Wednesday, May 27, 2015

What I'm Reading Now: May Edition

This has been a stellar month for reading for me. And I'm reading some great books right now, so here's a sneak peek.

On my Nook: The Art of War by Sun Tzu, translated by Lionel Giles - This was next up on my journey through the alphabet and I'm enjoying it a lot more than I anticipated. I think any author who is going to have battles or fighting or armies or anything like that in their novels should read this.

On my phone: Darker Days by Jus Accardo - I literally just started this, so I really don't know how I feel, except I'm hoping the profanity calms down. 2 pages in and already a good handful of expletives. That is one of the only things that can make me walk away from a book without finishing it. However, the premise of an agency that handles the supernatural (such as zombies) has me intrigued enough to push forward a little bit further.

In print - fiction: Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ahihara - Picked these up at my local library because I was looking for a new manga to dive into. The "sand" part of the title refers to an hourglass and the passing of time - past, present, future - which is the theme that drives the narrative. The purpose of the series is to trace the lives of these characters through their teen years. The characters are clear and well-developed and some pretty serious real-life issues are being handled. I'm curious to see where they go.

In print - non-fiction: Not That It Matters by A.A. Milne - I discovered a bunch of books of Milne's essays at the library where I work and was literally dancing in the aisles. Best known for Winnie-the-Pooh, Milne also wrote humorous essays that are absolutely fantastic. If you want to read some without going out to find a book, check out these essays on Quotidiana. They're funny and heartwarming and just really good reads.

On audio in my car: Labyrinth by Kate Mosse - This is ... interesting. I don't think I would have pushed through this if I was reading it in print, but the audio keeps me going. It weaves together the lives of people centuries apart around the narrative of the Grail - and this isn't the Indiana Jones cup you're thinking of. Basically it's a Grail quest with women at the center of the story. Interesting, if not my normal cup of tea.

On TV: I'm still working my way through Buffy and Angel and thoroughly enjoying them. There's so much I don't remember from my first viewing!
How about you? Reading anything good?

Monday, May 25, 2015

Are you ready for some BEA fun?

This week Rebecca T and Jenn N are on their way to the Big Apple for the Bloggers' Conference and Book Expo America!

We're pretty excited.

Rebecca T plans to run another edition of our BEA Superlatives on our Instagram and Jenn N is usually posting stuff to our Twitter, so feel free to follow along either to live vicariously (if you can't make it yourself) or to join in the fun with us!

And if you're going to be there, I hope we get a chance to say hello! Here's to a fantastic Book Expo. We're looking forward to all the new books we'll learn about.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

10 Things I Loved About The Young World by Chris Weitz

A sickness has swept across the globe killing all adults and little kids. In the time that has followed teens have found different ways to adapt, but when they turn 18 the sickness overwhelms then and they're dead within days or even hours. A group of teens have set up a workable community in Washington Square. Jefferson finds himself in charge after the death of his brother so when Brain Box thinks he might have a lead on finding out what really happened the two of them, along with Donna, Peter, and See Through head out to face the wilds of New York City. As they encounter other bands of teens who have found various ways to survive, they get closer to the truth. But are any of them prepared to face what's coming to find them?

  1. The world - The way that the different groups have adapted to living on their own and developed very different ecosystems and means of survival felt so realistic. I really appreciated that there were so many different types of systems as well - that they had developed differently depending on a variety of factors.
  2. Donna - I loved Donna. So much. And it's something I don't know if I would have realized even a few months ago. But I loved the fact that she was the smart mouthed, brash, snarky voice while Jefferson was the more thoughtful, calm, and sensitive voice (more about Jefferson in a minute). I hadn't realized how often it's the other way around until I saw it flipped. I also loved that she didn't lose her femininity. She wasn't "butch." Just snarky and a little harsh and very much a young woman. Also a virgin (can we talk about how rare those are getting to be in YA fiction? but that's another post altogether). She felt so vividly real. I also loved the way she narrated in dialog tags with less description. For me it just fit her character and added to who she was and how she thought.
  3. Jefferson - I also really love Jefferson's character. I appreciated the way he felt conflicted in his feelings for Donna, the way he wanted to lead to support his brother's memory, but also wasn't sure that he was the best one to do it. I liked the way he was the more rational, calm person of the group but also could be forceful and was the natural spokesperson for the group at most times. He's also super socially awkward at times, especially around Donna, and I found it hilarious and endearing.
  4. The secondary characters - each of them were different, diverse, and added to the narrative. I particularly found Brain Box to be a fascinating character and would have liked to see more from him!
  5. The premise - This book was a great example of how to weave in large chunks of exposition without dragging down the story. It's not a new premise - mysterious illness wipes out huge chunks of the population, the few survivors strive to find a cure to save humanity - but Weitz's execution of that premise is so fascinating and well done.
  6. The time - closely related to the premise, but a separate point. I really liked the way that this was set only a couple years after the end of civilization rather than decades. For me it made the book much more immediate (though I would imagine that in a decade or so it will read as very dated because of all the pop culture references).
  7. The language - as I said above, not that much time has passed, so there aren't huge numbers of strange words or new syntax, but there are differences that have developed between the different clans. I also really liked the way both Donna and Jeff would just say "after it happened" or "before it." I don't know if "it" was actually italicized as I listened to this on audio, but I could hear it and it made sense that they would not have labeled the sickness since they didn't really know what had happened and they weren't scientists.
  8. The narrators - as I said in the previous point I listened to this on audio and the narrators did a fantastic job of bringing the world and the characters to life. A narrator can make or break a narrative, and when you have more than one you have twice the opportunity for things to go wrong, but both José Julián and Spencer Locke did a wonderful job.
  9. The diversity - With We Need Diverse Books on my radar, I really appreciated the variety of ethnicities portrayed in the book, both in main and secondary characters. And it never felt like token or lip service. They just aren't only white - totally accurate for New York City and sad that it was so refreshing to find.
  10. The ending - Talk about a cliffhanger! It was a perfect ending to the story, bringing some closure while opening up a huge twist making the next book an absolute must read! Now to wait for the release of The New Order.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Once Upon a Time - Operation Mongoose

