Wednesday, September 30, 2015

10 Things I Loved About The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester

Pippa, who can read people's pockets; Max, who can throw a knife so accurately it's scary; Sam, the strongest boy in the world; and Thomas, who can bend and fold his body in remarkable ways, all live in Dumfrey's Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. There, among a group of people labeled freaks by society, the four children have found a sort of family in each other. But after Mr. Dumfrey unveils the newest marvel, a shrunken head, a series of horrible tragedies including murder and the theft of the head itself, sets them on the trail of a dangerous criminal as they try to unravel the mystery and save the museum. Can they figure out how to work together to retrieve the skull or will they lose everything they care about?

This book just came out this week, so go to your local book store and get yourself a copy!

Here we go! 10 things I loved about Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H. C. Chester.
  1. The Tone: At the risk of using an over-used comparison, this book had a very Snicket-esque feel to it. Not in the writing style itself. Instead it was more in the sensibility of the story and the plot. It had the quirkiness and the definition of the characters and the utter lack of condescension to the audience.
  2. Pippa, Max, Sam, and Thomas: One thing I particularly enjoyed, was the way the four main characters had such agency. They see something that needs to be done and they do it. I also loved their "freak" traits, especially the way Pippa reads what's in people's pockets rather than their minds in a traditional sense.
  3. The Secondary Characters: There are a lot of secondary characters and some of them are only roughly sketched in, but those sketches are enough to give you a feeling for who they are - they don't feel flat.
  4. The Curiosity House: There's just enough described to give you a good feeling of the setting, which is important for the overall tone and feel of the book, but not too much so it becomes tedious. There's a very real sense of place.
  5. The Sense of Time: I liked that it was set in a historical period, so not only the physical place of the house, but also the sense of time provided a great backdrop for the happenings. It's all woven into the story in a very organic way with all the little historical details adding to the story.
  6. The Mystery: I sort of had a feeling I knew where things were going, but it didn't make the journey any less enjoyable. It was interesting seeing them find their way through all of the twists and turns to figure out what was actually going on.
  7. The Stakes: I'm not trying to diminish stories where the stakes are less physical, but I enjoy when there are significant physical stakes - people's lives in danger, their home literally at risk. It adds something, especially when there are also emotional and mental issues at stake as well. The combination of the two sides make the story more intense for me.
  8. The Villain: I liked that there was an actual, physical villain - someone actually against the children. Though the villain isn't revealed until basically the end, I like that there is so much potential for future books.
  9. The Artwork: I didn't even get to see all of it, because this is the Advanced Reader Copy, but what was there was so interesting and so beautiful. I liked the chapter headings, but I did wish that they corresponded better with the POV of the chapter. It sort of switches between silhouettes of Max and Pippa, but not straight back and forth so I was a little confused, and the chapters include Sam and Thomas' perspectives as well, but there weren't silhouettes of the boys. Maybe that's something that will be different in the final copy, but I found it a little distracting (though pretty).
  10. There's More! At least I'm assuming so, since it leaves us hanging at the end! (that and it's listed as #1 on GoodReads) I want to know what happens next!
I received this Advance Reader's Edition via BookExpo America

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Once Upon a Time - The Dark Swan

And we're back! Woohoo! Let's jump into the season premiere!

5.1 "The Dark Swan"

Tonight - well, tonight Emma faced the fact that she had become the Dark One. And fought against it as best she could while running around with Merida and trying not to listen to the creepy Rumple voice in her head. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang tried to figure out how to get back to the Enchanted Forest to help her (which involved a rather unconvincing set of plots involving Zelena). Oh, and of course, we discover that the dagger is actually part of Excalibur. Because why not.

So now we have lost time again, with a six week gap of memory loss to ensure the ability to have flashbacks. Because that's how Once rolls.

I thought Emma's costume was interesting - sort of faded, old and scraggly looking, which I guess was a reflection of her wavering in accepting her role as Dark One, yet not being the Savior anymore. I expected a bit more of her Dark One costume at the end though. It's a bit austere between the simplicity and the severeness of her hair. Also, not quite sure what I think about the rather dead way she's playing the Dark One. At least Rumple's Dark One had some pizzazz (a word that here means a creepy and annoying giggle and glittery skin) (sorry, I've been listening to A Series of Unfortunate Events recently and may be channeling a little Lemony Snicket).

It's really too bad they couldn't have sent Zelena to Oz before heading off to the Enchanted Forest. I'm so over that story line. And very much over her. Which I'm sure comes as a shock to anyone who has read any of my recaps from last season.

I found the various plots and intrigues around setting her free, tricking her into creating the portal and then recapturing her, etc to be a bit odd. And a bit too easy.

However! I love Killian and Henry plotting together, so let's have a lot more of that shall we thank you very much.

And how very excited was I when Leroy stormed into Granny's demanding to be part of the excursion? Yes! There needs to be much more of the tertiary characters. There has certainly not been enough of Grumpy Leroy.

I definitely agreed with Emma's decision to give the dagger to Regina. Honestly, probably one of the best choices she could have made. Because, even with all of the change for the better, Regina still has enough of the evil edge. However, it doesn't seem to have worked all that well. Let's see how Emma got it back.

And speaking of the dagger ... IT'S PART OF EXCALIBUR? WHAT?

