Sunday, November 10, 2013

TV Show Review: Sleepy Hollow

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "A modern-day supernatural thriller based on The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. It follows Ichabod Crane as he partners with Sleepy Hollow's local female sheriff to solve the mysteries of a town ravaged by the battle between good and evil."

Basically: If you're a fan of Supernatural and/or The X-Files, you'll probably love this show.  The acting is great, the stories are (usually) great, and it's got enough camp and self-awareness (and honest-to-God history lessons) that it's fun and super engaging while having a great level of suspense. Everything seems well thought-out and elaborate without being hard to follow, and I love the conspiracy bits and gradual revelation of the background (a la X-Files).

So far the scenes between Abby (the policewoman) and her sister haven't been great, but I'm hoping those will get better with time. They're not terrible, I just don't quite get the chemistry between them and don't quite understand the sister's character yet.

Regardless, there aren't many shows we're excited to watch each week anymore, but this is definitely one of them.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book Review: Scowler by Daniel Kraus

My rating: 4.5/5

From Amazon: "Imagine your father is a monster. Would that mean there are monsters inside you, too? Nineteen-year-old Ry Burke, his mother, and little sister scrape by for a living on their dying family farm. Ry wishes for anything to distract him from the grim memories of his father's physical and emotional abuse. Then a meteorite falls from the sky, bringing with it not only a fragment from another world but also the arrival of a ruthless man intent on destroying the entire family. Soon Ry is forced to defend himself by resurrecting a trio of imaginary childhood protectors: kindly Mr. Furrington, wise Jesus, and the bloodthirsty Scowler."

Much like Kraus' other book that I read two years ago, Rotters, Scowler is extremely well-written both in description and story and is themed around some seriously messed-up daddy issues. Also similar to Rotters is the constant, weird expectancy that something supernatural is about to happen, when in fact it all remains solidly based in Kraus' made-up reality... which is very, very crazy, but with a distinct lack of magic.

The setting of this book is beautiful and one I've never experienced, in a book or anything else: part farm-life, part '80s horror movie (minus the camp), and part psychological thriller. It works perfectly. I would absolutely love to see this made into a movie, especially the interactions between real characters and imaginary friends. I think my only complaint is that Ry's sister, Sarah, never quite seems like a real, complete person, even though she's a pretty important character. A couple of other characters weren't, in my opinion, fleshed-out enough either, but they didn't have as big of roles as Sarah. She still isn't an entirely badly-done character though, so my complaint is minor.

The book gets very dark, for a good portion of the book, and a little gory in spots. But if you're squeamish, you could probably skim over those parts and keep going. Otherwise I'd recommend the book for high school and older.

Book Review: Countdown City (The Last Policeman Series) by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 4.25/5

From Amazon: "Now Detective Hank Palace returns in Countdown City, the second volume of the Last Policeman trilogy. There are just 77 days before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over... until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

"Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace—an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone 'bucket list' or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off 'impact zone' refugees.

"Countdown City presents another fascinating mystery set on brink of an apocalypse--and once again, Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond 'whodunit.' What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you?"

I loved book #1, and this did not disappoint as a sequel. It didn't feel as urgent as #1, but it didn't particularly need to be; the urgency from the first book carried over to the second, which probably says a lot for the author's world-building. (And his/Palace's insight into the human condition and the description thereof... faaaantastic.)  It also didn't feel quite as dark as the first book, but I took that to be purposeful. The people who are left are mostly deciding to hang in there until the bitter end, rather than just hanging themselves. Maybe those who have stuck around have a little more hope.

But that's not to say there isn't plenty of death and despair, and things are definitely getting worse. There are sad moments, but at least I was already privy to Palace's childhood at this point and didn't cry at any revelations. His promise to his sister is very sweet, but not tear-worthy, and that's fine.

I wish we'd seen more of the outside world though. Even though Palace travels to several locations, and it makes sense that he really can't travel very far at this point with the general infrastructure of everything having fallen apart, I still felt stuck in a microcosm while reading, even though the entire world is falling into chaos. And maybe that's the point; Palace, and everyone else, probably feels that way too, cut off from the world at large compared to the recently-ended, hyper-information age. I still hope though that in book #3 we get to see more of what's happening to at least other regions of the country, if not the world. If only for curiosity's sake.

