up. I was immediately drawn to it because it is pitched as a novel about friendship. Since I love novels that prioritize platonic friendships, I figured that I would trust my instincts and go for it despite not having seen any reviews. Sometimes that really works out sometimes it doesn’t. This was the latter.

What’s it about?

The novel is about the friendship of Annie, a beautiful girl whose mother died a few years ago, and Jessie, who has anxiety. The two go through all the usual high-school-story plotlines: falling for the same guy, arguing about parties and alcohol, battling with a mean girl, and miscommunications that turn into betrayals.

Why was it disappointing?

While I do appreciate Lo putting a friendship in the central position usually reserved for romances, I found the novel as a whole disappointing. The main problem is pacing. The novel moves way too fast and jets past the establishing moments; it is difficult to figure out how much time has passed. At one point, one of the girls mentions that they have been friends for a year, and I was under the impression that they’d only known each other a few days. It was also difficult to tell the narrators apart, since their voices were not considerably different.

As a result, it is hard to get attached to the characters or their relationship. I was far more interested by Annie’s relationship with her stepsister and stepmother than I ever was by the central friendship. A lot of that is probably because I really dislike Jessie. Yes, Jessie has anxiety. But as Annie points out at one point… that shouldn’t give her a pass for everything. Jessie thinks that she is the greatest friend of all time, when in fact she is needy, selfish, and annoying. In ordinary circumstances, I might have been more critical of Annie, but in this book… Jessie annoyed me so much that I was immediately on

kurt bullied
Not Jessie

Annie’s side regardless of what they were arguing about. I get being anxious. I can relate to worrying about every little thing and assuming that people hate me being unable to speak in social settings out of a deep-seated terror of making a fool of myself. What I don’t get is that Jessie continually worries that people hate her and are out to get her, but never once even considers the fact that maybe her behavior has something to do with it. Does clinical anxiety work like that? I thought there was a lot of self-doubt involved, but Jessie’s is 100% hinged on other people and it never even occurs to her to worry about her own behavior.

I was also peeved by the fact that the horrible bullying that traumatized Jessie for life was people calling her a lesbian. That is the dumbest bullying of all time:  there’s nothing wrong with being a lesbian, and Jessie isn’t one. Seriously, who gets that upset by insults that aren’t true and aren’t insults? It seemed odd that homophobic bullying was such a large part of a book with no confirmed LGBT characters.

I also wish that Lo hadn’t focused a large chunk of the novel on Jessie and Annie being obsessed with the same guy. Can’t girls be friends without being romantic rivals? Lo could have developed Charlie more instead of focusing so much attention on Scott, and it would’ve been quite refreshing.

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I liked the families, though. The family dynamics and the uneasy ways the girls settled into them were by far the best aspects of the novel. I wish there had been more focus on Jessie’s mother’s issues and on Annie’s uncomfortable acclimation to her stepfamily.

What’s the verdict?

While I love the idea of having a novel about a strong friendship between girls, I thought that How it Ends stumbled in its execution by getting caught up in the usual standbys of weak teen fiction: love triangles, cutout mean girls, and drunken parties. It’s not a terrible book, and it goes by quickly, but if I had to do it again I wouldn’t pick it up.

report cardReport card.

Writing: C-

Characters: C

Plot: C+

Themes: B

Fun: B-

Final: C


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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend 3×10 Review (Oh Nathaniel, It’s On!)

crazy-ex-girlfriend
Previous Reviews:  3×013×023×03 3×04 3×05 3×06 3×07 3×08 3×09

Honestly, this isn’t my favorite episode. Heather’s storyline is pretty good (and more Heather is always welcome because Heather is amazing), and I’ve wanted to see Hector and his mom’s podcast for a while, so that is fun. I also really like the reprise of “Who’s the New Guy?” but aside from that… yeah, not the best episode. Not bad, but not the best.

Rebecca decides that she’s ready to go back to work, but when she asks Nathaniel for her job back, he refuses. He’s not happy that Rebecca dumped him.

REBECCA: I didn’t dump him. I just put us on an indefinite permanent break.

Because Rebecca always makes the most logical, mature decision (sarcasm), she decides to sue Nathaniel for Whitefeather back. She finds a loophole in Nathaniel’s takeover: namely, he bought Darryl’s ex-wife’s shares in the wrong district, which means that if she can win in court, the shares go back to Stacey. Rebecca then plans to buy the shares and thus become the majority shareholder. She sings “He’s the New Guy” to get the rest of the squad on board with the takeover, and that song is arguably the best part of the episode. I love meta moments, and this song (both versions) is the epitome of amazing meta.

REBECCA: He’s an evil sociopath who’s tricked you into liking him.

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Nathaniel objects

Everyone agrees, so Rebecca plows ahead. She can’t exactly hide the fact that this whole thing is just to get back at Nathaniel for immediately getting a new girlfriend and taking her to Raging Waters, which is Rebecca’s Paris. Shockingly, Rebecca actually wins the case, schmoozes with Stacey, and gets the deal voided. She plans to sell the Garfinkle ring again to get the money to buy the shares, but the jeweler tells her that it’s fake. She is distraught until her therapy/water conspiracy buddy Burt becomes a silent partner because he’s a bitcoin thousandaire who needs a tax break. Rebecca finishes the deal and informs Nathaniel that the group decided that she is now the senior member of the firm and that they will be sharing an office for the foreseeable future.

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Meanwhile, Heather is having a crisis. Now that she’s not a student anymore, she doesn’t know who she is. Kevin comes by with an application for a corporate internship, which Heather crushes. She has lots of good ideas and advances quickly, even though the strict dress code cramps her style by outlawing everything she uses to express herself.

HEATHER: I guess I’ll just have to express my colorful personality with my animated vocal inflections.

Heather realizes she likes bossing everyone around and eventually becomes a regional manager with Home Base as her home base. With this accomplished, she tells Hector that she’s ready to take the next step in their relationship and asks him to move in. Hector, who sadly has decided that his best-friendship with his mom isn’t a good look, agrees.

