Category Archives: Reviews

Book Review of The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races is currently ON SALE ON AMAZON. Click picture.

I received an ARC copy of The Scorpio Races a couple weeks ago. I am ever so glad I got my hands on this book.

Some race to win. Others race to survive.

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line.

Some riders live.

Others die.

Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He loves the sky and the island and his horse. Horses and racing are his job. Sean races to win.

Puck Connolly is different. She joins the races as a desperate move to keep her older brother on the island a little bit longer. Puck races to survive.

The premise grabbed me, and the story didn’t let go. This is a tale of courage and carnivorous water horses. The island of Thisby is a salty place like the sea. Here, and only here, do the bloodthirsty Capall Uisce come to shore. They’re the menace of the island, claiming lives both from sheep and loved ones, but if you capture one and train it you have a mount of liquid lightening. The November sea stirs a Capall Uisce’s blood more than any other month. In November they are the most dangerous, the fastest. So in November the Scorpio Races are held.

Sean and Puck live separate lives. Sean is quiet and serious. If he has any doubts he keeps them to himself. His one love and fear is Corr, his water horse – except Corr is owned by the island’s breeding tycoon and Sean’s employer.

Puck is a stubborn orphan managing with her two brothers, the older of whom is tired of the island. She joins the races in a wild attempt to keep him around long enough to change his mind. She is the first girl to join, and will use her regular island pony instead of the much more capable Capall Uisce, partly for principal – the Capall Uisce killed her parents, – and partly because money leaves her no other choice.

Do I need to explain how these two characters’ interaction is marvelous?

Sean and Puck meet each other with mutual admiration and wariness and forge and unlikely friendship. The stakes rise, and they both find the things they hold dearest depending on the race, but only one of them can win. Right up until the last few pages I was unsure of how Maggie Stiefvater could take her story to a satisfying conclusion, but she did.

The Scorpio Races is the only book I’ve read that I could call “slow and gripping.” The pace is slow, with only a few tense actions scenes scattered about until the climax. Even they seemed slow. But the story and scenes are gripping, literally; I have a tendency to shift my weight around and grip the sides of the book when I am excited. Part of this are the skillful POV switches between Puch and Sean.

Maggie Stiefvater’s eye-opening description and phrases also pulled me into the pages. Her craft is flawless, and a beautiful model as well as an exciting read. The one thing that could have made The Scorpio Races more perfect would have been the use of past tense instead of present. I’m one of those people who finds present tense distracting. But in all, The Scorpio Races earned itself a place on my favorites shelf. I’m going to step out on a limb perhaps shakier than my twitter branch and say I see The Scorpio Races enduring time and becoming a classic.

Recommended for ages 15 and up for mild gore/violence and language. 5/5 Stars

It is the first day of November, and so, today, someone will die.

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Book Review of The Superlative Stream by Kerry Nietz

Last month I posted a book Review of Kerry Nietz’s A Star Curiously Singing, and mentioned The Superlative Stream was on my wishlist.  If you looked closely at the photo in this post, you might notice I have checked off a book from that list.

I was nervous about The Superlative Stream. I desperately hoped it would live up to the high bar its sequel set and was afraid it wouldn’t. I needn’t have worried.

SandFly, with his female companion HardCandy, have traveled to Betelgeuse in search of the source to the Superlative Stream that changed the way they thought and challenged everything they ever knew. When they arrive, they discover something the original crew did not: a planet. Inhabited. After their ship mysteriously goes off-line, SandFly and HardCandy are welcomed by the highly-advanced people of the planet. HardCandy thinks this is a meeting the scriptures predicted. SandFly is not so sure, and is more concerned about their original reason for traveling to Betelgeuse. Are these people the source of the Superlative Stream? And even if they are, can they be trusted?

A Star Curiously Singing captured me through its unique style and world. In The Superlative Stream the style is there and the world..! The world triples. We are introduced to the Beetles (or Jinn, depending on who you ask). They have their own strange world, their own society, their own philosophy, their own surroundings. We are also shown HardCandy’s past. Her life may have been on Earth, but she had a completely different life from SandFly, whose world we saw in the previous book.

We learn of HardCandy’s history in ‘flashbacks’ scattered throughout the book, like a separate, parallel story. Normally I dislike so many ‘flashbacks,’ especially when they are not directly affecting the plot. To my surprise, I found myself looking forward to the next glimpse of HardCandy’s old life. Many questions left by A Star Curiously Singing about the characters are resolved (although I’m still waiting to learn more about the ‘sweet spot’ HardCandy found that contained a less-censored stream). I still feel like Nietz wrote or at least outlined HardCandy’s story independent of The Superlative Stream, and wonder what HardCandy’s story would have been like had it been given its own book.