Overall, great book, probably good for high school and older.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "In the near future, a hostile alien race has attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training the best and brightest young children to find the future Mazer. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy, but strategically brilliant boy is pulled out of his school to join the elite"

I appreciated how well this movie followed the book. The acting was awesome, especially by Asa Butterfield; he was absolutely perfect for the role of Ender and I'm honestly excited to see what roles he plays in future movies. However, the only role in the movie I didn't entirely appreciate was Petra. The actor playing her was perfectly fine, but for some reason they decided to hint at her being a love interest for Ender almost every time they interacted, when in the book she was nothing more than a sister-like friend. For goodness sakes, she's a tough-as-nails child soldier and she appears on Ender's communicator near the end of the movie in an almost-seductive pose in her pj's with her braided hair pulled over her shoulder. Why??

Other than that though, I think I loved every character. I wish there had been more of Valentine and Peter and their political takeover back home, but I understand how that would be hard to put into a movie, especially one that's already almost 2 hours long. Overall, great movie, would recommend to any sci-fi fan.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: Return to Perdition by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 2/5

From Amazon: "The time is America in the early 1970’s and our third generation hero, Michael Satariano, Jr. is a Vietnam vet recently returned to the States. He doesn’t know that his father’s real name was Michael O’Sullivan, and is unaware of the conflict between his dad, his grandfather and John Looney – the criminal godfather of Rock Island, Illinois. But when he’s recruited by the Mob as a hit-man, he’s going to learn the hard way that you can never outrun (or outgun) your past."

Color me immensely disappointed.  Though I really enjoyed the first two, this fifth installment of the Road to Perdition graphic novel series felt unedited and possibly rushed (similar to the first one, but much worse; Michael's girlfriend calls him by her uncle's name at one point for goodness sake, and it's not the character's mistake). There was nothing very unique about the story, though I was surprised by something near the end and probably shouldn't have been, and I did appreciate that fact. Some parts were rushed through in only a few frames when they should have been much more detailed, and other parts dragged on. I admit I got bored but did finish it, since it isn't terribly long. Some sections appeared to be an excuse to draw naked women, which can be fine if there's a good story to go with it; but when there's not, it comes across as a 13-year-old's pornographic fantasy. Having this one take place in the '70s would have been fine too, even though I really liked the Prohibition-era setting of the first two; but all this felt like was a watered-down version of a '70s gangster film.

The artwork wasn't badly done, and I did appreciate the part that surprised me, so I at least gave it two stars.  This book doesn't lessen my love for the second book of the series or the movie based on the first, but I have no desire to go back and read numbers 3 and 4 (Road to Purgatory and Road to Paradise).

Monday, October 7, 2013

Movie Review: World War Z

My rating: 3.5/5

From Amazon: "A former UN investigator is thrust into the middle of trying to stop what could be the end of the world. Worldwide destruction sends him around the globe seeking clues about what they are fighting and what it will take to defeat it, as he tries to save the lives of billions of strangers, as well as his own beloved family."

I actually didn't think this movie was half bad, even though I'd heard it was terrible.  It sort of followed the book, though not exactly, but that really didn't bother me at all.  I didn't notice any bad acting, and Brad Pitt was great for the main character. It was intense, and it did intensity well; but when it tried to be emotional, it didn't quite get there, and I'm not really sure why. In fact the only thing that almost choked me up, a little, was the police officer who ran into the looted grocery store, seemingly because of the gunfire... and ignores the firefight to fill a bag with baby food.  I can't give the movie a very high rating though only because the level of coincidence in the events is staggeringly unrealistic. We literally laughed at these moments.  But other than that, it is an enjoyable movie.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 4.75/5

From Amazon: "What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

"Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

"... The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.
"The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond 'whodunit.; What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?"

I haven't been this excited to read the rest of a series in a really long time.  I loved this book.  It's fantastically real, with a nice, even mix of down-to-earth and imaginative description. It really makes you think 'yeah, that probably is how people would act during impending worldwide doom.' Shirley Jackson's 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' came close to this level of book love for me, especially in how often I stopped to read passages out loud to my husband.  But this book went beyond that; I had to keep updating him on what was going on in the book even without having particular passages to relay.  It's also the first book in a really long time that I already want to re-read.

