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Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: Sense and Sensibility

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , , ,
Sense and Sensibility
by Jane Austen
Classic Literature
Amazon / Goodreads


Plot Summary:

'The more I know of the world, the more am I convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!'

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor's warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

Review:

There are two things about Sense and Sensibility that stand out to me - the writing and the characters.  Jane Austen's writing is so light and entertaining and it seems particularly emphasized in this book.  The tone is gently wry and mocking which makes sense because these characters are very broad and humorous.  The main sisters - Elinor and Marianne represent the title, and because each are so completely ruled by one trait - sense or sensiblility - it was difficult for me to be completely sympathetic with either one.  Although Elinor is easily the most appealing character in this book.  But of course the main drama is that Elinor and Marianne need to grow and mature and Austen paints their journey brilliantly.  Everyone else around the two sisters and the three male leads were generally quirky and humorous in their mannerisms. Which added to the entertaining nature of this book.  The men - Edward, Brandon and Willoughby were all generally nice yet unexciting (except Willoughby is just a prat!).  It's odd that while I feel very charmed by these characters - they are all not very well-rounded.

I did love that there's such a lovely, natural, confidential style to Austen's narrative, where it felt like I was eavesdropping on some very personal gossip.  Even though Austen's cool tone creates some distance between the reader and the characters, I still felt very invested in their lives.  And that sense of living in this world of civility and protocol was very entrancing.

I feel like my thoughts on this book are a little all over the place.  I definitely enjoyed it, though there are moments when the action becomes monotonous and when I felt like everyone in this book acted very silly.  And I was disappointed by how many times Jane Austen takes the reader away from key romantic moments - from the proposals in the end most importantly.  But the humor is deftly ingrained in the narrative (especially in the secondary characters) and the deceptive simplicity of the story and the resolution made this a very charming read.

Fourth book read in the Classics Club Challenge
Also part of the 2014 Jane Austen Challenge
Wednesday, February 26, 2014

2014 Jane Austen Challenge

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Reading Is Fun Again is hosting a Jane Austen challenge this year which I hope will finally motivate me to finish reading all of Jane Austen's oeuvre!  I want to appreciate her work more - as a teen I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice but I didn't love it, and I wonder if now that I'm older I will see more in her commentary on life that I didn't see when I was younger.  For my Classics Club challenge, I wanted to read all four of the Austen books I haven't gotten to yet and that didn't spur me on, so I'm thinking this challenge will put more pressure on me!

For the Jane Austen Challenge the plan is to read one Austen book every two months (which is very manageable!):

Jan-Feb - Sense & Sensibility
March-April - Pride & Prejudice
May-June - Mansfield Park
July-Aug - Emma
Sept-Oct - Northanger Abbey
Nov-Dec - Persuasion

Since I've already read "Pride and Prejudice" and "Northanger Abbey" I'll sit those months out, so the plan is to read Sense and Sensibility and hopefully compare it to the movie starring Emma Thompson which I really love.  Even though I consider myself more of a Bronte girl than an Austen one, I look forward to reading Austen's works and maybe gaining a greater appreciation of her writing than I had before.  And I also can't wait to cross off these books from my Classics Club list!

Since I am posting this so late in February, my review of Sense and Sensibility should be up this Friday!
Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Stolen Songbird

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,

Stolen Songbird (Malediction Trilogy #1)
by Danielle L. Jensen
YA Fantasy
Amazon / Goodreads


Plot Summary:

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.

Review:

This is a gorgeous book!  The mythology, the plot, and the characters were unexpected delights, I was completely enchanted by the world and the romance.  This is a strongly compelling fantasy adventure that I think anyone who loves the genre will enjoy!

The fact that it revolves around trolls was extremely interesting to me.  Because it's not the usual suspect when it comes to YA fantasy, and the author has created a very different history for her trolls that feels very believable when compared to how we usually think of them.  Trolls are not as straightforwardly monstrous as mythology paints them (or at least not all of them) and in this story they are much more complex and alike to humans in their capacity for emotion.  It's intriguing to read about these trolls and how different they are to popular perception.

The characters in this story were just amazing.  Cécile was so accessible and sympathetic - perfect as the main character who experiences some incredible things.  And her willingness to take some pretty daunting risks for the sake of what she believes was so admirable.  There were a couple of times when I wanted to shake some sense into her, but it felt very real to me that she made mistakes when she was faced with so many uncomfortably new situations.  Tristan, the Prince of Trollus, was basically everything I love in a male lead.  Brooding and mysterious with a heart of gold.  The reader learns more and more about him as the story goes on, and different aspects of Tristan's character gradually click into place as we learn more about his past.  It's a testament to the author's writing that the puzzle pieces of Tristan's character fit so well together by the end.  There are some chapters of this book where the POV switches from Cécile to Tristan and I wasn't completely happy with that.  I'm not a big fan of chapter switching POV anyways, and it felt a little unnecessary here, but thankfully it's not every other chapter, and it did make me fall in love with Tristan just a little bit more!  There are many more characters in this book that stood out for me - that ran the gauntlet of brave, loyal and true, to slimy, unpleasant villains and such complex characters helped fill out the world of Trollus and make it credible and immersive.

