April 29, 2016

Event Report: Maggie Stiefvater at Blue Willow

The Raven King I went to see Maggie Stiefvater for the third time at Blue Willow Bookshop last night.  It was her second stop of THE RAVEN KING tour, and I've been excited about this event for awhile.  I love this series, and everyone I talk books with has been buzzing about it since bookstores put it on sale early.

Getting there was a nightmare.  It normally takes me around 45 extra minutes with rush hour traffic; today it took me more than two hours due to rush hour traffic and construction.  I arrived after the stated event start time, but before Stiefvater started talking.

The really, really bad?  Blue Willow sold out of the book.  They had five colors of line ticket for preorders, and said there were about 20 per group.  With 100 preorders, I would think they would have ordered more copies.  (It seemed like maybe 20 day of people got a copy, although it was hard to tell how many people in line got a copy and how many didn't.)  I was far from the only one who didn't get a book.  Some bought backlist, some ordered a copy to come in later, but I'm sure the bookstore lost a bunch of sales.  And yes, I could have preordered, but I go to a ton of book signings and have absolutely never been unable to buy the book.  I love Blue Willow and think they bring a lot of great events to the community, but I was hugely disappointed.

Sometimes Blue Willow has events off site, and I think they should have done that last night as well.  The bookstore was packed.  Everyone had to shuffle tighter together every time someone else showed up for the event.

The good: Stiefvater was hilarious.  I love seeing her talk.  She gave several different anecdotes about her average workday, and explained how she wasn't responsible for John Green setting himself on fire.  I also met some cool people while waiting in line to get my copy of BLUE LILY, LILY BLUE signed.  (And hey, she recognized me!)

Next Thursday, May 5, the Fierce Reads tour will be at Blue Willow.  I'll miss it due to my prior commitment to Captain America: Civil War, but right now I feel less bad about missing it that I would have before.

April 18, 2016

Excerpt: The Books of Ore

Waybound Cam Baity and Benny Zelkowicz are excited that their Second Book of Ore novel, WAYBOUND, is now available from Disney-Hyperion!

Both authors got their start in film.

Cam Baity is an Emmy Award-winning animator, and his short films have screened around the world, including at Anima Mundi in Brazil and the BBC British Short Film Festival. His credits include major motion pictures like The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, and popular television shows such as Robot Chicken.

Benny Zelkowicz studied animation at CalArts and made the award winning film, The ErlKing. He worked on The LEGO Movie as well as several TV shows including Robot Chicken and Moral Orel.

Check out the blurb for WAYBOUND:

Phoebe Plumm and Micah Tanner are a long way from home and entrenched in a struggle with no end in sight. The Foundry, an all-powerful company that profits off the living metal creatures of Mehk, is unleashing a wave of devastating attacks to crush the rebel army of mehkans known as the Covenant and capture Phoebe and Micah, dead or alive. But the Covenant believes that their ancient god, Makina, has chosen Phoebe for a sacred task: to seek the Occulyth, a mysterious object they hope can turn the tide against the Foundry. With her father gone, Phoebe's once unshakable determination is broken, and while Micah tries to uphold the vow he made to protect her no matter the cost, their enemies are closing in and time is running out. 
To celebrate, I am pleased to share an excerpt from the first volume of the trilogy, THE  FOUNDRY'S EDGE.  What is it about, you ask?

For Phoebe Plumm, life in affluent Meridian revolves around trading pranks with irksome servant Micah Tanner, and waiting for her world-renowned father, Dr. Jules Plumm, to return home. Chief engineer for The Foundry, a global corporation with an absolute monopoly on metal production and technology, Phoebe's father is often absent for months at a time. But when a sudden and unexpected reunion leads to father and daughter being abducted, Phoebe and would-be rescuer Micah find themselves stranded in a stunning yet volatile world of living metal-one that has been ruthlessly plundered by The Foundry for centuries and is the secret source of every comfort and innovation the two refugees have ever known.

Take a look!