While doing all her other stuff, Rebecca is still injecting herself with hormones so she can donate an egg to Darryl. Obviously, she never tells Dr. Damn about that. [Side note: yes, his actual name is Dr. Shin, but I like Paula’s stupid nickname better, so I will continue to use it]. Mostly, it makes her really horny, so she spends the whole episode lusting after Nathaniel. It’s not one-sided, either. Aside from singing a duet called “Horny Angry Tango,” which is just okay, they end the episode making out. I’m not really surprised. I’m disappointed, but not surprised. The egg donation goes well, though, despite the fact that the surrogate falls through. Heather steps up and volunteers, which means that half the cast is now involved. Sigh.

white josh what
Me right now. Probably also Hector right now.

A few more thoughts before wrapping up:

  • I miss Paula and Valencia. They need more screentime. Paula was a huge part of the show during Rebecca’s Josh phase, but she’s weirdly sidelined now that Rebecca has moved onto Nathaniel. I really liked the female-friendship aspect of the show, and I feel it’s been lacking a little.
  • While we’re at it, why not more plotlines for all the side characters? I loved White Josh’s plotline last week and Heather’s this week, but I definitely think that all the side characters deserve more screentime. More Valencia! More Paula! More Darryl! More Hector! I want more Darryl+Maya friendship, because that was dorkily adorable. And as long as I’m making a character wishlist… let’s bring back Greg and Trent, too.
  • I always like when obscure old characters come back, so hooray for Chris, Kevin, Mrs. Hector, and Stacey all checking in.
  • That goes for the cameos as well! B.J. Novak and Dr. Phil’s cameo reprises are phenomenal.
  • I found it kind of funny that Kevin mistakes Heather as Indian since I just saw Vella Lovell playing a Pakistani woman in The Big Sick.

Next week: Dr. Akopian is back (yay!) and Rebecca and Nathaniel have an affair (less yay).

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Supernatural 13×11 Review (Breakdown)

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Previous Reviews: 13×01 13×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07 13×08 13×09 13×10

So… remember when Supernatural was a horror show? “Breakdown” reminded me of that, which for me personally isn’t great. I had to push through season one to get past it to the funnier/more interesting bits that I had seen promised on Pinterest/Buzzfeed/Tumblr/etc. That’s not to say that “Breakdown” was a bad episode. It wasn’t. It just focused more on the elements of the show I’m less fond of.

That being said, I still did like that episode. I liked the character work, especially Sam’s. I keep saying this: Dean is my favorite of the two, but Sam needs more to do. I really thought that this season was going to be Sam!centric. I really like this season–I think it is a lot better than the last few–but I do wish Sam had a bit more to do. I also liked seeing Donna again. I love the extended Winchester family.

In one of the most unsettling cold opens I can remember, Donna’s niece Wendy gets leered at by the world’s creepiest cashier and then brutally attacked and captured. After that, the Winchesters get a call from Donna and, despite the fact that it’s not their normal thing, they go to help look for Wendy. [Side note: I always like to take note of which brother people call. Donna calls Sam. Since Dean makes friends more readily than Sam does, it is always stands out to me when someone calls Sam.]

i acknowledge your painSam is really depressed about Mary and Jack. He mopes around in bed, refuses food, and has a generally bleak outlook on things. It is interesting to see Sam like this, since Dean is usually the more obviously emotional one. This once again clearly demonstrates the boys’ grief as different: at the beginning of the season, Dean was broken up mostly about Cas. With Cas back, Dean is functioning. I’m not exactly sure why Sam is falling apart now, since Mary has been gone all season. Maybe it was because they failed to save her and lost Kaia and Jack in the process. Maybe it is because Dean is okay now, and Sam feels that he can breakdown (haha) now. In any case:

DEAN: When I was broken up, you were there for me. Well, I’m here for you now.

Yay, emotional support.

then
Thanks, recap

Anyway… the boys meet up with Donna, Doug (Donna’s boyfriend who I had totally forgotten about until the recap), and an FBI agent called Clegg. Clegg claims to have been searching for a serial kidnapper for twelve years. He calls the kidnapper the “Butterfly” because of the spurs he sticks into his victims’ tires. I’m not gonna lie: I guessed that Clegg was the Butterfly before I even realized his name was Clegg (that took subtitles). Maybe it’s because the Winchesters never run into real FBI guys. I don’t know. But I had a bad feeling about that guy right off the bat.

 

DeanCas terrible hat
I didn’t screencap Trucker!Dean, so have Cowboy!DeanCas instead

Because they know that Wendy disappeared from the side of the road, Dean sets up a truck radio and makes contact with a bunch of truckers, one of whom remembers seeing Wendy. Dean, of course, dressed up as a trucker for that meeting, which was funny. Dean does love his costumes. Dean takes Doug to the shady gas station where the trucker saw Wendy while Sam works with Clegg and Donna to investigate a creepy preacher that Clegg says is his prime suspect.

Dean strong-arms the world’s creepiest cashier into giving up information about Wendy by slamming his face into the desk multiple times:

DEAN: This is how we do things in the FBI.

MARLON: It is?

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The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (Book Review)

gentleman's guide.jpgI saw a lot of really positive reviews for The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, so I read it despite the fact that, based on the cover and first couple of pages, it didn’t really look like my thing. I was wrong. To be honest, I’m not all that surprised. I’m low-key terrible at picking books for myself, and a lot of books that I immediately wrote off  have ended up being some of my favorites (The Mortal Instruments, The Hunger Games, and I’ll Give You the Sun are the most obvious ones that come to mind). I’ve generally decided to read anything that I see recommended often and enthusiastically enough. In this case, it definitely paid off.

What’s it about?

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue combines a number of different genres. I could describe it as historical fiction, an LGBT novel, magical realism, an adventure story, a family drama, a romance, a comedy, or a bildungsroman, and all of those would be about equally accurate. Some elements are present from the start; others emerge later but are no less important.