It's the romance though that got me like a sluag spear to the heart.  (#bookreference)  It's a gradual love that builds between Cécile and Tristan, with many obstacles to their happiness - as much of their own doing as of circumstances, and reading how each hurdle was passed just wrapped me up more into their love.   They grew to respect and admire each other and most importantly to trust each other (trust and truth is a big part of these characters) and these are the building blocks for the best kinds of love stories. It's been awhile since I've found a romance in a YA fantasy so beautiful and so intense.  Cécile and Tristan are just perfect!

The pace of the plot is very well done in this book - the backstory and action are balanced, and the secrets of Trollus are revealed at well timed key moments.  The fantasy aspect is fascinating, as are the characters and their dilemmas.  I can't recommend this book enough and I hope that everyone who reads this review will give it a chance!

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)

Stolen Songbird's release date is April 1st.  Check out this post on My Bookish Ways to enter a giveaway for the book!
Sunday, February 23, 2014

Suspense Sundays (85) The Waxwork

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"The Waxwork"
Air date: May 1, 1956
Starring William Conrad
>>Episodes here<<

A down on his luck freelance reporter intends to stay overnight in a wax museum so he can write an exciting and macabre article on the experience.  The owner gives his blessings but warns him that it can get pretty creepy in the museum at night and to not let his nerves get to him.  Of course that is exactly what the reporter lets happen.  But maybe there is more to the museum than lifeless wax effigies?

This episode for the most part is predictable - atmospheric and intense, but it was hard for me to feel fear of these wax figures when the reporter so intelligently says that it's hard to believe the ghosts of the people portrayed would haunt images of themselves instead of someplace they knew in life.  But the twist in this episode is that there is someone in the museum with the reporter and that last part of the episode was really creepy and definitely delivered on the suspense!  I thought it was a great twist and really lifted what was shaping up to be a mediocre episode.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Far Far Away

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Far Far Away
by Tom McNeal
YA/MG Fairy Tale
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

It says quite a lot about Jeremy Johnson Johnson that the strangest thing about him isn't even the fact his mother and father both had the same last name. Jeremy once admitted he's able to hear voices, and the townspeople of Never Better have treated him like an outsider since. After his mother left, his father became a recluse, and it's been up to Jeremy to support the family. But it hasn't been up to Jeremy alone. The truth is, Jeremy can hear voices. Or, specifically, one voice: the voice of the ghost of Jacob Grimm, one half of the infamous writing duo, The Brothers Grimm.

Jacob watches over Jeremy, protecting him from an unknown dark evil whispered about in the space between this world and the next. But when the provocative local girl Ginger Boultinghouse takes an interest in Jeremy (and his unique abilities), a grim chain of events is put into motion. And as anyone familiar with the Grimm Brothers know, not all fairy tales have happy endings....

Review:

I was not expecting this book!  I was under the impression that it's a middle grade read, but it has a sophistication that goes beyond that age range.  I really connected with the characters and the story and found this book such an affecting read - so thoughtful, emotional, quirky and strange. The fairy tale is blended perfectly in with a modern feel and it captures the feelings and insecurities of childhood so well.  The writing style is so expressive and exciting that even though I wasn't sure where the story was going, I was wrapped up in the lives of the characters and the drama of their relationships.  This is a story that works on so many different levels.

The book is narrated by the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who was a fully imagined, deeply sympathetic character in this story.  His accounts of Jeremy's life as well as the lives of some of the townspeople of Never Better were always interesting and colorful and understanding.  And that subtlety to Jacob in how he told the story gave his character so much depth because it made him very realistic and true to what he had been when he was alive - a great storyteller.  Jeremy is just as subtle and interesting a character as well.  His dilemmas are ones that I think resonate with kids and showcase just how much Jeremy wants to find his own identity.  He's led astray from his path sometimes, and he makes mistakes, but he becomes a stronger character because of it.  With Jacob as his mentor, the two make a great duo against a hidden evil in their town.

