Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts-February 14

  • I mentioned last week that I had a second interview for a job I really, really wanted. I got the job that very afternoon and I started it yesterday. It is very overwhelming and I have a long commute until I can move closer. I will definitely try to keep blogging the next few weeks and on into the future, but we’ll have to see how everything goes. I made the leap to book blogger in no small part because I needed something rewarding to keep myself from getting too down every time a job opportunity didn’t work out or prospects were thin. I really love doing it though, and I don’t see myself ever wanting to quit reading, so I hope to want to continue blogging as well. But, at the very least, you all will definitely be seeing less of me the next few weeks.
  • Book-wise I finished The Heroes of Olympus series this week. I definitely regretted staying up late to finish The House of Hades on Tuesday night since schedule wise I couldn’t sleep much on Wednesday night before I started the new job, but I also kind of think it was worth it. I want to do a post on the series thus far, but in case I don’t get to it, I will just say that I think handling seven POV characters could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. I still love Percy and Annabeth best of course, but the focus on some different gods has been fun too. Also, House of Hades was extremely funny and extremely scary all at once. It was pretty cool that it did both. I loved them all and I can’t wait seven months for the last book. I just can’t.
  • I also finally got to Ignite Me, the final book in the Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi. I had wanted to re-read the entire series first, but I didn’t. I read the first few pages of Shatter Me before I got all anxious about starting Ignite Me, since it had been out for a few days at that point. (What a character transformation, by the way. Holy cow.) . I did read Fracture Me, the second novella that takes place between the second book, Unravel Me, and Ignite Me, before I started, which gave me something of a reminder of what had happened at the end of book 2. Plus the third one did a pretty good job of recapping things for us, so I wasn’t confused at all. I do still kind of want to reread the whole thing, because the prose in Ignite Me was so beautiful. The plot was pretty good. It didn’t examine post-war aftermath, which is always a pet peeve of mine, but it was always more about Juliette than anything else anyway and her story ended in a fitting way.
  • Speaking of pet peeves, though, Ignite Me was one of two books I’ve read recently that have blurbs that bug me. Heaven is Paved with Oreos, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock, prominently displayed a blurb on the cover that was by Gilbert-Murdock’s sister, Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame). I don’t get the marketing strategy on this one, because, though Elizabeth Gilbert is relatively popular, the intended audience of Catherine’s books aren’t in the same age range as Elizabeth’s readers. The books are written for entirely different people (though both main characters are obsessed with the food in Rome). Ignite Me has a blurb by Ransom Riggs, whose audience at least intersects well with Ms. Mafi’s, but they are married to each other. I doubt he would refuse to blurb her book, or to say anything bad about it, because loved ones always help each other out. (Not I’m really questioning whether or not he likes the book/respects her work, but it is somewhat humorous to me).
  • I’m curious to hear opinions on audio books. I’ve never actually listened to one all the way through, but I’m doing the long commute thing for the next few weeks and my coworker yesterday mentioned he listens to them too sometimes when he’s doing the more monotonous aspects of our job. Do you like them? Do you prefer them to reading? What books do you recommend in the format?
  • I think that’s all for now! I will definitely still find time to check out the blogs of/reply to people who post comments as I always do, but otherwise I will visit you all when I can. Have a great weekend!
Advertisements

Vampire Academy: A Casual Moviegoer’s Review

VA Poster Pic
Source: IMDB

I have never in my life written a film review. I will say I am not professionally qualified, but in this case, that might actually be a useful quality.

First, A Brief Rant

I actually quite enjoyed myself watching this movie. I went in with relatively low expectations, admittedly, but they were exceeded. Acting was mostly good, the source material was followed reasonably well, and the vast majority of jokes were quite funny. I had a few problems that I can get into, but overall, it was a good movie.

My problem is with many of the “professional” reviews I’ve seen so far. (I’ve debated sourcing a few here, but I decided against it since I mainly paraphrase comments I found in multiple places and I’m not trying to rip on any one reviewer. I found all the reviews I obliquely reference here linked from the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes page, if you are interested in reading any of them yourself). Like I said, this movie did have things wrong with it, I’m not claiming it to be perfect. Indeed, it was clumsy with its exposition. There was a lot to explain in not a lot of time. It did sacrifice character development for plot. I don’t have a problem with reviewers pointing out things that are wrong with a movie’s plot or pacing or effects. That is their job, after all.