The general premise is that 18-year-old rake Monty is headed out for a yearlong tour of Europe before he is expected to return home and be a respectable landlord. Accompanying him are his best friend Percy (with whom he is hugely in love) and his younger sister Felicity (who he does not care much for). Monty is not a model son: he’s just been thrown out of Eton, he’ll flirt with anything, and he has embarrassed his family on more than one occasion. His father hopes that Monty will get all of his rebelliousness out of his system before he gets home. Monty just wants to have a good time; Percy will be headed to Holland after the tour, and they’re unlikely to see much of each other after it. Unsurprisingly, Monty and his companions have an eventful trip, full of scandal and highway robberies and pirates and romantic awkwardness and political intrigue and pretty much anything else you could possibly think of, barring respectability.

What’d I think?

santana
Monty

There are a lot of different elements in this novel, and they’re brought together seamlessly. If I had to name a favorite aspect, it would probably be Monty’s character development. Throughout his journey, he grows up and then regresses, realizes his mistakes and then falls back into old patterns. He drinks, then remembers that he can’t function while drunk, and then drinks to cover up his inebriated embarrassments. He’s a great example of two steps forward, one step back; it might be frustrating if he weren’t so funny and well written. However, throughout the novel as a whole Monty grows both as an individual and in his relationships with Percy and Felicity. It is done gradually but markedly, and by the end of the novel I found that I really loved Monty (and Monty+Felicity and Monty/Percy) despite the fact that he’s kind of the worst at the start.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Book Review)

William Shakespeare EngravingI really wish that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first Shakespeare play that high schoolers read. I’ve been arguing it for years… Romeo and Juliet is such an uninspired introduction. I love Shakespeare and that play is just one that… urgh. I’ve never gotten the hype for it, and I’ve studied it three times. I thought people were full of it when they talked about how great Shakespeare was because I read R+J first; the following year, I studied A Midsummer Night’s Dream and immediately was like, “I totally get it now.”

What’s it about?

There’s not really a point in providing a summary for this play since pretty much everyone knows it. For the few of you who haven’t… it’s basically about a bunch of faeries whose petty disagreements wreak havoc on a few young lovers and on a group of wannabe actors.

Why is it so good?

faerieI really love this play because it is ridiculously funny (and petty). Also there are faeries, and I love faeries. Anyone who thinks that Shakespeare is too hard or serious to be fun should be forced to read either the scene where Helena and Hermia scream height-based insults at each other while Puck and is basically just like, “Yes, I botched this situation, but it’s so funny that I legit don’t care” or the scene where Theseus, Demetrius, and Lysander hate-watch Bottom’s terrible play and Hippolyta is so confused because how could they possibly be enjoying this?

And then, of course, there’s the fact that so many of Shakespeare’s best quotables come from this play, like:

LYSANDER: The course of true love never did run smooth

and

HELENA: And though she be but little, she is fierce

And

PUCK: Thou speak’st aright./ I am that merry wanderer of the night.

and

HELENA: Your hands than mine are quicker for a fray./ My legs are longer though, to run away.

and

PUCK: Lord, what fools these mortals be!

I also have a fondness for Puck’s fourth-wall breaking final monologue, which aside from being excellent, is also one of the only speeches that I have ever been able to memorize with relative ease; nearly a decade later, I have retained a pretty good percentage of it.

What’s the verdict?

If you’ve never read Shakespeare, I think you start with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is fairly short, very hilarious, and a lot easier to follow than a lot of the other plays. Like Romeo and Juliet, it deals with young love, but it swaps suicide for ass jokes and fairies and really, who doesn’t want that? Final Grade: A


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Book Club: I Survived Five Epic Disasters

i survived.jpgI Survived Five Epic Disasters by Lauren Tarshis is a really popular book amongst 4th/5th graders. It is one that the kids look forward to pretty much all year. Personally, I don’t really get it: true disaster stories make me sad and anxious. As a person who doesn’t read a lot of nonfiction, it’s a little difficult to know exactly how to approach discussion questions for a book like this. However, the book–despite the weak writing and weirdly upbeat tone amongst the widespread death–can make for some interesting discussion. Feel free to use the following questions and/or chatting in the comments.

No spoiler warning this time; the title spoils itself.