I can't talk too much about the nature of the evil because it is a very clever twist, and one I think that really brought together a story that initially felt meandering and was character development heavy.  Minor quibbles really because while the beginning progressed almost pointlessly (but still had many moments of interest) the story as a whole really impressed me and the last few chapters in particular were riveting.  I really can't recommend this story enough.  I thought it was a very poignant and evocative read, with flashes of humor and pathos and a love of stories and fairy tales bound up in the spirit of the narrative.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Star Trek Season 2: My Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
I am boldly continuing with my Star Trek marathon!  By now I can repeat the opening credit speech with Captain Kirk, I have more than a little crush on Spock (He's so adorably logical.), and I am checking out Star Trek related items on Etsy and Amazon.  So it's official that I'm a fan.  After finishing season 2, I feel like I'm not as devoted to my top 5 episodes as I am to my top 5 of season 1, but the whole season overall had so many entertaining episodes (ones that had less to do with hard science fiction and felt more gimmicky -Greek gods! Nazis! Romans! Gothic manors!) that I was happy to see them try new things, and to get a better perspective of what this show has to offer.  Where I think with Doctor Who's format they can do anything plausibly - I'm beginning to see that Star Trek also has a way of making any idea work despite the Prime Directive.  Even to having the last episode of season 2 mention that the Enterprise can travel in time at will. (That seems like it would be a big deal!)

There are a couple episodes that I would like to mention as runners up - "Mirror, Mirror" where we see a parallel universe where the world and the Enterprise are evil, greedy and backstabbing and "By Any Other Name" which has the fun idea that these superior aliens can by undone by human emotions.  These were really great episodes, but these are my top 5 favorites:

5. The Deadly Years


I think the main reason I loved this episode so much was because of the insidious terror in having this unknown ticking time bomb in the main characters.  They are aging rapidly for an unknown reason and they need to find the solution before they die of old age.  It was poignant to see Captain Kirk lose his memory but still fight to retain his position as Captain and to see how Spock reluctantly proves the case that Kirk is unfit.  While the solution to the aging problem is a little bit too easy (and I don't think it explains reversing the aging process) this was still a very thoughtful and entertaining episode.

4. Amok Time


This episode is the first time we get to see anything of the Vulcan planet and their customs and their planet is pretty unusual!  Especially when we find out more about this special time every Vulcan goes through when they are basically in heat.  (By the way, poor Christine!  I'm sure I understand her unrequited feelings for Spock, but I would really try to suppress it if I were her!)  The real charm in this episode is in seeing Spock so uncomfortable and out of character and fighting Kirk!  Although why wouldn't you just check before accepting the challenge if the fight is one to the death?  Just a thought, Kirk.  However, there is one moment that put this episode near and dear to my heart and that is when near the end Spock finds out that Kirk is alive and shows some emotion (although he tries to deny it).  That scene was the best - bromance for the win!  I was hoping we would see more of the Vulcans in this season (and also seeing Spock's parents was awesome) because there's lots to explore with them especially because they are so similar to Humans, yet not.  I do find it interesting (or odd) how ritualistic they are for a race that values logic above all else.  

3. Bread and Circuses


A Roman culture on an obscure planet?  Sure that makes sense.  I mean maybe not really but I loved the idea of the Enterprise crew having to deal with these sadistic men to find out what happened to a previous Starfleet scouting party.  And when I saw that the Romans televise their gladiator competitions, I immediately thought - OMG Hunger Games!  Although the real highlight of this episode for me is probably the antagonistic tone and the constant jibes between Spock and McCoy.  I wondered at first at their relationship - because McCoy seems so unfair to Spock really - but I love that they do have respect for each other, but also find it enjoyable to ridicule each other.  And hearing some of the things Spock says with such a deadpan delivery is hilarious.  I also liked seeing the crew get out of trouble by just beaming out because really they should do that all the time.  Haven't they gotten into enough situations where they beam down and are immediately beset by people with weapons?  Wear a concealed phaser and have a code to Scotty or Sulu or whoever (like "vatican cameos"!) which means beam me up now asap!!  At least Kirk did have a code for Scotty in this one.

2. A Piece of the Action


The planet in this episode features highly imitative aliens who are corrupted because another visiting Starfleet left them a book on Chicago mobsters and the aliens have modeled their society on that book.  Any opportunity to see Kirk and Spock out of Starfleet regulation is a treat so I was already well on my way to liking this episode.  And while (again!) I can't believe Spock would beam down to the planet with no precautions - completely ready to trust the mob leader because he said so - I loved that there was a tipping point for Kirk and he decided that if he can't beat 'em, he'd join 'em (to a certain extent).  I'm sure William Shatner had fun acting the mob boss (as I had fun watching him do it!) and that made this episode one of the most enjoyable to date.  Seeing Spock uncomfortably adapt and Kirk revealed as a terrible driver were also moments of pure joy. 

1. The Trouble With Tribbles


Welcome to my not-original pick for top episode of season 2!  I had heard about the tribbles episode before I started watching the series, so I already had high expectations for this one and I was not disappointed!  As I mentioned in a previous post I love the funny episodes, and this one had a wonderful understated ridiculousness to it - understated because it was paired with a great A story - that the Enterprise had to protect a crop of special wheat and also keep an eye on those troublemaking Klingons.  The tribbles steadily become more of a problem in the background while our attention is focused on what the Klingons might be up to.  The two stories tie in well together and seeing how the tribbles gradually take over the Enterprise was hilarious.  As was the scene where Kirk opens the wheat storage container and is deluged with furry tribbles!  I feel like the crew must have taken a fiendish delight in throwing those things at him from above.  