I get edgy when the weirdness of sci-fi is mixed with theology, and I was worried when the reviews of The Superlative Stream seemed to show aliens. I can’t stand people trying to reconcile aliens with the Bible. Call it a pet peeve. Even in general it really takes a good story for me not to scoff at supernatural in sci-fi. I won’t give away any spoilers, but I wasn’t let down in this area either. It’s weird, but sci-fi is supposed to be weird.

In the end we are thrown ‘back’ into the conflict on Earth, which now encompasses both the physical and spiritual world. It’s hard to know how to classify The Superlative Stream as a sequel. Usually, you can easily say that either the books in a series are standalones with an over-reaching arc, or are one big story broken into parts. The DarkTrench Saga is feels like both (so far), which is interesting. And different. But fun.

The Superlative Stream is another must-not-put-down by Kerry Nietz. I’m usually a cheapskate when it comes to buying niceties such as books, but when the next in the DarkTrench Saga comes out, I won’t wait for it to go on sale to buy it. 5/5 stars.

Movie Review: Inception

I saw Inception a few weeks ago.  Really, it is an incredible movie.

Actors:  Talented, all of them, and perfectly in their characters.

Special Effects: Thrilling, especially when wrapping a city on top of itself.

First half of the film: Extremely exciting.

Cobb is a thief, but not a thief of money or art or even identities.  He is a thief of ideas.  With technology originally developed my the military, he and his selected team enters the victim’s dreams.  Inside his victim’s very head, he can find and steal their greatest secrets.

Cobb didn’t always lead this life.  He had a family and a life before experiments with this technology left him suspect in a murder case.  Ever since he has been on the run, his children, his life, everything left behind.

Saito, a victim, says he can bring that back, for a cost:  Inception.  Entering a dream and planting an idea.  Saito wants his biggest competitor, Robert Fischer, to be convinced to split up his company, eliminating the threat it posses to Saito.  Cobb is willing, despite the risks such a deep infiltration of the mind entails.

He gathers his team for the task:  Arthur, the pointman, Cobb’s old friend who has always been with him.  Nash, the forger, a man who can take on the forms of anyone in a dream.  Ariadne, the architect, a highly intelligent woman just out of school.  Yusaf, the chemist, who has the secrets to make entering a dream state deep enough for Inception possible.  Together they will accomplish Inception.  But Cobb has memories, and he can’t keep them out of the dreams.

By all accounts, Inception begins as a credit to its writer, Christopher Nolan. I was utterly immersed by the beginning half of Inception.  The pace is non-stop.  The plot is revetting, and unfolding smoothly.  The characters all have clear personalities and goals.  Another thing I really appreciate:  the family drama is not hum-drum or forced or thrown in.  It is perfectly relevant to the plot.

All this sets up for a fantastic movie.

Second half of the film: What happened?

Like dream worlds, the movie begins to break down.  Multiple threats are introduced and given screen time, and then are not carried out. [Spoilers ahead; highlight to see] Mal runs a train through the first-level dream, but doesn’t cause trouble again until she’s just a person working against them in the third-level dream. The characters are desperate to stay out of “limbo” for stated, perfectly valid reasons, yet after they are thrown into limbo, the threats never happen, and the characters don’t even have to struggle against the effects of limbo. The real problem with these empty threats is that we invest emotion in them: we are right there with the characters, worried and scared and bright-eyed for them, waiting for their struggles, which then never happen.

Plot pinpricks start showing.  I will accept “plot holes” if they are easily fixed – a line added there, or the character having done something slightly different here.  I view these as mistakes (or “plot pinpricks”), not plot holes.  I will let myself rewrite the script a tiny bit for the sake of making a great movie.  But after four times it gets annoying!  It’s a movie, don’t make me think until the credits, especially if the thinking is fixing your goofs. . .

Then there IS a plot hole. I’ve seen some very wild theories on the internet trying to explain it, but they all cause other plot problems. There’s no getting around it.

Each of the problems on their own wouldn’t be so bad.  But they’re all in the same movie.  By the ending, my minding is struggling to make sense of chaos.  Maybe if I didn’t think so much and wasn’t so intent on analyzing everything I run across I wouldn’t have found myself so confused.  But there are movies that can hold up under scrutiny, and Christopher Nolan has written some (I’m thinking of The Dark Knight right now).