  1. The I Survived series is extremely popular. Why are people so drawn to disaster stories? Is it because of the “ordinary people who behave in heroic ways, who endure terrible events and go on to live happy lives” who populate the stories (author’s note)? Is it because of the disasters themselves? What is appealing about stories about death and disaster? Consider Dayna’s comments about the tornado warnings: “There are always warnings, but nothing bad ever happens” (126). Do you share the feeling that, despite the bad things that happen in the world, nothing will ever happen to you personally? Do you think enjoyment of disaster stories is more common in people who feel immortal or in people who feel vulnerable?
    1. Why do you think, for the most part, the stories end without showing any rebuilding? How might the stories be different if they included specifics about how people live after a disaster? Many of them would have lost their homes. Many would have to grieve friends or family members. Others might suffer from PTSD. Would the stories be harder to read with these details included? Why or why not?dash.gif
  2. I Survived Five Epic Disasters is nonfiction; other titles in the I Survived series are historical fiction. Discuss the differences between fiction, historical fiction, and nonfiction. What are some indications that you’re reading one as opposed to one of the others? Do you think of historical fiction as more like fiction or more like nonfiction? Which do you prefer?
  3. To conclude her story about the 2012 Henryville tornado, Tarshis writes that “every one of their stories ends the same way: with the incredible fact that they all survived” (136). Although the sentence is specifically about the children in that particular story, it can be extended to the rest of the protagonists in the collection. How does the survival of all the main players impact your response to the book as a whole? These stories are about lucky individuals who survive despite being surrounded by many faceless others who perish. What would your response be if the story were about an individual who died? Why do you think that Tarshis generally avoids any specifics about the unlucky, preferring to keep them relatively anonymous? Are there any exceptions (remember Milton Long and Mr. Thayer from the Titanic story)?
    1. gravestoneDiscuss how sometimes the scope of a disaster is so immense that it becomes too difficult to conceptualize. About eighteen thousand people died as a result of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Why, in Tarshis’ telling of the stories, does Walter’s survival of the blizzard seem more significant than the deaths of those eighteen thousand? Discuss the varying death counts from the different stories. Do have a different/more intense emotional response to the Japanese tsunami (18,000 dead) than you do to the Henryville tornado (1 dead)? If so, how different is it? If not, why not? What makes a disaster “epic”? What is the difference between living and surviving?
  4. han solo.gifIn several of the stories, Tarshis poses a question about blame. After the sinking of the Titanic, “People around the world demanded answers. How could the mighty Titanic be lost? Who was to blame?” (48). They are so desperate to pin the blame on someone living that they ruin the reputation of Bruce Ismay (the president of the White Star Line company) despite the lack of evidence to support claims that he acted in a cowardly and improper manner during the event. In the story of the Great Molasses Flood, the USIA (the company who owned the molasses tank) was anxious to avoid culpability by pinning the blame on an anarchist bomb (76-77). Why do people need to have someone to blame after a tragedy? Does it matter whose fault something is? What happens if there is no one obvious to blame, like in the case of a natural disaster?
  5. Everyone has heard stories about people who missed a disaster due to coincidence (there are lots of stories of this type about people who uncharacteristically did not go to work on 9/11 and survived as a result). In her notes about the Titanic, Tarshis points out that there were “only about half” as many people onboard the ship as could fit due to a coal strike. Do you think that this was coincidence, or some sort of intervention on the part of God/the universe/providence/etc.? Discuss
  6. In her Titanic notes, Tarshis poses the question “treasure trove or graveyard?” Is it important to collect historical relics from events like the sinking of the Titanic? Is it important to leave bodies undisturbed? Which is more important? Discuss.
  7. In the Molasses flood chapter, Tarshis writes that “USIA was a big company, and the people in the North End were poor and powerless. Many did not speak English. Even a person bold enough to complain about the dangerous conditions would have had a hard time finding anyone willing to listen and help” (71). How can power imbalances lead to death and disaster? What makes a person powerless? How and why do situations get to the point where people are voiceless? What societal barriers exist today that allow some voices to be heard more than others?
  8. Some people paid thousands of dollars in order to be on the Titanic, claiming that “it was well worth the cost for this chance to be a part of history” (36). Why do people want to be remembered by history? What cost must be paid? What cost did the Thayers pay? Consider their inclusion in this book; clearly they have been remembered. Is this immortality via history worth the trauma of the sinking and the death of Mr. Thayer? Consider the things that people do for fame. What would you pay to be remembered? What would you do? What would you give up?
  9. Which was your favorite of the five stories? Why? Which event did you know the most about before you started reading? The least? What facts surprised you the most?

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Renegades (Book Review)

renegades.jpegWhat’s it about?

Renegades by Marissa Meyer takes place in a world run by superheroes (superpowered people are ‘prodigies’; superheroes are ‘Renegades’). It follows two protagonists: one is a Renegade and the other is one of a few remaining members of the Anarchists, the most prominent villain group during the chaos that reigned before the Renegades came to power. Adrian—alias Sketch, alias Sentinel—is the adopted son of two of the reigning Council of superheroes; his birth mother, also an original member of the Council, was killed years ago under suspicious circumstances. Nova—alias Nightmare, and later Insomnia—was raised by her notoriously villainous uncle Ace Anarchy after her family was murdered one night. After Nova’s assassination attempt of the head of the Council goes awry, she finds herself the Renegades’ most wanted. She’s also embroiled in an attempt to bring them down, so naturally she takes a new alias and joins Adrian’s team of Renegades. And, of course, the two of them essentially start to fall in love.

cinderFirst, a digression

Marissa Meyer wrote The Lunar Chronicles, which is an amazing series. It’s one that I’ve recommended to pretty much everyone I know. Cinder is one of the most inventive novels I’ve ever read: it blends familiar elements of fairytale retellings, sci-fi, romance, and dystopias into something that is entirely new. When I saw Meyer’s name on the cover of Renegades, I allowed myself to get Cinder-level excited, and that was a mistake. Renegades, in some ways, tries to pull together manifold elements à la Cinder—superhero story, undercover spies, political suspense—but the end result is simply not as compelling.

What’d I think?

There are a few issues with Renegades, which I’ll get into in a little more depth below. But before I get to that, I want to say that it is not a bad book. It’s 552 pages long and I was able to read it pretty comfortably in four days. I may not have binge-read it, but I didn’t find myself making excuses not to read it, either. Meyer proved herself very equal to the task of juggling a large cast of characters and she put enough care into the minor characters that I got fairly invested in them. I really like Captain Chromium and the Dread Warden even though there’s a part of me that thinks they may be evil; Max is also pretty cool; and I like Danna, Ruby, and Oscar too.

Issue #1: The Dual Perspective

I understand the temptation to write in two perspectives (heck, my novel is written in two perspectives), but there are times when it works and times when it doesn’t. Frankly, it doesn’t work for Renegades. Both Nova and Adrian are trying to solve mysteries. There are enough false leads and aliases and double-crosses to make for a breathless can’t-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-next read. The problem is that the reader knows the answers to all the questions right off the bat. Adrian spends the whole time hunting down Nightmare and trying to figure out what her deal is and if she’s associated with the Anarchists and what her plans are. It would have been interesting to struggle alongside with Adrian, but thanks to Nova’s chapters the reader already knows everything about Nightmare.

The same is true of Nova’s story. She spends a lot of the novel trying to figure out if the Council is legit or not and what is up with the mysterious Sentinel. She has no idea if he is a Renegade or a robot or just a vigilante. But once again, the reader never wonders with her. Thanks to Adrian’s chapters, the reader finds out immediately that Adrian is the Sentinel, he’s working as a Renegade but not sanctioned by them, and he gets his powers by tattooing himself.

sherlockingBecause the reader knows all of this, it is hard to get invested in Nova and Adrian’s searches for the truth. It’s a little like rereading a mystery novel. Yeah, it can be interesting, but it is never as much fun as the first time, when you can guess the whodunit for yourself. There are a few mysteries that aren’t spoiled right off the bat, but they’re also saved for book two, so I don’t think that really counts.