4.22 & 23 "Operation Mongoose"

Wow. Just. Wow.

This was, as people were predicting, in many ways a giant fanfic piece. We got to see the alternates of people in The Author's new world and man do I have some thoughts about how some of that shook out. Plus we got to see Henry finally step up and take his place. And I'm not just talking about him being the next Author. He takes center stage, as was also predicted given the name of the episode, and leads much of the action. Finally finally. And even after the alternate universe is made right we see more reversals, twists, and turns and a fascinating set up for next season.

I don't even know where to start. Okay.

Since I've already started to some extent, can I just say how very very happy I was to get such a Henry-centric episode? He's had far too little screen time lately. Perhaps it's because the actor is growing faster than the character (and I really wish they'd taken advantage of the whole Never Land excursion to explain that), but he's really the one who started this all. As important as Emma and Regina and all the other characters are, it's Henry who got the ball rolling and here's hoping he hasn't forfeited his place in the center by refusing to allow the power of the quill seduce him.

There were just so many YES HENRY moments. He put his grandfather's sword training to good use, knocks out a dragon woman, frees Hook, rescues his mother, turns his adoptive mother's life around, and finally, when he has the power to do anything to help those he loves or punish those who threaten them he gives it up. With barely a pause. There isn't another character on this show who would have made that decision so quickly and so decisively.

I was really afraid that they were going to kill Henry off, and I had posited to myself, yelling at the screen, while my upstairs neighbor is probably wondering what on earth is going on, that Regina would save the day, not by going to Robin, but by showing her love for Henry. Which she did.

However, I was thinking that maybe Henry would kiss her on the forehead a la Emma in S1 (that was S1, right?) when she kissed Henry and broke the spell (wow that was so long ago). I totally didn't see it coming that Henry would be the next Author, but it makes SO much sense. He's the one who took the book seriously. He's the one who figured out the curse long before anyone else. He's the one who convinced Emma that she was the Savior. So of course it makes sense that he's the Author.

I do have to wonder, though, if he can really break the power of the Author so easily. Surely there will be other quills. And if he doesn't chronicle what happens, will their stories begin to fade? Or does it just mean that they will truly have to make their own futures? And really, that's where so many signs have been pointing since the beginning of the show.

I've even said it here, maybe even a little ad nauseum - being a hero or a villain is dependent on your choices.

Let's begin with the interesting set up of this alternate world The Author created. The way these alternate lives played out sheds some interesting light on our characters.

Some of the reversals are obvious - in this world Snow and Regina have basically traded places (though I'm not really sure how Regina could have betrayed Snow when Regina was a child since Snow is younger... but hey, it's created, so I guess they can do whatever they want). Snow as the evil queen was done really well. I loved that her wardrobe and behavior, while villainous, were still her. They didn't try to make her be Regina, just an evil version of herself. Just as Regina (though dressed in a very Snow the Outlaw way) is a better version of herself.

I do have to break in here though and say what the hey was going on with Snow's hair? Really?