The Foundry's Edge She hefted open the great front doors and hurried down the wide slab steps. On the hammered-steel driveway below, Tennyson the chauffeur was finishing up a quick polish of the long, smoke-gray Baronet with his chamois.

The Plumms had seven Auto-mobiles in all. Phoebe’s favorite was the classic, electric-blue Flashback her dad had named Shameless. Tennyson, however, preferred the Baronet, which was the largest and most impressive of the collection. It was a silver arrow of aerodynamic design, with sweeping fenders whose curves reminded Phoebe of brushstrokes. Parallel grooves ran along the body, giving the impression that the Auto-mobile was speeding, even when it was at rest. The Baronet was quite a sight, but it was no match for Shameless.

April 13, 2016

Review: Nightstruck

Nightstruck First in a series
By Jenna Black
Available now from Tor Teen (Macmillan)
Review copy

One night, Becket hears a baby crying in a dark alley. Despite her misgivings, she goes to help the baby.  But the baby isn't human.  And ever since that night, strange things have been happening in the city of Philadelphia after dark.  Statues and other inanimate are coming to life.  People are dying.

NIGHTSTRUCK starts creepy and ramps up the horror as the story continues.  This is the first in a series, and fairly light on plot.  Becket has a rocky relationship with her best friend Piper and gets closer to her crush and neighbor (and Piper's boyfriend) Luke.  The focus is on them living under siege, the way the escalating threats sap at their will.  Becket knows the night wants her, and she's tempted to let it take her to make the awfulness stop.  (Even if it won't stop, not really.)

The revelation of just who is attacking Earth and why is left to future novels, but enough is revealed to make it clear that the larger picture will be explored throughout the series.  But NIGHTSTRUCK is a small story, focused solely on Becket, her loved ones, and her city.

And did I mention it is creepy?  I am going to be staying away from grates for awhile.

As far as the romance goes, I fear a love triangle in the future, but I did like Luke.  There's little conflict to their romance aside from his dwindling attachment to Piper.  He's a nice, steady boy and they like each other.  A little more passion might've been nice.

I think NIGHTSTRUCK could have used a bit more plot, but that the atmosphere sold it.  It felt very much like a prelude, but it did its job: I'm ready for the show.

April 11, 2016

Movie Monday: Green Room

Punk-rock band The Ain't Rights are trying to figure out how to get home on one tank of gas when their last show falls through, but their host has a solution for them: they can play at this club his cousin goes to.  Just don't mention politics.  The band is pretty nonplussed by the crowd, but not enough that they don't play a prank on the Neo Nazis.  Still, things don't start to go wrong until after the show.  There's a dead girl backstage, and the band has seen it.  Soon enough they're holed up in the green room, waiting for help to come.

GREEN ROOM is a tense thriller that builds the tension naturally.  At the beginning, it's clear that both sides think the standoff will be over quickly.  Amber (Imogen Poots), the friend of the dead girl, and the band are all pretty resourceful.  I really enjoyed that they were scared, in over their heads, outnumbered and outgunned, but still able to come up with some pretty smart moves.  They aren't just a bunch of fodder for gory ends.  (Not that none of them meet gory ends.)

The gore in GREEN ROOM is intense, but used sparingly.  From the first shocking injury to the last, I still jumped.  The movie didn't stop surprising me as it went on.  I was not surprised, however, by Amber.  I do enjoy a character determined to survive a horror movie however they have to.  Honestly, I liked all the protagonists pretty well.

The antagonists are well acted too.  Patrick Stewart lends his considerable gravitas to the role of their leader, Darcy.  His quiet, calm manner no matter how awry things go did convince me that he was a man people would follow despite the heinousness of his orders.  Macon Blair brings a surprising amount of humanity to henchman Gabe, who gets the best line of the movie.  (I won't give it away.)

Director Jeremy Saulnier has truly made a horror film with a punk-rock sensibility.  It's visceral, but what makes it most terrifying is how stripped down it is.  There are no monsters.  There are barely even guns.  One of the worst injuries in the film is caused by a door.  And, well, there are Neo Nazis in Oregon, and that is scary.  GREEN ROOM got under my skin in the best way.  This is a horror movie with a brain.