Issue #2: Adrian’s Superpower

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Someone Should Write…

Someone should write a YA paranormal romance in which a regular girl falls madly in love with a dangerous bad boy with a secret.

As the two get to know each other and fall codependently in love, the boy displays stalkerish, obsessive behaviors that prove that he is 100% devoted to this human girl. Despite the fact that he has been alive for hundreds of years, he has never met anyone like her.

love at first sight

Yes, that’s right. He’s not human! He’s a vampire/ghost/angel/dragon/etc.!

At around the time the girl and her paranormal paramour meet, suspicious things start happening. People disappear. There’s an uptick in violent crime. Most people are alarmed, but the girl and her boyfriend are enveloped in True Love and aren’t that concerned.

dean he's watching her sleep.gif

The vampire/ghost/angel/dragon/etc. tells his girlfriend that there’s a group of rival paranormals that are trying to kill him and he is the only good one of the whole supernatural lot. The girl is worried only because she thinks her boyfriend might leave her or that he’ll get hurt. She knows he would never let anything hurt her. He’s always watching, after all. He appears from out of nowhere whenever she suffers the slightest inconvenience. There’s no way that the enemies could get through him to her.

It turns out that girl’s stalkerish supernatural boyfriend is the one who’s been killing everyone. It turns out that all those red flags were signs that he was a psychopath, not a romantic. Oops!

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Seriously… I like YA as much as the next person (and probably a lot more), and there are even some paranormal romances that I unapologetically love, but let’s be real… if there’s a blight in YA it is the horrible, abusiveromanticparanormal boyfriend.


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Supernatural 13×10 Review (Wayward Sisters)

wayward sisters
Previous Reviews: 13×01 13×02 13×03 13×04 13×05 13×06 13×07 13×08 13×09

“Wayward Sisters” is both a solid episode of Supernatural and a good backdoor pilot for its own show.

The episode starts off with the longest THEN ever, which reminds us that the Winchesters got blasted to a dangerous different world and reintroduces all the Wayward Sisters. Admittedly it has been a while since some of those girls popped up, but this is the same show that didn’t bother to recap Missouri Moseley after a one-episode appearance a dozen years ago, so…

dean shrug

Worried because she hasn’t heard from the boys in a while and because Patience saw a vision of Claire dead, Jody calls Claire—who has been hunting by herself for a while because Jody is too overprotective—and Claire obligingly comes home. Claire is initially pretty flippant about Patience’s vision. To be honest, I can kind of see why. Claire’s pretty badass and there’s nothing about Patience that inspires confidence.

The girls decide that the best way to go about the missing Winchester problem is to track down Kaia, who Sam mentioned in a voicemail to Jody. They coincidentally find her in the hospital where Alex works; Kaia tries to run away as per usual, but after Claire kills the Bad Place Monster that’s chasing Kaia and then bonds with her over scars, Kaia totally flip flops. She spends like five minutes in Claire’s presence and goes from nope to I will literally die for you. To be honest, I can’t really blame her. I love Claire, and I actually really liked Kaia in this episode as well. I kind of hated her last episode for some reason, but she was sweet and adorable this time around. Way to go, Claire. Way to make Kaia awesome.

Wayward Sisters
Also, her hair is amazing.

 

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King Richard III (Play Review) + How to Read Shakespeare

richard iiiI like Shakespeare a lot, but it has been a long time since I read him. Diving into King Richard III was a challenge, since it is definitely one of the more challenging of his plays that I’ve read.

King Richard III is about the rise and fall of the villainous Duke of Glouchester. It is full of murder, double-crossing, woe, and famous quotes that most people would recognize even without having read the play, such as

GLOUCHESTER: Now is the winter of our discontent/ Made glorious summer…

and

KING RICHARD: March on, join bravely, let us to ‘t pell-mell;/ If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell

and

KING RICHARD: A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!

As a person more inclined to comedy than tragedy, more to fiction than fact, this is not a personal favorite; my favorite of Shakespeare’s plays are Much Ado About Nothing and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I prefer Iago’s sinister machinations in Othello to Richard III’s. However, Richard III is still a very compelling read, and I would happily recommend it.

But Shakespeare is too hard!

No! No, he isn’t. Sure, reading Shakespeare is a little trickier than the average contemporary novel, but is is not too hard. Anyone can read Shakespeare. There are a few tricks for reading Shakespeare if you’re not accustomed to it. As a person who has read and studied many of the bard’s plays, but who is by no means an amazing Shakespeare scholar, let me offer a few tips:

  • Don’t go into it with the mindset that it’s going to be too hard. If you expect it to be too hard for you, it will be.
  • If possible, set aside long blocks of time to read. It’s a lot easier to dive in and stay in. If you keep stepping away and coming back it will be harder to get immersed in the language, which is essential.
  • If you have a hard time with the language, read summaries (but not analysis) of the scenes you’re reading in advance. It’s a lot easier to follow along if you have a general idea of the framework of the scene.
  • kevin can't breatheDon’t read No Fear Shakespeare or any other straightforward translations in lieu of the actual text. If you want to read them in addition to the real deal, go ahead. But don’t read them instead of. Shakespeare is still read because of his language, not his stories (he stole most of those). You have to read his actual words. Believe me, it’s worth it. The sequence in Richard III where Queen Elizabeth tears Richard apart for like three pages is phenomenal, and it is a prime example of why nothing can match the original.
  • If you’re reading a history (like Richard III) take some time to acquaint yourself with the historical period before you start. I didn’t do that and spent most of the first three acts of Richard III saying, “who’s that?” every time a new character popped up or an old king was referenced. Having a family tree to consult is really helpful, and there are lots of them out there. Just Google for it and you’ll find something. This is especially helpful when there are multiple characters with the same name:

QUEEN MARGARET: I had an Edward, till a Richard kill’d him;/ I had a Harry, till a Richard kill’d him:/ Though hadst an Edward, till a Richard kill’d him;/ Thou hadst a Richard, till a Richard kill’d him

  • If you’re an auditory person, read out loud! Doing so forces you to slow down, and it also lets you hear the words being said. If you want to take it up a level… My sister and I used to pull out our childhood Barbies and use them to act the plays out. It’s easier to keep track of characters if you can put a face to them.
  • Be aware that Shakespeare is not as highbrow as people would have you believe. If you read something that sounds like a dirty joke or a sick burn… yeah, it probably was. There’s a reason Shakespeare was and is so popular… he’s funny!