**Note:
STARDATE  2014.2.3
I had to delay posting this so I've already finished watching Season 3 and have my top 5 post for that ready to go!  It should be going up within a couple of weeks! 
Monday, February 17, 2014

Review: Untold

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Untold (The Lynburn Legacy #2)
by Sarah Rees Brennan
YA Fantasy Romance
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

A darkly humorous take on Gothic romance, Sarah Rees Brennan's Lynburn Legacy weaves together the tale of a heroine desperate to protect those she loves, two boys hoping to be saved, and the magical forces that will shape their destiny.

Review:

After the heart-wrenching cliffhanger of book 1 Unspoken, I was so eager to read the next book in the series.  Kami and Jared's relationship is a major part of the appeal of these books.  They have their quirks, they completely understand each other (or at least they did once when there was a link between them)  and they both have such strong personalities.  It's most fun when they banter back and forth, but there is a lot of angst in this book that meant the sharp, witty humor of the first book is a little dampened.  There are still some great comebacks and turns of phrases though - especially from my other favorite character - Rusty.

Although there is a lot at stake in Sorry-in-the-Vale and the main characters are in a lot of danger, the story moves a little too leisurely for most of the book.  There is a big focus on Kami and Jared's feelings and whether or not they can overcome what happened in the first book and while it is necessary, I did think it was a little too drawn out sometimes.  Considering what actually happens in the book, there is very little advancement to the plot, and much more character development.  It's interesting to understand Ash, Holly, Angela and Rusty better, but I wish there was more to the story than just what was going on with these characters' relationships.

Having said all that though, I still enjoyed reading the second installment of The Lynburn Legacy very much, and I find all the revelations about the Lynburns and their practices to be very intriguing.  I think there are many more things to learn about them and the world, and there is definitely another very aggravating and soul-hurting cliffhanger in store for you in the second book.  The wit and humor, the dangerous reality of the situation Kami and her friends are in, and the appealing simplicity of the good vs. evil in this story makes this a great read, and I am eagerly waiting for the last book in the series!
Sunday, February 16, 2014

Suspense Sundays (84) The Diary of Saphronia Winters

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"The Diary of Saphronia Winters"
Air date: April 27, 1943
Starring Agnes Moorehead 
>>Episodes here<<

Saphronia Winters, is reading from her diary of the events that led her to meet nice Hiram Johnson and the subsequent romance, courtship and marriage to Mr. Johnson.  Who remarks that his sister in law also was named Saphronia.  (It is remarked in the episode that that name is common, but was it really??  Ever?)  Hiram owns a hotel in Florida and they both move out there, with Saphronia to discover it's derelict and unused.  Turns out Hiram's brother was murdered by his sister-in-law and Hiram has been looking for Saphronia ever since.  To the extent that he's murdered a couple other women  he thought was her.  But now he's got her (again).  Right?

I actually wasn't expecting the twist in this one - I was more under the impression that Hiram was a raving lunatic and thought the resolution would go more in that direction.  It does not.  Actually I'll just spoil the twist a bit because I want to talk about it - so look away if you are going to listen!  It turns out that Hiram was right and Saphronia was the woman he was looking for, and Saphronia kills Hiram.  And I think it's funny how absolutely little sympathy I had for Hiram - he definitely had it coming even though Saphronia is a crazy murderess.  But I loved that Hiram just fell for it so easily - I can't imagine how he got the better of the other poor women he murdered!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Instalove 101: Revisiting Twilight

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Check out the Event Schedule

When I think "instalove", I think "No thank you."  Love stories where the guy and the girl feel a deep and intense connection minutes after meeting each other just feels unbelievable and narratively lazy to me.  This is because as the reader, it's fine if they want to love each other until death - but I need to love those characters too.  And it's hard to when you don't really understand why they're acting so crazy in love.  But there is one book that fits into the instalove category that I hold very dear.  And this does disturb me.  So for Instalove 101 I wanted to examine the qualities that made the love story work for me.

Once upon a time (in 2007 actually) I read a book called Twilight.   About a 17 year old girl falling in love with a vampire. (Like anyone didn't know that)  And boy did I fall in love with the book.  I pretty much adored everything about it actually - the heady romance, the mysteriousness of the plot, the suspense.  The voice of the characters and the immediacy of their emotions.  A year later the film came out and things got crazy.  At first I was excited for all the attention the films were getting, but when it started to become over-kill and backlash against the series in general became popular, I was disheartened.  Because the books are entertaining and sweet, and it was ridiculous to see how the media made it seem important that these books live up to certain standards of quality or ideology.  It's just a story.  Not every popular book has to be perfect or teach a lesson.  So after a slow burn out from my Twilight love, I am glad to take this opportunity to explore my feelings about the book, rereading it again so many years later.