I don't know that I've ever read a book with such a calmly, unassumingly passionate protagonist. Katniss in 'The Hunger Games' comes close, but Palace goes much farther, and I loved the character for it. The reader really sympathizes with him too, without any description or emotion being shoved down your throat, ever. I rarely cry because of a book, but one small passage here, which doesn't flat-out say why his boss calls him 'kid' but only subtly implies it... I couldn't help it. His background is heartbreaking, and you only slowly learn about it throughout the book. It's beautifully done. 

I only had two small complaints, which are why I didn't give it a straight 5 (but pretty darn close). First off, the beginning is slow and Palace is a difficult character to grasp at first, to the point that I almost quit reading the book after the first few chapters. I'm definitely happy I didn't, and without going back and re-reading the book (yet), I'm not sure if all of that was just me for some reason or if it's how the writing is at the start of the book. Either way, if you start the book and don't like it at first, keep reading. It's awesome.  Second, it's possible I missed something in the book, especially since after I thought about not finishing it, I set it aside for a week or so; but I'm confused why insurance companies were paying out to the families of people who had committed suicide. I thought that was generally an automatic deal-breaker, but I might just be wrong about that, or there may have been something that explained this.  But as far as my complaints go, I wasn't offended by them, and the rest of the book far outweighs the bad.

Because of the drug use and violence (neither of which are put in a good light), as well as the rare sex and swearing (which aren't particularly put in a bad light but aren't over the top), I'd recommend this book for high school and older.  And I would recommend the heck out of it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Great Gatsby

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "Aspiring writer Nick Carraway goes to New York City at the height of the Roaring Twenties and is drawn into the world of the super-rich and the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby."

Because this movie was made by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Australia, Romeo+Juliet), I had high expectations. And a lot of those expectations were met: beautiful cinematography, a good amount of music, a nice tragic love story, over-the-top but well-done drama. Unfortunately though, it got pretty slow towards the end, and the music wasn't nearly as integrated as it could (and I think should) have been.  I'm not sure an entire song was ever played through, and it wasn't nearly as important to the plot of the movie as it was, for example, in Moulin Rouge. I was disappointed. But as for the rest of the movie, the acting was great and the story was great, and there's not much more you need for a high rating from me.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Movie Review: Warm Bodies

My rating: 3.5/5

From Amazon: "An unlikely romance between a beautiful human teen and a sensitive undead slacker sets off a chain of events with the power to transform the world."

After reading the book of the same name, this movie just didn't compare. Big surprise I suppose, as so many people say the same thing about so many books-turned-movies. But I really expected this to be at least almost as funny and dramatic and dark as the book, and it just didn't live up to expectations. It actually starts out good with some quick humor, but it very quickly dies down and the majority of the movie drags. Acting is mostly sub-par too, which does it no favors. If you're looking for something to pop in and have as background noise while you work on some homework, it's not terrible. If you're actually looking for Isaac Marion-level entertainment, read one of his books.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Book Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

My rating: 4.5/5

From Amazon: "Since the mysterious death of four family members, the superstitious Mary Katherine 'Merricat' Blackwood, her ailing uncle Julian, and agoraphobic sister Constance have lived in a bizarre but contented state of isolation. But when cousin Charles arrives in search of the Blackwood fortune, a terrible family secret is revealed."

First of all: I need to read more Shirley Jackson books. I loved this one. Her writing is poetic, easy, and creepy all at once. And I love books full of realistic, believable characters, no matter what genre, and Jackson does this perfectly. Even minor characters are entirely believable, especially in the horrible things they do and the subsequent horrible feelings (or lack thereof, depending on the character) that follow. Seeing the story through crazy Merricat's eyes is gripping in a way that almost makes you feel detached from the story, as she does, but also with the full realization of what's happening. I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a while, especially one written twenty years before I was born. It isn't an especially long book, I don't remember any particularly bad language or goriness, and I think high school and older would probably enjoy it.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Movie Review: John Dies at the End

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "An otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs."