Quick question, why is Camelot in the Enchanted Forest - shouldn't it be in a different realm? Sometimes I'm not quite sure I understand the world logic on this show. Such as Brave also existing in the Enchanted Forest. What. I'm perfectly happy for all of those different things to exist in the world, but they shouldn't all exist in the same realm technically. I would think. But whatever.

A couple of other random thoughts:

Why is Emma's group going into the movie when it's basically over? I will never understand why this happens so often in tv shows. If someone is taking you to a movie, you don't show up for the last 10 minutes. That just doesn't make sense.

I love that Sneezy made himself sheriff by wearing Emma's coat.

Lancelot's delivery of the line "Your turn" after Sir Kay poofed into dust was perfect and hilarious.

Regina's snark game remained strong in this episode providing my three favorite one-liners.

When referring to the item significant to Emma: "I couldn't very well carry her yellow bug."

Talking about Emma being whisked away: "It's not like she rode off on a unicorn."

Any my personal favorite for the night to Hook as he held the dagger: "Put that thing down before you hurt yourself, Guyliner"

An interesting episode that sets up an interesting season, or at least half a season. I'm really curious as to whether Merida's story line will cross into theirs again or if it was a one time thing because they could. I'm hoping it was more than that, but not holding my breath. Also hoping Emma's Dark One gets a bit more ... Dark One-ish rather than cold fish-ish.

What did you think? I'd love to hear your take in the comments!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

What I'm Reading Now: September Edition

Can it be September already? School has started and I'm heading into the thick of things, but I'm still making time to read of course. Here's a snapshot of my currently read pile. I'd love to hear about what you're reading right now too!

On my Nook: The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang - I've been wanting to get to these for a long time and I'm really enjoying it. I may even get my NaNoWriMo idea out of one of these fairy tales.

On my Phone: A Medicine for Melancholy and Other Stories by Ray Bradbury - I've only read a couple. Good, but so far I liked the stories in The Illustrated Man better.

In Print - Fiction: The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands - Loving this one. I can't wait to see what happens. Sands is doing a great job of weaving in the historical context without overwhelming the reader.

In Print - Non-Fiction: Still making my way through The Madwoman in the Attic. It's good, but long.
On Audio in my Car: Finally doing my reread of The Series of Unfortunate Events and I've made it to The Miserable Mill, the 4th book in the series. This one has always been my least favorite, but I still love this series so very much. And having Lemony Snicket or Tim Curry narrating makes it even better.

On TV: I'm really looking forward to the new seasons starting up in the next couple of weeks! But one of my favorites just started on Saturday: Doctor Who. Can't wait to see what hijinks Twelve and Clara get up to.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Little Lit: Armada by Ernest Cline

Zack's got a pretty normal life. He's finishing high school, hanging with his friends the two Mikes, and playing video games during his spare time. Then he sees a space ship outside the school window and think he might be going crazy. Until he finds out that the video game has actually just been a preparation for the real threat. And Zack and the other leaders on the game board might be earth's best chance at survival.

What I Liked:

  • I just love Cline's writing style. I love the way he puts words together. If you aren't a fan of his style, this story doesn't subsume the style the way I think Ready Player One did, but if you are, then you'll enjoy this.
  • The geeky references. Yes, they are copious. Yes, they are on pretty much every page. And yes, I loved pretty much every single one.
  • I'm not even sure how to phrase this, except by responding to some criticism I saw - I've seen a number of people complain that this book is just derivative of dozens of other books or movies. What I liked is that this is the exact point of the plot of the book. The point is that it is derivative. There's a purpose for that. I thought it was very clever and entertaining that Cline even has his characters basically make this criticism about their circumstances. It's very self-aware of what it is and embraces that whole-heartedly, which is what makes it work, in my opinion.
  • The plot. This is a plot driven book. I found that it pulled me in and kept me engaged to find out what would happen. The characters are sort of secondary, but for some reason, this worked for this book.
  • The world building was really fascinating to me this time. In Ready Player One, the story is set in a future dystopic world. Plus there's the development of all of the virtual worlds as well. Here it's set in our world, but not quite. Which to me seems like it would be much harder to write, because everything's familiar, but not really exactly familiar. It gave everything a slightly ... off (for lack of a better word) feeling, like everything was just a hair off-kilter, even before you get to the alien ships, etc.
What I Would Have Liked:
  • Having said that, I would have liked it if the characters were a little better developed. There was so much fantastic potential with many of these characters, but the heavy focus on the plot left many (especially most of the secondary characters) feeling rather flat. Even the main character didn't capture me the way the protagonist of Ready Player One did.
  • The female characters were slightly disappointing to me too. They felt more caricatured to me than some of (though not all of) the guys did. Again, a lot of potential if a little more time had been spent on character development.
  • The ending felt pretty rushed to me, with a hair too much telling rather than showing. I was initially dissatisfied with the ending altogether, but the more I've thought about it, the more I think it was done completely intentionally to leave everything feeling just a little off.
  • A really fun, tilt-a-whirl adventure, peppered with pop culture and sci-fi references.
  • Don't expect Ready Player One, but Cline still delivers an entertaining, self-aware story that hurtles towards an inevitable and yet, somehow unexpected ending.
I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book via BookExpo America