What I found interesting is that David was basically still a good guy, but under compulsion from Snow. Why not just make him bad? Because they make it really clear that the reason Snow feels like her life is ruined is because David just isn't cold or evil enough. The only way she can get him to be her toady is to literally rip out his heart. (Aside: I loved the way they twisted the "I will always find you" line. Brilliant.) I would put David forward as Exhibit A that this isn't just a "heroes become villains; villains become heroes" reversal. It's completely about the heroes not getting their happy endings. And what could be worse for David than to be with Snow and not love or be loved by her?

Exhibit B: Regina and Hook - they're both miserable and both as far from getting a happy ending as they could possibly be. Regina is placed in the hero's role, yet still kept away from her happy ending. And Hook is so far away from the man he became that he's neither hero nor villain - he's a weak deck hand who cowers before Blackbeard. No happy ending in sight - not even the captain of his own ship.

So, if in this world, the heroes are not allowed to have their happy ending and the villains are, does that mean Regina and Killian are heroes? I would argue very much yes. And the proof is Rumple.

Exhibit C: Rumple is the only "villain" left. He's the only one, the ONLY one, in this alternate reality to have his happy ending. Now, you could argue that this is because Rumple is now, quite literally, the knight in shining armor riding in on his white horse. But everything about him feels fake. From his name ("the light one"? Really?), to his perfect life with Belle and new child, to his memories of Baelfire. It's too good to be true and he knows it. But, as Belle points out to him at the end of the episode, it was all real - his choices are what destroyed it. Every time. He had Belle, but his inability to believe that he was worth love and his eternal grasping for power over love destroyed his happiness. And even in this alternate world where he is literally the hero and has everything he could ever want, the fear of losing his power and his identity sends him into a spiral down the very path he wrote himself out of. He chooses power over people.

Snow hits the nail on the head when she says villains "make themselves happy at the expense of others, but that just makes them more unhappy." Belle even tells Rumple that she doesn't love Will (and many Rumbelle sighs of relief were heard), but he's made his decision. Over. And over. He's blackened his heart beyond redemption, choosing even in his last few days to destroy everyone else's happiness to grasp at his own. Magic can't create happiness. Power alone will never create a happy ending.

Regina and Killian are the ones showing the way forward. And actually Ursula and Maleficent are illustrations of this as well. You don't need an Author to change the way things work - you just have to become a hero instead of a villain. This is why Rumple is continually thwarted - because, even with some of the good choices he has made, he still behaves and inhabits the world of a villain. He still chooses power (even now in all his manipulations to get the author) over people, whereas Regina and Killian have started choosing to do right by the people in their lives even if it means losing some of their power and what they're discovering is that they're gaining a different type of power - the power of relationships, friendship, and love. Which will always defeat self-serving power. And this is why their happy endings are coming around. It might be taking time (like with Regina), but even if she hadn't started searching after the Author things very likely would have worked out to get Robin back. And Hook and Emma, well, they've certainly been heading in the right direction and Snow and David certainly went through their share of trials, but their happy ending is loving each other and Emma finally articulating her love cements what she and Killian have and places him firmly in the roll of hero.

And speaking of soul mates, seeing Regina and Robin's instant connection was sweet, though I think I threw up a little when Zelena showed up. Ahem. That glance they shared at the door of the church was perfect. Just as it was perfect for Regina to throw aside her own chance at happiness to save Henry (which is why I really think that should have broken the curse).

And while I'm on that note, I liked that Regina said her happy ending was not a man. Yes. BUT I also loved the way Emma countered that by saying, it's true, but LOVE. Love is essential to a happy ending (another reason her sacrifice for Henry should have BROKEN THE CURSE).

But Emma and Killian *sigh* The look on both of their faces when they bump into each other in the hall. Hers of just a perfect sense of rightness - he is a bit part of her happy ending and she realizes that she has to admit it to him. She has to say it out loud (though it certainly took her long enough). And his face as he meets her for the "first" time and his wonder and very quickly determined decision that she is worth trusting. That he can sacrifice himself for her because she is worth it.

And in the real world, how adorable was it that it was Hook who knew exactly where Henry's bookbag was?

Jumping back to Rumple for a minute, what does it mean that his heart is glowy white now? Will he come back? Will he still be Rumple? Will his character have some actual growth? I don't want a fake, he's all good now because magic sucked out all of his darkness Rumple. I want his redemption to be earned, not given. Or maybe he'll be a blank slate and the question will be, can he make the right decisions this time or will his fear and cowardice get the better of him yet again? If he has Belle from the start, will it make a difference?  In his last moment, his decision to keep Belle safe and try to warn everyone of what was coming bodes well for things and it will be interesting to see what happens next season. I do wonder, though, (as many angry fans on the interwebs are wondering) why Belle gets such short shrift on this show. And why nobody thought to try True Love's Kiss except for with Regina and Robin. No one suggested it as Regina was dying (even with both Henry and Robin leaning over her) and no one even started to think about it with Rumple and Belle (though I understand that one more, since Rumple is still painting himself as a villain, though why Belle didn't think to give it a shot I'm not sure).