This movie was unexpectedly great and hilarious. I had no clue what it was about before watching it (mainly because I haven't read the book, which I may go back and do now). I doubt I'd want to watch the movie again though, if only because the end sort of unraveled and was suddenly gory. Hence the 4/5.  But good on it for making me want to read the book; that's a rare thing for me.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Book Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

My rating: 4.5/5

From Amazon: "Intense is the word for Ender's Game. Aliens have attacked Earth twice and almost destroyed the human species. To make sure humans win the next encounter, the world government has taken to breeding military geniuses -- and then training them in the arts of war... The early training, not surprisingly, takes the form of 'games'... Ender Wiggin is a genius among geniuses; he wins all the games... He is smart enough to know that time is running out. But is he smart enough to save the planet?"

As much as I don't tend to like political dramas (sci-fi or not), this book was super accessible and I could hardly put it down.  It was exciting, realistic, and heart-wrenching at times, watching everything Ender went through (socially, mentally, and physically) as well as his sister Valentine.  Every character was deeply explored to the point that I felt like I knew every one of them.  I got the feeling that the author didn't know how to write kids, but he got around this perfectly by writing children who are abnormally advanced and more adult-like than child-like.  I'm really, really excited for the movie now (trailer here: 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Movie Review: Beautiful Creatures

My rating: 4/5

From "Lena has just moved to the small, Southern town of Gatlin, where the only person who seems to understand her -- or dream of bigger places or ideas -- is a cute guy named Ethan Wate (Alden Ehrenreich), who recognizes her instantly from the cryptic dreams he's been having every night. Lena is an orphan, and she's come to stay with her mysterious uncle, Macon Ravenwood (Irons), the patriarch of her powerful family. Powerful, because The Ravenwood clan are Casters, born with powers that ordinary mortals don't have, like the ability to move objects, control the elements, and even step out of normal space and time to communicate only with each other. But just as Lena feels ready to open up to Ethan, she discovers that their love is in imminent danger, because when female Casters turn 16, their destiny as either good or evil is revealed. Unwilling to let her nature be dictated by forces outside her control, Lena and Ethan set out together to uncover the strange, secret lore of their families' intertwined histories dating back to the Civil War, and figure out how to grant Lena the power to choose her own destiny."

We weren't sure what to expect from this movie.  On the one hand, it looked like a Twilight knockoff with witches; but on the other, it had Jeremy Irons.  As it turned out, the movie was on the Jeremy Irons side.  I hate romance but loved the romance between the main characters.  They were both smart, weird, and just smarmy enough to make it totally enjoyable to watch.  The only reason I couldn't give it a full 5 was that it dragged towards the end quite a bit, and we didn't get as much of the smart-aleck quirkiness that we did in the first half of the movie.  Still, it was a great movie, and I'd really like to read the Caster Chronicles series now.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: The Dark by Lemony Snicket

My rating: 3/5

From Amazon: "Laszlo is afraid of the dark. The dark is not afraid of Laszlo.

"Laszlo lives in a house. The dark lives in the basement.

"One night, the dark comes upstairs to Laszlo's room, and Laszlo goes down to the basement.

"This is the story of how Laszlo stops being afraid of the dark."

This book might be good for little ones who are afraid of the dark, and that does seem to be the intended audience.  But as far as a Lemony Snicket book goes, this one lands pretty close to the bottom.  I expected more humor and weirdness (a la The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story), but it's pretty straight forward and quick.  It's not a bad book; I just expected more Lemony Snicketiness.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

My rating: 3/5

I can't say this movie wasn't entertaining, and I enjoyed the witches' characters a lot. James Franco's Oz, though, was always kind of smarmy and really never changed, which made viewers want to dislike the main character throughout the entire movie.  It was also too long (2 hours 11 minutes) for no good reason. If editing had been tighter I would have rated it a little higher.  And if Oz had been likeable, it could have come close to a 5.  It's still worth seeing, but... it's not worth much. Rent it for cheap or borrow it from the library.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Book Review: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

My rating: 2.75/5

From Amazon: "Kira, newly orphaned and lame from birth, is taken from the turmoil of the village to live in the grand Council Edifice because of her skill at embroidery. There she is given the task of restoring the historical pictures sewn on the robe worn at the annual Ruin Song Gathering, a solemn day-long performance of the story of their world's past. Down the hall lives Thomas the Carver, a young boy who works on the intricate symbols carved on the Singer's staff, and a tiny girl who is being trained as the next Singer. Over the three artists hovers the menace of authority, seemingly kind but suffocating to their creativity, and the dark secret at the heart of the Ruin Song.