April 8, 2016

Review: Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge: A Singaporean Mystery

Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge Book three of the Aunty Lee mysteries
By Ovidia Yu
Available now from William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Review copy

I have not read the first two Aunty Lee mysteries, but Ovidia Yu does a thorough job of catching new readers up to the cast and setting.  AUNTY LEE'S CHILLED REVENGE is loaded with details about Singaporean culture, including the food, attitudes toward family and marriage, and perception of immigrants.  I don't know how much of this information was familiar to readers of the first two books, but I found it fascinating.

Aunty Lee is a nosy old lady in the vein of Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher.  Her restaurant is very successful, with her biggest complaint being either her employee trying to monetize it further or an in-law trying to take it over far before Aunty Lee is ready to hand over the reins.   A recent foot injury set her back, but she's ready to start snooping again.  Especially since the perfect situation fell in her lap: three old friends met up in her restaurant to speak to the woman planning to sue them when news arrived of the woman's death.

Allison Love was an ex-pat driven from the country by cyberbulling.  She'd come back for monetary revenge, but now all that is left is three people with strong motives and a sister who needs a place to stay.  And of course Aunty Lee is willing to take her in, both out of kindness and a desire to get closer to the case.

I figured out part of the solution before the end, but didn't solve the entire mystery because I thought that was it.  I think it was clever of Yu to make half of the mystery more obvious than the other.  I also liked how Yu treated her characters with equanimity.  Through Aunty Lee's eyes, even the most obnoxious characters are judged with mercy.  Aunty Lee tries not to attribute malice, even as she seeks it out.

I sometimes found that AUNTY LEE'S CHILLED REVENGE read more like a travelogue than a mystery novel, but I didn't entirely mind that feature.  This is a wonderful read for anyone who likes old ladies who are just as clever as they should be.

April 6, 2016

Review: How Many Letters Are In Goodbye?

How Many Letters Are in Goodbye? By Yvonne Cassidy
Available now from Flux
Review copy

HOW MANY LETTERS ARE IN GOODBYE? was originally published in Ireland in 2014, but Flux has now brought it to the USA.  It is the story of Rhea Farrell, who is homeless in New York when the story starts.  She moved to Florida to live with her aunt's family after her father died, but was kicked out.

The story is told in letters to Rhea's mother, who drowned when Rhea was very young.  This conceit did not work well from me, since the letters are usually very exact renditions of events (albeit through Rhea's biased point of view), complete with long passages of dialogue.  There's no commitment to the form.  Short letters between the narrative might've gotten the same point across and been more believable.

I did find the narrative compelling.  Rhea is highly annoying in her self-absorption: everything is about her, even when other characters are telling her it isn't.  At the same time, I understood why she was messed up.  She lost an arm in an accident as a child, her mother drowned, her father was an alcoholic, and her first serious relationship ended with her getting kicked out of the house because it was with a girl.  I thought it was wonderful that she got actual therapy.  But Rhea's journey wasn't always an easy one to read.

Part of that is because Yvonne Cassidy knows how to write secondary characters who are clearly the heroes of their own story.  I particularly missed her friend Sergei when he exited her life.  He was a hustler in a relationship with a cheating, abusive man who Rhea encouraged him to stay with so they could live in his apartment.  I got why their relationship ended, but I did hope for reconciliation once Rhea got some perspective.

HOW MANY LETTERS ARE IN GOODBYE? is a very weighty book.  It's got suicide, alcoholism, teen homelessness, teen prostitution, domestic abuse, coming out going terribly awry - and it definitely aims to tug at the heartstrings in many parts.  I thought it was a very realistic portrait of a teen girl who was struggling with her own identity and a need to accept help from others, and thought it succeeded on those grounds.