KING RICHARD: Stay, madam; I must speak a word with you.

QUEEN ELIZABETH: I have no moe sons of the royal blood/ For thee to murder

  • hollywood-clip-art-lights-camera-action-hollywood-clip-artWatch the movie when you’re done! There are tons of movie adaptations out there, and Shakespeare’s plays are, well, plays. They’re meant to be seen, not read. It’s much easier (and let’s be real: more fun) to watch the plays than to read them. Don’t watch the movie instead of reading the play, since you’ll miss a lot, but it’s always a good way to reward yourself and clarify any broad-plot questions you might have.

Do you read Shakespeare? What are your techniques?


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Book Club: A Man Called Ove

ove
These discussion questions do contain spoilers. Please feel free to use them in your own book clubs. Or, if you just want to discuss but don’t have a group, leave your responses in the comments and we can have a virtual book club with anyone who wants to join in. If you just want a straightforward review, you can read mine here.

spoilers

  1. People, in the review quoted on the cover of the novel, promises that after reading A Man Called Ove, “you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.” Do you agree? Discuss the ways in which the revelations about Ove’s past explain his behavior. Do they excuse his behavior? Do you believe that a person’s behavior should stand on its own, or is it necessary for you to know a person’s background before you form an opinion about him/her? Do you think Ove changed after Sonja’s death, or is his old-age behavior consistent with his behavior as a young man?
  2. gravestoneSeveral times throughout the novel, Ove attempts suicide only to be disrupted by one of his neighbors who needs something done. Towards the end, Parvaneh tells a doctor that “Ove is quite clearly UTTERLY LOUSY at dying!” (329). Do you think that Parvaneh (or any of the others) knew that Ove was actively trying to kill himself? If so, at what point do you think she (or they) realized it? Consider Ove’s deduction that Parvaneh’s daughter is not actually allergic to cats (199) and the narrator’s observation that “it seems that someone, somewhere, knows the only way of stopping him [from killing himself] is to put something in his way that makes him angry enough not to do it” (265). If you don’t think anyone knows, what brings Ove’s neighbors to the door right when he needs them? Fate? Coincidence? Consider that Sonja “believed in destiny” (71). Did Parvaneh help Ove more than Ove helped her or vice versa?
  3. “Fridging” is a trope in which a character is killed off “just to offend or insult someone, or to cause someone serious anguish” (tvtropes). This trope is considered problematic when it involves fridging a female character purely for the sake of developing a male character’s emotional journey or to cause him emotional pain. With this context, discuss Ove’s relationship with Sonja. Consider the ways in which Ove absorbs Sonja’s suffering and re-centers it around himself. Why is the death of the baby harder on Ove than on Sonja? Why is Sonja forced to console Ove over the loss of her ability to walk (204-205)? Consider Ove’s refusal to give Sonja the agency to be able to go to her own room under her own power: “After a decade or so she realized that this was his way of showing her that he had no intention of giving up. That God and the universe and all the other things would not be allowed to win. That the swine could go to hell. So she stopped nagging [to have the bedroom moved downstairs]” (259). Then, of course, consider the fact that the whole novel is essentially Ove suffering and getting over Sonja’s death. In what ways is Sonja a fully formed character? In what ways is she merely a vehicle for Ove’s suffering?
  4. Ove is presented as a man who likes things to be done properly and who refuses to be cheated. He despises people who do not read and obey posted signs. However, this characterization is at odds with the Ove who argues for hours until he is given what he wants. Consider the scene at the store in which Ove bullies a 19-year-old until he is allowed to reinterpret a coupon (32), or the incident (which is clearly far from unusual) when Ove and Rune argue for an hour to have their bill halved: “After conferring with the waiter for about an hour, the two men managed to convince him it would be easier for him if he halved the bill or they’d ‘report him.’ Obviously it was a bit hazy exactly who would report whom for what, but eventually, with a certain amount of swearing and arm-waving, the waiter gave up and went into the kitchen and wrote them a new bill. In the meantime Rune and Ove nodded grimly at one another without noticing that their wives, as usual, had taken a taxi home twenty minutes earlier” (180). How did these experiences with employees inform your overall impression of Ove?
  5. Ove thinks of himself as a black and white person, and sees Sonja as color: “He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had” (37). Later, Parvaneh explains to Ove that her daughter “always draws [Ove] in color” (212). Discuss. Is Ove’s analysis of himself as a person of black and white incorrect? Is it a matter of perception? Or does Ove change in some way in order to become colorful? If so, at what point does he make the change?
  6. Ove makes nicknames for everyone that he meets but rarely, if ever, makes any attempt to learn people’s real names. However, the characters introduce themselves around each other in Ove’s presence, and eventually the narrative exchanges Ove’s nicknames for the characters’ real names. Why do you think this is? Why doesn’t Ove bother with people’s names? What do his nicknames for people say about Ove? What do they say about the people they stand in for? Consider Anita/Rune’s Wife; Sarvaneh/the Pregnant One (or Pregnant Foreign Woman); Patrick/the Lanky One; Jimmy/the youth (or something disparaging about weight); Mirsad/the sooty boy (or the bent one); etc.
    1. Also consider the title of the novel and of the chapters. What is the point of reiterating Ove’s name? Why does Backman use the passive voice? By whom is Ove called Ove?
  7. Do you consider Ove to be generally accepting or generally bigoted? How do the juxtapositions between his unkind language/generalizations and his decent behavior inform his character?cas people skills
    1. Consider disparaging assumptions and generalizations about women, including that a bad driver is probably a woman (29), that women can’t keep to plans (140), and that all women become friends and behave as friends in exactly the same way (176-177).
    1. Consider also Ove’s insensitive digging into Mirsad’s sexuality upon first meeting him coupled with Ove’s assertion that people shouldn’t “worry so much about others, you have enough problems of your own” (257). Consider Ove’s use of slurs well as the fact that Ove takes Mirsad in and is Jimmy’s best man at the wedding.
    1. Consider Ove’s ignorance as demonstrated by his referring to José as Schosse (187) and his apparent belief that ADHD is something that was invented rather than something legitimate (203).
  8. Discuss the structure of the novel. Why do you think Backman chose to organize the chapters so that they begin at the end, backtrack three weeks and then alternate between the two different flashback timelines? Compare the overall structure of the novel to the interior structure of the chapters, which is generally 1. Statement 2. Background information (generally about Sonja and Ove’s life together) 3. Repeat statement one. Some good examples of this structure are Chapter 31, which is the chapter about “how he lived before he met her” and Chapter 5, which repeats that Sonja is “all the color he had.”
  9. Ove’s behavior is often boiled down to the general statement that some people get it and that others don’t. This is invoked when Ove refuses to report Tom for theft and is subsequently fired from his job (74) and in regards to Ove’s sour relationship with Rune and the ability to describe it through the cars that they purchase (232). In general, would you say that you’re one of those who gets it or one of those who doesn’t? What are the defining tenets of Ove’s personality? How does his loyalty to the Saab play into it? How are cars in general a metaphor for Ove and his relationship to life?
  10. Discuss Ove and Sonja’s relationship. They are “like night and day” and Ove “never understood why she chose him” (108). Do you understand their relationship? Why might someone like Sonja choose someone like Ove? And vice versa, why would someone like Ove want someone like Sonja? Consider Sonja’s belief that Ove is “dancing on the inside” (108). Do you see that in Ove? What kind of person would Ove have been without Sonja? What might Sonja have been without Ove? Consider Ove’s belief that he never lived before or after Sonja (131, 136). What does this indicate about their relationship?
  11. Sonja says that “All people want to live dignified lives; dignity just means something different to different people” (274). Discuss.
  12. Discuss Sarvaneh as a second-generation Sonja. How are the two women similar? How are they dissimilar? What is the significance of their respective pregnancies aside from providing a visual similarity? Discuss the different outcomes of the pregnancies, and the affect that the child (or lack of child) impacts Ove. Why do you think that Parvaneh was able to break through Ove’s grouchiness in a way that Sonja never could? Or, if you believe that Sonja did break through it, why did Ove’s goodwill extend beyond the single woman to the rest of the neighborhood only after Sonja’s death? Also discuss the woman who comes to live in Ove’s house after Ove dies, who—along with her husband—is an obvious representation of Sonja and Ove. What is the point of having this third Sonja (and this second Ove)?
  13. craig cares too much
  14. Ove in the hospital at the end of the novel
  15. Ove is continually in demand because people keep breaking things and he is the only one around with the ability to fix them. Discuss Ove’s skill as a handyman. Why do you think that Backman chose to make Ove so skilled in this way? Do you read it as a commentary/critique on modern life and our overreliance on others/technology? As a metaphor for Ove being able to fix people? Or just simply a reason for Ove to get out of his house and interact with his neighbors?
  16. What did you think of the arrival of the burglars at the end of the novel? Was it necessary as a callback to Ove’s burglar checks? A bookend to all the other hospital visits? Something else? Explain.
  17. Rune and Ove agree that “no one [is] prepared to fight for their principles anymore” (82). Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not? How does this belief contribute to your perception of Ove as a character?
  18. Why do you think that Backman chose to kill Ove at the end? Was it to invert Ove being forced to live when all he wanted to do was die by dying when he finally had a lot to live for? Was it to give the novel an obvious endpoint? Was it calculated for emotional manipulation? Something else? Explain.