And to illustrate my post, I'm including some icons/images I made back then (for my livejournal blog!) with my preferred dreamcast (it was also the most popular dreamcast at the time I think) - Emily Browning as Bella and French actor Gaspard Ulliel as Edward. (sigh)


"About three things I was absolutely positive."

There isn't quite a love at first sight situation between Bella and Edward - more curiosity and attraction.  As well as overwhelming thirst for Edward.  But their relationship definitely escalates to the can't-live-without-you stage very quickly.  I normally find that very annoying, but with Twilight, Stephenie Meyer really sold me on their connection.  There are three factors of their relationship I think that helped make their all-consuming love believable for me:
  • They are obsessed with the other's 'otherness'
Edward has never met someone whose thoughts he couldn't read, and also whose scent is so alluring to him. Bella also reacts in ways that are unexpected to him.  Bella of course is intrigued by his beauty, his aloofness, and his mysterious manner.  And having their relationship start so uniquely (saving her life in a suspiciously inhuman way) throws them together and forces them to confront their feelings about each other. It also helps that Stephenie Meyer maintains this atmosphere throughout the book that Bella is so out of place with other kids her age.  Bella's wry comments on the people of Forks are hilarious but also serves to distance herself from them and only when she is with Edward does she seem truly happy.
  • Wonder
Because Twilight is from Bella's point of view, the reader has a stronger empathetic connection to Bella and what happens to her.  That feeling of first love is so perfectly captured in this book, the romance so full of a captivating joy, that it's hard to not fall under the spell of their love story.  I also think that because there are so many conversations in this book of light and deeper topics between Edward and Bella that it helps make their insta-obsession even more believable.  And helps the reader know the characters as well as they are getting to know each other.  I feel like many books that feature instalove also have a lot of action or plot to get across, but in Twilight, Meyer isn't afraid to really dwell on the relationship and the characters and that helps to capture the reader's imagination.
  • The Main Characters
Like I touched on above, these characters are really fleshed out, and the main focus for most of the book.  I think that was the number one reason why I was so obsessed with these books - the characters felt real enough to inhabit this world.  In my opinion, Stephenie Meyer's forte is writing characters because she somehow knows how to include little details that just make them come alive.  From how they talk, to what they wear, and how they move, all of these characters feel real and believable.  And like all good characters they all have their flaws - even if Bella keeps thinking that Edward is perfect.  And with the focus on the two main characters this is such an intimately revealing story because Edward and Bella open up to each other so much and it is easy to understand why they need to be together.  I think I noted more in my recent re-read just how their senses of humor match as well which is really important to any relationship.  And it added strength to their connection if they could laugh and joke about sometimes unexpected things.


"Twilight, again.  Another ending."

Okay, final thoughts time!

I still love this story.  I feel like the book just pulls you into it's world and has this unrelenting atmosphere of peculiarly impassioned yet restrained drama.  Maybe the reason why I believe in the instalove is because I felt a little of it too for this book.  If I used Twilight as my prime example, then I would believe that any author can sell me on an instalove story as long as the focus is on the romance, the characters truly need and depend on each other and there is a fascination about these characters where they are unique yet real which means they also need to be very well written. I think that sounds deceptively simple though, because ultimately there must be some very elusive magic that makes it work.  And in the end it's probably just better to write a story where two characters really get to know each other and then fall in love.

But Twilight is an enchanting book.

Friends only banner - hmm, I don't remember the Jacob-actor I used here
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Review: Doctor Who: The Death Pit

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Doctor Who: The Death Pit
by A.L. Kennedy
Science Fiction
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Something odd is going on at the Fetch Brothers Golf Spa Hotel. Receptionist Bryony Mailer has noticed a definite tendency towards disappearance amongst the guests. She's tried talking to the manager, she's even tried talking to the owner who lives in one of the best cottages in the grounds, but to no avail. And then a tall, loping remarkably energetic guest (wearing a fetching scarf and floppy hat) appears. The Fourth Doctor thinks he's in Chicago. He knows he's in 1978. And he also knows that if he doesn't do something very clever very soon, matters will get very, very out of hand.

Review:

This was a fun short read that tries a little too hard sometimes to be charming and witty, but that attempt to capture the Fourth Doctor's personality and his investigative approach to mysterious occurrences made the story on the whole very enjoyable.  The mystery itself is pretty creepy though and I wish the story had more of an atmospherically ominous tone to make the most of the alien threat instead of keeping the tone so whimsical.