April 4, 2016

Movie Monday: Hardcore Henry

I was not sold by the Hardcore Henry trailer.  The story looked thin: man must save beautiful, helpless wife.  The movie was obviously expecting to ride on the unique visuals, making the story unfold in first person instead of third.  Why not?  It's worked for video games for decades.

What I expected was what I got.  Henry is thinly characterized, getting little more than a flashback to his dad (a slumming Tim Roth) to explain his whole philosophy of life.  I even correctly anticipated the twist with his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett).  She's very lovely, and given little to do but look lovely.  It appears that she is in several upcoming movies, including The Magnificent Seven and The Girl on the Train, so hopefully one of them gives her more to do.

The world isn't much more fleshed out.  It's clearly in the future, because of all the cyborgs and clones and such.  The bad guy, Akan (Danila Kozlovsky), also has telekinetic abilities that he forgets at a crucial point because ... why not?  The best scene in Hardcore Henry was one where things slowed down a bit and Henry could communicate with the helpful mad scientist Jimmy (Sharlto Copley, having fun) about what was going on.  That scene had a sense of whimsy.  Most of the humor in the film relied simply on trying to be more and more gross.

So here we come to the conceit.  Hardcore Henry made me seasick.  I never once felt I was in his shoes, because when I'm running my brain helpfully edits my vision so that it doesn't appear to be bouncing all over the place.  The special-effects team worked so hard not to make it artificially smooth that it seems artificially rough.  I couldn't immerse myself in the first-person point of view because life isn't viewed through a shaky cam.  (And if you don't like shaky cam, this is 100x worse.)

Sometimes special-effects spectacles sacrifice story for the effects.  In Hardcore Henry, neither worked for me.  I just left with a headache and a sense of disquiet that everyone around me seemed to think it was an awesome movie.

Hardcore Henry opens this Friday, April 8th.

April 1, 2016

Review: Arrows

Arrows By Melissa Gorzelanczyk
Narrated by Laura Knight Keating and Nick Cordero
Available now from Recorded Books
Print version available from Delacorte Books (Penguin Random House)
Review copy

At least once a year, I listen to an audiobook.  They'll never be my favorite way to experience books, but they've been growing on me.  ARROWS had the advantage of being a mere 6 and a half hours long.  It took me a week of driving to listen to the whole story - but far better than one of those 24 hour audiobooks that would take me a month.

ARROWS tells the story of Aaryn, son of Cupid and Psyche, and Karma, a human.  (Great thing about listening: I didn't have to look at that spelling of Aaron for the entire book.)  Aaryn was supposed to shoot a couple with arrows to become a cupid himself, but he accidentally misplaced one while busy with social media.  The result: Karma is hopelessly in love with Danny, who takes her for granted (and worse).  Aaryn has to get Danny to fall in love with her in return or be banished.  The problem: No one would wish Danny on their worst enemy, much less a perfectly nice girl.  Even worse, Karma got pregnant, and so him being a terrible father is also a factor.

I preferred Laura Knight Keating's narration to Nick Cordero's, but I enjoyed the sections of the story through Aaryn's point of view more.  (Cordero did grow on me.)  The result of the arrow is just horrific.  It's not like real love - Karma physically feels herself getting sick if she gets angry or upset with Danny.  She can't even think ill of him when he hurts her.  It was hard to hear her continually stuck in that rut.  Aaryn, meanwhile, gets to be more dynamic and realize how broken the system he dreamed of becoming a part of is.

Remember the 6 and a half hours running time?  ARROWS is a short novel.  That can be an advantage, and I don't think there was more story to explore.  (Except maybe any sort of explanation for why Karma, a serious dancer, never seems to have considered an abortion.  She clearly didn't keep Nell to make Danny happy.)  But I felt like what was there spent too much time spinning its wheels and that the climax played out too quickly.  In ten minutes, everything gets resolved.  I was also bothered that Karma seems to overcome her cursed love for Danny more for Aaryn than herself.

Listening to ARROWS livened up my commute, but I think I found it more disturbing than it was meant to be.  I might, however, look for more novels narrated by Laura Knight Keating.


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