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A Man Called Ove (Book Review)

oveA Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman is an inexplicable bestseller that receives almost unanimously rave reviews. I have absolutely no idea why, and I’ve thought a lot about it. I wrote very in-depth discussion questions for book club that you can check out here.

What’s it about?

The novel follows a grouchy old man called Ove whose cheerful wife Sonja died six months previously. Distraught at her loss, Ove attempts on several occasions to commit suicide, only to be interrupted by various neighbors—chief among them a pregnant Iranian named Sarvaneh, who is new to the neighborhood—who need him to fix something for them or drive them somewhere or adopt a cat. In between yelling at people for driving into a no-vehicle area, obsessively checking the neighborhood for burglaries, and shouting about how the world is trying to cheat him, Ove learns to open up to the people in his life and realize that maybe life isn’t so bad after all.

What’s the problem?

Caution Angry RantThe problem is that life is so bad with Ove around. He is spectacularly annoying. There is absolutely nothing likable about him. The whole novel hinges upon his grief at the death of his wife, but I can’t imagine a charming, pleasant person like Sonja marrying an obnoxious asshole like Ove. Ove is obsessed with being cheated, but doesn’t notice that he himself cheats everyone. Rules must be followed… unless Ove doesn’t like the rule. Like when he doesn’t want to pay his bill at a restaurant. Or when the homeowner’s association makes a call he doesn’t agree with. All Ove does aside from fail to commit suicide is judge people. This neighbor is too fat. That one is incompetent. No one knows how to fix xyz anymore. No one is loyal. No one fights for their beliefs. Everyone is too obsessed with technology. Car firms are merging. No one does this or that or anything. Imagine the most unpleasant stereotypical old person you can, make him six times worse and you have Ove. The backstory that is supposed to make him more understandable and more likable does the opposite. He stubbornly refuses to report a crime that he witnessed because he thinks it is tattling. When his wife loses the ability to walk he makes himself the victim and she is forced to comfort him; he refuses even to move their bedroom to the first floor of their house because to do so would be to admit defeat. Even as a young man, Ove was rude and obnoxious. Losing his wife didn’t make Ove horrible; it simply removed the buffer between Ove’s horribleness and the rest of the world.