Since this is such a short read, I think the author did a great job fleshing out the main characters - Byrony and Patterson were great foils for the Doctor and the other villainous character besides the alien was an interesting touch - he's so outrageously selfish.  The ending was a little rushed, but it was overall satisfactory.  For fans of the Fourth Doctor especially, I think this is a great little read!

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)
Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Cinder

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles #1)
by Marissa Meyer
YA Science Fiction/Fairy Tale
Amazon  /  Goodreads


Plot Summary:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl.

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

Review:

This book is just gorgeous.  Love the writing, the world and the twist on the fairy tale!  The story moves so quickly too - it's easy to get immersed in the story.

The main character, Cinder, is an unconventional take on Cinderella - she's snarky and resentful and rightfully so because her adopted family is so dismissive of her.  Having Cinder part android adds more credibility to the outcast situation Cinder finds herself in - even though she is the main financial support for her family.  Adri and Pearl were just so hateful, I couldn't stand them so they were perfectly written. It was refreshing that Cinder did have a kind adopted sister - Peony - who is adorably sweet and again works so well in the story because she gives Cinder a tie to her adopted family.

The story switches third person POV between Cinder and Prince Kai which was another great approach to the narrative so the reader can understand the Prince better and how the romance develops.  I thought it was a bit odd that Kai was so taken by Cinder so quickly but I can see her appeal to him because she is apparently such an individual amid a lot of Prince Kai fangirls.  But the romance isn't the most important part of the book!  This story is much more multi-dimensional than that!

The Commonwealth Cinder lives in is threatened by a mysterious and devastating plague and also the danger of war from the powerful Lunar colony.  I couldn't get enough of all the twists and turns in the story as Cinder and Kai each deal with these threats, and the mystery of how this plague came to the Commonwealth and what Prince Kai could possibly do to discourage the Lunar Queen's plan.  The plot is relentless and keeps building on the world and the culture as it progresses.  The richness of the plot, characters and world absolutely captivated me!  The denouement was very exciting as well - with some interesting alterations to the normal Cinderella at the Ball scene.  I very much adored this highly imaginative fairy tale revision, and eagerly look forward to picking up the sequel!
Sunday, February 9, 2014

Suspense Sundays (83) Memory of a Murder

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"Memory of a Murder"
Air date: March 25, 1962
Starring Philip Sterling 
>>Episodes here<<

Harry sees a man being buried in a graveyard which then cuts to him taking that man's old job working at a theatre where a magician called Constantine performs.  When Harry falls for Constantine's beautiful assistant Marietta, he discovers that Constantine is extremely jealous and may have been the one to kill the man who used to have Harry's job.  Constantine is so jealous that he is planning to kill Marietta during the show so that no one can have her.  And Harry decides to get to Constantine first.

This episode has a great plot line - with the love triangle and a mysterious vision of a man being buried.  But this is a strange story in execution.  Harry is telling his story to the police in this, and at the end, there's this twist that this happened years in the past.  So somehow Harry time traveled?  Okay. It's kind of a random twist. And with the reveal of what is truly going on with Marietta and Constantine, Marietta's motives was unclear for me.  I liked the idea of the episode, but I found it all a bit of a mess.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: The Vanishing

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
The Vanishing
by Wendy Webb
Mystery/Paranormal
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Recently widowed and rendered penniless by her Ponzi-scheming husband, Julia Bishop is eager to start anew. So when a stranger appears on her doorstep with a job offer, she finds herself accepting the mysterious yet unique position: caretaker to his mother, Amaris Sinclair, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist whom Julia has always admired…and who the world believes is dead.

When she arrives at the Sinclairs' enormous estate on Lake Superior, Julia begins to suspect that there may be sinister undercurrents to her "too-good-to-be-true" position. As Julia delves into the reasons of why Amaris chose to abandon her successful writing career and withdraw from the public eye, her search leads to unsettling connections to her own family tree, making her wonder why she really was invited to Havenwood in the first place, and what monstrous secrets are still held prisoner within its walls.

Review:

This was a very creepy and atmospheric read perfectly set up by the prologue where an unspecified evil is released into the Havenwood house.  When Julia Bishop, in present time, arrives at Havenwood there are many unsettling occurrences to make her question her decision to stay. And there are many red herrings as well to confuse the reader on whether or not what Julia is seeing is just in her head or actually happening.

Overall I found this a really engaging and eerie read with an interesting cast of characters who, although they were not completely fleshed out for me, were all so ambiguous from the start that they were very intriguing.  The main focus of this book is on the ghost story and in capturing the ominous feeling of being in a house that holds dark secrets so character development seemed sort of pushed to the background.  Even with Julia, I did understand why she couldn't leave Havenwood, but there were times when I felt she acted very irrationally.  There was also a little romance between her and Drew which felt tacked on and not really necessary to the plot.