But what I hate is the way that reviewers seem to automatically disdain any movie created for teenage girls. They say that it is just another in long line of terrible YA adaptations. That it’s entirely too focused on teenage melodrama. Buried within all the comments that sound like legitimate criticism is the idea that it doesn’t deserve any praise or attention because it’s just for those damned, Twilight-starved tweens with more money and hormones than sense. This is insulting to me, personally, as a fan of the YA source material, and it seems to be a pretty well-ingrained oversimplification of young women. Teenage girls are not vapid, brainless, sexually-repressed airheads. They are human beings.

And, because they’re humans, teenage girls are a varied, diverse group made up of individuals. The YA genre, books and movies are the same way. Not every movie with vampires is trying to compete with or attract the same audience as Twilight. Nor is it Harry Potter. Nor is it The Hunger Games. Yes, there are elements from each, and I get the need to describe it in terms that the audience will understand, but this impulse to say Vampires+female lead=Twilight completely baffles me. The YA market is not publishing the same exact story repeatedly and slapping a new title on it. Like in all literature and film there are tropes and plot lines that repeat, but each story has its own unique characters and themes and we need to be more creative when we explain a plot to an audience in a review.

I also really wish someone could do an experiment and make this movie over with a male protagonist and see what reviews it gets. Might they be different? Because I’m pretty sure being quick with a snide comeback, having a reckless, “fight the system” attitude, and experimenting/making mistakes romantically are all par for the course when it comes to male centered or superhero movies and protagonists in those films don’t get labeled as annoying and melodramatic nearly as often.

Basically, my point here is that if you are on the fence about going to see Vampire Academy, please, please, do not be too discouraged by the 11% Rotten Tomatoes score. 86% of real people like it. And if you’re a fan of the books and were worried by the Mean Girls-esque advertising, also do not be afraid. Remember that the first book was a little heavier on the humor and school drama than the later books and know that this movie doesn’t pull its punches on blood or fangs or fights.

End Rant. Start Review.

One problem reviewers have had with the movie was with plot exposition, specifically with the explanations of the mythology and everything making sense. Having read the entire series, I can’t speak to the movie’s effectiveness in this regard because I already knew what was going on. It did seem a little clumsy and obvious to me when they were trying to do pure exposition (Rose and Lissa in the first few minutes talking about the car accident, for example). Dialogue was definitely strained somewhat at the beginning because of this need to explain everything, and, as I mentioned, I have no idea if the explanations were actually effective, though it appears from other reviews I’ve seen that it may not have been.

The acting overall seemed pretty good. I thought Zoey Deutch as Rose and Danila Kozlovsky as Dimitri had good chemistry. (Which is the professional sounding way of saying I had a little book-fangirl moment whenever Danila said “Roza”). Lucy Fry was great as Lissa as well, though I thought the character not liking the word “vampire” was strange, and I can’t remember if that was a thing in the book or not. Dominic Sherwood played Christian Ozera, Lissa’s love interest, and I quite enjoyed him. They managed to work in his and Rose’s grudging friendship as well, and I thought it was well done. The only performance I didn’t love was Olga Kurylenko as the headmistress. She was overly bitchy, both in writing and in performance, I think, though it could be just one or the other.

I really don’t know anything about cinematography or special effects, but I didn’t notice anything strange about them or the scoring, which I think is probably a sign that they were well done, or at least done well enough.

There was quite a lot of attempted humor, and it was delivered admirably (much better than I expected from what was selected for the trailer) by Deutch. There were a few jokes that fell quite flat to me, though often that’s a matter of personal preference (if I wasn’t laughing the two girls in front of me usually were). It wasn’t necessarily riotously funny, but it wasn’t a painful attempted-comedic experience either. It seemed to me to be self-aware of its own ridiculousness, which helped it out quite a lot.

On a star rating scale I give it like a 3.5 or a 4 out of 5. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining, and faithful to its source material. That’s all I was really looking for out of it, and I definitely want to see a sequel. If it seems interesting to you, give a shot, and I am pretty confident you won’t be disappointed.

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts #2

Bookish (and Not So Bookish) Thoughts is a weekly meme hosted by Christine at Bookishly Boisterous. I had a lot of fun the last time I wrote one two weeks ago, so I thought I’d give it a try again, since it’s fun, easy and a good way to get me back into writing. I’ve been a little lackluster with the blogging the last week or two.