In the end, despite the fact Inception passes a higher bar than most movies, I’m irritated. Irritated that they were able to come up with great everything else and let the plot fall. Irritated that the whole premise is ruined, since it’s now “Inception’s plot.”  Also minorly irritated that I have no idea whether to recommend this to you or not.

Inception is thoroughly enjoyable until 75% of the way through.  That’s when you start scratching your head unless you’re in a trance, which is entirely possible.  Inception makes you think, and there are no pinpricks or holes in thinking.  Inception is a heist thriller, but it could also be called a psychological thriller.  If you like thrillers, I say see it.  Walk in expecting to be wowed and you will be, but either purposefully don’t think too hard and let yourself be washed into each new scene, or be prepared to walk out confused.

My Rating: 4 stars 🙂
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for violence and action throughout.
My note:  Violence is all but bloodless.  The movie is intense, and there is a bit of language.

Have you scene Inception?  What did you think?  (And, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film, I am thoroughly open to spoiler comments.  You have been warned.)

Book Review of A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz

Two weeks ago I was blessed enough to win a drawing for A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz. I ate it in two days. Now I will offer my review of this powerful book.

A Star Curiously Singing was published byMarcher Lord Press and is the first in the DarkTrench Saga. In a future mandated by Sharia law, machines are managed by debuggers, who in turn are owned by masters. Debuggers are chosen at a young age for their lot in life, and have no escape from their master’s controls. In this world is SandFly, a debugger who is going to learn that everything he has been told is a lie.

SandFly is abruptly updated to a level 13, called to a space station, cut off from ground communications, and ordered to fix a bot. But this isn’t just any bot. It was aboard the maiden flight of the DarkTrench, an experimental FTL ship. The problem? The bot tore itself apart while in deep space. What caused this? Is it a threat to humans? But most importantly, what is really going on in this space station?

The one thing that stood out to me after reading A Star Curiously Singing was the uniqueness. Kerry Nietz has weaved an incredible world, the premise of which few people are willing to use, and scatted it with refreshing details that automatically capture you on page one. As the you continue, you are grasped by an equally refreshing and unique story line.

Nietz’s style is informal, littered with sentence fragments and references to the reader. The latter is perhaps unusual today, but it is handled well and consequently has the refreshing feel that runs everywhere in this book. Sandfly calls you a freehead and reminds you of how different his lot and world is. As for the sentence fragments, at first my ‘grammar-Nazi’ mind found them annoying. Eventually the fragments fell in place as a compliment to the world.

Unfortunately, in this intriguing world the characters at times feel flat. SandFly wrestles with what he has been told about the world, God, and himself, and walks a very believable journey, but I did not feel as attached to him as I could be. However, this did not diminish my enjoyment or recommendation of the book.

The conclusion sits a bit odd theologically, but since A Star Curiously Singing is the first in the series, I’m not worried. The next in the DarkTrench Saga, The Superlative Stream, is on my wish list. A Star Curiously Singing left me with a longing for more of this strange new world and a curiosity for the singing star (I suspect the latter of which was the goal). Kerry Nietz has sufficiently stolen my attention with his debut novel. 5/5 stars.

2010’s Ending Movies

Toward the end of 2010, I watched two high-heralded movies.  One fantasy, one sci-fi.  One animated, the other live-action.  One fantastic, the other a flop.  And both with characters named Flynn.  Today I give you reviews of both.

Because I’m fairly certain everyone has their own definition of what _ number of stars mean, I’ll give you mine.  It strictly deals with whether or not to watch it, since I think that is the point of reviews.

😡 1 Star –  This is a complete, utter waste of time.
😕 2 Stars – Watch only if you have nothing better to do.
😐 3 Stars –  Watch if you want a couple hours of no-brainer entertainment.
🙂 4 Stars – Must watch.
😀 5 Stars – Watch it again and again, memorize the script, and add it to your library.

On to the reviews!  Since I like to end on a positive note, you’ll get my rant on the flop first.

 

Tron: Legacy

A generation after the original Tron, Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has disappeared while exploring the Grid in hopes of creating the perfect world.  Twenty years later his son, Sam (Garret Hedlung), is prompted by Kevin’s old partner to look into an old arcade where the digitizer is kept.  In the Grid, Sam finds his father has been trapped by Clu, (Jeff Bridges) the new dictator of this cyber world.  Time is running short as Clu wants to trap Sam as well.

I really wanted to like this.  I’m very partial to sci-fi.  But I just couldn’t.  The Tron: Legacy poster breathes sequel, mirroring the original Tron poster’s format.  Then it goes and does everything a sequel shouldn’t, and few things any movie shouldn’t.