And one last question/thought - Honestly, dead is never dead on this show. The list of people who have died and come back is pretty much the entire cast. So why the hammering over and over that Neal is gone. Dead and gone. Can't ever come back. That's just stupid. ??? Why is this one character the only one that can't come back? I really would love for there to be a bigger answer there.

And now for some random thoughts and highlights:

Isn't this seriously every writer's dream? To get a letter from a publisher and then be offered the power and magic to travel between realms and literally write history?
I also loved that, even though he had written the book, the Author kept getting completely trampled in it. And screwing up his own story line by trying to "fix" it. It makes me wonder how many authors would survive if they got sucked into their own stories? There's a fun idea for a book. Someone write it.

Cute Tinker Bell garden spike.

GRUMPY. There has been a distinct lack of good Grumpy scenes. And Granny's dress was amazing.

Poor Doc. I do have to say, though, that it's hard to take anything seriously when it's an alternate reality, because they can kill whoever they want because they can fix it all at the end. But it is strangely ... not enjoyable, but something close to it to see a favorite character sacrifice themselves when you know it's not real.

Emma is still doing the EPIC MAGIC CASTING STANCE. Makes me giggle every time.

And the finale leaves us with 3 new challenges for next season. And they're good ones.

1. Who is Lily's father? (and where is Maleficent? Oddly missing in this finale)

2. Merlin is real and the Sorcerer and the only way to defeat the Dark One. And of course he's far, far away. ROAD TRIP.

3. I'm weirdly excited to see Emma as the Dark One. It'll be interesting to see her as a different character. I'm excited to see how things will play out with her and Killian and her and Henry. And I also have one burning question: Will her skin get all glittery?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Once Upon a Time - Mother

4.21 "Mother"

Tonight was all about mothers and daughters. Maleficent is finally reunited with Lily, Regina deals with Cora in the flashback, and of course Emma comes head to head with her feelings toward Snow. Though both her parents betrayed her, Snow seems to be more affected than David. Cora sums it all up when she tells Nottingham, "The things we do for our children." That's what this all comes down to. What will a mother do for her child (or, in the case of Zelena or Cora, what will a mother do with her child...)

I did feel like the flashback was a bit contrived with having Cora miraculously come back to try to help Regina. Sometimes it seems like they come up with a larger theme and then devise a flashback that will fit with that. Not always, but sometimes it seems a lot more forced than others.

But oh, Regina. Sterilizing yourself to spite your mother? It was so good to see her taking that last step to realize that you are ultimately the one responsible for your own happy ending. All the magic in the world can't make that happen (though some people are certainly given a leg up with magic and fate or destiny or what have you).

Maleficent and Lily show this as well. Here is Lily, filled with all the potential darkness that should have been Emma's, but Emma certainly made her share of bad decisions and dark doings and Lily has, in her own way, fought against the evil that has seemed to trail her all her life.

I have to say that once again the casting has been phenomenal. Lily really looks like Maleficent (though someone please lighten up on Maleficent's makeup. She looks ridiculous).

However, it doesn't make any sense for Lily to be trying to just leave town. I mean, she's been plotting her revenge for years and years. At the first moment of her mother not being on board, she's just going to hop on the bus? Totally doesn't make any sense. Though I did love that the bus stop was in front of Dark Star Pharmacy. Ha. Haha.

And of course, Lily can change into a dragon. Makes sense. Though why were the Charmings charging toward the Storybrooke border when they ran into Lily? Wouldn't Maleficent dust if she left? Where were they going? And what on earth did Snow think she was going to be able to do, charging a dragon like that. Just stupid.

Am I the only one wondering why they're just letting Rumple wander around free? And I'm not sure I understand the difference between Rumple and the Dark One. Is there some sort of duel personality going on there? How can the one exist without the other?

The Author was being far too much of a suck up. I totally didn't trust him at all. I still don't trust him. He just enjoys causing havoc. Who knows what he's going to do now that he's got the ink.

But how adorable was Killian with the giving of all the good advice and being so sweet and caring and taking care of Emma's heart even in matters not related to the two of them?

Happy endings do seem to focus around the girl finding her "prince charming" type person as Zelena pointed out. And I thought it was interesting that they addressed that. I mean, fairy tales do kind of focus around that, so it's understandable why there is so much focus on that. But it also makes Maleficent stand out because her happy ending was getting her daughter back rather than romantic love.

An interesting finale set up here. Not quite the rousing penultimate episode there often is, but a thoughtful, relationship focused one that does line us up for some interesting clashes in the final episode next week.