  • I’ve finished reading some stuff I need to review, but I just haven’t written it yet. I may not get it done, considering life has gotten pretty busy this month. Still, though, I hope to get reviews up on Falling Kingdoms, The Lost Hero, and The Son of Neptune as soon as I can.
  • The Heroes of Olympus series is just as great as I had hoped it would be. I liked the later Percy Jackson books so much in part because the characters aged so well and Heroes of Olympus just continues that.
  • In spite of attempting to reduce the number of books on my to-read pile (which just freaking feel over again), I bought the 2/4 releases Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi and Cress by Marissa Meyer yesterday. So excited for both of them. I am, however, rereading the entire Shatter Me series before I start Ignite Me, just to refresh my brain. I really want to start it right away but I know that if I do, I’ll probably be pretty lost.
  • PS, if you didn’t know already, Tahereh Mafi has a YouTube channel with her husband, Ransom Riggs, that I have been loving. Keep it awkward, make it weird, and definitely check it out.
  • The Super Bowl didn’t go so well last weekend. I had to work that night, so I didn’t get to see any of it, but I had a job interview in downtown Denver Monday morning and I was definitely looking forward to people-watching for aftereffects of the victory party. Didn’t happen, though. Lots of sad faces at the Starbucks I went to.
  • That job interview, however, did go quite well. I have another interview with them next week and a job fair to attend and another interview with a different company after that plus a grad school application to finish with a rapidly approaching hard deadline. Not ready for any of it yet, but that’s what the weekend and Monday are for, I suppose. 😉
  • Seriously though, if I don’t get this job I’ll be so sad. I expect I’ll continue to be less present on my blog the next few weeks as I either spiral into self-pity for a little while over not getting the job or frantically trying to start it while I give notice and finish out my schedule at my current job and pack and try to move and etc, etc.
  • Today I’m procrastinating all that nervousness and the to-do list by going to see the Vampire Academy movie, which released today. I’m only kind of excited about it. They drastically changed the way they advertise it a couple of weeks ago, making it darker and more action-looking. I wish they had done that from the start: the humor looks a little corny, but I will try not to judge too much before I even make it to the theater. I hope so much that it is good and it does well, though I kind of doubt it, since most of the book’s fan base seems to be pretty skeptical.
  • Speaking of movie trailers, another full-length trailer for Divergent came out. It looks like a good movie, but I’m kind of upset with the way it’s portrayed in this trailer:
     Tris isn’t brave because she’s Divergent. She’s brave because she’s Tris. I really hope that’s a simplification for the trailer and not the whole movie because that’s kind of an a very important point about Divergence and personal strength in the books.
  • And, I suppose I should get back to my to-do list before I leave for the movie. Hope you all have a great weekend, and I will be back with some new posts as soon as humanly possible.

Review: And The Mountains Echoed by Kahled Hosseini

And The Mountains Echoed by Kahled Hosseini Published May 2013 by Riverhead 404 Pages (Hardcover)
And The Mountains Echoed by Kahled Hosseini
Published May 2013 by Riverhead
404 Pages (Hardcover)

This was a new and interesting departure from Hosseini’s other two novels. Many elements were the same, of course. The Afghan-centered, decade spanning, family based stories were there, but this is somewhat larger in scope as it spirals out from its central characters to encompass everyone  and everyplace around them. It reads almost like a collection of short stories, though connected ones, and that aspect may have contributed to my feeling it lacked the emotional impact of Hosseini’s other work. It wasn’t all that disappointing though: I still found it poignant and enjoyable to read. 4/5 stars.

Summary

Between the loss of their mother and a somewhat distant relationship with their father and new stepmother Abdullah and Pari are a brother and sister pair with a very close bond. And The Mountains Echoed follows what happens to them from their early years in poverty in a village in 1950’s Afghanistan to the events and the people that separate them throughout the long decades up to today. Each long chapter is a different character’s story, each exploring a unique relationship, often between caretaker and receiver, parent and child, finding new situations in which people help or hurt each other, or, most often, both simultaneously.

Review

And the Mountains Echoed was my January TBR Jar draw. My mom bought it to read herself, and, even though she DNF’d it, I rescued it from her Goodwill purge of our family’s communal bookshelves a few months back. I’m very glad I did, as I enjoyed Hosseini’s storytelling once again, though in its somewhat fragmented style, this book doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch that some scenes in The Kite Runner or even A Thousand Splendid Suns do.

As ever, I love the way Hosseini composes his characters. Not one is perfectly good or perfectly evil. Mostly good characters still have their moments of selfish weakness or are inactive in critical moments where action is required. Mostly bad characters have redeeming qualities or at least something that provokes sympathy for them. They’re all human and they manage to be surprisingly complex, considering that most characters are only around for a few pages at a time.