Okay, so Ove sucks. Anything else?

Unfortunately, yes. Even if I didn’t dislike Ove so much, I still would have found the book frustrating. The plot is repetitive: the same sequence happens over and over again. Ove tries to kill himself. One of his neighbors arrives needing something that for some inexplicable reason only Ove can help with. After berating them for a while, Ove decides that they’re too incompetent not to help, so he helps them. Then he tells himself that there’s no reason why he can’t kill himself the next day. And then the next day the same thing happens, except that Ove keeps taking new people under his wing. By the end of the book he has basically adopted the whole neighborhood.

The writing is repetitive as well. Almost every chapter has a sentence or two that serves as the chapter’s thesis, and these theses are repeated at least twice within their respective chapters, which might have been okay if the chapters had been longer. I also didn’t care for the many cheesy moments in the last few chapters.

So…

Basically, the novel is the story of a massively unlikable man who somehow ends up with a whole neighborhood behind him, written with a painfully heavy hand. For the life of me I cannot explain its popularity.

erin i don't get it


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The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Book Review)

san luis reyI have a poster of 100 Essential Novels that I got as a birthday present last year. I like to think of myself as a person who reads a lot of classic novels, so I was a little appalled to see how badly I was doing on the list, so now whenever it is time for a classic, I pick from it. Now that I’ve finished The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, I have read 36/100. Even worse than not having read even half of the novels on the list, I’d never even heard of some of them. The Bridge of San Luis Rey is one such novel. I’d never heard of it or even of its author, despite the fact that it won a Pulitzer Prize (in 1927).

What’s it about?

The Bridge of San Luis Rey is, as you can probably guess, about a bridge. More specifically, it is about a bridge that falls. When the bridge of San Luis Rey falls, there are five people on it, all of whom die. Brother Juniper, a monk, witnesses the accident and attempts to discover why those particular five were the ones to die. Was it fate? Divine intervention? Bad luck? The novel then backtracks to examine the lives of the deceased.

What’d I think?

It is a very short novel—only 147 pages—but I can see why it is so highly regarded. The writing is excellent and unusual. Wilder writes as though he were researching the tragedy and the lives of those involved, making references to books he has consulted and how their accounts (including Brother Juniper’s) are flawed. The individual stories are brief with limited details, but strangely affecting anyway. If you like reading classics, this is one to check out. There’s virtually no time commitment, but it packs a very emotional punch.

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It’s a cool poster

The Empress (Book Review)

empressThe Empress by K.J. Kincaid is the sequel to The Diabolic. Because I’m me and always overestimate my terrible memory, I didn’t reread The Diabolic because it hasn’t actually been all that long since I read it. As usual, I remembered the basics but none of the specifics. That being said, The Empress does a good enough job of recapping that it doesn’t actually matter all that much. In other words: if you’re opposed to rereading (why would anyone be opposed to rereading?) you’ll be mostly fine without it, but if you don’t have a problem with rereading you probably should go ahead and do it. At least refresh yourself on the climactic last scene of The Diabolic, because it’s vitally important.

What happens?

No one approves of Tyrus and Nemesis (or their relationship), but no one hates them more than Pasus, the high-ranking member of the Grandiloquey whose daughter was killed by Nemesis at the end of The Diabolic. There are tons of plots against the new emperor and his chosen bride, and much of the unrest stems from the fact that, because she is a diabolic, Nemesis is not a person according to the Helionic religion. Things are also uneasy because the Domitrian scepter—which is supposed to give Tyrus control over pretty much all technology and which is essential to holding power as the galactic emperor—isn’t working. Tyrus and Nemesis decide to venture to the far reaches of the galaxy to look for the Interdict, the 300-year-old head of the Helionic religion. They don’t expect to find him, as they don’t think his existence is possible, but they hope to gain political advantage by disproving a major tenet of the religion which so vehemently opposes them. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the plot, but there are so many twists and developments that attempting to preview the whole book would simply be a list of major spoilers, so I’ll stop there.

What’d I think?

diabolicTo be honest, I didn’t like The Empress as well as I liked The Diabolic. The pacing was weird. It took me a long time to initially get into the story, and then something exciting happened and I got hooked, and then the plot slowed down and my attention wavered, and then there was another cool part and I woke up again, and then it slowed again and I put off reading for a few days, and so on. I was continuously seesawing between being very invested and struggling with a lack of interest. The problem was the time difference between the main action and the holy city; the long journey back meant that a lot of the action skipped and Nemesis was constantly finding out about dramatic developments after the fact rather than seeing them unfold firsthand.

That being said, the book is still pretty good. When I read The Diabolic, I complained about the disconnect between the intense technology used in the society with the prevailing religion that forbids it. The Empress has a good explanation for that. I’m always a fan of reveals that clear up things that I initially misread as plot holes.

I don’t know if this is a compliment or a complaint, but it is a spoiler.            

spoilers

I liked the inverted character arcs: as Nemesis becomes more and more human, learns to empathize, and loses her strength due to neural suppressors Tyrus does just the opposite. Due to the drug Pasus administers to him, Tyrus loses his compassion and becomes more and more diabolical all while increasing his power exponentially. It is a very interesting direction to take the story (and the characters), and I really enjoyed it. However, I wish that the readers had gotten to see more of Tyrus’ decline rather than having Nemesis skip out on three crucial years. It’s never great when a book shortchanges its best thematic storyline.

What’s the verdict?

Overall I think The Empress is a fairly good follow-up to The Diabolic, though the uneven pacing makes the character development and political intrigue less compelling than it might have been. I don’t think that readers of the series will be disappointed, necessarily, but I don’t think that this novel alone would have secured my readership. That being said, based on the strength of the first book, I will still read the next book when it comes out.

report cardReport card.

Writing: B-

Characters: B+

Plot: B

Themes: B

Fun: B-

Final: B


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