"With the help of a cheerful waif called Matt and his little dog, Kira at last finds the way to the plant that will allow her to create the missing color--blue--and, symbolically, to find the courage to shape the future by following her art wherever it may lead."

As much as I loved The Giver, to the point that it's still my favorite book, I was really disappointed reading Gathering Blue. The plot wasn't terrible, but it wasn't very exciting; no character ever quite seemed real; dialogue was meh and I never could quite understand the accents of some the characters; and I just plain old got bored and struggled to finish it.  I really wanted to read the whole trilogy, along with The Messenger, but at this point, I think I'm done. I would say that it's only because I'm older now and not as entertained by middle school reading, but I re-read The Giver just a few years ago and still loved it.  I don't know exactly what I was expecting, other than a lot more excitement and an actual sequel to The Giver, but this wasn't it.  I probably wouldn't even recommend it to a middle schooler.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden

My rating: 4.25/5

From Amazon: "North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s Soviet gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk.
"In Escape From Camp 14, Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence—he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his mother and brother.
"The late “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il was recognized throughout the world, but his country remains sealed as his third son and chosen heir, Kim Jong Eun, consolidates power. Few foreigners are allowed in, and few North Koreans are able to leave. North Korea is hungry, bankrupt, and armed with nuclear weapons. It is also a human rights catastrophe. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people work as slaves in its political prison camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photographs, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist."
This book was powerful, angering, and eye-opening. I was not previously aware of North Korea's prisoner camps, and especially not that they've been around for 50+ years. I also didn't understand just how impoverished North Korea really is, especially as a whole (e.g., rice is a luxury even for the rich, and no one has reliable electricity), or how many people have defected from the country over the years.
I was amazed at the differences (which made a lot of sense, but to which I'd never given any thought) between people raised in the outside world and then imprisoned, and people born and raised inside prison camps. If that's all you've known and all you've learned to adapt to, it's incredible the way captors can shape you. I can't even fully comprehend it. 
I would have liked to have read more about how Shin feels, how he's adapted more recently from being an emotional and psychological prisoner with post-traumatic stress disorder to being able to speak to large crowds about his experiences; but at the same time, I almost felt guilty and helpless reading about his experiences without really knowing what to do to help. Along those lines, I wish there had been more information at the end of the book about how to help the organizations that aid North Korea refugees.
This book is straight-forward and easy to read. I would recommend it to anyone probably high school and older. The events depicted need to be better publicized. 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Movie Review: Life of Pi

My rating: 5/5

From Amazon: "After a cataclysmic shipwreck, an Indian boy named Pi finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a ferocious Bengal tiger. Together, they face nature's majestic grandeur and fury on an epic journey of discovery."

This movie was every bit as beautiful,  visually and in narrative, as the previews made it out to be. Even beyond that.  This is now, without a doubt, one of my favorite movies.

I have not read the book, and in all honesty I may not now that I've seen the movie and know how it ends.  However, it must be an amazing story to read, judging by how beautiful and detailed the movie is.  It was a much deeper and much more serious story than I expected based on seeing the trailers, and the most fanciful story on a generally religious subject I've ever seen. It's culturally, philosophically, and religiously interesting, and I really want to see it again.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

My rating: 3.5/5

From Amazon: "In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

"During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes exasperating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threaten to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her."