The perspective changing was something I both liked and didn’t. As I mentioned, it took some of the emotion out of it as it was hard to really latch in to a character when you knew you wouldn’t be reading them for long. It did, however, allow the novel to explore many situations without putting one character through an unrealistic amount of significant events. The majority of the stories focused around the theme of care-giving and the power that people have to harm and help each other, and each one gave a different spin on the theme. A handful of them didn’t seem to jive as well with the others, but mostly, it seemed to work well for the narrative as a whole.

Overall, I liked this a lot and I think it was worth the read. It is a little tough to get into and stick with, especially at first when things start jumping around and you’re not used to it yet. It all comes together at the end for a conclusion that is both moving and brutal in its realism. Realism is the hallmark of the story though, in its complexity and broad, interconnected scope. If you are a fan of Hosseini’s other novels and haven’t yet picked this up, I do think you should give it a shot, though it may not be what you expect. Anyone looking for a well-composed, character-centric contemporary novel will like it as well, so add it to your list.

January Wrap-Up/February TBR

Click the titles for reviews and the covers for Goodreads pages! Books with full reviews here on the blog are marked with a *. All other links redirect to my Goodreads review.

Books I Read in January

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan with photographs by Jonathan Farmer Published 2011 by Knopf Hardcover (245 Pages)LuxLSNYTipping PointTitan's CurseDark Magic CoverEOTW CoverEverybody sees the ants coverBattle of the Labyrinth CoverLast Olympian CoverHeavenOreos CoverAnd The Mountains CoverFalling Kingdoms Cover

*Every You, Every Me* by David Levithan -2.5 Stars

*Obsidian* by Jennifer L. Armentrout-4 Stars

The Last Stand of the New York Institute by Cassandra Clare, Sarah Rees Brennan and Maureen Johnson-4 Stars

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell-3 Stars

*The Titan’s Curse* by Rick Riordan-4 Stars

*City of Dark Magic* by Magnus Flyte-3 Stars

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan-4.5 Stars

*Everybody Sees the Ants* by A.S. King-4.5 Stars

The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan-4 Stars

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan-5 Stars

*Heaven is Paved with Oreos* by Catherine Gilbert Murdock-3.5 Stars

*And The Mountains Echoed* by Kahled Hosseini-4 Stars

Falling Kingdoms by Morgan Rhodes-4 Stars (Review coming soon!)

Every month I try to pick a favorite, and most months, I struggle to choose just one. This month, however, The Percy Jackson series has emerged as my clear favorite. I had so much fun finishing the series and I am enjoying myself reading the Heroes of Olympus as well. Nearly everything was reviewed somewhere, either here or on my Goodreads page, so I won’t go on too much about the other books, and reviews of my most recently read books are coming soon!

February TBR

I have a lot of exciting reading plans for the month, and I’m probably overreaching, but we’ll see what I can get to. I went nuts at the library again this month, plus I have plans to reread a series (hopefully, but probably not) before its final book is released.

2014-01-30 22.21.13

So, Tahereh Mafi’s Ignite Me comes out on the 4th, and I plan to reread Shatter Me, Unravel Me and the novella Destroy Me and then read the second novella Fracture Me and, finally, Ignite Me. I started this series about a year ago and I remember that I liked it a lot, but I don’t feel like I remember enough about the books themselves to jump right into the last one without revisiting them first.

From my local library I have obtained The Lost Hero, The Son of Neptune, and The Mark of Athena, the first three books in the Heroes of Olympus series, all by Rick Riordan. After loving Percy Jackson, I’m very excited to marathon these and then wait eagerly for/cave in and buy House of Hades.

Also from the library, I have obtained the YA dystopia Perfect Ruin by Lauren DeStefano, the epic fantasy The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan (book 2 in the Wheel of Time series), and the adult novels-turned-movies Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

The final Bane Chronicle by Cassandra Clare is out this month as well. The Course of True Love and First Dates is all about Magnus and Alec, so, of course, I’m extremely excited to read this one, though I’ll be sad to see the last of the novellas released. They’ve all be fun, and once I’ve read them all, I’ll have to wait nearly 4 months before I can get another Shadowhunter dose with City of Heavenly Fire.

Rounding out my currently planned TBR for the month is my TBR jar draw: Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. I got this book from my mom, who gave it to me after she finished it. She loved it, and I hope I will as well. Her judgement is usually pretty good, after all. Also, I’m convinced that the jar itself is evil, as it keeps giving me books from the bottom of the pile. Which is no longer a pile, by the way, as it fell completely over as I tried to pull Orphan Train out of there, in a very dangerous game of book Jenga.

Anyway, this means I’ve got 11 books and 3 novellas to read in 28 days. I probably won’t complete it all, but I will try my hardest. What are you planning to read this month?