While the ghost story aspect was very gripping, I thought the resolution was a let down.  I don't want to reveal any spoilers though because the twist is very good, but everything was tied up very quickly and too easily for me to feel it was believable.  Especially when I had more than a few question in the end about why certain things happened.  It was very disappointing for a book with such a great set-up and so many bizarrely creepy moments.  But if you really like atmospheric ghost stories that will keep you up late - eager to know what happens next - this might be a great read for you.

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review. I was not compensated for this review.)
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Review: The Naturals

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,
The Naturals
by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
YA Crime Procedural
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Seventeen-year-old Cassie is a natural at reading people. Piecing together the tiniest details, she can tell you who you are and what you want. But it’s not a skill that she’s ever taken seriously. That is, until the FBI come knocking: they’ve begun a classified program that uses exceptional teenagers to crack infamous cold cases, and they need Cassie.

What Cassie doesn’t realize is that there’s more at risk than a few unsolved homicides— especially when she’s sent to live with a group of teens whose gifts are as unusual as her own.

Sarcastic, privileged Michael has a knack for reading emotions, which he uses to get inside Cassie’s head—and under her skin. Brooding Dean shares Cassie’s gift for profiling, but keeps her at arm’s length.

Soon, it becomes clear that no one in the Naturals program is what they seem. And when a new killer strikes, danger looms closer than Cassie could ever have imagined. Caught in a lethal game of cat and mouse with a killer, the Naturals are going to have to use all of their gifts just to survive.

Review:

This was a great, immersive read!  I love the idea that people who are more attuned to psychological tells and body language can use those skills to fight crime - it's like they are super-human but it's an attainable power.  Well if you are born with the knack.  The author assembles a great team of Naturals in this book too - they all have their quirks and their secrets which kept their unit sometimes tense, and in this case sometimes suspicious.  There are lots more to explore with the individual characters especially because some of the characters are initially a bit unlikable but I think there is definitely more to them and it will probably change my opinion of them.

The love triangle is the only thing that disappointed me in this story.  It felt unnecessary and a bit unexpected considering how standoffish Cassie always is, and it was hard to believe that two guys are suddenly interested in her.  I was also frustrated by how much the two guys conformed to stereotype - with fun, charming Michael vs. brooding, damaged Dean.  Although I am a bit torn between them - I'm not sure if have a preference for who Cassie should pick yet.

Although the love triangle aspect took up more time than I cared for, the story moved along at a great pace, and the mystery of who the serial killer was, was very well done.  I was surprised by the reveal and the series of clues that led us to the solution was clever and intriguing.  I loved that each Natural's gift was important to the story and helped Cassie figure out the clues.  And the look into the science of the mind was very interesting for me.  I don't normally watch C.S.I. type shows so reading about the investigation process in this book was fascinating.  This was a very quick read for me and if you love mysteries and stories rooted in psychology you should give this a try!
Monday, February 3, 2014

Thoughts on Sherlock - Season 3

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Oh my Sherlock.  I considered not posting about Sherlock because my thoughts aren't meaningful analysis but flailing feels and adoration.  The show is just so perfect.  But it's fun to gush, so I went for posting about season 3 and the show in general and all the reasons why I think it's perfection.

If you haven't seen the third season yet I THINK YOU ARE GROSSLY MISUSING YOUR TIME this does have some spoilers, so ya'll come back now, ya hear?

The Format

Three episode seasons.  It's kind of a major pain to have these three perfect episodes and then months of nothing new to subsist on, but it is so necessary to get those three quality episodes that I can't fault it.  And there is something magical about the number 3 - there's a beginning , a middle and an end, and in Sherlock the writers create perfect bell curves of plot. Not that the middle episode is the climax, but the height of plot potential for the whole season.  Because the show builds to the second episode, and then starts to break down what we have seen in the third episode.  It's quality over quantity, and my god is this show quality.

The Style

Is there another TV show that takes the visual to such ridiculous heights?  There might be, because I don't watch ALL the shows, but I doubt anything on TV right now is as innovative as Sherlock.  And I admire and value technical prowess in most creative works and the way Sherlock can show you something in a new and exciting way is very appealing.  I mean how about that scene were Sherlock is shot in "His Last Vow"?  Being able to visually translate Sherlock's mind palace is one thing (and fantastic in itself), but to show it in action as Sherlock deals with how to survive was incredible!  I absolutely loved that sequence and all the things it told us about Sherlock's character.  Like Redbeard and how Sherlock saw Moriarty.  This is a show that engages the viewer on all levels - with the characters, writing and story, and also visually - you just can't look away for a second or you'll miss something great.