I'm writing this review several weeks after finishing the book, so I'm struggling a little to remember the details.  I liked the book, I never got bored with it (it's very action-y), I generally liked the protagonist (Tris), and I believed the post-apocalyptic Chicagoland world enough to suspend disbelief. It got dark in spots, and I appreciated it for that, as well as for showing that a teenage couple in love can actively decide to wait to have sex.  I just wish the characters had been a tad more realistic, and that the ending hadn't been quite so quick. I imagine the sequels to this book basically continue the ending, but I would rather there have been more time given to this book's ending on its own.  Without giving away too much, I had a little beef with Tris' mother about giving her life for no good reason towards the end too; it didn't jive with everything else that had happened.  It also wasn't clear why certain characters needed to die plot-wise... other than the author maybe feeling she had too many characters to deal with.  Which stinks.  Tris also gets irritating sometimes in that she really never acts selfless, the binding characteristic of the faction in which she grew up, which was disjunctive.

Long story short: It's very exciting (sometimes violent) and not a half-bad book, but don't expect it to make you think very hard.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Book Review: Jim Henson's Tale of Sand

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "Join us as we explore this missing piece of Jim Henson's career in a celebration of his creative process. Discovered in the Archives of the The Jim Henson Company, A Tale of Sand is an original graphic novel adaptation of an unproduced, feature-length screenplay written by Jim Henson and his frequent writing partner, Jerry Juhl. A Tale of Sand follows scruffy everyman, Mac, who wakes up in an unfamiliar town, and is chased across the desert of the American Southwest by all manners of man and beast of unimaginable proportions. Produced with the complete blessing of Lisa Henson, A Tale of Sand will allow Henson fans to recognize some of the inspirations and set pieces that appeared in later Henson Company productions."

I'm not a big enough Jim Henson fan to have recognized set pieces, and I'm not a huge fan of graphic novels, but I really enjoyed the style of this book. The art work is fantastic (but: warning for the younger/sensitive crowd, there is a little nudity). It's well-drawn, and colorful, but it's also unique in the way it incorporates the (apparently) actual screenplay pages into some of the backgrounds, like a little reminder every once in a while what the whole thing is based on. The story is imaginative and surreal, but I can see why it wasn't ever made into a movie.  It seems more like something that would make a great short story, not a full-length film.  As serious as the topic of the story could be taken, it did make me laugh out loud a couple of times.

It was not what I expected from a Jim Henson story, and I appreciated it even more for that.  If you're a fan of Jim Henson, you really should read this book.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book Review: Almost a Psychopath by Ronald Schouten and James Silver

My rating: 4/5

From Amazon: "Do you know someone who is too manipulative and full of himself? Does someone you know charm the masses yet lack the ability to deeply connect with those around her?

"Grandiosity and exaggerated self-worth. Pathological lying. Manipulation. Lack of remorse. Shallowness. Exploitation for financial gain. These are the qualities of Almost Psychopaths. They are not the deranged criminals or serial killers that might be coined 'psychopaths' in the movies or on TV. They are spouses, coworkers, bosses, neighbors, and people in the news who exhibit many of the same behaviors as a full-blown psychopath, but with less intensity and consistency—and with a higher degree of awareness of the impact they have on others. They possess charm, glibness, and a lack of empathy that allow them to live their lives somewhere between the boundaries of commonplace 'not-so-bad' behavior and psychopathy.

"In Almost a Psychopath, Ronald Schouten, MD, JD, Harvard Medical School, and James Silver, JD, draw on scientific research and their own experiences to help you identify if you are an Almost Psychopath and, if so, to guide you to the interventions and resources you need to change your behavior, creating a better life for yourself or those around you. If you think you have encountered an Almost Psychopath, they offer practical tools to help you recognize the behavior, attitudes, and characteristics of the Almost Psychopath; make sense of interactions you’ve had with Almost Psychopaths; devise strategies for dealing with them in the present; and make informed decisions about your next steps."

This book wasn't quite as helpful as I'd hoped it would be in learning to deal with "almost psychopaths," but it is helpful just to know that you're not crazy when you think there's something off about someone with these qualities. It does have suggestions for how to handle certain situations, but unfortunately the ultimate answer seems to be that there isn't much that can be done, short of getting away from the person or people if you can.  The book is easy to read though, and does discuss other psychological conditions that display similar characteristics, which are helpful. Also helpful are the case studies, which sometimes show examples of how a situation with an "almost psychopath" could actually be worse than what you may currently be experiencing, which can be a sort of silver lining.