A disillusioned young man is zapped into the Grid.  He is caught by the dictator’s guards and put on the Game Grid.  During a game he escapes with some friends and sets out for an input-output tower, which holds the only key to defeat the dictator, who we have now learned plans to invade the real world.

Tron?  Yes, but also Tron: Legacy.  The first thing Legacy does that no sequel should do is create a sense of de ja vu in the plot.  I mean, seriously, you have to get the kid zapped into the Grid, and OK, he gets on the Game Grid, but do you have to follow the original’s plot so tightly?

Sam finds his dad, Kevin, now aged.  (Side note:  I’m not going to complain about the aging of a supposed program or about the atmosphere in a computer world or the “programs” who act and look exactly like people.  In reality, not only is “digitizing” laughable, but programs do not interact at the level these characters do.  Think of the Grid is another universe and the digitizer as a portal and you’re fine.  I think the producers realized this, as they eliminated many of the stage-setting elements of Tron, such as the jargon.)  Aged, sure, but revamped? This isn’t the Kevin Flynn from Tron.  This is a tame, meditative man who goes by the same name.

Sequels shouldn’t revamp characters from the original.

Now for the things movies in general should never do.

Cheesy dialogue.  “You want me to play?  I’ll play,” says Sam.  You want me to watch this?  Nope.

Unexplained, unexplained, and unexplained.  The original Tron wasn’t so hot on this one either.  Sam digitizing himself is obviously an accident, but how does it happen?  Does he click the wrong thing?  Is Clue controlling the digitizer? (In which case we have more plot mimicking.)  And about Clu.  We’re told he was created to help Kevin turn the Grid into a utopia.  How does Clu get from that to exalted dictator?

Unimaginative.  The original Tron left a lot to the imagination.  They showed the Grid, some landscape, and the MCP’s hideout.  Everything else – which Legacy explores – is up to the imagination.  For the sake of the exotic setting, they really should come up with something at least unusual.  Instead we have the most usual thing there is:  our world in a much sleeker, cleaner format, right down the the fireplace in Kevin’s house.

There are two things I can give Tron: Legacy.  One, the music was quite unique, even more interesting than the plot.  If you want to skip the movie and hear the music, check out http://www.playlist.com/searchbeta/tracks#tron%20legacy/all/1.  Two, special effects.  They really went all-out with the latest in technology.  It’s beautiful eye-candy.  I would call the effects the saving grace, bumping this movie from one to two stars out of five.

In conclusion, if you’re too sick to move and have already watched all your other movies (twice!) feel free to Google “watch tron legacy online.”  Otherwise, leave it alone.

My Rating: 2 Stars 😕
MPAA Rating:  Rated PG for sequences of sci-fi action violence and brief mild language.

 

Tangled

When the bandit Flynn Rider (Zachary Levi) takes cover in an out-of-the-way tower, he finds it already occupied by Rapunzel (Mandy Moor), an insistent teen with 70 feet of hair who sees him as her guide to freedom.  Pursued by Flynn’s ex-partners, Mother Gothel, (Donna Murphy) and the royal guard, the duo sets out into the wide world.

To me, a movie must have three things to really be enjoyable:  well-rounded characters, an interesting plot without holes, and pleasing aesthetics.  Tangled delivers all three, plus humor, which flows naturally throughout.  What could be better?

The poster promises a hilarious fairytale, and it delivers.  Though not a Pixar film, the quality is the same, providing a beautiful and bright fairy tale setting for Repunzel to drag her hair and Flynn to wield frying pans.

I found all characters (yes, including the frog on Rapunzel’s head) believable and delightful, especially our dear Repunzel.  Such well-rounded characters are very appreciated.

The plot is just as believable – if you can use that word for fantasy – as the characters.  Like any fairytale, the romance tumbles in unannounced, but that’s a genre trademark.  Nothing was predictable except the happy ending, and even though we know the ultimate resolution almost from the beginning, danger and excitement abound until the last moment.

Indeed, the only real trouble I have with this movie is a theme in one scene, where Rapunzel and Flynn justify her running away from Gothel.  Flynn calls rebelling from her “mom” “natural” and “part of growing up.”   It didn’t ruin the movie for me, and some people I’ve talked to didn’t see this theme at all.  If you plan on seeing this with your nine-year-old sister, you might want to be prepared to talk about it.

Still, I’d give this movie five of five stars.  It’s one of the better Disney Princess movies.  Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella, Belle, and Ariel may just have a new friend.

My rating:  5 Stars 😀
MPAA rating:  Rated PG for brief mild violence.

 

Have you seen Tron: Legacy or Tangled?  What did you think?

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