The Characters

Well obviously.  Every single character in this show is memorable. And they continue to grow with every season.  Sherlock and John are the heart, but you can't dismiss what Mrs. Hudson, Lestrade, Molly or even Donovan and Anderson bring to the show.  And the villains are equally unforgettable.  Even Magnussen who I thought would have a larger role to play in the series and wouldn't have just one episode (but maybe he will because apparently even if you are shot point blank you might come back) was creepy and slimy and so riveting.  And going back to the growth of the characters - how amazing is it that we continue to see something new about them.  I mean, true, it's not outrageous to think there are things that there are things we haven't seen yet because of how short the seasons are, but I was impressed how the writers added family, a wife, a potential daughter and third Holmes brother into the mix in this season - and also changed how I feel about Anderson!  Who's character I disliked so much in the first two seasons!

The Writing

This is the number one reason why Sherlock excels I think.  It's smart, funny, witty and fast-paced.  Everything in the script is important and the attention to detail as a revision of Doyle's work is fantastic.  I don't think there is a better modern adaptation of any Classic work out now.  Although I'm not the biggest fan of the original stories, so maybe true Sherlock purists would have a thing or two to say.  But to those purists, I will also add that I really want to read all of the Holmes stories and that should make any purist fan happy - that a new adaptation brings more people back to the original work.  If there are any issues that people have with small things in the writing (or what I consider small things) like pacing or lack of a mystery in The Empty Hearse for instance, I say get a grip and look at the bigger picture.  This is a show about Sherlock and Watson, and if an episode veers into the relationship between them a bit more than usual, than it's because that is what we needed!  We can get another mystery any time, but we need to be invested in the characters.  I really think of this three episode format as one long story broken into three parts.  They all need to be looked at together.

Season 3

Well have I nattered on long enough about this show?  Definitely.  But I still haven't talked enough about the third season!!  One more thing that gets me about this show is how they are not afraid of change.  Watson getting married is such a big deal in my mind - it's so rare that a show will mess with the format like that.  I mean the dynamic has got to change with Mary and a baby in the picture!  And although it's sometimes hard to let go of things that you are comfortable with - like just Sherlock and John together - I am excited to see what's in store.  And just when I think there can't possibly be a bigger finale than Sherlock jumping to his death and surviving - now it's how did Moriarty do it???  Or is this a big swindle??  I just don't know. You can never tell - with Moffat especially I think.  He can and will turn anything around and he has a way of setting up a major conundrum and then making it unimportant within minutes of the next episode.

And to wrap this all up, these are my favorite bits from Season 3 of Sherlock:

The Empty Hearse
- The coolest opening sequence ever (with Derren Brown!)
- Mycroft wading in and his discussion with him while Sherlock is being shaved and dressed.
- Everything about Watson seeing Sherlock again
- Lestrade's reaction to finding out Sherlock is alive (that pause and an understated reaction)
- Sherlock and Mycroft playing Operation
- Sherlock and Molly <3

The Sign of Three
- The ups and downs of the Best Man speech was sheer brilliance
- The way they showed Sherlock talking to the women who knew the Mayfly man/appearance of the Woman.
- Sherlock's comment on moving Mrs. Hudson's glass a little out of reach (hilarious)
- Sherlock figuring out who the target was

His Last Vow
- The four major twists were so amazing - revealing Mary's lies, Sherlock getting shot, Sherlock shooting Magnussen and Moriarty's possible return.
- Everything about the beginning from John's tire lever to Molly slapping Sherlock
- Mary unknowingly reveals her secret to John
- Sherlock's family!
- All the major bromance feels!
Sunday, February 2, 2014

Suspense Sundays (82) A Vision of Death

Posted by Charlene // Tags: ,
Suspense was a radio series from 1942 to 1962.  I have a fondness for "Old Time Radio" as we call it now, and Suspense is my favorite show.  It sets up weird, dark, scary, or intriguing stories with a plot twist in the end, and all in half an hour.  For Suspense Sundays I'll give a short review of an episode.   {My archive list of episodes}


"A Vision of Death"
Air date: March 8, 1951
Starring Ronald Colman and Cathy Lewis
>>Episodes here<<

Judd and Aurora perform in nightclubs as a mind-reading act.  Judd chatters to the customers and Aurora miraculously knows what they happen to be holding in their hand.  Except that Judd's chatter is a careful code to Aurora and tells her all she needs to know.  Until one day, she can tell what each person is holding before Judd gives her the clue, and Aurora starts seeing into the future.  Which of course means she sees a death - hers at the hands of their disgruntled manager.

I loved the way this episode was built.  Judd is obviously a sensible man, and delights in the way he tricks the customers with that complex code and when Aurora starts having visions that come true - it's interesting that Judd both believes and rejects it - always looking for some other explanation.  There is a very good explanation in this episode for what happens to Aurora, and an equally good resolution when Judd finds out what is really going on.  It is tragic but so very ironic.  And even though I understand why Judd does what he does, I find it weird how unsympathetic I am with him when he takes such delight in the outcome.  I enjoyed trying to figure out where this episode was heading and the simple ingenuity of Judd's solution.