I think this book would be very helpful for anyone dealing with someone they think might be an "almost psychopath," especially if that person is a significant other or a coworker/boss. There are many more suggestions dealing with these situations (which seem more destructive and even dangerous) than with others.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Book Review: How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You by Matthew Inman

My rating: 4.5/5

If you're familiar with The Oatmeal (aka Matthew Inman), then you're familiar with this book's style and probably already own or wish you owned this book. Some comics are repeats from his site, but most are new, and all have to do with cats. Cat thoughts, cat plots, cats as office workers, etc.  I actually don't care much for the office worker Bobcats, and there are quite a few pages devoted to them, but I still lol'd at almost this entire book.  It also includes a poster at the end, and I have no idea how you could possibly go wrong getting a book of hilarious cat comics and a poster for under $10.

(Warning though: some bad language, so not for the kids. It's not overdone though and always used for humor's sake. But still, if your kids can read, you might want to hold off on showing them the funny pictures.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book Review: World War Z by Max Brooks

My rating: 3.75/5

From Amazon: "The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time. World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years."

I haven't read Zombie Survival Guide yet, so, although the Guide is mentioned several times in this book, I can't compare the two.  I can say that this book is very detailed and well thought out, to the point that you almost believe it was really written from eye-witness accounts.  Though it's intended to be transcriptions of oral history interviews, the majority of it reads like it was always intended to be a movie script, or at least more like prose than like real people speaking.  That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did keep my disbelief suspended only about a few inches above the pages.  (That being said though, it doesn't look like the movie based on this book is going to follow the book very closely; those movie zombies move dang fast, and Brad Pitt looks like he's in the thick of the action, not an interviewer/author. *shrug*)

A lot of the characters seemed really similar too. This may have been intentional, with everyone having gone through similarly terrible things during the war, but I kind of doubt it.  I can't say that the book was boring for this reason though; the stories and the detail made up for it and kept me interested. I'll probably go back and read the Guide soon.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

My rating: 3.75/5

From Amazon: "John Wayne Cleaver is dangerous, and he knows it. Obsessed with serial killers, he never wants to be one. Yet terrible impulses constantly tempt him.

"Having grown up helping his mom at the family mortuary, dead bodies are no big deal to John. He likes them, actually. They don’t ask for the empathy he’s unable to offer. Perhaps that’s what gives him the clarity to recognize that something is frighteningly different about the freshest body on the slab. 
For the first time, John must confront a danger outside his own mind, a threat he cannot control, a menace to everything and everyone he would love, if only he could."

Though it was the first book that I've finished in under 2 weeks in a very long time, it could have been so much better. In fact I really wish I didn't have the complaints that I do. 

First off, I'm going to spoil something for you because, I believe, it might actually make you like the book more if you decide to read it.  I felt duped when it happened, because it turned out to not be the type of book I thought I was reading.  So....

***************SPOILER ALERRRRRRRRRT*******************

....this book has a huge supernatural element to it.  That's all I'll say; I won't ruin more than that.  And don't get me wrong, I love supernatural stories.  But I wasn't out to read a supernatural story; I wanted to read about a sociopathic teenager.  Which I still did, and it was mostly well written, incredibly interesting, and very engaging.  But the supernatural bent really got my knickers in a twist when it came out of the blue like that. I was surprised, but not in a good way; it seemed like the author thought we wouldn't read it if we knew it was supernatural, so he just left that out of the blurb.  Or, he thought we'd appreciate the shock.  But again, I just felt tricked.

Once I got past that though, I thought all of the characters were incredibly realistic. The John, his family, his therapist, the villain, everyone.  I love it when an author knows his characters, and this author definitely does.

And the story is usually, though supernatural, believable.  However, there are moments that seem to defy logic.  Without spoiling anything else, I'll say that more people should have been suspicious of the sociopath teenager than were, especially after some of the actions he took.  (How's that for vague?)  It was enough that at moments, I was taken out of the story and giving the pages a look of disbelief.  Which was especially disappointing because the book was otherwise so absorbing.

This book is one of three books in a series (John Cleaver series), but at this point I probably won't read the others.  I may at a later date, but I was irked just enough by this one to kill any eagerness I might've had to immediately read the rest.